‘And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, “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. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.’
The thing the people saw – the thing that caused them to start shouting – was a miracle. Paul met a man “crippled from birth”; he saw the faith that the man had; and, then told him to stand up and walk. And the man did. But the people at Lystra did not know what they’d seen. Well, they thought they knew, but they didn’t.
The people of Lystra had a story for miraculous events like these: It was a story about the Greek gods – Zeus, Hermes, and the rest. This was the story they told themselves for a very long time. This was their story about God (the gods, to them) for generations. But now a new story was dropped on top of them – the new story; the story of Jesus Christ.
Paul and Barnabas deliberately pointed beyond themselves, to God. They ruled themselves out as ‘gods’. And yet that did not matter to the people of Lystra. They were having none of it: “Even with these words [of Paul and Barnabas, saying, “No, we’re not gods!”] they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.” (14:18)
If you love your story – if it’s the story of your life, and your people – that’s a really hard thing to give up on, even when you’re faced with incontrovertible proof that a new, different story has arrived. It’s even harder if you can’t escape the new story – if the new story is here to stay.
My take? We’re living through something like that, now. You know the changes we’ve seen in the past four to five years – even in the past fifteen to twenty years: Old, stable ways of life, gone. Healthy rivalry replaced by zero-sum, gladiatorial combat. The flight of the “adults in the room”. We’ve been transplanted into a new story, a new time. The old story – perhaps, the one we loved; the one we wish we could return to – is over.
If you see what I see, I think these are a couple of good questions to start with: What is God doing in this new story? What does God want you to leave behind from the old story? However you answer these questions, take heart that the same God shepherded you in the old story, and his promises are just as sure, strong, and eternal in the new story.
Prayer: Father, help me to live in this, new time. I love so much of what came before that I can’t see clearly what has to go – what I need to let go of. I know that in this new day, I need you. So come quickly, Lord, and give me strength to stand firm and – when you are ready – to walk forward. Amen.