What is it about proclaiming Jesus that stirs up opposition? This isn’t unique to our times. As Paul and Barnabas were traveling on their first journey they were constantly encountering opposition. This came from the Jews. Initially they were curious and wanted to hear more. But as Paul began to attract large crowds the Jews became jealous. They were thrown out of Pisidia.
When they arrived in Iconium “the same thing happened” (Acts 14:1 NET). Here the Jews stirred up the Gentiles and wanted to stone Paul and Barnabas – they fled to Lystra.
“In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. This man was listening to Paul as he was speaking. When Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be healed, he said with a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man leaped up and began walking.” (Acts 14:8-10)
This caught the attention of those who saw what happened. They had never seen anything like this. Coming from a pagan mythological background, they arrived at what they thought was a logical conclusion: “The gods have come down to us in human form!” (Acts 14:11). What else (in their minds) could explain what they had just seen?
Their conclusion was that Paul must be Hermes, the messenger god (since he was the main speaker) so Barnabas must be Zeus himself! And how convenient as Lystra had a temple to Zeus just outside the gates. Obviously they needed worship these gods come to visit them! They brought in bulls and garlands to offer sacrifices. The bulls were a white bull with pink tipped ears, a few of which can still be found.
“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard about it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them.’” (Acts 14:14-15)
Paul proceeded to tell them about the real god, not the “worthless” ones they were serving. Even after reassuring them that they were just humans, too, “they scarcely persuaded the crowds not to offer sacrifice to them” (Acts 14:18).
It is amazing how quickly people can change. One minute they are trying to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas as gods. Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and convinced the people that Paul should be stoned to death! “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him to be dead” (Acts 14:19).
What happened to Paul? Some have suggested that he was, indeed, dead and that this is who he was referring to when he wrote “fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2). We are not given the details of precisely what happened, but it is obvious something miraculous happened because after he was stoned “he got up and went back into the city. On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe” (Acts 14:20). Paul would have experienced serious injury if not death due to stoning.
Sometimes when we proclaim Jesus there is opposition. In most countries this doesn’t result in an attempt to kill us. But opposition is what we can expect from those who do not understand what it means to follow Jesus. When we meet opposition, take courage from those who lived long ago. Do not let opposition keep us from our mission of taking the good news of Jesus to all around us.
Photo: wild white cattle at Chillingham Castle, Northumbria, England
Readings for next week:
27 May – Acts 15
28 May – Acts 16
29 May – Acts 17
30 May – Acts 18
31 May – Acts 19