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.

Sympathies To Humboldt Folks

We heard of this here in the states. Here is the viewpoint of one much closer to it. So many funerals….

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Another Funeral Today

I haven’t mentioned anything about our provincial tragedy yet, but thought I’d post something today and offer my sympathies to the families and community of Humboldt, SK.

Funerals have been ongoing this week — one is starting as I post this — for the ten Humboldt Broncos hockey team players, their coach, assistant coach, statistician, team therapist, a broadcaster and the bus driver who died as a result of a major road accident. If I have it right, ten other team members are still in hospital, two in critical condition.

Last week Friday the team was on its way to a game in Nipawin, SK. The bus was passing through an intersection when a loaded semi approaching from the side ran the stop sign and crashed into the front of their bus. The photos of the accident scene showed the bus on its side with its whole…

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The Missing Verse.

My wife and I attended a funeral last week.  It was a gray, cold, windy, trying to rain, funeral kind of day.  The funeral was in a national cemetery and as the funeral procession wound its way past row after row of white marble headstones, I saw names of people who had served in WWI and WWII, old headstones showing the effects of 60+ years of weather.  I wondered if anybody remembered these people who had served their country so long ago.
The thing that sticks with me, though, was the message of the gentleman conducting the memorial service.  I don’t really know anything about him, just that he had been called in at the last moment because the original speaker couldn’t be there.
Part of his message was the 23rd Psalm, one of my favorites and the first Scripture I memorized as a youngster.  The thing is, and I don’t know why, he left out a verse –

He leads me in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.

Without that verse, the rest of the Psalm has no meaning, no comfort.  Without “righteousness,” there are no “green pastures,” no “still waters,” no cup running over, no “goodness and mercy.”
It’s true, the Psalmist lived under the Old Testament Law, in which there was provision for “righteousness.”  In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses told the people, “Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.”  Yet the sad truth is that Israel was never “careful to observe” those commandments; indeed, Moses wasn’t even down Mt. Sinai before the people were engaged in a drunken orgy, Exodus 32.
David himself, the author of Psalm 23, after the sad affair with Bathsheba, confessed his own sinfulness, Psalm 51, in which he said, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me,” v. 3.
But what about us?  We don’t live under that Law, that Covenant.  What then?  Are we better than they?  Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks [Gentiles] that they are all under sin, Romans 3:9.  No, no, if we’re honest, we have to agree with the assessment of Israel in Isaiah 64:6, all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.  The word translated “filthy rags” referred to a cloth a woman might use during her monthly cycle or a leper might use to dress his sores – not a very pretty picture, but expressive of what God thinks of the best we can do, our “righteousnesses,” those things we think so much of and put down on the plus side of the ledger.
This is why the Lord Jesus came to this earth.  He came to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  He didn’t come just so we can pay lip service to Him at Christmas or Easter; He came to live the life we cannot live, and die the death we cannot die.  His life was one of complete obedience to the Father.  One time, He asked those who opposed Him, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” John 8:46.  He’s the only One who’s ever been able truthfully to say, “I always do those things which please Him,” that is, the Father, John 8:29.  And when He died on the Cross, He wasn’t dying because of His sins, like the two who died with Him; He was dying for the sins of you and me, His people.
The Lord Jesus came as a Substitute and Sacrifice for His people.  He lived a perfect, sinless life, satisfying all the provisions of God’s law and died a sacrificial death, satisfying the claims of that broken law.  To those who repent of their sins and trust Him alone for salvation, God credits what Jesus did to them.  The Psalmist said, He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities, Psalm 103:10.  That’s because He dealt with the Lord Jesus “according to our iniquities.”  To those who receive Him as Lord and Savior, the Father treats us according to His righteousness.  Paul put it like this:  God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
That’s the righteousness, the only righteousness, that brings the comfort and blessings of Psalm 23.

Acts 13:42-52: Turning To The Gentiles.

42] So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.  43] Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
44] On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.  45] But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.  46] Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.  47] For so the Lord has commanded us:
‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”
48] Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the LORD.  And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
49] And the word of the LORD was being spread throughout all the region.  50] But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them for their region.  51] But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium.  52] And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (NKJV)

These verses show us the response to Paul’s first message as he begins to emerge as a leader after having been teamed with Barnabas.  After the message was over, the Jews left, but Gentiles who were in the audience begged that they might hear the message again on the next Sabbath.  We’re not told all that was said, except that Paul and Barnabas persuaded them to continue in the grace of God, v. 43.  We’ve dealt with this idea of “continuing” elsewhere, so will just briefly touch it here.

A few days ago was Easter, and many people attended church who normally don’t.  They probably won’t back until Christmas.  But “salvation” is meant for Monday as well as Sunday, for days on the calendar that aren’t “special days”.  “Being saved” isn’t just about our eternal destiny; it’s about how we live until we get there.

So a week passes, and we read, almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.  Gentiles were excited; the Jews, not so much.  After all, they were the chosen people; Gentiles were less than nothing.  As we’ve noted before, believing Jews had a really difficult time with the idea that, as far the Gospel was concerned, Jews and Gentiles were on an equal footing. Throughout their history, Jews had been commanded to remain separate and more than once had gotten in trouble for mingling with Gentiles.  God had chosen Israel to be His special people, Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 135:4.  But now, that distinctiveness was being set aside and the Jews were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul, v. 45.

The Jews should have understood that God intended all along to bless Gentiles; He had promised throughout the OT – Scriptures which the Jews believed.  Even before the beginning of the nation, God promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” Genesis 12:3, emphasis added.  It’s true that God never actually said how he would do this, just that He would.  It’s only in the NT that we find out about a body called “the church,” a distinct body, a body separate from Israel.

Now we come to a verse that causes an uproar:  And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed, v. 48b.  In fact, just recently a pastor who was teaching through Acts completely ignored this verse in his posts.  And there are some who turn it around to say that “as many as believed were appointed to eternal life.”

How can God do such a thing?

In the first place, He’s God and can do whatever He wants to.  But beyond that, and I’ve done a whole series on this, if He had not chosen some to be saved, none of us ever would be.  The Scripture is clear that there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God, Romans 3:10, 11.  As we’ve mentioned before, these verses show a progression:  not even one among us is “righteous,” that is, has that moral and spiritual character which would allow us to stand before God uncondemned; not one of us understands our spiritual condition, and because of that, not one of us seeks God, Who is the only One who can do anything about it.  We think our religion, our good works, our best, is good enough.  If He had let us go, we would all wind up in hell.  I’m thankful He didn’t.

Vs. 49-52 show the pattern that has continued to this day; there is always opposition to the preaching of the Gospel.  Men do what they can to get rid of such preaching, but the Gospel is always preached somewhere.  And disciples, not just church-goers, but disciples – those who are students at the feet of the Lord Jesus – are filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.