The mission of Jesus exploded in Jerusalem and has been spreading abroad. Barnabas and Saul (now called Paul since chapter 13) left Antioch to take the gospel to the Gentiles (13:3). They had sailed to Cyprus, preached in Paphos, parted with John in Perga and proclaimed Jesus the Saviour to the Pisidian Synagogue.. The word of the Lord had been received by some Jews but rejected by many others. It had also been received well by Gentiles and yet not all believed. Always, the message was the word of the Lord and the proclamation that Jesus is Lord. Freedom from sin comes to everybody who believes. This word of the Lord spread throughout the region. But Paul and Barnabas left Pisidian Antioch once it was clear that many were rejecting the gospel.
- 1-7 – Division at Iconium
- 8-10 – A lame man healed in Lystra
- 11-18 – Mistaken for gods
- 19-20 – Mistaken for dead
- 21-28 – Returning to base, strengthening along the way
1-7 – Division at Iconium
“…went as usual into the Jewish synagogue.” This has been commented on in previous posts. The logical place to begin spreading the gospel is in the place where the word of the Lord has already been preached – where the seeds have been sown. Paul and Barnabas continued to use this strategy even after they had seen the gospel rejected in the previous town.
“but the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.” Logic says, if it’s true then believe it. If it is not true then show it to be either wrong or highly unlikely and let it go! But the human response to God doesn’t work that way. Some will remain in the discussion to speak reasonably and debate, but the majority who do not believe will attack the messenger instead of the message.
“the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.” Interestingly that when the character of the preachers were attacked rather than the message, then the Lord fought for them by enabling them to do signs and wonders – miracles. This is a good little verse to show how miracles serve to confirm the gospel, not be an addition to it nor a necessity in the church.
“The people of the city were divided…a plot afoot…to mistreat them and stone them…” The message was rejected. The miracles were rejected. The disciples were rejected. Such a passionate rejection to the gospel. Interestingly, the world was not lapping up the gospel like modern skeptics might want to believe – like the gospel is for a naive time but now we are much more sophisticated. The gospel has always been met with resistance and rejection. It’s amazing that it has survived so many thousands of years! Obviously because, despite persecution, the apostles “continued to preach the gospel.”
8-10 – A lame man healed in Lystra
In these verses, we have a story very familiar and routine. Jesus healed lame people, Peter did, and now Paul has. The man had been listening to the gospel and Paul saw that his response was to believe – he had faith which Paul recognised. Paul, who had been performing miracles, called for the man to walk for the first time in his life. And he did! As mentioned earlier, miracles like this went with the Apostles who were taking the word of the Lord into the world for the first time. It was a kind of testimony from God that the message is to be believed.
11-18 – Mistaken for gods
“…in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us…” Paul and Barnabas may not have understood what was being said about them until later when they heard of the offerings of sacrifice brought to them. The miracle showed the locals that it was the power of God with them but the mistake was to understand the men as gods instead of messengers of God.
“…telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God…” The message of the gospel needed to be retold to these people, focusing on who God is rather than who Jesus is. That is, they need firstly to turn from a total misunderstanding about God to worshipping the one true God. This is a reality that the Jews had been taught from the scriptures. These locals needed to hear the basics: that there is one God who, in the past, has not spoken directly to you. But he has been blessing you with a general blessing by sending rain and crops and a sense of joy. Now, this God wants you to know who he is.
19-20 – Mistaken for dead
“Jews came from Antioch and Iconium…” Paul and Barnabas were not the only Jews on a mission. While they were spreading the gospel, Jews who they had previously met were following to derail their ministry. Both believed they were doing the work of God I suppose. The former explained the truth from the word of God while the latter raised up enemies to take these missionaries down.
“thinking he was dead.” Paul was left for dead. Probably not actually dead. But still a miracle to read that a man who had been physically hit with rocks to the point of death could get up and walk!
21-28 – Returning to base, strengthening along the way
“They preached the gospel in that city…” In Derbe, all we hear is the the gospel was preached and many believed. But the rest of the chapter is committed to the strengthening of the gospel in all the places they had been before. They returned to Antioch where they had set out on this missionary journey but visited Lystra and Iconium on the way. Each time, their plan now was to strengthen those who had believed and encourage them to stand firm through the hardships they will face (v22).
“…appointed elders for them in each church…” The believers would need people appointed to lead them. Paul and Barnabas were not just ‘fly by night’ missionaries. They had formed a strategy for beginning their missions (to go first to the Jews) and they were forming strategies to keep the gospel established in each town they left.
“…reported all that God had done through them…” Once back in Antioch, they encouraged the church there with stories of the work that God was doing in the world.Psalm 4 says, “Fill my heart with joy, when their grain and new wine abound.” The last part of that verse describes the blessings of God on the land. The Psalmist wants to find his joy, not in how God is blessing himself, but in how God is blessing the world that he lives in. When he sees the work of God and how people are receiving life and blessings, that should fill our hearts with joy.
The shape of the gospel message will look different, depending on who you speak it to. A person with the understanding that there is one god may be asked, “how are you saved?” while someone who thinks of many gods or many religions as equal may be asked, “who is ultimately in charge of everything?” and someone with an atheistic or agnostic background may be asked, “how do you know right from wrong?” The same gospel can take different approaches depending on your audience.
- What are some common objections to the Christian faith? After raising a few, can you think of some clear responses to each?
- The gospel must pass through huge walls of cultural conviction. The Jews responded to the gospel by attacking the messengers. The Lycaonians responded to the gospel by treating the messengers as gods! Both groups needed to be convicted of the truth and to respond to that. What cultural obstacles do we face in our area as we try to preach the gospel?
- What things have you seen God doing in the past few months that give you joy? What has been an encouragement to you in watching the mission of God unfold around you?