The Persecution Push

Acts 14:8-13

And at Lystra there was sitting a certain man, without strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 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, said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk. 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.” And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 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. But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 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. “And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 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.” And even saying these things, they with difficulty restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

It is an irony of ironies–the persecutions that push the path of Paul and Barnabas from place to place. Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth, either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. We call this the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics. Our presumtions, presuppositions, preconceived notions, traditions, teachings and culture create a cage around the sacred Scripture. Here, we use the CAGED method to unlock the caged Scripture. In the context thus far in Acts, we have seen the ascension of Christ, the apostles sent out, an ebb and flow, peace and persecution, prosperity and pestilence but nevertheless a progressive path of the Gospel to the world. After fleeing from previous persecutions, Paul and Barnabas were pushed to Lystra.

“And at Lystra there was sitting a certain man, without strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 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, said with a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And he leaped up and began to walk.”

Let’s be truthful and honest with ourselves, this miracle is moderately mundane to us who are accustomed to seeing a multitude of miracles made in Matthew and Mark, on down to the book of Acts.  Compared to standing in the streets to catch the shadow of Peter, this miracle doesn’t excite us. We have seen much more major miracles performed in the book of Acts and even in the Gospel accounts. Compared to the vast majority of miracles this one ranks low on the list in our minds because it has been done before. We were amazed at the first time John and Peter made a lame man walk, yet it has become the norm since we have seen it many times before. But it has not been done or seen before in Lystra.

Without giving a boring geography lesson, which I find fascinating, Lystra is the furthest most point from Jerusalem of which the Gospel has been preached or miracles made, thus far, by the apostles. Paul and Barnabas are in uncharted waters. We see by the context that Paul and Barnabas are saying things and doing things of which the people present had never seen or heard. We know that persecution pushed Paul and Barnabas from Iconium to Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe–we also see why.

Don’t think that I am discounting the miracle made or the miracle Maker but we have seen greater miracles than this. The point is that they have not seen a miracle like this. Consider the context, remembering that no apostles had ventured out this far from Jerusalem. “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.’ And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 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.”

It is not difficult to discern that this miracle brought attention to Paul and Barnabas in Lystra. What we also discern is that the people present held to a Greek mythology. They called Barnabas, Zeus and Paul, Hermes. Both were Greek gods in their culture, religion and mythology. Yes, Jesus is to be proclaimed in all cultures and religions. Because of the miracle made, the people present assumed that Barnabas was Zeus, the god of the sky, thunder and lighting. They thought Paul to be Hermes, the messenger, because he did most of the speaking. Greek mythology confirms the context.

“And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 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. But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 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.'”

The following are words of which we are used to seeing but don’t see in today’s text: Synagogue, Jews, Persecution. What we do see is Greek-cultured people in Lystra, who also speak the Lycaonian language, absolutely amazed at one miracle made. And they should be, it is an absolutely amazing thing–a man lame from his Mother’s womb, leaping to his feet. It’s only in our minds that this miracle is mundane. Paul and Barnabas have gone to a region where this has not happened. Therefore the people present there fall back on their ethno-religious culture and assume that Paul and Barnabas were the their so-called gods coming to earth. Please see the irony of the Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, scribes and the rest of the unbelieving Jewish people. Their God promised them that he would come to earth, be born in Bethlehem, preach in Galilee, come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, have zeal for his father’s house, be a suffering servant and a thousand other prophecies fulfilled by Jesus making a multitude of miracles, yet they did not recognize him. Now look in the mirror and see the similarities of ironies in our current cultural climate and western worship.

God said that the small stone not made from human hands would become a great mountain that would fill the earth. God said that would be no end to the increase of his government. God said that the kingdom would be given to those bearing the fruit of it. Yet we assume that the church will fall into apostasy and that Israel will be handed back the reigns. While listening to dogmatic dispensationalist discourse on satellite radio and the mega-church pastors on television in our electric cars and on our electric couches, we tweet out on our smartphones that Jesus is coming any day because a handful of drag-queens have been spotted in public libraries. Absolutely fed up with the downward spiral of the world we make an appointment with our councillors online, order a pizza online, pay for both with the alleged mark of the beast, grab some frozen icecream from our stainless steel freezer, turn up the heat, turn off the television and computer in favor of our tablets so that we can watch Netflix whilst sitting on a toilet that flushes and has a toilet seat. I call that, “hell in a handbasket.” Surely Jesus sees our suffering and is about to come rescue us. I can’t take another day knowing from whence my next meal comes. I can’t take another day of hot showers and cold drinks. I can’t take another day of driving my truck without a touch screen. I can’t take another day where if I need prayer I can text the brethren in an instant. I can’t take another day of having 26 Bible translations at my fingertips. I can’t take another day in which slavery, human trafficking, murder, rape and robbery are against the law. I can’t take another day of seeing all these churches, charities and hospitals. I can’t take another day of brushing my teeth. I can’t take another day of road construction that slows my commute today but will speed it up in the future, giving me more time to goof off online rather than read the Bible in its context. I can’t take another day of this vacation during December, it’s too cold to do what I want. I can’t take another day of pork chops, hot dogs, and bacon with cheese on the top and a glass of milk on the side–God should have kept the kosher culture. I can’t take another day of abortion in this country, if it continues, I may actually consider prayer and fasting. I can’t take another day of reading Russell P’s missives, he is long winded and against the truth, making things up as he goes along.

We have a saying around here that was originally spoken off the cuff by my cousin, comparing handmade, real-wood cabinets to the cookie-cutter, particle-board, big-box cabinets. He said, “you’re not comparing apples to oranges but apples to cabbage.” To what are we comparing our lives in the 21st century–ten years ago, 20 years ago or 700 years ago? We compare our current cultural climate to that of 71.5 years ago. Both the empire of Japan and the National Socialist German Worker’s Party had been defeated and the country was in a state of euphoria. The Japanese-Americans were loving life in the internment camps, the brave African-American airmen who shot down dozens of planes happily went back to Alabama to sit on the back of the bus and the colored section at the lunch counter. The Native-American completely forgot about the “Trail of Tears” and was relishing life on the reservation, a thousand miles from his ancestral home. By the way, democracy did all of this, but God drove Israel out of her land, which was actually God’s land to do as he pleased. He tried to warn them time and time again, is it possible he is trying to warn us too? No, he loves us so much that he is going to rescue us from this hell on earth where the internment camps have been shut down and the front seats in the bus are open to all. Pardon the sarcasm but sometimes it is the only way in which we will see the sublime string. God has long since proclaimed his judgment against apostate Israel. And Paul, in his letter to the Romans, as well as Jesus, in his letter to the seven churches, try to warn all churches to not be like Israel. However 1st Corinthians 10 is the easiest to read and understand.

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.’ Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”

I hear a lot of grumbling in the dogmatic dispensationalists’ discourse. Perhaps they should put down their smartphones and tablets, lattes and cappuccinos and consider today’s text. “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. And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 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.”

God made himself known by bringing them rain, food and gladness? If this is the case, why then do we in the west grumble? Look at Paul’s argument to them again and then look in the mirror of dogmatic dispensationalist discourse. We certainly have things that need to change but no one has been more blessed than we are in the western world in this generation, generally speaking. Some suffer, hundreds are hungry, some are sick, many are murdered, dozens die each day drugged, but in general, we live in the best of times. But according to the dogmatic dispensationalists this cannot be because that means that Jesus cannot return during their generation. This is why I make a distinction between the dogmatic dispensationalists and the ordinary, everyday dispensationalists. Because the dogmatic dispensationalists say that the generation spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24 is not his generation but the generation alive in 1948 to see the return of Israel, ipso facto, things have to be getting worse, ipso facto, Matthew 24 says this. It is dogmatic, circular reasoning. I am 43 years old and have lived my entire life to this point in peace. This was not the case for my great-uncle Lawrence, who died in no-man’s land in the final days before armistice during the first world war, well before his 20th birthday. This was not the case for my Grandfather who fought the Nazi’s in the second world war as a very young man. Nevertheless, because of outdated, dogmatic beliefs, we believe that the end of the world is at hand because of rumors of wars. The problem is that one usually hits that at which one aims. If one assumes that things are really bad, things will appear really bad even with an avalanche of evidence to the contrary. As it says in Proverbs, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” Now I am taking a page out of the mega-church pastors playbook by ripping a tiny piece of a verse out of context but in the context it is clear: one is based on what one thinks not on going through the motions. The dogmatic dispensationalists can say that they hope for revival but they really don’t. Their dogma prevents it–Matthew 24 is happening before our eyes, therefore the rapture is at hand, meaning that things are really, really bad. How would Paul and Barnabas clear up this misconception?

“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. And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 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.” Without Israel, without the temple, without John 3:16, without rumors of wars and without a Christmas pageant, play, music, hymns, and all our religious relics, Paul plainly preached the gospel to them. Though it did prove difficult to break them from their traditions.

“And even saying these things, they with difficulty restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.”  Pushed by persecution by so-called Jews, Paul and Barnabas find themselves contending with an entirely different ethno-religious culture. But in an irony of ironies the persecution pushed the gospel to the gentiles and away from Jerusalem. In another irony of ironies, the gentiles thought that the gods must have come to earth because of one miracle. Israel, looking for her Messiah, witnessed a multitude of miracles by her Messiah and now is persecuting his followers, pushing them to all other nations. Next time, lord willing, you will be appalled at the ultimate irony of ironies. Stay tuned.

 

 

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