There is so much going on in this story I don’t even know what to focus on. There are a lot of rabbit rails I could follow today, so I think I will.
Rabbit trail #1: Paul heals a a man who’s been unable to walk since birth. Notice the progression of healing powers that happens from the story of Jesus to the book of Acts: first Jesus heals people and tells his disciples they’ll be able to do the things that he does. Then Peter, someone who was with Jesus, heals people. Next Paul, someone who was not originally with Jesus, heals someone. One of the reasons I love the book of Acts is because I believe it describes the kinds of things that are possible through the power of the Holy Spirit among people who follow Christ. It’s a story of what can happen when people allow the words of Jesus to move from their heads to their lives, from what they just believe to how they live and what they do with their faith.
Rabbit trail # 2: After Paul heals the man, the people in the city are convinced that Paul and Barnabas are Zeus and Hermes in human form, and people from the temple of Zeus come and they want to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. Paul says to them, “People, what are you doing? We are humans too, just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to you: turn to the living God and away from such worthless things. He made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them…Nevertheless, he hasn’t left himself without a witness. He has blessed you by giving you rain from above as well as seasonal harvests, and satisfying you with food and happiness.” What kinds of “worthless things” do you suppose Paul would say we’ve turned to in 2012? Who do we put on a pedestal that doesn’t belong there? What do we prioritize that’s really not that important? What do we get bent out of shape about or excited about that doesn’t really matter all that much? And do we get equally excited about the God who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them? Are we filled with the same awe and wonder about that as we are about celebrities, designer clothes, fast cars, sports teams? When was the last time I really gave thanks, not just in a passing way, for rain and harvests and food and happiness, recognizing that they don’t just create themselves?
Rabbit trail #3: As quickly as the crowds wanted to hail Paul and Barnabas as gods, they turn on them, stone Paul, and drag him outside the city thinking he’s dead. Then, the very next day, Paul and Barnabas get up and to to a nearby city, where it says they, “strengthened the disciples and urged them to remain in the faith. They told them, ‘If we are to enter God’s kingdom, we must pass through many troubles.'” In good times or bad times, Paul and Barnabas didn’t change their message. When people hail them as gods, they don’t take the credit, they give the credit to God. When people try to kill them, they don’t blame God, they say, “God is good, and this is just part of life for people who follow him.” I am often quick to do the opposite. If something good happens, how often do I want the credit? And if something bad happens, how often do I want to assign God the blame?
Rabbit Trail #4: Sometimes I think my life is hard and I have problems and I have to deal with complaints and people don’t like the decisions I make and I feel depressed and discouraged and unmotivated and unskilled and unqualified and lethargic and like I can’t do anything right. Sometimes. Yet here’s Paul in the 14th chapter of Acts. He gets STONED. Not in a drug kind of way, but in the kind of way where people throw big rocks at him and want him to die from it. I can’t imagine being at a lower point than that. But what does he do? He gets up the next day and leaves to go to Derbe. And when he gets there it says, “Paul and Barnabas proclaimed the good news to the people in Derbe and made many disciples.” The good news? The good news of what? The good news of how to make people so angry that they want to throw big rocks at you until you die from it? That doesn’t sound like good news to me. There must be something more to it for Paul. That’s the thing. Something so dramatic has happened to Paul that he’s willing to go all over the place and risk his life to tell people about it. This is not a small deal for Paul. This is not about a t-shirt slogan or a bumper sticker or church membership or anything else other than his whole life. Paul’s entire life has been changed, turned upside down, and nothing can stop him from telling people about it. That’s why I love the book of Acts. It gives me hope for what’s possible.
What could it look like today if people moved their faith from their heads to their lives? What would it look like today if people turned away from the “worthless things” they so often turn to?
What could it look like today if people gave credit where credit is due?
Read the book of Acts to get a glimpse of the answers to those questions. I love the book of Acts because it gives me hope for what’s possible.