Acts 14:1–28 . . .
“The Making of a Missionary”
You'll remember from 13:2 that the Holy Spirit designated “Barnabas and Saul” to be set apart “for the work to which I have called them.” The church therefore sent them forth with fasting and prayer and the laying on of their hands (Acts 9:15–16); second, the ministry to which God had called Barnabas and Saul is that which they'd already been doing together (13:1–3). This new missionary team traveled first to the island of Cyprus where Luke focused on one incident of this ministry's leg. At Paphos, a city on the western side of Cyprus, they encountered a Jewish false prophet named Elymas (a.k.a. Bar-Jesus) who was a magician (or sorcerer). He'd gained status with Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul for that region who was an intelligent man, eager to hear what Barnabas and Saul had to say. Elymas did his best to thwart these efforts and to keep the proconsul from the faith. Filled with the Spirit, Paul took the lead, rebuking Elymas and pronouncing a curse of temporary blindness on this Jewish adversary. When Sergius Paulus witnessed that act of blindness, it underscored the truth of the gospel and he came to faith.
Then Paul and his companions left Cyprus, sailing approximately 175 miles northwest to Perga (in Asia Minor), wherein John Mark left Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem (13:13). On the Sabbath, they went to the synagogue, sat down, and were invited to give a “word of encouragement.” Paul seized this opportunity by giving a very brief overview of Israel’s history, along with the proclamation that Jesus had come as the promised Messiah, whom the people of Jerusalem rejected and put to death. Paul announced that through faith in Jesus, anyone who believed could obtain the forgiveness of sins — something one couldn't obtain under the Law. He also reminded them that Old Testament prophets had warned them of rejecting the offer of salvation.
Paul was urged to come back the following Sabbath to speak again. Some attached themselves to Paul and Barnabas. On the following Sabbath, it seemed as though the whole city had gathered to hear what Paul had to say. Seeing these crowds, the Jews became jealous and began heckling as Paul began to preach (13:49–50). Citing Isaiah 49:6, Paul announced that he and Barnabas would turn to the Gentiles. This brought great joy to the Gentiles, but it angered his Jewish adversaries. They stirred up the leading women and men of the city, who then drove both missionaries out of their city. Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet, leaving behind a joyful new body of believers (Acts 13:51–52).
A Great Harvest and an Evil Plot in a New City (14:1–7)
Today we pick up in the middle of the story of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. We've been studying this story with interest because it teaches us what makes a missionary. In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas's preaching was once again instrumental in the salvation of many people — both Jews and Gentiles. But the gospel had the opposite effect on others, particularly the Jews. Luke tells us in v. 2 that some “refused to believe.” Paul and Barnabas stayed on to boldly proclaim the gospel, and (it would seem) by their boldness they encouraged new believers.
Paul's Pisidian Synagogue sermon was timely. A first-century synagogue service followed a general order: (1) Opening prayers were offered; (2) there was a reading from the Law (the first five books of the Old Testament); (3) someone then read from the Prophets; and (4) if there was an educated person present, he'd be invited to speak on subjects related to the readings. The rulers of the synagogue gave Paul that customary invitation, and he was more than happy to use the opportunity.
As time went on, the entire city was polarized into those for Paul and Barnabas and those against them. In Luke’s words, the whole city was divided. Paul is thus identified with Jesus by the people's divided response: Those who opposed Paul and his teaching formed a coalition against him, one that included unbelieving Gentiles, resistant Jews, and the civil authorities (literally, “their rulers”). This “united front” looked a great deal like those coalition forces who worked together to arrest and crucify Jesus. So when these adversaries sought to stone Paul and Barnabas, the two left Iconium and set out for Lystra, where they'd continue to preach the gospel.
A Faithful Servant Points People to the Living God, Not to Himself (vv. 8–20)
In this next passage, the faithfulness of the apostles is contrasted with the fickleness of a pagan crowd. God used Paul to heal a man who'd been lame from birth, and the crowd was ready to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas "as gods." Shortly after, some Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who hated Paul’s message, easily persuaded the same crowd to stone Paul as an impostor. They dragged the unconscious apostle out of the city and threw him on a trash heap as if he were dead. It appeared that Paul died, but Luke’s words indicate that he wasn't dead but was supposed to be dead (v. 19).
Even though Paul wasn't dead, he'd been seriously wounded. He later reminded the Galatian church body that he bore on his body the brandings of Jesus (Galatians 6:17), probably referring to scars that he suffered from this harrowing incident. God miraculously raised him up and gave him the strength to begin a 60-mile journey to Derbe the next day. Through it all, Paul kept on faithfully serving the Lord Jesus while preaching the gospel.
Let's look closely at Paul's gift of healing others. Failing to find a synagogue, the apostles resorted to "street preaching." One who heard them was a man lame from birth as a result of a disorder in his feet. In all his years he'd never walked. What he knew of a normal life came only by observing others. His own life was a daily cause of frustration and sorrow. The narrative doesn't say that he was a beggar, like the lame man that Peter healed as he went into the Temple (Acts 3:1–10), but this man in Lystra was likely no less a familiar sight to his fellow citizens.
As Paul preached, the man listened with rapt attention. Paul looked at him intently, seeing that faith had taken root in the man's heart. He commanded him in a loud voice, "Stand up on your feet!" Without hesitation, the man obeyed. Similar to the lame man whom Peter healed, he obeyed with enthusiasm without doubt. He didn't simply rise in a slow, dignified manner. He leaped to his feet in an outburst of pure joy. Again, we see the touch of realism here. Anyone healed of this kind of affliction would surely feel a rush of complete delight.
The miracle led to results that Paul and Barnabas never anticipated. Paul performed it in a public place; within a short time, everybody in Lystra knew what he'd done. A wave of religious hysteria swept over the city. People flocked to both men, shouting with frenzied voices that their gods had come in human form to both men. Remembering a local tradition that their gods, Jupiter and Mercury, had once visited their forefathers, the people decided that the same high deities were visiting them again.
Notice the reversal of Barnabas and Paul in v. 12. As usual, Paul was doing most of the talking while Barnabas tended to remain silent. Thus, the people of Lystra assumed that Barnabas was the greater “god” while Paul was the lesser “god.” Then the priest arrived from the temple of Zeus, just outside the city. He brought with him oxen and garlands, which he was preparing to offer as a sacrifice to Barnabas and Paul. (Note the order in which Luke puts them in v. 14.) Suddenly, it became clear to the two missionaries that they were being worshiped as though they were gods. They had no desire or intention of receiving the worship of men. They were horrified at the thought of such worship. It was precisely the opposite of what they'd hoped would happen. Immediately, they began to fervently convince the crowds to stop. It was with great difficulty that the two were finally able to put an end to this heathen ritual of honoring them as “gods.”
The response of Barnabas and Paul wasn't an evangelistic message or a proclamation of the gospel, so much as it was an argument intended to stop this heathen worship — of them, no less. They were only men; they weren't incarnations of the heathens' gods. They'd come as representatives of the one true God, not as manifestations of heathen gods that this crowd sought to worship. Their God was the Creator of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things who gave them rains and seasons, crops, and happiness.
How quickly things reversed! We see in v. 19 that those who came with a sacrifice and garlands suddenly protested violently against Paul by stoning him. The reason for the sudden change in the crowd's sentiments and actions seems to be the result of at least two factors: (1) The Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who'd resisted and opposed Paul and Barnabas in their home towns, had come to Lystra and instigated this stoning, and (2) the gospel had suddenly become clear to them as a force that would do away with their religion. Initially they welcomed (and sought to worship) Paul and Barnabas, thinking that the two were the consummation of their heathen religion. Suddenly they realized that the two were serious competition to it.
The Two Missionaries Return to Antioch (vv. 21–28)
The next day, Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe, a lengthy trek from Lystra, one not easily made, especially considering Paul’s physical condition. How easy it would have been for Paul and Barnabas to continue traveling southeast to Tarsus (Paul’s home city) and then Syrian Antioch. That way they'd have avoided the dangers of returning to those cities where unbelieving Jews wanted to see Paul dead. Instead, Paul reversed his course and returned to the previous hot spots that they evangelized: Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. In those cities, they followed up with those new believers whom Luke calls “disciples” (v. 22). The two urged the believers to persist in their faith, knowing that there'd be much opposition and many difficulties ahead.
In the remaining verses, we read of the conclusion of the first missionary journey. Passing once again through Pisidia and entering the region of Pamphylia, they came to the city of Perga, which is the city where John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem (13:13).
Having finally returned to the church of Antioch in Syria, which had sent them out, the two reported the things that God had done through them and how he'd opened the faith-door to the Gentiles. This was a monumental new thing that God was doing, the implications of which were only beginning to become clear. They remained at Antioch for a period, spending time with the disciples at their home church.
- Q. 1 If you were a missionary who'd nearly died from being stoned, would you begin a 60-mile follow-up journey the next day?
- Q. 2 God spared Barnabas of getting stoned but didn't spare faithful Paul. What does this teach you about God’s protection of us as we serve him?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 14.]
† Watch this video clip of Acts 13:1–14:9, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
In Pisidian Antioch
14 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. 2But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. 4The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7where they continued to preach the gospel.
In Lystra and Derbe
8In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
11When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15“Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
19Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
The Return to Antioch in Syria
21They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting,committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
26From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.