Prophets functioned in the early church as proclaimers of God’s revelation. Teachers explained the meaning of the revelation and helped people apply it to their lives. In the early church the prophets were the preachers; the ones who communicated revelation directly from the Spirit of God. Evangelists, pastors, and teachers took what was taught or declared and made it applicable for the daily nurture of people’s lives. The prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch spent considerable time in worship and prayer, earnestly seeking the Lord’s will as they tasted and opened themselves up to divine direction. As they prayed, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, and they set apart Barnabas and Saul in clear recognition of God’s call for them to carry out a special work in His name. The believers inward journey in prayer and listening to God is matched by their outward journey in service, evangelism, and mighty works of healing. One of the teachers was a man named Simeon which is a Jewish name but he is called Niger, which probably means he was a black Jewish man from Africa. That would have been highly unusual in that day and age. There were people in Antioch from all over the place which made the church there a sort of melting pot of people and traditions. The other interesting person was Manaen who was a childhood friend of Herod Antipas. It is quite possible that Luke received many of his insights about Herod Antipas from this man.
The laying on of hands was the church’s way of identifying with and affirming the mission to which God had called a particular person. This was a solemn act that was done only after much fasting and prayer. At this point Barnabas and Saul were sent on their way as missionaries of the church of Antioch. This first mission was undertaken with a strong consciousness of the Holy Spirit as their guide. Seleucia was Antioch’s ancient seaport, located about 12 miles from the city at the mouth of the Orontes. Their journey took them to the island of Cyprus, which was Barnabas’s homeland. As would be the custom of all the apostles who were sent out, the two men went to the synagogue where the Jews could hear and respond to the Christian message. They would also meet converts to Judaism and spiritually hungry Gentiles who are sometimes referred to as God-fearers. At the town of Paphos there was a power struggle with a false prophet, with the result that the power of God was manifested and the Roman governor became a believer. Luke presents Sergius Paulus as the first Gentile ruler to believe the gospel. The island of Cyprus was a senatorial island, which means it was Roman controlled. As a Roman official Sergius was a Gentile. This pagan government official was totally amazed at the power of God and believed the truth. Barnabas and Saul encountered a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus. Such eastern magicians often exercised a tremendous influence in the Greco-Roman world. He was trying to keep the Roman governor from believing, and recognized a challenge to his power. He strongly opposed the message of Barnabas and Saul.
It was not unusual for a person to have two names. In Paul’s Jewish surroundings the name Saul was used but in his mission to the Gentiles his Roman name Paul was used. Paul became the chief spokesman and he rebuked the sorcerer’s fraudulent claims, exposed his deceit, and pronounced divine judgement. The sorcerer was immediately struck blind, a condition that lasted for some time, giving a strong demonstration of the truthfulness and superiority of the apostolic message over the bogus claims of the sorcerer. Once Paul and Barnabas were finished teaching there they moved on to Perga. From there major roads opened into the interior beyond the Tarsus Mountains. At this point John Mark left the team for reasons that are not stated. Whatever the trouble was between Paul and John Mark it was enough for Paul not to want John Mark to accompany him on a later journey. But, John Mark would prove faithful later in Paul’s ministry. They traveled into the high country and came to Antioch of Pisidia in the Roman province of Galatia. This was a very different city than the Antioch located just north of Palestine. Again they went into the synagogue and after the usual scriptures for the day had been read, one from the book of Moses and the other from the prophets, the officials of the synagogue invited the visitors to speak any word of encouragement for the people. Of course Paul accepted the invitation, motioned to quiet the audience and launched into a straightforward proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is Paul’s first great speech in Acts, and it provides a model of his preaching to a Jewish audience. To establish common ground, Paul traced Jewish history from the Exodus inward, stressing the Jews powerful deliverance from Egyptian bondage, the providential occupation of their inheritance in Canaan, the establishment of the monarchy, the removal of king Saul, and the special place of David. David was a man after God’s own heart despite his sins. From here Paul launched into the theme of his message; that Jesus, one of David’s descendants, was God’s promised Savior of Israel. The Messiah’s way had been prepared by John the Baptist, who insisted that Israel needed to repent and turn to God and be baptized. John was a humble servant who simply cleared the ground for the One whose coming he was announcing.
Paul reviewed the shameful treatment Jesus had received, involving unjust condemnation and death. But, God raised Jesus from the dead, as attested to by eye witnesses. This message provides good news, for through Jesus sinners can experience the forgiveness of sins. But this message must be met with faith, or dire consequences will follow. Paul appealed for them to believe the message about Jesus through whom there is forgiveness for your sins. He explained that faith is a prerequisite to being made right in God’s sight. And that this was NOT provided for in the law of Moses. Paul closed his message with a strong warning. This Good News must not be ignored, neglected, or rejected. The message stirred up interest in the people and many of them were converted. There were also full converts to Judaism there. These were Gentiles who had gone through the rite of circumcision to become full members of the Jewish community, observing the Jewish law. The grace of God is a key concept in the New Testament to describe God’s unmerited favor shown preeminently through Jesus Christ. The excitement caused by the apostle’s preaching caused a mass turnout the following week, but this also caused some heartburn and jealousy in some of the Jews. Their ability to win converts to Judaism was being overshadowed by Paul’s ministry. They verbally attacked Paul and his ministry but Paul met this hostility with a bold declaration. These Jews had been given a chance to hear the word of God and since they had chosen to reject it, the offer of salvation would now be given to the Gentiles in accordance with the Lord’s command in scripture. The local Gentiles welcomed the Good News and many responded to it. This meant that the Lord’s message was carried throughout the region. Jewish opposition had once again forced Paul and Barnabas out of town. They shook the dust from their feet as a sign of rejection as Jesus had taught His disciples. That place was then treated as pagan territory and other people were given access to the message of new life in Christ. Despite probable harassment and persecution, the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Paul and Barnabas spoke with authority because they spoke the truth. The power of God is not in the person who witnesses but in what is witnessed to. Next the men went to Iconium. It was east of Antioch of Pisidia, and enjoyed a favorable location on several key trade routes. They went to the synagogue, speaking powerfully about Jesus Christ and this led to a great response by both Jews and a Gentiles. But they also faced hostile Jews who rejected the Christian message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas were resilient and stayed in Iconium for quite some time. They continued to preach in Spirit inspired boldness the Good News that God’s grace was available to both Jews and Gentiles. In addition the spirit confirmed the Christian message with miraculous signs and wonders. However, the apostolic message required a decision about belief in Jesus and public opinion was clearly split. It was here that Paul and Barnabas were called apostles for the first time, extending the idea of apostleship beyond the twelve. Their message was in continuity with that of the original apostles, and they were prepared to suffer hardship and persecution for it, as the earliest apostles had done.
Lycaonia was a southern region of the Roman province of Galatia. It’s major cities were Derbe, Lystra, Laranda, and Iconium. Acts records more visits to Iconium by Paul in the upcoming chapters, and Paul’s letter to the Galatians may have been addressed to the scattered believers of Lycaonia. While they were in Lystra they came across a man with crippled feet. He had been that way since birth. This man was looking right at Paul as he preached and Paul saw that he had the faith to be healed. In the Book of Acts the work of Paul parallels the work of Peter and the many miraculous signs and wonders performed among the Jews were also performed among the Gentiles. Paul looked right at the man and called in a loud voice for him to stand up. The man jumped to his feet and began walking. The crowd was astounded and looked at Paul and Barnabas as though they were gods in human form. They were sure Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermès because he was the chief speaker.
The Roman poet Ovid told of an ancient legend in which Zeus and Hermès came to the Phrygian hill country disguised as mortals seeking lodging. After being turned away from 1,000 homes they found refuge in the humble cottage of an elderly couple. In appreciation for the couple’s hospitality, the gods transformed the cottage into a temple with a golden roof and marble columns. All the houses of the inhospitable people were then destroyed. This ancient legend may be the reason that people treated Paul and Barnabas as gods. After witnessing the healing of the cripple, they didn’t want to make the same mistake their ancestors had. This could have been a divine visitation. However, this horrified Paul and Barnabas and they tore their clothes, a Jewish expression of distress and grief. They didn’t want to be seen as idols or gods and explained they were just men like everyone else. And then they directed the people’s worship to the living God. They were only His representatives as they brought the Good News of the Christian message. The crowd turned fickle only after Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and turned the people against them. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town like he was a dead man. But the believers gathered around him, presumably praying, and Paul got up and went back into town. Paul later referred to this time of persecution as a lesson (2 Timothy 3:11-12). Because Paul got up and went back into town this suggests that God miraculously healed him of his wounds. God still had much work for Paul to do. The following day they left to preach the Good News in another place.
One of the things we have seen and will continue to see is that the apostles were diligent and intentional in following up with those who had made a Christian profession of faith. These new disciples needed to be nurtured, supported, and encouraged. What a great example for those of us who share the good news with others. As soon as Paul and Barnabas returned home to Antioch from their first missionary journey, they called the church together and gave a full report of their evangelism and discipleship. They humbly acknowledged divine guidance in opening the door of faith to the Gentiles. There are similar reports in scripture and always the activity of God was stressed as working through the ministries of his servants.
While Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch there were men from Judea who were Jewish Christians. They were teaching that you had to be Jewish first before you could be a Christian. People who wanted to follow Jesus had to first be circumcised and then convert to Judaism before they could become Christian. All of this they believed was necessary before one could be saved. What these men from Judea really wanted was for Christianity to become a sect of Judaism. And in fact some of these men were believers in Jesus but they still were identified as Pharisees. Jews who became followers of Christ could still be Pharisees. But the same could not be said for the Sadducees because they did not believe in resurrection. Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them vehemently. Because this was a serious issue to resolve Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to help resolve this matter with the apostles and elders there. In route they encouraged the believers in Phoenicia, and Samaria where the Christian faith had made substantial inroads. The very first church council met to resolve the dispute concerning Gentiles and circumcision. The Pharisees were strong believers in Jesus but could not let go of their strong adherence to the law of Moses. Paul argued against them most strenuously. Peter joined in recounting what had happened when he was called to go to the house of Cornelius the Roman centurion. Peter argued that God had already confirmed His acceptance of the Gentiles without circumcision by giving them the Holy Spirit. The undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus had been made available to all. James the brother of Jesus declared that the conversion of the Gentiles was clearly in accord with scripture. He argued forcefully that it was contrary to the divine will to put unnecessary requirements on the admission of the Gentiles.
Because God’s prophets had predicted the conversion and inclusion of the Gentiles, James argued that the Gentiles should be accepted as Gentiles without requiring them to practice Judaism. The only “Jewish” requirements the church imposed was to not eat food offered to idols, to avoid any blood of the animals and to avoid sexual immorality. The letter to the Gentiles is an interesting blend of traditions. It begins with the opening, Greetings! This is more of a Jewish opening to a letter. But the letter ends with farewell! This is a familiar Hellenistic or Greek ending to the letter. This is found only here in the New Testament. And Paul often ended his letters in a much more theological note. The believers at Antioch received this decision with great joy that conversion to Judaism and keeping all of the requirements of the law of Moses was not required of them. The dispute had been resolved so the work of teaching and preaching in Antioch could continue uninterrupted.
The separation of Paul and Barnabas was difficult. Paul was adamant that John Mark not come along. Earlier John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia but it is unclear why. The Greek here says a the separation was discordant, meaning it was a very sharp disagreement. But it was also an honest disagreement between two godly men about whether or not John Mark should be given a second chance to accompany them on a mission journey. The rift between Paul and John Mark was eventually healed and there was a point where Paul actually asked that John Mark come to him in Rome. Following his disagreement with Barnabas Paul chose Silas as his partner for a second missionary journey through Syria and Cilicia. The two men traveled overland to visit Derbe and Lystra, explaining the decision of the Jerusalem council and strengthening believers in their faith.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W