Witness in nature

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Paul and Barnabas had stayed for some time in Iconium to share the gospel among both Jews and Gentiles. Inspite of their teaching and the miracles that they did, both groups were stirred up against them, and Paul and Barnabas had to flee to Lystra and Derbe.

Now in Lystra, Paul observed the faith of a crippled man and healed him. It is now that a strange thing happened. The people thought that Paul was Hermes and Barnabas was Zeus.

“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” they cried out. The priest of the temple of Zeus brought oxen and garlands to perform a religious ceremony and sacrifice to these “gods”.

What are Paul and Barnabas thinking? They are horrified. For some reason, I can see the whole sequence of events unfolding comic strip fashion. Paul and Barnabas tear their clothes and rush out into the crowd preaching, nay, crying out, their sermon.

“Men, why are you doing these things?
We also are men with the same nature as you,
and preach to you that
you should turn from these useless things to the living God,
who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them,
who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways.
Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that
He did good,
gave us rain from heaven
and fruitful seasons,
filling our hearts with food and gladness.”

In this way, they somehow managed to stop the people from sacrificing to them. We go on then to read how this very multitude is persuaded, in a short time, to stone Paul and leave him for dead.

I was interested to see the word ‘witness’ used in this sermon because it reminded me of the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness.

Summer and winter, and spring time and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

The sermon does not mention the name of Jesus. It is a general sermon such as the one in nature, about which we read in Psalm 19:1ff

The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech,
and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world . . .

And such is the general message spoken about in Romans 1:19ff:

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them;
for God hath shewed it unto them.
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen,
being understood by the things that are made,
even his eternal power and Godhead;
so that they are without excuse . . .

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One response »

  1. I like your observations, and your comparisons from Scripture and even a great hymn. I’ve actually heard this Acts 17 sermon criticized lately, much to my chagrin. (Of course there are also folks using it as an entire model for evangelism, but that’s another story.)

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