A man who has been crippled from birth was listening to Paul proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Without anyone asking for the man’s healing, Paul discerns that the man had faith to be healed and heals him. We saw Peter and John do a similar act of compassionate healing in Acts 3.
The reaction of the crowd was pretty drastic. They declared that the gods had come down to them in human form. They assumed that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. Why did they think this? Apparently, there was an old tale about Zeus and Hermes visiting an old pious couple who lived near Lystra and offered them hospitality, even though they did not know they were entertaining gods. The gods rewarded them for their kindness.
So, the crowd misinterpreted the healing act as Paul and Barnabas’ power being manifested, instead of power coming from Jesus Christ. They assumed that Paul and Barnabas were gods and offered hospitality to them and were even preparing to make a sacrifice to them.
Paul and Barnabas must have been horrified. They were here to proclaim the truth about Jesus Christ, to wean these people from their beliefs in gods and goddesses, but instead, they were being worshipped as gods. So, they quickly explained that they were mortals and that they were there to preach to them about Jesus Christ. They were able to stop the crowd from offering sacrifice to them.
Things quickly turn for the worse when Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. They incited the crowd to turn on Paul, so they stoned him and dragged his body out of the city, thinking that Paul was dead. Luke does not tell us how Paul was able to recover so quickly that he was able to continue the journey with Barnabas, but we can assume that there was some miraculous healing involved.
We see in this passage that Paul and Barnabas continue to witness for Jesus Christ as being the Messiah, and through the power that comes from the Holy Spirit, continue to miraculously heal people, much like Jesus did and like Peter and John did.
We live in a different time in that the canon of the Christian scriptures is complete, and we have available to us the basis of God’s salvation story. We have the Bible which testifies to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and the savior of the world. We are not called to travel like Jesus, Peter, John, Paul or Barnabas, showing God’s powers through performing miracles. Instead, we are to witness to the world around us through our learnings from the Bible, by what we say, what we do, and how we act.
So, does what Paul and Barnabas experienced have application to our lives today? Can we learn how to be better witnesses for Christ by looking at this passage?
How the crowd reacted to the miraculous healing was understandable, considering the belief system and culture of that time and place. Inexplicable things seemed to happen randomly in peoples’ lives, and they were attributed to the doings of the numerous gods and goddesses they thought existed. So, when they witnessed this seemingly impossible healing of this man who was crippled from birth, they concluded that these two men had superhuman powers, and therefore, they must be gods. They certainly did not want to offend these two gods, so they were willing to honor them and offer sacrifice to them.
Paul and Barnabas knew that they did not possess any supernatural powers. They knew that the healing power came not from them, but from God. They were aware that they were trying to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and that was the source of the power to perform miracles.
They must have been rather horrified that the people were attributing the healing to Zeus and Hermes, and that they were being mistaken for these pagan gods. They were trying to be witnesses for Jesus Christ, but instead, people thought they were in the presence of Zeus and Hermes. So, they did their best to explain the truth to them.
In situations like this, there is always temptation to have people believe positive things about you and let them treat you accordingly. It is not a bad feeling to be respected or revered and be given things that you may otherwise not get – Presents, banquets, honors, even wealth.
What is our attitude when we successfully complete a ministry entrusted to us from the Lord as individuals or as a church? Are we filled with a sense of accomplishment that is beyond just “we have completed the task assigned to us with the help of the Holy Spirit”?
A wise teacher taught me long ago that as soon as we look back at a completed task with satisfaction or pride, we are taking the credit that God should be getting. We should always look ahead and not back at completed tasks/projects.
A good reminder of this can be found in Jesus’ words recorded in Luke 17:7-10 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
Let us keep in mind that all good things come from God, and He should get the credit, even when people want to give us the credit. Let us be reminded that we are the servants of the Lord.
(The above is a summary of the message shared by Shun Takano during worship on January 9, 2022.)