The In-Between Years - Part 65
Series: The In-Between Years
May 01, 2022
We are still following Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey in Acts chapter 14. Last week we watched as they were run out of Iconium by the jealous Jews who couldn’t handle the many converts, both Jews and Greeks, receiving the good news of Jesus with faith and repentance. They fled Iconium and went south to Lystra and Derbe, cities in the region of Lycaonia. Let’s pick back up in verse 8…
8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. Acts 14:8–10 (ESV)
Luke is careful to note that the crippled man had been in that condition from birth. That adds weight to the miracle. It wasn’t unheard of then as it is now that someone might spontaneously heal from a prolonged illness or condition, but is extraordinarily unlikely to the point of being miraculous that someone born with a condition like that is completely restored on their own.
Paul somehow perceived the lame man’s faith as he preached the gospel, so he offered healing. Faith to be healed physically and faith to be saved spiritually are closely linked in the gospels, especially in Luke's writings. Let’s pick up now in verse 11…
11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. Acts 14:11–13 (ESV)
When you dig a bit into ancient history you discover something pretty interesting. There was a myth, a legend well known in the 1st Century about the Greek gods Zeus (father of the gods and mankind) and Hermes (the messenger of the gods) coming down to the earth in the likeness of common men. They are said to have visited a city in the region of Phrygia (which may very well be Lycaonia and the city very well Lystra). They went to a thousand homes seeking rest but were turned away until they came to the very humble cottage of an old couple who brought them in and treated them well.
While Zeus and Hermes were there, the old couple was astounded that “the mixing bowl, as often as it was drained, kept filling of its own accord, and that the wine welled up of itself.” Eventually, the gods revealed themselves and in return for their kindness granted the couple’s wish to live as priests in Zeus’ temple.
One scholar notes…
An inscription has been found near Lystra with a dedication to Zeus of a statue of Hermes, another inscription speaks of priests of Zeus, and even more telling is a stone altar found near Lystra dedicated to the Hearer of prayer (i.e., surely Zeus) and to Hermes. The local Zeus… was portrayed on reliefs as an elderly man with a beard, and his companion (Hermes) as a young male assistant. The identification of Barnabas and Paul in these roles has led to the suggestion that the audience may have even thought these two resembled the familiar local reliefs of Zeus and Hermes. … “The passage is therefore of considerable importance as evidence for the physical appearance of Paul at this stage of his career.” At the least it probably suggests Barnabas was the elder of the two men and Paul was perhaps in his forties at most (cf. Acts 7:58).
We don’t make this connection, but no doubt many of Luke’s readers did in the first century since he was Greek and he wrote his gospel and the book Acts for a Greek audience. That kind of stuff fascinates me. And so we understand why the locals were so quick to mistake our missionaries for deities. Here’s what happened…
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, 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 past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Acts 14:14-17 (ESV)
When Paul and Barnabas “heard of” the Lycaonians’ plan to worship them as gods they tore their robes. In other words, they freaked out. They “heard of it” because they did not know the Lycaonian language and no doubt were using an interpreter.
I can’t help but contrast this scene with the one we saw just before Christmas in Acts 12. King Herod stood before the people of Tyre and Sidon who worshipped him as a god, and instead of tearing his robe in horror, he received it as if it were true, as if he was worthy. That didn’t turn out so well for him.
Let’s consider for just a moment Paul’s response, his message to these obviously pagan, Gentile people. If we look carefully we can ever so slightly see how Paul contextualizes his message according to his audience. I’ve talked about this a little already. What that means is he caters the way he shares the gospel according to the ears and hearts of the listeners (we’ll see it even more so in Acts 17 where I’ll spend a whole message on this). But for now, note that he does not quote Scripture or hurl condemnations. Instead, he tries to find common ground. He offers them the opportunity to turn from the “vain” religion they follow (worshipping the idols of Zeus and Hermes) to the living God, the one who made all there is and gave witness to himself through his creation and provision for what he created.
I feel certain there was either much more to this message not recorded or maybe Paul wasn’t given the opportunity to continue because…
18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. Acts 14:18 (ESV)
If you’ve been paying close attention in our Acts series, this account should remind you of another very similar one (minus the mistaken identity), an account so similar Luke had to have meant for it to jog our memories.
Look back in Acts chapter 3…
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. Acts 3:1–11 (ESV)
And if you’ve read the gospels through that might remind you of something else…
1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. John 5:1–9 (ESV)
See how they all connect?
The miracles Luke records in both his works (as well as the miracles of Jesus in the gospels) are important for many reasons, but certainly in that they point us in four directions according to Pastor JD Greear (who borrowed this from Tim Keller; see, I’m not the only one).
First, they point us UPWARD.
Who is responsible for these amazing occurrences? Not the gods with a little “g,” those vain and worthless idols. No, they come from the one who made all there is, the one who came to us in the person of Jesus, the Messiah. The miracles were God’s way of putting his stamp of authenticity and approval on those preaching his kingdom, whether it was Jesus or Peter or Paul. The writer of Hebrews writes…
3 So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4 And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose. Hebrews 2:3–4 (NLT)
Luke particularly wanted us to see Paul as an apostle on par with Peter.
Second, they point us FORWARD.
I’ve talked about this before. This may be my favorite direction! It’s something I didn’t see for many years as a pastor preaching these very miracles. They point us forward to the future restoration, to the coming day when Jesus returns to set up his literal kingdom on a literal, physical earth; the day when all things will be made whole and complete; the day when death and sin and sickness and disease will be no more. The day when…
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. 9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:6–9 (ESV)
And when …
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; Isaiah 35:5–6 (ESV)
These miracles show us that God is no happier with the world as it is than you and I are.
○ God did not create the world with pain, or blindness, or disease or death. That all came through the corruption of sin. Pain and disease are not natural to a world now red in tooth and claw; it’s foreign.
○ These miracles point us to the world as God created it to be, and as he wants it to be again.
○ Maybe you’ve heard me say this before: “Miracles are not a suspension of the natural order, but a return to the natural order. Jesus’ healings are the only natural things in a world that is unnatural, demonized, and wounded.”Tim Keller, paraphrasing C. S. Lewis.
Third, they point us INWARD.
Remember how I said that spiritual healing and physical healing are closely related in the NT? When Luke writes that Paul noticed the lame man had the faith to be “made well,” the Greek word that’s translated from is used most often in the sense of being saved spiritually as in Luke 19:10…
10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10 (ESV)
Most of us here this morning do not have some great physical need from which we need healing, but we all need healing from the deadly effects of our sinful condition…
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 (ESV)
The miracles point us inward to our need to be made right with God. And that happens when we, like the lame man, hear the message and believe, have faith.
Some of you might be thinking: I don’t know what to do? I want to be saved but I just don’t know how. There seems like there must be a bunch of stuff to know first or do first.
Here’s something I noticed about all three miracles we looked at this morning. All three lame men had been that way since birth or at least for most of their lives. Yet they were commanded to get up and walk. How could they instantly do something they’d never done or hadn’t done in decades? It’s one thing to have their defect healed, another to be able to walk. Jesus did not say, you are healed and now start practicing walking, go get therapy and you’ll get there.
When Jesus commanded them to get up and walk he gave them not just the physical healing but the ability to walk as if they always had. If the miracle of physical healing is closely related to the spiritual, it works the same way. When Jesus commands you to repent and be saved from your sins, and you respond with faith, just lean towards him, he takes care of the rest.
Fourth, they point us DOWNWARD in the sense of the direction we must go as Christians receiving and following Christ.
Do you know what happened with all three miracles?
When Jesus healed the lame man on the Sabbath in John 5…
18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:18 (ESV)
When Peter healed the lame man in Jerusalem…
1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. Acts 4:1–3 (ESV)
And after Paul healed the lame man in our text today…
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When 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 that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Acts 14:19–23 (ESV)
Rather than exalting the ones through whom the miracle was performed, the healings led to suffering and trouble. No one can enter God’s kingdom or live in God’s kingdom without humility and brokenness. Look back at 14:22 where Paul encouraged the disciples in that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
The way up is down in God’s economy. You wouldn’t know that looking at the church as of late.
Conclusion: I close with Keller’s thoughts on this…
All of the miracles actually do the same thing. They point upward. You can trust the gospel is from Jesus. They point forward. We must be an enemy of suffering in this world because we’re on the winning side, because God is against it. They point inward. See what you really need. What you really need is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You need to have your sins forgiven. Deal with your sin. It’s more the immediate need than your suffering. Lastly, downward. Look at what Jesus Christ did for you. Now go and do likewise.
Would you be willing to look inward this morning? Do you have a personal relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ? Take heart in the miracles if you don’t know what to do. If those men could walk when they never had, you can by faith be saved even if you don’t know doctrine or haven’t worked some “things” out yet. Just take God up on his promise…
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)
If you call on him, he’ll take care of the rest.
Christian, are you going and doing likewise? Are you using your time, talents, and treasure to further God’s kingdom? To make this world more like it’s going to be when Jesus comes back? To lead others into that kingdom?
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