They caught up with Paul at Lystra. They were able to do there what they had wanted to do when he was at Iconium. At Lystra they had Paul stoned.
The unbelieving Jews and Gentiles from Iconium incited those in Lystra who, it seems, were offended by Paul’s refusal to be worshiped as a god. Ironic that those who were ready to offer sacrifices to Paul now wanted to offer Paul as a sacrifice. Even though they had witnessed Paul’s healing of a man crippled from birth, they were now determined to put him to death. And so, persuaded by those from Iconium who were opposed to the gospel, they were convinced to pick up rocks against the gospel preacher. To silence the voice of the one who proclaimed the good news of the living God who had made way for men entrapped in vain worship to know true worship.
And when they were done stoning Paul, they “dragged him out of the city, supposing he was dead” (Acts. 14:19).
But when the disciples from Lystra–those who were but baby believers, having just received the good news preached by Paul–when those disciples gathered around Paul’s bleeding body, “he rose up.” It’s possible that his recovery was natural, that he was only “mostly dead.” But you get the sense that these brand new Christians were privy, up close and personal, to the power of God as Paul was miraculously raised up, recovering to such an extent that he was able to leave the next day to go preach in Derbe.
While you couldn’t say that disaster had been avoided, certainly it had been mitigated. And, if I’m Paul, I’m pretty much done with Lystra.
But I’m not Paul. And they went back.
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 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. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
(Acts 14:21-23 ESV)
After Paul & Co. had preached the gospel in Derbe, they went back to Lystra. Yeah, the same Lystra where Paul had almost been assassinated. What’s more, they went back to Iconium and Antioch, the cities from which the hit had been put out on Paul in the first place. It’s like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walking back into the fiery furnace, though unlike them, Paul had been burned pretty bad in Lystra. It’s like Daniel traipsing back into the lion’s den, though, unlike Daniel, Paul had been mauled, chewed up, and spit out for dead. So why go back?
To strengthen the souls of the disciples. To encourage them in the faith. To make the connection between tribulation and entering the kingdom of God. To appoint shepherds to watch over the flock.
Paul’s calling wasn’t simply to save souls, it was to ground them in the new life they possessed in Christ. Not just to make disciples, but to draw alongside and call them to perseverance for the faith. To teach them that following Jesus was worth whatever opposition they might face. It was so important to Paul to return and encourage these babes in Christ, that he would risk being stoned again. So paramount that they know the fullness of life in Christ, that he would give up his own.
They went back to Lystra so that the Lystran Christians wouldn’t go back into the world.
So how important was it for Paul to see believers mature? How critical did he view the need for encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ to keep on keepin’ on? I’m thinking pretty. Pretty important . . . pretty critical.
Jesus loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Eph. 5:25). Paul loved the church and was willing to do the same. And I can’t help but thinking, we should love her too.
By His grace. For His glory.