Restore God to His Throne
“Restoration Work” #3 - Acts 14:8-20 - “Restore God to His Throne”
A pastor called on a new household where a baby had recently been added to the family. He was met at the door by the mother, who mistook him for the doctor. (This was back in the olden days when doctors came to see you!) The mother had a severe cold, which was why she called for him in the first place. The pastor was about to ask about the baby when she started describing her cold. “Although I have one every winter, this was the very worst one I’ve had ever had. It keeps me awake at night, and at first confined me to bed.”
She noticed the strange look on the pastor’s face and added, sympathetically, “I can tell by the look on your face and the way you’re acting that you’re going to have one just like mine.”
Mistakes like this make for a good joke, but there was nothing funny about the case of mistaken identity Paul and Barnabas suffered while attempting to preach Jesus in Lystra. Lystra was a Roman colony in the middle of what we’d call Asia Minor. It was a prosperous city, located on an inland trade route. However, not all Lystrans were prosperous. Paul and Barnabas met a needy fellow – probably a beggar – outside the gates of the community’s temples to false gods.
This situation is an example of twice making things out to be God that are not God. The Lyrans mistook their idols Zeus and Hermes for God, and they mistook Paul and Barnabas for gods. In all this, we learn that...
God alone is worthy of worship.
1. A miracle occurred. (14:8-10)
The miracle began with Paul being given insight into a crippled man’s faith. (9-10) This situation is similar to a situation in Acts 3:1-26, where Peter and John healed a man born crippled. In this instance, God healed the man and he did something he’d never done before: he stood up and walked! (11) His miraculous healing was instantaneous and complete.
This miracle is an example of a couple of important purposes to the miracles we read about in Acts. First, as supernatural events, the miracles would draw attention to the miracle-workers, gaining them a hearing with the locals. Second, the miracles authenticated the teaching of the miracle-workers, verifying that they were speaking for God, the source of their power to work miracles.
One problem: the people took the miracle the wrong way. They made a big mistake and thought that the men who worked the miracle WERE gods, not sent by God.
2. The miracle was turned into a mistake. (14:11-13)
Their mistake was to give glory to idols instead of God. (11) The Lystrans were excited by the miracles and interpreted it from their point of view. setting aside anything Paul might’ve said before the healing, they understood this as an act of the gods they were certain existed.
This was a case of mistaken identity. (12-13) There was a local legend that Zeus and Hermes had visited their region some time previous to this. Because these gods appeared in human form, they went unrecognized and were not welcomed in 1000 homes they visited.
As the legend went, a poor, elderly couple (Baucis and Philemon) finally took the human-appearing gods in and showed them hospitality. For their good deed, the couple’s shack was transformed into a golden temple and they were made high priests in it. The 1000 inhospitable homes were destroyed in a flood that filled the valley.
It appeared to the Lystrans that Zeus and Hermes were up to their old tricks and they were eager to do right by them. They wanted to avoid being flooded out and to receive a divine reward instead. As Luke explained, the crowd assumed that Paul was Hermes because Hermes was the patron god of orators and was known to prefer weight of argument to force of arms to settle disputes.
3. Paul attempted to turn them to God. (14:14-18)
Paul and Barnabas made a display of their grief and discouraged this mistake. (14) THEY TORE THEIR CLOTHING IN DISMAY. We often see this happening in Scripture: for someone to tear their clothes was a public display of dramatic grief. DISMAY is an obvious and appropriate emotional reaction to the blasphemy of the people. They RAN OUT AMONG THE PEOPLE and shouted to get their attention.
Let’s examine the pertinent points of Paul’s protest. (14-17)
- He called them FRIENDS, emphasizing their similarity, something a god would not do.
- He shouted that he and Barnabas were just humans like them, not gods in disguise.
- He announced their purpose in coming to Lystra was to turn them against the very idols whose names the crowd invoked.
- He informed the Lystrans the LIVING GOD created the world and all its creatures. He alone is worthy of worship, not their WORTHLESS idols, not Paul and Barnabas.
- He told them the LIVING GOD was evident in creation, and He had endowed them with good things and JOYFUL HEARTS. He alone deserves their gratitude and praise.
The last two points were especially appropriate because the Lystrans were involved in a fertility cult: they worshipped idols in order to have GOOD CROPS and lots of children.
In vs. 16-17 he attempted to warn them that though God had, in the past, PERMITTED the NATIONS free will to worship as they chose, He still always revealed Himself in creation and therefore people were without excuse. A day of reckoning is coming where all people will account for their choices. He referred to their gods as WORTHLESS THINGS, which no doubt contributed to the sudden anger of the crowd in v. 19.
Even with these persuasive points, Paul couldn’t get them to see the truth. (18) The wisdom of these points of history and theology were barely able to RESTRAIN these people from treating Paul and Barnabas like living idols and offering sacrifices to them.
4. Another miracle further verified Paul’s teaching. (14:19-20)
Enemies of Paul followed him from cities he’d visited previously and incited the crowd to assault him. (19) These Jews clearly hated Paul, traveling a long way to do him harm. The Lystrans went from worshipful to wrathful!
Though this was a 180 degree turn, you can understand how the people’s disappointment that Paul and Barnabas turned out to not be gods might turn to anger. The higher our hopes, the deeper the fall, the hotter our anger can be. This is human nature.
God delivered Paul from death, and he continued to minister the Good News. (20) THE BELIEVERS GATHERED AROUND HIM – presumably after the murderous mob had dispersed, for the purpose of prayer. Though he was beaten severely enough to appear to be dead, God healed Paul just as He’d healed the lifelong cripple and Paul was also able to miraculously stand and walk back to the city on his own two feet. Understandably not eager to endure another such beating, Paul left Lystra THE NEXT DAY.
God alone is worthy of worship.
The error of the Lystran mob is easy to repeat. People substitute thousands of things for God, including themselves. They put their trust in worldly things that will fail them every time. They give the worship the Creator is due and substitute the creation for the creator. This is idolatry.
Perhaps inspired by this very incident, the Apostle Paul would later write,
But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. (Romans 1:18-23, NLT)
What our nation needs – fundamentally – is for God to be seen on His throne. As His people, it is our particular duty to direct attention from the creation to the Creator. We need to help people acknowledge God on His throne and give Him the worship and obedience that is His due. When we get that fundamental truth right, then we can rebuild our moral and spiritual heritage.
https://www.tbr.fun/jokes-for-all-occasions-mistaken-identity/ retrieved on 8 July 22.
Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 12, Acts, 2006, William J. Larkin.