14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out
15 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,
16 “who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.
17 “Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.”
18 And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.
On this day of giving thanks, there are probably few people more grateful than the families of the teenage boys who were just rescued after being lost at sea for fifty days. Planes and boats had searched a ten-thousand-square-mile area of the south Pacific Ocean for those three boys, and the searchers had long since given up, and their families had even held memorial services for them. And yet, beyond all hope or expectation, the boys were found by a tuna boat, eight hundred miles from where they were last seen. They had survived on rainwater and raw fish, and the fisherman who found them commented they were amazingly healthy for being at sea for so long. Now, THAT is something for which to be thankful! The question, though, is this: Who will the families of these boys thank the most?
When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Lystra, they started right in with preaching the gospel and healing the lame. After one such healing, the people of Lystra said, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” (Acts 14:11) Despite the gospel that the disciples preached, despite trying to point the people to the one true and living God, despite Paul and Barnabas being humble servants of Jesus Christ, the people still wanted to give credit to men for the miracle that God had done.
The problem was not with Paul’s nor Barnabas’ preaching, and certainly not with the gospel. The problem was with the hearts of men. The people of Lystra had been weaned on stories of gods and heroes who acted and lived among mortal men, deities who were only a faint step removed from themselves. In their minds and hearts, the people could not separate the power of God from the people wielding it, could not see the glory of Someone greater than themselves. With men in front of them, the people of Lystra worshiped the men rather than the God who worked through them.
Paul was righteously offended by their worship, and he tried to remind the people that whatever he did, he did in the name of the God who made them and loved them, the God from whom they had received all the good things of their lives. Paul warned the people not to follow after “useless things”–such as men who were in nature just like them.
4 For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens.
The word in Hebrew for “idols” is a word that means “useless” or “worthless.” As the Psalmist also says:
15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands.
16 They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
17 They have ears, but they do not hear;
Nor is there any breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.
And that about sums it up: Those who make and trust in worthless, breathless, unseeing things are like them. There is no life in such idols, and certainly no eternal life for those who worship them. Eternal life does not come from men but from God Himself. There in Lystra, Paul gave the people the words of life, and he showed them the power of the living God to heal their bodies and their souls, and yet, in their hard-heartedness, the people still wanted the worthless things, the idols of men and heroes. Presented with the power of God, the people yet desired the men who were just like them.
1 Timothy 1:15
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
At the first sign of a miracle, our eyes are too easily focused on the instruments of our redemption, too easily drawn to men who are sinners just like we are. We miss the signs of God’s power and sovereignty, and we give credit and honor first to mortal men rather than the immortal, eternal, invisible God. Perhaps later, we will remember that God is watching out for us, that by His power we have good things, that He has His hand on our lives. Or perhaps we don’t remember Him at all. After all, it is easier to remember a man who plucks us from the sea than to remember the unseen Lord whose Spirit guided the man to us.
In the south Pacific Ocean, there are two families who are thankful for a miracle. And quite likely, on this day when people in America celebrate a holiday of Thanksgiving, many of us will remember friends, family, and strangers who have helped us through difficult times. My prayer for us all today is that we look beyond the men who are in nature like us, look beyond the doctors, nurses, firemen, rescue workers, our families, and even fisherman. Let us instead look upward to the one true and living God from whom all blessings truly flow. Let us look to Him and thank Him for the gospel of Jesus Christ, through whom all men are saved.
O Lord my God, to You alone do I give thanks and praise. While I have been blessed with family and others who have brought me through the hardest of times–and who have even presented to me Your gospel of peace–to You alone do I give all glory and honor. Praise be to Your holy name! Amen.