The Power of God to Save

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Acts 14:8-18

What do you think of when you hear the word “salvation”? If you are a Christian, you probably think about going to heaven when you die. That is a great part of what salvation means, but God’s power to save isn’t limited to just our souls.

The apostles Paul and Barnabas were in the middle of a missionary journey that was bringing the gospel to a number of cities in southern Asia Minor (Turkey). Everywhere they went proclaiming the good news about Jesus these two missionaries met with mixed results. The Christian message causes division among those who hear it. Some embrace the gospel enthusiastically, while others reject it just as passionately – and sometimes violently. Paul and Barnabas made many disciples in the places they visited. They also experienced hostility and persecution, repeated beatings at the hands of angry mobs, and expulsion from various cities. People who bear witness to Jesus must often pay a price in personal suffering for being faithful to him.

A MIRACULOUS SIGN

When the apostles came to a city called Lystra, they went to a public place where Paul began speaking about Christ. Soon, however, the apostle’s attention was drawn to one individual. It was a man, sitting there in the crowd, a man who could not walk. Like a Jewish beggar at the temple in Jerusalem whom Peter had healed some years before, this Greek resident of Lystra was crippled from birth.

Paul looked at the man, saw his faith, and told him to stand up. Immediately the man jumped to his feet and began to walk around. This miracle is an illustration of the way the gospel of Christ impacts human need – all human need. Our Christian hope is about more than just our souls being saved from sin and hell. Obviously, that’s the most important aspect of salvation, but it’s not the only thing. In its original biblical sense, the word salvation referred primarily to rescue in this life here and now, on earth. It meant to be saved physically, from death, disease or danger. “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. . . . many are my enemies . . . those who seek to destroy me” (Psalm 69:1,4). “The cords of death entangled me . . . I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, save me!’ . . . when I was in great need, he saved me” (Psalm 116:3,6). God’s salvation is holistic. It is for bodies as well as souls, for communities as well as individuals, for earth as well as heaven.

That is why the gospel addresses all kinds of needs: physical, spiritual, emotional, relational, even ecological. Our hope as Christians is that God will save us entirely and completely, through our Lord Jesus Christ. He will heal diseased minds and bodies, he will restore crippled limbs, he will bring back the lost and the estranged, he will mend broken relationships and reconcile old enemies, he will establish just societies and peaceful communities, he will renew a polluted creation, he will resurrect dead bodies, he will make a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness and justice dwell. Most of this saving work of God must wait for its completion until the end of time and Christ’s return in glory. Then God’s kingdom of shalom, of perfect unity and wholeness, will be established. But some of this salvation is happening now, wherever we seek to accomplish God’s will and restore his peace, his shalom. And sometimes – to encourage our faith, to demonstrate his power to save, to confirm the truth and promises of his word – the Lord instantly and miraculously grants an act of salvation, a physical healing, as he did for the crippled man in Lystra.

THE GODS HAVE COME DOWN!”

How would you react if you saw a miracle like that happen? Would you be skeptical? Would you try to explain it away? Would you be frightened? Would you want to get some of that power for yourself? Or would you be led to praise God for this sign of his salvation, this evidence of his power to save? And would you try to become an instrument of gospel peace yourself, a messenger of salvation? The reaction of the original onlookers, the crowd in Lystra, was immediate and extreme.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you.”

Acts 14:11-15

The people of Lystra were traditional religionists. Believing in the myths that Zeus and the other Olympian gods sometimes visited places in human disguise, the crowd that had witnessed the healing jumped to the conclusion that their city was receiving just such a visit. They thought that Barnabas was the chief god Zeus. Because Paul had been doing most of the talking, the Lystrans identified him as Hermes, the messenger of the gods. They hurried Paul and Barnabas off to their temple in order to offer them sacrifices.

A POWERFUL SERMON

When the apostles realized what was happening, though, their reaction was equally strong. No authentic servant of Christ wants personal credit or glory for ministry done in the Lord’s name. Paul and Barnabas weren’t gods. They weren’t even miracle workers; the Lord is the only miracle worker. Praise and acknowledgment belongs properly to Jesus Christ. Christ’s followers are jealous for him. They want Jesus to receive all the worship, all the glory. When Barnabas and Paul caught on that the people were preparing to worship them, they tore their clothes to show their horror and they rushed out into the crowd to speak to them.

The sermon Paul preached in Lystra differs markedly from the one recorded in Acts 13 which he preached in an earlier city on his tour, Antioch of Pisidia. The settings and audiences of the two messages were also in sharp contrast. In Antioch Paul was speaking in the synagogue, the Jewish house of worship, to a congregation that was mostly Jewish with some Gentile adherents mixed in. His audience on that occasion was familiar with the Old Testament, so Paul’s approach was to expound the scriptures and draw on Israel’s history to show that Jesus was the Messiah.

In Lystra, however, the preaching was very different, although not entirely so. The basic apostolic message was the same in both places: the announcement that salvation is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Luke gives us a brief summary of what the apostles said to the crowd that was trying to worship them. They began by declaring, “We are bringing you good news” (v. 15). Literally that word is “evangelizing” or preaching the gospel. Though Luke does not recount all the details of their message, the primary “good news” of the gospel is the news of peace with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So we may be sure that the heart of the sermon Paul preached in Lystra was the very same message he preached everywhere – in Antioch, Philippi, Corinth, Rome, everywhere he went.

But Paul’s approach in preaching this basic message to the pagan idol-worshipers in Lystra was different. Paul began in this case by drawing a contrast between the true God and the gods whom the Lystrans worshiped. Addressing the crowd that was milling about in front of the temple of Zeus, the apostles urged the people to “turn from these worthless things [their idols] to the living God.”

Then Paul affirms two truths about this living God, the real God. First, this God is the creator of all things, the one “who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them” (v. 15). There is only one real God; everything else in the universe is his creation, something he has made. The creation is distinct from, and inferior to, the great Creator God. It just doesn’t make sense to worship a created thing in place of the Creator himself. That’s not only wrong, it’s useless, a waste of time, money and effort. Idols are “worthless things,” Paul says. They can’t do anything for anyone.

Second, declares the apostle, God is the sustainer of all peoples. In the past God allowed the nations to go their own way (v.15). He let people turn from him to follow other gods, or no god at all. But that didn’t mean God had stopped caring about them. “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (v. 17). So the apostle began by talking about God’s creation and rule over the world, and his care for the people who live in the world. These were ideas which his audience could readily understand. They are things anyone should be able to know, just by looking at the world around them. Even without a Bible people should be able to recognize that there must be a God who made the universe and provided a world filled with good things.

But now there is new information to tell, good news for everyone. The gospel has come. Paul and Barnabas were there to announce it. The God who created all things, the God who sustains all people, has now come into the world in person through his son Jesus Christ. Though God had before let the nations and people go their own way, he now calls everyone to turn back to him. God is inviting the whole world to come to him through Jesus Christ. The gospel is something no one could ever guess for themselves. It is the good news that Christ’s death and resurrection are the means by which all people everywhere can have their sins forgiven. By giving ourselves in faith to Christ, we can find new life here and the hope of heaven hereafter.

Paul always adapted his preaching to his audience, not by compromising the core message, but by introducing it in a way that emphasized the gospel’s relevance to their lives. The inhabitants of Lystra were very superstitious and fearful. So Paul starts out by speaking directly to their need to be delivered from the terrors of their false religion. “Turn from these worthless things,” he urges, “to the living God.” The Lystrans were also completely ignorant of the Bible and probably would not have accepted it if they had known about it. So Paul takes nature as his text. He points to sky and mountains and sea. He speaks of the good things provided by God universally to all: food and clothing, sunshine and harvest. All these things bear witness to God’s glory, power and kindness.

Paul always explained the truth of the Christian message with terms and ideas his particular audience could readily grasp. They might not always accept the message, but at least they could understand it.

The challenge for us as Christians today is to do the same as we seek to share the good news about Jesus with the people whom God sends across our path. What problems are they struggling with, problems for which Jesus Christ is the answer? What kinds of words and concepts can they grasp, even if they don’t know much about God or the Bible? What will help them move towards him? We want to find and use those words and ideas to share the love of Christ.

But let me make this personal. What particular problems are you facing right now? Is it physical difficulty: illness, advancing age? Are you trying to cope with emotional pain perhaps, with depression, discouragement, loneliness, grief? Do you suffer because of the suffering of someone you love, or because of the painful memories of one who is no longer there? Maybe you’re struggling with a sense of hopelessness. It seems like the purpose of your life has fizzled out. Maybe you’re afraid of what the future holds.

Whatever your struggle is, whatever problems you’re facing, the gospel has good news to speak to you! Salvation is for all of you, the whole of your life, body, spirit, mind, emotions, relationships. God can save. He loves you. Christ is on your side. His purposes for you are good. In him your future is bright. Believe that good news, and live in peace!