Paul and Barnabas in Lystra and Derbe
In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian 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 oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.’ Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
Paul and Barnabas moved on from Iconium to Lystra. Here, as they began to preach, they encountered a man who could not use his feet and had never walked, since birth. He listened intently to Paul’s speaking, and Paul saw this, and called to him – “Stand upright on your feet”, and the man sprang up and began to walk. But Paul and Barnabas were not expecting the reaction of this crowd! The area is steeped in the Greek myths, and in the area around Lystra there was a story about the gods Zeus and Hermes visiting in human form – and that is what the people think is happening again! The priest of Zeus comes with garlands and oxen to sacrifice to these two heavenly visitors!
But Paul and Barnabas are appalled that they are to be treated like gods – they tore their clothing and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals, like you!” and again they begin preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, and of the Living God. Still, they barely constrained the crowds from sacrificing to them.
But the crowd, which was ready to believe they were gods, is not so ready to accept the message they bring; and when their persecutors come from Antioch and Iconium they are able to stir up the crowd against Paul and Barnabas. They stoned Paul, dragging him outside the city walls, thinking him dead. But he was not dead – when the disciples surround him, he gets up and goes back into the city (believers and followers of Christ in this context. Luke uses the term “disciples” to mean followers of the apostles, people learning from them, and followers of Jesus; for the original “disciples” he now uses the term, “apostles”, which he also uses for Paul and Barnabas.) The next day Paul and Barnabas went on to Derbe.
People today are not that different from those pagan worshippers of Zeus and Hermes. Don’t we tend to “worship” people: leaders, politicians, movie idols, rock stars, even some religious leaders and pastors. And then we delight in seeing their fall, in vilifying them when they turn out to be humans, not gods. If we keep our focus on the Living God, and on Jesus, we can avoid this trap!