Lesson 34. The Illustration Of Elijah (James 5:17-18) PART 2
by John Lowe
One of the greatest dangers to which people in public life (actors and actresses, star athletes and politicians, entertainers, and the very wealthy and influential) are exposed is the admiration of people whose minds are too thin to think profoundly and who like to believe that their heroes are gods. Most men in such positions know the emptiness of the flattery but at the same time enjoy it enough to accept it and finally lose the ability to thrust it from them as a dangerous and poisonous thing. It is the religion of hero worship. It takes essential things and exalts them to the place of God, whereas the Christian faith is the service of the God who emptied Himself so that He might become like one of us.
Once they had gotten the crowd's attention, they explained their protest in the form of a mini-sermon (vs. 15-18). It is the first sermon in Acts to a purely pagan group that believed in many gods and had no knowledge of the God of Christians and Jews. Because the crowd was pagan and had no knowledge of the Old Testament, Paul adjusted his message to fit the audience. By contrast, the first of Paul's messages demonstrated how he preached to those well acquainted with the Old Testament. In Lystra, the apostles had to start at the very beginning, not with the coming of Christ but with the fundamental theological assumption of monotheism—that there is one God: "HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE" (DEUTERONOMY 6:4). As such, the sermon has its parallel in Paul's address to the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-31), and in many ways, the address to the Athenians is the best commentary on the sermon at Lystra. The text reads almost as if both apostles delivered the speech, but it is probably a fair assumption that Paul was the spokesman on this occasion as well: "BARNABAS THEY CALLED ZEUS, AND PAUL THEY CALLED HERMES BECAUSE HE WAS THE CHIEF SPEAKER" (ACTS 14:12).
Paul's introduction had to do with the vanity of their worship. Any religion is pretty empty that would venerate men as gods. The pagan polytheism is vanity, futility, emptiness, worthlessness, idolatrous worship of gods who were nongods (Jeremiah 2:5; Romans 1:21-23). Paul encouraged them to abandon this worship and turn to the one true and living God, the source of all that truly lives. This was the central theme of the sermon—the "living God," one of the most glorious and distinctive of all the names of God.
First, He is the creator of all life, all that dwells on earth and in the seas and the skies. Paul was perhaps quoting from Psalm 146:6, but it is, in any event, the threefold division of creation familiar from the Old Testament: "FOR IN SIX DAYS, THE LORD MADE THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH, THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM. . . ." (EXODUS 20:11a; see also Acts 4:24; 17:24). Paul's second point deals with God's patience and mercy. In former generations, God allowed the Gentiles to go their way (v. 16). The implication is that then their deeds were done in ignorance, and to that extent, they were not held accountable for them: "IN THE PAST GOD OVERLOOKED SUCH IGNORANCE, BUT NOW HE COMMANDS ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE TO REPENT" (ACTS 17:30a). Then they had had no revelation; now they did. Then they had not known the true God. Now Paul was revealing Him to them. Yet even in the past, God had not left Himself without a witness. He had revealed Himself in His works of natural providence. According to Paul, there was not one spot on the face of the earth where God has not left some sign of His presence.
Paul said, which any good Jew might not have said. The reason for it is apparent. The people who hailed Paul and Barnabas as gods had no actual knowledge of God. Their idea of God was a childlike idea. The thing that impressed them most was the sight of two men who did something they could not do. In their minds, the only explanation was that these two men were gods, and they were prepared to put them on pedestals for public adoration and worship. The man who could do the most tricks was to their way of thinking the most godlike. It was the unusual and extraordinary which was the proof of God's power.