When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Lystra they immediately went to work proclaiming the Gospel. Even though they had just barely escaped a plot against them in Iconium, it did not stop them from heading 20 miles east to continue the ministry God had given them. While he is preaching Paul locks eyes with a man who has been crippled from birth. An attentive listener/reader will recall a similar event in the ministry of Peter (Acts 3:2-10; 9:32-35). The difference here is that no words are exchanged. Paul looks at the man and tells him to “Stand up on your feet!” Once again the healing of someone is attached to the proclamation of the Gospel. In Old Testament times a miracle was confirmation that God was at work in the midst of the people. It is no different here. The power of the Holy Spirit is clearly working through Paul demonstrating that God is present in this healing. However, instead of a Jewish crowd which would naturally see the connection, this crowd is predominantly Gentile and this fact will put Paul and Barnabas into an unusual and uncomfortable situation.
The town I live in has a restaurant called the Tom X Inn. Its origins are documented by three local tales: 1) it was established by an unidentified settler who was killed by Indians, 2) it was a brothel, hence the X in its name, and 3) it is widely believed to have been established by Tom Mix, a famous cowboy and silent film star who owned and operated a Dude Ranch on this location. Some say it is even older than that and connect it to the Underground Railroad. Of course with a murky history like that there are also ghost stories attached to the building. Paul and Barnabas encountered a reaction to the lame man’s healing that was thoroughly entrenched in local history but at first they were unaware of what was taking place due to the fact that the crowd was responding in their local dialect (v.11). The Lystians believed that the gods Zeus and Hermes had once visited them in human form but they were ignored and disrespected at first. Finally an elderly peasant couple offered them hospitality. As a reward when a massive flood hit the area, the couple was spared while their neighbors perished and their humble home was converted into a gilded temple in honor of Zeus and Hermes. When they died Philemon and Baucis (as they were known by) were turned into lofty trees. This myth was ingrained in the minds of those who lived in Lystra and they didn’t want to make the same mistake again. It was obvious there was some divine attributes bestowed upon these two men so the first order of business was to prepare a sacrifice and pay them homage. The priest of Zeus was called in to orchestrate the proceedings (Acts 14:11-13).
When Paul and Barnabas realize what is taking place they are horrified. They rush into the crowd “tearing their garments” to express extreme distress and try to set the record straight. They point out two important facts. First they are human (v. 15) and the good things the Lystrians experience are from God above and no other source (v. 17). They barely convince the people but they manage to ward off the sacrificial ceremony (v. 18). It is the first sermon in Acts to a purely pagan, polytheistic crowd. Paul begins by contrasting “these worthless things” (pagan gods such as Zeus and Hermes) to “the living God” who is the Creator of all they enjoy (vv. 11-17). We can learn a lot from this approach. While Paul acknowledges the futility of their pagan beliefs, he also finds a common point from which to begin his Gospel message within it- everything has a beginning. Paul and Barnabas attributed that beginning to the Living God, the true God the Lystrians had “missed”.
People today are just as confused about the Living God as the Lystrians were. They know about Jesus, but they have a number of ways to identify Him that are incorrect of incomplete. He is a misguided but nice guy, a great teacher or prophet, a god among many gods. It is up to us to actually take and use those incorrect or false assumptions as a starting point to introduce them to the truth through God’s Word. For Paul the correction began with a respectful question, “Men, why are you doing this? We can do the same by simply asking “Why do you believe that?” and let the conversation flow from there. Are you ready to dissolve someone’s confusion? Listen to them and then open their eyes to the Truth (Col. 1:28; 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:9).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre