Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out,15 “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. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 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.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. – Acts 14:8-18
Have you ever tried to explain yourself to someone only to have them set aside your comments and continue on in their stubborn ways. It might be an issue of misunderstanding – a false conclusion about a word or event – about your place or responsibility in their pain. They blame you for the trouble you had nothing to do with. It could be an unwillingness to play by the rules: “I know I’m not supposed to take photos in here, but no one’s around and besides, you’re in charge of this area.” Or, “Surely it’s OK to take a few photos.” Or possibly even, “Yes, I know I shouldn’t put you on the pedestal; you’re just a mortal, but you’re so beautiful. I just want to worship you.”
It seems that Paul and Barnabas are in this situation with the people of Lystra. Paul and Barnabas did everything in their power to dissuade the people from worshipping them. They pointed people to Jesus. They gave glory to God. They refused to be identified as any kind of god whatsoever. But they barely persuaded the people from deifying them, and even offering sacrifices to them.
The temptations are two-edged in this regard. First is the temptation to take credit where it is not due. We can easily fall prey to the idea that we are hot stuff, and that we are doing what God is actually doing through us. The water needs the pipe to get to the faucet. But not just any water will suffice, while almost any pipe will do. We must constantly guard against believing that we are anywhere near indispensable.
The other temptation is the one to which the Lyconian people were falling prey. They saw the instrument of God’s blessing and confused the instrument for the Giver. That’s no call to undercut or diminish those who serve God’s purposes in our lives. But it is a call not to idolize even the most faithful servant. The world does indeed need a Savior – as my friend tells his seminary students – and he (the most famous, committed, and faithful servant of Christ) is not the Savior. That’s Jesus’ job.
When we say that Jesus is Lord, we are saying that he is our Savior, redeemer, and source of life, forgiveness, and salvation. Any other one than Jesus will not sustain us nor save us. People who are put onto pedestals often become easy targets. Their shortcomings too easily become visible. Their limitations intrude. Not so Jesus. Faith in him will never be found lacking. He is worthy of all our praise.