Summary: I believe that there is one God - and it's not me!
“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” How many times in your life as a Christian have you spoken those words? Confessing the Apostles’ Creed is a regular part of our worship here. But how often have you really thought about what those words mean and why we bother confessing them? Today we start a new sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed - a statement of belief not written by the apostles (Jesus early disciples), but is a concise summary of what they taught as directed by Jesus and prompted by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul explained well the importance of holding to an accurate creed when he said to his pupil Timothy: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching... 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13, 14a).
That’s what we intend to do over the next couple of months together: work at guarding the good deposit of Christian teaching as we review the Apostles’ Creed. This teaching about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is what we need to know and believe for entrance into heaven. Therefore it’s more precious than bars of gold stashed away in a safety deposit box. Today we contemplate the First Article of the Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” When we confess this we’re saying: “There’s only one God - and it’s not me…or you!”
That truth is highlighted very well on Paul’s First Missionary Journey. Our sermon text today described a stop Paul and his co-worker Barnabas made in the city of Lystra, located in present-day Turkey. Paul was in the middle of preaching when he noticed that a man who had been lame from birth was listening intently to him. Perceiving that this man had faith, Paul said to him in a loud voice: “Stand up on your feet!” At this the man didn’t struggle to his feet like you and I do when we’ve been sitting on the floor for some time; he leapt to his feet and started walking as if he had been doing that his whole life!
The crowd was amazed and cried out in their native dialect: “The gods have come down to us in human form!” When word reached the nearby temple dedicated to the Greek god Zeus, the priest brought bulls to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas. When the two Christians figured out what was going on, they rushed into the crowd saying: “What do you think you’re doing! We’re not gods! We are men just like you, and we’re here to bring you the Message, to persuade you to abandon these silly god-superstitions and embrace God himself, the living God. We don’t make God; he makes us, and all of this—sky, earth, sea, and everything in them. In the generations before us, God let all the different nations go their own way. But even then he didn’t leave them without a clue, for he made a good creation, poured down rain and gave bumper crops. When your bellies were full and your hearts happy, there was evidence of good beyond your doing” (Acts 14:15-18 Message translation).
This incident makes a couple of truths clear. First, there’s only one true God – the God of the Bible. Paul didn’t slap the people on the back and say, “I’m sure glad you worship Zeus. It’s not the God of the Bible but hey, it’s better than having no religion or spirituality!” No, Zeus and Hermes weren’t “gods” they were “things” as Paul called them. “Things” just as stones, wood chips, and cotton candy are “things.” A stone statue of a god might look impressive, and cotton candy might make you feel good but these “things” are worthless to help when bombs explode among unsuspecting crowds as they did in Boston last week.
That’s why Paul had come all that way to Lystra. He wanted to tell the people there about the one true God. This God, explained Paul, is very powerful for he made all things. Not only that, the true God is very loving. For years he had sent the people of Lystra rain and good crops even though they hadn’t spent a single minute thanking him for it. It’s bad enough if you forget to send Mom a card on Mother’s Day but how is she going to feel if you write a card, buy flowers, and take someone else’s mom out for dinner instead? Every day for centuries God had been slighted like that by the people of Lystra. Thanks and honor that should have been directed to him went to idols instead.
Well it’s a good thing we haven’t treated God like that right? Although we may never in our lives have bowed down to a statue believing that it was a god, we have nevertheless struggled to live the First Article of the Creed. We regularly confess that there is one God but we act as if we are it! Compare your actions and attitudes with Paul’s in Lystra. After Paul worked that miracle, the people wanted to give him credit. Wouldn’t it have been easy for Paul to sign a few autographs and enjoy being the center of attention for a while? So what if the people didn’t quite get that the miraculous power had come from God and not him? But that wasn’t Paul’s attitude at all. Instead he was desperate for the people to understand that the God of the Bible was to be thanked and worshipped.