Rainy Day Apostles #12 & 35: Reflections on Acts 14:8-20

Posted: 03/02/2011 in Acts of the Apostles

Paul and Barnabas take their evangelistic missionary ministry to the city of Lystra.  Gospel preaching and a miraculous healing leads to the event many consider to be Paul’s near-death experience in which he was taken up into Heaven.  “Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good…”

In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. 14:9 This man was listening to Paul as he was speaking. When Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be healed, 14:10 he saidwith a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man leaped up and began walking. 14:11 So when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in humanform!” 14:12 They began to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 14:13 The priest of the temple of Zeus, located just outside the city, brought bulls and garlands to the city gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 14:14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard about it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 14:15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them. 14:16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own ways, 14:17 yet he did not leave himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying you with food and your hearts with joy.” 14:18 Even by saying these things, they scarcely persuaded the crowds not to offer sacrifice to them.

14:19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and after winning the crowds over, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him to be dead. 14:20 But after the disciples had surrounded him, he got up and went back into the city. On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.  -NET

I’m struck by just a few observations/applications of this passage in the context of evangelism (in principle rather than a straight method):

1. Otherwise forgettable preaching becomes more effective when accompanied by a supernatural sign.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s also how many of us were converted (or took our first few steps).  We may have no recollection of what all was preached (apparently Luke didn’t in Lystra), but supernatural signs are pretty memorable if not generally effective.  Persuasion, doctrine, apologetics, love, serving, etc., are all Biblical and wonderful expressions of true faith and evangelism.  Don’t neglect the opportunity for supernatural assistance.

2.  Supernatural displays do not always have the intended effect.  Miracles, like sound apologetics, do not save.  They are used to bring down barriers to faith in Christ by confirming the truth of God and His word, but the human will (in its fallen state) can resist the most persuasive apologetics as well as the most dramatic miracles.  The citizens of Lystra see, believe, and celebrate the miracle while missing the One who performed it.  If the supernatural were enough to ensure everyone came to faith and served God, there would have been no wilderness funerals for the Israelites leaving Egypt.  Pray for the miraculous, but understand it’s evangelistic limitations in view of the reality of humanity.  Some will believe, others won’t.

Paul witnesses to a non-Jewish crowd (notice that his evangelistic appeal does not include any Old Testament lessons) that has a very messed-up religious view.  Sound familiar?

3. The apostle questions their beliefs and religious practices. “Men, why are you doing these things?” Too often we feel the need to have answers to every possible question or objection concerning the Christian faith, but one of the best evangelistic tactics is to ask someone why they believe what they believe.  Why are you doing this?  Why should you believe your view of ultimate issues (like God and religion) is correct? Sometimes the best starting point is by questioning others about their religious perspective and practices.

4.  In attempts to evangelize lost souls for whom Christ died, the next good thing to remember is this: let’s not pretend to be something we’re not.  ” We too are men, with human natures just like you!” There is a difference between hypocrisy and inconsistency.  All Christians are inconsistent, but not all are hypocrites. We should be different than those we are evangelizing, but we have a human nature like theirs.  Paul and Barnabas do not accept the crowd’s attempt to make them more heavenly than human.  Don’t glamorize or revert to your past sin, but be real and let them know you’re just as human when sharing the gospel.

5.  Expose the worthless counterfeit gods of the culture.  We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things…” It’s actually good news when you can relieve people of their idolatry since their idols contribute to their misery, anxiety, and deception.  Better to attempt this in a small setting because the crowd may want to stone you when you challenge their gods.

6.  Paul appeals to God as the Creator.  “the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them.” God has revealed Himself through creation, so leverage this apologetic to open minds to the gospel.  A solid case for the true and living God can be made by a thoughtful appeal to creation without ever having to quote a Bible verse.

“he did not leave himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying you with food and your hearts with joy”

7.  An evangelistic appeal or apologetic based on the reality of goodness is apostolic.  Beauty, gifts, providence, satisfaction, blessings, etc…  Most understand these concepts and find themselves thankful or grateful.  Those emotional virtues mean nothing apart from God.  Leverage their experience of goodness, blessings, and gratitude as a powerful evangelistic witness.  Let them see God, not just the Creator, but the ultimate Giver of all good things.

Conclusion:  I think all these evangelistic appeals can be legitimately and effectively employed in our attempt to rescue sinners from destruction.  However, especially in a large, hostile group setting, you may find your apostolic tactics and power on the short end of some very nasty rejection.  Paul warned Timothy that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  It’s a promise that you will be rejected and persecuted by some for your Christian witness.  Be like Paul in v.20- surround yourself with other disciples, get up, and do it all over again!

But I would not feel so all alone… Everybody must get stoned.

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