Preached at the all age service 15 Nov 2014
This all happened a very long time ago.
We live in the middle of nowhere, well just outside the middle of nowhere actually. We live here because it's a retirement home for old generals. My dad was a general – legatei is our word, and we moved around the empire when I was a kid, but when he got too old to serve they sent us here. Now we live on a huge estate just outside the city of Lystra. Well they call it a city, but I've seen real cities. Anyway you know it as Kistraii its in the province of Galatia – an area you call Turkey.
You can tell its the back of beyond – they even have their own language, they understand Latin – when they want to, but they choose not to speak it. We've been here long enough now to have learnt the basics of Lyconian, but we still speak Latin at home.
Condition and lack of cure
You should know that when I was born my ankles were not formed properly, so I never learnt to walk. I'm OK now though, and that's what I'm going to tell you about today.
My brothers had to carry me everywhere, and if it hadn't been for my mum I'd probably have been dead before I'd got old enough to have a story to tell. All I ever wanted to do as a child was run with my brothers, and though I was more accepting by that time I still really wanted to be normal. Mum had taken me everywhere – to all sorts of doctors, priests of who knows what religions, representatives of every local god in every place we stopped – all I got out of it was pain, nothing ever made my ankles work. It was all mumbo jumbo and never made any sense. Somehow we had upset the gods and they had to be paid some price to calm them down, then I would get better, but like I said – all I got was pain.
Jews from Iconium
One day we heard that some Jews had come from Iconium. It's 20 miles north, and not an easy journey. There are hardly any Jews here, so we didn't know why they'd come, but mum would never miss an opportunity, so my brothers hauled me down to the square in the centre of the city and we sat and listened to them.
They were an odd couple, one was tall and looked like he was a prince, he didn't say much. The other was short and stocky with a bald head and spoke to the people. Once you started to listen you were hooked – at least I was. A lot of the locals had stopped to listen. He was talking about one God, one god to rule them all. Just like all the others this God was angry about the way we behaved, but unlike all the others He had done something about it.
I was paying close attention to everything he said, almost getting lost in it. I noticed that he kept looking at me. He spent more and more time facing in my direction. Then he stared right at me and said “Stand up on your feet”. My brothers and the crowd must have though he was mad, but I just obeyed, once I was up the world was different, I started to walk around. I was rather hesitant at first, but both my feet were pointing in the right direction and my ankles were holding my weight. I felt like jumping up and down and running around, but I didn't know how to do either yet.
Gods have come
I was even more surprised when the locals started shouting “The gods have come down to us in human form”. They began to repeat it like a chant.
“The gods have come down to us in human form”
“The gods have come down to us in human form”
Then the penny dropped. They really believed the old legend.
They had a story that said a long time ago Zeus – the king of the gods in heaven, and Hermes – the messenger, had come down from heaven disguised as humans to visit them. They had gone from house to house looking for a place to stay, but everywhere they went they were turned away. They kept going, and they kept being turned away. They had visited a thousand households when, nearly out of town they came upon an old couple who welcomed them in, and even though they had almost nothing, provided Zeus and Hermes with a meal and a place to stay. As a reward, they were the only people left after the gods flooded the valley, and their house was transformed into a marble pillared, gold roofed temple, and the old couple became their priests.
So that was it, this time they were determined not to be caught out like their ancestors had been. There was a temple to Zeus just outside the city so the priests rushed to it and brought back a bull, and they were prepared to sacrifice and provide a feast for all present. These guys really do know how to put on a party – loads of food, loads of wine, and loads of questionable behaviour. They would have the square decorated in minutes, and a fire built, and the bull sacrificed as Barnabas' feet.
Paul realises what's happening
It took Paul a while to realise what was going on, he had finished speaking, because after my miracle – wow that still sounds good - “my miracle” the crowd had been too distracted to hear any more. So Paul and Barnabas had gone to the house they were staying in. Someone had asked them to come out again for the sacrifice, I supposed.
Anyway, they both ran out of the house tearing their cloths. That's a strange thing to do – but then Jews have their strange customs just like everybody else. Why would you tear your clothes? Specially when you're travelling in the only clothes you own? I found out later that it means they are very upset about what is happening, and they think it will offend God. Paul said that only God should be worshipped, and that men and women should never be worshipped.
So Paul shouted at them at the top of his voice
“Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and 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.”
Well, it was only a few words, but it seemed to get through to them. They wanted their party, they wanted an excuse to feast, but once they are told the reason for the party is not the right reason they slowly went home, and the bull lived to be sacrificed another day.
Jews causing trouble
Just as it was all quieting down some more strangers appeared. They said they had come from Iconium and that some of them had come from Antioch – now that's a real city. Then the arguments really started – I think you say 'It all kicked off'. There were people shouting and fighting and arguing for ages. I didn't understand it all so I mostly just stood (just stood, what a pleasure it was to just stand).
Then the crowd turned, as only crowds can do, and picked up stones and started throwing them at Paul. This wasn't a proper stoning. There are places set aside when a proper stoning is done, places where you can't hit the wrong people with your stones, and where the stones are big enough to cause death reasonably quickly. Here they just grabbed whatever they could find and threw it as hard as they could. He took a lot of stones to the head and pretty much everywhere else. There was nothing we could do. He stood there taking it for a while, then suddenly just collapsed on the ground.
Reaction to Paul's death
I was shocked and very upset that the man who had healed me was dead so quickly, before I had even got to hear what he had to say. Some of the men dragged his body out of the city.
Barnabas and the others who had come with Paul followed them. A few of the crowd followed as well, I walked slowly behind them.
Prayer for Paul
They surrounded his body and were silent for what seemed like an age, then another miracle happened. Paul wasn't dead, just unconscious, now, slowly he got up. Then another miracle happened Paul and the others and the few from the city walked back into the city. That was real bravery. I hoped the crowd had dispersed, or it was likely they would have another go at him.
Paul and Barnabas leave
The next day they all left. You could see that Paul was not walking right, as he went. His determination to tell people about his God and about Jesus, the Christ was amazing.
One of the people who followed Paul's friends out to where he was dumped was Timothy – he was about my age, and when they had gone he gathered us all together to talk and pray about the things we had heard and seen. We began to meet regularly to worship the God who loves us so much that He sent his son as a sacrifice for us. The God who was angry at us for our behaviour, but solved the problem for us because we can't do it for ourselves. The God who gives us the Holy Spirit to connect with us and gives us insight and courage in the face of all sorts of problems. He encouraged us to start building a church, and that is what I have been doing for the last 25 years. In that time hundreds of people have joined us.
Paul and Barnabas back
A few months later we saw Paul and Barnabas again retracing their steps. Paul still wasn't walking right. This time, when they left, Timothy left with them. You may know of Timothy – he's the Bishop of Ephesus now, and Paul wrote to him reminding him of the troubles he had here and how God had rescued him from all of them.
So that's my story, that's how I came to know Jesus as my Lord and saviour.
Its been a struggle here, building the church, there is still plenty of opposition, the people in the temple of Zeus don't like us and take every opportunity to remind us of what happened. We're OK, we have Jesus, and we have Paul's example of bravery and determination to copy.
That's pretty much what I told Luke a few years back, but I guess he will cut it down a bit when he writes his book.