Many years ago I was at a church where they were preaching through Acts, and I just remember feeling like I was taking a geography lesson about some ancient civilization. Whatever truth there was to be gained for me was obscured by the confusing and often boring geographical details of Paul’s missionary journeys.
So today I want to avoid focusing on all the stops of Paul’s journey and the various particulars of each city or culture, and instead I want to direct your attention to the point of Paul’s mission. The point of Paul and Barnabas’s missionary journey is the same in every city and every culture and for every person that they meet. And that is that they preached the gospel. As Spurgeon said, Paul may have changed his tone, but never his matter. The gospel is effective and powerful for every culture, every kind of person, every kind of situation.
In Romans 1:16 Paul writes later, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Don’t let familiarity with that verse dull it’s meaning. Paul is saying, having learned from his own experience, that the gospel is the dynamis of God. That is the Greek word – dynamis. It’s the root word for dynamite. The gospel is powerful, able to blow up and destroy fortresses. 2Cor. 10:3-4 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.” But it actually goes even further than simply the idea of power, but it really means miraculous power. It is the power to save. Salvation means to deliver by miraculous, dynamic power.
You know, many of us fall into the trap of agreeing that theologically the gospel has the power to save our souls from hell, but then think it unreasonable to that the gospel alone has enough power to defeat the power of sin. Is it able to deliver a soul from hell, but unable to deliver a body from addictions? Which is harder? To heal the body or to heal the soul? Is the gospel God’s miraculous dynamic power to save or is it only effective in the spiritual realm? I emphatically proclaim to you today by the authority of the God’s word that the gospel is miraculously powerful to save and deliver from all sin, any sin, all effects of sin, the power of sin, and the penalty of sin.
Paul said it again in another place, 1Cor. 1:18 “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Paul said that the preaching of the gospel is foolishness to those that are lost, but to those that are being saved, it is the very power of God. The power of God is immeasurable. The power of God holds the earth which weighs trillions of tons, and causes it to spin on it’s axis at 1000 mph, and then send it rocketing through it’s orbit at 67000 mph at just the proper distance from the sun. That is just the strength of one little finger of the power of God. And Paul is saying that same tremendous miraculous power is unleashed in the gospel through salvation. There is no force in the universe greater than the power of the gospel. Jesus said, things that are impossible with men are possible with God because God is a God of unimaginable, immeasurable power.
So Paul, wisely enough, as he goes from town to town, preaches the gospel. He doesn’t use the wisdom of men, he doesn’t use psychology, he doesn’t rely on entertainment, he doesn’t use technology, he simply preaches the powerful gospel of salvation to every people in every region, in every culture. No matter where he went it didn’t change. When Paul goes to Ephesus, he preaches the gospel. When he goes to see the Greek philosophers in Athens, he preaches the gospel. When he goes to Rome to see Caesar, he preaches the gospel. When he is taken before kings, he preaches the gospel. Because he knows the gospel does not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. And so we see that illustrated for us in this chapter.
Notice in vs. 1 Paul and Barnabas went first to the Jews in the synagogue at Iconium, and what did they do there? They preached the gospel. Then it says in vs. 3, in spite of the Jews stirring up bitterness towards them, they continued to preach the gospel for quite some time. Finally, persecution got so bad there that they had to flee town because they were about to be stoned to death, so in vs. 6 it says they went to the Gentiles in some nearby towns called Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe; and what did they do there? Vs. 7, “they continued to preach the gospel.” Boy, these guys were a one trick pony, weren’t they?
Then while they were in Lystra, Paul healed a lame man. We will talk more about that in a moment, but notice vs. 15 which says that Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel to them as well, which resulted in the pagan crowd first trying to worship them as gods, and then when they were finally convinced that Paul and Barnabas were not gods, they stoned Paul and left him for dead. But Paul got up and went right back into town and I suppose continued preaching the gospel right where he left off.
The next day, Paul and Barnabas left Lystra and went to a nearby town called Derbe, vs. 20. Guess what they did there? You guessed it, preached the gospel. Then after they had made disciples there, they went back to the cities that they had preached in previously and preached some more, strengthening the believers and appointing elders in the churches that were now started in those towns.
Then finally they traveled to Perga, and preached the gospel there as well. After all that preaching of the gospel to all these various regions, they went back to their home church in Antioch and reported to everyone there what God had done through them in their journey.
So preaching the gospel was the pattern to Paul’s ministry. He said later he relied not on cleverness of speech but the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But what exactly is the gospel? Literally, it is the good news. It is the good news that sinful, dying men and women who are under the penalty of death and cut off from God have had their penalty paid by Jesus Christ, who is the very God incarnate, that is God in human flesh, resulting in eternal life for those who believe. Paul says it very succinctly in 2Cor. 5:21 “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Did you get that? God made Jesus, who was sinless, to become sin on our behalf, so that we might become righteous with the righteousness of Christ. God transferred our sins upon Jesus, put Him to death for us, and transferred the righteousness of Christ upon us, that we might be reconciled to God. That we might be made sons of God. That we might be given new life, eternal life in Christ.
Now that is the doctrine of the gospel, but how is it made efficacious for us? Well, the gospel rests upon two twin pillars which are repentance and faith. Repentance and faith; they are codependent. One alone cannot suffice. They must both be present for the gospel to go from theology, to being efficacious to your salvation. Jesus declared that in his first message recorded in Mark 1:15 saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” So repent and believe, the twin pillars of our faith. Listen how Paul sums it up in vs. 15, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you 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.”
Now look closely at what Paul is saying. He rebukes them first of all for worshipping false gods. They were actually thinking that Paul and Barnabas were the gods Mercury and Zeus and they were preparing to offer sacrifices to them. So Paul rebukes them and says no, we are also men the same as you, and we preach the gospel to you, which is that you should turn from vain idols… Now stop there for a moment. That is what repentance is, to turn. To turn away from sin. God’s law defines sin and at the very beginning of God’s law He says you shall have no other gods before Me. You shall make no graven image. But you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve. And Paul said that they needed to turn from that sin unto God. So repentance is not simply feeling sorry for whatever situation you find yourself in, or feeling emotional, but repentance is turning, 180 different direction, from following sin, to following God. Now maybe you are so caught up in your sin that you want to repent, you want to turn, but you don’t think you have the power to turn. Well, that’s typical. But thankfully the power to turn does not come from ourselves. You don’t have to sober up to come to God, or get cleaned up to come to God. You come to God asking to be changed by His power. The power to change comes from God through salvation. We simply confess our sins, our sinful nature, confess that we are trapped in it, and believe in faith that God is able to deliver us from it. That is when God applies the power of salvation. The power to deliver you. The power to forgive you. The power to save you. The power to free you. The power to heal you from the effects of sin that serve to trap you.
So the first pillar is repentance and the second is faith. Let’s finish Paul’s sentence; “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.” Repentance is turning as we have already shown, now then faith is believing that God is powerful enough to save you, powerful enough to deliver you, that He is powerful enough to make the earth, send it’s trillions of tons spinning on it’s axis, rocket it into orbit at just the precise distance around the sun (which He also made by the way) at 67000 mph. And that the same power of God that made the earth, and the sea, and the stars and everything that is in them, can certainly, surely deliver you from not only the penalty of sin, but the power of sin. If you believe that, then you have faith. Faith is not believing that you can do it, or that you need to clean up or sober up or get your life together first. Faith is believing that God’s power is enough to save you and deliver you. Faith is believing that Christ’s sacrifice cleanses you from sin and transfers you to the kingdom of God.
Now let’s see the effect of the gospel. Someone once said that every miracle in the New Testament is a parable, designed to illustrate physically what God can do spiritually. And I certainly think that is the case in the miracle of healing the lame man here in this chapter. It is illustrative of the power of the gospel.
Let’s look at what happened in verse 8. “At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked.” Now if you had written that sentence in English class your teacher would have probably marked your page in big red letters saying that is a redundant statement. The author Luke says that the man is lame in three different ways. Why? Well obviously, he wanted to emphasize that the man was lame.
But if you consider it more closely, you will notice Luke says that he had no strength in his feet. In other words, he was powerless. Then he says he was lame from his mother’s womb. In other words he was born that way. And then that he had never walked. He didn’t know how to walk. He had never walked. He had no experience of walking.
And I would suggest this lame man is a picture of all mankind in their fallen, sinful condition. We have no strength to walk after Christ. We are powerless to live the Christian life. We are powerless to reach God. Secondly, we were born that way. Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” We are natural born sinners, and as such are bereft of God.
And then thirdly, we don’t know how to walk in righteousness. We have never walked in righteousness. Isaiah 64:6, “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” We don’t have experience in righteousness. 1Cor. 2:14 “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
So in every way, this lame man is a picture of the natural man who is unsaved. And then notice that Paul was preaching the gospel and this man was obviously very attentive. And Paul seeing him knew that this man had the faith to be healed. How did he know that? It was undoubtedly a prompting by the Holy Spirit as he saw this man listening and drinking in Paul’s message. He could perceive this man’s response to his message. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Our faith is not founded on our feelings, or on wishful thinking, but on the promises, the word of Christ.
And notice how Luke describes it in vs. 9: “This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well.” The Greek word for made well is the word sōzō. Guess what sōzō means? It means to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction. So it’s not just a physical healing that is presented here, but symbolically and literally I believe in the life of this man, a spiritual healing. As I said while ago, every miracle in the New Testament is a parable, designed to illustrate physically what God can do spiritually.
Then let’s look at the power of the gospel to save as illustrated in this miracle. Paul said in vs. 10 “with a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And he leaped up and began to walk.” Here is the process of salvation. The lame man typifies repentance by the fact that he knew that he was lame. He knew he was born that way. He knew he could never walk. That is a picture of repentance. He wanted to be made well. And when he heard the gospel preached he believed in Christ, and all that Christ represented. Then Paul ordered him to stand upright on his feet. So the man had the faith necessary, but at that point it was all theoretical. He needed to act on that faith. He needed to stand up in obedience to Paul’s command even though he had never stood up.
We are told to obey to the call of the gospel are we not? To confess our sins, to repent of our sins, to believe and trust in Christ and to follow Christ. The first step to following Christ is obedience and then that is demonstrated by being baptized. Baptism symbolizes repentance and faith all wrapped up in this demonstration of your inward change.
So he had repentance and faith, and then notice the powerful result of salvation. The lame man leapt up and began to walk. Notice that this man who had no strength in his feet and legs leaped up. He didn’t grab hold of a walker and start to pull himself erect. He didn’t have to go to physical therapy class for 6 weeks to get his legs strengthened. This man who had no strength in his legs suddenly had the strength to leap up. Hallelujah. I feel like leaping myself just thinking about it.
And he began to walk. From a human, scientific, commonsense perspective, that just can’t happen, can it? He has to learn to walk. He has to build his muscles, build his strength, learn to keep his balance. But actually, no he didn’t. God was able to supernaturally heal him. Give him the full power to walk as a disciple of Christ.
Folks, I don’t know about you but I take great comfort in that illustration. I don’t have to worry that I have a sinful nature. God will give me a new nature when I am saved. I don’t have to worry that I have never been righteous. God will give me the righteousness of Jesus Christ. I don’t have to worry that I don’t know how to walk, God will give me the Holy Spirit to live inside me that will teach me and help me to walk as I step out in faith.
Some of you here today are thinking, wow, that sounds terrific. Sounds like good news. I wonder if I could have that power of salvation. I’m here to tell you that the message of the gospel has not changed. It is good for kings, for peasants, for Jews and for Gentiles. It is one size fits all. It is effective for you if you will just repent and believe. It is the power of God. And that power can and will deliver you from not only the penalty of sin but the power of sin.
If you recognize yourself in this portrait of the lame man, you recognize you are a sinner from your mother’s womb and the impossibility of your spiritual condition, then I urge you to accept Christ today. Turn from your sin and believe in Christ and know the power of salvation. It is available to everyone without cost. Jesus paid the price. All that is necessary for you is to repent, believe and be willing to stand up and walk in obedience to Him. He will supply the miraculous power of salvation.