Todd spends time in Acts 14, showing us one of the many history lessons the Bible has to offer. He walks us through Paul’s journey in Acts 14, Greek & Roman mythology, man’s religion, the reformation, the reliability of Scripture, and ways we can live out our faith—using the history of Acts 14 as our inspiration—today.
Our Opportunity for Mission in Our Historical Moment: Truth Meets Myth
God's People: Quick to Go to Others and Slow to Leave Each Other
Inspiration and Invitation to the Proclamation and Demonstration of the Gospel
The Church our Mother and its Mission
The Proper Liturgy of the Church and the Proper Way to Deal With Sorcerers
Antioch: The Kind of Church (and Men) That God Uses
Hello, Watermark. How are we doing? Plano, Fort Worth, Dallas, it is great to be together. I love what we are going to do. We're going to chew through the entire last part of what's called the first missionary journey of Paul. If you're anything like me, you probably come into a place like this, and you're going to hear me read a historical narrative… That's what it is.
I'm going to read from a history book today, and you're going to be like, "Dadgumit, man! My life is messed up. I'm discouraged. I'm filled with despair," or "I'm not, and I want to continue to live strongly, and we're going to look at history? Why are we doing that?" Because in the context of history God has revealed himself, and it's not just true that if you don't learn from the lessons of history you're doomed to repeat it.
It is true that God has shown himself to be alive and real and willing to have relationship with people who live in real life, who live in the world, who live in the context of this history, and you can learn about how to walk with him and serve him and know him and be blessed by him today by watching how others were known by him and knew him and loved him and served him during their moment in history.
This is not just some philosophical discussion we're about to enter into. It is not some mythology. It is not Aesop's Fables, where I'm going to tell you a bunch of stories with good moral teaching. There would be some value in that. That would be tremendous for us to learn moral principles. However, this is not about learning moral principles. This is about learning about the living God and about how we can know him and love him and enjoy him and serve him, because that's the only thing that matters.
It matters more than life itself, because it is typical of humankind that we get obsessed with ourselves and what we see in the mirror and what we're experiencing today, and that is crazy to do that, because this is just a blip. It's a vapor. If you get up early in the morning and you ever watch the dew burn off the grass, that is a good glimpse into what your life is like. It isn't going to be around long.
Now it feels like our entire experience, because it is in this part of our human experience, but you are sempiternal, which means you have been created and you will live forever. The grave, your funeral is not an end; it is an eternally fixed beginning. How you live between the moment you're introduced into this world and the moment you die and whether or not you're blessed in it will have a ton to do with whether or not you get to know the Designer of this life who cares for you and wants you to be blessed, wants your life to be successful and prosperous.
It doesn't mean live in a certain zip code, drive a certain kind of car, dress with certain kinds of clothes. It means no matter what kind of clothes you wear, where you live, what kind of tyrant is over you, what kind of abuse you experience, you can live with purpose and meaning and hope and not be a slave to the cultural norms, not blown here and there by every wind or wave of doctrine or every idiot white supremacist or every idiot individual who thinks something else that's contrary to the nature and will of God.
You understand why there are people who act out of fear and insecurity and want to oppress other races: because of sin, and you don't want yourself to be one of those people who's ruled by sin, so you want to get to know the God who wants to call you out of being a slave to self and become a slave of righteousness, which is to say to serve the ultimate King. For the next bit of time, I get to look at God's Word with you and learn about the kindness of God and his relevance to our lives. You may not know him, and I'm so glad you're here, because you're going to understand why we're so excited to tell you more of him.
Father, would you just teach us wherever we are on this spectrum of understanding? Would you just grow our hearts? If you're there and you're real, and I'm praying now for folks who don't know you yet… If you're there and you're real, I'm sure they want to know you. Would you just show yourself? Would you illumine their heart and understanding so they would want to see your kindness and goodness?
For those of us who have seen it, would you deepen our conviction? Would you get us back on course? Would you make us worshipers? Not people who go to a building once a week but people who live in relationship with you and are useful to you and fruitful and filled with peace and meaning and purpose. What a joy. Teach us now, amen.
All right. Are you ready for some history? Turn to Acts 14. That's what this is. It is history, and it's good history. Cicero, Pliny the Elder… Cicero lived 106 BC toward the pivot point in history. Pliny the Elder lived a little bit later. They got history wrong, and because they got history wrong there were a lot of scholars, including some scholars who were at Oxford University, who were world-renowned experts in art and archaeology, who were sure this book wasn't reliable.
But then they went and studied and did digs in Asia Minor, which is what was called Galatia during the first century, which is called Turkey today, and they found out that Cicero and Pliny the Elder were wrong and Luke was right. Why was Luke right? Luke was right because God wanted him to be right, because God wanted you to know that there was a reliable historical record you could trust, that in the context of that reliable historical record you can trust you would get to know him.
God takes finite man and teaches him infinite truths. Why? Because he wants to serve you and love you, that you wouldn't be left to yourself. God takes fallen men, imperfect men, and produces a perfect Word. If God was there, he could do that. The claim of the Scriptures is that he has done that.
You need to know something. When you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you're not reading holy books in the sense that we think of that within Buddhism or Hinduism, which is just holy men, which are just labels we give guys because they commit to seeking a way to find all the truth they can, sit down, and write some stuff down… Because it's in Sanskrit we're like, "Whoa! Sanskrit. That must make you smart." Well, that's what they speak.
All I would tell you is that those guys are doing the best they can, some of them are very bright. Sometimes they even write good truth because they happen to line up with God's truth. When you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you're not reading holy men's books in the sense that they're learned scholars. You're reading an eyewitness account that God has chosen to preserve because he wants you to know what is his greatest revelation in all the world, which is Jesus. I'm going to give you more and explain why I say that with such confidence.
Here we go. Acts 14:1: "In Iconium…" Which is modern-day Konya right there in the middle of Turkey, if you care. "…they entered the synagogue of the Jews together…" Who are we talking about? We're talking about Paul and Barnabas and maybe their little traveling band, a couple of guys who are excited to share with other people what they have come to know to be true, and that is that God is good and kind and loving. He's not mad at anybody.
He doesn't want a bunch of religious service and ritualistic action. He wants people to know him and enjoy him and to be redeemed from death, sin, deception, stupidity, vain things, idols, and speculations. He's like, "Come on, man. Stop it. Stop building something you call a god. You are built by a God who wants to know you and love you. You're not here by accident, and you don't have to perform very well for very long in order to be reconciled to God.
You can't perform very well for very long, because God's standard is perfect. None of y'all are perfect, so you're in a world of hurt, except that God allowed his Son to be hurt for you on a cross so he could be both just and that he executes judgment and the justifier of those he loves. Merciful. He put up his wrath on his Son Jesus, who was the visible image of the invisible God, so you can be restored to him, so you can stop living like idiots, pagans, slave to mythology and speculation."
Paul is excited to share that story, so he's going everywhere he can. He wants to tell everybody he can about this, so he goes to what is a city of pagans, which is what was going on in this part of the Roman Empire between the boot of Italy all the way over to Antioch, Syria, which today is still there and still full of strife. Anyway, when he gets there…
"…a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks." The Greeks who believed up to this point were individual Greeks who had hung out with Jews, because they were what were called God-fearers. They would go to the synagogue. They would go to a place where the Jews were, because everybody knew there had been world powers before Rome, and one of the greatest world powers before Rome was Israel.
Israel is renowned in human history at that point, because they had plundered Egypt, and not because of anything they had done. There was historical record about plagues that infested Egypt because the God of the Hebrews delivered them and took them up out of Egypt into the land of Canaan and across the Jordan where they plundered seven nations greater in number and strength than they were by the power of their God. Everybody knew about that.
They also knew Israel was no longer a world power, and they knew the reason Israel wasn't a world power is the word on the street was Israel didn't walk with the God who set them up, so they experienced consequence. They became in bondage to Babylon, and we know Babylon was judged because they didn't live righteously. I skipped over Assyria, but Assyria was a world power for a while. Babylon wiped out Assyria, and then later Medo-Persia wiped out Babylon, and then later Rome wiped out Medo-Persia. Now we're in Acts 14.
There were still some Jews who said, "Hey, if we ever walk with God faithfully, then God will restore our relationship with him, and when God restores our relationship with him we'll be blessed again, and when we're blessed again we'll have a great platform to tell the world again about the one true God." So there were still some Jews who knew God was real and knew they were a slave state, a vassal nation is what scholars call it.
Oppressed by Rome but still identified as a unique group of people who largely lived in Palestine but who were also dispersed all over Rome from when they were ultimately taken captive the first time, and some of them now in Turkey, part of the Roman Empire, still gathered together to worship God the way they understood they should worship God.
There were some Gentiles who were sick of mythology and paganism, so they would go and say, "Jews, tell us more about your God. We're going to discern if that God is the one true God, or at least if we can get some benefit from him." So some of the Jews and some of the God-fearing Gentiles who were in the synagogue heard Paul.
I'm going to talk about why Paul went to the synagogues in just a minute, but that's what was going on. There were also some Jews who didn't believe what Paul said, which was that all the Law and all the Prophets were pointing toward One who would come one day who was called the Messiah. The Greek word for Messiah is Christ. So his name is Jesus the Christ, not Jesus (last name) Christ.
Jesus the Messiah, that he is the fulfillment of everything Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Malachi, and all of those guys prophesied would come. He's the one in Deuteronomy 18 that Moses said there would be a prophet who would come later who's greater than he. Paul made the case that this Jesus is the only way you can be reconciled to God. He is the one who all the sacrificial system pointed toward. He is the perfect sacrifice.
We don't need to worry about the fact that the temple is not here in Iconium, because there has been a perfect sacrifice made. Our Great High Priest Jesus has laid his life down. Now we can be reconciled to God, and God wants us to cry out to him for mercy. That's the message, and he is preaching it up like a storm. Some liked it; others didn't, because it was busting up their system and freeing people up from the bondage of religion and this crazy idea that you could do things long enough to achieve the approval of a perfect God.
Are you whipped and worn out? So many of you are here, if you don't understand the gospel (which is a word that just means good news)… Jesus has done everything for us. He loves us. He is our peace. He is our provision. He's alive, so we have a relationship with him through the Spirit of God, which is revealed in his Word, and our hearts are illumined, and we see him for who he is.
We can walk with God today because of what Jesus has done, and we have no enmity between God and us, because we have learned to love what God said is a satisfactory sacrifice for us. We know we're guilty. We acknowledge our guilt, and we ask for mercy and grace, and God who is kind gives it to us.
Let me just tell you, those of you who are slaves to dead religion and legalism, we're not here so God doesn't get ticked; we're here because we understand the kindness of God and what he has done for us. So we sing about his grace, we sing about his love, we remind ourselves that he's good, that we might cling to him and live with him all week long. That's what we're doing, not checking a box.
Check this out. It says some of the Jews didn't like that, because they liked people checking the box, because that kept them in control and power, a slave to the synagogue and the temple, and they had to come back. By the way, we're about to come up on the 500th anniversary of what is called the Reformation. Luther saw the exact same thing happen with the church Paul is trying to plant. Men got ahold of it and stopped being obedient to what God wanted, so the church became the only means that people could go to heaven. The church controlled people.
Because most people couldn't read or didn't have a copy of the Bible in their own language, they were victims and slaves to those who taught them what the Bible said. They said, "We have the keys to the kingdom, so you get cross with me, you're cross with God." People didn't want to go to hell, so they were slaves to the church, and Luther said, "We're doing some things that are wrong. We're not telling people the truth, and we have to start telling people the truth."
There was a reformation that happened that got the Word of God out of just the hands of the societal elite and the educated into all the people. Thank God for an invention called the Gutenberg press and for Luther translating the Latin Vulgate into the language of the Germanic people. It just started a fire when people started reading the Word of God. They went, "I'll be. My priest has been holding me captive to dead religion and some superstition that has matched up within the church," and it was a problem.
Verse 3: "Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord…" That's how you ought to teach, believing that God is going to do his work. Just testify to the word of his grace. God was up to something. He was granting that signs and wonders would be done by their hands. Sometimes people ask me, "Todd, does it ever impress you all that God is doing right here?" I go, "No. God ought to be doing a whole lot more, because God is always willing to make himself famous."
I prayed this particular prayer a ton when Watermark started: "God, I know you still want to reach people, still want to give people grace and set people free. I know you want folks to be brought out of the deadness of Texas Bible Belt religion or dead ritualism to live in a vibrant relationship with you, and if you're willing to use somebody, why not me? All I'll do is make myself available and be faithful to the text, and let's go. God, let's just do something. Let's get out of churchianity and move into a relationship with you. I know you want to do something."
I have no illusion about what is happening here. This is just God granting those of us who were formerly captive to religion or captive to legalism or captive to paganism and carnality to see the goodness of God. It is significant. That's where the word sign comes from. There's something going on here. I don't know if you've noticed marriages that are restored. I don't know if you've noticed people who are learning to walk in a manner worthy of what it means to know God.
I don't know if you know that people are escaping the hurts, habits, and hang-ups of their past. I don't know if you've noticed that people are being broken free from cultural Christianity. We have a lot of work and a lot of ground to still cover here, but God is up to something, and I know exactly why God is doing it: he loves people. It's not because Paul and Barnabas were especially gifted, and it certainly isn't because I am. God is just up to some good.
Verse 4: "But the people of the city were divided…" That's going to happen when you preach. Note to self. "…and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia…"
Lycaonia is a region, kind of like Tarrant County in Fort Worth is a region. Collin County is a region. Texas is a state, or we would say a region, the Southwest of the United States. This is one of the reasons Sir William Ramsay, who was an Oxford scholar in art and archaeology who lived in the nineteenth century, came to see that the Bible was true.
If you know much about human history, the 1800s were on the tail end of the Enlightenment Period, or rationalism, where people started to believe the Bible maybe had some good insights into theological things but couldn't be trusted as a history book or, frankly, as the Word of God. Part of what happened in that particular time in human history is there was a guy named Darwin who came crashing on the scene who gave people an intellectual reason to not have to believe in the idea of a creator God.
Because "science" was some 20-year-old guy in the Galapagos Islands who went down there for a couple of months and made some observations and started to write some books and speculate about how maybe all this came into being through evolution, there were certain people within Christendom who were intimidated by "science"… Darwin never said it was science; he said it was theory, the best story he could put together based on his belief that we didn't get here by the spoken word of a creator God but evolved over time.
At least he had the intellectual integrity to close his work with an appendix, where he wrote, "These are all of the things that are wrong with my ideas," which, by the way, science has later confirmed. I think they ought to teach Darwinism in schools to show people how societies can become slave to speculation. They ought to teach intelligent design.
Our government shouldn't have to teach creationism, but it ought to teach that science is much more suggestive of the fact that there was an intelligent designer who got us here. That is a logical probability that is much more rational than this idea that time plus nothing plus chance created the world we live in. But because this idea was starting to sweep through the church… One of the things that was also happening was liberalism and rationalism were happening, so the Bible became…
Gang, this is what happens. This is why evolution is such a threat to the church. It says if you can't trust the Bible in the hard sciences that can be tested, if you can't trust it in geology, in biology, in physics, in chemistry, if you can't trust it in history, things you can test, why are you going to trust it in the soft sciences? Why are you going to trust it about things you can't see if it's unreliable in things you can see?
Sir William Ramsay was a guy who happened to buy into that. He thought the book of Acts (because this was the liberal idea at the time) was written probably late in the second or third centuries and that it was written by a guy who was trying to make the church look good in its early work. Why? Because the prevailing idea, based on Cicero and Pliny the Elder, was that Iconium was part of Lycaonia.
When he says they left Iconium to go to the city of Lycaonia, it would be like saying he left Fort Worth to go to Tarrant County or he left Dallas to go to Texas, because that's what scholars believed. Let me just read this to you. This is a Scottish scholar, Sir William Ramsay. He wrote a book called The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament.
This guy went to Asia Minor as an art and archaeology specialist, and he started to study, and because there was no road map that was available to him to figure out where certain places are that he should dig, he had to go to primary sources, which were things like Christian inscriptions, and he even went ahead and picked up the book of Acts, even though he was convinced it was written centuries later and it was wrong.
But then he started to dig, and he found out it was Cicero and Pliny the Elder who were wrong and there was this one who was used by God to write a perfect record that had the history correct; that, in fact, at the time the book of Acts claimed to exist, first century, Iconium was not a part of Lycaonia; it was a part of Phrygia.
You're like, "Why does this matter, Todd?" Because you can trust your Bible. If you don't trust me, trust one of the most world-renowned archaeologists of all time, an Oxford scholar. Inside this book, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, there's a chapter called "The First Change of Judgment."
He says, "The more I have studied the narrative of Acts and the more I have learned year after year about Greco-Roman society and thoughts and fashions and organization in those provinces, the more I admire and the better I understand. I set out to look for truth in the borderland where Greece and Asia meet…" That's right there where we are. "…and found it here." In the book of Acts, specifically, Acts 14.
"You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian's, and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment…" Why? Because God wants you to know that he loves you, and he wants you to know he's trustworthy, so when he's writing a record, he uses his Spirit to allow imperfect men to write perfect truth. Cicero was brilliant. Pliny the Elder was brilliant. They just didn't have the enabling of the Holy Spirit to get everything correct. This book is not just speculation; it is the very Word of God, and you ought to treat it like that.
I'm going to read quickly here, and then we're going to give you some more application, but let's just start with understanding what God has given us and that it's still here and preserved. They go now to this next city, and the two cities are Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding region there. They could even preach the gospel. That's what you should do in every city you go to.
The last week, just so you know, I've been in New Mexico, I've been in Texas, and I've been in New York, and I have had the chance when I've been there to preach the gospel. I shared Christ with a Mormon in New Mexico. I shared Christ with a Hindu from Nepal in New York, a person who has been part of ritualism in the Dominican. I had a chance to talk to a young art major from California and share Christ with her. I talked to people from Nepal, from Ghana, from Dominican, from California, from New Mexico, from Texas, from Nigeria.
That's what I've done this last week in just normal conversations with people. I've had a blast talking to them about what I know to be true. I was in New York, and one of the people I talked to was Twila, my waitress at Jack's Wife Freda restaurant in SoHo, if you ever want to go there. (It's okay. My wife liked it. Organic food. That's why we were there.) So I'm at Jack's Wife Freda restaurant. Twila is my waitress, and she's an agnostic, she says, so we just start talking, and I just ask her about her agnosticism and why.
I said, "Has anybody ever told you what the central message of the Bible is? What do you think it is?" She goes, "Okay, that's a good question." She goes, "I don't think I know." This university-educated, sweet girl. I go, "Well, Twila, let me tell you. This is the central message of the Bible," and I just gave it to her in about a minute. We talked about it. I just reminded her that God loves her just crazy enough to get some Texan up here in SoHo to eat at her restaurant at 11:00 at night so she could hear about the love of God and his kindness toward her.
I asked, "Twila, what other restaurants are good around here?" She goes, "Oh…" She just lit up and started telling me, "Oh, you guys have got to go here. You've got to eat at this place." She asked us what we were going to do while we were there, and she said, "Oh, you need to go to this. Have you seen this musical? It's amazing." People love to share things they know. "If I share this with you, you're going to find out it's what I say it is, and you're going to like me."
That's what you get to do. Would you please lose this oppressive idea that if you don't tell people the four spiritual laws in a very mechanical, propositional truth way, then you're just a bad person. Listen, guys. This is crazy. People are in the city of destruction. They are dead in their trespasses and sins. They are living under the bondage of mythology and human works, that they have to earn their way to a god who's just like them.
That's what men always do. They create religions in their own understanding. We make God like us. We're not sure he can be trusted. He's kind of moody. You'd better pay him off. You'd better do more good than bad to him or he's going to be angry at you. We just kind of march along in this dead idea. That's not the message of the Bible. This is not a book of moral instruction.
It does have morality in it. This is a book that tells you the love of God, that he wants to have a relationship with you. You can't have a relationship with him because you're a sinner and are defined by that which isn't righteous and true, but God is not angry at you. You're his child, so he's going to rescue you. He's going to pay for your sin and transgression.
All you have to do is go, "Dad, I've screwed up. I know I've gone away from you. I know I thought I was better than you. I know I thought I didn't need you. I left you. I rejected you, and I didn't believe you were light and life and love, so I got darkness, death, and hatred. It's defining our world. It's manifesting itself in Charlotte, and it's all around us." God is just saying, "Okay, okay. Yes, yes, yes. Would you come home?" "You would never accept me."
"Well, you're right. I should never accept you because I'm a God of wrath and justice. I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to pour out my wrath and justice on one made in your image who is, in fact, the visible image of the invisible God, the Son who gave himself for you, that I might not sacrifice who I am but that you might come to know who I am again. Just trust me.
Then because you start to trust me and you see if I gave my life for you I must be a good God, then just start to believe me. I want you to do well on this little vapor of life that is your experience on earth. I want your history to be different than everybody else who still doesn't know who I am. Trust me. I know your flesh thinks it's smart, but your flesh is a slave to deception. You know that, because you followed your flesh for a long time. How's that working out for you? Follow me. Take my yoke."
Guys, I get to share that with people. I'm not trying to sell anything. I don't ever try and convince anybody of anything. I just go, "Has anybody ever told you this is the story of God? By the way, it's trustworthy." Then if they want to have intellectual arguments and discussions about Darwinism and postmodernism and Neo-Platonism and all that different stuff… Sure, I read that stuff so I can have those conversations with them, but all I want to say even if you can't have those conversations then, "Has anybody ever told you the story of God?"
Do you know the story of God? Are you excited to share it? If you're in New York and people want to know where to eat, something that's going to pass through your system in 12 hours (some places like 30 minutes, because it's nasty)… It's going to pass through your system quickly, but they're like, "Hey, man. You'll be happy those 30 minutes you eat it, and it will give your body fuel for half a day, and you'll like me, and you'll remember Twila from Jack's Wife Freda restaurant because she gave you a good Italian meal."
I'm like, "All right. Well, why wouldn't I share with her the thing that could be the pivot point of her eternity?" Because I love her. By the way, she didn't give me a good Italian meal, because I didn't go to the restaurant she recommended because I didn't have time, and I don't know if Twila accepted the message of hope I gave her. I just loved her. I didn't go to her Italian restaurant, and maybe she didn't get to know my God. Who's worse for it?
Do you know a good Italian restaurant? Tell me. I love Italian food. But do you know the love of God? Do you know his kindness? Are you telling people? It was not weird for her to tell me, "You've got to eat here." It is not weird for me to tell Sanal, "Bro, you've got to know this. This is true." Sanal was my Nepalese Uber driver. He's taking me from Midtown to LaGuardia, and we just start talking.
I go, "Man, tell me how long you've been here." "About 25 years." I go, "Awesome. Where are you from?" "Nepal." I go, "Nepal? What part of Nepal?" "Kathmandu." "Bro, I was just in Kathmandu." He said, "What?" I go, "Do you know any good Italian restaurants there in case I'm back?" Because enough with the curry. Right?
Anyway, we just started talking. The brother has been here for 25 years. Nobody in this country, founded by the Puritans that they might freely worship God, has told that brother in 25 years the story of Jesus. I said, "Let me ask you a question. Tell me about why you're a Hindu." He goes, "Oh, because my forefathers were Hindus," and this, that, and the other.
"By the way, there are Buddhists and Muslims there, and there are even some Christians in Nepal." He's right. There are some of those people there. I go, "What do they believe? What do you believe?" He didn't know what he believed, really, because Hinduism is mythology. Have you ever read mythology? Mythology is crazy in this way.
I love Greek mythology, because there are some great stories in Greek mythology. The problem is that it's all over the place. "I thought Zeus did this." "No, he really did that." Depending on who you read, someone else is making up another story to develop another point. It's full of contradictions, and you can't really figure out who did what and what happened to who.
By the way, the Greek gods are just like us. They're capricious, lustful, vengeful, and all this different stuff, but they're trying to teach why we are the way we are: because we're sons of gods that slept with men, and blah, blah, blah. They're trying to figure it out, and it's nuts. Hindu mythology makes Greek mythology look like math. It's crazy. It's such a story of contradictions, but they find some peace in that.
He said, "Oh, I'm okay with your Jesus." I go, "Well, do you even know my Jesus?" He goes, "Yeah, we're okay with Jesus. He kind of works his way in through this, that, and the other." I go, "Wait a minute. Let me ask a question." We looked up at his little navigational tool in his car, and I go, "Why are you using that?" He goes, "Well, because that shows me how to get to LaGuardia."
I go, "Why do you care? You just told me Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus… We're all just doing our own thing, and we're going to all end up in the same place." I go, "That's nuts, bro, if there's truth." I go, "What if you start driving me toward Jersey when I want to go over there toward Queens and LaGuardia?" He goes, "Well, you wouldn't get to LaGuardia." I go, "That's because there is objective reality, and all of the roads don't lead to the same place."
I go, "I don't care if your dad was a good man and he told you this was the way to LaGuardia. If that's not the way to LaGuardia, I don't care what your family believes; you're never going to get where you want to go. Have you ever stopped to think that there really is truth, not just on a map but in history? Do you believe in reality and truth?"
I said, "Bro, you have to go where it says. Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through him, and that God in his kindness has shown you how to get there, so you don't have to just wander all around. You don't have to go to LaGuardia via Des Moines, Iowa, and hopefully get back.
By the way, you can make your way to LaGuardia from Des Moines, but why drive all that way and get lost and frustrated until somebody tells you? No, bro. You have to go east. Let's just go there. You have a God who wants to show you not just how to get to where he is but how to live where you are, and he's not mad at you."
He sat there and listened to me. He goes, "Nobody has ever told me that." I just shared with him what Paul was sharing with the people of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. What a privilege. Now I'm going to ask you a question here in a minute. Get ready. It says (verse 7) they continued to preach the gospel. Verse 8: "At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother's womb…"
This is a good picture of us. In Psalm 51:5, David says, "I was brought forth in iniquity, and my mother conceived me in sin." In other words, he was saying all of us are victims of our heritage. This is the law of creation: kinds produce after their kind. Mama and daddy hippos produce hippos. Mama and daddy alligators produce alligators. Mama and daddy sinners produce sinners. That's what we produce. David is saying, "This is just my nature." That is exactly right.
All of us by nature are children of wrath. All of us by nature are slaves to our flesh, and until we are set free from the course of our nature, until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we come to see God for who he is… Our nature is "I don't need God. His Word isn't true. It can't be trusted. Disobeying him is not that big a deal. I'm smarter than my parents, and we're all smarter than God, and we're going to figure it out. We're going to look at the philosophies of men, the speculations of men, and we're going to make our way through."
How is that working out for you, world? God is just trying to call us back. He's saying, "You're free to do what you want, but if you want, here's a better way." We're not here to impose our beliefs on anybody. I'm not going to make you eat Italian; I'm just going to propose to you a better way. That's what Paul is doing. He's just found a better way. This guy is a picture of us. We're all lame from the point of our birth. We can breathe; we just can't walk. We can't do life, and the Word of God is going to change us, just like this guy.
By the way, there is a reason that when God is trying to authenticate his work you'll see significant things happen. Jesus said the ongoing miracle of the New Testament is "I'm going to transform human relationships. I'm going to leave some of you guys in wheelchairs. Not everybody is going to get up and walk. Not every blind person is going to see physically, but everybody who wants to is going to learn to see spiritually. Everybody is going to learn to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which I've called them, even if they stay paralyzed."
God is not going to eradicate all of the effects of sin. Do you want to know something about Jesus? All of the miracles he did in the New Testament dealt with situational evil, effects of the fall, but not ultimately the cause of those effects. In other words, Jesus never healed somebody from moral evil. He told them, even when he healed them from situational evil… He has a lame guy right there. He tells him, "Your sins are forgiven," because the guy was trusting in him.
Everybody goes, "You can't forgive sins. Only God can forgive sins." He goes, "You have a good point there. What else can only God do? You can't really tell if I'm God and I can forgive his sins, but what else can only God do? Oh, God could change the situational evil that is a result of the fall." He said, "So that you might know that the Son of Man has authority in heaven and earth to forgive sins, I say to you, take up your pallet and walk," and there is regeneration in the legs. The guy stands up, and they can see it.
He goes, "Now I do that not because I'm going to heal everybody (because the effects of sin are still going to be here until I deal with sin completely) but so that you know I am who I say I am. I'm not going to walk around doing a bunch of signs, feeding you a bunch of bread every time you're hungry, but I can do it. I'm showing you these things to authenticate my words.
Once my words have been authenticated, there will be no other sign except the sign of Jonah, a man who would be swallowed up in death and darkness for three days, come back to life, and preach about repentance. So go ahead and kill me. That's the plan: that the Righteous One of God who knows no sin will become sin on your behalf, that you might become the righteousness of God in me if you trust in me, but you'd better believe in me."
That's why he told the one lame guy whom he healed in John 5… He saw him a little bit later. He said, "Hey, buddy. You'd better follow me lest something far worse happens to you." Far worse than being lame for 38 years? Yes. How about being separated from God forever? We all want God to heal us from situational evil sometimes, and what God is saying is, "Look. There are going to be situations on this earth you're not going to like, and I'm not going to deliver you from every evil situation. I'm going to explain why the evil situation is here. I'm going to give you hope in the midst of it."
"In this world you will have situational evil." He calls it trouble. "But take heart; I've overcome the world." "Yes, your daughter might get cancer. Yes, you might get cancer. Yes, there might be a drunk who hits you. Yes, somebody you love may die. Yes, somebody who said they loved you might betray you. That's what sin does. Don't add to the problem. Learn to be gracious, forgiving, loving, and live with hope like I'm teaching you, and don't add to the problem."
The ongoing sign of the New Testament miracle is that we love one another, we're gracious to one another, and we walk as slaves of righteousness, and people go, "Who are you folks?" One of the areas we have to do better… We're all a slave still to this Dallas mindset that the more we have, the more comfortable we are, the happier we are. My Bible says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Some of us still don't believe God enough to believe that's true, because we keep more than we give. I would be guilty of the same thing. I need to believe more. I'm trying to grow in that area. It has been fun. With this crazy book, God has given me more things to do, and I'm trying to do more with him; increase my standard of giving, not my standard of living. It's just fun. I would just encourage you… The ongoing mark is that Jesus' life marks ours. We're becoming more like him, and we spur each other on to love and good deeds. We're starting to walk like we ought to.
This guy had enough faith to believe that what Paul and Barnabas were saying was true, so he started to follow them. Paul spoke to him and said, "Follow this Jesus." He had the faith to be made well. Today, you can have the faith to be made well. It'll change your life. " [He] said with a loud voice, 'Stand upright on your feet.'" That's going to be my closing today. "Stand up on your feet. Walk in righteousness. Come on, man. Believe that Jesus' way is true."
I'm not spiritualizing the text. What that guy did is a sign that this is the power of God. Your sign that this is the power of God is you're going to walk out of here and you're not going to be a slave to porn, a slave to anger, a slave to materialism, and you're going to walk differently, because you know that God's Word is true, and you're going to be attentive to it. Unless you don't believe his Word is true. Then you're going to go your own way out of this room and not walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called.
"And he leaped up and began to walk. When the crowds 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.'" This is a big deal. Why? Because Ovid, a Roman poet who lived somewhere in the last 50 years of BC and the first several years of AD… He was just a guy who wrote different stories, mythology.
One of the mythological stories he wrote was a story about how in the Galatian region where Paul was Zeus and Hermes were walking around, and they went to over a thousand homes, and nobody took them in. They finally went to an elderly couple who took them in, and they made that home a place of great blessing and judged and burned down the other thousand homes. So this was a region that worshiped Zeus and Hermes, because that was the story. Those were the local gods.
Who's Hermes? Hermes is Mercury. The Greek Hermes is the Roman Mercury, just like Zeus in Greek is Jupiter in the Roman world. We know Mercury is the messenger. He's that little FTD florist guy. He's the guy who gets out there and delivers all that different stuff. He's the spokesman for Zeus.
That's why you're about to see… Paul was the talkative one; Barnabas was probably more good-looking, so they thought, "That's Zeus; that's Hermes." Look at the text. "And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker." That makes complete sense, doesn't it? William Ramsay saw, "Hey, this region worshiped Zeus."
"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. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, 'Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you…'"
By the way, remember back in Acts 12? What did the pagan man do when people said, "He is a god!" Herod. Remember this? We taught you when we were in Acts 12. "He is a son of a god. He is a glorious man." Pagan men accept the praise of other men. I know sometimes, because of the craziness of what I do… I get to stand and encourage, and some of you believe in what I say, and it transforms your life, and you walk differently.
At times, people want to go, "Man, thank you so much," and they have an appreciation toward me that can sway and make me to be something I'm not. I'm just a postman. I'm just delivering the mail. Pagan men take that praise and are seduced by it and want you to worship them. It's crazy to me, especially when folks come over here… When they see the size of this church and get to know me, they go, "Where is your security?"
Because all of the pastors of large churches have security. It isn't just in Africa. Just travel around here a little bit and look at the security around. We did a deal here one day, in case there was ever a problem, and security said, "Todd, here's what we're going to do. If something ever happens here, these two guys are going to come, they're going to jump on you, and they're going to get you off stage."
I go, "Well, that'll be great, because that's going to make the guy who's shooting stop and laugh, because I'm going to start fighting you. You try and get rid of me up here when there's something crazy going on, and we're going to fight." You don't get me off. This isn't about me. Let's just deal with the problems that are there. We don't have some security detail here that is all about one guy, because this isn't about one guy; it's about Jesus.
Pagan fools think it's their church, and they make themselves out to be celebrity pastors, just like Herod did. Godly men just go, "Hey, listen. Stop it. I'm a man of the same nature as you." That's why you're going to see me sometimes do something that, just like Paul… You're going to see him do something a little bit that's like, "Oh, Paul, I'm not sure that was Jesus' best." And it wasn't. "Peter, I'm not sure that was Jesus' best." It wasn't. "Todd, I'm not sure that was Jesus' best." "It wasn't. Will you forgive me? Let's pursue him some more."
Watch this. This is what believers do. They turn from and they turn to. It's called repentance. Paul didn't say, "I want you to hear a story about God and believe the story to be true." He said, "I want you to stop walking with your limited understanding, and I want you to turn and walk with an informed heart and mind." That's what we do. It's repentance. It's a military term, which means I'm going this way, and now I'm going this way. I'm running from God. I'm managing my relationship with God. I'm trying to appease him through works. No, I'm not.
I'm going to run to the God who loves me and gave his life for me, who gives grace and glory, and no good thing does he withhold from those who love him. I'm going to learn his ways and delight in them. I'm going to believe that his commandments are beautiful and not burdensome, and I'm going to run with other people and encourage them, and every now and then we're going to stop and we're going to bump into Twilas and Sanals and others and tell them about our Jesus and say, "Come on with us if you want." Man, what a privilege.
He said, "You have to turn from and turn to. That's why I'm here. I'm not getting you to just profess something; I'm getting you to possess an understanding that changes you. So get rid of your idols and your speculations and your mythology. There is no Zeus. There is no Hermes. No, we're men. Follow the living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea."
Basically what Paul is doing here… This is one of the two times in Acts he talks to pagans. In Acts 17 he talks to philosophical pagans. Here he's talking to just mythological pagans, and he tells the story of God differently. He doesn't talk about Old Testament history like he does in Acts 2 and Acts 13, because the people don't know Old Testament history, so he just goes right to the foundation.
He said, "God is not a consort. He's not a part of the story. He is the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Judge. He's the living God. That's who does these things. Get to know him." "In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways…" What he means by that is he hasn't ultimately destroyed you, and yet he didn't leave himself alone.
Now he's going to go to Romans 1, and he's going to say, "God's eternal power, his divine nature has been revealed to you through what has been made. There's a reason you have joy and abundance and food and gladness. God in his kindness is providing those things for you. That's who he is. His divine nature, eternal power have been clearly seen." He goes from a general revelation mindset and lays it out.
"Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them." Because they would rather believe they were gods than believe there is a designer God who cares for them. Then from 110 miles away (that's Pisidian Antioch) and from 30 miles away (that's where Iconium was), the Jews came down, because they wanted to stamp out this guy who was pulling people into this new system of belief, which Paul says wasn't a new system; it was just the fulfillment of the old system that finally had found its satisfaction in Christ.
"…and having won over the crowds, [the Jews] stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city [and left him for dead] ." If you go to 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, I think this is where Paul said, "I was caught up in the third heaven. I don't know whether it was in the body or out of the body." Paul isn't long on an out-of-body experience, but I think he might have been dead, because they left him for dead. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:2…
"I know a man…who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak."
All Paul knew was God was right, God was there, and God was going to use him, and God wasn't done with him, so he was immortal until God was done. So they can try and stone him, but Paul got back up and was refreshed or resurrected, whatever you want to make this, and walked right back into the city.
If you think a lame man got their attention, the guy you just killed walking back into the city, not looking like he just went in a cage with Conor McGregor but looking like he just ate at Denny's, full of Grand Slam strength, and was doing well… Do you think that got their attention? I think it did. Watch what happens.
"But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day…" Because there still was some disturbance. He went away to Derbe, 60 miles more from Lystra. "After they had preached the gospel to that city [Derbe] and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch…"
This is what you do. This is what my friends and I who have turned from paganism are doing. We live faithfully. Everywhere we go we preach the gospel. We move on, we circle back, and we build on foundations. I guarantee you, if I go back to New York I'm going to go back to Jack's Wife Freda restaurant. I'm going to look for Twla and go, "Twila, how are you doing?"
"I'm fine. I'm still an agnostic."
"All right. My God is still there, and he still loves you."
I'm going to find maybe that Sanal trusted Christ and changed the direction of his family and maybe even had a ministry he started back in Nepal I'll never know about, but if I find Sanal again and he has a faith, I'll build on that foundation in every way I can. I gave him my email. I said, "Let's start something. Do you want to talk? Do you want to grow as a disciple?" That means learner. "Let's do it." That's what you do. You circle back.
This is how you do it. You strengthen the souls of the disciples. Pay attention. "…encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'" Can I just tell you something, Watermark? You don't trust Jesus because he's going to make your life better. It may get worse. In fact, you can almost be sure it will, because this world doesn't always like it when you say, "Zeus isn't real, and neither is Hermes. There is a God who's Creator, Sustainer, and Judge, and you'd better reconcile with him."
Paul had been to four cities. The first two he was run out of by force. The third one he was murdered or left for dead, and it didn't get easier for Paul after this. If you're here because you think it's going to get easier for you in terms of the world's acceptance, you're not paying attention. He told them, "Get ready," and he appointed leaders for them. That's why if you're not a part of a place where there are leaders over your life, just like I am, then you're outside of the will and provision of God.
In verses 24-28, it basically walks through that he re-looped through all his little deal. I'll just show you this map. This is a history lesson. There are the cities Paul went on his first missionary journey. He dropped out of Seleucia down to Salamis to Paphos up to Attalia and Perga all the way up to Pisidian Antioch. There's Iconium. Then you get to the Lycaonia region, which is Lystra and Derbe, and then he went right back and sailed from Attalia back home to Antioch, and when he got to Antioch… Look at what it says.
Verse 27: "When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles." You and I haven't been together for three weeks, and I want to ask you a question. If I got with you and had lunch, could you give me a report about the work God had done through you in the last three weeks with your Twilas, your Sanals, your Mormons, your Texans, your Hindus, your Ghanese, your family?
If not, we're just crazy. We're just playing games, people. What a privilege to say, "Let's go. I'm not selling anything, but just come and see the goodness of God. Come and know the kindness of the Father." Some people are going to say, "I don't want to hear that again." Some people are going to throw things at you. Some people are going to believe, and it's going to change their life.
Do you want application? Here we go. First, stay strong. Don't be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you. Let me strengthen you. It isn't going to always be easy. You live in a land where it's going to get worse. Stay strong. Secondly, stay humble. Don't be seduced by praise. The very people who thought Paul was a god later wanted to kill him. The very people who said, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" tried to crucify him a few days later.
Thirdly, don't be shocked by the fickleness of followers. "Bless you. Don't you ever talk to me again." "Thank you for loving me. Don't ever stop exhorting me toward righteousness. Stop saying I shouldn't live this way." Just get used to it, and then just stay humble. When you look at people who don't know what you know, realize the only reason you know it is the kindness of God has allowed you to believe. Just keep living for an audience of one. Stay strong, stay humble, and stay focused on your King. You'll be glad you did.
Father, I pray for my friends. What an amazing text we just got to plow through. There's so much here. I got an hour and more and I can't say it, but I thank you that we can go pick up our Bible and read it and study and reflect and be changed. Lord, may we leave here testifying to the word of your grace. May we leave here with reliance upon the Lord. Would you grant that something significant would happen in our lives, that men and women may see the kindness of God in us?
Thank you, Father, that all we get to do is tell people about the table we eat at that is filled with the ambrosia of God and how sweet and good it is. Let us serve you. If there is anyone here who doesn't know you, who is still bound in dead ritualism and legalism, if there are people here who really think they know you and haven't been on mission, would you just change that, Father? Let them come. Let us equip them. Let us encourage them. Let us strengthen them. Let us go and be faithful as we worship you. In Jesus' name, amen.
I love you, church. Let's go get 'em. Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.