11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. Acts 14:11-18
The story of Paul and Barnabas’s visit to Lystra gives a vivid picture of the fickleness of human adulation and idolatry. After performing a miracle of healing on a lame man, the crowd attributed to them status of two Roman gods, Zeus and Hermes.
The only effect this had on the two men was one of horror and it took all the missionaries persuasion to prevent them making sacrifices to them.
This admiration did not last long because a group of Jewish rabble rousers stirred up the people against them with the result that Paul was stoned but thankfully survived.
While the bringers of the Christian message are not likely to be idolized by the masses some Christians fall into this trap. The phenomenon of tele- evangelists has this tendency. They become “Christian” “Oprah Winfreys” or “Dr Phils” etc.
In the wider world this is seen in the pop cults of the day. Rock stars, movie stars and Talk show hosts gather around them a host of “worshippers” for whom they can do no wrong.
The oft repeated maxim is that when people stop worshipping the true God they will gladly worship anything else.
While the result of this Idolatry may not turn ugly as it did at Lystra, it will end badly. God is not mocked. All those who set up and make anything a substitute for Him will reap frustration and despair, both here and in eternity.
The Christian must do as these two men of God did and redirect our worship to the One to whom it rightfully belongs.
The Gentleness of God
Maurice Roberts in his book “the Thought of God” draws attention to the stunning effects of God’s gentleness. He says that while we in the church are impressed by great events and large scale ministries and the mighty works of the Spirit, God more often works among us in ways of gentleness and stillness.
As we see in the story of Elijah, God was not in the wind and fire as much as in the still small voice. This is not to preclude the power of God in mighty ways but shows that his power is as much seen in the ways of tenderness and peace.
Surely we experience the way God works in our lives. He is tender and compassionate to us in our sufferings, and while they are allowed to run their course, we are upheld and supported by him in ways we only realize afterwards.
God’s dealings with the new believer typify this gentleness in that very often they are brought to Christ not so much by a lightning bolt but by a quiet word or the Saviour exemplified by another in normal life.
We in this bold, brash, excitement seeking church, need to look more at the gentle workings of God’s Spirit among us as typified in He who was gentleness divine.