Acts 14:19-20 “…. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
Each time I read these two compelling verses I find myself going through a raft of thoughts and feelings. What exactly did those disciples who gathered around Paul say and do? What possessed Paul to get up and then go back into the town where he had been so very badly treated? Why is there no hint of self-pity or blaming God, after all, Paul was proclaiming the Good News?
Large parts of the New Testament are connected in some way with pain; trouble; persecution and the ability of believers to do things like endure; stand, persevere and press on. These are not the words and phrases of a smooth and easy life. They are placed, I believe, within the New Testament for a reason.
I remember living in Kathmandu when the local Catholic church, just down the road from our home was bombed by a radical Hindu group. Thankfully no-one was hurt but it did get my attention. I was not filled with terror, the probable mission and goal of the perpetrators. Ironically, the bombing of the Church that day galvanised my thinking, heart and spirit. I felt an even greater love and was compelled by an even greater desire to be the hands and feet of Christ. We resolved, as a family, to continue on both quietly and diligently with the work we were there to do. Within days the Christian and mission community gathered together as disciples and we drew strength and great encouragement from one another - we would not be deterred. The Holy Spirit was amongst us and we simply carried on with our work.
As a Church and as disciples of Christ we are clearly not immune from the realities and challenges that life throws at us. However, a beleaguered, battered and perhaps a spiritually mauled Paul was both revived and renewed when his fellow disciples gathered around him… Something happens when believers gather together in unity.
In these days of self-isolation and confinement to the home can I encourage each one of us to communicate with you brothers and sister; send emails, texts, pick up the phone or even better, be like the Apostle Paul - send some handwritten letters! We may not be able to gather physically at this time, but the spirit of unity is not confined to a physical. Let’s gather around one another to renewed and revived.
The final words I leave to the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?....... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Rom 8:35-38