Acts 14: God in Human Form!

This year in Global we are reading the book of Acts in the Bible.
It tells the story of the early Christians after Jesus died, came to life again, and went back to heaven.
 
The book of Acts has two big parts with two main people.
First, Peter.
Peter was one of Jesus best friends from the beginning.
The first part of Acts is about how Peter and his friends take the message, the good news about Jesus around Israel
 
 
The last few weeks, we have started the second part of Acts.
We have met the second big person in Acts, Paul
 
at first, Paul hated Christians-he even tried to kill them
but then he met Jesus, and his life was changed.
He took the good news about Jesus outside Israel, through Turkey and Greece to Italy
 
Acts starts with Peter, in Jerusalem.
The book finishes with Paul in Rome
Right now, we are in between these two places.
 
 
Two weeks ago, Andrew told us about Paul and his friend Barnabas
they started The First Big Trip outside Israel to tell people about Jesus.
They got on a ship and sailed to the island of Cyprus.
From there, they sailed to Turkey
last week, Ralph talks about the time in Antioch.
A lot of people were interested
but some people were angry and attacked Paul-they didn’t want to hear about Jesus.
 
Acts 13:46-49            
 
this is big!
Paul says the good news about Jesus is not just for people who are Jewish.
Not just for the people of Israel.
But it’s good news for the “Gentiles”-that means everyone who is not Jewish.
That means you and me!
Like Kiwi or Chinese or Japanese or Korean
Here in NZ – the farthest away part of the world from Israel.
This is good news-  it means the good news about Jesus is good news for us!
 
Some people attacked Paul and Barnabas, so they left the city,
They traveled around, visited Iconium, and came to a small town called Lystra.
 
 
The Story of Baucis and Philemon
before we read what happened in Lystra, I want to tell you a story
it comes from a Roman writer called Ovid.
-did anyone study him at school?
He wrote a book of stories about the same time Jesus was born.[1]
 
This might not be a true story, but it’s a good story.
see how many things you hear that reminds you of stories in the Bible.
 
 
In those days, most people except Jews believed there were many gods
once upon a time, the story says, two of their gods Zeus and Hermes, came down to the earth.
They looked just like people – like poor, tired travellers
Gods in human form.
 
They came to the area around Lystra.
They knocked on the door of a big expensive house, and asked for some food and a place to sleep
but the owner locked the door and would not open it.
They came to another nice house, and knocked again
but again, the door was locked, and the owner would not let them in.
They walked around all the town.
They knocked on 1000 doors-and every one was locked.
No one would welcome these poor strangers in.
 
Then they came to a very small house.
An old man Philemon and his wife Baucis lived there.
 
They were very poor, but they opened the door and invited the two strangers in.
Baucis brought a bucket and some warm water to wash their feet.
And a towel to dry their feet
-remember last week, Ralph talks about washing peoples feet.
They did not have very much food, but Baucis cooked, what they had to give to the strangers
 
Then something amazing happened: they poured out wine for the strangers, but their bottle stayed full!  Baucis and Philemon realised that these were gods.
They thought-we need to make a sacrifice.
They tried to catch their chicken to kill it, but they were too old and it ran too fast for them!
 
Zeus said you don’t need to kill the chicken.
But we are angry, because the people here did not welcome us.
You two must go up the mountain, and do not look back until you get to the top.
So, they climbed up the mountain by their house.
From the top, they looked down, and all the valley was filled with water
all their neighbours were dead, and their houses were gone.
But their poor little house had turned into a great temple.[2]
 
So this was a famous story from the area of Lystra.
The people probably knew it
 
Now, let’s read what happened for Paul and Barnabas, when they visited Lystra.
 
 
Acts 14:8-20  
 
back in March, I talked about how in Jerusalem Peter met a man who was crippled:
his legs did not work, he could not walk.  (Acts 3)
But through Peter, the power of Jesus made the man’s legs healthy -so he was walking and jumping
all the people were amazed and surprised.
 
the story here starts off the same:
There is a crippled man, who could not walk.
Paul looks at him, and tells him to stand up.
And then this man is jumping and walking around!
But then, the story is different.
For Peter, all the people in Jerusalem gave glory and thanks to God
but here in Lystra, the people decide Paul and Barnabas are gods themselves!
What a difference!
 
Maybe the people remember the story of Baucis and Philemon.
When Zeus and Hermes visited, no one recognised them, and everyone died.
But they don’t want to be like that,
they don’t want to miss out this time.[3]
So they get ready to sacrifice.
 
Two years ago, I went to India.
In India, people believe in lots of gods like the people in Lystra.
they make idols, statues of the gods.
They cover them with many wreaths of flowers. -like in these photos.
 
Paul and Barnabas don’t speak the local language, so at first, they don’t understand what is happening.
 
Maybe they first hear some drums
then, maybe singing.
The crowds come closer-they have all these flowers.
They are probably burning something to make a sweet smell.
And there are some cows – moooooooooo!
Maybe Paul asks somebody who speaks the language, what’s going on? what is happening?
 
Ever since Paul met Jesus, Jesus is his whole life.
he doesn’t care what people think of him, but he wants people to love and praise Jesus.
Paul sees himself as nothing, and Jesus as everything
 
Now he finds out, the people think he is God.
And he is so unhappy, so angry, so upset.
He rips his shirt
– Jews do that when they are very upset, when someone says bad things about God (blasphemy).
He starts running into the crowd
No!!
You’ve all got it wrong!
You’ve missed the whole point!
We are not anything special.
We get hungry and tired, we feel happy and sad.
We are just normal human beings like you.
We are not gods
 
Look at your idols!
They are like this crippled man was
they cannot walk, they cannot talk,
they are powerless, helpless, useless, worthless.
They are dead.[4]
 
We are telling you to turn away from all these false gods.
To turn to the one true God, the living God.  (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
 
 
We sometimes say God has two books that tell us about him.
The book of the Bible, and the book of nature
 
Last week, Ralph told us about Paul’s first sermon in Antioch.
Paul taught the Jews about Jesus from the history of Israel in the book of the Bible.
 
But the people in Lystra don’t know about the Bible.
So Paul teaches them about God from the book of nature.
 
He gives two big lessons.
 
One: The beauty of the world shows God’s glory and greatness.
People thought Zeus was the king of the gods, and god of the sky
but no, the God of Israel made the sky and the earth and the sea.
 
The heavens show God’s glory;
    the skies show all that he has made.
There is no speech or language
    where their voice is not heard.
Psalm 19:1-3
 
Whether you speak Hebrew, or the language of Lystra, or Mandarin or Arabic or English,
you can understand that language about God!
 
last week, pastor Mike was tramping the Milford track.
He said how he saw God’s beauty and power in the mountains,
 
This is the God we should praise and worship!
 
 
Two: The food from the earth shows God’s goodness and kindness
Zeus was the god of the rain and growing plants
but no, it’s the God of Jesus who makes rain fall on the earth and grass grow on the hills.
(Psalm 65:9-13, 147:8-9)
he made us, he feeds us, he loves and looks after us and he cares for us.
 
This is the God we should give thanks to!
 
this is the true, living God
So much better than idols![5]
 
—————
 
The people thought “the gods have come down to us in human form.”
They were wrong, but they were also nearly right.
Because Paul’s message, the good news, was exactly that:
God has come down to us in human form.
 
Later on, Paul wrote:
Jesus was in the form of God,
but he made himself nothing,
he took the form of a servant,
and was born as a human being.
And he even died like a criminal on a cross
Philippians 2:6-8
 
Jesus is the true God come down to us in human form.
 
In Jesus, God became a human being, in every way just like us.
he got hungry and tired, he felt happy and sad.
And so he understands our weaknesses, our problems, because he experienced all the same things
Hebrews 2:17, 4:15
 
that’s the good news!
 
In Ovid’s story, most people-1000 houses-did not recognise or welcome  Zeus and Hermes
and it was the same when God came in Jesus Christ:
 
He came into the very world he made, but the world didn’t recognise him.
He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.
John 1:10-11
 
the week before Easter, on Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, people thought Jesus was wonderful.
They praised him and shouted “hosanna” and waved palm branches
– like the people of Lystra with their flowers
 
But the Jewish priests were angry, because Jesus was a human being, calling himself God,
the high priest ripped his clothes, like Paul did (Matthew 26:65, Mark 14:63)
now the people shouted “crucify him”.
God came to us in human form, and we killed him.
 
the people of Lystra were the same:
first, they treated Paul as a god, then they tried to kill him.
They threw big stones at him until he was dead, they thought.[6]
 
first, they worshipped the messenger, then they killed the messenger,
both ways they missed the message: the true God has come in human form.
 
—————–
 
What about us today? 
Every day, God comes to all of us in many ways,
but often we are too busy, too tired, too proud, and we don’t see him.
 
every day, we all make little choices to welcome God or reject him
 
God speaks to us through the book of the Bible-do we read it?
he shows us his glory and goodness in the book of nature-do we recognise it and thank him?
He comes to us in human form through the people we meet – do we have time for them?
But most of all, God comes to us in human form through Jesus Christ
 
like Zeus and Hermes, God in Jesus knocks on the door of our lives.
Hoping that we will recognise him and let him in
 
Jesus says to us.
“Here I am!  I am standing at the door and knocking
if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come and
we will share a meal together as friends.
And I’ll be with you forever.”
Revelation 3:20
 
Will you be like the 1000 houses and lock him out?
will you hear Jesus’ voice today?
Will you open the door of your heart when he knocks?
Will you welcome him in?
 
 
Questions
Where do you see God in the book of nature?
 
Why did the people of Lystra change so fast from calling Paul a god to rejecting his message?
 
What idols or false gods are there in your life?
What makes you reject God?
 
How is Jesus knocking on the door of your life?
Will you open the door and welcome him in?


[1] It was called “Metamorphoses”.
[2] Zeus gave them a wish.  Because they had loved each other all their lives, they asked that they would die together, and neither have to see the other’s grave and live alone.  So, for the rest of their lives, they worshipped the gods in the temple.  And when they were very old, they turned into two trees, side by side, with their branches intertwined.  And said Ovid, you can still see those two trees here today… 
[3] reminding me of, “don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for  some who have done this have entertained angels without realising it.”  (Hebrews 13:2)
[4] and he might have said “the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins.”  But “the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sin so we can worship the living God.”  (Hebrews 9:13-14, 10:4)
[5] a big spiritual principle is: we become like what we worship.  For me, one of the saddest verses in the Bible is, “they worshipped worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (Jeremiah 2:5)
[6] A few years earlier, Paul was like them.  He was so angry that Christians said Jesus was God, that he helped to stone the Christian Stephen.  What a change in Paul!  Later he wrote “you know how much persecution and suffering I have endured.  You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra-but the Lord rescued me from all of it.”  (2 Timothy 3:11).  “Once I was stoned” (2 Corinthians 11:25), and he carried the scars-”I bear on my body the marks of Christ” (Galatians 6:7).  And yet by the grace of God, “struck down, but not destroyed; knocked down, but not knocked out.”  (2 Corinthians 4:9)

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