Mistaken Identity in Lystra

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Paul and Barnabas did not go to Lystra simply to escape persecution; they also went to preach the Gospel. Apparently, there was no Jewish synagogue in Lystra, so God used a different way to bring the Gospel to these people. This passage is especially interesting because it gives us Paul’s approach to those who were completely heathen. He could not even appeal to their Jewish background. With such people he started from nature to get to the God who was behind it all. He started from the “here and now” to get to the “there and then”. We need to remember in our witness that we may need to start with something that is known, in order to take people to spiritual truth which is not known.

A lame man, who had been lame from birth caught Paul’s attention. Paul commanded the man to stand up and walk, and he did what Paul commanded him to do (vv. 8-10). This brought a response from the people that was not expected (vv. 11-12). They were a superstitious crowd who interpreted events in the light of their own mythology. In this case they identified Barnabas as Zeus, the chief of the gods, and they identified Paul as Hermes, the messenger of the gods. Since Paul and Barnabas could not understand the Lycaonia language, they did not understand what the people were saying.

There was a temple of Zeus nearby and the priest of the temple came quickly bringing oxen and wreaths of flowers. They were ready to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas and worship them (v. 13). When these missionaries realized what was happening, they immediately began to oppose what they were doing and boldly told the people that the gods of Lystra were false (v. 14). They urged their hearers to turn from their cultic gods to the one true and living God (vv. 15-18). 


We still find many hero worshipers in churches today. It’s easy for us to make “gods” out of our preachers and leaders. Because we are all sinners, leaders can often enjoy this special attention, and soon the attention is off of Christ and onto human ability. Here is the cure: Do not pray for tasks equal to your ability; rather pray for power to accomplish impossible tasks through God’s Spirit. 

Acts 14:8-18 (English Standard Version)

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View this passage in NIV (Bible Gateway) »