Wednesday, February 27
In Antioch, Iconium & Lystra
13:49The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50But the Jews incited the prominent God-fearing women and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their district. 51But Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet against them and went to Iconium. 52And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
14:1 In Iconium they entered the Jewish synagogue, as usual, and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed.2But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3So they stayed there a long time and spoke boldly for the Lord, who testified to the message of his grace by enabling them to do signs and wonders. 4But the people of the city were divided, some siding with the Jews and others with the apostles. 5When an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat and stone them, 6they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian towns of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding countryside. 7There they continued preaching the gospel.
8In Lystra a man was sitting who was without strength in his feet, had never walked, and had been lame from birth. 9He listened as Paul spoke. After looking directly at him and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10Paul said in a loud voice, “Stand up on your feet!” And he jumped up and began to walk around.
11When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the town, brought bulls and wreaths to the gates because he intended, with the crowds, to offer sacrifice.
14The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their robes when they heard this and rushed into the crowd, shouting: 15“People! Why are you doing these things? We are people also, just like you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them] 16In past generations he allowed all the nationsto go their own way, 17 although he did not leave himself without a witness, since he did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18Even though they said these things, they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them.
19Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead. 20After the disciples gathered around him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
21After they had preached the gospel in that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch,22strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” 23When they had appointed elders for them in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Act 13:49 - 14:23 (CSB)
The last part of Acts can start to feel a bit like an itinerary for a trip you don’t get to go on. Luke is actually using an ancient form of writing (a genre) called a travelogue as a model, but that makes it sound even more boring. The last sixteen chapters often seem like nothing but Paul traveling from one hard-to-pronounce locale to the next (with a few speeches interspersed—but yesterday’s devotion taught us to appreciate those!).
I usually skip over the names. Why get bogged down in unimportant details?
Then, during a Bible study, I memorized 2 Timothy (don’t be too impressed and don’t ask me to recite it now). I even memorized all the names of people and places Paul mentions, and the next time I read through Acts I got to chapters 13-14 and noticed the same sequence of cities I’d memorized: Antioch, Iconium and Lystra.
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (2 Tim 3:10-11)
2 Timothy is the last letter we have that Paul wrote. He was imprisoned for the last time, awaiting execution, and knew that this time he would not be rescued. Paul had suffered and endured innumerable persecutions, sufferings, abandonments, imprisonments, even shipwrecks by this point, and yet at the end of his life what happened in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra sticks out the most.
Breezing through these chapters is easy, but slow down and soak in what is actually happening. Yesterday we saw his preaching have such great success in Antioch that almost the whole city showed up the next week, but his preaching also caused great jealousy and great hardship. Even when Paul and Barnabas left town, these men couldn’t leave them be but followed them, stirring up controversy and hatred. Acts 14:5 mentions that they were stoned in Derbe, but it is so brief and offhand the real import is easy to ignore: an angry mob surrounded them and hurled stones at them with the intent to kill them.
In Lystra, the mob seems to have succeeded. Read those last verses again: Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead. But Paul eventually gets up and…heads right back into the city.
After the first stoning would have been a good time to call it quits. The second one was so severe everyone thought he was dead. No wonder those cities stuck out in his mind. Yet, not only does Paul keep preaching, but as we will read tomorrow—he returns to every single city.
That was, as he wrote Timothy, his way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings. Timothy was not traveling with him yet, but he was from Lystra so possibly witnessed the second stoning and was among the disciples gathered around what they thought was his dead body. That means Timothy also witnessed Paul struggle to his feet and return to the same people who’d just tried to kill him. Because death was a small price to pay for the Gospel.
Too often we assume opposition is an indication of failure or being outside of God’s will, but the Bible demonstrates that extreme opposition is often a sign that we are doing exactly what we need to be doing. Opposition is not when we quit, but when we have the opportunity to demonstrate our way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance.
God, when things get tough, I want to quit. If things were to get downright violent, everything in me would say it was absolutely time to quit. Worldly wisdom says protect yourself and your loved ones. A garbled Christian theology says Your favor is displayed through success. Your Word, though, proclaims that persecution, trouble and suffering are the life to which You call Your followers. Those are the moments where, like Paul, we will demonstrate what our true purpose and faith are—and what we are willing to endure. Like Paul, may we face the worst, get back up, and return to our labor. Only by the power of Jesus’ name, Amen.
Pick Four More Activities
Listen and Worship.
Pray a Psalm.
Read a Book.
Retell the Gospel to Yourself.
Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.
Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.
Memorize a Verse.
List Five Things You're Thankful For.