May 12, 2013

Turning From Self-Worship

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Miscellaneous Scripture: Acts 14:8–20


Turning from Self-Worship

Acts 14:8-20
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Pastor Randy Smith

I was just recalling this week what happened to me this time of the year back in 1984. I completed my freshman year in college and drove out to New Jersey with my family to celebrate my cousin's wedding. Once the wedding festivities concluded, my other cousin and I drove to the Outer Banks to camp a few days just off the beach by the lighthouse in Cape Hatteras.

The weather was great so on the first day I laid out on the beach in nothing but my swimsuit. It was May. I was attending college in North-Central Wisconsin where much of the snow had just melted! My skin had yet to see much sun. I wasn't wearing any sunblock. I fell asleep. In an hour or so later I woke up. I turned over and fell asleep again.

Remember the old Roadrunner cartoons? By the end of the day I looked like Wile E. Coyote after the lit stick of dynamite exploded in his hands!

From that point on, my entire trip was ruined. I can still recall the painful nights of sleeping in a tent not being able to find a comfortable position and the hot/cold fever-like symptoms and the blisters that formed all over my body.

Even with the intensified warnings of skin cancer in recent years, we love the warmth of the sun on our bare skin and the results of a beautiful tan. Go to the beach in the early summer month and it is not uncommon to see scores of people that resemble walking lobsters. I am sure most of us to some degree have abused our bodies in this area as well.

There is also a way we abuse our souls that is much more serious than a sunburn. Just as we are not wired to take the bombardment of UV rays on our skin, we are not wired to take the bombardment of worship on our souls. We think it will feel good. We believe it will make us look better. We even go out of our ways (consciously and subconsciously) to seek it, but in the end, as an entire world can sadly testify, it leaves us empty and burned.

We like to be number one. Today as we enjoy Mother's Day, I'd like to share with you the pathway to true satisfaction. Joy is attainable if we have the faith and courage to seek it beyond ourselves. Are we willing to forsake our lives that we might save them (Mt. 16:25)? Are we willing to steer clear of all the avenues that promise fulfillment, but do not deliver, to travel down the one path that guarantees life indeed (Jn. 10:10)? Let's find out as we take a one week> break in Genesis and examine a passage from Acts 14.

1. The Setting

Let's start with the setting, our first point.

Paul and Barnabas are on their first missionary journey. They are in the region of Southern Galatia (modern day Turkey) and are running from city to city both in an effort to share the Gospel and stay alive. By chapter 14 we find the duo in Iconium and then eventually Lystra, a Roman outpost about 19 miles away. This was a purely pagan city with no Christian presence (like the Jersey Shore) and very little Jewish influence.

While in Lystra we read in verse 8 "a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother's womb, who had never walked." Using the three-fold emphasis of his paralysis, Luke, the author of Acts, wants to make it clear that this guy wasn't going anywhere. He was completely paralyzed and no doubt everybody in the town was well aware of it.

Verse 9, "This man was listening to Paul as he spoke." The Apostle Paul's goal was very simple. He was not a tourist. He traveled with a mission. He came and continually risked his life for a specific purpose, and that purpose was that people might come to know Jesus Christ. If there were many roads to God, Paul could be considered the world's greatest fool. But Paul believed what the Bible affirms. He knew God is holy and we are sinners. He knew that the only hope we have of forgiveness is the work of Jesus Christ that He performed on the cross. Only Jesus died to take away our sin. Only Jesus rose from the dead to proclaim His victory. And we can receive the free gift of eternal life simply through faith in Jesus! Though many people today do not have the time or the desire to consider this message, this paralyzed man in verse 9 cared to hear what Paul had to say. He was listening!

An unexpected event transpires. In verses 9 and 10 we see Paul fixing his gaze upon the man. Paul somehow understood that the man had the faith to be made well in response to the preaching of God's Word. Paul tells the paralyzed man to stand to his feet, and at once the paralyzed man leaps up and begins to walk.

Now it's very easy to be amazed at this incredible miracle, which indeed it is, and to miss the deeper intentions of this account. There is no doubt that Paul, and Jesus for that matter, performed miracles because they were compassionate individuals. But the primary reason they performed miracles was to authenticate their preaching and provide signs. The man had faith. Can a sign be any more dramatic as to what God can do through us as a result of our faith? Faith to bring a body to life. How about faith to bring a soul to life! The man leaped to his feet. Can any sign be more dramatic of what God does to a believer by instantaneously resurrecting our souls and eventually our bodies the moment we trust Jesus? I would argue that the greater miracle was not the man's physical healing, but rather his spiritual healing and the salvation he apparently received.

This is what I believe we need to see. With our love affair for this world, this is what we too often miss. Ironically, we do not love ourselves enough to really want to give ourselves what will truly liberate. This is what Paul wanted the people back then to see. It appears most could have cared less. Well, the times haven't changed very much.

2. The Seduction

Let's go to the second point, the seduction.

Before I read verses 11-13, let me share with you some historical background. Lystra was governed by the Romans, but cultured by the Greeks; thus, they worshiped the Greek gods of the day. This little story of their history provides some insight into the town's actions spoken of in verses 11-13.

According to legend, Zeus and Hermes once came to this region disguised as mortals seeking lodging. Though they asked at thousands of homes, no one took them in. Finally they came to a humble straw cottage that belonged to an elderly couple named Philemon and Baucis. They gave the gods a banquet with their meager resources. In appreciation, the gods transformed their small cottage into a temple with gold and marble and appointed them the priest and priestess of the temple respectively. And as far as the rest of the town who rejected the gods, their homes were destroyed (Longenecker, Acts, p. 435).

With that as a background, let me read verses 11-13: "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.' And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 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."

On the surface, "We missed them the first time, and we are not about to make the same mistake again!"

Yet on a deeper level, these are classic verses because they teach us so much about the heart of man. We want religion, but we just do not want it on God's terms. We'll go out of our way, make so many sacrifices and even spill so much of our money as long as we get to remain on the throne of our hearts. Even Jesus had a hard time retaining His followers when the true cost of discipleship was revealed. John 6:66, "As a result many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore." Jesus can be my Savior, but I care not to have Him ruling over me as my Lord (Mt. 15:9).

And the problem with this common attitude is that Jesus values His glory too much and loves us too much to keep us in that state of mind. He came to give us life, and until we surrender our entire lives to Him, we will never experience it. True God worship is liberating. Self-worship, when I still want it to be about "me" is enslaving, and when we cover it with a veneer of religion, it only becomes doubly-enslaving.

Satan is perfectly content with our self-idolatry and our false religions so long as we do not worship the true God. He will gladly accommodate as much as necessary. Look at how these folks heard about Jesus from the greatest missionary (save Jesus) who ever lived, and then concluded Zeus and Hermes were among them! Look at the extent they went to worship their supposed deities even now in the apostles' presence! They are hailing Barnabas as Zeus (Jupiter) and Paul as Hermes (Mercury) probably because Paul was the chief speaker. They even had "the priest of Zeus" bring out the oxen adorned with flowers and wreaths and were prepared to offer sacrifices! Devotion means nothing, my friends, if your object of devotion is worthless!

Satan tries to keep people off the path of knowing Jesus. He also desperately tries to take those who do know Jesus and veer them off the path as well. I'm sure he wanted nothing more than to stop the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas. Up until this point, Satan owned Lystra! If we can't get them disqualified through immorality, we'll disqualify them through the ongoing temptation of self-worship. Put yourself in their shoes. The whole town is worshipping you! Our flesh craves that! And our flesh can even find a way to twist it so that we can receive the worship and justify it as an excuse for better ministry! "Hey Barnabas, if the people really admire us that much, no doubt they will better listen to our message and it will result in a greater attentiveness to the Gospel." Isn't it great to know that the Lord can just as easily use ordinary people? As a matter of fact, isn't it true that His greatness better shines through our weakness (2 Cor. 4:7; 12:9)?

Proud people need to fan their fames on the fuel of human affirmation, the incessant need for people-esteem - complaining and pity-partying and backbiting and withdrawal when they don't get it. It becomes the motivation that drives all their actions! They buy a house for human praise. They work-out for human praise. They have successful children in academics and athletics for human praise. They even serve in the church for human praise. Everything is driven by the esteem from others, and when they don't receive it, they become bitter and disillusioned. Self-worship is always a defeated practice.

1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." True joy and satisfaction comes from serving King Jesus ultimately in all that we do and desiring our praise to come ultimately from Him. That frees us to love people and not use people. That frees us to worship God and not worship ourselves. This is humility. This is the pathway to grace. Because as we know, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (Jas. 4:6).

3. The Solution

So from the setting to the seduction and now to our final point, the solution.

Back in verse 11 it says, "The crowds…raised their voice…in the Lycaonian language." The case could be made that Paul and Barnabas didn't know what was going on because of the language barrier. Maybe they thought it was an enthusiastic reception of the Gospel. However, the moment the sacrificial oxen were paraded out by the priest of Zeus, they caught on and immediately shunned this worship of themselves. Why? Because they were walking in the Spirit of God and needed nothing from the world and wanted nothing but the glory of the Lord.

Verses 14 and 15, "But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes [a Jewish expression of desecration - cf. Mt. 26:63-65] 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 [we're not gods, just common people like you]'" (stop right there).

You see their goal was not self-worship. They knew full well the futility and vanity of this pursuit. Their goal, like it should be for all who know Jesus, is that they may (the end of verse 15) "preach the Gospel…that [people] should turn from these vain things to a living God." And what we see is the missionaries using this experience to share again the good news that is found in Christ. It is one of the shortest missionary sermons recorded in Acts. Also important to note is where Paul begins his discourse. Unlike his visits to the synagogues where he starts off with the Jewish Scriptures and ties it to Christ, here in dealing with these pagans, he starts off with creation as his point of contact. Here is the point: it does not matter where you begin your Gospel presentation. Just find a point of contact and then get them to Christ!

Verse 15, this is the "living God," the one and only true God who stands above all the false and dead gods that exist. Verse 15, He is Creator, "Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them." As Creator we find comfort in His power. As Creator, we owe Him our allegiance. All people may not know what the Bible teaches, but all people, the Bible declares, know that God exists from what He has revealed in creation to the point that all people are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20). Verse 16, "In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways." Verse 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." Though this would have been the first time these people were introduced to Jesus, the witness of God's presence and goodness had been all around them. Would they turn as Paul said in verse 15 from the "vain things" and receive the "living God?"

Verse 18, "Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them." So the worship of Paul and Barnabas, though it didn't come easy, was halted, but did the people in the town turn to Jesus? Actually, it appears many instead turned against the missionaries.

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

This is what a world that loves itself thinks about those who love Jesus. The crowd one minute prepared to treat Paul and Barnabas as gods now takes it upon themselves the next minute to kill the people they once deified. Just like Jesus, praising Him on Palm Sunday and then demanding His execution on a cross five days later. They stone Paul and drag him out to the local dump and left him thinking he was dead.

Verse 20, "But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city." What an incredible picture (2 Cor. 4:9). "He was a good man. We'll miss you, Paul. Wait, he's moving. Are you kidding me, he is going back into the very city where he was just stoned!" Verse 20 adds, "The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe." Folks, the guy was just stoned and without any time to recuperate, he departs for Derbe on foot some sixty miles away! Then after preaching there, verse 21 says, Paul returned again to Lystra on his way home, the very place he was just stoned!

So what do we see in this passage? The fickleness of human beings. The love for self that dominates a love for God. But we also see something great. We see a man named Paul that was faithful to his calling and persevered despite temptations to greatness and temptations to fear and temptations to quit. Evidence of his love for the Lord and desire to worship Him only was seen in his service to the Lord (cf. Gal. 6:17; 2 Ti. 3:11). Are we really bondslaves of Jesus Christ? Does our lifestyle give evidence of the fact that we worship Him and not ourselves?

What do we see in this passage? The rejection of Jesus Christ then as we witness today. But we also see if we dig deeper in the Bible that some people received Him. On Paul's second missionary journey he returned to Lystra. In Acts 16 we read, "Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium" (Ac. 16:1-2). There were "brethren" in Lystra! And among the "brethren" was a "disciple," a young man by the name of Timothy, a dear saint that would prove to be a great encouragement to Paul and great blessing to God's people.

The world is filled with people who worship. Everybody is worshiping something or someone. For most, it is the idolatrous worship of self. Did you know that is following the lead of Satan? After all, it is his antichrist "who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God" (2 Thes. 2:4). Satan himself craved worship in his temptation with Jesus: "Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours" (Lk. 4:7) to which Jesus replied, "You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only" (Lk. 4:8).

Who is your supreme object of worship? Is it vain things that can never satisfy, or have you turned to the true God, Jesus Christ who removes all your sin and guilt and provides you with a joyful and abundant life that comes from giving Him first-place in all things?

other sermons in this series

Mar 3


The Entrusted Message

Preacher: J.T. Colville Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16–21 Series: Miscellaneous