“Paul Picked Himself Up And Went Back into The City”
(About Cross-Courage under Persecution)
By Matthew William Crick
I can’t pinpoint the exact time it struck me, but it was not too long ago. But the account of Paul, and his stoning in Lystra, did just that: the account struck me. Here it is, Acts, chapter 14, verses 8-22:
Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well,10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
The key verses for me, the ones that struck me, are verses 19 and 20, which I have italicized above. After Paul was pelted with stones, knocked unconscious, dragged outside of the city and left for dead, he regained consciousness even as his fellow Christians gathered about him, I assume to mourn. What did he do next? He got up, brushed himself off, and went back into the very city that had just stoned him. This is not normal behavior! I’d like to think I am ready for such a trial. But the answer to my pondering is not found in navel gazing (sorry, self). The preparation and strength to conquer in such a trial is the power of the Gospel, that message outside of ourselves which comes in to live by the Holy Spirit. What the Gospel can do I have barely learned. It is the power to convert us; it is the power to teach us of the grace of God the Father through the innocent life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus, his Son; it is the means by which these merits of Jesus are applied to us for salvation, and for Christian living, that we might live with his heart; the Gospel is our motivation to serve Christ, not to benefit (or save) ourselves, but only others. Jesus did all the things he did only to benefit fallen mankind! Jesus’ innocent life is one of keeping the law of God in the place all mankind—the demands of which we could not keep ourselves—so that it is given to us through faith as if we lived it (Romans chapter 5, verse 19). His sacrifice at the cross is the culmination of his innocent life, although we look at it often from the perspective of what was done to him—that he passively allowed it. Yet even this was action on his part, suffering as if we were suffering it (Philippians chapter 2, verses 5-8). His resurrection is that public victory over the cross and the suffering of hell he endured there for all mankind, so that we might arise in him (John chapter 14, verse 19).
As a Christian, I have been called to live and preach this Christ as I seek to serve my neighbor in my vocation, wherever my vocation leads me, to whomever it leads me, whatever “the risk” involved. I don’t have to go out of my way to be stoned, even as Paul did not. I am to accomplish my regular work, as a Christian husband, father, pastor, community member, and friend. I am to care for my family and my flock, spread the Gospel in my community as God gives me opportunity (he, who opens doors). If I am preaching the law of God and the Gospel of Christ, teaching the whole counsel of God from Creation to Revelation, proclaiming the resurrection of God, the threat of “stoning” is ever present. The stoning may be a verbal one, or it may be literal one, as some Christians experience today in those parts of the world where it is dangerous for Christians to live (such as North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and many more places). The devil, of course, is the one casting the stones; his aim is always good, aiming for heart and head; he shows no reluctance and no remorse in casting stones (his lies) at us; his arm never tires; he seeks to knock Christians unconscious, even better, dead—physically, he’ll take that—but his goal is a Christian’s spiritual death, that believers give up on Christ and the resurrection hope because of persecution or fear of it. Indeed, the devil looms up like Sennacherib with his 185,000 soldiers loomed over Jerusalem long ago. King Hezekiah felt fear and the whole city too. Do Christians feel that sort of fear?
Speaking for myself: I have to admit, I do. But the fear is not that I have ever feared for my beating-heart life, yet. “My Sennacherib,” rather, is the sense of being asked to do what is beyond my human capabilities to accomplish: The day-by-day labor required of a Christian pastor, to be a leader who encourages the troops rather than demoralizes them (even when he himself feels demoralized), to be a theologian who does not ascend his tower to study in the sacred privacy of self-benefit, but remains with the people as Jesus did, preparing to proclaim good news to needy sinners, including himself, to be someone who is willing to take a “risk” when, in the regular vocation of pastoral work, a door opens to do something or reach somebody that seems nothing but risk. Like Old Testament Jacob (Genesis chapter 32, verses 22-32), it seems I’ve gotten myself into a wrestling match with God, but didn’t know it at first. (Or did he enter that match with me?) What I am describing is the three-fold challenge of cross-bearing, which is laid upon every Christian, in their life-circumstances. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew chapter 16, verse 24).
First, it is the challenge to believe, to trust in Christ alone for salvation, come what may.
Second, it is the challenge of confession. In bearing the cross, we are telling the world, “This is what I believe.”
Third, it is transport: Overcoming one’s fear to carry the cross to the people of the world, saying, “It is for you too!”
So, am I willing to be stoned by the community (or nation or world) in which I labor, to be dragged out and left for dead? Am I willing to pick myself up and go back into the city, not because I am any kind of degreed professional, but rather a free servant of the Lord Jesus, who did a great thing for me, completing my salvation apart from anything I might do or any discomfort or rejection I might experience in his name?
Did you know?
Christians experience more worldwide persecution than any other religious group. Pew Research notes that persecution of Christians is being reported in 151 countries. The North Korean government is the more severe in its persecution of Christians.
For more information about Christian persecution, worldwide, click on the link below.
Posted 9/10/14 Saeed Abedini, an American citizen, of Iranian descent, and Christian pastor. Currently being held in Iran’s Rajai Shahr Prison since 2013 on charges of related to undermining the government through the spreading Christianity. He is serving an 8 year term, is reportedly in poor health, and in constant danger of his life in the prison. www.beheardproject.com/saeed
Posted 9/10/14 Kenneth Bae, an Korean-American citizen, and Christian missionary, convicted on charges of plotting to overthrow the North Korean government. He is currently serving a 15 year prison term in a brutal North Korean prison. www.freekennow.com/
Posted 9/10/14 The ancient Christian communities of Syria and Iraq, which have been decimated since the 2003, and are currently suffering severe persecution, murder of loved ones, and torture by ISIS forces (a brutal Islamic terrorist organization).