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The Attempt: Day 14

A short, simple reading today, ok guys?

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.

People populate these stories. Real people.

I appreciate the kind comments many of you have been sending me privately, and some publicly, here on the site. It’s rewarding to be able to share what I know, or think I know, or have invented. But I’ve spent years studying and imagining, or mis-imagining these things, and this book especially; and trying to picture who these people really were. If you stick with this studying the bible thing and do it for years and years and years… and can keep your head and heart open… well, it’s fascinating and I believe the bible will come alive for you. And one thing builds on another.

But I always try to picture the faces in the crowd.

In Derbe, I think there was a guy named Gaius in that first group of believers. I don’t know much about him, but he’s mentioned a few chapters from now as a companion of Paul, along with 6 other young dudes, and we’ll be told he was from Derbe.

8 In Lystra…

Lystra, in just a couple of chapters we’ll see Paul go back to this city and select a young man named Timothy to go with him and be his protege. We’ll learn by reading Paul’s letters to Timothy that Timothy’s mother and grandmother became believers and raised him to know Jesus. We’ll see, again here in Acts 16 coming up, that Timothy’s father is a Greek and not a Hebraic Greek, a gentile; because Paul will circumcise Timothy so that Timothy can follow him into the synagogues, and the temple in Jerusalem.

All that makes me think that in these crowded Lystra scenes we’ll see for the first time Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5) and one of them holding young Timothy’s hand. How old would he have been?

This chapter is going to end with Paul and Barnabas getting back to Antioch and ‘staying a long time’ there. The next chapter they’ll be traveling to Jerusalem for the big meeting… we’ll get there… and then after that they’ll come back to Antioch for an undefined amount of time.

So, what’s a long time? I don’t know. But I picture Timothy as a young child no older than 8 or 9 when he first sees the apostle Paul, and maybe 5 or 6 years later as a teenager he’s chosen by his mentor to join an incredible adventure.

…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.

The people are worshiping them and they have to beg them to stop! The temple for Zeus was outside of town, in a more remote area. The religion wasn’t just polytheistic, it was pagan. These were called “Lycaonian cities”; meaning “wolf land cities”. Wolf land?

And now the priest of Zeus is outside the city gate with bulls! Bulls and wreathes and asking the people to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas!

And think about time span. Paul and Barnabas had fled to these primitive towns and the surrounding countryside and had been canvassing the area and preaching there for a while. Days? Weeks?

One day they see this man who can’t walk.

Maybe Paul is frustrated with the results they’re getting; maybe it’s going real slow, with fewer responses than Paul is accustomed to…?

They’ve been living and preaching their hearts out all over this superstitious place, and Paul sees this man who can’t walk and thinks, “Wait a minute. You know what? Heck with it, I’ll get their attention!”

That may be super shallow of me and minimizing the sanctity of miraculous demonstrations, but I do know that the miracles were designed and intended to validate the Lord’s messacge. These were signs and wonders meant to confirm the word.

But this episode is unfolding after days of preaching and roaming the countryside; hiking past that temple in the woods and treading through a land where the air is thick with the dead/sweet smoke of sacrifices to Zeus and the sounds of foreign incantations  in sing song voices trying to ward of evil spirits and summon approval of the gods and the elements and then Paul goes and heals a man who can’t walk, the man gets up and starts shouting and leaping and the people who see what happened, the ones who understand a miracle has occurred; well they begin shouting and confirming and relaying the messages that a miracle has occurred and these two strangers… these two amazing strangers…

SOUND EFFECTS: BRAKES SCREECHING TO A HALT. Then silence.

The whole culture stops dead in its tracks and realizes, “oh my goodness! These guys are the real deal! We’ve got gods among us! How long have they been here?” not only do Paul and Barnabas have the crowd’s attention, they have their reverence! Their piety! Like some ancient cartoon, voices humming in their unique Laconian harmony and the ripple effect of the message spreading throughout the whole city has the whole city falling on their knees similar to how a crowd would do ‘the wave’ in a stadium; like dominoes falling prostrate before Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas look at the crowd and they’re stunned. Barnabas says, “Now see what you did?”

Then Paul and Barnabas run through the crowd begging them to stop. Pulling people to their feet, only for the people to grin that blissful grin a mortal might grin when touched by a god… and immediately fall back to the ground bowing in reverence. “Please!” Paul and Barnabas scream, “We’re only men like you!”

Now watch this:

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.

Whoa! How can people be so fickle! One minute, “You’re a god!!” the next minute, “You’re dead!!” And consider, they’re dragging him past he priest, past the bulls that were brought to sacrifice to him as a god!

20 But after the disciples had gathered around him…

So the crowd of disciples gathered around him.

Do you see them?

Lois, Eunice, little Timothy. What an impression that would have made on a young heart. Of course, the violence could have happened so fast that all Eunice can do is cover Timothy’s face… when the rocks were hitting Paul… but what an awful spectacle to have seen. And how heartbreaking to think that this man who brought the message that changed your life has been killed before your very eyes. You draw near to his crumpled body which was dumped like garbage on the ground. And then…

he got up …

Now that’s amazing! How wonderful; one moment you’re mourning, now rejoicing that he’s alive.

…and went back into the city.

And now you’re inspired!

He goes back into the town that just stoned him!

I’d like more details on that; did he walk like the hero cowboy raised from the dead past silent, slightly terrified stone throwers who can’t believe what they’re seeing? Or did he just slip back into the homes of friends, lick his wounds and get ready to move on?

I’ve always pictured him being taken to a young physician’s house; an unbeliever named Luke who nursed his wounds and encouraged Paul to take up another line of work. Luke became a disciple somewhere, somehow; but in my mind it was a tough sell and he was bit more like Bones than Watson. (either Holmes or House).

The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

Yeah, I think it’s time to get out of Lystra. You’ve done enough.

21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra…

Wait a minute! If there’s any town I’d have just gone around!

… 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[a] 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.

Take aways for today:

1). Sometimes people will say you’re great. Then they will change their mind. Don’t let either of those two things change you.

2). Sometimes we think getting up after being knocked down is a victory. It’s better than lying there. But the direction you go after you get up says as much about you as the fact that you didn’t just quit. You can’t quit; but you can’t just stand there, either. You have to pick a direction, you have to do something… maybe the very thing that got you knocked down in the first place.

3). In every crowd that’s throwing rocks at you, there’s a young person willing to follow you anywhere you’ll lead them.

slj june 14, 2016

Steve has been a minister for almost 5 decades; and for more than 40 years married to the wife of his youth and partner, Lisa. Steve has spoken in Madison Square Garden. He's swam the Hudson River to raise money for his favorite charity. He’s the writer, producer and director of an award winning short film. He’s an author, speaker, and father whose messages are hilarious, soulful and life changing. When he's not trying to sell, ride or make friends on a motorcycle, you can find him in Portland, Oregon where he is happily serving with the http://portlandchurch.org

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