“They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.” Acts 14. 21-22From Dave Atkinson:
In Acts 13.2, Luke (the writer of Acts) tells us that Paul and Barnabas had been set apart by God, “for the work to which I have called them” and that they had obediently set off to preach the gospel wherever they could.
Jumping to today’s verses, we are told that many people in a place called Derbe became Christians; and then Paul and Barnabas returned to places
, where they had been previously, to encourage new brothers and sisters. It is a good thing that they returned to encourage others but, perhaps, not in itself too surprising.
Until, that is, we look at what happened between Acts 13.2 and 14.22. In Antioch, after what was a promising response to God’s Word, those in opposition stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from the region.
In Iconium, again it all started well but then Paul and Barnabas heard of a plot to ill treat and stone them, so they fled to Lystra.
In Lystra, after healing a man who hadn’t walked since birth, the crowds at first tried to treat them like gods. But, when stirred up by the opposition that had followed Paul and Barnabas from Antioch and Iconium, this same crowd stoned Paul to the point that they thought he was dead, and then dumped him outside the city.
Paul survived and he and Barnabas quickly went on to Derbe where “they preached the gospel … and won a large number of disciples.”
Returning to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch suddenly takes on a different complexion. If this had been me, I think I would have wanted to remain in Derbe rather than return to places that I knew would be difficult – to the point that my life would be in danger.
But not for Paul and Barnabas who showed the courage to return, to keep on preaching the truth of Jesus, to support and encourage new believers, and to prepare them for the persecution they would face for following Jesus. Paul and Barnabas knew that God had called them (13.2) and would equip them for the task.
Two challenges for us jump out. Firstly, have we been avoiding a person or place where we know, from experience, that we will likely face opposition because of our faith in Jesus? Ask the Lord to give you the courage to return and witness for him.
Secondly, it reminds us again of the need for us to support and encourage Christians who experience hostility and persecution for their faith in so many places around the world. It might not be feasible to encourage them in person, but we can pray and offer financial support through organisations such as our mission partner, Open Doors.