After leaving Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas traveled to Perga, Pisidian Antioch (not Syrian Antioch), Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, cities located in the Roman Empire’s Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey. “On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue”(Acts 13:14) where Paul and Barnabas preached the Good News of Jesus. Later Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). As missionaries, they went first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles.
“After the synagogue had been dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and urging them to continue in the grace of God. The following Sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:43–44). Citizens of the emperor-worshipping empire were excited to hear about the One and Only Living God, the God who defeated death, the God of creation, the God of grace and salvation. Their lives were transformed as they were saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. “But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what Paul was saying, insulting him” (Acts 13:45).
“Paul and Barnabas boldly replied, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first. Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we are turning to the Gentiles... When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and honored the word of the Lord, and all who had been appointed to eternal life believed. The word of the Lord spread through the whole region’ ” (Acts 13:46–49).
The hyper-religious Jews pitched an unholy conniption fit, incited a riot, and kicked Paul and Barnabas out of the region. “Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:51–52).
A similar story was repeated in Iconium where “unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds” (Acts 14:2). “When an attempt was made... to mistreat and stone them, they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian towns of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding countryside. There they continued preaching the gospel” (Acts 14:5–7). It wasn’t easy to be a Christian missionary in the first-century’s Roman empire.
In Lystra things got even worse. “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead” (Acts 14:19). Paul’s bloody and broken body was tossed into a ditch like a sack of garbage.
The mob thought Paul was dead. Maybe he was. Like the KKK knew how to hang someone, the uncivilized Romans knew how to stone someone. I suspect that most in the crowd had participated in a stoning on other occasions. They knew how to kill. Miraculously, “after the disciples gathered around (Paul’s mutilated, maimed, and marred body), he got up and went into the town” (Acts 14:20) to continue preaching about Jesus!
“After they had preached the gospel in that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, ‘It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God’ ” (Acts 14:21–22).
The American Christian’s life in 2022 isn’t too hard, is it?