These Gentiles thought Paul was a god, but Paul was “scarce” able to keep them from sacrificing an animal to him anyway (v.18). That’s religion for ya! Religion loves to worship God—as long as He doesn’t have the nerve to tell religious men how to do it! When He does, religion bristles—sometimes violently, as it did when they stoned Paul (v.19).
But why does verse 19 say they only supposed they killed Paul? Well, they were sure, but then they weren’t so sure when Paul got up and started walking around! Paul himself didn’t know if he were dead (IICor.12:2,3), but you don’t get to go to heaven unless you’re dead. Souls in heaven can wear robes (Rev.6:9,10), which makes you feel like you’re in your body. But Paul’s body was being dragged out of Lystra.
And all this was a type of something God wants to teach us. In Acts 14:8-18, Paul healed a lame Gentile to illustrate how the Gentiles could now “walk and please God” (IThes.4:1). But to do that, they’d need some instruction, and Paul received some when he heard words “not lawful” to utter (IICor.12:2,3). Those were words about the grace message, words which were against the law of Moses to utter. Paul started the chapter by saying he’d receive revelations (12:1), and then told us about having received some!
So this miracle occurs here to symbolize how Gentiles who could now walk and please God must look to Paul for instructions as to how to do it. The whole chapter symbolizes how we should live in the dispensation of grace. After we learn we should take our instructions from Paul, verse 23 typifies how we should confirm Christians with Paul’s gospel, by ordaining elders to teach it (v.24). That’s why this miracle of Paul’s resurrection happens here, as the age of grace began to unfold, to outline how it should unfold.
How did they confirm those saints? With words (cf.15:32).
That strengthens them (cf.Isa.35:3-5). Of course, Isaiah confirmed Jews with spiritual strength with the words of Moses he was quoting (Deut.31:6). But today, we’re strengthened with Paul’s words. I find it encouraging to know I’ll enter the kingdom of God, don’t you (Acts 14:22)?
But why’d Paul have to tell them they’d enter it “through much tribulation?” Who doesn’t know Job 5:7? The answer? Jews under the law, who were exempt from troubles like sickness and poverty if they obeyed God! Paul was saying there’d been a dispensational change. That change included not being saved from our enemies like Jews under the law, something these Gentiles needed to hear, for God’s enemies persecuted them after Paul left their towns. Unless Paul told them they were no longer under that law that said things like Isaiah 54:17, they’d think God didn’t keep His promises! He told the Thessalonians the same thing (IThes.2:14,15;3:3,4).
Paul didn’t ordain elders (Acts 14:23) when he established those churches because some qualifications for leadership take time to surface (ITim.3:2-7). When he did ordain them, he didn’t commend them to the other Lord the 12 preached (IICor.11:4), but to the Lord “upon whom they believed.” The Lord of the 12 told them to teach the law (Mt.23:1-3). These Gentiles believed on the Lord Paul preached. Pauline grace is the only thing to commend a leader to (Acts 20:32).
How did Paul know he’d “fulfilled” the work the church in Antioch gave him to do (14:26)? The church had evidently told him to preach the gospel, then go back and confirm the souls of the saints and ordain elders among them. When he did that, his work was fulfilled! And we have the same agenda here at Faith Bible Church. We preach the gospel of grace by expounding the mechanics of salvation when we expound the great doctrines of forgiveness, justification, redemption, sanctification, etc. And we confirm the souls of the saints by teaching them the spiritually strengthening words of the Apostle Paul.
A video of this sermon is available on YouTube: “The Sacrifice That Didn’t Happen” Acts 14:18-28