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Acts 14:12-28 by Robert Dean
Paul and Barnabas Bear Witness to God’s Grace

Fleeing Iconium one step ahead of a murderous plot against them, Paul and Barnabas arrive in Lystra. There they heal a crippled man. The pagan crowds see this and go wild, wanting to worship them as gods with parades and sacrifices. Paul seizes the opportunity to tell them the gospel. Since the people have no Jewish background, Paul must start at ground zero with their innate understanding of God through creation. This lesson answers many questions relevant to our lives today. What does Paul mean when he says this man was crippled from his mother's womb? Is he implying that life begins at conception? Why isn't everyone healed? How should the gospel be presented to those who have no background in reference to the true God? How can creation be used as a tool when we are talking about God to multi-cultural, multi-religious people like the ones we encounter in our daily lives?

Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:59 mins 30 secs

Expansion: Opposition and Acceptance
Acts 14:12-28
Acts Lesson #103
March 26, 2013

Denis Prager made the observation on radio that of all the things that he talks about and opinions that he expresses on his show the one thing that consistently generates the greatest amount of hate mail and angry responses and hostility is when he talks about the fact that this nation was founded on biblical principles and that the founders had their thinking shaped by the Bible. Because, as he pointed out, that the school systems in this country, both private and public all the way up to higher education continuously teach the founding fathers as if they were just a bunch of 20th century secularists and not products of a strong 18th century theistic worldview, most of which was biblically based. That doesn't mean that they were biblical exegetes or great theologians, or that they were always the most orthodox theologians, but they thought with a biblical, theistic worldview. They looked at the world as that which was created by a personal, infinite creator, that there were absolutes of right and wrong that dictated all areas of behavior, and they believed that the basic problem of the human race was that is was corrupted by sin.

How they understood that varied from person to person but they all shared that general worldview, just as almost everybody in our country today shares a relativistic worldview. Even most Christians have a relativistic worldview because of the culture they grew up in. It has influenced them through the media, television, radio, movies, peers, professors, etc. So we have come to a point in our country where what we see today is two cases that have come before the Supreme Court to legitimize homosexual marriage at a national level. We see today something very similar to what we see with the apostle Paul. That is when somebody stands up and takes a stand for the truth they are attacked even by some conservatives who want to change the definition of marriage. But marriage is defined by a creator God who embedded those concepts within a culture.

On the other hand there are a bunch of legalistic Christians who have made a shibboleth out of homosexual marriage and they act as if homosexuality is a sin above all sins. It is a sin just like every other sin, like lying is a sin, adultery is a sin, fornication is a sin, etc. But most evangelicals want to make it some special category of sin. In terms of its consequences there are serious consequences, but not nearly as serious as many other sins. It does affect the fabric of the family. Marriage and the family is at the core of the stability of any society so it has tremendous ramifications there. It is going to have a lot of ramifications for finances.

When we as believers take a stand for the truth and we recognize that more and more people that are in this room and people out there who are live-streaming have a level of knowledge of history, of the Bible, of theology that puts us probably … and this is not being said out of pride or arrogance, it is really a condemnation of the rest of the culture. This is not elevating us because we don't think that when we stack up to many Christians in previous generations we are that much more knowledgeable, but when we are stacked up against our generation we are probably less than 1/1000th of a percentile range in terms of our knowledge and understanding of these things. It's not because we know it so well. It is because the education system both in the church and in the culture has deteriorated so drastically over the last thirty or forty years that people who think they know a lot are dumber than wood stumps. They just don't know; they just don't take the time to know. They haven't been educated, the education they have is has misinformed them terribly. And so we are operating on a lot of erroneous ideas, especially when it comes to history and the Bible—especially when they think they know the Bible because they watch these shows on the History Channel.

So whenever we speak the truth we are going to face opposition, because the real issue isn't knowledge, it isn't education, it isn't culture, it isn't economics; it is a spiritual issue, and it is the same for every single individual, and all of these other collateral factors are irrelevant as far as God is concerned. Because the teaching of the Scripture is that because of Adam's sin we are all corrupt in every area of our being and if we reject God then it just sets up an entire scenario of self-destruction in terms of our life and our mentality.

The hope is that if we are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ and we are studying the Word we can have a tremendous, full, rich life that is available to us as part of God's grace package for us. That is where the trajectory of this passage really ends.

So we see what happens as Paul goes to this town called Lystra. A miracle takes place, and this miracle sets up a validation and a hearing for the message of the apostle Paul, the message of the gospel. As a result of his message there is going to be a response that sets in from the people that is completely erroneous but it is illustrative of the reaction we get from a lot of unbelievers. What they want to do is reinterpret whatever is said, whatever the Bibles says, in terms of their framework and their previous understanding. Then once their errors are pointed out to them there are some that respond and some that enter into a hostile reaction. That basically tells the story of what happens in Lystra. 

Lystra was a town largely inhabited by the remnants of a small Anatolean tribe. The town was founded by Caesar Augustus in 26 BC and he gave it a colony status in 6 BC. During that time a number of retired Roman army veterans moved to this area. They assimilated into the town and so there wasn't a lot of Roman influence on the culture in this area, although the language of Latin did have an impact and there are a number of inscriptions that have also survived that were written in Latin. It was a somewhat rural, rustic market town in a backward area in central Turkey. We really don't know why Augustus established this colony, why it was important. They did have a couple of deities in the Greek pantheon: Zeus who was the counterpart to Jupiter in the Roman pantheon, El in the Canaanite pantheon. The messenger of the gods was Hermes, Mercury in the Roman pantheon, and they were the patron deities in this area. That played a role in what happened in Lystra.

There have been some discoveries of some statues from this era. One has an inscription of a dedication to Zeus, another to a dedication to Hermes. There was a statue of Zeus that was outside the gates and this throws a little light on Acts 14:13 which talks about the priests of Zeus. The temple was in front of their city. This shows us that what Luke records here about the people in Lystra and the culture of Lystra fits with everything that has been discovered archeologically. Once again we see that nothing in the Bible gets contradicted by empirical evidence that survives. Nothing has ever been discovered in archeology that contradicts the Bible. Archeology can't prove the Bible to be true but archeology can provide evidence of what the people were like, what these towns, villages and empires were like, and what we learn from that is that everything that we find the Bible saying about a time period, a location or a culture fits perfectly with what we discover in terms of the remnants of cultures and those societies. 

We see that in Lystra there was this certain man "who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother's womb, who had never walked." Everybody in this small town knows who he is, and that he has a significant constitutional defect since birth. Cf. John chapters 5 & 9; Acts 3. There is a parallel here between the miracle that performs and the miracle Peter performs which shows an identification of the two in terms of their role and function in God's plan. Again, it is an aspect of God's validation of the ministry of Paul and Peter. This man has always had this problem and so he is listens to Paul and responds to his message.

Note the phrase "lame from his mother's womb." This is the Greek phrase ek koilias and it literally means "from the womb." There are some folks in terms of the abortion debate who want to identify this as "inside the womb." But that is not what this means. Inside the womb we have no idea whether he is a cripple or not because he is still developing. "From the womb" means from the time of birth. It is not talking about a time period before birth. This is a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase grammatically is composed of two elements. There is a preposition and there is a noun. Sometimes there is an article with the noun and sometimes not. But whatever the language a prepositional phrase is the same; it is a preposition plus a noun object of the preposition. So in this prepositional phrase, whether we are talking about the Greek side of it or the Hebrew side of it, it means "from birth." In Hebrew there is both a verb and a noun for the word "conception." The debate today is, does life begin at conception or does life begin at birth? What are the parameters of life? What does the Bible say about the parameters of life and death? When does life begin? Does it begin at conception or does it begin at birth?

What we discover in the Old Testament is that there is a verb and a noun for conception. The reason that is important is that if you were a Jew in the Old Testament period and you wanted to say that life begins from conception you had the vocabulary to say that literally. You could say "from" and you would use the noun form for conception. However that is never used in the Old Testament. Instead what you have is the phrase me beten, from the preposition men—the preposition for "from," for derivation, source—and the word for the womb, beten. The reason they have to do this is because in Hebrew there was a verb for birth, yalad. But a prepositional phrase requires a noun to be the object of the preposition, not a verb. So you have to have a noun form of the verb in order to have a literal prepositional phrase, "from birth." But in Hebrew there is no noun for birth; it doesn't exist. So what you have to do is have a word substitution. You use an idiomatic phrase or what is called a circumlocution—circum = go around; locution = a statement word (from the Greek word logos). So if you can't say something one way you have to go around and invent another way of saying something. It is sort of like the euphemism when somebody died and you say they passed away. Since in Hebrew they didn't have a noun for the concept of birth they used another expression, and they used the phrase beten. Again and again and again, whether talking about Job or Jeremiah (when God called Jeremiah from the mother's womb) it is from birth. If they wanted to say from conception they had a perfectly good noun for conception to use. They never used it.

The question is: If full life begins at conception then why do we have zero examples in the Scripture of this. Usually what the translators do is translate it as in the NKJV "from the womb," just a literal translation of an idiom. In one example in Luke chapter one in the NIV someone has correctly translated the phrase about John the Baptist, that he would be called "from birth." The phrase in the Greek is "from the womb" but they understood that was "from birth."

All of this is basic knowledge and is supported in the lexicons. But for some reason because of the political antagonism that has been generated by the Roe v. Wade decision it is like nobody really wants to pay attention to the data. They just want to go off and deal with other issues. But just because human life doesn't begin until birth it doesn't validate abortion. This is another fallacy that occurs in this debate, that if full life doesn't begin until birth then it is okay to perform an abortion.

There is an article in a Jewish encyclopedia which detailed the Orthodox Jewish view. We believe this is the correct biblical view—the correct term for it is the nascent life view. This is view that when the egg is fertilized in the womb unless something unusual happens the end result of that fertilization is going to be a fully ensouled human being at the time of birth. Therefore, since God has brought this together and it will eventually culminate in full human life there must be extremely serious justification for interfering with that process. So while it is not viewed as murder because it is not full human life yet, neither is it viewed to be a wise or justifiable decision to interfere with the normal process of gestation because this is going to be a human being eventually. We don't have the right to interfere unless it is going to cause major health problem or threaten the life of the mother. This was historically the Jewish view and was a prominent view in the early church. In fact, it wasn't until some time later that there were some different views on how the soul is transmitted and there was in the third century a theologian by the name of Tertullian—the man who coined the term trinitos to describe the doctrine related to the three persons, one essence, of the Godhead—who believed the soul was corporeal, transmitted physically through copulation (Declared heresy in the Roman Catholic church by Thomas Aquinas). So this whole idea that life begins at conception is based on this Traducian view of the transmission of the soul was viewed in the Roman Catholic church as heresy.

But that did not justify abortion. Somehow in all of the debates and antagonism that we have gotten the idea that if the soul is not there then it is okay to abort, and that is not true. It has never been accepted by Jews in the Old Testament or Christians in the New Testament unless it was for the purpose of saving the life of the mother.  

Acts 14:9 NASB "This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well." Paul is watching him and has an understanding, probably because Paul as an apostle has the gift of prophesy and understands that this man has faith to be healed. The Greek word for healing is the word sozo, the word that is usually translated in theological contexts as salvation. But the broad use of the word sozo was to be made whole, to be healed, to be delivered from life-threatening consequences. It is used in numerous healing passages in the Gospels where Jesus heals. He either use the word iaomai, which is the more precise word for healing or sozo. So it is not talking about the fact that he had faith to be saved, but contextually he had faith to be healed of his crippling position. 

Acts 14:10 NASB "said with a loud voice, 'Stand upright on your feet.' And he leaped up and {began} to walk." Notice he immediately leaped up just like the man in Acts chapter three when Peter healed him on the steps of the temple. The miracle not only involves a restoration of his ability to walk. All of those atrophied tendons and muscles and nerve endings and everything that goes into the operation of his feet suddenly works. God brings all of this together and he doesn't have to learn how to walk, to take steps, to balanced himself. In contrast to a lot of the so-called healings that are advertised today this is one that is a constitutional defect that is documented by the fact that everybody around him has known him all his life and known that this is a problem that he has. It doesn't take place in some large arena where nobody knows the person who has come forward.

There are a lot of these so-called healing services where people will come and they have bad backs, bad knees, bad hips, an all this other stuff, and the healing part is put off until the end of the service. But they are all told to come up to the front to be put up on the stage for the healing that will occur later on. They get tired, so the little gimmick the faith-healers use is they have wheel chairs there so that people can sit in the wheel chair. Then it looks to the audience as if this person can't walk because they're in a wheel chair. They are rolled out on the stage (they could walk before and they can walk afterwards) and they are told to get up and walk. Everybody cheers because they have just been "healed." Well that wasn't the problem to begin with.

A little caveat here: God still performs miracles. He does it directly in lives of people here and there. So we are totally justified in praying for healing. God intervenes many times, but many times He does not. And of we direct our attention to a verse at the end of the chapter, verse 22 NASB "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith [they are already believers], and {saying,} 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'" They are already saved, so entering the kingdom is not a synonym for getting saved. It has to do with entering the fullness of life that God has for us.

How do we experience the fullness of life? We grow through testing, through adversity, through going through hard times. And God knows just exactly what is needed for us. We have limitations in life; we have diseases, we have financial catastrophes, all kinds of things. How we handle that on the basis of doctrine is what prepares us in terms of spiritual maturity for the future destiny that we have in the kingdom of God. And that is why God doesn't remove these things. That is why when we say, "Lord, I have this terrible situation, please remove it," and God says just like He did to Paul, "No, you need to learn humility, to trust me, and the only way you are going to do that is if you go through this circumstance; I am not going to take it away from you." Without that adversity we don't get those opportunities to grow spiritually.

The man heard Paul speaking and Paul "said with a loud voice, 'Stand upright on your feet.'" A comment written about this says that there are two things important about this. First of all, Paul is observing him intently with a stare, and secondly, with a loud voice. These were often two elements that were found in Greco-Roman myths about the coming of the gods, when the gods would become human beings and interfere with human history. And these details suggest, the comment says, in part why the crowd reacted as it did in identifying Paul and Barnabas as incarnations of Zeus and Hermes. 

There is a response that sets in here. This is a great illustration of the principle in Romans 1:18-23. Especially when teaching children or grandchildren Scripture we have these abstract principles that we find throughout the epistles of the New Testament. But the abstract principles are often illustrated through real time stories and events that took place in the Old Testament, as well as in the New Testament. And this is a great illustration in terms of a story of how people react to the truth of God's Word.

Romans 1:18 NASB "For the wrath of God [discipline in time, within history] is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." So what is introduced here is that when people reject the revelation of God through nature, through His creation, they choose ungodliness. They either choose to know something more about whoever the creator is or they go in the direction of worshipping the creation. That is the thrust of this whole passage.

Whenever Paul encounters unbelievers he always brings the gospel to this issue of whether or not you are worshipping the creator or the creature. With the Jews that he addressed in Antioch he understands that they are worshipping the creator but they have a completely flawed view of the creator and have confused things. But he approaches them from the common background of accepting the truth of the Old Testament. With the Gentiles, as we will see, he starts with creation. Paul often expressed the gospel by starting with creation, because creation matters. Creation is not a secondary doctrine that is irrelevant to the gospel. If you don't have the correct view of the creator God of Genesis 1-3 you don't have a correct view of sin, you can't completely understand the gospel. Paul always starts there. If creation doesn't matter, why does Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit cover creation when he is dealing with Gentiles? 

This is a problem for us today in communicating the gospel because a lot of people are so brainwashed by Darwinian evolution that they don't have an accurate view of God at all. What Romans 1:18 tells us is that everybody knows about God, and Romans 1:19 says, "because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them." There is an unregenerate soul in the unbeliever, a depraved, corrupt soul governed by sin, and inside of that there is internal knowledge of the creator God. That is true for everybody no matter how agnostic or atheistic they are.

The Scripture says there is a knowledge of God manifest in them and that God has shown it to them. But as the last phrase in Romans 1:18 says, they are suppressing that truth in unrighteousness. This is operation truth suppression. What they have is a worldview, a mentality that is all informed by their pagan ideas, and as long as they are giving that priority as soon as they hear the truth they immediately reshape it and redefine it, transform it, gobble it up and rearticulate it in terms of their worldview. This is an instantaneous action of their soul. They hate the truth, they suppress it, twist it, distort it, and that is how it comes out.

We see a perfect example of it here in Acts 14. As soon as they saw this man get up and walk they began to chatter to themselves in their ancient language, which Paul and Barnabas did not understand. All they heard was a lot of excited chatter and talking. Instead of saying Paul and Barnabas were coming here to tell us about the truth, they immediately say this is Zeus and this is Hermes. The instantly reshape what is going on and reinterpret everything within their false presuppositions. Pagan, non-biblical thinking is just eating up the truth instantly and reshaping it. That is how truth suppression operates. 

Paul says, Romans 1:20 NASB "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." It is clear to them, they have just been suppressing it forever. They are without excuse, i.e. there is enough information given in creation for them to know that God is there so that they can be held accountable for that. The word for "clearly seen" is kathorao meaning to see or perceive something thoroughly. They have a complete and thorough understanding; there is no excuse for them whatsoever. It is understood (noeo), they know God exists somewhere in their soul.

Romans 1:21 NASB "For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." They come to know God (ginosko) but they don't glorify Him as God. Their souls become empty and futile and worthless through the use of this word mataiotes, meaning just to be rendered empty or null and void. Their opinions, their reasoning, everything becomes distorted because of negative volition, their hostility to God, which means their hearts are darkened. They are called foolish hearts, which indicates senselessness. It doesn't matter how many degrees they have or how educated. Because they rejected God they become foolish. Romans 1:22 NASB "Professing to be wise, they became fools."

This is what happens here in Lystra. We see how they redefine everything. Acts 14:12 NASB "And they {began} calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker."

Acts 14:13 NASB "The priest of Zeus, whose {temple} was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. [14] But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out." They are just horrified.

This is where we get to their presentation of the gospel. Acts 14:15 NASB "and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? …" We often say this but what we mean is stop. The implication here is: Stop doing these things. "… We are also men of the same nature as you …" The Greek word is homiopathes, which indicates the same emotions, the same makeup, the same human beings—We are not gods. "… and preach the gospel [euangelizo, the good news] to you that you should turn from these vain things …" This is the Greek word epistrepho, a synonym for metanoeo, and it means to turn.  It is simply saying to quit believing the things you have been believing and turn toward God; quite believing the empty things and turn to the living God.  "… to a living God …"  He is a living God. He talks about Jesus who was raised from the dead. He is alive from the dead; this is a living God as opposed to these idols of stone and wood and metal that have no life whatsoever.

"… WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM." When we say that today we hear, what about evolution? People get into a debate right away. Paul's model for evangelism must be flawed. No. If you can't get God right you can't get the gospel right. We have to make sure that the person isn't just thinking about their view of God and their view of sin. We have to clarify and define all the terms so that they are understood. Most people in our culture today don't have a clue who God is. They have a lot of misconceptions because they have heard a lot of Christians who are legalistic, extremist in different ways, and they don't know much about the Scriptures. It is amazing the vast number of pastors who are teaching the Word today that have had no training, and the large number who do have training and then are swayed away from the truth through academic arrogance. So there are very few who are really teaching the truth. But there are "seven thousand" at least who haven't bowed the knee. They are out there but they are just rejected or ignored.