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. 23 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.
The story of Paul at Lystra in Acts 14 is one of the most fascinating accounts that we read in the Book of Acts, though I seldom hear it taught. In verses 8-18, we learn that, while traveling with Barnabas, Paul, by the power of God, heals a man. The miracle stirs the people of Lystra up so much that they assume that the gods had come down to earth in human form. The people think Barnabas is Zeus, because he does not speak, and they call Paul Hermes, because he appears to be the spokesman.
Things get even crazier when the people actually bring in the priest of Zeus to offer a sacrifice to Barnabas. Of course, Paul and Barnabas do everything they can to put a stop to this foolishness. They tear their clothes, signifying that they are horrified, and run into the crowds telling everybody that they are ordinary men who happen to be carrying the message of the one true God.
Then things get even crazier than before. Other men arrive and stir the crowds up against Paul and Barnabas. That same group that was just about to hail the evangelists as deities suddenly turns, drags Paul out of the city, stones him, and leaves him for dead. They actually go from wanting to worship Paul to trying to crack his skull with big rocks in just a few moments.
What is stunning to me, however, is what happens next. Paul isn’t dead. His friends get him out from under the rock pile and dust him off. Then Paul walks right back into the city of Lystra. You know the guys were thinking, “Paul, you might have taken one too many of those rocks to the noggin; they just tried to kill you in Lystra. Let’s go somewhere else.” But Paul had none of it. He went back into Lystra. He then went to the surrounding towns and even made a return visit to Lystra before moving on.
Now, let me add one more piece of data from Acts 16. Sometime later, Paul made yet another visit to Lystra on a different missionary journey. Here is what happened:
1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
When Paul returns to Lystra this time, he meets a young man who has come to Christ and who is eager to serve him. Paul picks up a follower in Lystra named Timothy. Of course you know, if you know the bible, that Paul’s young friend Timothy would be as dear as a son to Paul. Timothy would be a true help and encouragement to Paul, even to Paul’s dying day. In one instance Paul described Timothy in this way:
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.
Don’t’ fail to connect the dots here. Paul walked back into a dangerous place, an uncomfortable place. He did so for the sake of the gospel. Eventually, Paul’s faithful service led to the conversion of Timothy, a friend like no other to Paul. If Paul runs from Lystra, Paul doesn’t gain Timothy to serve with.
What kinds of things make you turn from your own Lystra? Is it big stuff? Has someone hurt you, and so you aren’t going to have any more to do with them? Has a church member offended you, so you’re going to run to the next church down the street? Have you embarrassed yourself in front of someone, and so you are going to avoid them in the future? Or is it smaller? Is your favorite TV show on, so you are going to try to get out of that phone call with your non-Christian friend? Have you had a hard day at work, so maybe skipping tonight’s Bible study is in order?
Christians, I’m not going to try to promise you that every time you walk into a hard situation, you will gain an ally like Timothy for lifelong friendship. What I can promise you is this: When you do what God calls you to do, even when it is hard, God will be glorified and you will have joy. It may work well, or the people may throw rocks at you, but, if you are obeying the word of God, you will be doing something glorious.