Acts 14:19-20 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered round him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
It seems probable that this was the occasion of the experience Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 12, that we would call a “near death experience.” It had to have been extremely painful, but once he had seen heaven, Paul knew that “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) I’m sure it contributed to his boldness throughout the rest of his ministry, because the worst anyone could do would be to send him to heaven! The circumstances of Paul being stoned were ironic, and point out the danger of looking at people’s responses. The people of Lystra, having seen a genuine miracle, were ready to sacrifice bulls and worship Paul and Barnabas, but after the apostles managed to put a stop to that, the Jews from Antioch and Iconium managed to rechannel the mob mentality into stoning Paul. It really brings to mind the crowds in Jerusalem that hailed Jesus as the Messiah on Palm Sunday and then, just days later, shouted for His crucifixion. We love the adulation of the crowd, when we should be seeking the approval of our God. It’s all part of switching from a temporal to an eternal perspective. That can happen gradually, and often does, but God knew Paul needed to make the switch both quickly and thoroughly, so He allowed Paul to be stoned.
I’ve not had a near death experience, but my wife has. I certainly remember the event from my perspective! In February of 1975 she was hanging laundry outside our rental house in Sasebo and her chest started hurting, to the point that she asked me to finish hanging the clothes and she went inside and laid down. After I finished, I went into the bedroom and found her lying on her back on the bed. I knelt beside the bed, took her hand, and called her name. After several repetitions, as I recall it, she opened her eyes. I won’t go into all the details, but she had been to heaven, and was sent back because “Jack and the girls need you.” I’m deeply grateful, but I also know that the next time she dies, it would be extremely inappropriate for me to pray for her resurrection. That would be pure selfishness on my part! I had not known that she had a real fear of death before that, but she has certainly not had such a fear since then. The experience has also strengthened her to deal with a wide variety of physical problems, all the way up to Parkinson’s Disease. She knows without question that however painful or inconvenient they might be, they are temporary, and what lies beyond will more than make up for it all. (2 Corinthians 4:17) I didn’t experience all of that directly, but watching her has confirmed the faith I already have, and I too look forward to heaven. I’m certainly not fond of pain, but as Jake Hess sang, “Death ain’t no big deal.” My desire and my task is to bring as many people as possible to that position through faith in the only Savior, Jesus Christ.
Father, thank You for this reminder. This is so basic, and yet so many Christians, even, fear death, and/or are obsessed with it in some way. Thank You for the Living Hope album You have us working on. Thank You that we’ll record the first song for that tomorrow. May it be powerful not simply in preventing suicides, but in guiding many to eternal life, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!