Paulus, preaching, had noticed the cripple, and he paused and spoke to him. “Stand upright on your feet!” he commanded the cripple.
The cripple, his eyes fixed on Paulus’s, lunged forward, then found his footing and stood. The whole synagogue exploded in amazement and uproar. Paulus and Barnabus were mobbed by the celebrating Jews. The cripple astounded them all by beginning to dance, leading the dance right out of the building and into the street where the Gentiles could not believe at first what they were witnessing. Then the whole city came running when word spread about the crippled man’s miracle. Business came to a sudden standstill. Hundred of people thronged the street round the synagogue. Everyone had to see the marvel for himself.
“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” the pagan Lycaonians cried, beginning to worship Paulus and Barnabus. Barnabus they called Jupiter, because he was the big, tall man of the two, and Paulus they called Mercurius, because he was small and the chief speaker. The chief priest of the Temple of Jupiter heard of the marvel, then led a procession to do honor to the newly arrived gods. He brought with him garlands and oxen to the gates where Paulus and Barnabus were carried by the crowd on men’s shoulders. Immediately, they prepared to sacrifice the oxen as offerings to the two apostles.
Horrified, Paulus struggled to get free of the worshipers. “Sirs,” he cried to them, “why do you do these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach to you that you should turn from these vanities to the Living God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, who in times past suffering all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless, he did not leave himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
These words were lost in the uproar, as the apostles argued and protested, scarcely able to stop the sacrifices and offerings the priest and the people wanted to make to them.
The next day the anti-missionaries arrived, and they had no difficulty, despite the people’s adulation for the apostles as gods, persuading them that Paulus and Barnabus were deceivers, since they had performed like gods but refused to accept due honors. What could be so base as that, as to quench the piety of the people? The people, therefore, concluded that they had been tricked and misled by charlatans, and that the miraculous healing of the cripple had been contrived by a master magician.
Enraged, they seized stones from the street and stoned Paulus and Barnabus just beyond the main gate where they dragged them.
Paulus lay without movement a short distance from Barnabus. Barnabus was unconscious, but his companion was worse off. A large chunk of rock had struck his head such a blow that blood lay everywhere. Some matter of his brains also leaked out in a puddle from a crack in his skull.
People who bent over to see the body drew back, avoiding the open, staring eyes of the dead man. As for the one who was still breathing, they left him alone, suddenly feeling distaste for the violence they had inflicted on the strangers, men they had recently thought were like gods. Ashamed and feeling dirty-handed, the crowd melted away, leaving the two bodies in the open roadstead where only beggars and dogs loitered in the late afternoon sun.
Where were his disciples, those who had newly converted to the Way, becoming believers in Yeshua the Christ?
Too afraid to venture forth so soon, they waited for the crowds to disperse in the city streets. Only then did they make their way singly to the city gate to find the apostles and see what they might do for them. Barnabus, they revived soon enough with water and strong wine.
Paulus, however, was dead. Only the healed cripple, remembering his great debt to Paulus, ministered a last kindness to the apostle. He took his head cloth and bound it tightly around the fractured skull of the apostle before kissing him and weeping over him.
The strangest thing happened the moment his tears fell on Paulus’s ashen face. The apostle’s chest moved, as if he were breathing again. Then he sneezed. His eye lids fluttered.
Then opened as the healed fellow reared back, thinking a dead man was rising up from the grave to haunt him.
Paulus seemed to recognize the man, but he could not speak. He gasped, and water was brought and moistened his tongue and mouth enough so he could get his first words out.
“I saw heaven with my own eyes!” he rasped out.
By this time the disciples were all bent over Paulus. “Tell us what you saw!” they cried.
Paulus struggled to rise but he was too weak and he fell back. Blood was streaming from his body, and he might still die again. “I was taken by messengers of God to the third heaven,” he told them. “But—but—“ The apostle fell silent.
The disciples were beside themselves. Here, the apostle had come back to life, claimed that he had seen heaven, but was tongue-tied!
“Please tell us more!” they implored the half-dead man. Barnabus, however, had revived enough to command them to leave Paulus alone. “He will tell you those things later, if he wishes,” he croaked through bloody, smashed lips. “Now will you kindly take us somewhere so we may recover?”
Ashamed of how they were acting, the disciples hurried to carry the apostles to a safe place and get everything needed, bandages and medicines, to save their lives.
A few days later, Paulus was still silent. Barnabus, now able to talk without pain, turned to the evangelist. “The people say you were taken to heaven. Is that true, my beloved brother? Did the Lord honor you?”
Paulus turned his face away. “It is too great a vision to tell these people. It would only cause trouble for them. And I—I would become proud! Therefore, the Lord commanded me to hold silence. If they ask again, tell them it must remain as it is—hidden by the Lord.”
Barnabus sighed and closed his eyes. “It is not likely they will like your explanation, dear brother,” he said. “But I am at peace with it.”
Paulus, relieved that Barnabus accepted his silence on the subject so readily, could not help thinking about what he had lately seen.
Why had the Lord favored him with such glorious sights and revelations almost beyond number? What was he anyway to be given such favor? Nothing! He was the least of the apostles, having persecuted the Church of Yeshua with the executioner’s sword and prison cell and torture. It hadn’t mattered to him if it were man, woman, or child. All had fared the same under his power, for he had been determined to stamp out the sect of Yeshua, and leave not root or branch.
In the darkened room of a disciple’s house, as the apostle lay in his blood-soaked bandages, his whole body and particularly his head wound on fire, he was tortured in turn by his former acts. He was forgiven by the Lord, he knew for a certainty, but he couldn’t forget. He saw the face of each martyr, old woman, aged grandfather, young maiden, helpless child, pregnant mother—and though they did not accuse him any longer, he could not help recalling how they looked at him as he gave his men orders to either torture them further or slay them. Their blood meant nothing to him then, for he had grown cold to their cries of pain and finally to their deaths.
But all that was changed the moment he became a follower of Yeshua. It seemed the skin was ripped off his heart. How it throbbed and writhed at the thought of what he had done to all those innocent, unprotesting people! The memories he had would follow him to the end of his days, he knew.
If only he could forget, the pain of his body from the stoning would be welcome!
Then it was one of the martyrs, a little girl, who took his hand and led Paulus beyond the gate of human flesh to the heavenly courts! How could not Paulus weep as he was being led along? He could scarcely see what he was being shown, he was so overwhelmed with tears.
The magnificent gates, the walls of gold and precious stones of every kind, the names inscribed on the foundations, the mountains and valleys, the whole majestic panorama of heaven, glory upon glory, it was all shown him through the wavering prisms of his constantly flowing tears.
Finally, he was set down by a fountain, on the side of a white crystal river. Garbed in spotless white robes, people were coming like him, then led into the water, which rose over their heads. Paulus watched as the bathers reached the farther shore and stepped out of the water, and they seemed to glow with joy from head to feet, with the purest radiance.
“You are not ready yet to be received,” a voice spoke to him, touching upon the question in his mind. Paulus turned round, but there was no one but the little girl staring at him.
“When you have suffered for My Name, you will return here, and pass into the water of the stream.”
Again Paulus looked, but there was no one. He knew, however, it was the Lord.
In the distance, over on the other side, a bright light moved and then took shape as the Lord Yeshua. The Lord paused to speak to each saint in turn as each person climbed out of the cleansing water.
Afterwards, the Lord turned and gazed across at Paulus, who felt an indescribable longing to join the others who were assembled on the opposite bank.
“Return to your disciples,” the Lord said clearly to him. “You must first suffer for My sake and bear my Name to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
The next thing that happened was he felt a burning brand wrap around his head. He thought his head would be wrenched off, it was so painful. Gradually, the pain dulled, and he opened his eyes and saw the world of flesh—all dark and shadowy compared to heaven’s blinding glories, full of sickness, sorrow, and dying, and sin.
“I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth,” an inner voice spoke to him, as he almost cried out in shock and protest. With utmost effort, Paulus controlled his disappointment and dismay at being returned to earth. Love flooded his heard, love from the heavenly place—which was flooded with love from end to end, he had felt on his visit. This heavenly love would not be denied. The world was desperate to know it. Could he withhold it from the perishing world? Only the most selfish and hard-hearted man on earth could do such a thing. And Paulus found, at Lystra, that he was no longer that man.