Paul and Barnabas in Lystra and Derbe
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.
Imagine a summary of your life that goes like this:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Those are Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11. Can you imagine?
Maybe your life hasn’t included stoning or shipwreck but maybe it has included other struggles like a firing from your job, the loss of a spouse or a child or grandchild, the danger of domestic abuse, the reality of sleepless nights, a medical diagnosis that left you feeling alone and afraid.
Maybe you’ve known the suffering that being faithful to Christ brings. You’ve lost friendships. Family relationships have been strained. Perhaps you’ve been warned at work not to talk about Jesus anymore. Maybe you’ve been pushed out of churches because Jesus was no longer central, and faithfulness to him became a problem. Maybe you’ve had mean things said about you, or to you, or false witness has been spoken of you because of your faith. Those things are real, and they are really hard to face.
Such was the case with what we see in our text today. The passage we come to in Acts 14 shows us what suffering in the name of the gospel looks like.
This passage gives us three insights into the Christian life:
The Christian Life Includes Suffering
Paul and Barnabas were sent out on a missionary journey to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. They went first to this area, Lystra and Iconium and Antioch. They had travelled more than 100 miles, which would have been a good deal back then, and along the way they ran into one problem after another. But they pressed on because the gospel compelled them to share the news.
So let’s just do a quick review of chapter 14 to see how difficult this journey has been for Paul and Barnabas:
It was true for Paul, and it's true for us. And because it’s true, that leads us to our next point.
The Christian Life Requires Endurance
Look at verses 20-23,
“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.”
So, after Paul is dragged out of the city and left for dead God somehow restores him. He then gets up and walks back into the same city that just stoned him. That’s incredible! We can sense the boldness and courage in this action. What endurance for the sake of Christ! There is a great need in the Christian life for this kind of endurance.
What Paul experienced he now shares. When he and Barnabas go back to the churches they have planted, what do they do? Verse 22: they strengthen the souls of the disciples and encourage them to continue in the faith. This is a call to endurance. How do we get this? How could we follow Paul's example?
First, we need our souls strengthened. We need something more powerful than our own flesh to support us in suffering. We need the gospel. We need to be reminded of the dying love of Jesus. We need the kind of strengthening that can only come from the gospel – grace for the undeserving. One way we as a church can do this is in our Community Groups. We can strengthen each other’s hearts by speaking the gospel to one another every time we meet.
See, when we hear the good news, as believers, it’s like a shot of medicine to our heart. It lifts us up. It distances us from the selfishness that clings so closely. It reminds us that this life is not our own. We were bought with a price and the king of the universe is calling us into the fullness of who he is, and into his mission in this world. Hearing the gospel is like a divine hug – comforting us and reminding us that we’re loved. Despite the sin, failure, and suffering we’ve experienced, God still loves us and still died for us.
Second, we need encouragement to continue in the faith. We get that from listening to good preaching, reading the Bible, meeting together, reading good books, and so forth. At times we want to give up. Sometimes, let’s be honest, the Christian life just doesn’t seem worth it. It seems we’re giving up too much. But when that thought starts entering our mind we need to seek out encouragement to continue in the faith.
Third, We need to be reminded of the worthiness of Christ. Where else are we going to go? If we leave Jesus who else is going to save us? Who will keep us? Who will care for us?
We need this when we start to wonder if Jesus is worth it anymore. But ask yourself this.
What is there in Jesus that is so revolting? What do you not like about him?
Whatever the answer is is the very point at which we need to be encouraged to continue in the faith. And the good news is that if we bring all our need to him – all of it – he will meet us there in mercy and grace. He will be there when we can’t go on because he understands what it’s like to need endurance in this life. He understands tribulation. Don’t run from him. Run to him and find all that you need in his grace. He may not give you the answer as to why your suffering exists, but he will uphold you in the fiery furnace as the flames get hotter. He will stand with you and for you because he has saved you!
We need endurance because it is through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. That’s not a “maybe” that’s a certainty. We will suffer. And that’s normal Christianity. But we didn't get into this because it was the easiest option. Nothing in the Bible presents Christianity as the easy way out. We got into this because the grace of God was irresistible to us. We couldn't not follow him. We got into this because our hearts long to see what only God can do.
And the good news is that when we feel our weakest, Jesus is as strong as ever. He kept Paul, and he’ll keep you too.
But you might ask, how can I know that for sure?
Verse 19 says they dragged Paul out of this city and left him for dead. Do you know who else was dragged out of the city? Jesus. But he wasn’t just left for dead, he was nailed to a cross by professional executioners who ensured that he was dead. He was an innocent man, here to spread the good news of the kingdom of God. He never harmed anyone or did anything wrong, and yet he was crucified upon the cross as the vilest sinner. What happened to him was the greatest injustice in history, but it was the plan of God. Doesn’t that tell us something about how God works? What men mean for evil, God means for good. God can bring about good from suffering in ways that we could never imagine. Just look at the cross for proof.
The cross isn't just proof of God's love on good days, but on all days. When we realize that God didn’t remove himself from suffering for the gospel but allowed himself to be dragged out of the city and killed, then we will have the endurance we need if we are dragged out of the city and stoned.
What if Jesus had not suffered? What if, as he was praying in the garden before his arrest, he refused to submit to the will of the Father? What if he looked out at the road ahead and said, “No, I can’t do this! It’s just too hard. It will cost too much.” If he had done that, we would not be redeemed. The gospel would not be spread because there would have been no good news to share.
But Jesus did endure the suffering of the cross. He wrestled with God the night before, sweating blood in his prayers, but he got up and walked the road God marked out for him in the morning. Why? The Bible says, “For the joy set before him.” You know what that joy was? It certainly wasn’t the trial. It wasn’t the abuse. It wasn’t even returning to heaven as it was before. The joy set before him was you! He endured the cross because by doing so he saved you from the wrath of God. He redeemed you by his blood, and in so doing accomplished what all of history was waiting for. His death was the only way, so he came and went to the cross and didn’t look back.
And Paul, as he awoke from his stoning, must have remembered this. That’s why he got up and went back into the city. He wasn’t crazy. He was loved. He was loved by a Savior whose mission was successful, whose purpose is glorious, whose intention is grace. And that gave him the endurance he needed to finish his race.
And you know what else Paul knew? He knew that Jesus is worth everything.
Jesus is Worth Everything
Reading through chapter 14 you may come to the conclusion that this journey was just a mess. It was a failure. It started with mass confusion, and ended in stoning. But as Paul awoke surrounded by the disciples, there is a face he would have seen there. A man named Timothy. We know him from the Bible because he accompanied Paul, and because Paul wrote two letters to him. In Acts 16:1 it says," Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived."
Timothy became a disciple because Paul and Barnabas went on that trip. What if they had considered the cost too great to go? It wasn’t a failure. It was a success, because with God there is never failure – even though it looks like it sometimes.
Because of the gospel, Paul was willing to suffer with Christ to bring the good news to people who did not yet know it. This was his first missionary journey. The rest of Acts tells us about all the others. He never gave up, because Jesus never gave up. Therefore, we too should be willing to suffer to bring the gospel to others. How much is one soul worth? How much suffering is too much for an eternity with Jesus?
What is happening when we suffer for the gospel is that we are playing out the gospel story ourselves. The gospel is a message of life out of death. Death comes before resurrection. The cross before the crown. And that’s worth everything. In the end we gain nothing less than eternal life with Jesus, if he uses us others will be there with us that we lead to Jesus.
Our suffering won’t be wasted, because the suffering of Jesus wasn’t wasted. It is God’s way of salvation, so let’s walk in it.
So to wrap this up, I just want to encourage us. Here’s the truth about our future. We who believe are on our way to heaven. And the more people that we bring the good news to in our lifetime only sweetens the experience. We want to see as many people as possible come to love Jesus because he is worth it. All the suffering we endure for his sake is worth it. We are here because we are willing to lay down our lives so that others may find Jesus.
We have been joined to Christ when we come to faith in him, and his strong grip won’t let us go. So when we endure many tribulations we can know without a shadow of a doubt that God’s goodness is still good, his purposes are still glorious, and his kindness is still overflowing. Only he can take a cross and make it a crown.
So let's rejoice in the good news that even though our suffering isn't good, it serves a good purpose. It serves to bring us closer to him. As we suffer in this life we find out how much we really love Jesus. We start to see that what we need, and what we want, more than anything is God. In the end, we will be with him and all the suffering we endured here on earth will feel like but a shadow passing over us or a ripple in the great ocean of his love. We will be forever caught up in his joy, and everything we endured as his people will just strengthen that joy.
See, we are on the winning side of eternity! We can endure suffering because we already know the end of the story. We will still be with Jesus. We will never be sad. We will never hurt. We will never suffer. We will be forever happy. In 10 trillion years we will still be more fully alive than we are right now. And if God gives us favor there will be others there because we were willing to follow Jesus in his mission in this world. Isn’t that hope worth clinging to? Isn’t that motivation to keep pressing the gospel forward? It is. Oh, it certainly is.