Acts 14: 13-15a, We’re Just Men

13] Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.

14] But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out 15] and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things?  We also are men with the same nature as you,”

This is the response of Barnabas and Paul to the  efforts of the astonished townspeople and leaders of Lycaonia to sacrifice to them as a result of the miraculous healing of the man born crippled and unable to walk, as the previous verses record for us.  Barnabas and Paul were greatly distressed at this misguided attempt to worship and honor them, and did all they could to dissuade the people from this, even tearing their clothes and crying out.  They were barely able to stop the people, v. 18.  We’ll have more to say about these verses, Lord willing, but for now want to focus on their assertion that they were just men with like nature as the Lycaonians.  They were no different from them, not superior to them, not “gods”.

I think sometimes that it’s easy for us to forget this.  Men, and women, are just that – men and women.  And it doesn’t matter whether they are in the US or Africa or Asia or Europe or some island in the sea – they, and we, are just human, “just men”.  Men and women have been able to do astonishing things, amazing things, things which might seem to belie the fact that they, and we, are “just men”.  But they’re still “just men,” just human.

Paul had to deal with this problem, as well.  Writing to the Corinthian believers, he said, For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.  Now I say this, that each one of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you”  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  1 Corinthians 1:12, 13.  It’s easy to set men on a pedestal.  Those whose ministry has been blessed to us – it’s easy to hold them in high esteem.  And Paul even tells us to do that:  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine, 1 Timothy 6:1.

The problem with these what seem to be contrary ideas is that while there is to be a certain respect paid to those who lead us in the Lord, at the same time we must remember that it is the Lord who has called these men and equipped them for their ministry.  We may “plant,” and we may “water,” and indeed, we must do these things, but unless the Lord “gives the increase,” there will be no growing, no flowering and no harvest, 1 Corinthians 3:6.  The reason the church, and thus the culture, is in such a mess is that we’ve forgotten that basic truth and have tried to bring about the harvest – that is, to “get results” – on our own.

There has only been one time that “the gods,” and I hate even to put it like that, “have come down to us in the likeness of men,” one time when the true God came down to this earth.  It was the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men, Philippians 2:6, 7.  Believers are so used to that idea that we really don’t stop to think about what that means.  “Oh, yes,” we say, “Jesus was God incarnate, God in the flesh,” but do we really stop to consider that the One who walked the dusty roads of Israel was the some One who created and sustains the planet on which those roads were located.  Paul mentioned this.  He wanted these Lycaonians to turn from the useless false gods they worshiped to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, Acts 14:15.

We’ll have more to say about this, Lord willing, in our next post.

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Acts 14:5-13: Miracle and Misunderstanding

5] And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6] they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region.  7] And they were preaching the gospel there.

8] And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked.  9] This man heard Paul speaking.  Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10] said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!”  And he leaped and walked.  11] Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!”  12] And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.  13] Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.

Paul and Barnabas had escaped for their lives from those who were trying to kill them at Iconium and had come to the cities of Lystra and Derbe, where they were preaching the gospel there, v. 7.  Not even the threat of death could deter these men from doing what the Lord had called them to do.

There’s probably a great deal that happened in the lives of the early church that we’re not told.  That’s true of all the narrative portions of Scripture, not just Acts.  For this reason, we ought to pay more attention to what is told us.  It isn’t just words to fill up a quota, like a student who might have to write a paper of so many words.  It’s important.

What is told us in our text is about a man, whose condition was terrible.  And that condition is emphasized.  He was a man without strength in his feet.  He was a cripple from his mother’s womb.  Because of his disability, he had never walked.  In short, he was hopeless and helpless.

Even so, he was not beyond the reach of grace and mercy.

Verse 9 says that Paul saw that he had faith to be healed.  I’m not exactly sure what to make of this.  We’re not told how Peter saw this man’s faith.  It doesn’t really matter.

In some circles much is made of “faith healing,” and it’s said that if a person isn’t healed, it’s because he didn’t have “faith.”  Now, I believe that God heals.  My own mother was told that, because of complications, she wouldn’t walk after she gave birth to me.  Well, she did.  Yet at least once in our Lord’s ministry, He healed a man who was arguing with him about it, John 5:1-8, although “arguing” is perhaps too strong a word.  And in that crowd that surrounded the man, his healing is the only one recorded.

There’s a lot of confusion in current Christianity about this matter of “faith”.  Some people seem to think it’s some sort of cosmic bell you ring so that God will come running to see what you want.  Other’s say it’s believing what you know isn’t true.  Others seem to think it’s some sort of “abracadabra” or “open sesame”.  But it’s really very simple.  According to Hebrews 11, faith is an active, obedient response to God.

Noah built a huge boat to escape a coming flood, v. 7 – when the science of that time might have said, “Noah, what are you talking about?  A flood is impossible.  It doesn’t rain.  It’s never rained.  It can’t rain!”

Abraham packed up and moved a long way simply because God told him He would show him when to stop, v. 8.   Sarah herself was enabled to become a happy mother when she was at an age where she was way beyond such things, v. 11.

The armies of Israel conquered an impregnable city by simply walking around it for seven days, v. 30, Joshua 6.

To return to Acts 14, there might be more to this healing than is seen at first glance.  Luke wrote that he leaped and walked, v. 10.  He went there from a place of inactivity and inability.  A little child has to go through several stages to learn how to walk, let alone leaping. This man made that transition all at once, with all the knowledge and balance needed.

Leaping and walking, the man was probably also exclaiming and shouting for joy, “I can walk!  I can walk!”  A natural response.  This demonstration of power electrified the crowd, who immediately acknowledged what happened as something only the “gods” could do, and they set about to give these two men the proper reception, as they saw it.  They were going to worship them.

Lord willing, we’ll see the response of Paul and Barnabas in our next post.

Acts 14:1-5: “They…so spoke”

1] Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.  2] But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.  3] Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

4] But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles.  5] And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6] they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycanonia, and to the surrounding region. 

In our last post, we saw that Paul and Barnabas had been chased out of Antioch in Pisidia and had fled to Iconium.  Antioch of Pisidia was one of several cities named Antioch.  This particular city was in Galatia.  Iconium was the capital of Lycaonia in Asia Minor (modern Turkey).  Today known as “Konya,” it’s the seventh largest city in Turkey.

Having arrived in Iconium, as was their custom Paul and Barnabas went to a synagogue.  Scripture records that they so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed, v. 1.  The title for our post is found in the first verse:  “they so spoke.”

I believe we’ve lost sight of the importance and purpose of preaching.  It isn’t just so men can get a name for themselves, or for the feeling that comes from being the focal point for an audience.  I understand why aging athletes or movie stars find it hard to “retire.”  I’ve never preached before thousands, but even so – there’s just something about being in front of people that I can’t describe.

Nor is preaching something to be “staged.”  I’ve known of preachers who would rehearse their sermons and make notes about when to gesture or raise their voice or do other things.  There’s may be nothing wrong with rehearsing if it’s a part of careful preparation,  but preaching is not about “theatrics.”

On the other side, there are preachers who make no preparation at all, but stand before their people and wherever their Bible opens, that’s where they “preach.”  They call this being led by the Spirit.  This goes too far the other way.  We must indeed have the blessing of the Spirit if our words are to do any lasting good, but that blessing and leading goes into our study as well.  I don’t think God is honored by careless or haphazard preparation.

What’s done from the pulpit affects eternity more than any other form of teaching.  If I teach something wrong about, say, math or geography, that is important, but it will probably affect only this life.  If something is taught from the pulpit that is wrong, that has eternal repercussions reaching down through the ages.

At the same time, it isn’t just about the preacher.  He is important, but Scripture says he is only an instrument in the hands of God.  Paul put it like this to a church which had focused on human personalities, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase,  1 Corinthians 3:6, 7.

Those who heard Jonathan Edwards, a man used of God in great revivals in the true sense of that word, describe him as preaching in a monotone, and holding his notes close to his face because he was near-sighted.  Not a man whom we would expect to be “successful” in preaching, yet he was.  He was an instrument in the hand of the God who created everything, that God who started with nothing.  I believe that until we understand that we are “nothing” compared to God when it comes to eternal things, we can’t really expect God to do anything with us.

We who preach or teach or write, for that matter, may plant and water, as it were, but we can’t give the increase.  Only God can do that.  And though we recognize that this particular promise deals with the future of Israel, yet He said, “So shall my word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it, Isaiah 55:11.

The Word always has an effect:  God’s preachers are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.  And who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God we speak the things of God in Christ, 2 Corinthians 2:15-17, emphasis added.

The most serious place in the world is behind a pulpit.  Because Paul and Barnabas  understood this, “they…so spoke….”

Funerals.

In my last post, I mentioned a funeral Sharon and I attended a while ago.  I’m not going to rehash that post, but the truth is, people don’t like funerals.  They’re sad affairs.  (If you’ve recently endured such an event, I’m sorry.  I don’t mean or want to add to your sorrow.)
I think one reason we don’t like them is that, at the back of our minds, they remind us of our own mortality.  Young people don’t think about this so much, but us older folks are aware of the fact that the sun is setting on our day.
It’s been said that the only sure things are death and taxes.  Truly, in our culture, taxes are indeed an ever-present, ever-increasing reality.  Our property-taxes went up 223% this year.  But lots of people have never paid taxes.  Those same people died, or will die.  Death is the only certain “fact of life”.  You might say that this planet is just one enormous grave-yard.
Scripture has a lot to say about death.  We’re just going to look at a couple of verses.
Hebrews 2:14 says, Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself [the Lord Jesus] shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. (NKJV)
This verse tells us that there is coming a time in which there will be no death. Revelation 21:4 says the same thing:  And God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
Men fondly imagine that they can create such a world, a utopia, a perfect world, a world in which they will defeat hunger, disease and death.  This will never happen in this life.

It will happen.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church –

We shall not all sleep [that is, die], but we shall all be changed…for this corruptible [body] must put on incorruption, and this mortal [body] must put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass that saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory”…thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 15:51, 53-55, 57.

But please note:  this blessing, this future, is only “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Apart from Him, there is no such blessing, no such future.  The future which faces those who die without Him is not one of blessing, but of condemnation.  Revelation 20:15 calls it a lake of fire.  We pretty much don’t believe in such things anymore; everyone’s going to “a better place.”

But our Lord said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,” John 14:6.