130505 Acts 14:8-18

Last Updated on Monday, 06 May 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Acts 14:8-18
Theme: God Has Come Down To Us In Human Form

"God has come down to us in human form." It's a thought that has entered the minds of many biblical figures. Some shepherds couldn't keep this thought to themselves when angels told them about the world-changing events that had just taken place in a stable in Bethlehem (Luke 2). The Magi carried a similar message back home after they left their gifts where they had been led by the star (Matthew 2).

Mary and Joseph knew it to be true from their personal experience as they raised a child who was perfect in every way. This fact also became obvious to the disciples when they saw water turned into wine, storms stilled and countless people healed of sickness and disease. And can there be a more powerful witness than Lazarus, who on command walked out of his tomb alive after four days in the grave (John 11)?

We don't fit into the same category, at least not exactly. We haven't seen God face to face. We didn't witness any of Jesus' miracles, but we can speak with the same confidence. God's inspired Word convinces us that these events really happened. God's Word tells us that God was and still is directly involved in the lives of his people. And so with the shepherds and the Wise Men and Mary and Joseph and Lazarus and many other witnesses, we also testify that...

GOD HAS COME DOWN TO US IN HUMAN FORM

This simple message was the same message that two missionaries carried with them to the city of Lystra. Based on our sermon text from the book of Acts, we will see that...

I. A lame man believed this message
II. The crowds confused this message
III. Paul and Barnabas proclaimed this message

Paul and Barnabas didn't arrive in Lystra by accident, but the way they came to the city was not part of their original itinerary. The Holy Spirit had set apart these two men to reach out to the Gentiles with the gospel, so they embarked on what is called Paul's first missionary journey. Their travels took them into the province of Galatia (modern day Turkey), and as a result of their preaching and teaching many people believed.

The problem was that many others rejected the message. In Antioch Paul and Barnabas were expelled from the city, so they shook the dust off their feet and moved on to Iconium. Again, some believed. Some didn't. But here the attacks became personal, and some people even began plotting to stone the missionaries. When Paul and Barnabas found out that their lives were in danger, they fled to Lystra.

What is amazing is that this intense opposition didn't discourage Paul and Barnabas. They "continued to preach the good news" (Acts 14:7), and the Lord turned these setbacks into new opportunities to share the Word with new people, people like..."a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking" (8, 9a).

We aren't told in so many words, but it's pretty safe to assume that this man's life had not been easy. He had never taken a step. He had to depend on his friends to help him with everything, but on this day he was helped by a complete stranger.

"Paul looked directly at him, (and) saw that he had faith to be healed..." (9). The Holy Spirit was at work. The Word Paul preached produced results. This man who had been lame from birth had faith. It was a miracle, and it was immediately followed by another. Paul "called out, 'Stand up on your feet!' At that, the man jumped up and began to walk" (10). The healing didn't take a few minutes or even a few seconds to take effect. The Word worked immediately, and the man who had never walked suddenly sprang to his feet.

It is big day when a child takes that first step, both in the child's life and in the life the parents. Some parents are fortunate enough to see it happen. Some are even lucky enough to capture the moment on video. But there is no way that we can appreciate those first steps the way the lame man did. That day was the best day of his life, but it wasn't because he could walk.

This was the day when the lame man was introduced to his Savior. Paul shared with him the good news about Jesus, how Jesus was true God, how God became a man to save us, how Jesus died on the cross to rescue us, how he rose from the grave on Easter morning. The lame man believed the message, and the Lord showered him with spiritual and physical blessings.

I can't remember when I took my first steps. And few, if any of us, can remember the day we took our first spiritual steps either. For most of us, God created faith in our hearts on the day of our baptism. Even though we can't remember our conversion the way the lame man did, what God has done in our lives is no less miraculous. The Holy Spirit has given us faith to believe. Or to put it in terms of the miracle that it is, he has brought us from death to life.

The Lord performed two miracles in Lystra, but the crowds could only see one of them. The crippled man who now stood before them was proof that there was something special about Paul and Barnabas. But instead of paying attention to their message, they chose to worship the messengers.

"When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, 'The gods have come down to us in human form!' Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker" (11, 12). These superstitious people reasoned: "Only the gods have the power to heal people. Therefore, these men must be gods." Barnabas they called Zeus, the head of the gods. And Paul they took for Hermes because he did most of the talking.

You don't have to be a Bible scholar to identify the sin in this story. The people were guilty of idolatry. In the First Commandment, God declares: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3), and these people did. They had lots of gods, but they didn't know the one true God.
We do. We know God. We worship the triune God. We don't have to worry about idolatry, at least not open idolatry. But when God examines our lives through the magnifying glass of his law, what do you think he sees? Is the First Commandment in one solid piece, or is it broken into bits?

It's possible to make a case for the people of Lystra. They were isolated. They were superstitious. They had never heard of Jesus before. They had just seen something they had never seen before. And based on their very limited knowledge, they were trying to come up with some kind of explanation.

That's their excuse. What's ours? We know who Jesus is. We know what Jesus has done for us. We all have Bibles in our homes, and we still confuse the message of Jesus. We put people before God. We put possessions above God. We put personal pleasure in the place of God. Our idolatry may not be out in the open, but it is perhaps even more troubling because we have no excuse. And without God's grace we would have no hope.

Paul and Barnabas did everything in their power to set the record straight in Lystra. And thankfully our God shows the same kind of love and patience with us. Paul and Barnabas weren't gods, but the crowds weren't totally wrong either. God had indeed come down to earth in human form, and it was the task of the two missionaries to proclaim that message.

When Paul and Barnabas saw what was happening, they had three choices: do nothing, do a 180 and get out of town, or do their best to stop the crowds from worshiping them. The first option wasn't an option because Paul and Barnabas weren't about to allow themselves to become objects of worship. The second option, however, might have been appealing. Why risk personal harm, especially after such a close call in Iconium? How could two men stop such a large crowd anyway? Why not get out while the getting was good?

Why not? Because that would have gone against everything they stood for, everything they wanted to accomplish. Paul and Barnabas were missionaries called by God and sent by God. And so they didn't see the crowd as dangerous situation to be avoided, but as a great number of souls to be saved.

So they did the only thing they could do. They tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd and shouted: "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them" (15).

Do you know what happened next? Did the people follow in the footsteps of the lame man and believe? Did Paul and Barnabas get to baptize thousands like the disciples did on the day of Pentecost? Not exactly. Actually not at all. When Paul and Barnabas were finished some people came from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. They took Paul outside the city, stoned him and left him for dead.

It would have been a very sad ending if it had been the end, but Paul didn't die. Paul didn't give up. He kept preaching. He kept teaching. He kept writing. And years later Paul wrote these words, perhaps thinking of his near death experience in Lystra: "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:3,4). As always, God is in control. He saved Paul's life. He used this experience to make Paul stronger. And in spite of the challenges, in spite of the persecution, the Holy Spirit gathered a group of believers in Lystra.

Now ask yourself: What if Paul would have played it safe? What if he would have decided to pack up and go home? Then he would have never come into contact with a young man from Lystra, a young man who eventually became Paul's friend and co-worker, a man by the name of Timothy. And if Paul would not have reached out to Timothy, then Timothy would not have reached out to others, and only God knows how many people would have never heard the good news.

I am Paul. You are Paul. We are all Paul. God wants all of us to be his messengers, and he has given us the most amazing message to proclaim: God himself has come down to us in human form. Jesus took on human flesh, to live among us, to live perfectly for us, to die on the cross, to die in your place, to rise in victory, to ascend in glory, to give you peace, to prepare your place, to come down again, to take you to be with him. Amen.

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