Over the past couple of generations the terminology of “getting stoned” has related to being high on marijuana, drugs or alcohol. Various suggestions have been advanced as to how the “stone” word got involved in describing these activities – from smoking through stone pipes, or perhaps being so wiped out that the user looked as lifeless as a stone.
In any event, getting stoned meant something completely different in the Bible, as Paul could testify. And it would appear from his life that preaching a great sermon is what could most quickly get you pelted with rocks. Wanting to learn and apply Scripture wisely, I’ve taken this to heart, therefore determining that it is best to never be too terribly interesting or provocative! Being the last person on the planet who is likely to ever get stoned in the modern sense of the term, I might as well go full-out on avoiding the other meaning.
The first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas continues in our text today in Acts 14 as the pair travel from Antioch to Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. To give you a sense of the distances and directions involved with these four cities (that are in modern-day south-central Turkey), going from Antioch to Iconium would be like the distance from Hagerstown to Baltimore. Going next to Lystra would be similar to travelling south, southwest from Baltimore to Washington. And finally from Lystra to Derbe would relate to the direction and distance from DC to Annapolis.
So these are not great, great distances, though we are talking about a time in antiquity without rapid communications such as we know. Yet even without electronic infrastructure, it is startling how quickly the word of their travels spread from one place to another, with the oppositional element following not far behind.
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.
Again we see the familiar ministry patterns of beginning in the synagogue with Jews, along with the gospel bearing successes not only with a Jewish element, but also with numbers of Gentiles. As well, we also note again the divisions that caused a hostile reaction and life-threatening plots.
An additional new element is that of “signs and wonders.” The purpose for these is stated clearly in the text as confirmatory of the spoken message. I believe this is a special and unique work of God that was for this particular time in the beginning of church history. Paul could not begin his message by saying, “Today’s sermon will be coming from Matthew’s gospel” … none of that was yet written. Eventually, as the Scriptures were written and gave authority and authentication to the preaching of evangelists and pastors, the need for special manifestations ceased. (See Hebrews 2:3-4)
So Paul and Barnabas once again need to pack their bags and head down the road to the hometown of Timothy …
Acts 14:8 – 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.
There are so many places in Scripture where I find myself doing a “LOL” … this is one of them, as it really is humorous. Imagine Paul and Barnabas, being unable to understand the language while also seeing the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, eventually coming to realize what is actually happening! It was an “Oh My Goodness!” moment … “They think we’re gods!!”
Acts 14:14 – 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. 21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch …
There is so much I like about Paul. Surely he had to be from the New Jersey town of Tarsus! The bold speech … the in your face attitude … it reminds me of my roots! The old pastor joke that seeks to answer why Paul marched right back into the town where they just executed him with stoning is that … (wait for it) … he hadn’t finished his sermon!
The opposition to the preaching of the gospel was so intense and angry … sorta like Paul himself had been a few years previously. He was travelling from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute Christians, and now he has enemies going from town to town to seek him out and do the same to him.
We are going to find ourselves on a number of occasions throughout this series on Paul commenting about how the preaching of the gospel is not universally popular. Far from it. Though it is the means by which many come to faith, it is also a message that incites expressions of the selfish roots of sin and evil within many people. The kingdom of darkness is not going to just sit back and let truth be preached without seeking to disrupt, intervene, and discredit, even in violent ways. None of this should surprise us, even in our day; and neither should it deter us from speaking the truths of eternal life.