Christian people, I have a question for you: when people think of you do they think, “there is a person who listens, who sees, who has empathy, who cares”? Or do they think, “there is a person who won’t stop talking, who is so focused on themselves”? What kind of Christian should we be?
We’ve been following the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas through Acts chapters 13 and 14. Their next stop, in Acts 14, verses 8-13, is the city of Lystra, and there Paul notices that a crippled man “had faith to be healed.” How did Paul notice this? What did he notice? Just an eager look on the man’s face? Or perhaps the Holy Spirit gave Paul insight? We don’t know. Paul is clearly paying attention to needs, which is very instructive for us. Paul is not just concerned about getting content out to the crowsd. The story of good news is not just words or ideas to be believed. The story of good news makes a difference in the real lives of people. This is exactly the same way that Jesus ministered! He preached good news and healed to demonstrate the good news. Paul is doing the same. Speaking good news in both word and deed. Paul’s eyes are open to the needs around him.
Paul heals the man, and the crowds in this Greco-Roman city of Lystra are shell-shocked. Paul and Barnabas were not preaching in a synagogue to Jews. Instead they are out in the regular streets of the city, where Paul heals the man, and the Gentile crowds love it, declaring that the apostles must be the Greco-Roman gods Zeus and Hermes having come to earth as humans! Even the priest of Zeus from a nearby temple comes with gifts and sacrifices for them.
In what is shaping up to be a somewhat comical situation, for Paul and Barnabas, this is no laughing matter. In verses 14-18 we read that they tear their clothes (and ancient custom of grief) and rush into right into the crowd, and guess what Paul does? Paul speaks up!
He says that he and Barnabas are regular men, just like them. But he and Barnabas have a message of good news of the living God, and the people should turn away from “worthless things,” which are the false gods and idols of their society. Notice that while Paul is not afraid to speak up to confront their false religion, this time he doesn’t mention Jesus or repentance at all. Is Paul having a moment of fear?
No. Paul is wisely pointing the people to see God’s provision for them, which Paul says should be obvious to see in the food they eat and the joy of life. In other words, Paul’s method of communication here is very appropriate for the people in that Greco-Roman town. When Paul is with Jews, he speaks in a way Jews would understand, talking about Jesus as the promised Jewish Messiah. But here in Lystra, he speaks about God in a way these Greco-Roman people could understand.
We can learn much this. We should not assume that the people we are talking to know the Bible, or that they know about Jesus. Instead, our speaking up about Jesus can start with getting to know people, with caring about them. This is communication that looks outward, that has the other person in mind. It means we practice listening. Only then should we introduce the treasure we have found in Jesus, inviting others to consider that his way of life is the best way to live.
Back in Lystra, even after Paul tried to bring the crowd’s attention to the one true and livign God, the people still wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. They were convinced that the apostles were gods who had come down in human form. At that moment, as we read in verses 19-21a, Jews show up from two towns Paul and Barnabas had recently visited: Pisidian Antioch (which we read about in chapter 13 and different from Syrian Antioch, where Paul and Barnabas’ sending church was located) and Iconium. In each of those two towns, there were Jews that were very unreceptive to the apostles’ message.
Apparently those Jews had been conspiring together, and they traveled to Lystra, where they argue so strongly against Paul and Barnabas that they win the crowd over. They likely told the crowd that the apostles were liars or false teachers, or something like that. In a swift and dramatic turnaround, the crowd responds by stoning Paul to the point where they think he is dead!
Did he play dead? Was he so badly beaten that he barely had a pulse? Knocked unconscious? They drag him outside the city. Then disciples show up, gather around him, and Paul gets up. What? Is this a miracle? We don’t know. Does he need medical attention? What does he do? Check back in to the next post to learn the surprising move Paul makes next.
Until then, I encourage you to ask yourself if your eyes are open to the needs of people. Are you listening to them? Let’s not allow eager to share the content of the story of good news in Jesus blind us to the needs of people around us. Instead, let us follow the example of Jesus and the apostles, with eyes open, ears at the ready to listen, so that our story of good news might be matched with deeds of good news. Both are vital.