Acts: For the Cause of Christ #21
Title: Paul’s First Missionary Journey Pt 2
Review of 13:1-52
Last week we saw how Paul, Barnabas and John Mark set out from Antioch is Syria. We saw that the local church and the Lord’s leading work hand in hand to send out workers in the field for the gospel. We saw as they passed through Cyprus and encountered a false teacher that God will and does judge those who oppose the gospel and the church. We saw that opposition will come, but that our responsibility is to be faithful to Christ and proclaim the gospel and let the Lord handle the outcome, whatever that may be.
This week we conclude Paul’s first journey as he and Barnabas go as far as Derbe and then retrace their steps home.
Iconium – vv 1-7
Paul and Barnabas had left Antioch of Pisidia and headed to Iconium about eighty miles away. Here, we see that they continued their procedure of going to the Synagogue to reach the Jewish population first. Again, there message was heard with great results as many Jews and God-fearing Greeks accepted the Christ as savior. I say God-fearing Greeks here, because it appears that Luke is making a distinction in this section between the Greeks that are attending synagogue and the Gentile population of the city that we will see in verse 2.
Like we saw in Antioch las time, the unbelieving Jews began stirring up trouble for Paul and Barnabas. They did everything they could to get Paul and Barnabas kicked out, they began to prejudice the Gentile population and leaders against the missionaries and the new Christian converts. However, it seems that this was somewhat of a slow process. In verse 3, we are told the Paul and Barnabas “stayed there a long time”. We don’t know how long that time was, but they continued to speak boldly for the Lord. And the Lord used them as they “testified to the message of His grace” by allowing the to do signs and wonders. Here again we see that in the Apostolic time of the new revelation of salvation by grace through faith, God uses His witnesses to be able to do miraculous events through His power, to help validate the new message from the Lord. Here the gospel message is referred to as “the message of his grace” as God’s grace is the subject matter of the message.
After some time, things began to go sideways. The town became divided as some took the side of the Jews and others with Paul and Barnabas. Now here and in verse 14 Paul and Barnabas are referred to as apostles. Generally we do not think of Barnabas as an Apostle like Paul or Peter and the Twelve, but the word has a broader meaning of messenger, so Luke may be referring to Paul and Barnabas being commissioned messengers from the church in Antioch of Syria, or since Paul is an Apostle commissioned by Jesus Himself, Luke is referring to Barnabas “as a member of the apostolic party (with Paul’s Apostleship in a sense lending its authority to Barnabas)” (Kent, Homer A. Jr, Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972, p 115). The trouble climaxes here in verse 5 when a mob of unbelieving Jews, including the Jewish leadership, and Gentiles was formed to mistreat and stone them. One source suggests that execution may not have been the plan, but just harass Paul and Barnabas and to pelt them with stones. Having heard of the plot before hand, Paul and Barnabas decided it was better to leave town. The left Iconium and headed to Lycaonian countryside as well as the towns of Lystra and Derbe. Luke mentions that they went to the Lycaonian region, Paul and Barnabas had crossed a political boundary when they fled from Iconium, the idea is that they had reached safety by crossing into a new region, far enough from those seeking to do them harm in Iconium. Lystra was about twenty miles south of Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas continued to preach the gospel.
For Paul and Barnabas they again faced opposition to their mission, the Lord’s mission of spreading the gospel. Though they fled from the city, quite possibly for their lives, I don’t think they were necessarily discouraged. They knew they had left Iconium in the hands of the Lord as He led the new church plant there. They had succeeded presenting the Gospel both to the Jews, Jewish proselytes and Gentile worshippers of God. They left the rest of the city to the new church and the Lord. They went to new ground. The Lord let them face some opposition in Antioch and Iconium so they could go to new ground have a new opportunity to preach the gospel.
Is Lord opening new ground to you? Is He opening a door you maybe haven’t considered? Just because we face difficulties, it doesn’t mean that the Lord has forgotten us. Maybe, the Lord has something different in mind. We just need to be faithful to the Lord, and continue in obedience to Him.
Lystra – vv 8-20a
Lystra was established as a Roman colony in 25 BC as was Pisidian Antioch by Augustus to help keep peace in that region of the empire. Antioch and Lystra were connected by a military road that did not pass through Iconium. So Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium first, probably because it was a little closer to Antioch than Lystra and, I think, because there was a least one synagogue there.
There is no reference to a Synagogue in Lystra, so it appears that this was all new ground for the missionaries. Most of the people in Lystra, and Derbe as well, had no understanding of the God of Israel, they weren’t looking for a promised Messiah, they had their pagan gods and pagan worship. Though Paul and Barnabas lived in Antioch in Syria where there was lots of paganism and its related worship, Lystra and Derbe were remote and basically the frontier of Roman Empire in the First Century. Think of it in terms of a modern city like Lima, Peru that is only few hundred miles from jungle tribes with little or no modern way of life. So with no synagogue or evidence of a Jewish community, it appears that Paul and Barnabas started doing what today we call “street evangelism”.
While Paul and Barnabas were preaching and teaching there in Lystra, a man who had been born crippled and unable to walk was sitting nearby listening to Paul and had demonstrated faith to Paul somehow, that the Lord allowed Paul to heal this man. Luke isn’t very clear as to whether this man displayed faith in Jesus for salvation or if he merely trusted that Paul was able to help him somehow. Like Peter healing the beggar at the temple gate in Jerusalem in chapter 3, this man was lame from birth and the healing could have only been done in a miraculous way.
The healing of the man was obvious to everyone around. It is likely this was all happening the marketplace where lots of people are around. I’m sure that Paul was using that spiritual gift the way it was supposed to be used, which is ultimately for God’s glory, but also as a way to validate that Paul’s message of the true God of the universe had power behind its truth, but I don’t think Paul had in mind what happened next.
What’s happening here? I think everyone knew that a miracle had taken place. No one doubted that, but the people of Lystra took Paul and Barnabas as gods of the Greek Pantheon in human form, Barnabas as Zeus and Paul as Hermes. Why? “The Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – AD 17) records the ancient myth concerning a visit of Zeus and Hermes to the neighboring region of Phrygia, disguised as mortals. All turned them away except one [elderly] couple…on the Lycaonian border. Later a flood came in judgement and drowned all except this couple” (Kent, p117). Apparently the people of Lystra didn’t want a repeat of this myth, so the started preparing sacrifices and honors for their visiting “gods”. Luke records that they were using their native language of Lycaonian, as Paul was probably speaking to them in Greek, so Paul and Barnabas didn’t understand what was happening until it was nearly too late.
When Paul and Barnabas realized what was happening they acted very quickly. It is thought that the priest of Zeus and the crowd had brought the bulls to the door where the missionaries were staying, and that was when Paul and Barnabas realized what was about to happen. They ran into the crowd ripping the tunics, ripping their shirts. Why would they do that? It is a Jewish response of horror to blasphemy. This was done by the High Priest at Jesus’ trial when He answered truthfully to being the Messiah (Mk 14:60-64).
Then Paul and Barnabas, after getting the attention of the crowd, began explaining that they were just flesh and blood humans as their listeners were, and were sent as messengers by the One True God. The summary Luke gives here is one of two examples we have in Acts of reaching out to a purely pagan culture. They started by telling the crowds that they were simply messengers calling the people of Lystra from their worthless dead idols to the true, living, creator God. Since there is no OT foundation on which to build, the missionaries started by going to what they had around them, the natural revelation of God’s creation. They tell the crowd that God had created everything, and though He let every nation “go their own way”, God had left them a witness of Himself, nature. Specifically the missionaries talk about God giving everybody rain, changing seasons, and harvests of food. Today we refer to this as an element of God’s common grace. God gives things sunshine, crops, changing seasons to everybody whether they worship Him or not. This is a similar discussion that Paul talks about in more detail in Romans 1:18-25. After this explanation, Paul and Barnabas were able to just stop the sacrifices from being made in their honor.
We are not given any amount of time between verses 18 and 19 so we don’t know how long after the near miss of the sacrifices that trouble coming to Lystra for Paul and Barnabas. Evidently there were some converts to Christianity during their time Lystra as we see in verse 20, and it is thought that Timothy and his family may have been from Lystra and may have come to Christ during this trip. So there is some fruit in this mission field, but now we have unbelieving Jews that have followed Paul and Barnabas to from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium, gathered more unbelieving Jews from Iconium and have now entered Lystra. Somehow they won over crowds against the missionaries.
Again we see how fickle public opinion can be. One moment Paul was a god to be worshipped, now he was criminal to executed. This the stoning Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 11:25. It has been said that “a mob [is] ‘a society of bodies voluntarily bereaving themselves of reason’” (Weirsbe, Warren W., Be Daring, © 1988, p 18). This small band of disciples were in a critical moment, their leader is thought to be dead, they are outnumbered by those had attacked Paul, however this group of believers didn’t leave Paul’s side when he was left for dead. Verse 20 tells us that they gathered around him, they may have been praying. We aren’t told for certain if Paul was dead and that God raised to back life or if the Lord had protected Paul somehow to keep him from dying. Either way Paul stands up, goes back into the town for the night.
Sometimes opposition to the Gospel is just used to open a new door. Sometimes, it literally follows you. That is what happened here. Opposing Jews followed Paul from Pisidian Antioch to gather reinforcements from Iconium to go into pagan, gentile Lystra to whip up a crowd to try to eliminate Paul. As Christians we are to preach and teach the gospel. Most times, I think, physical abuse doesn’t happen. Especially here in the US where Christians have had a very easy time for a long time, but sometimes, for the Cause of Christ, for the cause of the gospel, physical abuse cannot be avoided. We have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world facing horrific persecution, for simply believing on Christ and trying to live out their faith. But in here in the US, we’re afraid to lose our job, to be laughed at, or to simply be brushed aside.
From Derbe to Home v20b-28
The next morning Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe around sixty miles away from Lystra to the southeast. Luke tells us nothing of the time Paul and Barnabas spend in Derbe. We can only assume that it was somewhat peaceful as it was fruitful. Many disciples were made in Derbe, one of note is Gaius who is later mentioned as travelling companion of Paul in chapter 20.
After Derbe, instead of travelling the shorter route home to Antioch in Syria by land through Tarsus, the missionaries decided to return the way they came more or less. They went back to Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch to encourage the new disciples and to help establish leadership in the local churches in those towns. It is thought that there may have been some turnover in civil governments in those cities making it relatively more safe for them to return, even if that wasn’t the case we must recognize the courage of these men to return to the cities were they had faced various degrees of opposition, violence and injustice.
Here in verse 23 we see that Paul and Barnabas are appointing elders, other translations say “ordain” instead of appoint. The verb used originally meant essentially vote by raised hands. I’m not going to hold this verse as key to congregational government. There is an argument there, as the verb is used in 2 Corinthians 8:19 where the idea of congregational selection is in focus, as well as the the fact the congregational selection was already established as an apostolic practice as we saw in chapter 6 with the selection of the Seven. This verse isn’t as clear, but I think Warren Wiersbe says it best when stated, “[i]t is possible that Paul chose the men and the congregation voted its approval, or that the people selected them by vote and Paul ordained them” (Wiersbe, p 19). Though he doesn’t come down on a specific side, I agree that either of those options is probably what Luke meant. It appears the selection of these pastors, was done with prayer and fasting, and then Paul and Barnabas committed these men and the churches to Lord before continuing their journey home.
After leaving Pisidian Antioch they travelled through Pisidia again and into the region of Pamphylia and came to the city of Perga. Here is where they started their journey into Asia Minor, and where John Mark had left to return home. We are told they preached in Perga, this was not mentioned earlier in chapter 3 and we can only assume if they did or not in that earlier visit. After stopping in Perga, they headed to the port city of Attalia which was the primary port for Pamphylia. After leaving Attalia they bypassed Cyprus and sailed directly back for Antioch of Syria. Luke doesn’t tell us here if they return to the port of Seleucia, but I think they did.
There was probably great excitement when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch. They had returned to their “sending church” to report about everything God had done for them. Imagine the excitement when they described they dangers faced, how God provided, how He directed, and of course how He had used them to open wider the door of faith and salvation to the Gentiles. The missionaries probably returned to their normal ministries there in Antioch as they stayed there for awhile.
Most of these cities and towns of this first journey have been in a couple of different regions, but they all belonged to the larger province of Galatia. These cities were in the southern part of Galatia, the name you recognize as one of Paul’s letters. There are two theories for the dating of Galatians. One is the “northern theory” and the other is the “southern theory”. If the northern view is correct, then Galatians was written to other churches and was written somewhere between AD 52/53-56 around the time he wrote Romans. If the southern view is correct, then the churches that Paul and Barnabas help plant and establish on this first journey were the recipients of the book of Galatians, and the date for Galatians would be AD 48 or 49, before the Jerusalem Council which is generally dated at AD 49. Why say all that now, because if the southern view is correct, then here between chapters 14 and 15 of Acts is when Paul is writing Galatians, making it one of the earliest books of the NT.
Just like Barnabas had done in Antioch by getting Paul, the missionaries knew that they need to make sure these new church had mature, established leadership that was committed to Lord and the work of the Gospel. We know churches need to be organized, organizations need leadership, and churches are organisms as well as organization. Not only should the leadership be committed to Lord and the Gospel, but the members of the church should be as well. Leadership of churches is supposed to train members for the work of the Gospel so they can do their part of the Great Commission and go and help make disciples, so the leadership finds new members in the church to train. As Paul and Barnabas did so should current missionaries or other church members sent out for a short time report back on their mission and experiences. The church invests time, prayer, and usually some funds so it is as much the mission of that local church as it is the worker
For Paul and Barnabas they again faced opposition to their mission, the Lord’s mission of spreading the gospel. They left the rest of the city to the new church and the Lord. They went to new ground. The Lord let them face some opposition in Antioch and Iconium so they could go to new ground have a new opportunity to preach the gospel. Is Lord opening new ground to you? Is He opening a door you maybe haven’t considered? Just because we face difficulties, it doesn’t mean that the Lord has forgotten us. Maybe, the Lord has something different in mind. We just need to be faithful to the Lord, and continue in obedience to Him.
Sometimes opposition to the Gospel is just used to open a new door. Sometimes, it literally follows you. Opposing Jews followed Paul from Pisidian Antioch to gather reinforcements from Iconium to go into pagan, gentile Lystra to whip up a crowd to try to eliminate Paul. As Christians we are to preach and teach the gospel. Most times, I think, physical abuse doesn’t happen here in the US where Christians have had a very easy time for a long time, but sometimes, for the Cause of Christ, physical abuse cannot be avoided. We have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world facing horrific persecution, for simply believing on Christ and trying to live out their faith. But in here in the US, we’re afraid to lose our job, to be laughed at, or to simply be brushed aside.
Churches need to be training their members to go out and the work of the gospel. This should be an ongoing cycle. Churches that are so focused on their inward needs or preferences are in danger of being ineffectual as well as heading down a slippery slope to the death of the church. How are our churches doing?
What are we doing for the Cause of Christ? What are you doing for the Cause of Christ?