GETTING THE MESSAGE/Paul heals a crippled man
After being driven out of Iconium, Paul and Barnabas arrived at Lystra where they continued to preach the gospel (Acts 14:5-6). After Paul had spoken to the people, he looked upon a crippled man and commanded him to stand up. The man immediately rose up and began to walk.
The crowd responded to the miracle by concluding that Paul and Barnabas were Hermes and Zeus, gods who had come down in the likeness of men (verse 11). Historians tell us that the Roman poet Ovid had written of Zeus and Hermes assuming human form and visiting a region close to Lystra. Those who showed hospitality to them were rewarded, those who didn’t were judged.
The people of Lystra make preparations to sacrifice to the apostles, thus worshipping them. When the apostles understand what is going on, they are aghast. They tear their clothes in dismay, and then declare that there is only one God who made all things, and who provides all that men have. Despite this instruction, they can scarcely restrain the people from worshipping them (verse 18).
Men were created by God in the image of God to be stewards of God’s creation. Man is completely dependent upon God for life, joy, peace; all that is good. But because of sin, men seek meaning and fulfilment apart from God, and so have an inherit propensity toward idolatry.
Whereas men were made to look up to God and glorify him, in idolatry men pull God down and conform him to their own ideas. Idolatry is committed when men either set up false gods in place of the true God, or when men worship the true God in a false manner. There are innumerable ways this is done, but they have in common a refusal to serve the living God.
The root of all sin is the deficiency of obedience to some command of the first table of the law. The law begins with “You shall have no other gods before me.” Men have many gross sins to repent of, yet the breeding ground for all of them is found in the violation of the first commandment.
The story of the Bible shows how prone men are to worship God according to their own will and not the will of God. Israel, rescued from the hands of Pharaoh in such a way that God’s power was made plain to them, nevertheless quickly made a golden calf rather than submit to God’s leading.
The pagans in Lystra formed gods such as Hermes and Zeus to approve of their sinful desires. But sinful desires don’t satisfy, they cause misery. Christ came and emptied himself that he might empty us of such sin and misery. He became poor that we might be rich, and abundantly so; even the unsearchable riches of God.
Paul tells the crowds that God has sent this good news to them to turn them from vain things to the living God who made the heavens and earth. Idols are vain in that they are futile; there is no help to be found in them. And they are vain in man’s attempts to dictate to God how he should be.
Idolatry makes men think God is like they are. A man that is not a gracious man, in the pride of his sinful way, thinks God is like him. Some make God to be all of mercy and no justice; others who like to oppress people make God to be oppressive. Men think that since nothing happens to them that God must approve of their ways and the way they think of him. But these things displease the Lord.
Men may not be offended by being cast into the image of an ape so that they may act beastly, but God is jealous of his glory. The devil offered to Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if he would fall down and worship him. Jesus responded, “Be gone Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
There is no communion between God and idols. Christ came to save us from idolatry and restore us to peace and joy in the knowledge of God. Joshua warned the Israelites that they could not serve God and idols, and the Lord told us we cannot serve God and money.
Idolatry is a great evil, and Christians are to keep themselves from it. If one doesn’t know the Lord, he must turn from idols to come to him. Christ died for idolaters. There were some in Lystra who are in heaven today rejoicing that the Lord saved them from their vain way of life to the living God.