“The people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things.”
So the story went as I read with my children out of the book of Acts. The past few chapters have been filled with similar events, and it is without a doubt the subject of the chapters to come – civil unrest.
Paul and Barnabas experienced the results of their preaching the gospel of Jesus in synagogues and to everyone from jailers to women who had gone down to the river to pray, and at this point in the story, Paul is now journeying with Silas. When arriving in a city, the pattern adopted by Paul at this time of his ministry was to start with the Jewish synagogues, sharing the good news of Jesus through the persuasion of evidence from the scriptures. Following his discussions with the people of the synagogues, many would agree and follow him, and this would anger the Jewish leaders, who then presented Paul and his cohorts to the civil authorities as promoting sedition. Signs and wonders also attracted the attention of gentiles whose pocketbooks took a hit when a demon was exorcised or when they lost market share in the miracle business. Riots and mobs would result, dragging people before the local authorities, accosting Paul’s brothers in Christ and even going so far as to stone Paul and leave his body outside of the city. These stories are related within the book of Acts and referred to in Paul’s epistles, marking the human propensity to respond, when receiving offence, with violence and manipulation. Paul’s journeys reveal much brokenness in the hearts of the Jewish church leaders, in contrast to the beauty of the gospel and serve as an example of righteousness in hard circumstances.
In Iconium, for example, a great number of Jews and Greeks believed, “But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” (Acts 14:1-2)
This figure of speech is the preliminary step used against Paul and Barnabas and is swiftly countered when Paul and his companions remain longer to speak boldly for the Lord who accompanied their speech with signs and wonders. Paul and his companions countered poisoning of the mind with persuasive speech and God himself showed up with signs and wonders. “But the people of the city were divided”. The result was violence. Mobs attempted to stone them and followed them to other cities. How did this escalate? It all began with the poisoning of the mind, conversations that twisted, like poison, good news into bad news. Contradictions and dismissal of the facts, so the Bible tells us, from wonders performed by God himself.
In this age of divided people, allegations of “fake news” and grave accusations that, if true, honest rulers should be disturbed, those that follow Christ have in Paul an example of how they ought to respond to offence. While the lies and manipulation led to mobs and stonings, Paul and his brothers in Christ responded with grace and truth. This didn’t mean that he just sat back and allowed the lies to go unabated, but he persuaded with the facts of the Gospel, the prophets and the wonders that God did amongst the people and by appealing for what was right under their own system of law. Where the law of the land allowed, Paul exercised his rights as a Roman Citizen, thereby holding the people accountable to their own authorities. The Bible tells us is that there is no authority except from God, which isn’t easy, but the Gospel still reigns supreme for the God of the Bible remains in control. (Romans 13:1) For this reason Paul tells us to Pray for our leaders and calls us to honour the heavenly father above all others.