19] Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20] However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.
Perhaps this is the time Paul experienced what he recorded in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago – whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows – such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows – how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
From time to time, someone comes along who claims to have died and gone to heaven, only to return to this life and tell us all about it. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, “God knows,” but Paul says some things about his experience that we ought to compare these other experiences by. First, what he heard was “inexpressible.” Second, it’s “not lawful for a man to utter.” Third, lest he be puffed up with pride over this experience, he was given a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet” me, “lest I be exalted above measure,” v. 7.
If we were actually caught up to heaven in this body, I’m not sure we’d be able to describe that experience. There is nothing in this life to compare it with. That’s one reason the Book of Revelation is so difficult to understand. We’ve very little, if anything, to compare it with. “Streets of gold,” “gates of pearl.” John describes these things that he actually saw, but maybe these visions, while describing things that are real, are also the Spirit’s way of telling us that God measures wealth by a far different standard than we do.
That’s not the interesting thing to me, though, about these verses. Verse 19 tells us those multitudes who once wanted to worship Paul as a god, now wanted to kill him. Ah, the fickleness of human nature. Popularity may come and go, and usually does, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. “I am the LORD God, I change not,” Hebrews 13:8; Malachi 3:6.
There’s only one sure and certain thing in this world, and that is the faithfulness of God. Even in those relationships of life which are the closest to us and the most meaningful – spouse, parent, sibling – there are likely to be disappointments. Even on those occasions where we blame God for “disappointing” us, the fault is with us, not with Him. We have too much of Adam in us, wanting to do things our way, but His way is the good way.
The other thing that interests me about vs. 19, 20 is Paul’s “reaction” to being killed – as the townspeople thought. His body was dumped outside the city. However, that’s not the end of the story. V. 20 continues, However… As the disciples gathered around his body, he stirred, rose up and went into the city. And the next day, he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.
“The next day”…!
A few cultures still practice stoning, but such a thing is far removed from us here in the West. Indeed, we bend over backwards to protect the “rights” of the condemned. Not so in this case. Surely, Paul had severe cuts and bruises, perhaps some broken bones. These “stones” were not little pebbles. And I’ve read that as a final stroke a large rock was used to crush the skull and finish the job. That may or may not have been the case with Paul, but whatever happened, his condition would not have been good. No doubt, his injuries were treated as best they could by the disciples, but still….
The next day.
The next day, Paul was “back on the job,” so to speak. Nothing short of actual death could prevent him from serving His God.
Isn’t this a lesson for us?