A Hero by the Name of Paul
When reading Acts chapter nine through chapter fourteen, one could pick any number of things to be amazed by. One could be amazed by the opposition shown toward a new convert by the name of Saul, who was teaching and preaching in several cities. His ministry starts in Damascus, and there he has to sneak out of the city due to death threats. He flees to Jerusalem, and his fate is the same there fleeing to Tarsus, his hometown, due to death threats. He stays in Tarsus until Barnabas retrieves him, and they preach in Antioch of Syria, until they go off on Paul’s first missionary journey. Along the way, they find themselves in Antioch of Pisidia, where they preach the gospel in the synagogue at the request of the rulers of the Synagogue. The people enjoyed what they heard, so they begged Paul to come back the following Sabbath and preach the message again. This time almost the whole city came! And in this city also, they were persecuted and forced to flee, because the Jews were jealous of the attention Paul and Barnabas received. From there they went on to Iconium, and again they were forced to flee the city due to threat of stoning.
And finally, they went on to Lystra, where Paul faced his greatest persecution so far in his ministry that the Bible describes. He was stoned almost to the point of death, and then dragged out of city and left to die.
One could be amazed by the amount of hatred, wickedness, and lack of sympathy it would take to treat another individual the way Paul was treated. Can you imagine keeping watch at a gate, waiting for another human to walk by in order to take his life? Keep in mind, you aren’t just watching during the day but at night also (Acts 9:24). It is so important for you to capture and kill another man that you are willing to sign up, along with other men, to take turns watching the gate day and night. What hatred! Can you imagine contemplating picking up a stone to heave at someone? Can you imagine starting the conversation with others saying, “We need to quiet the man they call Paul… and not just keep him quiet, but end his life?” Can you imagine going along with that conversation, asking what time, where, and saying, “I’ll be there.” (Acts 14:5) Can you imagine going through with the plan to throw rock after rock after rock at another man, finally concluding that he is dead, because he is no longer begging for mercy, no longer screaming out in pain, no longer seems to be moving or breathing? Can you imagine dragging that same person out of the city to leave him there to rot? (Acts 14:19)
Finally, and I believe this to be the most noteworthy, one could be amazed by the decisions made by Paul to stay the course.
Imagine you are Paul, and you are facing that type of persecution. After each location: Damascus, Jerusalem, Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, Paul had the same decision to make. What do I do… do I continue forward, or do I call it quits? All five times he continues to move forward with the Lord’s work. And all of these decisions led him to Derbe (Acts 14:20), where he makes the most amazing decision of all. Things seemed to have gone well in Derbe according to Acts, so he could end his journey on a high note, finish the loop around the Mediterranean regions, and go home to Tarsus, which is only 90 miles away. Or, he could travel 720 miles back through the cities that he fled due to persecution. This seems like a no brainer, but Paul made the heroic decision to do what was best for God’s Kingdom, instead of what was best for himself.
Regardless of what you find amazing or most interesting about these passages in Acts, I hope we all can draw inspiration from Paul’s great example of his showing love toward God and his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. He wasn’t about the easy way out. He wasn’t about having his plans circumvent God’s plans. He wasn’t about making sure God’s work only minimally impacted his life. Paul was a hero, not because he could perform miracles, not because he was an apostle, not because he wrote so many books of the Bible... He was a hero because he accepted help from his friends (Ananias/Barnabas), he kept things in perspective (2 Cor. 4:17), and he put others before himself. We too can be heroes for God’s Kingdom with God’s help. We must simply choose to be.