Sunday March 24th
I heard about a police officer who saw a car speeding down the highway, so he started chasing after the speeder.
When he got close to the car, he saw that it was an old lady behind the wheel, and she was knitting while she was driving.
The cop pulled up alongside her, motioned to her, and yelled, "Pull over!"
But the lady just shook her head and shouted back, "No, it's a cardigan!"
Speaking of getting chased, you might recall from last week that Paul and Barnabas got chased out of a town called Antioch by some Jewish leaders who were jealous of the numbers of people who had started following Jesus through Paul’s preaching. So as chapter 14 starts, they are in a new town, but they are going to get chased from there to! Here’s how chapter 14 begins:
In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.
Paul and Barnabas had traveled eighty miles southeast from Antioch to Iconium, but the persecution just followed them from one city to another. However, they didn’t let that stop them from preaching the Gospel!
3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. 4 But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.
For the first time here at the end of verse 4, the term apostle is used to include men like Barnabas in addition to the original 12 apostles chosen by Jesus
5 And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.
So now, Paul and Barnabas have to flee again, and they head for the towns of Lystra and Derbe. One interesting thing to note is that these two cities, along with Iconium, made up the Roman province of Galatia. So when Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, it was to the people in the churches of this region. And here we see a powerful miracle occur, which gives testimony to the power of the words that they were preaching:
8 At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk.
The healing of this lame man has many features in common with Peter’s healing of Aeneas in chapter 9 and with the healing the lame man at the temple gate in chapter 3. This man had been lame from his birth, and when Paul saw that he had the faith to be cured, he commanded him to stand up on his feet. Just like the man at the Beautiful Gate, this man leaped up and walked about when he was healed.
11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.
To help us understand this extreme reaction, we need to know that an ancient legend circulated around Lystra that the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes once disguised themselves as men and came to earth, seeking hospitality.
Only one couple welcomed them, and their cottage was changed into a temple with a golden roof and marble columns. But those who had refused to help the gods were destroyed. These people may have been thinking of that legend when they worshiped Barnabas and Paul and prepared to sacrifice oxen to honor them. Paul and Barnabas weren’t exactly thrilled with this hospitality:
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”18 Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
Paul uses this misunderstanding as an opportunity to preach a sermon. But since this sermon is addressed to a pagan crowd who wouldn’t understand the Old Testament Scriptures, Paul instead stresses God’s role as the creator, provider, and sustainer of their lives. (More on the later)
Meanwhile, the enemies of the gospel weren’t far behind:
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.
You just can’t keep a good man down! Not only does Paul get back up after being stoned and left for dead, he then gets up the next morning and travels sixty-five miles south to preach in another town!
21 After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
If anyone had the right to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is entered through tribulation, Paul had definitely earned that right! And his courage strengthened the new believers in each of these towns.
24 They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. 25 When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. 27 When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent a long time with the disciples.
Paul and Barnabas had traveled many miles, suffered many hardships, and had many testimonies to share when they arrived back home – testimonies of God’s power and faithfulness.
Here are three quick takeaways from this chapter that we can use in our own lives, especially as it relates to sharing the Gospel:
1. PEOPLE ARE EASILY DECEIVED
When the people saw the miraculous healing of a crippled man they immediately jumped to wrong conclusions. They assumed that Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes. What other explanation could there be?
Without the light of the Gospel, people are easily deceived because they have no solid point of reference. They don’t have the Bible to help them discern truth from error. That’s why there are so many strange, bizarre cults in this world. Satan has blinded the spiritual eyes of so many people and deceived them.
Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 – “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”
Jesus said in John 8:44 that the devil “is a liar, and the father of lies.”
Satan’s greatest weapon has ALWAYS been deception. We see a greater departure from the truth and the things of God now than at any time in the history of the world. There’s never been a time when so many people in so many places have been deceived by so many deceptions. Paul tells us this in 2 Timothy 3:13 “…evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
Don’t be surprised how many people are being duped by the enemy of our souls…
Those who believe that God will not judge sin in the Great Judgment; or that there is another way to God besides through Jesus Christ, or that their good deeds are sufficient to save them - they are all simply deceived.
Satan can even deceive Christians to believe that they can be a follower of Christ and live any way they want to without any consequences for their choices.
He tries to deceive us into believing that a certain type of sin isn’t really so bad after all.
He tries to deceive us into believing that we can handle our problems on our own or run our own lives, without God’s help.
He tries to deceive us into believing that we should live by how we feel instead of what God commands us to do.
ANYTHING that is contrary to God’s Word is a lie. We need to take God at His Word and believe the TRUTH, not Satan’s lies.
2nd - MOST PEOPLE RESENT THE EXPOSURE OF THEIR CHERISHED DECEPTIONS – In verse 18 we saw that after Paul had preached to them – “Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.”
Isn’t this amazing? Paul and Barnabas told these people the clear truth of the Gospel, and they could still barely restrain the people from worshiping them.
Why do you think they responded this way? Well, because people don’t like to have their cherished deceptions exposed. It’s upsetting, unsettling, threatening. These people wanted to believe that Paul and Barnabas were Gods because it fit with their preconceived beliefs. Often times people resent exposure of their deceptions.
They would rather stick with their wrong beliefs than hear the real truth.
So we shouldn’t get discouraged if we run into people who would rather keep their false beliefs when they are offered the chance to know the truth.
And that’s our 3rd and final point today - TRUTH IS THE ONLY ANTIDOTE TO DECEPTION
How did Paul respond to all this confusion and persecution? Paul started preaching the truth to them.
First, he said that God is THE LIVING GOD Verse 15 – “We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God.”
The idols and gods they worshiped were not living because they did not, in fact, truly exist. They were just images of stone and wood, but there was nothing truly behind their idols, and the gods they worshipped were merely myths. God, however, is, always was, and always will be alive and active on earth. He is the LIVING God!
The second truth Paul told them was that God is the CREATOR OF ALL THINGS – He goes on to say in the rest of verse 15 that He is the living God… who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”
The Greeks believed in the myth of the creation of the world by the god Chaos. Paul was trying to tell them about the true God, the creator of ALL things—the heavens above, the land, the sea, and everything in the land and sea.
The last thing Paul told them was that God is GOOD – Verse 17 – “He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
It was important for them to know that the living God is good and benevolent. The Greek gods were often cruel and vindictive and vain and selfish and they committed the worst possible evils and atrocities imaginable— they were, evil, vindictive, hateful, proud, and predatory.
But, Paul said, the true God is always good, kind, merciful and loving. He does good things for mankind to cause us to turn to Him for salvation.
Unfortunately, in this situation, Paul wasn’t able to finish his sermon and get to the most important part.
Verses 18-19 says that the angry crowd took Paul outside the city and stoned him and left him for dead.
Had he been able to continue his sermon, he would have told them that the ultimate way God showed love –
by sending His Son Jesus to die for their sins, and that if they would put their faith in Jesus, God would forgive their sins, and give them eternal life.
Do you know those truths today?
Do you know the God who is ALIVE and working to bring about His perfect will for your life?
Do you know the God who is the CREATOR OF ALL THINGS—the God who is powerful and can do WONDERS in your life if you’ll follow Him?
Do you know the God who is so GOOD and KIND that even the BAD things in your life can turn out good?
Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
If you have never put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ to save you from your sin and give you eternal life, let me tell you, He’s a GOOD God. Jesus has never let me down, never failed me, and He’s always been there to help and encourage and strengthen and lift me up when I have been down. I’ve never met a follower of Jesus who regretted giving his or her life to God. Come to Jesus this morning; ask Him to save you; put your life in His hands.