But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. – Acts 14:14-20
The passage today is about Barnabas and Paul and how their healing and acting in Jesus name is creating confusion for some, and problems for Paul. The problem is that when the disciples exercise the power to heal, given them by the Holy Spirit, people are getting confused about who is doing the healing. I think God has some things to teach Paul and Barnabas through this harrowing event.
The confusion over authority is not exactly new, many people wondered by whose authority Jesus healed and accomplished miracles, but there was generally less confusion in the case of Jesus’s because He often explained that He was doing things in the name of His Father, God.
Paul and Barnabas are tearing their clothes in frustration because the people have brought sacrifices and offerings to honor them rather than God. They rightfully rush out to the crowd and try to set them straight about who is the Savior. They explain “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” These people seem to want to return to the days of the golden calf and God high above them. Paul and Barnabas have to remind them how big God really is and how by His hand everything was created.
Paul and Barnabas go on to provide evidence of a caring God “Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” I am not sure why they did not bring up the even more amazing sacrifice on the cross, but in some ways their appeal was that God is ever present and looking after all of us every day. The audience may have been unconverted Jews and perhaps appealing to their old way of thinking was a way to relate to them. Certainly Paul did not have the Lessons by the Lake that the disciples had so perhaps this was part of Paul’s learning process. I do not know.
God is certainly the Father of the Rain, but He is also the Father of the Spring of Living Water that came to take away the sins of the world. Paul and Barnabas ultimately “lose” the argument when a group of Jews come and convince the crowd that Paul and Barnabas are speaking blasphemy worthy of a stoning. Paul barely escapes with his life and his seemingly lifeless body is dragged from the city.
Paul is not dead but pretty beat up. I can’t help but wonder if this was in some way a lesson for Paul about his past persecution of Christians. Certainly what happened to him was something that he himself had inflicted on may faithful followers.
I am reminded of a scene from the book The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. In this story Aravis, a privileged and spoiled young woman, is attacked by a lion and her back is painfully torn. She finds out that Aslan, the Christ figure in the book, was actually the one who had torn her back.
‘It was I who wounded you,’ said Aslan. ‘I am the only lion you met in all your journeyings. Do you know why I tore you?’
‘The scratches on your back, tear for tear, throb for throb, blood for blood, were equal to the stripes laid on the back of your stepmother’s slave because of the drugged sleep you cast upon her. You needed to know what it felt like.’ – C.S. Lewis
So perhaps Paul, in experiencing the stoning, learned an important lesson about the consequences of his actions and perhaps would think carefully and prayerfully about his future decisions. Good advice for us all.
Prayer: God help us to seek Your wisdom and discernment when we embark to do things in Your Name.