“He’s a god!” someone shouted, whirling to address the crowd behind him.
“Behold, Zeus has come!”
He pointed to Barnabas, elegant and tall, his beard rich and thick, curling at his neck. It was true, Barnabas was handsome by any standard, and though a gentle man, was powerfully built, rising at least a head above most other men.
“And he brought Hermes with him, messenger of the gods, to speak to us!”
The man was now wildly gesticulating towards Paul, whose charismatic voice had been holding them rapt, and whose words had been stirring them with a sense of excited hope and strange joy.
They had been standing near Zeus’ temple, just outside the city gates, impressive with its sparkling white marble and showy columns. Already, Zeus’ priest was hurrying towards them, oxen in tow for sacrificing, garlands festooning their horns, soon to be draped around Barnabas and Paul.
Horrified, both Paul and Barnabas ran out into the crowd. To Jesus’ ambassadors this was a disaster. In the Jewish way of showing great distress and anguish, they grabbed the necks of their robes and tore them four to five inches down to symbolize how torn up their hearts were.
“No!” cried Paul, “You have to stop! We are mortals, just like you!”
Paul hit his chest hard with his fists, and Barnabas pulled his arms out of his torn robe, pointing to a bruise he’d gotten from carrying his heavy travel bag.
…we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.Paul, in Acts 14:15-17 (NRSV)
Even still, Luke wrote, “they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.”
It was all too much for the Lycaonians to take in. They were a deeply religious people, and loyal to their gods. When the angry, unbelieving Jews arrived from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, they were able to win over the crowds, and take them from one excess to the other, from worshiping love to murdering hate.
Paul was dragged from the city gate to the city’s edge where he was stoned and left for dead.
When you act for Christ, spiritual power is often followed by satanic opposition
There is a terrible irony in the Jews pursuing Paul, now a Christian, from town to town, and finally stoning him, just as Paul had earlier pursued Christians and approved of the stoning of Stephen. Paul was so bloodied and beaten and lifeless that his enemies thought he really was dead, so they dragged him to the garbage pit just of town.
“Oh my God,” Barnabas moaned.
Oh my God.
The newly healed crippled man, terrified to do anything before, now quietly came to stand with Barnabas as they both looked with horror and shocked grief at Paul’s crumpled body, his arms and legs broken and lying at odd angles, covered in blood, his tattered garments shredded about him.
Brothers and sisters from Iconium, twenty miles away, unsettled by the fury of the Jewish religious leaders rallying together their posse, had also come to Lystra. They thought, for moral support. Now they too stared through a glaze of tears at Paul’s ruined form.
Later, Paul would write,
…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.Romans 8:26-27 (NRSV)
Imagine the hairs pricking up on their arms and necks as Paul’s impossibly broken and bloodied body began to stir, his arms and legs now shifting in shape until they were true and straight again. Did they even breath as Paul’s eyes fluttered open, as he propped himself on an elbow, looking up at them with questioning eyes?
To the glory of God, Jesus worked through the prayers of His people as He brought Paul back from the brink of death.
Paul lifted himself to his knee, and then to his feet. With a wordless nod of his head, he invited the brothers and sisters to join him as he walked back into Lystra to tend his wounds, get some dinner, and a good night’s sleep.
What circumstances have knocked you flat? You feel like you’re down for the count.
“I give up, Lord.”
How willing are you to let the Lord surround and fill you with His resurrection power, so you can get up again and continue serving Him?
Some think it was during this time that God gave Paul a near-death vision, which he talked about in one of his letters to the believers in Corinth.
Incredibly, the next day Paul and Barnabas walked 25 miles to Derbe, also in the Lyaconian area of the Galatian province, where they, and the message they preached, were well-received, with many coming to a saving faith.
As the saying goes, anyone can start strong … but the victory is not to those who start. It is to those who finish.
Paul and Barnabas turned around, revisited each place where they’d preached the gospel, to build up each believing community. Only then did they set sail for home. They knew it was going to significantly lengthen their trip, that they were going to face some pretty fierce opposition, but it was imperative to go back and strengthen the new believers in each of those towns.
[Paul and Barnabas at Lystra } Johann Heiss [Public domain]