Suffering; September 3, 2020

Acts 14:19-20 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside of 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.

This story is told matter-of-factly, almost casually, when a stoning is a horrific thing. Paul was wounded so badly that those who did it assumed he was dead and dragged him out of the town, which in itself could cause significant injuries. That Luke would record it in this way is an indication of the brutality of life in the 1st Century. Disease wasn’t the only thing that shortened the life expectancy! However, God still had work for Paul to do, and He sent him back. Many scholars think that this is when Paul had the experience he describes in 2 Corinthians 12:1-6, and I would have to agree with them. My wife had what is called a near-death experience in February, 1975, and even she didn’t really want to come back at the time! Her experience came from a heart attack, but Paul’s came from a stoning. You can be sure his time in heaven was far more pleasant than what he faced when he came back! This records that when the disciples gathered around him he just got up, and the very next day set out for Derbe. We don’t know the extent of the miraculous healing he experienced, but my body hurts just thinking about doing that after such injuries. We in the Western church are such wimps! As it says in Hebrews, we don’t know anything about resisting sin to the point of shedding our blood. (Hebrews 12:4) We join the church looking for “your best life now,” and balk at the least hint of sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom of God. Only a small percentage of church members even tithe their income. It’s no wonder we have so little power! When we are fixated on having it easy in this life, whatever we say we believe, we are certainly not “storing up treasure in heaven,” as Jesus told us to do. (Matthew 6:19-21)

This is very close to home at the moment, and not just because we have Matthew 6:21 as our Verse for the Year. I’m in the middle of treatment for a basal cell carcinoma in my scalp. The initial tumor was removed early last month, but when tests showed malignancy, surgery was scheduled to remove the area around that, so I now have a plug taken out of my scalp. Yesterday I went for the post-op check for that, and was told that more malignant cells were detected in the center of the plug, but the edges were all clear, so now I’m scheduled to have skin graft surgery on Monday, taking skin from my upper chest to cover the hole, giving me an instant bald spot. None of this is particularly fun, but people have been amazed at how casually I am taking it. The thing is, I am sharply aware that whatever suffering (I really wouldn’t call it that) I am going through, it doesn’t begin to compare to what even my wife has gone through with her various surgeries, not to mention what Paul experienced in this passage. I have no room to complain! For many years I have been very attached to something Jesus said just before His arrest and crucifixion: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) The less I am emotionally invested in this world, and even in my body, the more I will be able to enjoy the blessings of heaven even before I go there. As Paul said, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Father, thank You for this reminder, and for the circumstances that make me open to receive it. Help me indeed rest, relax, and rejoice in You, whatever is going on with me or around me, so that I may be fully available for whatever tasks You have for me, for Your pleasure and glory. Thank You. Praise God!

About jgarrott

Born and raised in Japan of missionary parents. Have been here as an adult missionary since 1981.
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