Sovereign Grace Blog

Sermon Summary - How to Preach to Pagans - Acts 14:8-20

How to Preach to Pagans - Acts 14:8-20

Paul and Barnabas were faithful to the Lord in preaching the gospel despite hatred and violence from the culture. This passage shows a model of faithfulness for us to follow in the midst of all the competing worldviews and we should understand our own lives in the context of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, that we are servants of Christ, stewards of the mysteries of God that should remain faithful. At this point in Acts, Paul and Barnabas have been chased out of two cities, and arrived at Lystra. God used Paul to publicly heal a man who had never walked causing the crowds to praise them as gods, but Paul corrected them saying that he too was a man. His enemies followed him and stirred up the crowd in order to stone Paul. He was badly injured but remained faithful by continuing to preach the gospel.

Having arrived at Lystra after fleeing from Iconium, Paul began to preach. He looked intently at a man who was crippled from birth, saw his faith and told him to stand upright on his feet. After the man sprang up and walked, the crowds were amazed and began speaking in their native tongues claiming Paul and Barnabas to be gods because of a local myth. Hermes and Zeus visited their region in human form seeking hospitality but only one couple gave them shelter, and as a result they were spared when the gods slaughtered everyone else as punishment. The crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to honor Paul and Barnabas, but when they heard this they tore their garments and explained how they were also men of the same nature. 

Paul urged them to turn away from vain sacrifices to gods and turn to the true living God. He knew his audience and spoke to them about God’s common grace in their lives, the way they flourished and were blessed with rain and fruitful seasons. As we read between the lines, we see how God did not give other people special or written revelation as he did with the Jews, yet God did not leave them without witness. He gave the world general revelation about His existence. Paul uses the same reasoning in Acts 17 to show how there is a God and how He has overlooked the times of ignorance, He now commands all people to repent. We as sinful human beings create false worldviews and myths to escape the reality that we are accountable to God. God’s general revelation is not enough to save anyone, so we still need to hear the gospel.

Back in Acts 14, Paul tells the people that God allowed all the nations to walk in their own rebellious ways. So will God judge and is it just to judge all of those past people who were never given the scriptures, or who have never heard the gospel? Nobody will be condemned because they did not believe in Jesus, (although there is scriptures that will say the same thing, they are still correct). People will be condemned because of their rebellion against God. God does not owe anyone mercy. If God is just, he owes justice to do what is right, but mercy by definition is not owed. He is perfectly just in letting all the nations go their own ways without giving them the revelation of the gospel. God withheld special revelation from Gentiles for a long time, but as Paul announced in Acts, those times are over as God’s mercy came to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every person will be judged in light of the witness of creation itself and will be judged according to the knowledge of God’s ways and of his mercy that was available to them. There are different gradations of judgement shown in Mathew 10:15, 11:22, and Romans 2:12. 

In all judgement God is just, but His justice has been perfectly met in his son Jesus Christ. Paul declares that everyone who would call upon the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved from judgement. He remains faithful to the point of being stoned, and despite this, continues to preach the gospel to different cities. Let us be bold like Paul with the gospel to sinners in the midst of our culture today. 


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