February 17, 2021·Mike Gentry
I hesitated to use in this devotion what I gleaned from the Word of God this week. It’s not one of those words that’s easy to share, nor is it easy to receive for many. However, I really feel God would want me to share what He’s put on my heart. When I read the Book of Acts, it always speaks volumes to my soul. I love to read the stories of the Early Church, about the acts of the apostles and other disciples. These men and women truly loved God and followed the teachings of Jesus, even in spite of the extreme circumstances many of them faced.
When I was reading in Acts 14, I came across one of these extreme circumstances. It involves the life of the Apostle Paul. I’ve read Acts 14:19 time and time again over the years and even notated that, dang, Paul was stoned. Like, people threw giant rocks at Paul to try to kill him (which is a terrible way to go out, if you ask me). But it really hit me again that the Jewish leaders actually stoned Paul “to death” (or so they thought). They dragged him out of the city, because they thought they were through with him, that he was done, that they had won; they thought they had killed him and stopped him from preaching the Gospel for good. So here’s Paul, a man who just a few years before had been persecuting Christians and had been present and watched the stoning of Stephen back in Acts 7. We even see that he approved of it in Acts 8:1. Here, in Acts 14, he’s suffering the same fate. Let’s read Acts 14:19. It says, “Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead.” So, there it is… the stoning of Paul.
Now, I want to note what happened next. In verse 20 it says, “But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into town. The next day, he left with Barnabas for Derbe.” You read that right, Paul, who had just been stoned, got up shortly thereafter — and went back into the town — the same town whose religious leaders just stoned him!!! First of all, who in their right mind walks back into a place where people attempted to kill him!?! Someone who has great faith and trust in God, that’s who. Secondly, though it doesn’t expressly say what exactly happened, scholars believe (and I agree) that there was fervent intercession going on for healing, because nobody just gets up from being stoned and walks away a short while later, and then leaves the next day to go for roughly an 80-mile hike to Derbe! God was definitely with Paul throughout his journey. Paul is one of my favorite leaders in the Bible. He refused to quit, even though people threatened to kill him and tried to kill him multiple times; even though he was thrown in prison multiple times; even though he was beaten, bruised, and tortured multiple times. The two greatest things I think we can learn from Paul is perseverance and compassion. I would even say that in my mind, next to Jesus, there is no one else in the Bible that had more compassion for the lost than Paul. Even to the point that six chapters later, in Acts 20:22-27, Paul utters these words:
“And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned to me by the Lord Jesus — the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God. And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.”
Reading this passage, you can already tell that Paul knew his days were numbered. He knew he was never going to see these people he was speaking to again. Yet, even after everything the Apostle Paul went through in the past — and knowing his future would ultimately end in brutal death—he still continued to press on “telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God,” to everyone he came in contact with. I pray that someday I’ll be able to say as Paul did, “I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.”
My challenge, first to myself, then to anyone who would want to join me, is to live my life in such a way that people always see Jesus. For that to happen, we need to see people the way Jesus saw people. He had compassion for all, and a special place for “the least of these.” Paul understood this principle and had compassion, even to the point of death, just as Jesus did.
I understand that for most people, the idea of dying for your faith isn’t something you’re thrilled about. And thankfully, most will never have to worry about that. But are you willing to live your life in such a way that you can come to a point where you can say of yourself, like Paul, “If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.” I want to be able to confidently say that, but I will be completely honest with you, I have some way to go in the compassion department. But that’s what I’m striving for.
Lord Jesus, help me to live with compassion in my heart, like You did. Help me to live my life in such a way that I can confidently say, as Paul did, that I have done everything I can to lead people to You, Lord. Help me to live my life in the way you want me to. In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Pastor Mike Gentry