Friday, February 2, 2007

The Witness in Lystra Part 2: Acts 14:8-20

When it comes to moving into a completely non-Jewish city, Lystra seemed to be the place. In fact, at that time, it might have been one of the most pagan areas around that region.

Lystra was a fortified Roman outpost just south of Iconium, which was about 18 miles away. Paul and company had been encouraged to leave Iconium (via a possible stoning) so he started speaking in Lystra. There was no mention of there being a synagogue in this city. (Later in Acts, we find that there were Jewish believers there.) Before, Paul had been invited to speak in the Jewish service but not here in Lystra. No, he just started to speak to the crowds.

This passage first deals with the man who was lame.

8 In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking.
I am sure that such people as this cripple are found in most cities but this is the second big time such a person is found in the letter of Dr. Luke. Back when Peter and John were central to the message's proclamation, a lame man was sitting outside the gate to the Temple. He was looking for handouts or money. There was no proclamation of any Gospel-at that time, just: “What I have I give to you, in the Name of Jesus Christ, walk!”

Do you remember what happened? He not only got up, he danced! God's message was heard and understood and some people really hated to see that happen. BUT there was an understanding. Let's not get ahead of the story.

Paul, while he was speaking, saw or understood that the man, who was crippled, had the faith to be healed. That is some interesting bit of news…

1. God's Power Shown. Acts 14:8~10

While the man was listening to Paul, faith grew inside him. He was given Faith to believe and this was visually apparent to Paul. He saw that he had faith to be healed … What kind of faith was that?

Last week, we spoke of the man with the son who needed faith to support his little faith. Mark 9:20-25 “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Now here, Paul sees a new kind of faith. Visible Faith. It was seen in his eyes? Did his face shine? Was he was breaking out in words on his forehead that said: “I have faith to be healed!”?

All it said in this passage was that:

Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

Paul KNEW where this man was spiritually, one way or the other. He had a faith that could heal him. Romans 10:13 says: "Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved." This lame man's faith was not a salvation kind of saving faith. It was physical. Yet, I can't believe that the man did not believe, as he became the topic of the drama that came up soon thereafter.

What kind of Faith do you have? Faith that needs help: an overcoming-your-unbelief-kind-of-a-faith! Or do you have a heart that can be seen as ready for faith to be healed?

Many are ill and sick at ICCS. It says in the Word that we are to pray for those who are sick, lay hands on them and anoint them with oil and ask God to heal them; to ask for forgiveness and confess our sins to one another. Here was a man who Paul saw that he had faith to be healed. Do you have that kind of faith? Do you need help in your unbelief that God can do a healing in your life?

What will it take to believe God for a healing? Are miraculous healings ALWAYS a sign of God's blessings? Is it the way to approach a non-Jewish/Christian worldview? Being called “Power evangelism” such a case could be understood and followed. Such acts of Divine Power would certainly be seen and understood by a pagan world as being divine. Or would they? That is the 'stuff' of our next point of being misunderstood.

Some say that “Rarely was church growth attributed to preaching alone…signs and wonders were the catalyst to evangelism.” John Wimber on church growth in 1986. Others would limit the use of signs and wonders to only the age of the apostles. I wonder. How can we limit God's Hand? Can He not do what He wants or does He need our permission to do what come divinely natural for Him; healing and creation?

As we spoke last week, when the Power of the Gospel is present, THERE is the working of God's creative power. The lady who touched Jesus' robe was healed because she touched a powerful robe or because she had the faith to believe in touching the robe, Jesus could and would heal her? She had visible faith as well.

The important item to remember is for healings of this kind to happen, the Gospel ALWAYS needs to be present and as the focal point of the work of God. God's Power to Save goes hand and hand with the Gospel to be made whole. Not all touches need to be healed but the Gospel will not return void. The Gospel will glorify God.

2. Power Misunderstood: Acts14:11-13

Well, the man was healed. He was sure happy. The crowd around Paul and Barnabas went crazy! And they went crazy in their own language!

Something was going on that the Team did not follow. I am sure this has never happened to you. The 'group' you are with speaks another language and you do not speak that language. They decide to go or do something and they begin to act on that decision. You are cut off from any understanding. They are really excited about this new plan yet you cannot find a clue what they are talking about! Some get their coats, while others do something else. All this excitement about something yet no one has told you. They are just caught up in the excitement and of course they feel you will follow and understand the whole thing.

There is both a total excitement and a total lack of understanding. They do not comprehend at all!
And you are left in the dark.
Then, they get you to stand up and give a message on the excitement they are all experiencing. You are lost.

Think how these men felt! The lame man needs an other name now that he is dancing around the streets! There is excitement! There is joy! There is gross miscomprehension!

It takes them three verses to learn what is going on! And what is going on? The people are yelling in their foreign language that the gods have come among them!

Talk about missing the point! Paul is responding to the lame man's acceptance to the Faith message. His message was about the way God had shown Himself to the world and all these people wanted to do was to offer them the blood of bulls!

Leaders and lay people alike were caught in this web of misunderstanding. They had given them new names and they were generally and honestly excited about what just happened. Problem was, it was not gods among them. Zeus and Hermes were not there in the flesh.

They misunderstood the message. BUT not the message they knew of. A while ago, it was reported that the two, Zeus and Hermes did visit earth and visited over 1,000 homes to find kindness and found no one to show kindness to them EXCEPT Baucis and Philemon. They took them in and took care of the god-made-flesh gods. The Roman poet who told this tale was known by the name Ovid. He wrote that the gods were so upset that caring was void in that region; a flood would destroy the area. The couple's shack was transformed into a marble-pillared, gold-roofed temple and they became the priest of the new temple. These folks did not want to be wrong again! They wanted to do it right and according to legend, offering the blood of bulls would be a good thing to do.

But they did not really hear what Paul and Barnabas were saying in their message. And what was the message? It was lost except in the healing of the lame man. HE understood it, it seems. But the real message was spoken even later.

The crowd's response was, in fact, the right one, IF such things could happen. They wanted to avoid divine punishment and passed on the blessing in the form of the flowers and the blood of the bulls. They saw these two gods as the ones who would ensure good harvest in that agricultural area. Zeus was the weather god and Hermes was his messenger.

Here Paul enters a problem most missionaries have when they attempt to reach a people group they do not know or understand. Here was Paul, a good Jewish boy with good Torah upbringing. He knew the Law and the Prophets BY HEART. He knew all the 600+ laws and had kept them since his youth. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a First Class Jewish Man.

And here he was in a pagan city that saw him as a visiting god of weather. Blasphemy!

If Paul and Barnabas accepted the praise of the people and went along with it for a time, the real meaning would be lost for a lifetime. The manifestations of the miraculous left unchecked would lead them to reinterpreted this healing in the only way they could understand it: in terms of their non-Christian religious beliefs and values. In that way real problems would arise that would allow this misunderstanding to persists and become syncretistic, allowing other worldviews to maintain them over against Christian Truth claims of a Changed Life.

Unless the Holy Spirit can open the hearts of the new listeners of the Message, it would be lost in their world-view. Both Jewish and Pagan religions had teachings of the divine visitation that lived and walked on the earth. Where was the kingpin idea that would tie their hearts to the Gospel?

In Japan, I was told a number of years ago the kingpin was KANJI. Hidden in the KANJI of old was the message of Salvation. Mr. Kazama, a while ago, showed us the Message of the Gospel in the bamboo stick mats. Some feel it is in the fact that Japanese honor their ancestors as the key. Others feel that it is in the tea ceremony. The key is that it MUST be in the Biblical Teaching of the Gospel. And that is where he went next.

3. The Power Spoken; Acts 14:14~18

The number one way, back then, to show someone you are sick of them or that you violently disagree with them is to tear your clothes. They went at it with real gusto! This idea was revolting to them. “NO! We are not gods! We are only humans-like you!” They were not trying to blend in. They were not going to allow this misunderstanding take away the Glory of God. This MUST be cleared up!

They ran into the crowd to stop them from continuing with this worship thing. That was a very serious thing to do! Think about it. The people of Lystra were devoted followers of Zeus. They had this history of this happening before and they were not going to let it pass. Worship was necessary and worship is what they were going to get!

He goes for their gut in attacking this form of worship. He was not going to put on kiddy gloves. He hits hard.

Turn to Jeremiah 2: 5

This is what the LORD says: “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”

Jeremiah 2:11

Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.

Jeremiah 10:3-16

3 For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. 4 They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter. 5 Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good." 6 No one is like You, O LORD; You are great, and Your Name is mighty in power. 7 Who should not revere You, O King of the nations? This is Your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like You. 8 They are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols. 9 Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz. What the craftsman and goldsmith have made is then dressed in blue and purple- all made by skilled workers. 10 But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God, the eternal King. When He is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure His wrath. 11 "Tell them this: 'These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.' "12 But God made the earth by His power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding. 13 When He thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from His storehouses. 14 Everyone is senseless and without knowledge; every goldsmith is shamed by his idols. His images are a fraud; they have no breath in them. 15 They are worthless, the objects of mockery; when their judgment comes, they will perish. 16 He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these, for He is the Maker of all things, including Israel, the tribe of His inheritance-the LORD Almighty is His name.

Jeremiah 17:5

This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”

The Ten Commandments are not there to make our life more difficult. Not there to keep us so busy doing the right things that we don't have time to do wrong things. They are not mere suggestions! They are there to support the reason we are alive.
To Love God and to Enjoy Him Forever.

Paul's message follows this way of thought:
1. We are human beings like you.
2. We are really here to bring you Good News
3. Turn from these worthless things
4. Turn to the Living God

Who made heaven and earth and sea
Who let things go in the past BUT not now!
5. He has left for Himself a witness/testimony
6. He has shown His kindness by sending

Plenty of food
Fills your hearts with joy

Paul's message can become a model for those who are speaking God's Message to followers of a non-Christian followings or lifestyles. Finding common ground is important. All men are made in God's image with the ability to reason and evaluate life's experiences. Paul needed to know where in their religious belief system did they pull away for the Truth found in Scripture. How Good does the Good News have to be to be sought after without compromising the Truth? Such knowledge of the Divine needs then to be brought to a head with the understanding of personal consequences of this information. It is, indeed, not just a philosophy of life but one of life and death issues. Here is God who loves you and has provided all for your enjoyment; why not trust Him, love Him, serve Him?

It is hard to believe that this message almost does not work in stopping them. Kind of hard to stop a mob with Reason but then just when you think all is well, in walks the bad guys from Antioch and Iconium. When bad guys from two different groups get together, WOW, watch out!

Which brings us to the next point of PAIN.

4. The Pain of Growth: Acts 14:19~20

The people of Lystra were not allowed to worship who they thought was Zeus and Hermes. They were ready for a festival. Having been disappointed, they were really ready for the bad words from the gents from Antioch and Iconium. They were incited to riot and stoned Paul! Having done their worst, they dragged out, what they thought was a corps, outside the city limits and walked home enormously content with life, thank you very much.

Think of Paul's friends… They were horrified. They stood over the bloody heap of flesh and, to their amazement; Paul stood up and walked BACK INTO THE CITY AGAIN! Maybe he had hit his head! Maybe he was not able to understand what had happened! Why go back? Because he was not finished.

He spent the night in Lystra and on the next day, he and Barnabas left for Derbe.

This will not always happen this way. If it does go bad for you, you will need to remember this time in Paul's life and get up, dust yourself off and start afresh in the morning. Press on. Acts 14:22

We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
Even when there are miracles and powerful transformation of lives, times still can get pretty tough. There are no guarantees EXCEPT for the fact of His Word to us that He will not forsake us. Persecution will happen. Live with it.

His Word needs to be heard even in Tokorozawa and esp. in your homes.

Will you be part of the solution or part of the problem?

Next week, we go to Derbe. But, for now, let's prepare our hearts to come before His Remembrance Table to celebrate the Lord's Last Supper.

Witness in Iconium Acts 14:1~7

Let's look at this passage verse by verse and find just how Paul and his troupe did evangelism and how churches were planted in this area. When the attempts in the former city of Pisidian Antioch went amuck, this work started out fairly good.
READ ACTS 14:1~7

According to Matthew 28:18-20, the Great commission was: as you GO make disciples. That was the thing Paul did very well. In fact, as he went, he also stayed for a while in these places for evangelism and disciple making. The "why" of that will be made clear later.

They went to the Synagogue, as usual, to worship and ended up preaching there. As we saw last week, it was the custom of visiting Jewish men. Why did he keep doing this-esp after what happened in the last Jewish house of worship? It was his way. By looking at Romans 1:14-17, we can see how deeply he felt for his Jewish brothers who needed to hear and respond to the Gospel.

Romans 1:14-17
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the Gospel also to you who are at Rome.16 I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

That one truth was lost in the early church for many years. Martin Luther made that 'discovery' while studying his Bible and it changed the way of his life and the Church forever.

Paul believed without a shadow of any doubt that the Gospel needed to be heard and understand by all people. He set out to do that very thing in Iconium. (which became the center of one of the Easter Orthodox Churches we still have today). To live by Faith was his message.

How is that with you? How do you face the 'stuff' of life? Do you trust Him in all your areas of life? Salvation, yes, of course. A life partner, well, that is something else. Life work? Can He take care of ALL your needs? The importance of living by faith comes in many forms. It means to trust Him for your living. Period. Even in economical situations- in health- in the pressures around you PLUS your salvation? Yes, that Faith is supported by the fact that He WILLS you to have that Faith and to use it to live your life in the Power of His Holy Spirit.

We get some help from such passages as Mark 9:20-25

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.21 Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. 22 "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."23 " 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."24 Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again."

Maybe you need to ask God the same thing. Why not right now? Go ahead: ask God to help you overcome your unbelief.

Welcome back. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.

How good was Paul's preaching? You can well believe that the Lord used his background of his knowledge of Scriptures. A few days after he came to Christ, he was preaching up a storm! He was not only full of knowledge of the Things of God but also he was filled with the Spirit of God. Can't do this work without His Spirit. In truth, you can for a season but you will either fall and you will fail. And the man was with integrity.

A message's truth is judged by the messenger's integrity. Looking at people in the public world and you might see what I mean. The expression, “What ever happens in a politician's private life is his own affair; it only concerns the public when it affects their performance in office.” I can't see how to separate the two. What you do and what you teach/preach/ and even advocate does effect the condition of your message.

This was the case with Paul and Barnabas; their lives were an open book. Their message was their lifestyle.

Paul's teaching was so effective that both sides of the room believed. His message was not one thing for the Jew and another for the Gentile. The message was the same. The basic message of Salvation is only found in Jesus was good for the growth of the Church then and it is good for the growth of the Church today.

That salvation is in Jesus, and we appropriate, or receive it by our belief in (trust in, reliance on) Him alone.Well, the success here was indeed refreshing. After he was kicked out of the last place they were at, this much success was good to experience. It became Paul's practice to stay-when allowed-in a location for an extended length of time. He would be strengthening the churches and working in other areas where outreach had already showed promise. Maybe it was good then, that he was kicked out of Pisidian Antioch so that these in Iconium who would believe could. God's ways are not our ways after all "a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed."

In fact, later we learn that the group was about half the population of that city. I could not find how big the city was but it was smaller than Ephesus and Srymura. But half of any city would be huge!

Think about it: Tokorozawa has about 348,000 people in it. Half that number would mean 170,000 believers! That would mean that 5,312.5 people would be coming to any of the 30 churches in this city. How could we do that? Want to try or would that be impossible?

Remember back in Mark 9: 23 " 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."?

Because of persecutions and sufferings, Paul purposely stayed there and continued with the ministry. He was able to do this because he relied on the Lord. When faced with difficulties in ministries we need to rely completely on the Lord and keep moving on with the task. We should not quit for the Grace of the Lord is sufficient to see us through.

Both men and their group were attacked once again. Once again, the unbelieving Jews gathered to their side some Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. In truth, they made their souls evil against them to the point of making plans to do them physical harm: to stone them!

This is certainly true in areas of the world where the Christian population is in the very low numbers or even in status quo. The lesson we can learn for Paul's group is that we must remain faithful-no matter the numbers against us. The attack was toward the missionaries and not against the local believers.

As in physics, I am told, that every action develops an equal and opposite reaction, so the spiritual climate in the preaching of the truth will always encounter opposition.

Back in Dr. Luke's first letter, he reported in chapter 8:12 “Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.”

Where belief is there is also darkness. When God moves, so does the enemy of the Lord.

1 Peter 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

So, be careful out there. In your relationships, keep it pure. In your social encounters, keep it above board. In all things, keep your heart honest.

Now, comes a wonderful verse:

3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of His grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.

Again, Paul is interested in depth of Christian character and the willingness to teach solid teaching based on the Word of God. He was in the business of making dedicated followers of Jesus. He spent time going over the teachings of the Lord with profound boldness and courage. This was to prepare the young believers for what will be coming after them real soon in the form of widespread persecution.

The Lord confirmed the Message with His Grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wondersI can see a pattern here. Whenever God's message is exercised with power and truth and that is felt and embraced, BECAUSE He is there, there are signs and wonders. As long as the Gospel is central and present, His Holiness, His Holy Spirit is bearing witness to His Truth and to His Faithfulness.

His Grace then has room to work. His Grace then has a conduit of His pleasure to spread His Message into the hearts of those who are present.

Remember the time when the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched Jesus? He felt the power go from Him. God's Grace was present and there was the ability of Christ to heal-a miraculous sign-a wonder.

Many could see yet some did not come to faith. Because God was present there, He was able to touch people's lives-get into their souls, as He moved among them.

The signs and wonders were there to confirm the reality of the salvation message. Their purpose is to establish the Gospel Truth in its full and genuine authority. God raised Jesus from the dead and He was present right there in Iconium for all to see. And that brought some problems.

The city was divided. Some fell on the side of Paul's group and some on the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. We spoke about mob violence before and this could get pretty ugly. I have never seen this personally but others have. We have read accounts of mobs breaking into churches in some countries and dragging the worshipping people into the streets where they hacked them to death in front of a number of witnesses and no one said a thing to stop them.

Many of our Brothers and Sisters around this world are suffering such things every day. Makes you want to stop and think---doesn't it? Am I ready for that? The fact that P & B moved out as in verse 6.

6 "But they found out about it and fled to … Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the good news”

…was not being a coward but prudent and practical. They would keep on doing what they had done in the next city as the Lord kept opening doors of opportunities and guiding them to people who are open to the Message of Christ. Didn't give up.

Shortly afterwards Paul returned to organize the church he had founded (Acts 14:20-back to Derbe; 16:2 to Lystra).

1. They would keep speaking words to edify the young church.

2. They would be bold in their own faith by showing their perseverance.

3. The Lord would show His divine confirmation of their message with miracles.

4. They would show tactical prudence in the face of opposition.

5. and they will be persistent in witnessing to the Truth of God's Message of Grace and Love.

Giving today's world-do you see any evidence of such behavior today in the church? Places where the good suffer, where they are jailed and beaten? Look with me this last verse. Hebrews 11:33-40

33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37 They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated- 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Does that want you to take greater risks for God?God has planned something better for us who believe.

The Just are saved by Faith.