Acts 14 records the briefest of statements from a sermon Paul preached to citizens in Lystra. He and Barnabas had at first been regarded as gods by those listeners after Paul had healed a lame man. When the two preachers suddenly perceived that the townsfolk were about to offer sacrifice to them by killing an oxen to honor them, the evangelists offered heavy protest to prevent the people from doing that. It was then that Paul preached to them, saying, “Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you and bring you good tidings that ye should turn from these vain things unto a living God who made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways. And yet he left not himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:15-17).
We are not to suppose that God had made no effort to reach these whom He “suffered them to walk in their own ways” because “The Lord is not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9), and that included the Gentiles who were citizens of a town called Lystra. Paul’s words to the Romans expressed the Creator’s efforts to reach man and man’s rejection of Him, for three times in his letter to them, Paul wrote that God “gave them up” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28) which expression is comparable to his words in our text, “God suffered the nations to walk in their own ways”. And although there are some men who make no effort to correct those who would offer worship to them or other men, such a practice is a vain thing and robs the only true God of the worship and adoration that belongs only to Him. So while others might not do so, Paul and Barnabas could not stand idly by and accept their worship of them, a worship which belonged only to God. Although God had reached the point in His dealing with His creation — man — that He suffered the nations to walk in their own ways (“gave them up”), that is not to say men were clueless about the existence of the true God. God always left witness of Himself to man.
Thus, beside providing the people of Lystra with His witness to them that He “did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness”, God left other witness of Himself. The story is told of some travelers who camped, spending a night in a tent. The next morning one of them awoke and told his other companions, “A caravan of camels passed us in the night”. When one asked him, “Did you see them?” his response was, “No, but I see their tracks in the sand”. Discerning men can see of every living thing, that they and he is mortal. He may flex his muscles and achieve many mighty things with his strength, but everyone can perceive that no matter what strength and power a man may possess, he will weaken and ultimately die. God’s words to Adam are so true: “Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). Man knows that no matter how strong he is, he could never have created the universe which he beholds and of which he is part. He knows — that like every other living thing — someday he will die. It is sobering, but he knows he is mortal, not eternal.
Discerning man knows something else. He knows that while there is no comparison between his own strength with the powers reflected in the heavens and on the earth, he also knows that the heavens and earth themselves are “created things” which, just as man was made by another, so were they. And although there is a difference of thousands of years, they also will pass away or die. Man can perceive “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). The exacting order of our universe shouts that just like man did not make himself so neither did they. Both are the handiwork of a Majestic, all-powerful Creator. Both the heavens and man the creature demand some One who made them!
Some years later Paul preached a longer sermon to another group of idolaters in the city of Athens. He included in that sermon some of the truths he had taught in Lystra. He then said, “The times of ignorance he once overlooked but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world by the man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance to all men in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Just as man must know that he owes his existence to the power of the Eternal Creator; he also owes his obedience to that Creator to all the requirements that Creator makes of him. God has not left man without a witness of Himself. He has “left His tracks in the sand”.