In the book of Acts 14:8-19 the Bible touches on a very unique encounter Paul and Barnabas had during their ministry. The account begins in verse 8 where it says, “In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. 11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
In Acts 9:1-2, prior to accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, the apostle Paul was an enemy of the Church, proclaiming “murderous threats against the Lord’s disciple” and in his zeal traveled 190 miles from Jerusalem to Damascus in order to find and imprison them.
While on his way to Damascus, the resurrected Christ stopped Paul in his tracks and challenged him saying in Acts 9:4 “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Christ then blinded and rendered Paul helpless until He sent a man named Ananias to share the Word of Christ with Paul. Immediately Paul turned to Christ and began to “preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).
This eventually lead to Paul and his fellow minister Barnabas, to preach the Word in places such as Antioch (Acts 11:25-26), Seleucia, Cyprus (Acts 13:4),
Pamphylia (Acts 13:13) and the like.
Paul and Barnabas they made their way from city to city and in doing so a common thread developed, miraculous signs were seen, the Word of God was preached, people came to faith in Christ, and persecution erupted as local leaders felt their stronghold over the people slip away.
When Paul and Barnabas made their way into Lystra, Acts 14:9 tells us that the apostle Paul began sharing with others, and before him sat a man “crippled in his fee, who was lame from birth and had never walked” (Acts 14:8).
While Paul spoke and looked upon those listening, there was something different about the crippled man; verse 9 tells us that Paul “saw that he had faith to be healed.” How Paul understood that this man had such faith is not clear. Perhaps there was some sort of outward physical manifestation that alerted Paul, or perhaps the Holy Spirit provided spiritual discernment, but when he looked upon the man Paul “saw that he had faith to be healed.”
What an incredibly wonderful identification. One of the greatest men of God ever to live, looks out, spots you and immediately realizes that you have life changing faith. This man did not accompany Christ during his earthly ministry; he wasn’t a prophet, priest or mighty king. He had none of the benefits these sorts of people might have. But he had faith, true life changing faith.
When the crippled man awoke that day surely he had no idea what a momentous day it would be. As he struggled through the daily routine of someone who was “lame from birth and had never walked “ (Acts 14:9), there was no way for him to know that this morning was the final morning of his life long trial.
Undoubtedly, as the man sat there year after year, he had seen and heard numerous people sharing various beliefs and claims, but on this day, the crippled man heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.
On this day, no less than two miracles took place in the life of the lame man. The first and most important miracle was not physical in nature, rather it was spiritual. This man lacked physical hope, lacked spiritual hope as well. Those born lame were often considered to be under God’s judgment, so as people pass by, it’s likely that those who were physically sound may have viewed him with contempt.
It must have been the most difficult of lives. No hospitals, no treatments, surgeries, no physical therapy, just the promise that you were born this way and that you were going to die this way.
When Paul spoke, the miracle of hope, the miracle of spiritual awakening in the heart and mind of the crippled man permeated him. This miracle brought spiritual healing to him. This miracle allowed this man to become a child of God.
The second miracle that took place was a by-product of the first. Apart from a spiritual awakening, the crippled man would not have had the necessary needed to reverse a life-long impairment.
Acts 14:9-10 says, “Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!”
The crippled man had already exercised faith in believing Paul’s message; he displayed faith in his heart. Immediately, Paul put that faith to task by commanding the man to do the impossible, “Stand up on your feet!”
Paul, are you crazy? Can’t you see this guy is lame? Can’t you see that he cannot get up? Paul was exercising great faith by risking everything to cry out to the crippled man and say, “Stand up on your feet!”
Verse 10 tells us, “At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.”
At that moment, it’s hard to say who was exercising the greatest faith, the lame man, by attempting to stand to his feet and walk, or Paul by putting everything on the line and calling out to a crippled stranger, “Stand up on your feet!”
If this stranger failed to stand up, the apostle would have been ridiculed and mocked as a fake, a sham.
Far too often, because we know how things will turn out, we fail to appreciate the significance of the moment. The apostle in a sense entrusted his entire ministry and credibility in the hands of a stranger, who was lame from birth—a man who had never taken an independent step during the course of his life. A man who even if he had been healed, could have been so afraid to test these new legs out, that he could have remained frozen in that position on the ground. Paul exercised the greatest of faith in counting on the fact that the crippled man would indeed stand up on his feet.
One of the most amazing things that took place in Lystra that day, wasn’t the faith the crippled man and Paul exercised, it wasn’t the healing of the crippled man, but the reaction of the masses who witnessed what took place.
The crippled man heard the gospel, believed and was healed. The crowd heard the gospel, saw the healing and did not embrace God, but Paul and Barnabas as “gods,” saying, in verse 11 “The gods have come down to us in human form!” And in verse 13 it says, “The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.”
The masses heard the same message as the crippled man, witnessed the same miracle, yet responded in a completely different way. Why? The crippled man focused on the message Paul shared, the masses focused on the miracle they witnessed.
The masses heard the gospel with their ears and not with their heart. Thus, they interpreted the events that had taken place through their own frame of reference, not the new one the Holy Spirit had created in the heart and mind of the crippled man.
We see a similar instance during the Lord’s ministry. After miraculously feeding the 5000 with only “five small barley loaves and two small fish,” the Gospel of John 6:14-15 says, “After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”
The focus of the crowd wasn’t on Christ’s message, but his miracles. It wasn’t on exercising God ordained faith, but what a powerful person like Jesus could do for them as “king.”
In Acts 12:19-23 the Bible shares a short account of king Herod traveling to Caesarea as he had been quarreling with the “people of Tyre and Sidon.” The people sought peace with the king “because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply” (Acts 12:20). After addressing the people publically, Scripture says in verse 22 “They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” What evoked this honor? Herod controlled the food supply.
Be it Jesus and Herod or Paul and Barnabas, in each case, the people were not pursuing God, but gods. The people were not interested in spirituality, but what each of these people could do for them. Interestingly enough, in two of the three cases, food was at the center of the people’s response.
Psalm 14 verses 2-3 says, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 All have turned side, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
The Bible notes that as God looks down on His creation, what He sees is not pretty. When Scripture says in verse 3 “All have turned side, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” It is not talking about corruption or goodness from man’s finite perspective, but God’s infinite perspective. From man’s perspective, his concept of goodness often falls short of God’s righteous and holy standard. As a result, what God sees when He looks at man, and what man sees when he or she looks at themselves, are very different in terms of standards.
1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.” And in 1 John 4:19 it adds, “We love because he first loved us.”
Scripture teaches that man in and of himself will chase other gods, before he will seek God. And even when the Son of God stands before him handing out fish and bread, in and of himself, man is prone to pursue the Son of God with wrong motives. Yet, God in His mercy and grace sent His Son into this world, to take the punishment of our sins on Himself through death on the cross. And through His resurrection from the dead, God sealed the eternal future of all those who accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
The question we must ask ourselves is, how do we approach God? Do we approach him as God or as the people of old did? Do we pursue God or chase after self-made gods? The choice is ours.