Yesterday, we studied a story where Paul and Barnabas, two early Christian leaders, travelled to a pagan town where people worshipped many gods. Paul healed a man. Instead of pointing people to the God who raised Jesus from the dead, this prompted people to worship Barnabas and Paul like gods. Just as a pagan priest was about to sacrifice some oxen, they rushed out to stop him, and here’s what they said:
 “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.
What’s notable is that they start at the beginning. In a Jewish town, or any town with enough Jews for a synagogue, their message usually built on the stories of the Old Testament and introduced Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, the prophets and all their anticipation of God sending a Messiah.
But here, in a non-Jewish town, he simply starts with evidence for God in the natural world. He says that this God, who created everything, even gave his creatures enough freedom to invent and worship other gods. He loved them so much, he didn’t destroy them for doing this, but still sent rain, still gave them food to eat and water to drink, even giving them happiness.
This is the same way Zeus could be described, but now Paul is claiming this is really the work of his God. If Paul and Barnabas are powerful like Hermes and Zeus, then imagine how powerful their God must be. He uses their mistaken worship of himself and his friend, and uses it to point to God.
He wants to make a simple point. Creatures are only evidence of the creator…and a particular kind of creator…a loving and generous one. He just wants to get them thinking about the possibility of one God, with plans to introduce Jesus as God’s direct intervention in this state of affairs, but that will be Step 2. For now, though, he’ll keep it simple, there is one God, not many.
He calls the idols, or sacrifice, or temples where they’ve been worshipping worthless things, they’re just created objects, animals and people. There is no point in idols and temples, or in sacrificing bulls to two guys from the city. There is only value in worshipping the one who created the metal you make into idols, who created the bulls, who even created humans.
If they’re excited by what Paul and Barnabas could do healing a man, imagine how excited they’ll be when the Holy Spirit acts in their own lives. He doesn’t want them to settle for second best, for worshipping him, as ego-boosting as that would be. He wants them to know the one true God, who can actually make a difference!
Question: How would you explain God to someone with a completely different worldview? What examples would you give?
Meeting with a Group? Your discussion questions are in this week’s Group Study Guide[permalink append=”#comments”]Discuss the Challenge[/permalink]
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