Friday, May 23, 2014


Acts 14:15, “Men, why are you doing these things?” 

Lystra was a city in what is now modern Turkey.  It is mentioned five times in the New Testament.  It was visited a few times by the Apostle Paul.  Acts chapter 14 records the first such visit.  Lystra was populated mostly by Gentiles and had no synagogue.  The people of that region were given to idolatry and worshipped a pantheon of gods. 

Paul came across a resident of Lystra who had been “crippled from birth and had never walked” (Acts 14:8).  The man “listened to Paul speaking” (Acts 14:9).  Paul, discerning that the man had the “’faith to be made well’, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet’” (Acts 14:10).  And the man “sprang up and began walking” (Acts 14:10).  The crowds saw what happened and “lifted their voices, saying in Lycaonian, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men” (Acts 14:11).  “Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker” (Acts 14:12).  The priest of Zeus then brought “oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds” (Acts 14:13).

The Communicator’s Commentary offers this insight regarding the situation (The Communicator’s Commentary; Volume 5: Acts; Ogilvie, Lloyd John; Word Inc.; 1983): “There was an ancient myth that Zeus and Hermes had come to that region disguised as mortals.  The community—except for one couple, Philemon and Baucis—rejected them.  The two gods sent judgment on the area except for the old couple, who were rewarded for their receptive welcome by being made guardians of a magnificent temple on the outskirts of Lystra.  Later, when the couple died, they were turned into two giant trees as memorials of their kind deeds.  The legend had become part of the folklore of Lystra, and the people identified Zeus and Hermes with Paul and Barnabas!  When they saw the healing of the lame man, they exclaimed that the two gods had returned.  They were going to take no chances this time.  They gave Paul and Barnabas the key to the city and a welcome befitting the gods they supposed them to be.  Tall and robust Barnabas was deified as Zeus, the head of the pantheon, because of his physical stature; and Paul, because of his ability to speak, they called Hermes, the god of eloquence and rhetoric.”

Immediately when Paul and Barnabas came to understand what was happening, “they tore their garments and rushed out in the crowd, crying out, “Men, why are you doing these things?  We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, 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.  In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.  Yet he did not leave himself without a witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful season, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:15-17).

Paul and Barnabas could have enjoyed much benefit at the hands of those people in their mistaken identity, but they “tore their garments,” expressing their dismay, and diverted the attention and focus from themselves to God (contrast the response of Herod who refused to give glory to God when he received praise from men; Acts 12:21-23).  They reminded the people that they were men just like them.  They spoke of the good news and contrasted the foolhardiness of their idolatry (i.e. “these vain things”), with the worship of the “living God, who created all things.  “Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them” (Acts 14:18).

Not only were the people mistaken regarding the identity of Paul and Barnabas, they were also confused as to the identity of God Himself.  There was (and is) no Zeus, no Hermes, and no two giant trees memorializing an old couple.  It was just a fable—nothing and no one deserving of worship.  How prone to idolatry are the sons of Adam!  But there is a true God, the creator of all things, who made good news known to the people of Lystra.  The presence of some disciples there (Cf. Acts 14:20) indicates that some had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). 

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