Vermont Naval History (the cannon used on this ship). Vermont State Capitol.
Thursday, 16 February 2023
and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, Acts 14:15
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Barnabas and Paul were thoroughly distressed at the events taking place in Lystra. Therefore, they tore their clothes and leaped into the multitude, crying out “and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things?’”
It is most likely that the apostles speak their words in the Greek. They had certainly been preaching in Greek, but when the people were so astonished at the miracle they saw, they began speaking in their own language. Barnabas and Paul now attempt to bring them back to their senses by speaking in Greek.
By asking a question rather than making a statement, the effect is even more pronounced. A question asks the mind of the hearer to stop and think. From there, a response is expected. By speaking in Greek, it will beg for a response in Greek. This should begin to quell the excitement of the crowd while the minds adjust to the question and the answer that is provided.
From there, they next say, “We also are men.” In other words, and quite obviously, “We are not gods.” However, the people had assumed that the gods had come down among them in the form of men, and so to further dispel that thinking, the words continue with, “with the same nature as you.”
The word is homoiopathés. It is found only here and in James 5:17. It is a compound word coming from homoios, meaning resembling, equal to, etc., and from paschó, signifying to feel heavy emotion, especially suffering. Together, they give the sense of one who is like in nature and able to go through the same experiences with the same results occurring that would come about in another. The use in James provides the sense of the word –
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” James 5:17, 18
In telling the people this, they are adamantly stating that they are not gods, nor could they be gods. They are simply men like any other men. They have come from another area, not heaven. With that, they continue, saying, “and preach to you.”
Here, they use the word euaggelizó. It is the announcement of the good news. Anyone can come and preach anything on a street corner, but the apostles have come to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. It is He who has come down from heaven, not they. They are simply His sent ones telling others of what has transpired. And more, they tell the people “that you should turn.”
The word means just that. They are on one path, and they are to turn from it. It is not a literal, physical turning, but a figurative one. Their lives are headed in the wrong direction and the apostles have come to redirect them. And what is it that they are to turn from, that is next proclaimed with the words, “from these useless things.”
The obvious meaning is what they were doing right then and there. They were in the process of worshiping the created rather than the Creator. They were inventing a religious expression from their own minds and preparing to bow down to the objects of their invention. They had taken myths from the past concerning the Greek gods and brought them alive in their own minds in the physical manifestation of Barnabas and Paul. But these two apostles were telling them that this was wrong and that they were to turn from that “to the living God.”
“The living God” is an expression that goes back to Deuteronomy 5 where Moses reminded the people of the events at Sinai –
“Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore, then we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? 27 You go near and hear all that the Lord our God may say, and tell us all that the Lord our God says to you, and we will hear and do it.” Deuteronomy 5:25-27
This term, the living God, continues to be seen throughout the Old Testament and is brought into the New with the proclamation of Peter that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). The words of the apostles are intended to direct the minds of these people to this living God and then explain how He came in the flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ. Those in Thessalonica heard this message and they got it. Paul referred to this when he wrote his first epistle to them. His words mirror what they are trying to teach those at Lystra now –
“For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10
With this understood, the apostles next state that it is this living God “who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them.” This sums up the creation and it dispels the Greek notion of there being many gods, each having power over one part of the creation or another.
For example, they had Uranus, the personification of heaven. Zeus was the king of heaven and earth and of the Olympian gods. Gaia was the personification of the earth. Poseidon was the god of the sea and of water generally. He is also the god of earthquakes and horses. But there was also Pontus, the personification of the sea and the oldest Greek divinity of the waters. These and numerous other gods were supposedly running the show in the various levels of creation and how it is manifested.
On the other hand, the apostles proclaim one true and living God, asking the people to turn from their pagan ways to a full and mature understanding of who He is and of what He has done in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Life application: Though we traditionally don’t ascribe deity in the way that those of Lystra did, there are groups of people who worship various gods in the world today. There are those who do believe in Gaia or the god of the sun or other gods. But there are also temptations to deify people, such as politicians, even in our own hearts. We need to not ascribe the all-powerful workings of God to a man. Rather, we elect people to serve over us and to direct us for a temporary time in a fallen world.
We also create gods of money, sex, friendships, or even ease and convenience to relieve the course of our lives. We must be careful to never place anything or anyone to the level of devotion or worship. We should not let things of this creation consume our thoughts or our time in an unhealthy manner. Rather, let us always focus on Jesus, direct our hearts and minds to Him, and serve the living God by honoring the Son. This is what is right and proper. In this, we will have pursued the right and good path that God has set before us.
Lord God, help us to conduct our lives in a manner that exalts You at all times. May we never find our hope or life’s purpose in something that is a part of the created order itself. Instead, may our hopes, our desires, and our constant attention be directed to You alone. Only You can truly satisfy our every need. And so, help us to look to You always. Amen.