Pastor's Pen

“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!” – Acts 14:11

Following their time in Iconium, Paul and Barnabas journeyed to Lystra. It appears they engaged directly with the non-Jewish population, instead of going to the local synagogue as had been their custom. As Paul addressed the audience, a man who had been lame from birth attentively listened, and, through Paul’s intervention, experienced healing.

In earlier accounts in the book of Acts, the healing of individuals with physical impairments was often seen as a tangible manifestation of the Gospel. These occurrences were typically embedded in the framework of Judaism, and individuals familiar with Old Testament principles and promises interpreted them accordingly. However, in the case of Lystra, a distinctive interpretation of the healing event emerged.

Paul consistently preached the message that God had sent His Son into the world, a proclamation he made in various locations. However, the crowd in this particular instance seemed to only catch fragments of his message, leading to a misunderstanding. They interpreted his words within their Greek cultural framework and mistakenly believed that he was asserting the descent of gods among them in human form. In their perception, Paul, who was the primary speaker, was identified as Hermes (Mercury), the divine messenger, while his quieter companion was assumed to be Zeus (Jupiter). Consequently, the crowd eagerly prepared to worship them.

In Acts 12, Herod embraced the adulation of a crowd, leading to his demise by divine intervention. However, in Acts 14, Luke illustrates a contrasting scenario with Paul and Barnabas. Instead of reveling in the worship bestowed upon them, they were deeply disturbed when they grasped the crowd’s intentions, promptly forbidding any veneration directed towards them. Paul then clarified to the audience that it was God who had been overseeing their well-being, even during their pagan days. Now, in Acts 14:15–17, he urged them to redirect their allegiance toward God, recognizing His call to them.

Paul’s experience highlights the challenges of reaching individuals without a Judeo-Christian background. In Lystra, the pagan audience displayed interest, and some were even converting, but their understanding of the Gospel was consistently marred by a lack of familiarity with the Old Testament. Complicating matters, Jews arrived from Antioch and successfully swayed the crowd, leading to a violent response – Paul was stoned and left for dead. Remarkably, he rose and returned to the city to continue ministering to the newly converted (Acts 14:20–23).

Interestingly, at this juncture, the primary adversaries to the faith were not the heathen crowd; rather, they were manipulated by the Jews. It was the Jews who actively worked to obstruct the conversion of the non-Jewish population, revealing a complex dynamic in the early challenges faced by the followers of the faith.

Similar to the outwardly religious Jews who opposed the Gospel in the first century, today’s significant adversaries to the Gospel often emerge from within the church itself. Carnal members, characterized by jealousy, lukewarmness, and liberal views under the guise of being “Christians,” pose a considerable threat to the faith. It is crucial to remain vigilant against those who attempt to diminish the authority of Scripture or undermine the central message of Christ’s crucifixion. The challenge persists in discerning and addressing internal realities that may inadvertently compromise the integrity of the Gospel message.