Man or God? - Human or Divine?
THEME: Paul and Barnabas are run out of Pisidian Antioch, but continue to evangelize in Iconium, then in Lystra. Paul heals a crippled man there, and because of this miracle, he and Barnabas are supposed to be divine gods. This mistaken identity gives Paul the opening he needs to preach the Gospel from a “non-Jewish” context, something new for the team. The persecuting Jews from Antioch and Iconium convince the crowd that Paul is a false prophet, and then stone him. But God revives him and gives him the courage to continue.
SCRIPTURE: Acts 14: 1-20.
I. Ministry in Iconium takes the normal pattern of this journey.
A. Paul and Barnabas are driven out of Pisidian Antioch, but merely use that as a reason to proclaim the Gospel in Iconium, about 100 miles journey away. They follow their normal procedure of going to the Jewish synagogue first, where they proclaim the Gospel with good success, winning Jewish and Gentile (proselytes and God-fearers) converts.
1. But when the Jews see that the Gospel is to be given to the Gentiles on belief/faith, a group of them start persecution through a slander campaign.
a. NIV says they “refused to believe,” but a better translation is “disobeyed God.”
2. This slander causes Paul and Barnabas to remain in Iconium despite the persecution to refute the lies of the non-believing Jews, and at the same time, to strengthen the faith of the converts.
3. God is witness to their preaching by empowering them to perform “miraculous signs and wonders.”
B. The Gospel and attesting miracles serve to divide the population, but this should not surprise us, for Jesus had already warned us: (Matthew 10: 34) “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
1. When the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles saw that the false propaganda they had put out was not working, they turned to violence, and planned to stone Paul and Barnabas.
2. But they learned of the intended attack and fled to the neighboring county of Lycaonia. The natives of this area of Galatia were reputed to be largely uneducated, to the point of illiteracy.
II. Paul and Barnabas are the victims of blasphemy in Lystra.
A. In Lystra, Paul notices a crippled man, lame from birth, and saw that he had faith to be healed. Luke is clearly showing that there is no difference in the qualifications, ministry, and power between Paul and Peter. Compare this healing with Peter’s healing of a similarly crippled man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts 3: 1-10).
1. Remember that quite a crowd assembled for Peter to proclaim the Gospel because of God healing the crippled man.
2. Here the healing also draws a crowd, but their reaction is very different: They think Paul and Barnabas are Greek gods come down to them in human form. (This is blasphemy, by the way).
3. The crowd includes a pagan priest who brings up animals for the crowd to sacrifice to the supposed gods in men’s bodies.
B. With our 2,000 years of hindsight, it’s hard for us to understand these actions, but the Lystrans are actually acting very rationally – given their background. You see, fifty years earlier, a local legend began in which Zeus and Hermes HAD come down to visit Lystra. They were received by a people who showed them no hospitality at all, until finally an elderly, very poor peasant couple entertained them out of their poverty. Because most of the people refused to feed and house the so-called gods, their homes were destroyed by a great flood, but the peasant couple was rewarded for their hospitality.
1. As a sidelight, aren’t you reminded of Abraham and Sarah hosting God and the two angels who are enroute to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18: 1-15)? The Lystrans had learned their lesson, as had the writer of Hebrews: (Hebrews 13: 2) “Do not forget to entertain
strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
2. It’s all that Paul and Barnabas can do to prevent this blasphemous act. They are very concerned that they are NOT to receive the reward and glory that is due to the one true God!
3. Compare their actions with that of King Herod at his speech to the people of Tyre and Sidon (Acts 12: 19b-23).
4. I’ll give you the bare bones of Herod’s lesson that Paul and Barnabas had learned: (Acts 12: 21-23) “On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.”
C. Back to Lystra. . . Paul sees a great opportunity here and proclaims the Gospel to the Lystrans. Of course, Luke only gives us the barest introduction to what may have been an hour’s speech. But this view is sufficient for us to see how Paul brings the Gospel to a completely pagan audience.
1. Remember, Paul has not been to the synagogue. Lystra was backwater large village, and probably there were not enough Jews living there for the formation of a synagogue (it required 10 men).
2. Paul does not change the substance of his message, for it is clear that everywhere he went, his message included the Good News of Christ Jesus. But his approach to the Lystrans is very different than his approach to the Jews and those who knew something about the one true God.
3. Note that Paul focuses on the natural world around the crowd, not on some Scripture they had never even heard of. He speaks of the Living God as the Creator of heaven, earth, sea and everything in them.
4. The Great Creator didn’t just create and walk away, either. God has given a consistent witness to Himself by His kindness to all mankind, including Paul’s listeners. He had given rain and crops, providing the Lystrans with plenty of food for their bodies and joy in their hearts.
III. Lessons to be learned from Paul’s short sermon.
A. We must learn from Paul’s flexibility. We do not have the license to edit the heart of the Good News of Jesus – nor is there ever any need to do so.
1. We must begin where people are, and find a point of contact with them.
2. With the thoroughly secular world we find ourselves in today, that point of contact might be:
a. Authentic humanness.
b. Universal quest for meaning in life.
c. Hunger for love and for real fellowship.
d. Search for freedom.
e. Desire for personal significance.
3. Wherever we begin, we end up at Jesus, who is Himself the Good News, and who alone can fulfill all our needs, all our desires, and all our human aspirations.
B. Many say that we must preach only about salvation, and not at all about social needs and justice. Others say we must preach only about righting social wrongs and solving social problems and never even mention Jesus.
1. This is a FALSE DILEMMA!!!!
2. We do not have to choose between these two different topics. In fact, we cannot do so.
3. We must speak to BOTH of them. Jesus gave us no alternative when He talked about the TWO GREAT COMMANDMENTS: (1) Love God (and by implication His Only Son, Jesus Christ); and (2) Love your neighbor.
4. And there we are: We have to preach BOTH Evangelism and People Needs.
5. Not one OR the other: BOTH!!!
IV. The persecution becomes intense.
A. Paul and Barnabas manage, barely, to keep from becoming the object of the people’s sacrifice and blasphemy. But their problems are just beginning. The Jews who refused to believe the Gospel in Iconium showed up in Lystra, even more full of hate, if possible.
1. Somehow, they manage to turn many of the crowd away from Paul and to them.
2. This has always puzzled me: One minute the crowd is ready to make a god of Paul – and the next minute they’re trying to kill him.
3. Of course, crowds are erratic, unstable and very fickle.
B. This is a mob action. If Barnabas and Paul had not brought the Gospel, the crowd would have regarded them as Jews, but in Jewish eyes these two bring a false message and are a threat to Jewish faith. Mainly, the Jews are angry with Paul and Barnabas for taking the message to the Gentiles without requiring the Gentiles to become Jews. And they were portrayed in the New Testament as using any pretext to destroy or discredit the messengers. In this case in Lystra, perhaps the Jews emphasized that Paul and Barnabas were a threat to the Gentiles’ forms of worship.
V. More lessons to be learned from Paul and Barnabas in Lystra.
A. Even though we are 2,000 years removed and half a world away from Lystra, anyone who faithfully follows Jesus today is liable to run into problems.
1. At least, in the USA, it doesn’t appear that being a good Christian will result in a mob lynching – at least not at this time.
2. There are parts of the world where conversion to Christianity can very easily bring about one’s death.
3. In the US, currently the penalty for being a good disciple of Jesus is being socially ostracized, maybe penalized financially, publically ridiculed and scorned, and other similar “social penalties.”
4. But it is clearly on the horizon that to stand up for Biblical principles, mandates, commandments, and lifestyle will soon be a criminal offense.
5. Already a Christian minister was imprisoned in Canada for preaching that homosexuality and abortions are sins and are clearly against God’s commandments. His sermon was condemned as “hate speech.”
6. Probably in my lifetime, there will be similar punishment for Biblical preaching in the United States.
7. I hope you all will come visit me in prison.
B. We should not be surprised at any of this. The early church was not. Early Christians were not surprised when they were fed to the lions or used as targets for gladiators. There were many wars in Europe that had as their foundation the Protestant Reformation – the Roman Catholic Church had the power and intended to keep it. Now they are as much on the “hit list” as any evangelical believer.
1. Many people are beginning to call our society: “post-Christian.” In other words, Christianity is no longer applicable or viable as a belief.
2. These are the same people that look in the mirror and see their “god.” They do not need a pagan crowd in Lystra calling them “god” to believe that they are divine.
3. The Bible warns us of times like these as the end of human time approaches:
(Matthew 10: 21-22) “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
(John 15: 18-23) “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you . . . If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me . . . He who hates me hates my Father as well.”
(Luke 6: 22-23) “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”
C. We must be like Paul: Even though “stoned” by the world and reviled by our fellow countrymen, we must get up and go back into the city. The rest of us must gather around one who has been so treated and pray for and support that one, so that they CAN get up and go back into the city. This is why the church was created.
1. So, prepare for hard times.
2. Prepare to be stoned by an angry mob – many of whom are supposedly religious.
3. Do not worry – when surrounded by fellow believers, you can get up and go back into the city with renewed vigor!
If you’re not ready for this, then you had better prepare NOW!!
The time is short!