I've done it countless times. You may have too.
The Lystranians certainly did.
They looked up in the sky and saw something amazing, intriguing, and unexplainable. A distant planet between them and the sun. A tiny but swift rock that we know as Mercury. They were in awe of it, and they worshiped it.
|Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Photo & Video (C.C.)|
Maybe back then it was obvious. Now it's subtle. It starts out as a hobby or an admiration and blooms into a destructive appetite for more. Though we would never admit it to our ego, our minds' timeclocks betray us; we worship created things instead of the only thing that is not created.
We worship an athlete or a musician, but at some point we are always left feeling empty. It's kind of like worshiping a lump of gold made to look like a calf.
And as magnificent as creation is, it is worthless compared to God. The beauty of the ocean is as ordinary as a nap. The brightness of the sun but a firefly.
Which leads us back to the Lystranians and Mercury. Or, as they called it, Hermes.
It's so easy to say we should worship God alone, but we are a sensory people. We rely on what we see, smell, hear, taste, and touch. So I can empathize with the people of Lystra:
In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. Acts 14:8-10
You see a miracle, and what do you do? You are compelled to worship. That's exactly what the witnesses did.
. . . they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. Acts 14:11b-12
The planet nearest to the sun became associated with the messenger god Hermes because it moved so swiftly in the sky. (Mercury completes its revolution around the sun every 88 days.) All this was not lost on Paul, who, cunning as always had the perfect response to the people's attempt to worship he and his traveling companion.
We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God . . . Acts 14:15b
The living God.
A bold statement to a people with countless gods. But his next statement is even more bold:
. . . who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. Acts 14:15c
Paul says that not only are he and Barnabus mere men, created beings, but so are Hermes and Zeus themselves.
The Common Mistake
I can read this story, and think about how ridiculous it is for these bumpkins to bring bulls for sacrifice to Paul and Barnabus. Yet I bring bulls for sacrifice to television, to email, to money. These things are all created too. The only difference between me and the people of Lystra is that they did it on purpose. My idol worship is subconscious; I must be tricked into it or else lie to myself.
But that is no excuse:
In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony. Acts 14:16-17a
God is evident in creation, and it testifies on his behalf. But don't make the mistake of placing created things above the Creator. That's a great way to ruin a perfectly good relationship.
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