Paul and Barnabas in Lystra and Derbe
In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk. When the crowds 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 oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.’ Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
In today’s passage Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra, a place of Gentiles, a place that would be considered a pagan population with no Jewish synagogue. After the miracle of healing the lame man has taken place, the reaction of the crowd demonstrates their pagan background. They begin to try and offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, believing them to be gods. There was an ancient legend that Zeus and Hermes had once visited the earth as mortal men and were refused hospitality by all but an elderly couple. Later, the gods rewarded the couple but destroyed the homes of everyone else. This pagan audience believed that Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes returned, and were keen to show them favor, for fear of being punished. As soon as they realized what was happening, Paul and Barnabas spoke out denying this.
The crowd had misunderstood the miracle they had witnessed, and with no knowledge of Judaism to fall upon, Paul speaks to them using a language that they will understand. Instead of quoting scripture, he speaks of the earth that God has created, referring to crops of food and all that God has provided for them. What is interesting here is that Paul needed to speak of God in a different way to this audience than he would to a Jewish audience; he needed to find common ground.
We no longer live in a society where people have a background and basic understanding of Christianity. Our challenge as individuals, and a Church, is to speak of God in ways that make sense to those around us, recognising the different backgrounds and cultures in which they dwell. Just as the people of Lystra misunderstood Paul’s intentions, we need to be aware that our message and actions could also be misinterpreted by people outside of the Church. We need to share the gospel message in ways that are relevant and speak into people’s lives where they are. It’s not about avoiding certain people or places, but finding the right and appropriate points of connection.
Blessings as we all try to find the right “language” to speak to non-religious people today about the loving and saving power of Jesus Christ. Be safe! Be well! He is Risen Indeed!
- Are there individuals or groups that you avoid talking to about your faith as you think they won’t understand? How could you share your faith with these people in ways that will connect?
- How willing are you, as a church or individual, to adapt how you speak of God to reach different audiences and generations? What could you do differently?
- The people of Lystra tried to bestow honor onto Paul and Barnabas. They were quick to reject it. Have there been times when you have desired praise or honor for the work that you have done for God? How can we guard ourselves against desiring praise that detracts from the glory being given to God?