14:19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.
21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” 23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
I had a teacher in elementary school who firmly believed the saying "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me." Apparently Paul and Barnabas did not. They were not dissuaded by stones or words. After the men of Lystra attempted to kill Paul with stones he returned to the city, left the next day for Derbe where he continued preaching and after establishing a church there he retraced his steps through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch to encourage those who were following Jesus amid a culture hostile to their faith. His message to them was simple: "Following Jesus is a hard road."
It was this same Paul who wrote verses that have become famous. Verses like "If God be for us, who can be against us?" and "What can separate us from the love of God?" He wrote letters from prison to encourage believers who were free. Neither prison, nor beatings, nor being stoned or shipwrecked could stop him. He had one mission and that was to make Jesus known in every city of the world.
It's not normal to survive being stoned. It's not normal to return to the places where people tried to kill you. It's not normal to value the opportunity of strangers to hear the gospel over personal safety. Yesterday a friend shared with me a present day story of mission doctors working in Chad. It seems everyone and everything is against them yet they keep serving at the constant risk of their own lives.
Self-sacrifice. It's almost a foreign concept in our culture mostly because we have no imminent threats. I can travel all over Canada sharing the gospel. No one is going to stone me or even threaten me. Would I stop if there was resistance? Paul had been Saul. He had been the head of the resistance. He knew what he was up against. He also knew that even the most resistant hearts could soften and change. He knew it from personal experience.
I don't know the threat of resistance and opposition but I do know life without Him is no life at all and I pray that whatever the future holds I will never stop making Him known not just in words but more importantly in action. I also want to remember the importance of retracing my steps and encouraging those who found Jesus through my influence. Resistance or not it's a hard road to the kingdom. It's a turf war and Satan does not lose turf easily. That much I do know but when God is for us, what can separate us from His love?
Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.