2 Kings 2:1-25; Acts 14:8-20; Psalms 140:1-8; Proverbs 29:19-20
NT: “In Lystra a man was sitting who was without strength in his feet, had never walked, and had been lame from birth. He listened as Paul spoke. After looking directly at him and seeing that he had faith to be healed, Paul said in a loud voice, “Stand up on your feet!” And he jumped up and began to walk around. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the town, brought bulls and wreaths to the gates because he intended, with the crowds, to offer sacrifice. The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their robes when they heard this and rushed into the crowd, shouting, “People! Why are you doing these things? We are people also, just like you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own way, although he did not leave himself without a witness, since he did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” Even though they said these things, they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them. Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead. After the disciples gathered around him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.” (Acts 14:8-20 CSB)
What a day this was for Paul and Barnabas! It all started with Paul conversing with the townsfolk of Lystra. The word used to describe Paul’s speaking was used in classic Greek to describe light and familiar speech more than a public discourse. So Paul was likely having conversations with people in the town square about the gospel, and a paralyzed man who just so happened to be sitting within earshot of Paul, was paying close attention to what Paul was saying. The Holy Spirit probably directed Paul’s attention to the man and gave Paul a word of knowledge that the man had faith to be healed. So Paul, obeying the leading of the Holy Spirit, gave the man a gift of healing from the Holy Spirit. When the man, who had been paralyzed since birth, got up and started walking around… well, all mayhem broke loose. The gentile people in the square, upon witnessing the obvious miracle, framed the sign and wonder within their own cultural context… they jumped to the conclusion that Paul and Barnabas were gods… and because Zeus was the patron god of their city, they assumed that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes, Zeus’ messenger. Suddenly, the entire town scrambled to offer sacrifices in worship to Paul and Barnabas. Paul tried, as best as he could, to stop the sacrifices and explain what was going on in a context they could understand. But before he could finish, some Jews from the neighboring towns came in, turned the crowd against Paul, drug him out of the city, and stoned him in an attempt to kill him. Whether Paul died or not, we don’t know – but what we do know is that the believing disciples gathered around his lifeless body and prayed for him. Miraculously, he got up, shook the dust off, and headed to the next town. Several truths can be pulled from this story, but what stuck out to me as I read it, is how important explanation is. There is a well known saying that is often quoted: “Preach the gospel wherever you go, and when necessary, use words.” Because of that saying, often times well-meaning followers of Christ spend their time demonstrating the gospel without explaining the gospel. They practice random acts of kindness, give to charity, and try to live a life that demonstrates the love of Jesus to the world around them. But as we see in this story, unless the reason for the demonstration is explained, people are left to reach their own conclusions… and they will most likely jump to a conclusion that is wrapped in the context of their Christ-less culture. Acts of kindness will be mistaken for manipulation unless the reason for the acts are clearly explained. Charitable giving will be mistaken for an attempt at buying influence or gaining a tax write-off. Living a loving and peaceable life will misunderstood as just being a nice person who doesn’t want to stir up trouble. The reason the paralyzed man in this story had faith for healing is because he heard Paul’s explanation of the gospel. Biblical faith comes by hearing, not merely by seeing. For people to fully understand the gospel, it must be explained with words they can understand… and then in the context of our explaining, the demonstrating of the gospel has the intended effect.