August 24, 2014
Acts 14:11-18 (in context)
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 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.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “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, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
People have an insatiable appetite for God. Apparently, God created us this way. The trouble is we will readily settle for gods instead. So why do we need a God, and why will we settle for gods?
Here’s my working theory. At a fundamental level, we need God in order to have sustenance, security, worth, value and meaning as a human being. We settle for gods because it’s a lot easier to counterfeit that worth, value and meaning through attaching ourselves to something we perceive as valuable that can give us value and that we can see. Money comes to mind. Accomplishment and achievement. Educational credentials and expertise. People of prestige and high status. Celebrities. Ever notice how people who personally know famous people love dropping their names in casual conversation. It’s like the value of the celebrity somehow accrues to the person who knows them.
Whatever the god, the value of the god brings value and worth to the worshipper. It becomes the source of the worshippers worth, and consequently, the worshipper will do whatever it takes to keep that value coming. (i.e. they will sacrifice just about anything to keep the gods present and working on their behalf). This is how idolatry (and addiction) works.
“The gods have come down to us in human form!” The people shouted. (Zeus and Hermes). Right idea. Wrong gods. The God has come down to us in human form in the person of Jesus. The God now comes to us as the Holy Spirit through human persons and community. Paul said it this way to the Corinthians,
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
True Divinity comes to us through authentic humanity. The miracle of the Christian faith is that human beings can participate in the Divine nature without becoming gods. In fact, the closer a person becomes to God, the more human they become. The Chief Apostle had something to say about this.
Paul and Barnabas’ response to the worship of the people reveals a mark of maturity in ministry. To be treated as God-like figures by other people will happen at times because of the palpable power of the Holy Spirit. At times, this leads to the emergence of famous pastors and leaders. It can be a good thing or a bad thing. How the leader handles it will tell the difference. Paul and Barnabas give us a good example today.
One of the telltale signs of trouble in a leader is self-promotion. Unfortunately, it abounds at all levels in the leadership of the church.
COME HOLY SPIRIT!
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