English Standard Version (ESV)
Paul and Barnabas at Lystra
8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well,[a] 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to 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 garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
Paul Stoned at Lystra
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
How many of you know someone with more money than you have?
How many of you know someone with a bigger house? How about a better job? Know anyone who seems happier than you are?
How many of you know someone who goes to church at a place where the sermons don’t try to make you feel inadequate right off the bat?
The point of this is that if you want to be number one in a category, you’ve probably got some work to do, right? All of us know someone who might be doing better in one category or another, someone who might seem like they have it all together in some way, shape or form. Advertising is great at reminding us of our inadequacies, because someone out there has a product or system they want to sell you that will enable you to do better in a certain category. Want to make more money? Get a bigger house? Be more attractive? My email spam filter is filled with people promising just such results. We are inundated with reminders of our how inadequate we are.
Why start out talking about this? Because I believe that it’s important to think about our sense of self and how we allow ourselves to be defined. Hopefully, over the last 6.5 years you’ve heard me emphasizing that you are a child of God, precious in his sight, worthy of love. The message of the Christian church should be that each and every person on the planet is completely worthy of Christ’s, and therefore our, love, not because they have earned it but rather because we worship a God who lavishes love on his unique creations, each one made in the image of God. We carry an inherent dignity within us because of who made us and how we are made, not because of what we have done.
But the world wants to label and define us based on its standards, and this is very, very easy to buy into. Think about it—if you meet someone, what one of the first questions they’re going to ask you. Easy—they’ll ask what you do. It’s a way we define each other. We form impressions of one another by our interior judgments of certain jobs. Also, we judge one another based on how we look and what we drive and where we live. We do this to one another, and we do this to ourselves, and we often find ourselves not measuring up, and what happens is we end up in these vicious cycles trying to keep up with a certain level of living only to discover that, once we have achieved what we thought was a comfortable level of living, there is still more work to do. It’s impossible to ever get ahead, because the world is telling us that there is always someone ahead of us, and that we have to be number one. We’re never allowed to rest.
See, this all matters because if we believe what God says about us, rather than what the world says about us, I believe it can fundamentally alter the way we think, live and treat one another.
Today’s Scripture lesson is a great example of what can happen if you place your sense of self in the hands of others.
Paul and Barnabas are in Lystra, and they are there to proclaim the Word of God. Paul has been talking about Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world who loved us enough to die for us, and all the while a crippled man has been listening intently. Paul notices him, and he reaches out by the power of God to heal him. The man leaps up and begins to walk, and the crowd is amazed.
In fact, the crowd is so amazed that they believe that Paul and Barnabas are gods who have taken on human form. They’re ready to worship Paul and Barnabas. The fatted calf is about to be killed and the entire city is going to celebrate Paul and Barnabas! They are enraptured by the presence of these two men.
Now, let’s pause for a moment.
This probably feels pretty awesome, right? An entire city suddenly thinks that you are a god. You’re going to get a ticker-tape parade, right? Everyone is going to adore you. People will throw parties for you. They will give you food and money and fancy clothes and nice things just because they think you’re the best. You are awesome, and everyone wants to be near you. You could get used to this, right?
In America today, we have such a celebrity culture that it doesn’t take much of an imagination to think about what this might be like. The paparazzi spend their lives chasing celebrities to take pictures of them, and we buy their products. We want to dress like the celebrities, do what famous people do, and it comes dangerously close to idol worship. Entire magazines are dedicated to celebrities. And most of them love the attention. They love having the eyes of the nation upon them. If I were in their shoes, I might, too. It’s an easy thing to get caught up in, right?
When we let the world, define us, things like this can make us feel on top of the world.
But here, in a few short verses, we recognize how fickle the world’s attention can be. We see the danger in allowing ourselves to be defined by the opinion of the world, by the adoration of the masses. If we pursue worldly fame and adoration, we may get it. But we may lose it, too.
Here, Paul and Barnabas are about to have a sacrifice made to them, but in verse 19, suddenly the passion of the crowds is stirred against them, and suddenly these folks who were worshipping Paul and Barnabas are ready to kill them. Just like that, the crowds are persuaded and Paul is dragged out of the city and stoned, and the crowd only leaves him when they believe he is dead. Like flipping a switch, the world turned on Paul and sought his life.
Friends, if we allow the opinions of others to define us, we will find ourselves crushed, because the world is a fickle place. If our sense of self depends on the affirmation of others, we’re in big trouble, because you can’t please everyone, and if you spend your life trying you, too, will feel like you’ve been run over.
So where does your heart receive satisfaction? Do you hear the still, small voice of God reminding you that you are precious in his sight? Do you let God satisfy you? Is your identity rooted in the fact that you have been made in the image of God and called to a life of discipleship? Or are you so busy trying to catch up with the people ahead of you that you’ve missed the voice of the Holy Spirit calling you into authentic discipleship, in which the ears of your heart listen to God’s voice, and it is God that defines your life and its purpose.
If you let God, the one who made you and calls you by name, satisfy the desires of your heart, which he created, I promise that you will not live your life chasing other people. You will spend your life pursuing the vision of God, serving him by loving others, and your life will be a witness to his glory.
But it’s hard work to ignore the siren call of the world, who wants to offer you its adoration. It’s much harder work to let God satisfy us. But it is the work that will last forever.
Let us pray