Monday, March 24, 2008

In Search Of Truth

Biblemag Acts, Chapter 14

Things started out great for Paul and Barnabus as they spoke to the people of Iconium. But the Jews who didn't believe them started a smear campaign against the two men. It's interesting to note that they embittered the people against Paul and Barnabus, not against the ideas they were teaching. This could have been for any number of reasons, but it's a pattern we should not imitate. The most productive religious and philosophical discussion will come about when we criticize ideas and not people.

God continues to use miracles strategically. Not to show off, but to validate the words of his messengers. (v. 3)

When things got too hot in Iconium, Paul and Barnabus escaped a lethal stoning, and eventually arrived in Lystra. During another speech, God somehow allowed Paul to "see" the genuine faith of a crippled man. God's response, through Paul, was to heal the man, who had been unable to walk since birth.

Can you imagine what that would be like? If someone was blind for a couple of weeks and then healed, there's room for a hoax. But someone healed from a condition they've had since birth would have been an undeniable display of God's power! (For other examples of this kind of healing, check out John 9:1 and Acts 3:2.)

A local legend of this community said that Zeus and Hermes once visited the town and were recognized by only two people. It's no wonder that the crowd was anxious to worship and identify these men as gods, since they wouldn't want to make the mistake they believed their ancestors did. But Paul and Barnabus tore their clothes (a cultural expression of anguish) and protested the idea.

Wisely, Paul made an attempt to appeal to the community's value system. The Phrygian culture of Lystra worshiped "the mother goddess" who they believed provided fertility to the earth. Paul aims to redirect their worship, explaining that it is God who has, despite their lack of belief in him, expressed his love and kindness by giving them the fruitful seasons they've enjoyed.

Ever wonder what the Apostle Paul and Wolverine have in common? Not much. But in at least one instance, Paul was rapidly healed from fatal injuries! When the crowds at Lystra were turned against Paul, they stoned him and, thinking he was dead, dragged his body outside of the city. It couldn't have been a pretty sight. Stonings were brutal, causing many broken bones, caved in skulls and all kinds of horrific damage. But while Paul's allies watched, he got up, and walked right back into town!

The book of Acts is silent on what went on in town that night before they went to Derbe the next day, but archaeology suggests that at least some of the Lystrans maintained the view that these men were gods. A plaque was discovered listing the date of Zeus and Hermes "second visit", which corresponds to the estimated time of Paul and Barnabus' visit. There seems to be no doubt that the people of Lystra saw something astounding that made them believe they had been visited by gods. Once again, archaeology supports even the radical claims of the Bible record. (For more info on this, check out the Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, pg. 497)

Finally, Paul and Barnabus return to Antioch, where they stay for probably a year or more. Although there is still some debate, it is widely believed that during this time in Antioch, Paul wrote the book of Galatians. So next week we'll take a break from Acts (don't worry, we ARE coming back to it!) to see what Paul has to say in his first letter to Christians. We'll spend a few weeks moving through Galatians and then return to Acts afterward.

(For more information on the cultural/historical details mentioned this week, check out the IVP Bible Background Commentary for the New Testament.)

Next Week: Is Paul a "wacky fundamentalist"?

Coffee House Question:

What do you personally think it means to be "tolerant" of someone's religious beliefs? When are we being "intolerant" of someone's beliefs?

1 comment:

  1. I feel tolerance is on one hand respecting another's religious belief. You may not agree with it but I don't feel in any way you have the right to attack a that person's belief verbally in any way or try forcing your beliefs on them. Now, as for intolerance, it's when you speak against the other's religion with no reguard to how disrespectful you're being towards them. Conversion is something that comes from within, not something you can make someone choose by imposing it on them. I myself am curious about what others believe and am open to what they believe--or don't believe in for that matter. I let them speak and tell me about their thoughts on God- or gods if that's what they think is true. However, during these times I often will ask them about their views on God. Through taking time to hear what others think about God on a general sense, I've learned just how confused our world has become with so many different religions on the young generation. All I can say is us Christians of this new generation have our work cut out for us. May the Spirit be with us all.