As Joshua led Israel across the Jordan river there were 12 men chosen for a special two-tiered task. After the Lord miraculously stopped the flow of the water and the river bed dried, they were to find 12 large rocks to stack into a pile in the middle – where probably the current was the strongest. Then they were to find another 12 rocks that they were to carry out from the river bottom onto the western bank. These would then be used to make a cairn, or a memorial, of Israel’s dry-shod crossing of the Jordan. “And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel: That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.”
Every geologist knows, as so do most children, the rocks and stones our planet have lots of stories to tell. Rock tell stories about floods and volcanos; They talk about animals and plants long since dead. They can give evidence to some murders, like that of Abel. Then there are stories they’d like to tell if only the Lord would give them permission to speak. For example, what could the stone over the Lord Jesus’ tomb tell us about the resurrection. And would the rocks which the mob wanted to use to stone Christ have something to say? The Creator even spoke about stones which would like to speak. “When he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. And some of the Pharisees from among multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.”
For this message, I’d like to put some words into the mouths of the stones which were used in an attempt on Paul’s life. “What mean ye by these stones?”
For example, these stones were the answer from some who had NO ANSWERS.
The word “insanity” cannot be found in the Bible, but the idea permeates the scriptures. Sometimes the only explanation for the behavior of sinners is madness or insanity. And isn’t that what we see in this chapter?
Paul and Barnabas played a role in the spectacular and miraculous healing of a well-known invalid. The people were so delighted that they immediately proclaimed the missionaries to be gods and would have offered sacrifices to them. But when Paul began trying to put a stop to their foolishness, the exuberant crowd turned worse than ugly. I know that they didn’t immediately try to kill the Apostles, but within a few days, they were picking up stones in an effort to silence the message of Paul. I can think of several REASONS for this, but the CAUSE of this 180 degree reversal was spiritual insanity.
Probably, as Paul first began preaching the gospel to those people, they were only curious. They were gentiles and heathens – not Jews; They had no affinity for any form of that Hebrew nonsense. I imagine that initially, their response wasn’t much more than that of Festus or the Athenians. They probably considered Paul and Barnabas to be the only insane people in town. But since they were dealing in only ideas and religion, they were considered to be basically harmless. Then they healed the crippled man, and the opinions and expectations of the people drastically changed. But Paul destroyed that friendly rapport, by calling their gods and their worship “vanity.” Then a few days later when some of the Jews from Antioch and Iconium began to arrived, further 0 whipping up the ire of the Lystrans, and Paul ended up being stoned with rocks.
The problem wasn’t that Paul was wrong or that he lied in his assessment of their religion. It wasn’t that he had was guilty of blasphemy or heresy against Biblical truth. The problem was that neither the Jews nor the Gentiles could satisfactorily answer what he had said. The Jews WERE blind to their Messiah, and the Gentiles WERE worshiping vain and stupid idols. They were both lost in their sins and doomed to the Lake of Fire. But neither of those people could disprove what Paul had said. They were angry, but they couldn’t quench that anger with scriptures, science, facts or genuine faith. Stones were the only answer they could come up with, because they had no answers.
Stones can also be an EXPRESSION of FORGETFULNESS.
A part of the insanity in this case was the former paraplegic, walking around town testifying to the miracle. How could the mob pick up stones to kill Paul, while that man still lived among them? The only reasonable answer is insanity AND forgetfulness.
I have to wonder where the former miracle was during the stoning of Paul. Could it be possible that he, too, turned on the one who told him to stand upright? As I say, there is an insanity in sin; and there is sin in a lot of insanity. Whether or not that man joined the murderous mob, the fact of his healing could not be denied. If he had been TEMPORARILY healed and a day later couldn’t get out of bed, as is often the case with some of the fraudulent faith-healers today, then perhaps the mob would have had a good reason to stone Paul. But in this case, I think that as they were gifts and calling from God – they were without repentance. That man may have been hit by a truck the next day, but the Lord didn’t directly reverse His miraculous healing. So where was that man when the rocks began to fall on Paul? Do you suppose that one of the insane priests of Jupiter or even of the Jews, might have been tempted to murder the man in order to silence HIS witness of the Lord along with Paul’s? Weren’t the priests in Jerusalem tempted to do that with the blind man whom the Lord healed?
When the mob began flinging those stones down on Paul, it was because they had forgotten the miracle. Isn’t it also true that when WE sin against the Lord, it is always a statement of forgetfulness? That man’s healing is an illustration of the greater miracle of eternal salvation from sin. If someone has been forgiven and delivered from the penalty of his sins, and yet he continues in sin, isn’t he proving his forgetfulness and testifying to his own insanity? “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” Stones can be an expression of forgetfulness.
Third, stones CANNOT HURT a person, unless it is the will of God that they hurt.
Do you remember when your mother taught you to reply to the taunts of your peers with a little poetry? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” That little ditty isn’t exactly true, because name-calling can sometimes hurt more than sticks and stones. But mother hoped that with that kind of thinking then maybe the pain could have been reduced.
But beyond that, as we see right here, not even sticks and stones can hurt us if the Lord wills against it. We have no way of knowing what that mob intended when they attacked Paul that day. I can’t tell you that they really wanted to kill him. It might have been that they only intended to drive him out of town. The stones might have been relatively small. But even small stones can break bones. After a few well-thrown stones Paul collapsed, and either he died or they thought that he had died. Then without a great deal of regret, they dragged his broken body outside of town toward the city dump. Whether Paul was dead or not, his body was so badly hurt that the crowd thought that he was dead. “Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city.” We might call this the “Second Miracle in Lystra.”
Man proposes, but God disposes. Those men meant to hurt or kill Paul, but they couldn’t do any real damage, because God intended for Paul to minister the gospel for another twenty years or so. When the Lord healed that first man, it got people’s attention. But when He healed the second man, raising him from the dead, it really smote a few of them. In Matthew 10 the Lord Jesus said, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” We might add that there is no reason to fear them which can try to kill the body, because there is a God over body and soul, Who determines and controls both physical and eternal life. Stones cannot hurt a man if the Lord doesn’t want them to hurt him.
Stones and stonings can in fact BRING US CLOSER to the Lord.
We read earlier from II Corinthians 12:2. “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” I am of the opinion that Paul died under the hail of those rocks in Lystra.
And I also believe that Paul very poorly veils the fact that in II Corinthians he was talking about himself. “Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” Assuming that my assumptions are correct, Paul then tells us that his experience of death, and the injuries which caused it, were in fact blessings that helped him to lean more firmly upon the Lord. The thorn in the flesh could very easily have been residual effects from this stoning.
Whether my interpretation is right or wrong, I trust that my APPLICATION is Biblical. Paul was blessed by that thorn in his flesh. Just as Jacob was a better man for the things that he endured at the hand of his brother and Laban. Job was closer to the Lord after his sufferings than he was before them. Paul’s thorn in the flesh helped him to say, “Most gladly will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”
Another thing which stones can do is BEAR FRUIT.
Who can say whether or not Timothy became a disciple of Christ because of what he saw happen in Paul? I would like to believe that Timothy heard the gospel and trusted Christ without the influence of either of the miracles, but that is just my preference. He might have been saved after seeing the healing of the crippled man. Or he might have bowed to the Lord Jesus when Paul walked back into the city. Then again, he might have already been one of the disciples; He might have been one of those who were standing over Paul when his wounds healed, the blood evaporated, and he stood up leaping and walking.
But even if Timothy wasn’t converted by this second miracle, were there any others saved? Who can say? I believe that when God wills it to be so, stones can bear fruit.
And stones can also BE the fruit.
Do you believe the words of Galatians 6:7-8? “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; But he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” I sincerely hope for your sake that you believe these words. If you are a Christian, one day you will stand before the Bema seat to have your works judged by the Saviour. For some things you will be rewarded, but for other things you will suffer loss.
But I don’t believe that Galatians 6:7-8 are speaking specifically or only about the Bema. I think that they are talking about life in general. Many of the good things that we have done in the name of the Lord will be repaid by the Lord long before we die. “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.” But the other side of the coin is also true: if you sow to the flesh or if you hurt others, you may be hurt. “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” God is not vindictive; He does not need to seek revenge. But He IS a God of justice. “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
I cannot tell you that there was any kind of divine retribution involved when Paul was stoned. But neither can I tell you that the law of sowing and reaping was not in effect. In Acts 7 we find the words: “And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” This Saul was eventually converted to Christ and had his name changed to “Paul.” I believe in the law of sowing and reaping. It could be that Saul/Paul felt the sting of those stones because he had earlier stoned another of God’s servants. I can’t prove that those two stonings were related, but neither can anyone prove that they weren’t. Those stones in Lystra may have been fruit of seeds Paul himself had sown about 12 years earlier.
And that leads me to ask about the sort of seeds that you are sowing in your life right now? Have you been gossiping and slandering anyone recently? “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Are you as faithful to the Lord as you’d like Him to be to you? Are you sowing poison to your flesh? Remember that “he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.” Are you striving to be a blessing to people around you? Are you sowing STONES or are you sowing SEEDS? Whichever it is remember that you will reap that harvest at some point of time or eternity.
Stones have a memory and can be effective witnesses. They can be the answer of those who have no answers. They can be expressions of forgetfulness. They can bring us closer to the Lord. They can hurt. But they can’t hurt us any more than the Lord permits them to hurt us. They can bear good fruit. But they might actually be the fruit – evil fruit.