Some stories in theBible jump out at you and seem to rattle around in your mind for days after you read them. One of those stories for me is found in Acts 14. Paul and Barnabas were on their first missionary journey and the only one they took together. They were traveling through different cities preaching the gospel usually beginning in the Jewish synagogue and when rejected there, moving on to the Gentiles and when persecution started moving on to the next city. In the process they came to the town of Lystra. Lystra is close to Iconium and Derbe. It really isn’t very far from Tarsus where Paul grew up and where he returned to after his conversion and trip to Arabia. Lystra wasn’t a thriving place. It was a rather small town in a very out of the way place. It was one of those towns that you didn’t arrive at, on the way to anywhere. You had to be going to Lystra to arrive there. Paul and Barnabas arrived in Lystra. It was eventful from the start.
Paul noticed a man who was lame from birth who was listening to Paul speak. Paul noticed in the man that he had faith to be healed, so he looked intently into the eyes of the lame man and shouted, “Stand upright on your feet.” The man leaped up and began walking. Of course the crowds saw that the man was healed and were rightly impressed about what had happened. They began to shout in their own language, which neither Paul nor Barnabas seemed to know, “The gods have become like men and have come down on us.” They started calling Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Before Paul and Barnabas realized what was happening the priest of Zeus was there offering sacrifices to them. In a sense of panic they ripped their clothes and began running through the crowds saying “Men why are you doing this? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their won ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Luke tells us the even doing this they had difficulty restraining the crowds from offering sacrifice to them. (Verse 18)
Here is what is so amazing about this story. The very next verse says that Some Jews came to Lystra from Antioch and Iconium and having won over the crowds, “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.” Think about the fact they were in one moment calling him a god and wanting to offer a sacrifice to him and then before you can blink they are stoning him and leaving him for dead. You talk about fickle, these folks get the prize for it. There is a lesson here that I need to get. When People treat you with such kindness, and over flow with compliments and good will, don’t get to thinking that this will be forever. Far too often in my years, I’ve seen the very same people turn around in short order to become your greatest distractors. You go from being almost like Jesus to being pretty close to the devil in short order.
But the story isn’t over. In this brief time there must have been some things going on that Luke doesnt’ tell us. Because the next verse says, “But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.” Who were these disciples and where did they come from? Obviously Paul and Barnabas had preached the good news of Jesus to the people enough that some had come to be faithful believers in the process. Most likely it was at this time that the mother and grandmother of Timothy become disciples of Jesus and began the effort to bring him up for the Lord. It indicates to us that there were some other things happening and perhaps more time spent there than seems to be the case in these few verses. Notice what happened next. “After they had preached the gospel to the city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and Iconium and to “Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
Can I ask you a question? If you had been treated like Paul had in Lystra would you have returned to strengthen the disciples there? We have no idea how many disciples were made in each of these towns in that area. But we know that they had grown and become strong enough that Paul could return there in pretty short order and them have men of such spiritual depth that they can be set aside as elders in these churches. When Paul returns there in Acts 16 along with Gaius they have raised up Timothy to the depth and maturity that they encouraged Paul to take him and use him as one of his companions and fellow workers in the kingdom.
One other thing that I must focus on in this story. Notice what Paul and Barnabas tell them on their return. They are encouraging them to stay strong and devoted to Christ. They are building them up, strengthening them in their faith when they say to them, “THROUGH MANY TRIBULATIONS WE MUST ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD.” Imagine hearing that sentence from the man whose body was horribly scarred from the rocks that had been thrown at him in your own town. Not only had he been stoned, it was right there and they had witnessed it. Now he returns to the same place to tell them that it is through many trials, test, pressures and problems that one will enter God’s kingdom.
God’s kingdom isn’t a place of quiet rest on this side of eternity. It is a place where we go through lots of test, pressures, pushing and shoving to enter the kingdom of God and be subject to Jesus as king. Is it worth it? Oh yes, it is worth all that we may ever even imagine going through and beyond because we are blessed with total forgiveness and the gift of God’s Holy Spirit to be in us and guide us every day. Don’t ever allow this worlds trials to keep you from a kingdom relationship with God and Christ. His reign in us may bring troubles and test but the prize to be won is worth it all and a thousand times over.