TURN FROM WORTHLESS THINGS TO THE LIVING GOD

 

 

Acts 14:1-28

Key verse 14:15b

 

            “…We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.”

 

            Today’s passage is the continuation of Paul’s first missionary journey to the Gentile world. Last week we heard that God used Paul and Barnabas to preach the message that God would use his people to be a light to the Gentiles. When the Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch heard this message, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord and the word of the Lord spread throughout the whole region. But the Jews of that city did not like that message. They stirred up trouble for Paul and Barnabas. They persecuted them and had them expelled from the region. However Paul and Barnabas were not discouraged. According to 13:51, they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.

 

Now we will see what Paul and Barnabas did in the regions they went to: Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Perga and back to their home church in Syrian Antioch. Today, they go deeper into Gentile territory. We get to see what the world was like without faith in the true and living God of the Bible. They believed in many god’s and strange myths. They were very superstitious. When Paul did a miracle there by healing a crippled man, they thought that Paul and Barnabas were god’s and wanted to offer sacrifices to them. How strange it was! To these people, Paul and Barnabas gave the message, “Turn from these worthless things to the living God!”

 

We want to learn this morning, Paul and Barnabas’ attitude in their mission life. They never gave up preaching and proclaiming the good news (7,21,27)  The message they preached was that God is the Sovereign Lord and Creator God and that Jesus is the Christ. They preached this no matter what hardships they faced or whatever the opposition was. They encouraged their fellow brother and sister’s with many encouraging words and mission reports of the work of God. They raised up disciples and appointed leaders.  Their life of faith in their mission is our model. I pray that God may give you the clear message of the Bible in your heart so that you may know how to witness to all kinds of people at any place and anywhere and at any time. I also pray that God may help you to endure all kinds of hardships so that the message of the gospel may spread through you into all the world.

 

Part 1. The gospel is planted in Iconium (1-7)

 

            Look at verse 1, “At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.” Paul and Barnabas usually started their teaching and preaching in the Jewish synagogue, the Jewish house of worship. They were Jews and had everything in common with them. They also had a shepherd heart for Jews, which is natural since we also have by nature, a shepherd heart for our own kind of people. The Jews were God’s chosen people. God had given the Jews his holy words. They had known God’s word for centuries so they were the best ones to be ready to hear the gospel and to accept this good news about Jesus Christ.

 

            The tragedy is, however, that these very people were the ones who condemned Jesus to die and said, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They opposed the gospel message that Jesus is the Messiah who came to save them from their sins and give them the kingdom of God. Paul and Barnabas knew that by going into the synagogue that they were inviting insult and persecution. They did not try to avoid this because they remembered Jesus words, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it” (Mk.8:35) and “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angel’s” (Mk.8:38)

           

When they went into the synagogue, they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. What do you think enabled them to speak so effectively?  Was it because they both received an “A” in their speech communication classes? They spoke so effectively because God was with them through the Holy Spirit. They spoke so effectively because they both were diligent students of the Bible who trained themselves to meditate on it day and night. They studied it and accepted it. Then they could be effective speakers as they spoke the message of God’s salvation plan. We should pray like this for ourselves that we may be effective speakers of the gospel message. We don’t have to be the Sunday Worship messenger or a Conference messenger to be an effective speaker. All we have to do is to accept one word from the Bible everyday. When we have one word of the Bible in our heart and believe it, then the Holy Spirit will make you to be effective Bible speakers like Paul and Barnabas.

           

Paul and Barnabas’ message moved many to believe. However, not everyone believed. Look at verse 2, “But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” It says that the Jews “refused” to believe. This is a very strong word.  It was not that they didn’t understand. It was not an intellectual problem. They were not ignorant or slow learners. It was a stubborn and deliberate act not to believe. They refused to believe because the message of the gospel offended their pride. They could not humble themselves to accept God’s way of working. They chose to remain in the darkness instead of coming into the light to expose their sins and have forgiveness. When they refused, they became rebellious instruments of Satan towards those who were just beginning to believe and poisoned their minds.

 

These kind of people Jesus rebuked harshly in Mark 9:42. It says, “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.”  Only a little poison, just a tiny drop is enough to contaminate and to kill. The Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds telling all sorts of lies and making up ridiculous and blasphemous stories about Jesus and the apostles.They made the Gentiles want to become hostile towards Paul and Barnabas.

 

            For Paul and Barnabas this situation looked very dangerous. Here they were, just two people, and here were the Jews and Gentiles of the synagogue  becoming more and more opposed to them. The environment was becoming more and more hostile. It was a breeding ground for a huge riot to come. It might look like Route 1 and College Park after a Maryland football or basketball game against an important opponent. There might be fires and hostile crowds armed with bats and other weapons roaming the streets looking to cause trouble.  It was not a pleasant situation for Barnabas and Paul to be in. How did Paul and Barnabas deal with this growing spiritual conflict? Did they get up and leave and look for more friendlier places?

 

 Look at verse 3, “So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.” Paul and Barnabas must have prayed diligently together and encouraged each other. They made a decision not to abandon their mission or abandon these young sheep or even abandon those who refused the message. When they prayed together, God gave them endurance to proclaim the message boldly. They overcame fear and God worked with them as they preached the message of Jesus again and again, emphasizing God’s forgiveness and God’s love and God’s mercy as well as God’s judgment on sinners who refuse to repent and believe.

 

            The spiritual battle was very intense. As God works so does Satan, trying to lead people astray. However, God was with his people when they did not rely on themselves, but relied on his power and strength. God enabled Paul and Barnabas to perform miraculous signs and wonders. The more God did his work through Paul and Barnabas,  the more clear was the division between believers and non-believers. Paul and Barnabas’ presence and their work for Jesus effected the whole city. Verse 4 says, “The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles.”

 

            We can see this same division in our nation. Some believe that Jesus Christ is Lord; others oppose Jesus. Sometimes this division is exposed over issues like school prayer. Sometimes it is obscured, such as at Halloween, when evil symbols are passed off as cute and harmless. In this spiritual conflict, we must stand for Christ and depend on him. This is what happened last year at CBF during Halloween. Instead of Halloween, we had “Halelujah Night.” There weren’t any children dressed in pitch forks and horns to make them look like devils, nor were there any young girls made to look like witches. Instead, they all wore crowns of gold on their heads and were dressed in white costumes. They looked bright and happy like the angels. The theme was called “A Glimpse of Heaven.” There was a big book they made, called the Lamb’s book of life which had their names written in it. This action was really standing for Christ and not blindly following the godless pattern of the world.

 

            There is also another thing we can learn from Paul and Barnabas. It was their wisdom in spiritual conflict. They knew when to flee the scene. According to verse 5, there was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and the Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat Paul and Barnabas and to stone them. Look at verse 6, “But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country.”  Paul and Barnabas realized that it was time for them to go on to preach the gospel in other lands.  They believed that God had began a good work in those who had already believed in Iconium. These believers were better equipped to handle the local situation better than Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas however, did not take a vacation after this fierce spiritual battle. Instead, according to verse 7, they continued to preach the good news in Lystra, Derbe and the surrounding country.

 

Part 2. Paul’s message to the people of  Lystra (8-20)

 

            Let’s read verse 8, “In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked.” No doubt, God sent Paul and Barnabas to Lystra to help this one man. He was a nameless cripple. People thought he was useless. But he listened to Paul’s message carefully. His heart was not crooked due to his handicap. His heart was open wide to God. He listened carefully to Paul because he had never heard anyone speak with such conviction about the love of God and the compassion of God as Paul did. This man could sense that Paul was his shepherd. He drank the word of life from Paul like a thirsty deer. His heart began to open up wide to the gospel message. Paul looked at him prayerfully, and saw that he had faith to be healed, according to verse 9.

 

            Paul wanted to give this man what he really needed. So Paul challenged him. Look at verse 10, “and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.” This man not only stood up, but he jumped up and began to walk. When this man was willing, trusting and obedient to the voice of the Lord through Paul, he was healed instantly! This was the Holy Spirit working through Paul. This great miracle caused quite a stir among all the people. It reminds us of what happened when the Apostle Peter healed a crippled beggar in Jerusalem back in Acts chapter 3. This man had been crippled from birth. When Peter healed this man, many came running towards him and were amazed. Peter used the opportunity to preach about Jesus to the Jews and to challenge them to repent. His audience the Jews, knew the Scriptures and knew about Jesus.

 

            But now, Paul’s audience does not know about the Bible or Jesus, because they are the Gentiles.  How did they react? Let’s read verses 11-13, “When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Laconian 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 bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”

 

Before we go any farther, we need to understand just what kind of people these Gentiles were. First of all, they were heavily influenced by the Greek mythology of god’s and goddess’. Some of you might be familiar with Greek mythology.  The Greek gods they believed in were nothing but myth. They were not real. They existed only in the minds of men. They were worthless. They had no value, no power, no merit. In fact, they were more like spoiled children than noble deities. They cheated each other, stole from each other and treated helpless mortals at random. They were not merciful or compassionate. For example, Zeus, the chief god with whom they thought Barnabas had all of a sudden become, was an unfaithful husband to Hera who was also his sister. He also beats her and punished her for being jealous and for counseling him to be prudent. Another god was Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility. He goes around teaching others to plant grapes and then many parties are held in his honor, characterized by drunkenness, loud music and wild dancing. 

 

Why did the people in Lystra think that Paul and Barnabas were really Zeus and Hermes? According to their myth, a long time ago Zeus and Hermes had come down to this the region of Lystra, disguised as poor travelers. The only people who offered them hospitality were a poor old couple. So they destroyed everyone else, but left this old couple and when they died, they were turned into two beautiful trees. So now when Paul and Barnabas came and Paul did this miracle, they had fear if they didn’t welcome them and offer sacrifice to them they might be destroyed. This is why they acted this way. The thought of that myth only tortured their minds and hearts. So they lived in constant fear and anxiety. If they were having bad luck, they said, “Zeus is punishing me again!” They depicted Zeus as a big imposing man always with a lightning bolt in his hand ready to throw it down to earth to punish someone.

 

So we see they lived in fear and with many kinds of superstitions. They did not know the kindness of God or the love of God. They represent the whole Gentile world living without God and the knowledge of God, enslaved to all kinds of myths and superstitions. We have many of this today. Even today, some people still consider it bad luck if a black cat walks in front of your path. Other people dread Friday the 13th because they consider that something bad is bound to happen to them on Friday the 13th. Other people like to check their horoscope daily to find out what kind of day they might have. There is the psychic hotline to call that is open 24 hours a day to call to find out about your future.  One girl student did not want to get her drivers license in Virginia because she saw the Department of Motor Vehicles logo on the driving license she said it looked there were three sixes mixed together and she said that is the sign of the devil, those three sixes, so she was afraid. Of course she was right that three sixes is the sign of the devil in the book of Revelations, however it is to be taken figuratively as a sign of incompleteness and not literally as if every time you see the number 666 that the devil wrote it.

 

            How did Paul and Barnabas help the Lycanoan people? At first they did not realize what was going on because of the language problem. They must have asked someone to interpret for them. “Excuse me sir, can you tell just what these people are shouting about? Why are they so hysterical?”  When they heard that the people wanted to worship them, they tore their clothes as a sign that these people were people committing blasphemy. It was a shocking thing for Paul and Barnabas to see people reacting to them like this. It was to them, a great sin to treat them as if they were gods. Then they ran into the crowd to tell them to stop and not to do such a thing.  They are a great contrast with King Herod, who accepted men’s worship, and did not give praise to God.

 

            What was their message to these people? Let’s read verse 15, “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.” Their message was clear: “Turn from these worthless things to the living God.” The word “turn” here is like the word “repentance” which means to turn from sin and turn to God. Practically speaking, Paul and Barnabas were telling these Gentiles to repent of their idolatrous lives and turn to the living God who created all things.

 

The problem with the Gentile world was that they lived without God. Up to this time, they had no one to shepherd and guide them into the truth of God. This is the first time missionaries had been sent to this region with the living words of God. They didn’t have the Bible. According to history, the Greek people and their culture had many philosophers and wise sayings. They claimed to be wise, but when they did not worship God as God and give thanks and honor him as God, their lifestyle became corrupted and foolish. Paul said in Romans 1:22-23, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Again, this is the Gentile world, not just the Greeks.

 

When they didn’t worship God and lived without him, then they also exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created things, instead of the Creator (Ro.1:25). Romans 1:29-32 shows how people who leave God out of their lives live. Let’s turn and read Romans 1:29-32. This sums it up well. This is why Paul and Barnabas were sent by God by the Holy Spirit to these people. God loves these people and wanted to save them from their idolatrous lives which caused them to suffer endlessly in guilt, shame, all sorts of fears, anxieties and empty superstitions. The message was good news for them because God was coming to them through Barnabas and Paul and giving them the opportunity to repent and to believe and worship God and have the meaning of life. Especially, God earnestly desired to lead them to have salvation through hearing the gospel message about Jesus Christ.

 

To God, idolatry is a terrible sin that leads to corrupted lives that hurt ourselves and hurt others and leads to God’s judgment. That is why God gave his people his word about worshipping God alone. This is why the first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” And the second commandment says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or in the water below.” (Ex.20:3,4) 

 

            Then who is God? First of all, God is the Creator of everything. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” John 1:3 which speaks of Jesus says, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  In addition God is Spirit and we must worship him in spirit and in truth. God is also the living God. He has always been here and he always will be here. He is not some figment of our imagination. God knows our needs. God hears our prayers. God cares about us and wants to help us. He is near to us when we are broken hearted. He has great compassion on us. He grieves for us when we go astray, and he is troubled and concerned for us when we suffer (Ex.2:24). God has also revealed himself to us in Scripture and through his only Son Jesus Christ who he gave as a ransom sacrifice for our sins. He wants to have a personal relationship with us by living in our hearts.

 

            Paul’s message was a clear and direct message that touched the root problem of the Gentiles.  It was to turn from idols, or worthless things, and turn to the living God. This was really good news! But it was a difficult message for the people of Lystra. It meant that their entire culture was based on worthless beliefs that they needed to turn from immediately. American culture is somewhat different being deeply influenced by Christianity. Still, there are many practical idol worshippers in our country today. Perhaps sports figures are the one’s most idolized.  Movie stars, rock-n-roll stars and other music stars are also idolized. There is even a TV show called “American Idol” which seeks to glorify the best singer out of many thousands.   People are willing to spend money to travel and see and hear their favorite singer or see their favorite athletes.

 

I had one sheep who really loved to watch Nascar racing. That is seeing race cars with powerful engines race around a track at over 150 miles an hour for about 400 or 500 miles. He would travel to North Carolina and even sometimes to Alabama with his Dad to see these events for a whole weekend. At these events tens of thousands of people would go. Though he was a Christian and had decent Bible knowledge, he did not think twice about not going to these events and spend money instead of honoring the Sabbath day and attending worship service to honor God. I don’t have anything against watching Nascar racing, and it is not wrong to do so. But when we don’t honor the Sabbath day, we are not honoring God himself, and so practically we become idol worshippers.

 

When we view our culture we see many idol worshipping people who leave the living God out of their lives. The result is similar to the Gentiles we are studying about now, though with many modern additions. For example, when our society abandons God, people are not happy, so people rely on drugs to make them happy. Depression is a great sickness in our society, but drugs are not the answer. With the increase of violence in our society and the threat of terrorism, people turn to drugs for relief from fear and anxiety,  instead of God. The result is that we are a nation that relies on popping pills, instead of God. Without God, we only try to please ourselves, but we never experience true happiness. We are always restless and empty. This is why the divorce rate is so high and why there is violence, a spirit of dissatisfaction, rage, bitterness and revenge. I just recently read of one professional hockey player in court now because he hired a hit man to kill his agent. Last week an 8 year old girl in Washington DC was tragically killed as she watched TV in her living room by a stray bullet from two feuding gangs of young men.

 

On college campuses we see the wrong impression our materialistic and pleasure seeking culture, a culture without faith in God,  is offering students. It is not to live by faith in God and honor God as God. It is to enjoy pleasure now and live for the moment now and indulge in an immoral life style that is suppose to be cool, popular, fast and furious and exciting. The message that Paul and Barnabas gave is still relevant to us today. It is for you and me. We need to hear it again and again and tell others again and again so God may have mercy on us and our nation. God wants us to turn from these worthless things that don’t give us life. He wants us to turn to him, the living God and honor him as God.  May God be first place in your hearts and lives and help you to practically turn from worthless things to the living God.

 

Paul and Barnabas’ message did not stop with God as the creator. He also went on to explain to them that God is the great provider. Look at verses 16-17, “In the past he has let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” This message was to show these people the kindness and love of God to these people whose gods were only angry and judgmental. God was tolerant of the Gentile nations and loving towards them. By giving them nature’s bounty he wanted them to acknowledge his care for them, as a Daddy provides for his children.  But now he has sent his One and Only Son into the world to save the world. God who provided Jesus who showed the full extent of God’s love for sinners by his death on the cross is enough proof that God is the living God who is reaching out to all people all over the world in order to save them. While God trained and raised his people Israel up to be the ones to bring the Savior Jesus into the world, he was waiting on his time to bring the message of salvation to the Gentile world.

 

What happened after Paul and Barnabas proclaimed this message? Verse 18 says, “Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowds from sacrificing to them.” The crowd did not accept the message. They seemed unresponsive and unrepentant.  However, things were not quite finished. According to verses 19-20, some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They persuaded the crowd that Paul was leading them astray and ruining their culture. So they stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.

 

Perhaps a stone struck his head, driving him into unconsciousness and he collapsed. More stones struck his flesh, causing swelling and much bleeding. More damaging than the stones was the emotional pain of violent rejection by his own people the Jews. It was their intention to kill Paul, and they left him for dead, dragging him outside the city.

 

But according to verse 20, Paul got up and went back into the city. How could he do this? Some say it was his resurrection faith. Surely it was! It was the Holy Spirit living inside him and it was Paul’s clear desire and spiritual attitude to advance the gospel message to the Gentile world. Now let us see how Paul and Barnabas encouraged the disciples they had made through their mission journeys. 

 

Part 3. We must go through many hardships (21-28)

 

            Paul and Barnabas went to Derbe where they preached the gospel and won a large number of disciples. After this, they should have taken the next direct route to go back home as fast as possible. But they did not do that. Instead, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, the cities in which they suffered much, to plant gospel faith in the disciples. They went back the places where they were stoned and mistreated. They thought more about their Bible students then their own personal comfort. They remind us of one missionary in Yugoslavia who decided to stay with his sheep, instead of going back home, while NATO was bombing the city of Belgrade in 1999. He said, “I can not leave my sheep because Jesus did not abandon his sheep in times of trouble.”

 

  Let’s read how Paul and Barnabas encouraged the disciples in verse 22, “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God’, they said.”  What did Paul mean by this? Was he saying the requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God was to be persecuted and rejected and suffer hardship after hardship? No. As the Bible tells us, we are saved by our faith in what Jesus did in the cross. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead and when we believe we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. However, once we believe, we enter a new life. We become disciples of Jesus Christ. As disciples of Jesus Christ we follow whatever Jesus taught and whatever he said and did.

 

            We realize that following Jesus means to deny oneself and take up the cross. It is the cross and the life of mission that we begin to encounter many hardships for living for Jesus. This is unavoidable and inevitable. It shows that God is working through us and among us. Jesus himself never kept this from the disciples. He told them that they would be hated and persecuted (Jn.15:18-25) because he was also hated and persecuted. So we should not give up when we face one hardship for Jesus and think it is easier to live without mission.

 

            One missionary who had left the mission field for ten years came back and sincerely said, “Living without mission is harder than living with mission.” Our hardships and sufferings that we may go through, to some our small, to us are large, for Jesus, will make us stronger and more fit for the life of faith. Others have faced greater hardships then us. One Chinese Christian was expelled from his country for being a Christian witness. However, he wanted to go back again. So he had his name legally changed. To the Chinese, this is an unheard of thing to do. It is disrespectful to your family. But he wanted to go back by any means to tell his Chinese people about Jesus. One young Jewish woman became a believer in Jesus. When her parents found out about it, they disowned her and refused to speak to her again. They held a funeral for her and her Dad cried out, “My daughter is dead! My daughter is dead!” However, despite this hardship, she did not renounce her faith in Jesus but became his witness. Paul faced many hardships. John Mark left him and abandoned the mission for a while. His own Jewish people hated him and wanted to kill him no matter where he was. But Paul did not give up. He only encouraged everyone to remain true to the faith and expect many hardships as they travel to their final and sure destination place, the kingdom of God. So if you know someone is going through a hardship for the sake of the gospel, encourage them to remain true to the faith and not to let any root of discouragement enter their hearts.  Encourage them to remain true to the faith because great is their reward in heaven. (Matt.5:11-12)

 

            Paul and Barnabas  also committed them to the Lord, with prayer and fasting and appointed elders in each church (v.23). They trusted that God would use these people as worthy shepherds for the flock of God. We see here that raising up and appointing spiritual leaders was the important work of the early church growth. For us, God is doing similar things, appointing fellowship leaders and raising up Bible teachers who can be future leaders for new pioneering in other college campuses. For example, God is using Missionary Augustine  and Christine Yun as leaders of his work in Tennessee. God is also using John Lee and Jennifer Roberts in Grenada as missionaries for fellow medical students like themselves.

 

            Paul and Barnabas also preached the word in Perga before going back to their own home church in Syrian Antioch. They had completed the task that the Holy Spirit had set them out to do. Let’s read verses 26-28, “From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.”

 

            From today’s message we learn the spiritual attitude of Paul and Barnabas. They did not give up. They saw the harvest field of Gentiles with God’s eyes. They encouraged others to remain true to the faith and go through many hardships. They boldly proclaimed God as the Creator to the Gentile world. May God help you to learn their spiritual attitude and to proclaim the message, “Turn from these worthless things to the living God.” May God help you to love, honor and glorify God and endure many hardships for Jesus’ sake.