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Moving forward amidst trials

Acts 14:8-20

It is inevitable for a person to have ups and downs in life. As the Chinese saying goes, " Things don't always go as you want in your life." In the past twenty years of service, I have experienced many trials, personal, family, church, life, and service difficulties. Many times I wanted to quit. But whenever I have such an idea, I can't help but think of prophet Jeremiah and apostle Paul.

Jeremiah also had the idea of ​​backing out during the difficulties of his service, but he never quit.

“But if I say, "I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name," His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”(Jer 20:9)

The apostle Paul listed a long list of his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11. Paul's experience in Lystra in Acts 14 is just one of item on this long list. But this experience left a deep impression on Paul that he would never forget, so much so that it was mentioned many times in Paul's letters.

Apart from Jesus Christ, Paul is probably one of the people who suffered the most in the Bible (Job in the Old Testament can be compared with him), but Paul never gave up.

Brothers and sisters, are you suffering now? Don't think that suffering means God doesn't love us or He has abandoned us. The greatest saints in the Bible are often those who suffered the most. Let's see how Paul's experience in Lystra can be an encouragement to us.

A.          Apparent miracles

“And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said with a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet!” And he leaped and walked.”(Acts 14:8-10,NKJV)

This is the third miracle in the book of Acts (Acts 3:1-10; 9:32-35; 14:8-10) of a person born lame or cripple being healed.

This miracle has many similarities to the miracle of the healing of the cripple in Acts 3:1-10.

“Peter looked straight at him, …“In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”(Acts 3:4-8)

Both were born lame and had never walked before. Both Apostles Peter and Paul looked at them carefully. Both apostles commanded them to stand up. Both jumped up and walked.

Luke, the author of Acts, deliberately used almost the same words to describe the apostles Peter and Paul healing two people who were born lame, showing that Paul and Peter had the same apostolic authority.

Lystra, a man with weak legs, was born lame and had never walked before, so his jumping up and walking was an irrefutable miracle.

Note the order in which this man was healed. It was not because the miracle of his healing brought him faith. His faith did not come from the miracle, but from “This man heard Paul speaking。”(Acts 14:9)

“But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.”(Acts 14:6-7)

Paul preached the gospel in Lystra, and this cripple man heard and believed the gospel preached by Paul. His faith in Jesus Christ brought him the miracle of healing. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”(Rom 10:17,NKJV)

So faith comes by hearing, not by healing.  Here we see again the core function and value of preaching.

B.          The crowd offer sacrifices

“When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”(Acts 14:11-13)

A man born lame was able to jump up and walk, surprising the people of Lystra,they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!"

So they called Barnabas Zeus in Greek mythology, which corresponds to Jupiter in Rome, the king of the gods in ancient Rome; they called Paul Hermis in Greek mythology, which corresponds to Mercury, the messenger of the gods in Roman mythology, because Paul was the leader in speaking, that is, the main spokesperson. Maybe because Barnabas looked older and more majestic, and Paul spoke more, people regarded Barnabas as Zeus and Paul as Hermes.

According to Greek mythology, Zeus and Hermes once visited Lystra in human form, but no one received them, only an old couple opened their door. As a result, the old couple was rewarded, and the others were washed away by the flood.

This time they thought Zeus and Hermes were visiting again, so they did not dare to neglect them. So the priests in the temple of Zeus came with cattle and wreaths, and everyone wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas together.

Worshiping gods is a common religious sentiment among human beings. Almost all tribes and ethnic groups have objects of worship. However, most people have chosen the wrong god. They have missed the true God and instead worshipped man-made, imaginary, and fabricated idols.

“Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”(Rom 1:21-23,NKJV)

People have a tendency to worship. They usually worship leaders, heroes, power, wealth, individuals, themselves, and so on. People usually have an object of worship. If they do not worship the true God, they will worship idols.

However, the Psalm says, “The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.”(Ps 16:4)

C.          Preach the truth

“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you.””(Acts 14:14-15)   


The people of Lystra spoke in the Lycaonian dialect, which Paul and Barnabas understood. Paul seemed not only to understand what they said but also to know their legends. ““But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: …”

Look at the series of actions of Paul and Barnabas: they tore their clothes, jumped into the crowd, and shouted loudly.

Tearing clothes is a gesture of extreme fear and pain. The people of Lystra worshiped Paul and Barnabas as gods. They worshipped people as gods, which made Paul and Barnabas extremely frightened. They quickly used a series of actions to stop the crowd.

Today, if we make some achievements and receive excessive praise from people, although we say "Thank God, glory to the Lord," but we are still happy in our hearts, this is exactly robbing God's glory and leaving room for the devil to attack, which is very dangerous.

“We too are only men, human like you.”(Acts 14:15)

“We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, He let all nations go their own way. Yet He has not left Himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy."”

Acts 14:15-17 is a short sermon by Paul to the Gentiles in Lystra. Strictly speaking, Paul did not preach the gospel here. "We preach the gospel to you," which means that Paul had preached the gospel in Lystra. As recorded in Acts 14:6-7, Paul and Barnabas went to the cities of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding areas, "and preached the gospel there."

Acts 14:15-17 Paul's sermon to the people of Lystra was completely different from his sermon in the synagogue in Antioch in terms of style and content. For the people in the synagogue in Antioch who were familiar with the Bible, Paul first briefly recounted the history of Israel, proving that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah Christ that Israel hoped for, and urged people to be justified by faith in Him. For the extremely superstitious people in Lystra, Paul started with nature, proving that there was a God who created and governed nature. He urged them to abandon those vain and useless idols and "turn to the living God, made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them."

Therefore, these two passages are typical examples of Paul's preaching the gospel contextually and individually. Of course, in Acts 17, Paul preached to the Athenians, focusing on the philosophical perspective as a starting point to prove that Jesus Christ's death and resurrection are His credible evidence, and that He will come again to judge the world.

Paul's way of preaching the gospel contextually and individually is exactly his own principle of preaching: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”(1 Cor 9:22)

This is also the way we preach the gospel today. The core of the gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners has never changed, but the approach we use to preach it can be contextualized according to the individual, in order to maximize the number of souls we win for the Lord.

“In the past, He let all nations go their own way.”(Acts 14:16)

This does not mean that God approved of the sins of the world in past generations, allowed and compromised and did not judge the sins of the world; rather, it refers to God’s grace and patience, and He is waiting for the world to see God’s undeniable existence from His creation.

“For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--His eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”(Rom 1:20)

People can see God’s truth not only from His creation, but also from His goodness. Evidence that God is good includes: the changing of seasons, the cycle of day and night, rain from heaven, abundant harvests, and filling people’s hearts with food and joy.

“He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”(Matt 5:45)

“And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.”(Acts 14:18,NKJV)

“And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.”(徒14:18,新译本)

It can be seen how strong the people of Lystra were in wanting to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes and shouted to dissuade them, and they barely stopped the people from offering sacrifices to them.

D.          Furious attacks

“Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.”(Acts 14:19)

Wherever Paul preached the gospel, there were always people who accepted and those who rejected it, those who believed and those who opposed it. The strongest opposition came from his own fellow Jews.

In Iconium, the Jews and the rulers wanted to stone Paul and Barnabas, so the apostles fled from there and came to Lystra. Now, your Jews from Antioch and Iconium have come and instigated the people to stone Paul to such an extent that they thought he was dead and dragged him out of the city.

Was Paul stoned to death? The Bible does not explain it clearly, but at least the people who stoned him "thought he was dead." Paul was at least in a state of fainting at the time, as evidenced by 2 Corinthians 12. It is likely that Paul was taken up to the third heaven and heard secret words, which were God's extraordinary revelations to him, at this moment.

Paul mentioned this experience many times in his letters.

“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.”(2 Cor 11:23-25)

“Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”(Gal 6:17)

“Persecutions, sufferings--what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.”(2 Tim 3:11)

Just now the people of Lystra offered sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas as gods, and in the blink of an eye they joined the Jews in stoning Paul, and almost beat him to death. How people's hearts change in an instant.

However, this is not new. Luke 4 records that the Lord Jesus preached in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.

Just now the people of Lystra offered sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas as gods, and in the blink of an eye they joined the Jews in stoning Paul, and almost beat him to death. How quickly people's hearts change.

However, this is not new. Luke 4 records that the Lord Jesus preached in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.

“All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips.”(Luke 4:22)

However, when the Lord Jesus mentioned that the prophets were not welcome in their hometowns,and the widow of Zarephath in Sidon was provided for by the prophet Elijah, and Naaman in Syria was healed by the prophet Elisha,

“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.”(Luke 4:28-29)

What's more, when the Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, the crowd shouted, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" However, just a few days later, the crowd shouted: "Crucify" him! Crucify him!”

Similarly, if Paul had accepted the worship of the people in Lystra, he would have been revered as a god; on the contrary, when Paul refused to accept the worship of the people, the crowd immediately stoned him to death. People can't help but think of the words in the Psalm, "For men will praise you when you do well for yourself." (Ps 49:18) On the contrary, if you honor God (which is the glory that God deserves), the world will despise you, Belittle you, even persecute you.

E.          Advance bravely

“But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.”(Acts 14:20)

“the disciples had gathered around him,” These words show the effect of Paul’s gospel preaching in Lystra: Paul was stoned and thrown out of the city thinking he was dead, but he was surrounded by believing disciples.

“he got up and went back into the city.” This is probably one of the most shocking moments in the book of Acts: Paul was stoned, thought to be dead, and dragged outside the city. You can imagine the extent of Paul's beating: he was bleeding, bruised, and unconscious. Perhaps the disciples who had just converted to the Lord were surrounding him... However, when he woke up, he patted the dust on his body, wiped the blood on his body, and then He walked back to the city where he had just been stoned by people.

Brothers and sisters, what kind of courage is this?

There was a miracle through Paul's hands that healed a man who was lame from birth, but there was no miracle to protect Paul from being stoned. Many people would choose to quit, but this man, who even the devil was afraid of and had no choice about, stood up again.

“The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.”

This man who was “struck down, but not destroyed” continued to move forward bravely to the next missionary field—Derbe!

Brothers and sisters, what suffering are you experiencing today? May the Lord who saved Paul “from all these sufferings” save you and me.

May we all say like Paul: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”(2 Cor 4:8-9)

Praise The Lord!

Rev. Yunsheng Ren

Translated by Dr. Yun Ling

May 30th, 2024


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