But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day 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, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Apostle Paul was not just playing possum. He wasn't feigning death to fool the angry mob. The attackers undoubtedly had experience murdering people by stoning. So had Paul. He knew better than to attempt a ruse. And when he finally fell unconscious, he was dragged out of the city and dumped as the dead man they thought him to be. Paul the preacher, Paul the rogue rabbi, Paul the scholar had been dealt with once and for all. End of Paul—end of story!
The only thing is that it was emphatically not the end of the story. In fact, the very next day, Paul and his companions go back to Lystra, then to Derbe, and then keep on travelling, preaching the Gospel all the way. It's a story that propels the Good News of Jesus Christ from that remarkable day to this remarkable day.
Jesus had promised His disciples that tribulations would be a part of following Him. They should expect no better treatment than He had received, and He promises us the same thing. When the Gospel is preached, it will divide the crowd. Some will hear, have their hearts made alive, and join the throng of saints who worship The Lord. Others will rebel and attack and fight.
But the witness of scripture and the weight of history teach us at least three things about those certain attacks. First, the Gospel will not be defeated. Jesus said so plainly. And it is the final, eternal victory of our Lord's resurrection that guarantees that truth. Jesus really did die. And that wasn't the end of the story.
Also, tribulation actually serves to strengthen the Church and sharpen its message. Like galvanizing steel in a furnace, persecution prepares believers for the tasks to which we've all been called. Becoming strong in any sphere of our lives takes work, is often painful, and usually happens slowly. So it is with our growth in Christ. At the last supper, Jesus promised that He had overcome the world, telling the disciples to, "be of good cheer." Within 24 hours He was crucified.
Lastly, the very real, very frequent fact of persecution serves to spread the Gospel to every tribe and every tongue, until the end of the age. And sometimes the tribulation isn't even about being a believer. Persecuted people live all around us here in North Texas. They've come for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they've simply escaped the reality of starvation back home. And by God's grace, they hear of the mercy of God and the good news of Jesus.
So what does all this mean? For most of us, at least for now, being murdered as a Christ follower isn't too likely. Yet it means the same for us as for disciples in every age. Paul says what it means. Yes, that Paul—chased, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, mocked, imprisoned, and ultimately martyred Paul.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:1-5