Acts 13 and 14
After his conversion to Christianity, Paul began to preach in Damascus that Jesus was the Son of God. The Jews in Damascus did not like the idea that Paul had joined the Christians and was preaching that Jesus was the Son of God. They wanted to kill him; but the Christians in Damascus helped him escape in the night in a basket over the walls of Damascus to Jerusalem.
In Jerusalem, Paul attempted to join the Christians but they were afraid of him. But Barnabas explained how Paul was converted on the road to Damascus. Paul preached about Jesus Christ till some of the Jews wanted to kill him. And so, the Jerusalem Church brought him to Caesarea and then to Tarsus, his hometown. After two years, Barnabas brought Paul down from Tarsus to Antioch in Syria to help with the Church there. It was at Antioch that the name: ‘Christian’ was first used. When the apostles frequently mentioned the name of Christ in their preaching and the new converts often spoke of his name, the people of Antioch called them: ‘Christians’ or the: followers of Christ.
While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch, one of the Christians from Jerusalem, a prophet by the name Agabus, came there. He prophesied by the Holy Spirit that there would be a famine all over the world. The famine occurred in the reign of the Emperor Claudius. The Christians in Antioch organized fund raising activities. The money they collected was sent to other Christians in Jerusalem and Judea through Paul and Barnabas.
One day after the return of Paul and Barnabas from their relief mission, the prophets and teachers of the Church in Antioch were worshipping and fasting. Some of those present were Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen and Paul. Then the Holy Spirit instructed them to:
‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work which I have called them.’
After fasting and praying, the apostles laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them forth.
With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of the Church in Antioch in Syria, Paul and Barnabas left on their first missionary journey. Among the places they visited were Paphos, Perga in Pamphilia, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.
Paul in Paphos: (Acts 13:6-12) Paul and Barnabas sailed from Seleucia to the town of Salamis, on the Island of Cyprus. John Mark was with them as an assistant preacher. They visited many towns on the Island and preached the Gospel to the people. Finally, they came to Paphos where they met the ruler of the Island, Sergius Paulus. They talked to the ruler about Jesus, but a certain man tried to discourage the ruler so that he might not believe. His name was Bar-Jesus or Elymas. He was a Jewish sorcerer and a false prophet who believed in magic.
Bar-Jesus felt he would be driven away when the ruler was converted to Christianity. Therefore, Bar-Jesus became angry and spoke against the good news of the apostles. Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to condemn him for his opposition to the Gospel. He turned to Elymas in anger and said:
“You are an evil man and an enemy of all that is good. You are trying to stop the work of God. Now God will punish you and you will be blind for a time.
Immediately Paul said these words, Elymas became blind and looked for somebody to lead him away. When the ruler saw what had happened, he believed what Paul had told him about Jesus and he was converted to Christianity.
Paul in Perga in Pamphilia: (Acts 13:13) After establishing the Church in Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to the mainland and came to Perga in Pamphilia. It was here that John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. He was too young to go on a missionary journey.
Paul in Antioch in Pisidia: (Acts 13:14-52) From Perga in Pamphilia, Paul and Barnabas came to Antioch in Pisidia. They attended the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath. After the reading of the scriptures, Paul was invited to deliver a sermon. It was his first recorded sermon. Paul traced the history of the Jews from the time that they were slaves in Egypt and their deliverance in the time of Moses. After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Joshua led them to conquer the land of Canaan.
In Canaan, God ruled them through Judges till the time of Samuel when they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul. After God had removed Saul, He made David the next king of Israel. From the descendants of David, God had brought them a Saviour, Jesus Christ as He had promised.
The Jews in Jerusalem condemned Jesus out of ignorance and told Pilate to crucify him. But God raised him from the dead. Paul quoted Psalm 16:35 to prove the resurrection of Jesus:
“Thou will not let thy Holy One see corruption.
Paul said that through Jesus Christ forgiveness of sins was proclaimed, and by him everyone who believed was freed from everything which they could not be freed by the Law of Moses. Paul warned his hearers of the consequences of rejecting such a message of salvation.
The congregation liked Paul’s speech so much that they asked him to repeat it on the following Sabbath. But there were divisions among the Jews during the second sermon. Some of the Jews were not happy that the gospel message had been extended to foreigners, and they contradicted Paul’s message. Opinion was divided as some supported Paul and others rejected his message. Paul succeeded in converting both Jews and foreigners. After sometime, riots broke out and Paul and Barnabas had to escape to Iconium.
Paul in Iconium: (Acts 14:1-7) In Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish synagogue and preached on the Sabbath. They preached to such an extent that a large number of both Jews and foreigners believed in the gospel message. But the unbelieving Jews poisoned the minds of some of the foreigners against the apostles. As a result, the apostles stayed there for a long time to minister to those who had become Christians, performing miracles among them. Later, an attempt was made by the people and their rulers to persecute them. When they heard of it, they fled to Lystra and Derbe.
Paul in Lystra: (Acts 14:8-20): Paul and Barnabas preached to the people of Lystra for some days. One day, as they were speaking, they saw a cripple who had been lame from birth. The man listened to Paul and Barnabas as they preached the word of God. Paul realized that the man was interested in what he was saying and he decided to help him. Paul healed him with the help of the Holy Spirit, saying:
“Stand up on your feet.
The man got to his feet and started walking.
When those listening to Paul saw what he had done, they thought it was their own gods, who had visited them in the form of human beings that healed the cripple. Therefore, they shouted in their local language:
“The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.
They called Barnabas, Zeus (or Jupiter, the Father of the Greek gods) because he was quiet; they called Paul, Hermes (or Mercury) because he was the chief speaker (Mercury was the messenger of their gods).
The local priest of the Temple of Jupiter came out with oxen ready to make a sacrifice to these ‘gods’. When Paul and Barnabas saw this they were worried. But Paul restrained the people saying:
“We also are men of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth.
The apostles preached to them to turn from their superstition to the living God. Paul said that God was the creator and merciful God who supplied all their needs. As soon as the apostles had finished speaking, the Jews who persecuted them in Pisidia and Iconium came and turned the people against the apostles. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city. He was dropped outside the gate of the city as dead.
When his enemies had left, those he had converted to Christianity in Lystra stood around him. Paul then got up on his feet and returned to the city.
Paul in Derbe: (Acts 14:21-28) The following day the apostles left Lystra for Derbe where they also preached before they returned to Antioch in Syria by way of the cities they had earlier passed through. In all these places the apostles confirmed the believers in their faith and chose elders for the churches they had established.
The significance of Paul’s first missionary journey: The first missionary journey of Paul led to the rapid expansion of the Church outside Jerusalem.
Apart from some Jews, many foreigners were converted to Christianity.
The apostles faced opposition from forces of darkness (magic) and persecution. This shows that missionary work is a difficult task, as missionaries are likely to face stiff opposition in their attempt to win souls for Christ. To overcome such opposition, missionaries need to be strong in the faith. They should fast and pray often. We should also pray fervently and frequently for the success of their work.