Lecture 14: Acts - First Journey
Lecture: Paul: First Journey
After this interlude, Paul then brings us in Acts 11:19 to the situation of a church, a major church, a church in the city of Antioch, “And those that were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen ….” The first outbreak of the Gospel in the ancient world takes place with a persecution. It’s when Stephen and the Hellenistic Christians are driven out of Rome [i.e., Jerusalem]; they go up to Samaria to spread the Gospel; they go to Damascus; they go other places, including “…Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch.” At first they speak the word only to Jews. But some of them “…preaching to Gentiles as well.” Verse 22 says, “Now news of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem.” Something else is happening in the church outside of Jerusalem. They don’t know about it, but they will check it out. So they send Barnabas to Antioch. Notice again that the church in Jerusalem is concerned about the spread of Christianity throughout the world; they feel responsible for it. Just as they had sent Peter and John to Samaria to check it out, now they’ll send Barnabas up to Antioch to check this out. “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, … for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.”
So you have now in Antioch a large growing church. Antioch is a really important city. In the ancient world, there were some major cities of about a million people, plus. Rome was a large city of over a million, and the other large city over a million was the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Those were major cities. There were also other cities that were large, say at about a half-million people -- Corinth was one. These might sound familiar to you because Paul has missions in these cities. Ephesus was a major city; Thessalonica was a major city; Antioch was a major city. And so, the early Christian movement targeted these major cities in many ways, as the opening emphasis on their evangelism. They would concentrate on the cities rather than the rural areas (very unlike Christianity today, where the heart of major cities is often devoid of a major Christian witness). And it’s out in the suburbs where you have large, major churches. But in the first century, it is the major cities that have these large churches. And Corinth becomes a major city, but here we’re talking about Antioch, which also becomes a major Christian city.
As the work is going on in Antioch, v. 25, Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul. And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians,” (v.26). So, here you have now Barnabas, who is a leader in the church, going up to Tarsus to bring Paul back to Antioch to assist him in the work at Antioch. So Paul now comes, and the team is Barnabas and Saul, because Barnabas is clearly the leader.
A famine comes through the land of Jerusalem and Judea, and the church in Antioch sends relief by this at the hand of Barnabas and Saul. Verse 29 says, “The disciples determined every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by hand of Barnabas and Saul.” At this time in Chapter 12 you have a kind of interlude in which they talk about Herod and his putting to death of James, the brother of John; Herod’s subsequent death; Peter’s imprisonment and release; and then in Chapter 13 you pick up this missionary emphasis, and that’s where we want to turn at this time.
Acts 12:24 is a summary, “But the word of God grew and multiplied.” We talked about the fact that all of this verse and chapter numbering is done by editors later on. Acts 12:25 is really better as a start of the new chapter than the end of the previous one, but we’re not going to be able to change that. After they had brought the relief offering, we read in v.25, “Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.” This is an interesting comment. Why do they bring John with them to Antioch? Do they have already in mind a mission further out into the Gentile world, where Mark will be of use? Remember, John Mark is the son of a woman whose home is a center of the church in Jerusalem. He is undoubtedly one familiar with the Jesus traditions. Will he be used primarily in the sense of teaching and instructing the new converts about the Jesus traditions, since he would know about as much about that as Barnabas would, and more than Paul himself would know? It’s impossible to know, but that prepares us for the time when they will go on the mission journey.
And in chapter 13, “Now at the church in Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting [we should note again that they’re in a mode of prayer at the time the Lord reveals this to them] the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work for which I have called them.’” Then after laying hands on them and praying and fasting, they take off, and they’re going to take John Mark with them.
So this begins then what we call the first missionary journey. In 13:4, the Holy Spirit sends them off; they go down to Seleucia, which is the port city of Antioch (Antioch is inland, so you go west to Seleucia), and they go to the port, and they set sail for the island of Cyprus. Why Cyprus? I won’t argue with the fact that the Lord led them to Cyprus, but in chapter 4 we see more insight as to why this is taking place. 4:36 says, “Thus Joseph, who was surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” So Barnabas comes from Cyprus, and it may well be that they went to Cyprus because this was his home, and therefore they wanted to start in familiar territory, a place where perhaps Barnabas had contacts, and the like. And nothing much is said about the work in Cyprus. They have minimal success in some ways. The only real item of success is that the proconsul who’s in charge of the island of Cyprus, a man by the name of Sergius Paulus (v.7), is converted. But notice how he’s converted. In v. 9, it is Saul who speaks up. “But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said [to Sergius Paulus], ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.’ Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia.”
This mission will take place in the middle of Turkey. At this point, John Mark returns to Jerusalem, and we don’t know exactly why he returns to Jerusalem. We do know that it is not a good reason for that, because later on, after the first missionary journey, we read in Acts 15:36, and following, the following incident: “And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are’ [in other words, return to Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe]. Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul took Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
So a split develops over this incident, and on the second missionary journey Barnabas will take John Mark and go back to Cyprus; Paul will take Silas and they will come by land up to those areas. So what we have here is a split that develops. Is that split partly explained by the fact that in v. 13 it is not “Barnabas and Saul” that sail from Paphos and come to Perga and Pamphylia, but it is “Paul and his company” (in other words, there’s a change in leadership); and that John Mark signed on for this tour with his uncle as the leader, not with Paul or Saul or Tarsus? We’re not sure. There’s no way of being dogmatic about that, but it is interesting how Luke, in his integrity, writes about a split between two of the great apostles which doesn’t make either of them look very good. Does that suggest to you that you can trust the account of Luke in Acts, since he does not polish over or eliminate difficulties in the church, but is honest in reporting them? I think it does.
Now in Pisidian Antioch they will arrive, and let’s look at v.14 and following: “But they went on from Perga and came to Antioch of Pisidia …” now this is not the Antioch of Syria, which is a much larger city, 450-500 miles away. Antioch of Syria is the major city which sends him out; Antioch of Pisidia in the middle of Turkey, a different, much smaller city. Now here’s the missionary strategy of Paul and Barnabas, “And on the Sabbath Day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, ‘Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.’ So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hands, said …”. Now the tactic of the early Christian missionaries was to go to a major city where there was a synagogue. Then on the Sabbath they would attend the synagogue. And there were certain formalities in the worship of the church: you would start out with a call to prayer; the congregation would repeat the Shema (“Hear o Israel, the Lord our God is one …”); then there would be repetition of various kinds of prayers, later called the Shmona Israel or the 18 benedictions; then you’d read from the law; then you’d read from the prophets; then there would be an exhortation. And if you were a visitor, you were often invited to share an exhortation on the passage that had been read. And this would be especially true if you were a well-known educated visitor. And here, you have one who studied under the great rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem. And so in the middle of the synagogue service (Paul would have introduced himself to people as they entered), someone would say “We’re really blessed to have with us in the service a Pharisee, a man by the name of Saul, who came from Tarsus. He studied under the great rabbi Gamaliel – got his Ph.D. there, and was ordained in the Jerusalem Baptist convention. Brother Saul, do you have a word that you’d like to share with us?” Now, what better opportunity to preach the Gospel than to go to a synagogue service and be invited to preach? You don’t have to try to set up a Jesus Film presentation in the main square; you just go to the synagogue, and they invite you to preach. And when Paul is invited, he doesn’t say “Well, we just thought we’d sit and worship with you today,” but instead he takes the opportunity.
And notice how he formulates the message now, beginning in v.36, “Men of Israel and you that fear God, listen. [Fellow Jews and you who are God-fearers (you Gentiles who fear the Lord)] The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’” Notice the continuity. He’s tying the hopes and beliefs of his audience to the Gospel message – he believes this! And so he emphasizes this to a Jewish audience.
Now, think, when he gets to Mars Hill ,or the Areopagus in Athens, and there are no Jews present, but there are Greek philosophers who are listening to him, this will have no significance; there’ll be no tie. So this is not the way he will preach at that point. But now having said this, he then goes to the fulfillment of that hope that he’s just talked about,
“Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming, John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.
’Brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you [you Gentiles] who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him. And though they found in him no guilt worthy of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’ And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’ Therefore he says also in another psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’ For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which they could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: ‘Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one declares it to you.”
That’s the message: continuity; the fulfillment of that; the challenge. And the response is that people went out and asked him to come back the next Sabbath to talk more about that. To continue, “When the meeting broke up many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
The next Sabbath almost the whole city is gathered to hear the Word, and Jews become jealous of this and they revile him, and Paul says, “First it was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you [first to the Jew, and also to the Greek]. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’”
And if you look in v.47, and you read about Paul’s conversion, this is something that Ananias tells him that he will be doing. Gentiles hear and are very happy about this, and on the other hand, the Jewish people drive him out of the city, so he proceeds then to Iconium. And we have in Iconium in 14:1 and following, the incident of preaching the Gospel there. Then, in v.8 and following, we find that they go to Lystra, and there’s a cripple there who never walked. Paul brings him healing, and then, v. 11, “And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul [because he was the chief preacher] they called Hermes.” So in Iconium a person is healed. It’s interesting that they call Barnabas, who’s not the preacher, “Zeus”. In the Greek pantheon, who is Zeus? He's the head god. You’d think they’d have called Paul the head god because he did the healing; but they call Paul “Hermes”. (Hermes – hermenuo – hermeneutics) They call Paul Hermes because he was the preacher. He was the interpreter for the gods. So Hermes is the spokesman for the gods. Since Paul is the preacher, they call him Hermes; Barnabas, Zeus. There had been stories about visits from the gods in this area – myths of one sort or another – and this may have something to do with their propensity to address Paul in this particular manner. What’s interesting is that here, they are almost treated as gods and worshipped. And v.18 ends here, “…with these words, they [Paul and Barnabas] scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.” You can become really on top of things, and things can turn around very quickly. So here, almost being worshipped as gods, and the next statement Luke has is that they stone him and think that he’s dead, but he’s not. And then the disciples gather him up and bring him to Derbe and say, “I think our mission in Lystra really has come to an end. Let’s go somewhere else.” Paul agrees.
Then they go back to another city, and they return that way, and eventually come back to the city of Jerusalem. And that ends the first missionary journey. So it’s really a short journey in many ways. We have not gone to Europe at all; Greece is over here, and nothing has happened there yet. It starts in Antioch; they’ve come from Jerusalem back to Antioch. Here they go then to Cyprus after being led there by the Lord. From Cyprus they come up to Pamphylia, where John Mark loses them; they go up to Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Iconium, Derbe; they backtrack, and then they come by ship back to Antioch, and they come back to Jerusalem. So a very short missionary journey in comparison. The second missionary journey will take him over to Greece. There, they’ll visit places like Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Athens before that; and then they’ll return to Jerusalem. But this is a brief missionary journey in contrast.