“8 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 (ESV)
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.
The good news, the gospel has many facets. At the center of is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. However, this has application to our lives that can also be called good news. Here Paul applies it to the religion of the people. The good news is the can give up their dead piety. They no longer have to engage in these vain things. Things that are empty, and ultimately devoid of meaning. They bring them a living God who has left his witness in all ages. They bring them the living God who created this world and all that is in it.
This is at the heart of what it means to be God. And by the time Paul comes around this idea of God had become somewhat prevalent among the Greeks and Romans, but as no one knew who this God was they continued to worship the gods of Olympus. This philosophical monotheism accounts for some turning to the Jewish religion, but cultural differences prevented this from happening on a grand scale. Yet there was a sort of slavish feeling many had towards Greek Pantheon.
That the living God was now coming to them that they should turn from these vain things was indeed good news. If the God who created heaven and earth was willing to die in their place on the cross, and send his messengers to them with this news, then this was good news indeed. This was much better news than any idea of Zeus and Hermes returning to reenact a visit that had supposedly happened so many years ago no one remembered it. That was part of the problem with these gods, they could leave, they were distant, they weren’t really a reality in the lives of the people. This waseven more the problem with the philosophical monotheism of the elite studied in the philosophy of Aristotle and the concept of a Demiurge.
This is even still a problem today in the way creation is taught in many circles. It is the problem of Deism. It offers a false freedom, when you take the belief of Deism as Thomas Jefferson believed. The idea that God sort of wound up a clock and let it go. Even when we talk of God as being “outside of time” we have to be careful. We are in time and if God is outside of time, he is separated from us. At least that is an unintended impression one can leave. But though God is not impacted by time in the same way as we are, being also the creator of time as he is of space, he is not “outside” in such a way that he is not involved with it. God is the God of time, sustaining it and perpetuating it, working in and through time. Creation is his baby and he never leaves it alone as if he just decided to wind it up and let it go to see what would happen. Rather he is intimately involved in everything that is happening. And we may not know why he allows things to happen that we have a hard time with, as he allowed these people to worship Zeus and Hermes for so many years. Yet, it is his creation, and so are we. And now he has sent his son to die for us, to rise from the dead for us that we would have life and salvation in him and know that God is active also in the small details of our life. We don’t have to offer vain sacrifices. But God hears our prayers, and is with us with his favor.