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Pagans and the Gospel

22/09/2020

Pagans and the Gospel

Acts 14:8-18

How terribly dark is the heart of the unbeliever. 

The Awful Darkness of the Soul

Years ago we used to hear stories about ‘darkest Africa.’  The darkness has spread, and we are living in dark days, in darkest Ulster.  (Ephesians 2:12).  There is a good illustration of this awful darkness in Acts 14:8-18, where we see Paul and Barnabas…

1 Confronting the Pagans. V8-10

The missionaries are now at Lystra. Their witness begins with a stunning visual aid, a practical demonstration of how a sinner is rescued from sin.  It involves…

  • A crippled man.  This poor man was unable to walk, probably not even able to stand up, a condition that had afflicted him from birth.  This man, we are told, was without strength.  So are we sinners,  READ: Romans 5:6.
  • The Word declared.  Paul was preaching the gospel, for without the preaching, the declaration and the entry of the inspired word of God we cannot be saved.  Paul preached constantly about the cross.  READ: Corinthians 1 and 2.   
  • Faith imparted.  Now, how would a man in this pagan city, who had never heard of Christ, never heard of his death, never heard the gospel, how would such a man have faith?  READ: Romans 10:17. The man had heard Paul speaking.  He had listened to a sermon, and in the course of that sermon had heard the Word of God being proclaimed, offering his free salvation.   
  • A life changed.  In this case the result of the transformation was not just spiritual, and inward, it was visible, for the man with the unknown illness in his legs stood up.  On Paul’s command he stood up straight, and he walked and leapt.  It was so noticeable that people began to talk, and the news quickly spread.  People should be able to see that our lives have been transformed by the saviour. READ Acts 4:13.  

So the people of Lystra not only hear the gospel, but they witness its power, and they can clearly see how God saves sinners.  The steps are simply laid out: We are sinners without strength from birth, the word of God is preached, authoritatively declared, centred on the cross, the Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of his sin, and imparts faith to receive the word, repent of sin and trust the Saviour.  The sinner is converted and given new life.  

2 Contending With the Pagans. V11-13

The Gospel always provokes a reaction.  It certainly did in Lystra.  

  • Paganism in Lystra. v11  Lystra was an outpost of the empire, uncivilised to some extent, and totally pagan.  There was a huge temple to the Greek god Zeus.  They thought, when they witnessed the healing of the crippled man that the disciples were human embodiments of the gods.  v12  Paganism always involves idolatry…
  • Paganism among false religions.  The Romans worshipped Caesar as a god, and sacrificed to him, even though he was clearly a man.  Herod Agrippa I didn’t mind being worshipped as a god, to his cost.  On a remote island in the Pacific Ocean, there is a tribe called the Kastom people, who believe that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is a god and worship him! We shake our heads with incredulity.  BUT:-
  • Paganism among ‘Protestants.’ Paganism though is not confined to Far Eastern mystics, or the ignorant citizens of some ancient outpost.  Think how many of our neighbours, many of whom would describe themselves as Protestants are little more than pagans.  I see this a lot at funerals!  The general level of understanding of true religion is so tiny that what many people believe is little more than ‘some kind of Disney World fantasy religion.’      

3 Convincing the Pagans. V14-18 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out,

This is quite an important couple of verses, because up until now, in Acts we have read sermons by Peter and Stephen and Paul, preaching to Jews, about the promised Messiah, who they had crucified. But in this passage, Paul is preaching to Gentiles, who have no understanding whatsoever about the God of the bible, and the plan of redemption by sovereign grace, and Paul begins with natural revelation.  READ: Romans 1:19 So let’s parse the sermon a little…

  • Start with humility!  15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you.  Humility is often a good starting point!   Best be upfront with people.  Paul hits the nail on the head, with ‘we are men with the same nature as you!’  By nature, by birth, we are ALL sinners.  Christians haven’t stopped being sinners, they wont be perfect until they get to heaven, and the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is that the Christian is forgiven!  Because he’s forgiven, he’s grateful to God and wants to live to please him.  We are only sinners, saved by grace.  So here’s where Paul starts, ‘we are all sinners – so we all need rescued from our sin…’
  • Show the pointlessness of human inventions. and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things.  But when it comes to dealing with the sin problem in our lives, idols are useless! They are an affront to the true God.  
  • Testify to the greatness and goodness of God!  A living God, who is not a myth, like the gods of Greece, not a lump of wood or a statue or a stone, a powerful God who controls history, and who created the whole universe out of nothing.  to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,  The God who gave freedom to men to make their own choices, walking in their own ungodly ways and still exercising patience and forbearance with them,  16 who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. The God who continually cares for us, and supplies all our needs.  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.”  Even then, with such a powerful argument, it was really hard to get the people of Lystra to abandon their paganism, it is normal behaviour for pagans to attribute the goodness of gos to their own idols, as these Lystrians did, and as so many do today. 18 And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.

Paul’s starting point with the Jews, was to recollect the history of God’s grace towards his people right throughout history.  But with the pagans there was no such understanding, so he started with something they could understand.  There is a creation – so there must be a Creator!  After all, as the psalmist wrote, Psalm 19:1 

© Bob McEvoy September 2020

From → Acts, Bible Study

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