Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

Acts 14: 15

 

Here is the setting for this story. Shortly after Paul and Barnabas entered the town of Iconium in the province of Galatia, an inland area on the eastern side of what is today Turkey, they encountered a man who had never been able to walk. Paul healed him in the name of Christ, and the people who witnessed this event were rather naturally amazed by what they had seen. They began to proclaim that Paul and Barnabas were the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus, respectively. When the priest of Zeus started ordering the people to prepare sacrifices to the newly arrived gods, these followers of Christ had seen and heard enough. They tear their clothes as a sign of grief, repentance, and humility; then, they make the statement above to the crowd.

 

It is easy to look at this story and nod our heads and even grin at the simple-minded way that those backwoods villagers behaved. They lived in simple times, and they were probably starved for any real entertainment, too. So, declaring that this pair of powerful and well-spoken foreign men were gods doesn’t seem so odd. Yet, I propose that even in our advanced culture with our sophisticated understanding and access to information we do not behave all that much differently than did these first century inhabitants of Iconium. We encounter people who have power, and we follow them without question. A person offers us answers to the things that trouble us, and we readily accept all that they propose to do. Much of the time, we grant our allegiance to people who claim affiliation with one political party over another without true regard for the character of that person. We are about as equally willing to declare them to be Zeus and Hermes and make the appropriate sacrifices as were the people in our story.

 

It seems appropriate to me to look back at the words of Paul and Barnabas and prepare to follow them in all of these things. There is one and only one God. He is the source of all wisdom and truth. His righteousness is also the standard by which we need to judge everything that is said and done by people. This is a very tall standard, indeed! In fact, no one measures up to it. However, we can look at the person in light of the way that God calls upon all of His followers to live. God looks to the heart; so, He always points to the way that people treat the weakest and the most disadvantaged among us. Christ tells us to listen to people who are humble, who are pained by the suffering of others, who are gentle, who seek after righteousness with an unsatisfiable hunger, who show mercy instead of might, whose intentions are Godly, who bring peace, and who are willing to suffer in order to stand for what is right and just. These people are not gods, but they do bring the presence of the Almighty God into the halls of government and the places of commerce.

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