To anyone who has followed Jesus for any amount of time, you’ve likely experienced how differently people react to you. For some, a Christian is viewed as a person who has it all together, who is blessed by God, or who could show them something about truth they’ve been missing. For others, a Christian is viewed as a person who is hypocritical, untrustworthy, and deserving to be ridiculed and avoided (or worse).
We see these extreme reactions all within a matter of verses in the book of Acts. In Acts 14:11-18 the people of Lystra watch Paul heal a man and then conclude he and Barnabas must be gods.
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 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. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? 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, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
Then, the very next verse (14:19) introduces people who offer a different opinion about Paul and this radically shifts the crowd to murder.
Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.
What a fast shift in response! We would do well to anticipate both reactions to our own faith today. Maybe not to the extremes we see here, but certainly this dichotomy. You may be loved for your faith in Jesus, or it might cause you to suffer. And you can go from one to the other seemingly without any warning. The crowd is a fickle audience. But what I find most moving about this account is the reactions of others didn’t shape the faithfulness of Paul and Barnabas. They didn’t believe the hype about themselves (well then, maybe I am Hermes!) nor did they feel dejected when the crowd turned. We might take the following conclusion away from this for us today: The reactions to our faith should never determine the level of our faithfulness.
Maybe you currently feel a bit elevated in the way you are treated as a Christian. While that’s been the norm for American Christianity under the Christendom model, that will ever become less of the norm. Or, maybe you feel just slightly above having others throw a bunch of rocks at you. They might just be metaphorical rocks at this time. I could show you a few scars.
Let this be an encouragement for you to be faithful in following Jesus today. We would do well to have a sober awareness of how others hear our message and this will lead to continually refining our methods and presentation. But at the end of the day, when we feel the tug to respond we must follow without measuring success from the reactions of others.
You may feel like Hermes, or you may feel like you need a doctor, but we must keep our eyes on living out the radical Kingdom of Christ.