“The gods have come down to us in human form!” (Acts 14:11)
They had the chance of a lifetime! They were mistaken for gods. Think of what that might have led to. Power, wealth, and praise unbounded could have been theirs. They didn’t even have to ask for it. It was being forced upon them.
Barnabus and Paul were on a missionary journey far from Jerusalem in heathen lands. It was not an easy mission. Many of the people there were hostile. Plans had been made to have the apostles captured, tortured, then stoned to death. So they retreated to a place called Lystra.
Then everything changed. To a man crippled from birth Paul commanded: “Stand up on your feet!” The words were barely out of his mouth when the man jumped up and began to walk.
The reaction of the crowd? “The gods have come down to us in human form!” They had specific gods in mind. Barnabus they called Zeus, and Paul they thought was Hermes. The priest of Zeus came out with bulls to sacrifice to them.
The people were friendly!
The invitation to be treated as gods was quickly dismissed with the words: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God…”
What a start for this new mission field! With the missionaries being so respected and accepted, we would expect grand and glorious results. Surely the Christian church would take root and grow large here. Surely the missionaries would be loved and honored.
Surely not. Some of the enemies from previous places arrived at Lystra and quickly turned the crowds against the ambassadors of Christ. The result: “They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.” But he wasn’t. He revived and went on with Barnabas to the next city.
Humans are unpredictable creatures. Even friendly ones can be fickle.
This is not news to troops who have worked alongside of supposedly friendly people in a war zone. The one with the big smile and warm handshake may be the one to open fire on you tomorrow.
Come to think of it, as much as we treasure our proven friends, they also can become a risk. Maybe they won’t try to kill us. But they may betray us. They may turn on us.
Humans are unpredictable creatures. Even the best are flawed. Even the best may fail.
The apostles exhorted the crowd to turn from worthless things to the living God. Sadly, we must admit that sometimes we are slow to do this. We still count on people and things more than we count on him. Sometimes, instead of him.
We thank our God when friends come through as trustworthy and true. But we know that there is only One who is absolutely rock-solid—the Rock of Ages.
Lord God, in one of our hymns we sing: “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” We know that he will never fail us nor turn against us. We thank you for all of those good friends that you have given to us in our earthly life. You have blessed us through them. Keep us safe from those who only pretend friendship. Protect us from fickle friendlies. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain
and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida
Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military