God is never left without a witness in doing good (Acts 14:17)[i]
The same thing happened in Iconium (the spreading of the good news). Paul and Barnabas went into the synagogue and spoke a powerful message to such an extent that many became believers. “The evangelistic preaching of Paul and Barnabas receives a believing response, and a united, integrated church of Jews and Gentiles is formed.”[ii] However, the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers (and sisters?). The Lord granted signs and wonders to be done through them. However, not everyone believed the signs.
The residents of the city were divided. Some sided with the Jews, and some sided with the Apostles. “The dividing line is not ethnic, national, or cultural, but runs between belief and unbelief in the Christian message that God has sent the Messiah, Jesus.[iii] Also, “Luke regards Paul as Apostle in the sense of ‘missionary,’ indeed the great missionary hero of the first generation but does not consider him an Apostle in the same sense that Peter was, for there were only twelve apostles.” (For further explanation, see commentary).
When an attempt was made to mistreat and stone them, the Apostles fled to Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding area of Lycaonia. Sometimes the Apostles had to flee persecution, and at other times they had to take a stand. “Early Christian missionaries received both instructions in the name of the risen Lord but had to decide from situation to situation whether to resist or flee.”[iv] They continued to spread the good news there in Lycaonia.
A healing occurs to a man who could not use his feet – he had never walked; he was crippled from birth. While Paul was speaking, the man looked intently at him. Paul recognized that he had the faith to be healed, and said in a loud voice, “Stand up right on your feet.” The man sprang up and began to walk. In this text, the Greek word for healed is “saved.” The crowd went crazy (my emphasis). They shouted in their Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” They called Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes because he was the chief speaker. “The idea that gods would disguise themselves as humans and roam the earth incognito was a common pagan idea.”[v]
The priest of Zeus wanted to offer a sacrifice. When Paul and Barnabas heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed into the crowds shouting, “Why are you doing this?” They wanted them to know that they were mortals just like them, that they wanted to bring them the good news, and that they should turn from these worthless things to the living God. “He has not left himself without a witness in doing good.” Even with the words they proclaimed, it was not enough to restrain the crowds from offering sacrifice to them. In other words, they made them into gods and wanted to worship them.
The Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. They stoned Paul, dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. “How official this attempt on Paul’s life is unclear (see 7:58), just as it is not clear whether Paul actually died and revived (see 20:7-10).[vi] When the Disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. He left with Barnabas the next day for Derbe.
They made the trip again to Lystra, to Iconium, and back to Antioch. They encouraged the Disciples to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the Kingdom of God.” Consequently, “Paul and Barnabas are examples of what Christians can expect to happen in their own lives,”[vii] that they enter the “Kingdom of God.” They appointed elders in the church, and with prayer and fasting, they entrusted them to the Lord, the one they had come to believe. “The authorization extended to Paul and Barnabas by the church is now extended to the Elders of the church.”[viii]
The journey continued to Pisidia, and to Pamphylia. They went to Perga and down to Attalia. From there, they sailed back to Antioch, where they were commended to the grace of God for the work they had completed. When they arrived, they called the church together and shared all that God had done with them, and how God had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. This is important as “Paul and Barnabas had not been independent missionaries operating on their own initiative. They were commissioned by the church, called by the Holy Spirit, commissioned by the church, and maybe supported financially by the church in Antioch.”[ix] Their mission to the Gentiles was eventually approved by the Jerusalem Church. They stayed there for some time with the Disciples.
Prayer: Dear God, you show us through these scriptures, how your message was spread, and how many believed and came to know you. We also see that despite the miracles that were performed, some still did not believe. We know that it was not without a sacrifice. In our own life and relationship with you, help us to proclaim your good works, and to never be left without your witness. In every space we find ourselves – avail us to your spirit to walk and trust your word, and to be one church. Amen.
[i] I changed the word “himself” for inclusive language. The Paul of Acts proclaims that the one God of Jewish and Christian faith is also testified to by nature and human experience, so that pagans who have no special revelation are addressed by God. Rain from heaven, the provision of food, and the joy of life all point to the reality of the one God (see 17:23-29; Rom. 1:20, pg. 415.
[ii] Boring and Craddock, pg. 413.
[iv] Ibid., pg. 414
[vi] Ibid., pg. 415.
[viii] Ibid., pg. 416.