Read Acts 14
1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the gospel.
In Lystra and Derbe
8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
The Return to Antioch in Syria
21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia,25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
“Practice what you preach.” These are words we all attempt to live by, but none of us do it quite as well as Paul does in this passage. On his way back to Antioch, as he goes back through all the cities he has just ministered to, he encourages the disciples on his route by saying, “We must go through hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” The reason Paul says this is twofold: 1) it’s true–just look at the suffering Jesus went through–and, 2) he was currently living it. He was preaching what he was practicing.
It’s inspiring to us as we read this passage in 2020, while sipping our pour over coffee from the comfort of our couch in our air-conditioned house. But to these disciples that Paul encourages with this truth, it’s their life. Every day, they faced stonings and imprisonment and even death for their faith. They needed to be reminded that this path they were on was worth it, that it would lead them to Jesus. For these disciples, what was even more encouraging than just hearing this message was seeing the way Paul lived it out. In this chapter alone, he is stoned and left for dead. The pain that he has gone through (and will go through) enables other people to keep carrying on through the hardships they face as well.
What is the story God has given you? Are you allowing God to turn your mess into your message? Are you comforting others with the comfort that you have received from God? Don’t waste your suffering, your discomfort, and the hard lessons you’ve learned by keeping them to yourself. Let God redeem your pain as you encourage those around you with the story He has given you.
Paul and Barnabas face a lot of opposition to their message in this chapter alone, yet they keep going and even return back through the same places that tried to run them out! What can you learn from their example in this chapter? What do you do when you face discomfort in sharing the gospel?
What are some of the hardships you have walked through? How have you seen God bring you through them?
Is there anyone in your life right now who needs to be encouraged by the story God has given you? Who? How can you share that with them today?
Did You Know?
In this passage, Paul is stoned for his faith, yet, seven chapters earlier in Acts, he held the coats for the people who stoned Stephen to death for his faith. It is remarkable to see the difference that Jesus has made in Paul’s life!