************ Sermon on Acts 14:17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 22, 2001
"Food and Drink: The Testimony of God"
Thanksgiving Day 2001
On this Thanksgiving Day there are so many blessings to remember. We will be ending our service with the song, "Count Your Blessings." This song tells us to name them one by one. But we can hardly do that, can we, because they are too many to count. We want to thank God for food, clothing, shelter, jobs, toys and games, family, friends, education, missionaries, outreach, church, salvation, our country, our president, the men and women of our armed services.
I'm not going to pretend that this list is complete because there are many blessings that we don't even recognize as blessings. Think, for instance, of fleas. Mothers and school nurses panic at the thought of them crawling in beds and carpets. Yet, I read this past week that there are times when God should be thanked even for fleas.
Subtopic: Examples of
Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place relates an incident which taught her this principle. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck. Upon entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea- infested.
Their Scripture reading that morning in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted. Corrie finally gave in.
During the months spent at that camp, Corrie and Betsy were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without interference from the guards. It was several months later that they learned why: the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.
-- Corrie Ten Boom, "The Hiding Place"
I Thanking the Wrong Person
A In our Scripture reading we see Paul and Barnabas preaching the Gospel in the city of Lystra. In their audience was "a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked" (vs 8). Paul was used by the Lord to heal this man.
The crowd of people were astounded and astonished by this wondrous miracle. They proclaimed Paul and Barnabas to be the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus – for who but the gods could do such a wondrous thing as heal a man lame since birth!
According to legend this is not the first time these gods had visited Lystra. On the previous occasion Zeus and Hermes were entertained by an aged couple who were unaware of the identity of their guests so failed to honor them as gods. If the local people had failed to honor Zeus and Hermes as gods on their previous visit, they were anxious not to repeat the error this time. We read how they wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas. Even their heathen priest got into the act:
(Acts 14:13) The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
B Imagine that someone rescues you from drowning – pulls you out of the swift current of the river, saves you from certain death. Standing safely on the bank you spy a third person resting a few feet away. This person has nothing to do with your rescue. He or she is but a spectator. Quickly you walk over to this person. Falling on your knees you proceed to thank this third person. Can you imagine doing something so silly? Of course not! Yet, as Paul makes clear, that is exactly what the people of Lystra were doing. When the Lystra crowd saw the healing of the lame man they thanked the wrong person. They thanked and praised and tried to worship Paul and Barnabas as if they were the ones who healed the lame man.
How many times aren't we like the people of Lystra? How many times don't we thank the wrong person? "When do we do that?" you might ask. We do that, congregation, every time we give ourselves the credit and praise for the food on our tables, the clothing on our backs, the roof over our heads. We do that, congregation, every time we think it is our efforts, our brains, our skill, our hard work that makes us successful. We do that, congregation, every time we pat ourselves on the back for our skill in basketball or volleyball or for the good grades we get in school.
We need to keep in mind what God said to Israel through His servant Moses:
(Deut 8:17-18) You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." (18) But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth ...I also think of Nebuchadnezzar. Remember him strutting around the roof of his palace, looking over the might and glory of Babylon? He said,
(Dan 4:30) "Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?"Remember how God had to humble him by making him live like a cow for the next seven years?
Scripture warns us today against thanking the wrong person. Scripture warns us today against thanking ourselves or any other man for what we have and what we are.
C Before we totally condemn the people of Lystra we should notice that they at least do thank and praise the gods. You see, I'm not sure what is worse: thanking the wrong person or not saying thank-you at all. I think here of the time Jesus healed ten lepers. Only one of the ten – a Samaritan – came back to thank Jesus. With hurt in His voice Jesus asked,
(Lk 17:17-18) "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? (18) Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?"What happened to the other nine? How come they did not thank the Lord for His blessings and mercies? This past week I came across some possible reasons for their ingratitude:
Title: 9 Lepers' Excuses
One waited to see if the cure was real.
One waited to see if it would last.
One said he would see Jesus later.
One decided that he had never had leprosy.
One said he would have gotten well anyway.
One gave the glory to the priests.
One said, "O well, Jesus didn't really do anything."
One said, "Just any rabbi could have done it."
One said, "I was already much improved."
-- Charles L. Brown, Main Street Monitor.
Of course, the nine lepers were not the only ones who have failed to show gratitude. Many of our fellow citizens will sit down to a big turkey dinner today without ever once thinking of God or thanking Him. This reminds me of what happened during the French Revolution:
King Louis the 16th of France, unlike many of his predecessors, had no mistress, ate moderately, lived within his income, learned the trade of a clockmaker, abolished forced labor, ended torture, halted discrimination, stopped the opening of mail, freed the serfs, gave Protestants the freedom to worship, built hospitals, and demonstrated compassion for the poor. The French people responded by chopping off his head.
II Testimony to God
A When Paul and Barnabas realized that the people of Lystra wanted to honor and praise them for the healing of the lame man, they were horrified. They considered this to be idolatry.
In his speech Paul states that the healing of the lame man points not to him and Barnabas but to God. He tells the crowd that the healing of the lame man is one testimony among many to the one only true God. The healing of the lame man, the vast Creation – "heaven and earth and sea and everything in them" (vs 15) – and the revelation of Jesus Christ all point to God. When the people of Lystra hear the Gospel and see the healing of the lame man and the vast Creation they should "turn" to the "living God" (vs 15).
B Of special interest to us on this Thanksgiving Day is food and drink as a testimony to God. Every time we eat and drink, every time there is rain from heaven and crops in their seasons, we are directed towards God. It is He Who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall (Mt 5:45). Seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night are all a testimony to Him (Gen 8:22).
Food and drink, rain and sunshine, seedtime and harvest – according to Paul, they point to the "kindness" of God. The actual Hebrew word means "to do good." God is good (Mt 10:18; Ps 100:5; Ps 145:9) and God does good.
"Good." What does this mean? What are we being told about God when we are told He is good and does good? We are being told that God satisfies us, fills us to the brim, and meets our needs. God is good, so He satisfies the needs of all His creatures. We all can testify – even in our difficult economic climate – that God has satisfied our need for food and drink.
On this Thanksgiving Day we want to rejoice in the God Who has shown kindness to us, Who has been good to us by satisfying our needs.
C But now a problem. We have recently observed World Hunger Sunday. We looked at the poor and hungry of Bangladesh, Somalia, Ethiopia, Haiti, and Afghanistan. We noted that some 24,000 people die each and every day from world hunger. Does this mean God is not good to them? Does this mean God is good, that He shows kindness, only to a select few?
The problem does not lie with God. God is good. He does good. He shows kindness to all His creatures. Did you know that God has provided more than enough food to feed everyone in the world? But He uses us to feed them. We never have to fear that God will forget to provide. What we must fear is that we might get in the way. What we must fear is that we keep too much for ourselves. What we must fear is that we do not distribute what God has provided.
Title: The Seeds of Satan
The story is told of a man who found the barn where Satan stores the seeds he sows in the human heart: envy, greed, anger, hatred, lust, and so on. He learned that these seeds could be made to grow almost anywhere.
When Satan was questioned, he reluctantly admitted that there was one place in which he could not get them to grow. "And where is that?" asked the man. Satan replied sadly, "In the heart of a thankful man."
On this Thanksgiving Day we want to thank God for being good and doing good, for showing kindness, for giving food and drink. On this Thanksgiving Day we want to be sure that to God we give the praise and the thanks.
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