We are following Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey described by Luke in Acts 13 and 14; it is here for the first time that we see an organized effort to carry the Gospel to the lost. They have been sent out by the church in Antioch to preach the Gospel.
In our last study Paul and Barnabas were being persecuted in Antioch. This is probably one of the times that Paul was beaten with rods. They were thrown out of the town, but they didn't tuck their tails between their legs and crawl home, they proceeded farther into Asia Minor to a town called Iconium:
But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. (Acts 13:51 NASB)
Chapter 14 picks up with them in Iconium:
And it came about that in Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a great multitude believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. (Acts 14:1 NASB)
Iconiun was approximately a hundred miles southeast of Antioch. It was very much a Greek city and prided itself on its semi-independence, being ruled by its own assembly of citizens.
Arriving in Iconium, they went as usual to the synagogue, and when given the opportunity, they preached the Gospel with the results that "a great multitude believed."
The words "believe and believed" are used 37 times in Acts, and they clearly refer to those who have trusted Christ and are saved:
"Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." (Acts 10:43 NASB)
and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. (Acts 13:39 NASB)
The inspired, inerrant, living Word of God says, "a great multitude believed." So, I would assume that they were all baptized in the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit and were given eternal life. I would assume this because the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." But there are those who hold to a Lordship Salvation view that would question this.
John MacArthur writes, "Both Paul and Barnabas preached, and there were tremendous results--people believed. We have no idea if they continued in the faith and were really saved, we only know that there was an initial reception to the gospel. When it says that they believed, it is no guarantee that they were really saved. We have to wait to see if they continue in the faith."
So the Scriptures say, "everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins," but MacArthur says in order to be "really saved," they must continue! What exactly does MacArthur mean by "continue in the faith"? How long must they continue before they can know that they are saved?
John Piper writes, "Many Christians think that saving faith is only a single act (asking Jesus into your heart)." The Bible says nothing about "asking Jesus into your heart". It says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." It is believing in Christ that saves us. Piper goes on to say, "Saving faith is not a mere single act of receiving Jesus." Really? The Bible says:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (John 1:12 NASB)
The Bible teaches that at the time of faith, a believer is baptized into the Body of Christ, forgiven of their sins, given eternal life, and receives Christ's righteousness. This is NOT a process, it happens at the moment of faith.
But John Piper says, "Saving faith is a life of faith...The evidence of authentic saving faith is its pressing on." If this is true, what is your assurance based on--your faith or your perseverance? According to him, it is based on your perseverance. How do you know you'll continue? If you stop pressing on, does that mean that you were never saved? If so, at what point do you receive eternal life? According to Piper, saving faith is a process, a life long process. If this were true, the reception of eternal life would have to logically be postponed until death, because anything short of dying in faith could end with your turning away and perishing.
Listen carefully, believer, we are saved by the act of faith, not the continuity of our faith. If you're saved by the continuity of faith, then you don't really have everlasting life until you die in faith, and certainly you have no assurance. But the Scripture gives us assurance:
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 NASB)
So, assurance comes from believing. And believing equals never perishing, or eternal life. So, if I believe, I can rest assure that I have eternal life and will never perish.
Why did "a great multitude believe"? Did they believe because of Paul's persuasive speech? No, they believed because God gave them life, He quickened them, He opened their heart, and they responded in faith.
But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren. (Acts 14:2 NASB)
"Jews who disbelieved" is an interesting phrase in the Greek that literally says, "The Jews, the ones who were disobedient." The Greek word used here for "disbelieved" is apeitheo. This same word is translated: "he who does not obey" in John 3:36. The leading Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, makes a very insightful comment about apeitheo: "Since in the view of the early Christians, the supreme disobedience was a refusal to believe their Gospel, apeitheomay be restricted in some passages to the meaning: "disbelieve, be an unbeliever" (BAGD, p.82).
A person who trusts in Christ alone, obeys completely the will of the Father to believe in Jesus Christ alone for eternal salvation.
The word "stirred up" is a word that could be translated: "they poisoned their minds." We might use the word slander. They immediately sought to discredit the messengers.
Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. (Acts 14:3 NASB)
Because so many came to faith, they continued in Iconium for a long time, building up those who had believed, even though they met with opposition both from the unbelieving Jews and heathens.
Notice the text says they were speaking "boldly." This is what the disciples prayed for in Acts 4 after they had been persecuted. Paul and Barnabas seem to be an answer to that prayer in that we see in them a tremendous commitment to boldness:
but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. (1 Thessalonians 2:2 NASB)
He says that even after they had been beaten up and were treated shamefully, they were still bold. Paul's boldness should be a rebuke to our coward-ness. We pray for health, safety, and comfortable circumstance, but they prayed for boldness.
"Who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands"--the couplet "signs and wonders" linked them directly with the ministries both of Jesus and of the apostles 2:22, 43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 7:36.
Later, when writing his Galatian converts (keeping in mind that Iconium was in Galaia), Paul appeals to these mighty works performed by the Spirit as evidence that the Gospel, as he preached it and they received it, was fully approved by God:
Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:5 NASB)
So Paul and Barnabas were performing signs, wonders, and miracles among the people as a confirmation that they were from God. Verse 3 is reminiscent of:
how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:3-4 NASB)
Miraculous signs are described as the activity of God in confirming the message.
Should we see signs and wonders today as they did in Acts? Why or why not? Who performed "signs and wonders" in the book of Acts? Apart from the 12, only Stephen, Philip (8:6-7), and Paul and Barnabas (15:12) in the early church are reported to have performed miracles. And the purpose was for confirmation that what they were saying was true. How do we know what is true today? By comparing it with The Word.
But the multitude of the city was divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. (Acts 14:4 NASB)
The word "apostles" here is from the Greek word apostolos, which is in the plural. There are only two men there--Paul and Barnabas. This is the first use of the term "apostles" of Paul and Barnabas. They had been authenticated by the signs and wonders (2 Corinthians 12:12), and were those who had been "sent forth" (ekpempo) from Antioch by the Holy Spirit. The term "apostle" is occasionally used of messengers of the churches, but Luke here probably intends to indicate full apostleship, an apostleship which Paul elsewhere specifically claims (Galatians 2:7-8; Romans 11:13; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 9:1; 2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11).
And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel. (Acts 14:5-7 NASB)
News got out to Paul and Barnabas that they were likely to be stoned, and so they left Iconium, and they went to Lystra. They continued in Iconium under persecution until they hear of a plot to stone them, then they flee. They were bold and brave, but they weren't stupid. They did exactly what Jesus had taught His disciples:
"But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:23 NASB)
So they leave Iconium and travel to Lystra, which was a Roman colony smaller than Antioch, a rural community; home of Eunice, Lois, and Timothy. Timothy was the son and grandson of the two ladies. Once at Lystra they continue to preach the Gospel.
And at Lystra there was sitting a certain man, without strength in his feet, lame from his mother's womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze upon him, and had seen that he had faith to be made well, 10 said with a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." And he leaped up and began to walk. (Acts 14:8-10 NASB)
We are not told that Paul and Barnabas went to a synagogue in Lystra and preached there, as was their custom. This may mean that there was no synagogue, which would mean they had a very small Jewish population. Paul and Barnabas seem to be engaged in street preaching here, which they may have also done from city to city, especially if they were not welcomed in the synagogue.
Luke, a medical doctor, repeats three times how serious this man's position was. He says he was a man who had (1) no strength in his feet, (2) was lame from his mother's womb, and (3) a man who had never walked. This is not one of those miracles that we hear today where somebody gets cured of a sinus headache or low back pain. This was someone who clearly everybody knew was crippled, and there was no doubt about it.
The word "listening" is in the imperfect tense in the Greek and means he was "continually listening" to Paul's presentation of Christ. Somehow the Spirit of God revealed to Paul that this crippled man "had faith to be saved."
The word translated here as "made well" is the Greek word sozo, which can be used for a physical healing (Luke 8:50), the preservation of physical life (Luke 9:24), a deliverance from demonic possession (Luke 8:36), and spiritual salvation (Luke 8:12; 18:15-26; 19:10). In a number of cases, the use of this word seems to suggest a blending of its meanings, as in Luke 7:50 (and its context). It would seem that the faith which this man had to be healed was the same faith he had to be saved. He must have heard of the miracles that the apostles did in Iconium; and as he had heard Paul speak of Jesus, of His miraculous works of healing, as well as His atoning sacrifice, the lame man believed, and thus he was both saved and made well.
The Scripture tells us that this man was crippled. But more than that, this man was crippled from birth. Think about the tragedy of that. He had never been able to stand and walk, to run and play like the other boys. His parents or friends had to carry him everywhere.
In the late 70's I contracted a rare nerve disease, Guillain Barre, which left me paralyzed from the neck down for several months. It was a difficult time, but the hardest day was the day I went home from the hospital. In the hospital you are surrounded by sick people. But as we drove home I saw couples walking, riding bikes, and kids playing, but I couldn't walk. That was difficult.
Well this man had never walked, but I'm sure he dreamed of it. There had never been a day in his life when he had not been a burden to somebody. He could not walk; he could not work. This was not a day when there were concrete wheelchair ramps for those who were crippled. In fact, there were no wheelchairs or handicapped parking places! All he could do was beg, sit there, and hope that people would have pity on him.
This man had never walked--he had no clue how to walk. Yet this is what Paul tells him to do. This is a cruel thing to say to a lame man unless you have the power to make him walk, and Paul did.
He didn't have to go slow until he built up his weak leg muscles. He didn't have to go for months of physical therapy to learn how to walk (remember, he had never walked before!). He not only could walk, he could leap, and leap he did, over and over again! He was instantly healed. Do you know of anybody doing this today?
What was the purpose of this healing? Why was this man born lame?
And the LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? (Exodus 4:11 NASB)
He was lame because God made him that way. Why did God make him that way if He was going to heal him? I think his healing serves as a picture. His healing was symbolic of a greater healing that had just taken place in his soul. How could these people see the life-changing power of Jesus? To see it physically was in essence a picture of what God had done in the man's heart.
The word "leaped" is the same Greek word used in Isaiah 35:6 in the LXX. Speaking to true Israel, God says:
Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you." 5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. 6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness And streams in the Arabah. (Isaiah 35:4-6 NASB)
The word used in Isaiah 35:6 is of the leaping of the lame when they are healed in the New Age. Thus this lame man's leaping indicated that the New Age was here, not just for the believing Jews, but for the believing Gentiles as well.
What is the significance of this story? Well I suppose that Luke's purposes for incorporating this story are many. First, it illustrates the wonders and signs spoken of earlier (13:3). Secondly, in order to illustrate that those who will come to Christ are those who have recognized their spiritual lameness and need, and have looked to Him as the only One Who can heal them. Both the First Testament and the teaching of Jesus stress that those who will be saved of old Israel are like the lame. In Isaiah we read, in the context of the coming of the Lord as Judge, Lawgiver, and King:
Your tackle hangs slack; It cannot hold the base of its mast firmly, Nor spread out the sail. Then the prey of an abundant spoil will be divided; The lame will take the plunder. (Isaiah 33:23 NASB)
The thought here is that it is God's weak and helpless, but restored people, who will finally, in God's day, triumph and enjoy the spoils of victory. In Jeremiah we read:
"Behold, I am bringing them from the north country, And I will gather them from the remote parts of the earth, Among them the blind and the lame, The woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together; A great company, they shall return here. (Jeremiah 31:8 NASB)
The blind and the lame will be among the people of God who return triumphantly from far off to enjoy God's coming Rule. In Luke the maimed and the lame were the ones who were to be called when someone gave a supper:
"But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, (Luke 14:13 NASB)
This was immediately followed by the parable of the man who made a great supper representing feasting in the Kingdom of God.
Here the Holy Spirit, through the apostles, makes clear that in the Name of Jesus salvation is offered to "the lame." This lame man represents those of the Gentiles who recognize their need and respond to God's call.
And thirdly, in order to evidence the fact that the New Age had come by the fulfilment of Isaiah 35:6, "then shall the lame man leap like a deer," Luke is again telling us prophecy was being fulfilled. The kingdom had arrived!
Imagine if you knew this man, say you had grown up with him, and many times you had helped him out, carrying him, or helping him do things. Then, at the command of Paul, you see him jump to his feet and walk perfectly normal. How do you interpret this? Notice how the crowd responded:
And when the multitudes saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have become like men and have come down to us." 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. (Acts 14:11-12 NASB)
Without understanding some background, you'll miss what is going on here. There was a legend of a previous visitation by Zeus and Hermes to their region. They had come in human form and enquired at one thousand homes for hospitality, but not one had received them. Then they came to the door of a poor elderly couple, Baucis and Philemon, who alone were willing to take them in. The consequence was that the pair was rewarded by being spared when the gods flooded the valley and destroyed its inhabitants. Their shack was also transformed into a marble-pillared, gold-roofed temple, and they became its priests.
Seeing the lame man healed made them think that Paul and Barnabas were gods, which would be a logical conclusion:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." (John 3:1-2 NASB)
Men don't perform miracles, so it must be the gods. The people of Lystra don't want to make the mistake that others made, so they seek to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods.
And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. (Acts 14:13 NASB)
The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands, either to the temple outside the gates of the city, or to the place where the two men were, and prepared to lead the crowd in worship by offering sacrifices:
But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order 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 "And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." 18 And even saying these things, they with difficulty restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them. (Acts 14:14-18 NASB)
"But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes." Why did they tear their robes? That was a Jewish sign of desecration--that something was blasphemous. We see this explained in:
But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest said to Him, "I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God." 64 Jesus said to him, "You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN." 65 Then the high priest tore his robes, saying, "He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; (Matthew 26:63-65 NASB)
The Jews customarily tore their clothes in horror when they thought someone had spoken blasphemy. That's exactly what Paul and Barnabas did on this occasion.
Notice Paul's message to these people, it is different than what we are used to hearing. We have seen that Peter, Stephen, and Paul (all three of them), when they were speaking to a Jewish audience, went back to the Hebrew Scriptures and walked their way back through them. They reminded the audience that Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of the Scriptures--that He is the Messiah, He is the Savior. That would make sense to that audience.
But if Paul did that here to this uneducated, irreligious Greek audience, it would make no sense to them. They did not know anything about the Hebrew Scriptures, and frankly, they probably could have cared less. So Paul meets them where they are and begins to talk about the Living God who created all things.
Paul tells them to "turn from these vain things to a living God"--these were strong words from Paul to people who took their pagan worship seriously, but Paul wasn't afraid to confront this mob with the truth. And the truth was that their idolatry was wrong.
Believers are children of the Living God. Look with me at a comparison between our God and idols:
Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. 2 Thus says the LORD, "Do not learn the way of the nations, And do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens Although the nations are terrified by them; 3 For the customs of the peoples are delusion; Because it is wood cut from the forest, The work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool. 4 "They decorate it with silver and with gold; They fasten it with nails and with hammers So that it will not totter. 5 "Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, And they cannot speak; They must be carried, Because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, For they can do no harm, Nor can they do any good." 6 There is none like Thee, O LORD; Thou art great, and great is Thy name in might. 7 Who would not fear Thee, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Thy due! For among all the wise men of the nations, And in all their kingdoms, There is none like Thee. 8 But they are altogether stupid and foolish In their discipline of delusion-- their idol is wood! 9 Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, And gold from Uphaz, The work of a craftsman and of the hands of a goldsmith; Violet and purple are their clothing; They are all the work of skilled men. 10 But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, And the nations cannot endure His indignation. (Jeremiah 10:1-10 NASB)
This should be a reminder to us that our God is a Living God, even though we often act like He's dead. We didn't create our God, He created us. We don't need to care for our God, He cares for us. What a precious comforting truth, we serve the Living God.
For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, (1 Thessalonians 1:9 NASB)
Paul speaks to these pagans in a way that they will understand. He doesn't mention the past history of the Jews or Greek philosophers. He proclaims the past history of the world, although in First Testament terms, the providence of God in giving human beings rainfall and harvest is a First Testament theme (cf. Gen. 8:22), and the conjunction of "food and rejoicing" (cf. 2:46) is a feature of First Testament language (cf. Ps. 4:7; Isa. 25:6; Eccl. 9:7). Paul does this to draw out that there is only one God, and that He is calling all men now to respond to Him.
So, Paul was there in Lystra, in the rural community, and what did he preach? Did he tailor his message for them? Well, in one sense we could say that. He emphasized the common grace of God; but really, Luke says, he preached the Gospel:
they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel. (Acts 14:6-7 NASB)
The Good News is the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the Lord Jesus Christ. When Paul was in Damascus, He preached the Gospel. When he was in Ephesus, where they were filled with sorcery and other kinds of magic, he preached the Gospel. When he was on the island of Cyprus, and he was in the midst of men who were political leaders, like Sergius Paulus, he preached the Gospel. When he was in Athens, amid the philosophers and those interested in human learning, he preached, again, the Gospel.
The Gospel is the power of God, unto salvation, and that is the only thing by which men may be brought from their sin and condemnation to faith and the forgiveness of sins.
Paul declares in Romans:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16 NASB)
There is no other message with the inherent authority and beauty and holiness and truth of the story of Jesus and His love. The Gospel is still the power of God, and it is still changing the world. Let's pray for the boldness to share it!
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