Jews from Antioch and Iconium. Those were the last two cities where Paul had been.
In Antioch people “stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district” (Acts 13:50). At Iconium, “When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled…” (Acts 14:5-6)
Now Paul is in Lystra. “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.” Imagine the scene. Paul, stoned and left for dead.
I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t part of Paul’s plan that day—or any day—to get pelted with rocks and left for dead. But then God intervened in an apparently miraculous way. “When the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city” (Acts 4:20).
We don’t know exactly what happened. Were the disciples helping him to walk? Was Paul fully and completely healed? We don’t know for certain.
What I can tell you for sure, is that Paul wasn’t going to forget that treatment anytime soon. Being stoned was a particularly brutal and painful way to die. They didn’t use tiny little rocks. They threw the largest stones they could accurately hurl. Bones were crushed. Internal organs were damaged. It wasn’t pretty.
And that scene—and the accompanying pain he felt—was surely embedded into the mind of the Apostle Paul. His plans for preaching the gospel that day had been greatly altered. And it could have altered his plans to ever preach the gospel again. It would have been easy for Paul to say, “The cost is too high.” Even if God had healed him, the memory of that stoning surely lingered on. Was he willing to go through that again? Would you be?
But what did Paul do? “…he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch…” (Acts 4:20-21).
He returned to the very places where he recently had been mistreated. And what did he do there?
The Scripture tells us that Paul was “…encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 4:22).
How could Paul have done that? How could he look beyond the circumstances and pain to see God’s hand in every situation?
Perhaps the answer is found in Paul’s writings. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” “Rejoice in the Lord always!” “Be anxious for nothing.”
Paul’s focus wasn’t on himself, but on God.