Wednesday 8 May 2024

Paul 11


And there they preached the gospel.  And there sat a certain man of Lystra impotent in his feet being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked.  The same heard Paul speak: who steadfastly beholding him and perceiving that he had faith to be healed said with a loud voice ‘Stand upright on thy feet.’  And he leapt and walked. (Acts 14:7:10)

‘And there they preached the gospel’ – so runs the first line of our opening verse.  There they preached the gospel.

Preaching the gospel is really the central thrust of the Church; it was then and it is now.  How important preaching is we can discern from the attitude of the apostles, who made preaching their absolute priority, the apostles who from the very start when faced with an organisational problem of the church said: ‘It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.’

These days it’s all too common to hear church people insist that it is more important to open a food bank or to feed the hungry in their community than to go to church to hear the word of God.  But we have these words from the apostles, that statement, ‘It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables’, in other words: We should not give up preaching God’s message in order to serve at tables. (Acts 6:2) This statement arose from an organisational problem, from a specific controversy between the Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews of the early Church. It was claimed that the widows of the Hellenistic Jews were not being treated equally. From this problem, the primacy of preaching and prayer for the church going forward was established.  And it’s not that those in need were neglected.  It was always the case that those in need should be served and that was done, that was taken care of as an organisational question but those in the role of spiritual leadership said:

But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word (4)

The ministry of the word.  What a great expression – the ministry of the word. In his letter to the Romans (10: 17) Paul wrote:

 So faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.

So here we are shown the importance of the ministry of the word – faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.  The preacher then, is merely the messenger and as Paul says in his letter to the Romans (10: 15):

And how shall they preach except they be sent?  As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things.

I am reminded of the story from the Gospel of Luke (5: 11) where we find Jesus preaching by the lake of Galilee.

And it came to pass that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God he stood by the lake of Gennesaret.

They pressed upon him to hear the word of God – the emphasis on the word is writ large, so the emphasis in the Church is on the preaching of the word.  Again, the preaching of the word!  And so now we come back to our text.  We have followed Paul and Barnabas so far from Antioch Syria to Cyprus to Antioch in Pisidia, then to Iconium and now fleeing persecution and certain death in both Antioch and Iconium Paul and Barnabas arrive in Lystra some eighteen miles down the road.

Not a great distance at all, considering the growing number of enemies who wanted to kill them as a means of silencing them, but would they be silenced?  Well, our text says not.  They escaped certain death by stoning in Iconium and came to Lystra and ‘And there they preached the gospel!’

I mean, it wasn’t anything different than what they had preached in the other cities, the same message, winning some to Christ to this new and growing Christian movement and gaining some deadly enemies at the same time.  But, they did not falter. And It’s not as though they went to a marketing company or a communications company in an attempt to dress up or soften the Christian message in order to make it more palatable to Jewish or Pagan ears.  Can you imagine that?  It wasn’t possible for them to do that because the Christian message is really a ‘my way or the high way’ kind of message. What did Jesus say? 

I am the way the truth and the life.  No man comes to the Father but by me. (John 14:6)

This makes Christianity an exclusive religion.  There is no other, there is no other way.  If you are in any doubt this you have only to go to Paul’s letter to the Galatians (8)

But though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

When you think about those uncompromising words of Paul, you really do get that sense of Christianity as a ‘take it or leave it’ religion.  There really is no halfway house, these words of Jesus, these words of Paul are the scriptural foundation of the Christian faith.  But we never hear the churches reiterate the bedrock of its own teachings these days.  These days it is all about ‘moving with the times’ as they say - as these weak, pathetic church leaders put it.  They are not speaking for GOD, they are not preaching the gospel, they are speaking for the flesh, in no way are they speaking for Christ, they are speaking for the world.

As we know, these professing liberal Christians are really preaching a different gospel than Paul ever preached, that is why they, to use Paul’s words, 'they are accursed.'  So when Paul and Barnabas arrived in Lystra they preached the gospel not to make themselves popular but to preach the word of God, not to talk about ‘inclusivity' or to preach ’diversity’ in the way that the world and its governments and tame Church leaders proclaim it today.  But to preach that uncompromising message that offends so many people today as it did then. Jesus is Lord. I mean, who really wants to hear that and who really wants to hear the word of God?  It’s safer of course to compromise, to make friends with the world, to tell them what they want to hear, but in the letter of James (4: 4) there are these words that read:

Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

 Or, as Paul in his preaching put it:

For do I now persuade men or God Or do I persuade to seek to please men?  For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.     (Galatians 1:10)

We know that Paul and Barnabas in their preaching exerted a tremendous power not just through their spoken word, but because God was with them, because they were granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

Incredible though that might seem, it is much more believable when we consider that the Judaeo-Christian God is a God who is active in the lives of his people.  If God ordains that something will happen, then it will. Thy will be done, as we say in that perfect prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. Thy Will be done. And so, we have this amazing story, this healing by Paul of a crippled man.  It came about as a result of Paul’s preaching in Lystra.  Let’s look at our text again:

And there sat a certain man of Lystra impotent in his feet being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never had walked. 

So, we have this statement, it’s quite clear, straightforward, and unambiguous.  Here is a man who for some reason was born with some abnormality in his feet that would not allow him to walk.  We only have that information, we don’t know whether he could get about by leaning on someone else or on crutches or whether he just had to be carried about everywhere, but to be clear, as the text informs us, he had never walked.  And this man happened to be where Paul was preaching; and again, we don’t have the detail.  It appears that there was no synagogue in Lystra and it’s assumed that there was only a small Jewish population but there was a Temple just outside the city that was used for the worship of the Greek God Zeus.  We know for certain that Paul would not be preaching there.  We can be sure of that!

So, it’s very likely that the crippled man was basically attending an open-air meeting at which Paul was preaching, and if we look once more at the text, we have these words: 

The same heard Paul speak: who steadfastly beholding him and perceiving that he had faith to be healed


They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I think here we do get a very clear picture of the dynamics, of an interaction between the two men.  We have Paul preaching, a crowd, a crowd of listeners and the crippled man in close proximity to Paul, in his line of vision and essentially, we have Paul looking straight at the man.  Now we know that Paul, days after his experience of meeting the risen Christ at Damascus, chastened and humbled was anointed by the Holy Spirit. 

As to how it works Peter wrote these words:

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that he may exalt you in due time

Consider that phrase ‘that he may exalt you in due time.’  There is so much that depends on the grace of God.  Let us remember Paul and Barnabas at Iconium how giving on testimony to the word of God’s grace ‘that they were granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands (14: 3)

We might wonder what such signs and wonders what such occurrences may look like, or perhaps even wonder what they may feel like.  I would say that these signs and wonders are moments in time, as though a portal has suddenly opened in which God the Holy Spirit enters and brings all things together. They are moments of realisation.  Everything in one movement, one seamless transition, everything comes together, a holy moment of awe and majesty and the thing is done.  Paul preaching with the abandonment of humility totally given up to God and then that connection with the crippled man in the crowd who is somehow transmitting his own faith and openness who is then observed by Paul and then Paul saying with a loud voice

‘Stand upright on thy feet.’  And he leapt and walked.

Such were the powers, the miracles granted to the apostles of the early Church.  We have, you may know, the story of Peter and John (Acts 3: 3-11) in which again, a man, lame from birth, was begging for money at the Temple gate – the gate known as Beautiful.  Peter looked directly at the man and said ‘Look on us, and the man looked at Peter and John expecting to get some money, but Peter said:

‘Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, I give to you – in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk’ Peter lifted him by the right arm and his feet and ankle bones received strength – he leapt up and walked into the Temple with them, And the people who saw that this man could walk were, ‘filled with wonder and amazement.’  We should not forget that it has often been argued that the book, this book from which we are taking our lesson, the Acts of the Apostles, could also be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit.  We should see this in the arrival of the Holy Spirit alighting upon the disciples at Jerusalem during Pentecost, perhaps more accurately we could say that the Acts of the Apostles describes a spirit filled ministry.  I said of the signs and wonders that they are moments in time when the Holy Spirit brings things together, brings them to completion.  We can think of that completion in the creation story, in the beginning ‘when darkness was upon the face of the deep and the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters’ Moving things on and bringing them to completion. The action of the Holy Spirit.

Now as we close, returning once again to Paul and Barnabas in Lystra to their preaching to the signs and wonders that have been granted particularly to Paul and to his ministry, we may get a sense of the unfolding of God’s plan when. Of how important in God’s plan Paul was. Before Paul became an apostle, God said of Paul ‘He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and Kings and the children of Israel.’ We cannot overestimate the power of God and the legacy of Paul’s ministry.

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