14 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.
In Lystra and Derbe
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.
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.
The Return to Antioch in Syria
21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
Opposition, misunderstanding, and rejection to the good news of Christ has been occurring since Jesus himself walked the earth. On their first missionary trip, Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Iconium; some believed, and others stirred up opposition to them. In Lystra, they were received enthusiastically, so much so, that the people thought they were pagan gods - Zeus and Hermes.
People hear and filter new information through their personal paradigm. We each hold a particular worldview, a lens that tints all incoming information, whether we are aware of it or not. So sometimes it is hard to receive new information that doesn’t fit in our current understanding of reality. In the first century, many Jewish people, who’s identity was as “God’s chosen people,” couldn’t conceive of a Messiah that wasn’t just for them, but rather for all of humanity. So many rejected Christ. Gentiles or non-Jewish people really didn’t understand the idea of one true God, as opposed to many Gods. So when Paul and Barnabas provided healing, the people assumed they must be representing the pagan Gods - Zeus and Hermes.
Nothing is much different today. People are still rejecting or mis-understanding Christ. But just as it did not stop the disciples, neither should it stop us. Yes, we should take context into account. Talking about faith with someone who grew up going to church will look quite different from talking to someone who has never experienced the church at all. But no scenario or context should deter us from sharing the good news of Christ. Paul and Barnabas taught us,“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Take heart, hardship is normal. You will be mis-understood and rejected from time to time. But the world needs this message of grace. Your neighbor needs to hear it and see it alive in you.
What fears do you have about sharing your faith? What can you do to share your faith with someone this week?
Wesley Covenant Prayer
I am no longer my own by yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.