Acts 14:8-20

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.

New Revised Standard Version
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If you were Paul, wouldn’t you be embarrassed when your good friend Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, shared the story of Paul’s disastrous visit to Lystra?

Paul’s message was so misunderstood that they thought he and Barnabus were Greek gods instead of missionaries for Yahweh. Then the Jews from Antioch and Iconium convinced the townsfolk that Paul should be killed instead of worshipped. We can agree that death by stoning is a very strong negative review.

What went wrong? Did Paul mess up so badly that it almost cost him his life? Did Paul misunderstand God’s guidance? How could this have been prevented?

These seem to be reasonable questions, similar to questions we all ask ourselves frequently. However, these questions are based in our focus on the results of Paul’s efforts, and our result-driven thinking can lead us astray. Luke understood that this story of Paul’s faith in God needed to be told because Paul was faithful even when the effort seemed to fail.

Our faith in God needs to be such that we follow where God leads us. We demonstrate our faith when we release our need to know the results of what God is calling us to do. We can serve God, or we can work toward the results, but the harsh truth is we can’t do both. This is the same as when Matthew 6:24 teaches us we “cannot serve God and wealth.”

I had an example in my life many years ago that helped me start to understand this truth. I was working in a full-time computer support job under a truly evil executive at the time. I was miserable, I had relocated for this job to a new city so I had no business contacts, and I was losing hope that I could somehow lessen this pain. A friend recommended that I apply for a part-time job as a church choir director, and that opportunity felt so right to me that I am certain God was leading me to that position. I interviewed and made it to the final selection process — and then they chose someone else for the job.

How could that be? Did they go against God’s plan in not selecting me? Was I mistaken that God led me to apply for the job?

It took me a while to realize how God had blessed me in that process. God did lead me to apply for the job, and following that path let me start thinking of myself as something other than a frustrated data center manager. I had to think about a broader set of skills and experiences than what I used during the work day. I thought more about how God might want to use me rather than how that evil executive was misusing me. I gained a renewed sense of hope, and I felt much better about myself, for having applied for a job I didn’t get.

I’m convinced Paul and Luke understood the events in Lystra as rich in blessings and part of God’s divine plan. It was a dangerous and foolish failure to unbelievers observing the events in Lystra. To people growing in their faith in God, this attempt at ministry was a strong testimony to God’s love. As it turns out, we see in Acts 16 that one of those people in Lystra observing Paul’s apparent failures was Timothy, who would grow to be strong pastor and to whom Paul wrote 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy.


New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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