Sermon for Sunday Evening, March 5th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 14:8-23 ESV] 8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
As we continue now in Paul’s First missionary journey we follow him and Barnabas to the city of Lystra. They had just fled Iconium in Galatia where there was a threat to stone them. Now at Lystra they would find that threat as a reality. In fact, the people from the last two cities, Antioch and Iconium followed them to Lystra to stone them! Such was the division caused by the Gospel.
Well, the stoning is the second of two related episodes in Lystra.
I. Apostolic Healing
The first episode is of an Apostolic healing.
A man crippled from birth who had never walked. And Paul said to him “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking.
Paul had seen that “he had faith to be made well.” Some might contend that this healing then is merely an allegory to the spiritual rebirth. But it is not. The physical miracle also happened. Only that can explain why the crowds thought Paul and Barnabas to be Greek gods.
There are a number of miracles performed by the Apostles in the book of Acts. In fact, when we think of “ACTS of the Apostles” at least some of those acts are the miraculous acts that they did, not just the travels and adventures they went on.
But what are we to make of these miracles? They certainly happened then.
Why don’t they not happen any more?
Is it for lack of faith that we are unable to perform miracles? If so, are there no Christians on earth?
Some say that miracles do continue. But I think all would agree that there are far more fake healers than real ones. Indeed some believe that all who claim miraculous healing powers are frauds. Certainly it is impossible for us to investigate them all.
The explanation giving throughout church history is that the Apostolic period was a special time where God granted such miraculous powers to the Apostles (and perhaps some other Christians) to testify of the truth of the Word being revealed. That is, miracles usually (or always) come along with new revelation.
Therefore, since the Bible is now complete, revelation has ceased and miracles along with it.
This is the historic cessationist view; the ceasing of miracles and revelation.
Certainly there are Christians thinkers who oppose this view, but it must be understood that this is the historic view of the church at large.
Now, we are called to have faith without miracles. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Ultimately, God gives faith through the Holy Spirit. It is not from sights that we see that we have faith. There are many recorded in Scripture who saw miracles and yet did not believe.
John 12:37 – Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,
So we have the Word of God, and are to believe in the revelation God has given us.
And we should understand Christ’s statement: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
So it is that miracles are of no use to those who hearts are hardened against God, for they will simply deny that the miracle is from God.
And so it is that we find that sometimes God uses miracles, but He often works without them.
II. Rising from the Near Dead.
Christ did indeed fulfill that prophecy, when He rose from the dead and many of the Jews still did not believe.
Now, we find Paul rising from the near dead.
First, he and Barnabas had to convince the people of Lystra that they are not gods. They called Barnabas, Zeus. And they called Paul, Hermes. And they wanted to offer sacrifices.
Of course, Paul and Barnabas wouldn’t want to offer sacrifices to a false God. And, they don’t want to even offer sacrifices to the true God, because they know that Christ’s Single Sacrifice is sufficient once and for all.
So they rushed out to the crowd and said “we are men, like you.” Not gods.
The only difference between them and other men, or the importance of what they are doing is, as Paul says, “We bring you good news.”
We’re not told of the immediate reaction of the people of Lystra to what Paul has said. That is beause the Jews from Antioch and Iconium have arrived.
This is a bit like the Wicked Witch of the West showing up while Dorothy and her pals are dancing in Oz. Poof, there she is to cause trouble.
Well, these Jews have come and persuaded the city officials to go after Paul. And they stone him and throw him out of the city. They thought he was dead.
But what happens?
“He rose up and entered the city and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.”
His injuries must have been pretty bad. But by the miraculous work of God, Paul not only rose up, but by the next day was able to travel.
Probably he wanted to get out of Dodge.
But it says that later they returned to that city. And there were many disciples there. So despite the stoning, this is still a successful episode. The church is continuing to grow. And in every place, despite opposition, people are hearing and believing the Good news.
Paul in fact uses his stoning to convey an important truth:
“through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
The road is not easy, but God will see us through.
Now at the end of the passage we find that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church. This word, here and always in the Bible, is plural ELDERS. They did not appoint a single leader to control everything in a church, they appointed elders so that the wisdom of a number of men would benefit the congregation.
Encouragement in the faith. This morning’s sermon was about encouragement. And we see it arise here again in Acts. And we note that it is a “strengthening of the souls of the disciples” encouraging them in the faith through tribulation.
This strengthening is as disciples. They are learning from the Apostles about the Lord. Our strength indeed comes from the Word of God and learning its truth.
We do not find our strength in seeing miracles.
We do not find our strength handling relics, bones of the saints.
We do nor find our strength in making a pilgrimage to a holy site.
Out strength comes only from the Lord who works in us through the Holy Spirit and His Word.
So we are to be encouraged to BE DISCIPLES. Disciples are students and so must we be. Let us be students of the Lord and his teaching.
We cannot be Apostles. We do not have all the gifts that they had. And their time is past. To be an Apostle one had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. We have not see the resurrected Christ.
But we can be disciples. We can know the resurrected Christ though we have not seen him with our eyes. We can know him well through his word and through prayer.