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The harder the job, the bigger the power that is needed to accomplish it. We have no power to sort ourselves out, we need a great power from outside. Humanity needs the supernatural power that comes from outside ourselves, from a powerful God.
Why is the gospel the power of God? Because our salvation is absolutely impossible for us. It is impossible for us to put ourselves right with the God who made us and own this universe.
It is important for us to do what is right in our lives and to make amends for wrongdoing. As human beings, we need the infinite power of God to step in. The conflict in the Ukraine – how on earth can anyone sort out that mess? We can’t sort our problems out on our own. We need the infinite power of God to fix us. In Jesus coming into the world, He took it upon Himself all that we deserve. All the wrongdoings that we have committed, He took upon Himself, the hell that humanity ought to pay for. He took that upon Himself for all of us who will believe in Him. That’s the kind of power that is required to fix humanity. Not only that, but as we are remembering last Sunday, the infinite power that raised Jesus from the dead, that’s the kind of power that kick starts the Christian life. If you believe that Jesus died and rose again, that he did so, so that you can be made new in Him, then that’s the power that will begin to work in you. The power that will give you life, the power that will give you a new relationship with God, so you can call Him Father. If you want that power, accept that Jesus died for you so that you could be forgiven and that He can give you a new life.
Once we have come to experience that power in His love, the Christian should be so overwhelmed by what they’ve experienced in the power of God through Jesus making them new, that they want to tell everyone. We all have different ways to share the gospel. We can look at people in the bible like Paul and Barnabas and we can think, ‘Well, I’m not like that.’ It’s probably a good thing. God has made us all different. We are all going to have different ways that we’re able to share the gospel with other people, ways of sharing this good news of God’s power that saves people.
Many of us don’t have the gifting to stand up in from of hundreds and thousands, like Pauls and Barnabas did, to travel round from city to city, to undertake great risks, to live off almost nothing, except handouts whenever they could get them, trying to make ends meet in whatever way they could. But every true Christian will, in their own way, try and share the good news of Jesus with as many people as they can, and doing that by God’s power. That is what we are going to be exploring today as we look particularly at verse 8 onwards, as Paul and Barnabas venture on.
Paul and Barnabas are now in Lystra. It is their fist journey of travelling around and sharing the gospel. Whilst they are there, they are obviously talking about Jesus, in a public square. A man is sat there, someone who has never been able to walk in his life. He is listening to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:8). Paul must have been given insight by the Holy Spirit into the man’s spiritual condition. He has faith that is beginning to work in him. He has faith to be healed. So, Paul tells the man to stand up and walk. And he does. He is instantly healed. The man jumped up with vigour.
To what extent does God heal today? There is a spectrum of opinion. God’s power should be shown by His people. God can, and does, heal people today. Certainly, if the Holy Spirit prompts us to see someone who needs healing, we should respond to that. However, it is not something that happens all too frequently. But that doesn’t mean we don’t show God’s power in other ways. We all ought to be showing God’s power in other ways.
Isn’t God’s power shown in someone who has a chronic condition but doesn’t get bitter and grumpy about it but oozes grace, even as they have to endure the condition they live with for the rest of their lives? Isn’t that God’s power that enables a person to be like that?
We see God’s power at work when someone first becomes a Christian, no matter what their background. This is evident when someone comes from a rough background, perhaps someone from a background of addiction and abuse, yet they are enabled to leave that behind as they come to Christ. Isn’t that the power of God?
God’s power is shown through a couple who have been married for forty years and have remained faithful to each other, enduring the various ups and downs of married life, sharing God’s love with one another.
God’s power is shown in a teenager who resists the various temptations of peer pressure that are on offer – peer pressure to do this and to do that in the way that the world does. God’s power is shown in the integrity of the employee who doesn’t give in to the temptation to fiddle the taxes or to do this and that wrong, perhaps as even their boss is encouraging them to do. Instead, they act with integrity throughout their employment.
In all of these, and in so many other ways, God’s power is shown through the Christian. It is not just through the miraculous that God’s power is shown. It is shown every day in our lives in very simple and ordinary ways as we live for Him.
Some of these ways that we show God’s power are going to be seen by the world around us. Miracles provoke amazement in people. This might be rare. But when we live by God’s power it will be seen by the world. When they know that we are Christians, operating out of God’s power, it will be seen by the world. At the very least, surely that will provoke curiosity. It may even cause them to ask you, ‘What’s different about the way you live? What is it that drives you?’ That may then lead on to further conversations about the gospel, as it does here with Paul and Barnabas.
As we move on, what we see is that we need to explain God’s power. It’s not just about showing God’s power, we need to use words and explain God’s power.
(Story of Guy Gomer – mistaken identity). Paul and Barnabas get mistaken for Greek gods. It’s understandable. The people have just witnessed this great miracle – a guy that they know who has never been able to walk is suddenly able to walk by Paul just speaking to very quickly to him. They’ve witnessed this incredible display of power. What’s more, there is a local legend, which comes from a nearby city, which was visited by two gods, but the people didn’t recognise the gods, they didn’t honour them and so they endured their wrath. So, the people of Lystra, having this story in the back of their minds, thinking that Paul and Barnabas are perhaps these two gods, go all out to pay homage to these two supposed gods. They think of them as Zeus and Hermes. The temple for Zeus is just outside the city of Lystra. They call for the priests to come in. They bring garlands, and oxen to offer sacrifices
In that chaos, Paul and Barnabas jump in and tear their clothes, a sign of sorrow and anguish. Then, they speak a mini sermon, “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.” (Acts 14:15).
Paul and Barnabas are very quick to explain why they are there – to share the good news. They are speaking to a non-Jewish audience, so they start with the basic concept of God – God has made everything. The one true, living God has made everything and to worship anything else is useless, missing out on worshipping the one true, living God.
Idol worship is still here, although our idols are much more subtle. Human beings are made to worship. If we’re not worshipping the one, true God, we will worship other things: money, children, job, success, hobbies, lifestyles. These are not wrong but it’s when we begin to treat these things as the greatest things in our lives that they become an idol. When we look at it that way, then idol worship is just as prevalent here, in Pembrokeshire, as it was 2,000 years ago in Lystra. People today need to be alerted to the fact that we are worshipping useless things. If we are not worshipping the true living God, then our worship is useless. If they are all we hope for and value, they are idols. God ought to be our true source of hope.
People’s lives are busy and there is no room for God. If we realise we are putting our value on useless things, then we push them out of first place and we make room for God. Very often this needs to be the first point we bring people; we might explain it in different ways, we might be so direct and abrupt with them, but it is something we need to explain to them.
The second point of the mini sermon is in verse 16, “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways.” God has been patient with people. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. He deals with us lovingly and cares for us. He patiently waits for people to come to Him.
The third point is that God has shown Himself through being loving with people, “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17). He gives rain, allows crops to grow, provides food for His people. We may have heard of Zeus, the god of thunder and the sky. He was also the god who gave rain. Paul is saying it is not Zeus who gives rain but God. Hermes was the god who delivered messages from the gods to human beings. But Paul and Barnabas say it is not Hermes who brings God’s message, God gives you His message Himself through the way that He provides for the world.
God is the one true, supreme God. He alone should be worshipped. To worship anything else is useless. He is patient and loving, waiting for people to come to Him. He reveals Himself through the way He loves and cares for the world and provides for human beings. He has immense power to care for this world.
As Paul says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20). No-one can say they never had a chance to know the one true God. He has shown Himself through the world that He has made. He has shown Himself through the way He provides food on this planet for us to enjoy. As Christians, if we try and connect with people and share the good news of Jesus, this may be our starting point. There is a God who is worthy of worship and He loves us. He has shown Himself in the world He has made.
Thirdly, we need to persist by God’s power. It’s not just about showing God’s power in our lives and explaining God’s power in our words, it’s about keeping on going by God’s power.
At the end of this story, people stir things up – Jews from other towns, who turn the crowd against Paul and Barnabas, “But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.” (Acts 14:19).
The Christians, presumably, are praying for them. Paul gets up and goes back to the city where they have just tried to kill him, “But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.” (Acts 14:20). He stops for a day then goes back to Derbe. It would have been so easy for Paul to give up. He gave them the gospel then goes back into the city. He goes on by God’s power. God is empowering him with the task he is to do.
We are unlikely to face that kind of opposition, but we will face opposition, people giving us the cold shoulder. It is hard to keep going sometimes. It is hard sharing the gospel with people who have rejected it. Even when it is tough, by God’s empowering, we can keep going. The good news is, there was a church formed in Lystra. When we’re reading it now, it doesn’t look like there would be a church. It looks like they left and no-one was saved. But actually, there were people who became Christians. There are return visits to Lystra where there is a church, where there are people who have come to follow Jesus. And gather together as a church. Maybe that day after Paul got stoned and went back into the city, some people became Christians? Maybe just one or two believers who then shared the gospel with others? One way or another, God worked to bring people to know Himself. By His power, as He worked through what Paul and Barnabas had done, people became Christians.
May God help us. May God give us His power to enable us to show His power at work in our lives, as we simply live the Christian life. May God, by His power, help us to explain what He’s done in our lives, to explain the good news that there is a God who is worthy of worship, who has shown us His love and kindness through providing for us. May we keep on going, even when it’s hard, when we rely on His power, may be digging deep to the power that is available to us by the Holy Spirit who lives in every believer. May He empower us to do His work and to keep on going, even through tough times.