Acts 14:8-28
Idols And The Living God

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

 The missionary journey of Paul and Barnabbas continues.  They moved from Iconium to Lystra.  The passage we read today has first of all the events in Lystra recorded in it.

The Saved Person

 In the place we read today is recorded [something] concerning this one single man who was listening to the message of Paul.  "His feet were bad and he had never walked before."  Paul stopped with his eye on that man.  Then he headed towards him and said, "Stand up on your feet immediately."  Thereupon, the man sprang up and walked.  That is the first event written here.

 We must understand precisely what is going on here.  In verse nine it is written that "Paul notices him and recognizes that he has enough faith to be healed."  We have to be careful about the expression "enough faith to be healed.""  If we make the mistake of stereotyping here, we might say regarding [people] we know that "Because [he] had faith [his] sickness was healed.  [Or,] because [she] did not have faith, [she] was not healed."  Actually, in this place the word translated as "be healed" was not a word to express merely a bodily healing.  Rather, it is a word with a broad meaning that could be translated "salvation."  Therefore, if translated literally, it means "faith which is able to save."  In other words, what is going on here is not merely a bodily healing.  It was more than that.

 Paul said to him "Stand up on your feet immediately."  Though a miraculous healing took place, when he was told to "stand" he was not thinking that he would be able to simply "jump up and begin walking."  You can see that by using a little imagination.  He had never walked until that moment.  He had never even stood up.  Because his feet were lame from birth.  Up to now he must have never even dreamed he would stand or walk.  He probably had been living in a long-term acceptance of his lot.  Therefore, "when he jumped up and began to walk" it wasn't only his feet that were healed.  Because he had heard God addressing him in Paul's message, "stand up."

 The way it is written here, he had been listening when Paul was giving out the gospel.  It means that he knew from the gospel Paul was preaching that the living God loved him also.  He knew that God was looking his way casting his eye on him.  Therefore, he, too, tried looking to God.  That was a sprout of faith.  Whereupon he heard the words "stand up."  It was no longer for him the words of Paul.  He knew God was making a move towards him and him alone and he was hearing God directing his address to him.  "God is addressing his words to me!  God is expecting me to stand up!"  With those particular thoughts he responded to God's expectation with all that was in him.  That is the event taking place here.  In other words, he became a person alive in a relationship with God.   It was more than just a bodily healing.  At that very place he had his salvation.

 It is imperative we understand that what happened to him was not simply a healing of the physical but was the salvation of his entire being.  The healing of the physical is a situation that belongs to this temporary world.  God's speaking to him, his responding to God's word and his relationship with the living God [have to do with] the salvation of his entire being which is connected to the world to come.  We must get a firm hold of this fact from the start.  Because a problem of the difference between a relationship with the living God who brings true salvation and the worship of idols which does not bring true salvation comes up after this development.

Idols And The Living God

 As a result of this event the people began to get stirred up.  In the dialect of that region they cried out, "The gods have taken human form and descended to our location."  Then, they called Barnabbas "Zeus" and Paul "Hermes."  In Greek mythology Zeus was the highest god and Hermes was his son.  Barnabbas was probably taken as Zeus because of his looks and dignified demeanor.  Then, the people carried a number of cattle and garlands so as to present them as sacrifices to the gods.  Paul and Barnabbas must not have understood what was going on at first because they did not know how to speak the dialect of Lycaonia.  Therefore, someone explained to them the meaning of the event in progress.  When Paul and Barnabbas heard the explanation, they tore their clothes and dashed into the middle of the multitude.  Then they faced them and shouted:  "Everyone, why are you doing such a thing?  We are no more than flesh like you.  We are revealing to you the gospel so that you separate from such idols and turn to the living God,"  (verse fifteen).

 The really interesting thing here is this point written [here] about the purpose in which they were revealing the gospel which was in particular "so that they [might] separate from these idols and turn to the living God."  In other words, an aspect of what proclamation in the Gentile world is about is clearly given here and of course this matter is not unrelated to us "Gentiles" either.

 What is translated here as "idols" is a free translation.  It was originally the word "vanity, emptiness, lifelessness, void."  In the Bible Society Version it is translated "something foolishly useless [vanity]."  This word means idols in the setting of the Old Testament scriptures.  But, what had been idolized here were Paul and Barnabbas.  Therefore, Paul's saying here "separate from idols" is not just a matter of the figure of Zeus or other [statutes].  It was not merely a problem of constructing images and worshipping them.  So, what might the problem be?  What is being contrasted to these "idols" is "the living God."  What was said was they ought to "Turn to the living God."  What is the difference between worshipping idols and turning to the living God?

 As we reflect on the things Paul calls "an idol," we cannot ignore the way in which this narrative develops.  A very very strange fact is written down from verse nineteen onward in regard to "the multitude" in this town which on this one day had deified and worshipped Paul and Barnabbas as gods and was about to offer sacrifices in worship of them.

 "However, Jews came to visit from Antioch and Iconium, brought the multitude over to their side, cast stones on Paul and supposing that he had died, they dragged him outside the town," (14:19).

 What in the world is this?  Though the people had as much as worshipped Paul and Barnabbas, they conspired here to pull off an informal execution by stoning.  I do not understand how the Jews had brought the multitude over to their side.  Did they inspire them with the point that there were disadvantages to the presence of Paul and his group?  Anyway, the presence of Paul and Barnabbas became inconvenient for them.  Also, when it became inconvenient, Paul and Barnabbas no longer were gods to them.  That's expected.  Because they were not gods from the start.  Because they made as gods what were not gods from the start, they made gods or unmade them according to convenience.  They made objects of worship and unmade them.  Humans could believe in them and they could also throw them away.  He calls such a thing "an idol."  In short, whenever a person acts in the leading role, and God has only a minor role, then what is called "god" is from the start anything but God at all.  This is exactly what we'd call "an idol."

 You may say those pagan people of the world worship idols but Christians never do.  --Well, is that true?  If Christians think "I chose to believe in Christianity; therefore, it is a matter of freedom to believe or throw it away," then what's the difference between them and the Lystrians?  Those kind of Christians are doing only this: worshipping idols.  If Christians think "I'm free either to worship or not to worship God," where is the difference between them and the Lystrians?  There isn't the slightest difference, is there?  In the final analysis he or she is nothing but an idol worshipper.  So, this is not something that has to do with only other people outside the church.

 God, who is not an idol, is "the living God."  Paul says to "turn to the living God." Well, what kind of being is "the living God?"  Paul says "God himself is the one who created the heavens, the earth, the sea and all things in it."  Naturally we also are among those created things.  God is the creator and we are the creations.  But, the meaning "living God" is not just a way of saying he is the creator.  The following [verse] put it like this:  "In the era that has passed, God has allowed people of all countries to go the way they pleased.  But, the situation was not that God did not leave behind evidence of himself.  He gave us grace, he let the rain from the heavens fall, gave seasons of harvest, granted food, and filled your hearts with joy," (verses sixteen and seventeen).

 The living God is the one who bonds himself with humanity, his creation.  He is the one who testifies of himself by the very gracious acts he [does].  Naturally, we have here a continuation of Paul's speech.  It means that now the living God is definitely granting relationships through Jesus Christ.  It means that God has decisively directed his messages out to us.  What God has said is that he has been seeking for relationships and fellowship with us.  We could even go further and say, it means he has sought for us ourselves.  In his granting relationships with us, the living God made a sacrifice of his own son.  Therefore, he has announced the forgiveness of sin and calls us to turn.  This is the one who is "the living God."  And, as I said earlier it is exactly in living in a relationship with this one "the living God" that there is true salvation.

To Hold One's Ground In Faith

 Well, Paul and Barnabbas moved from Lystra to Derbe.  They revealed the gospel there as well.  Then, somehow, they are sent back again to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.  They go back to the place where they were stoned and [people] were after their lives.  What was the purpose of this?  It was to encourage the young church that had just been born.  They say, "We must go through a lot of suffering to enter the kingdom of God."  Therefore, they encouraged [them] to hold their ground in the faith.

 The message of "We must go through a lot of suffering to enter the kingdom of God" was spoken and heard.  In another way of putting it, it means they have in common the desire [that says,] "I want to enter the kingdom of God even if I experienced a lot of suffering."  This is different from "Although we have sufferings while we are alive whenever we die we want to live in paradise."  "The kingdom of God" means "the rule of God."  In other words, it is the world where the rule of God was perfected.   It is also a world in which a relationship with God which has started in this life was perfected.  It is a world where we are entirely liberated from sin and death and in a true sense live with God.  Even if we have experienced sufferings, we want to attain such a relationship with God.  That is the desire and the hope which he has spoken of here.

 Conversely, if a believer desires the kingdom of God and lives in hope of the kingdom of God, even if he or she has some character flaws and problems we should see him or her as heading in the right direction as a believer.  Furthermore, if a person is seeking the kingdom of God only one thing is necessary to get there.  It is "to hold out in faith."  It might be you who must go through suffering.  But, hold out in faith.  This same point is expressed in The Book Of Acts with a number of statements.  "(Barnabbas) urged everyone with firm resolve to not separate from the Lord," (11:23).  "(The two) recommended that they continue living in the grace of God," (13:43).  These are not just some general notions.  It is specifically that they not separate "from the church of God which God has made as his own through the blood of his son," (20:28).  It is that they not separate from participating together in holy communion or from a fellowship that worships God.

 They pass through the province of Pisidia, arrive in the province of Pamphylia and after they preach the word of God in Perga they ship out from Attalia towards Antioch.  Thus, the first missionary journey was completed.  When they arrived in Antioch, they gather with the people of the church immediately.  Then, it says in the text, "they gave a report of all the things God had accomplished with them and how he opened the door of faith to the Gentiles."  Everything was not the work of Paul and Barnabbas but rather God had done it through them.  The living God was inviting persons to himself through them and the same living God is calling us to faith now and says to us to hold out in the faith.

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