December 5, 2015.
Daily reading: Acts 13-14.
Background: Acts 10-12.
Concepts and Connections.
The first missionary Journey, Paul and Barnabas: As Paul and Barnabas were staying in Antioch doing much teaching, the Holy Spirit called them out specifically to a work that He had appointed them to do. Notice that even after they were called, they entered into a period of prayer and fasting. Taking with them John Mark, they would soon set out on what is commonly referred to as Paul’s first (of three recorded) missionary journey. They route of the journeys are recored with detail and a map of each can be easily found and has proved to be quite historically plausible in its accuracy. On this journey, the first recorded story happens when Paul and Barnabas find themselves in Paphos coming across a certain magician named Bar-Jesus. Bar-Jesus is recorded to be a Jewish false prophet and was found with the proconsul, or the governor of the provence, Sergius Paulus. Paulus summoned Paul and Barnabas to talk with them about the word of God, but Bar-Jesus (who was also called Elymas) withstood them. Paul takes a very firm approach with Elymas, calling him a son of the devil, rebuking him for making crooked the straight paths of the Lord and turning the proconsul away from the faith. He strikes him with temporary blindness, at which the proconsul believed. Note that the record says the miracle here was the tipping point of the proconsul’s belief, but not the reason for it- rather, it says he believed because he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
After they left Paphos and journeyed on to Antioch in Pisida, John Mark leaves the journey to return to Jerusalem, something that Paul would see as a mark against his commitment and reason not to take him on another missionary journey later (see Acts 15:36-40). In Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue on the Sabbath and after the rulers offered for anyone to speak a word of encouragement, Paul stood up and began to use the Hebrew Scriptures to teach the Jews about Jesus. Note his reliance on history and prophecy here to show to the people that Jesus was the Messiah who was to come in the line of David. He reminds them of the history in Egypt, the wilderness, though the kings all the way to John the baptizer, who no doubt the Jewish people here knew about. But he makes the point that John himself said the he was not the Messiah, but one that was to come soon after him. Then he boldly proclaims the name of Jesus, whom the Jews had crucified but whom also God had raised from the dead. Paul points to the many people who Jesus had appeared to after His death, showing that he wasn’t just making this all up, but rather there were witnesses that the people could go ask about the resurrection. He cites several Messianic prophecies about Jesus, including Him being the Son of God (cited later in the chapter for a different purpose, Psalm 2:7), being of the line of David (Isaiah 55:3), not seeing corruption after death (in other words, He would be raised from the dead, Psalm 16:10) and Him being a light for the Gentiles, bringing salvation to all of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). David indeed lived out his purpose on earth, and then died and saw corruption, and thus they prophecy was about the One to come. He warned them to take heed lest what was said in the prophets be true about them (see Habakkuk 1:5). When the Jews listened to Paul and Barnabas, they were very intrigued and begged them to come back and teach them more. However, the next Sabbath, a great crowd gathered, which included many Gentiles, and the Jews got jealous when they saw this and began to contradict and revile Paul. At this persecution, Paul and Barnabas said it was necessary to bring the good news to the Jews first, but since they had rejected, they turned to the Gentiles to bring the good news to them. The Gentiles glorified God at this saying, and many believed, but the Jews and some devout converts drove them from the district. Paul and Barnabas went out, shaking the dust from their feet against them (see Matthew 10:4, Mark 6:11 and Luke 9:5) and went to Iconium. The persecution did not hinder the Holy Spirit, for the disciples were fill with joy and the Holy Spirit even in the midst of this persecution.
The end of the first missionary journey: It is interesting to see the different reactions each city has to Paul and Barnabas’ teaching. After they came to Iconium, they used the same method they did in Antioch in Pisida, entering the synagog and teaching the Jews about Jesus. Yet, they did so also in the presence of Gentiles and in a way in which great numbers of both Jews and Gentiles believed. Though the unbelieving Jews stirred up trouble and poisoned minds, they stayed for a long time and boldly proclaimed the name of Jesus, doing great signs and wonders. The people were divided between the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of the Jews, and eventually Paul and Barnabas were persecuted to the point where they were driven out of the city.
When they began to teach in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas encountered a very different response. There was a man who was crippled from birth in Lystra, and Paul healed him when he saw him. The people of the city saw the miracle and began to say Paul and Barnabas were gods who had come down to visit the city. In the previous city they were heavily persecuted, and here they were treated as gods. This difference could be due to the different cultures in each of the cites, one that was obviously more prone to pagan gods. When Paul and Barnabas found out about what the people were saying, they tore their clothes and told them that they were but men, of the same nature of the people calling them gods. They proclaimed God, but even as Paul and Barnabas tried to restrain the crowd, it was almost vain. They barley stopped the people from offering sacrifice to them. But then Jews who were from Antioch and Iconium came down and persuaded the crowds to persecute Paul and Barnabas, when ended in the stoning of Paul and dragging him out of the city, supposing he was dead. Remarkably (or perhaps miraculously, that is), Paul rose up when the disciples gathered around him and immediately continued his ministry, going to Derbe with Barnabas on the next day. Paul would not let anything dissuade him from his mission and purpose in life. We see this in his dedication to the gospel, that after he had preached and made many disciples in Derbe, he and Barnabas returned to the very cities that tried to kill them to strengthen the brethren and appoint elders (with prayer and fasting) in every city! It is obvious that these two tasks are very important in the kingdom. After passing though a few more regions, they finally returned to Antioch where they had first been called by the Holy Spirit, declaring to the church all they had done and how the Lord had opened up a door of faith to the Gentiles.
Tomorrow’s Reading: I John 1-5.