The Apostle Paul was one tough son of a, er, gun. He may not have always been the nicest guy in the group, and certainly was not the most agreeable, but he was the veritable Dick the Bruiser of the Apostles. This is completely understandable; he had a very tough job: to travel the world to often hostile lands to preach the gospel to people who often were not receptive and who could express that lack of receptivity in some of the cruelly enthusiastic, to say the least, methods of the time. Further, in these travels, he had to contend with people who, like he, were Pharisees, and thus who would like nothing more than to shut him up by any means possible. This was not a job for the lily-livered.
Paul is on his first missionary journey with his pal Barnabas. He starts in Antioch, a city in which he was already spent some time and the city in which the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.” (Acts 11, 26) He does pretty well with the people of Antioch, and especially the Gentiles of the town. (Acts 13, 48) But then his former buddies, the Pharisees showed up and “stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas,” forcing the pair to vamoose before they get stoned, and not in the way we in the modern world interpret that verb.
Paul and Barnabas move on to Iconium with the same results. The Pharisees (“the unbelieving Jews,” Acts 14, 2, the term Paul (and John and Luke) uses for the Jewish religious authorities, not the Jewish people in general) are on his tail and again “stirred up the Gentiles” and Paul and Barnabas make a quick exit before the rocks come out.
The duo end up in Lystra, where Paul cures a lame man (Acts 14, 8-10), which really wins the people over, though not in a way Paul would have preferred. He has to persuade the people that he is not Hermes and that Barnabas is not Zeus (Acts 14, 11-18). Once he convinces the Lystrans that he is, like them, only a man, who shows up again but the Pharisees? They once again manage to stir up the crowd, and this time Paul doesn’t escape and is stoned. The Lystrans drag him out of the city and leave him for dead. Paul’s disciples gather around him and, lo and behold, he isn’t dead. That is remarkable enough and is usually the part in the story when readers zone out. But the next sentence (Acts 14, 20) is even more astonishing.
“But when the disciples gathered around him, he got up and entered the city.”
So Paul goes to Lystra, gets stoned, and is left for dead. When he recovers, he doesn’t do what you and I would have done, i.e., get the he(ck) out of there. He goes right back into the city the residents of which had just stoned him! Maybe he’s a little touched, but he’s definitely tough…and fearless.
After Paul and Barnabas leave Lystra, they head to Derbe and then, in a passage people mostly gloss over, head back to Antioch via Lystra and Iconium. (Acts 14, 21) So he goes back to each city in which the people just a little while before had been preparing to line rocks in his direction.
The man was a glutton for punishment, one supposes. But Paul’s hunger for doing the Lord’s will transcended what most people, in both the modern and ancient worlds, would consider his craziness. Thank God Paul was a tough, stubborn, and perhaps a little crazy, man.