By Russ Ramsey
What is the greatest thing you have ever done? What is your greatest success in life? And what do you want people to understand about it when they see the fruit?
When the people of Lystra saw Paul miraculously heal a disabled man, they responded in awe. In fact, they shouted their response. They thought Zeus and Hermes had come in the flesh. Local legend was that Zeus and Hermes once visited Lystra, but no one recognized them. These people didn’t want to repeat that mistake, so they made plans to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, thinking they were Zeus and Hermes.
Once Paul and Barnabas understood what was about to happen, they rushed out among the people, tearing their garments, pleading with them, “People! Why are you doing these things? We are people also, just like you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them” (Acts 14:15).
The people totally misunderstood the miracle they had seen and they wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas for it. Their response was according to what they were accustomed to—superstitions and a fear of upsetting the gods. Paul used this misunderstanding as an occasion to preach Christ with even more clarity. Often misunderstanding opens the door to clarify truth even more.
Paul’s message in Lystra is very different from what he preached to Jewish audiences. To the Jewish people, he began with references to their history and God’s covenant. But to a crowd of pagans, he goes back even further—before Abraham, all the way to creation. This is where all people are united in their beginning. The living God, Paul says, has covered His creation with evidence of His presence and has blessed them all with the rains that have raised the crops that have sustained their lives. Paul calls them to worship Him alone.
Notice that Paul, in clarifying, contends against the praise of men. I’d guess that not many of us have been mistaken for gods. But many of us have been praised for things we know full well were God’s doing. How do you respond when someone admires your kids, or your successes in life, or your spiritual discipline? Do you find yourself getting more gratification out of those words of praise than from the fact that God has blessed your life?
May the Lord deepen our conviction in the truth of His gospel. May He give us the clarity of mind to grow in our understanding of it, and the winsomeness of heart to express it with clarity in a variety of situations. And may He guard our hearts from pride, and use our lives to draw others to Himself.
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