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(Acts 15:13–35) The First Reformation, Part 2

(Acts 15:13–35) The First Reformation, Part 2

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 15:13–35

The dividing line between truth and error is the cry of the reformation: "Sola Scriptura!" The Bible alone tells us what is sufficient for faith and practice.

CLICK HERE to access all of the messages in this series.


We resume our study in the Book of Acts with chapter 14. 

We are in the midst of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey into Asia Minor – if I were to ask the average Bible student how they thought Paul and Barnabas would later feel about their missionary experience – the words, successful and effective would be the typical response.

Just listen as I read to you from Paul’s own diary – some comments he made public that are not only intensely personal, but rather surprising – and, I might add, incredibly encouraging.  Rarely do you see such transparency from those we look up to – yet listen:

2 Corinthians 1:8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life

One paraphrase writes expands it this way, “We want you to know about the hard time we went through in Asia.  We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it.

Can you imagine – here’s a missionary report – “Hey Paul, how’d it going as you serve God?  Hallelujah’s right?!  Paul said, “Oh it was really hard – I’ve never been so overwhelmed physically and crushed emotionally – the words translated overwhelmed or burdened excessively come from a word that referred to the emotional burden of being treated unjustly, unfairly. 

Paul goes on to write, “We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves.”   The word powerless” means, “we were utterly without a way of escape”.

When facing tough times:

  1. don’t deny that serving God can bring heartache and discouragement.  (Some people deny any pain – you live for God and hey, everything’s great.
  2. don’t ignore the discouragement and pressure that comes naturally.
  3. don’t forget that ultimately God allows tough times that naturally create pressure and pain to also spiritually create dependency upon His strength and His grace

Some people never get past the stress – all they ever do is talk about their problems – they never get to the point where they say, “But this is how God is using this difficulty in my life to change me and  to challenge me.”

There is a balance between the natural difficulty and spiritual development – both are at work, both need to be acknowledged.

Would you like an example of balance? 

Paul, after admitting to these deep issues of despair and a sense of being overwhelmed and being treated unfairly,  said in v. 9 “. . .indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;

One paraphrase puts it this way “But that was good because it caused us not to trust in ourselves but to put everything into the hands of God.”

What a wonderful balance – he doesn’t jump right into, “Hey our missionary trips really caused us to trust in God’s power” without first saying – “You won’t believe how tough it was, how betrayed we felt at times and frightened we were for our very lives.”

When was this period in Paul’s life when he despaired of life threw himself upon the grace of God.  When would he have entered into his diary these deeply felt comments.

Acts chapter 14 puts us right into the middle of the scene.


14:1 And it came about that in Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a great multitude believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren.

Literally, they poisoned the minds of the Gentiles – they stirred into the soup bowl of imagination all kinds of lies.

Looks like a short stay in Iconium!

It’s time to leave Paul – Barnabas – this doesn’t look like a good place to start a church.

But that’s not what happened . . . Paul and Barnabas evidently talked it over – “Well, Barnabas, you thinking what I’m thinking?  Yes I am – this is a great place for ministry to happen! 

3.  Therefore (remember, whenever you see a therefore, you need to ask what it’s there for?  It’s there for us to realize that in spite of mounting opposition; in spite of embittered people who resent their presence and ministry – they didn’t leave – in spite of v. 2, they therefore in v. 3 spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord,  (underline that phrase – with reliance upon the Lord – it wasn’t that Paul and Barnabas naturally enjoyed confrontation, strife, resentment from people – they didn’t – remember Pauls words in 2 Corinthians – we felt overwhelmed – but that was good because it caused us to rely entirely upon Him – and that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the best place in all the world to be – your not relying on people, or circumstances – but entirely upon the Lord – you are, “abandoned on the island of God’s Sovereignty”) . . .He was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. 4 But the multitude of the city was divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. 5 And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.

Now the mood of the people has turned murderous – it’s no longer a battle of theology, ideology – they’re gathering stones with Paul and Barnabas’ name on them – Jesus Christ in Matthew 10 told His disciples – “Whenever they threaten your life or persecute you in a city, flee to the next.”

It’s one thing to witness to a man on his porch who doesn’t like you – it’s another thing to stand there while he loads his shotgun.

This wasn’t the only time Paul narrowly escaped with his life.

Now, verse 8 introduces us to an entirely opposite problem – it’s one thing to keep your chin up when your hated – its another thing to keep your pride down when your popular.

Follow along with me there (v.8) And at Lystra there was sitting a certain man, without strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze upon him, and had seen that he had faith to be made well.

In other words, as Paul preached he couldn’t help but notice the attention this man was paying to the gospel message – Paul could tell by the expression on this man’s face that God was granting him the faith to believe – and in the case of this particular man, the gift of his faith in Christ would be coupled with the gift of healing.

10.  (Paul)  said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.”

Paul, the Divine Healer, possessing that ability to heal, thus proving his apostleship – that he was indeed the ambassador of God’s new message of salvation – intends to reveal the power of God.  You notice he didn’t pray first – he never even mentions the name of Jesus or call upon the Holy Spirit – or ask for a seed gift – he didn’t say to Barnabas, “I sure hope this works”.  No!  Simply, “Stand upright on your feet.”

 And he leaped up and began to walk.  11 And when the multitudes saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.

Now you need to know that Lystra more than perhaps any other city nearby was totally caught up in the worship of Zeus and Hermes.  In fact, in the 1920’s two inscriptions were found near Lystra, both of which were dedicated to Zeus and Hermes.

Verse 13 informs us that there was a temple to Zeus located just outside the city – in fact, you could literally translate that phrase – “The Zeus before the city”.  You didn’t get into this city without being awed by it’s magnificent temple to Zeus – the father of all gods and Hermes, his spokesman.

This city has just witnessed an incredible miracle – go back to verse 8 and notice the hopelessness of this lame man – three different ways we’re told he can’t walk – a certain man without strength in his feet . . . lame from his mother’s womb . . . who had never walked.”

Only a god could perform this miracle – they were right in that respect – they just had the wrong the god.  And they begin cheering, v. 11 tells us in Lyconian, “The gods are here, the gods are here”.  At this point in time, Paul and Barnabas, who evidently don’t know the Lyconian dialect don’t know whats happening, but it’s sure a lot nicer than the last city they left which had wanted to stone them to death.

It’s not until verse 13 that they get the picture – notice  v. 13.   And 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.

In other words, before Paul and Barnabas barely knew what was happening, temple assistants are putting garlands of flowers about their necks as the high priest of Zeus arrives to begin the worship ceremony – v.14  But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it – that is, when they had someone explain in their own language what was about to happen – they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd.

Now, granted, nobody in here will probably ever be mistaken for Zeus or Hermes, but I want you to follow their response and how Paul and Barnabas provide a model for us – they show several things to do when face the flattery of others – what we could call undue praise and recognition.

1)  First of all - be willing to refuse it! 

14 But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out  15.   and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you,

You can’t refuse flattery and undue praise unless you’re willing to be transparent – “We are also men of the same nature as you.”  We’re made out of the same fragile stuff everybody else is made out of.

We need more prominent people in the church – more singers and authors; more radio personalities and conference speakers, pastors and  teachers, ministry presidents and statesmen who are willing to say to those who follow their writings or ministries or leadership, “Hey, I’m made out of the same stuff you are.”

Eugene Petersen sadly notes however, that in the church today, we have celebrities but not saints.”

Now, we not only have a problem from the leadership side but the laity side as well – those who follow aren’t helping much either.

Lloyd John Ogilvie wrote these interesting words, which I’ve edited:

            READ OLGIVIE

Now let me get personal -

As a parent, you may have raised a child who is now is serving the Lord.  And people are going to want to build a shrine at your feet.  And they’re going to want all the advice you have to give them.  And what are you’re going to say, “Yeah, I guess we did a fantastic job . . . let me give you the 30 things we did right.” 

People may perceive in you the kind of marriage that they may like to have.  And they may come and want to put you on the pedestal.  How do you respond?  

I think we have way to much popularity in the Christian community.  And it’s because we do not portray ourselves realistically.  We do not refuse the focus of attention.  And when the approval comes, we do not want to turn it away for the sake of the truth because we  love the attention.

Be willing to refuse it! 

But don’t stop there – take the next step – 2) 

Be willing to refocus it

Paul and Barnabas were willing to refocus attention toward God

15.  “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you,  and preach the gospel to you in order 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.

Don’t look at us – don’t burn a candle or pray to us – those are vain or empty things – look at our creator God “who made the heaven and the earth and  the sea”

3)  Be willing to risk losing it all

They were willing to risk losing every bit of their popularity which was giving them a hearing, by the way, for the sake of truth.

16 “And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways;

In other words, you and all the nations of the world have been permitted by God to go your own way – a way that involves the worship of false gods – by His longsuffering, you’ve been permitted to seek after your own way:

 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

You ought to circle that key word in verse 17 “witness”.

If you’ve ever been asked, “What about those who’ve never heard the gospel?  How can God hold them responsible?  He shouldn’t judge them?

Before Paul and Barnabas ever arrived at Lystra, they are telling them in this verse that the citizens of Lystra had received a witness from God - and it had to do with creation.

In fact, turn ahead to the Book of Romans where Paul speaks at length about the witness of God to every person.


Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against  all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

So the wrath of God is revealed against the ungodly and the unrighteous.  You notice, who supress the truth – katexo – they hold it down; they keep it under wraps – the truth never makes it on the front page of the newspaper.  The truth never gets prime time.  Why?  Because unrighteous and ungodly people are trying to keep a lid on it.

However, even though they try to keep a lid on it, the truth is still announced.  How?  19 because that which is known about God is evident within them;

Underline those two words – “within them”.  That first witness is within them – and it has a name – conscience.

Look over at chapter 2 v. 14.  For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves.  15.  In that they how the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men. . .”

How is it that people who’ve never read the 10 commandments feel guilty when they break one of them.

God says, “That’s one of my witnesses that there is a higher authority- namely me.”

But that’s not all – 19b. for God made it evident to them. (not only  within them, but to them – how?)   20 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.

Everyone has been given the witnesses of conscience and creation – everyone is without excuse.

 21 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. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

They’ve refused to acknowledge a Creator and have instead sought spiritual connection with creation – the river and the sun and the moon and the dolphin and the crystal, the tree.

The witness of creation shouts the existence of a Creator!

Do we listen?  Because of ungodliness and unrighteousness, mankind tries to find another cause other than the Creator.

So today our schools and universities teach a generation, God didn’t create the earth and the universe – it evolved over trillions of years – God didn’t create man and woman after his own likeness – you’re just the latest animal that has evolved over billions of years.

Paul would say, you profess to be wise yet you’ve become fools.

Guilty of refusing to see in Creation the hand of a Creator.

Refusing to listen to their conscience and so pursue their adulteries and murders and lusts.

An ungodly, unrighteous world can’t find God for the same reason a thief can’t find a policeman. . .doesn’t want to . . . avoids it altogether.

Paul declares:

            -suppressing the truth doesn’t destroy the truth

            -rejecting the truth doesn’t dismiss the consequences

Will the heathen who’ve never heard of Christ go to hell?  Yes – Paul says, they are without excuse for they have rejected the two witnesses.

Refused to hear and heed the witness of creation to a wonderful Creator – and so they worshipped the evil spirits instead – refused to heed their conscience and thus pay the price for their sins in their own bodies.

The question my friend, is what are you rejecting?  The two witnesses plus the Word plus the gospel messages you’ve heard plus the testimony of a spouse or friend.

That’s what Paul is hinting at here in Acts 14.  That’s not a popular message – then or now.

Go back to Acts 14.

Be willing to:

            Refuse it!

            Refocus it!

            Risk losing it!

4)  Finally,  be willing to restrain it!

It’s one thing to resist accepting undue praise and adulation – it’s another thing to go out of your way to stop it.

Notice v. 18 And even saying these things, they with difficulty restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

Why?  Don’t these people get it?

Well, a legend from the history of this region will help you understand somewhat.  Ovid, the Roman poet, tells a legend that had become fact to these people.  A legend that the Greek gods, Zeus and Hermes, came to this very area many years earlier.  The only thing was, Zeus and Hermes, came to the area disguised as men to see how they would be treated.  So they tried to find hospitality in the thousand hamlets or homes there in the area.  And everyone refused them except an older couple who lived in a simple cottage on a hillside.  They welcomed these men in.  They fed them.  They gave them everything they needed.  And after the meal was done and, as the legend goes, the wine bowl was empty, this old couple saw the wine bowl fill up miraculously.  They then recognized that these two men were not just men – they were really gods.  After the gods identified themselves as Zeus and Hermes they took the old couple to the top of that  hill where they watched the gods set every home on fire, destroying them all.  And then they watched as the gods turned around and turned their humble little cottage into a marble palace with a golden roof. 

That was a living legend in this day.  It had become fact.  And when Paul and Barnabas come to town, the people saw them miraculously raise to his feet a man has never walked before.   “Zeus and Hermes are back!  Let’s dare not repeat the mistake of our forefathers.  The gods are here.

Now, we don’t know how much time elapsed between verses 18 and  19.  But long enough for Paul and Barnabas to win people to faith in Christ, the only true and living, Creator God.

But then . . . 19 Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.

Can you imagine?  People that once wanted to worship them, now attempt to kill them.

Fickle crowds who perhaps soured on the Apostles when they eventually realized nobodies home was going to be turned into a palace with a golden roof.

20 But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city

Now some believe Paul rose from the dead – the word arose, anistemi, is used many times in the N.T. for resurrection from the dead.  However in this very passage it’s used by Paul when he tells the man to rise to his feet and Divine power brought him up from a hopeless situation.

I believe that’s what happened here – a miracle, not of resurrection, but a miracle of immediate restoration – re-vitalization.  He arose and went into the city . . . 20b. And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.

Multiple wounds healed; fractured bones re-set and healed; concussion healed.  The text goes on to tell us that in a matter of hours, Paul will be preaching again.

Before we close, I want to go back to Paul’s memoirs – personal notes from his missionary journal recorded about these events we’ve just studied – just listen as I read from 2 Corinthians 4:



4:1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, 2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God . . . 5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. . .

16 Therefore we do not lose heart…

Take it from the memoirs of this missionary – God is faithful – and you, His servant can handle the extremes of life with balance – the highs of praise and the lows of rejection – the key is, as Paul wrote, “We relied entirely upon the Lord.”


We have a seemingly limitless capacity to  give the honor that belongs to Christ to the people who seek to introduce us to him.  Pastors, parents, leaders, friends, and  teachers who have brought us the good news are often made the source of our security.  We elevate them to super sainthood and  miss for ourselves the dynamic that has made them admirable.  We make matinee idols out of Christian leaders - we put the communicator on a pedestal and evade the communication.  The reason there are so many proud Christian celebrities today is that we have given the messenger more honor than the message.

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