Mark Twain is famously quoted for saying, “You’re never wrong for doing the right thing.” But often times doing the right thing can be difficult and require a lot of courage. Imagine the difficulty in deciding what to do if you caught a best friend cheating or stealing. You know what the right thing to do is in confronting them, but you also recognize the cost that it will make on your friendship. We’ve all faced frustrating circumstances where doing what was right could either cost us or the people in our lives greatly. But Mark Twain is correct in saying you’re never wrong for doing the right thing.
Paul and Barnabas understood this principle and we see it evidenced in Acts 14. This chapter begins with the two men entering Iconium and preaching in the Synagogue, where scripture records that a great number of both Jews and Greeks come to faith. But just as quickly as many came to faith, the crowd of people opposing them grew as well. The town was so divided, that soon the people who opposed Paul and Barnabas, planned to attack and stone them. At this, Paul and Barnabas flee to surrounding areas where they continued to preach the Good News.
Similarly, to Acts 3 when Peter and John healed a lame beggar at the temple gate, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man who was paralyzed with crippled feet. While Paul was preaching to the crowd in Lystra, he realized the lame man had the faith to be healed. In that moment, Paul stopped preaching, looked at the man and told him to stand up. Then the man jumped to his feet and started walking.
Others in the crowd who had witnessed the healing, believed that Paul and Barnabas were the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes, and that’s why they had the power to perform such miracles. Because of this, people quickly began to bring bulls for sacrifice and bring wreaths of flowers in order to honor their believed to be Greek gods. Now to the modern-day reader this seems like a weird comparison, but to the people of that time it would have been a common belief. In fact, there was an ancient myth that Zeus and Hermes had come to that region disguised as mortals. This legend had become wide-spread belief in Lystra, so the people believed that the Greek gods had returned to them in the form of Paul and Barnabas.
But look at the statement Paul makes to the crowd in verse 15, in response to their misunderstanding: “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings – just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.”
Paul responds to the crowd trying to worship him as a Greek god by declaring his human weakness. He says that we are merely human beings just like you. As he explains this, Paul tells the people that they should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God! The same living God that had empowered them to heal the paralytic. Paul’s response to the crowd teaches us that in man’s weakness, the glory of the gospel is revealed. That our weakness is an opportunity for God to display His power.
After Paul preaches to the Greeks, the Jews hear about this and come to persecute him. The Jews convinced the whole city to then stone Paul, and they stoned him so badly that they thought they had killed him. They dragged Paul’s body outside the city and left him for dead. But Paul wasn’t dead, and in his weakness, God gave him the strength to get up and continue in his ministry. Paul and Barnabas continue on their journey and preach the gospel in Derbe. After making many disciples there scripture says, Paul and Barnabas return to Lystra where they had been persecuted so harshly.
As Paul returns, he encourages the believers still in Lystra by “telling them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God”. He teaches the believers that weakness and trials are an opportunity to show the power and glory of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Later as Paul is writing to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3, Paul references the very events in this passage when he says, “my persecutions and sufferings that came upon me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. Indeed, all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”.
Today maybe you’re experiencing persecution for your faith, and you’ve become discouraged. What I want you to understand is that the persecution we face is an opportunity to show God’s power. Paul understood this and encouraged the believers that regardless of the sufferings he went through, that it was worth it to bring the gospel to others! So whatever difficulty or persecution you’re facing today, remember that God has not left you to face it alone. He’s walking with you through it, and wants to show you His power!