Oops, wrong god…

“Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 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!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 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. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “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. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 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.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.” (Acts 14:8-18 ESV)

I mentioned, last week, that God authenticated Paul and Barnabas’s message to the people of Iconium with “signs and wonders.” He does the same in Lystra as Paul encounters a man who had been crippled from birth. The man was listening intently to Paul’s message and Paul observed his faith in Jesus; that he had faith to be made well (the word here actually means rescued or saved). In other words, this man’s faith in Jesus wasn’t focused on his physical condition but on his entire person or being. He had faith that Jesus could save him completely and Paul demonstrated this by calling upon him to “stand up on your feet!”

It is important to note that Paul’s message about Jesus was NOT one of physical healing or social action. God’s intervention into this man’s situation was affirmation of Paul’s message of man’s TOTAL redemption through Christ. Our culture loves and embraces the message of Christ when it is presented in such a way that fulfills their desires and makes no demands upon them. However, when the message of Christ is presented in such a way that it casts a spotlight upon our frailty, our brokenness and sin, then many tend to back away quickly and reject the gospel. Let’s take a look at this in light of today’s passage…

Paul’s message of salvation and the subsequent healing of the crippled man causes a social response blitz. In today’s language, someone snapped/posted/tweeted a video of Paul and the man who was healed and it went viral, quickly. The crowds heard Paul and then saw the crippled man walking and things got crazy. They began to cry out, “the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Their response is indicative of their understanding of and attention to Paul’s message. They only heard and saw what they wanted and what benefitted them. This is often the same response our culture has to the Biblical gospel, today. They hear, like and respond to the portions of scripture that fit their desires.

In fact, Paul would later tell young Timothy who was from this same area (see Acts 16:1-3): “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)

In other words, we often don’t want to hear the truth but just want to hear those things that fulfill our desires, meet our expectations and affirm our preconceived perceptions. The crowd responded to Paul’s gospel message and the crippled man’s healing through the power of Jesus with nothing less than a full on proclamation of blasphemy as Paul is identified as Hermes and Barnabas as Zeus. That’s why I stated that we often hear only what we want to hear. The native people of Lystra, as evidenced by their use of the native Lyconian language and not Greek, had heard the gospel and seen the evidence in the cripple man’s healing but instead of responding in faith and commitment to Jesus they fell back on their old beliefs and customs.

This is often how we see folks respond to the gospel, today. Instead of abandoning their beliefs and acknowledging the inadequacies of their religious practices they try and infuse them with biblical power and phrases and create a synergistic faith of their old beliefs and these new beliefs. Truth distorted is, simply put, a lie. While I could certainly offer examples from many different cultures and countries, I will simply share one from my own. In America we have a cultural belief that our material and physical blessings are the result of God smiling upon our political beliefs and practices. In fact, it has become our national slogan: God Bless America. The belief has become so pervasive that we now have a heretical branch of the Christian church that preaches and teaches that the Bible promises health and wealth to people who have “true faith” in Jesus Christ.

Most of you are well aware of this heretical belief and may even condemn it, but we still see the results in our churches and our practices. While I won’t deny that material blessings may be the result of God’s grace (see Matt. 5:43-48), He doesn’t just send them to those who deserve them and He can often deny them from those who truly seek Him and obey Him. As I mentioned last week, we often measure success and failure using human standards and not Godly ones.

Notice Paul and Barnabas’s response to the crowds, they rush in tearing their garments and crying out for them to stop. Listen to their words: “We are just men, like you and nothing more. We bring you good news (the gospel), that you should turn away from the very things you are doing, vain and empty actions, and turn to the one, true living God who has revealed himself to you, today.” Paul’s message is not one of synergistic religiosity whereby the crowds are encouraged to worship the true God using their old ways. It is a call to abandon their old, vain ways of worshiping their god(s) and to embrace the truth of life in and through Jesus, the one, true God who did come in human form to mankind.

Did you catch that? Paul says their methods of worship are vain which means empty and useless. Let that sink in a bit because it not only explains the crowd’s response in Lystra but also our culture’s response to the gospel. Paul doens’t tell them that they just need to “fix” a few things about their beliefs and worship practices but tells them that their beliefs and practices are empty and useless and must be abandoned for beliefs and worship practices that are proper and fitting of the one, true God.

So, let me state this very directly… a proper response to faith and trust in Jesus is to love, worship and obey Him in the ways He demands and the ways He commands. This isn’t just my opinion. He stated: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments… Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (John 14:15, 21 ESV)

However, we often cite scripture that highlights God’s love for us and then try and use that as an excuse to justify our actions and lack of obedience. It comes out something like this, “I know God loves me just the way I am. He made me like this, and He loves me like this.” That’s NOT a statement about God’s love for you, that’s a statement about your love of yourself and is false, vain worship. God’s love for you is stated this way: “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still SINNERS, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV – emphasis mine)

If God loves you just like you are and truly sees no need for change in you or your actions, then Jesus didn’t need to come and die for your sin. His suffering and death would have been vain and pointless. By the way, that really appears to be the primary offense of the Biblical gospel in our modern culture. Folks like a weak, watered down gospel that tells them how good they really are and that they just need a little help in getting their lives straightened out, but that’s not what the Bible says. It says, you and I are really “dead” because of our sinful rebellion against God. It says that our only hope for life is found in acknowledging our sin, confessing it before the one, true, holy God seeking His grace and forgiveness. It goes on to say that while we must confess our sin to Him, we must also turn away from our old sinful actions and turn in faith towards Jesus desiring to live a new, obedient life that honors Him and seeks to love God, above all else.

So, let me end with a simple, direct and difficult question. Are you worshiping the one, true God in the way He demands and commands or are you worshiping the wrong god? Are you worshiping Him or are you worshiping yourself or some other form of god. We can substitute all kinds of “god” worship for true worship of God. Sometimes “god” takes on the form of a personal goal or achievement. Sometimes it takes on the form of our home, family or children. Somtimes it can be work or retirement. Often it gets mixed in with nationalism and becomes prideful selfishness and personal rights. For many today, worship of “god” has even been blended with “my true self” as seen in sexual orientation or gender identity. All of these are simply Satan’s way of blinding us to the truth and keeping us from finding life in Jesus.

My prayer for you today is that your eyes will be opened to the truth of the gospel. I pray that you will see God for who He really is and yourself for who you really are and, in doing so, you will seek to love, honor and worship Him in the way that He deserves.

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