Acts 14:8-28


A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds

July 23, 2009 

ACTS STUDY – SESSION 21

Paul’s First Missionary Journey – Part 3

 

In our past several sessions we have been following the first missionary journey of the Apostle Paul.  We have seen that this first missionary journey lasted for approximately two years probably around AD 46-48.  They set out from Antioch in Syria with a definite missions strategy in mind.  Their plan was to:

·        Go to places the gospel had not yet been shared

·        Focus on larger population centers

·        Begin by approaching the Jews and other God-fearing people

·        Stay a short time in each location, teach new believers, establish a church, and move on trusting the Holy Spirit to lead the new believers

·        Revisit the young churches to encourage them

·        Return to the home base (sending church) and report

 

Acts 13:4 tells us that Paul and Barnabas were “sent out by the Holy Spirit.”  It was the Holy Spirit who instructed the church at Antioch to set apart Paul and Barnabas for mission work and it was the Holy Spirit who sent them out.  And all along the journey, it was the Holy Spirit who directed their actions.

 

So far we have seen that:

  • Their first stop was the island of Cyprus.  Barnabas was from Cyprus and perhaps that is why they went there first.  They traversed the entire island from east to west, beginning in Salamis and ending in Paphos.  The key event on Cyprus was the conversion of Sergius Paulus, the provincial governor of the western side of the island.
  • From there they went to Perga where Paul became the undisputed leader of the mission and John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, left them to return to Jerusalem.
  • In Antioch of Pisidia Paul preached in the synagogue and Luke provides us a detailed synopsis of his sermon in Acts 13:16-41.  Many Jews came to faith in Christ in Antioch, but because of the jealousy of some Jewish leaders, Paul began to deliberately evangelize Gentiles.  Eventually the opposition became so intense that Paul and Barnabas were forced to leave Antioch of Pisidia for Iconium.
  • The ministry in Iconium followed the same pattern of that in Antioch of Pisidia.  The initial response was positive, opposition arose, and eventually Paul and Barnabas were forced to move on.

 

The Ministry in Lystra (Acts 14:8-20a)

Lystra was about eighteen (18) miles from Iconium.  There is no mention of Paul and Barnabas going to a synagogue which probably means there were not enough Jews in Lystra to form a synagogue.  Several key events mark the ministry of Paul and Barnabas in Lystra.

  • The healing of a lame man (vv.8-10) - Apparently Paul began speaking in some public area when he noticed a man who had been lame from birth listening intently.  Paul sensed (by the Holy Spirit, no doubt) that this man had the faith to be healed.  So, he commanded the man to “Stand upright on your feet.”  The man did as Paul commanded and for the first time in his life began to walk.
  • The attempt of the multitude to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas (vv.11-13) – When the people saw the miracle performed on the lame man, they assumed that Paul and Barnabas were gods.  They referred to Barnabas as “Zeus” (the Roman god “Jupiter”) who was considered to the father of gods and to Paul as “Hermes” (the Roman god “Mercury”) who was the chief messenger of the gods.  There was a well known legend among the residents of Lystra about Zeus and Hermes assuming human form and visiting Lystra.  Only one elderly man and woman extended hospitality to them and so, in anger, the gods wiped out the entire town sparing only the elderly couple.  This legend may have caused the people to react as they did to the miracle performed by God through Paul and Barnabas.  Even the local priest in the temple to Zeus was caught up in the fervor, bringing oxen and garlands to offer a sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas.
  • The reaction of Paul and Barnabas (vv.14-18) – Unlike most of us would have done, they immediately took drastic action to correct the people’s misconception about them.
    • “They tore their robes” – That was a sign of mourning or great distress.  This was no laughing matter and they did not treat it lightly.
    • “rushed out into the crowd”  - They got up close and personal with the people so they could touch them and see that they were just flesh and blood, not gods.
    • “we are also men of the same nature as you…” -  This has been referred to as life’s second greatest confession.  The greatest confession is that Jesus is Lord.  But the corollary to that is we are just frail human beings.
    • The actions of the people gave Paul and Barnabas an opportunity to teach the people about the true God.  In verses 15-17 they teach the people that:
      • God is a living God as opposed to the imaginary gods of the Greek/Roman culture.
      • God is the Creator of all that is.
      • God is a patient God, not forcing people to serve Him but patiently waiting on them.
      • God is a good God, giving people what they need to sustain life.
  • The stoning of Paul (vv.19-20) – How quickly the shouts of “You are a god” changed to “Stone him!”  This is reminiscent of the crowds hailing Jesus as the Savior on Palm Sunday and shouting “Crucify Him!” on Friday.  They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city thinking he was dead.  Notice the courage of Paul in getting up and going right back into the city.  William Barclay has an interesting comment about that:  “It was John Wesley’s advice, ‘Always look a mob in the face.”  There could be no braver thing than Paul’s going straight back amongst those who had tried to murder him.  A deed like that would have more effect than a hundred sermons.  Men were bound to ask themselves where a man got the courage to act in such a way.”  It is interesting that on the second missionary journey Paul went to Lystra and found Timothy who by that time was already a believer.  It is possible that Timothy witnessed what happened to Paul in Lystra on the first missionary journey and was drawn to Christ by that, much as Paul was drawn to Christ by witnessing the stoning of Stephen.

 

The Ministry in Derbe (Acts 14:20b-21a)

Not much is said about the work in Derbe, only that many disciples were made.  Derbe is located on the frontier of Galatia. 

 

The Return to Antioch (Acts 14:21b-28)

At Derbe they were near Paul’s home of Tarsus.  The shortest and quickest route back to Antioch would have been for them to travel through Tarsus and go over land to Antioch.  That would have also been by far the safest route since Paul and Barnabas had been physically run out of nearly every place they had preached.  But Paul’s concern for the new congregations led him to retrace their journey and revisit the churches that had been established.  They returned to the places they had previously ministered to do five things:

  • “strengthening the souls of the disciples” (v.22) – We are not told precisely how they strengthened the new believers but, no doubt, the very presence of Paul and Barnabas gave them new strength.
  • “encouraging them to continue in the faith” (v.22) – The word encouraging carries the idea of exhorting or urging.  Like a coach or a cheerleader, they urged the new Christians on.
  • “saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’” (v.22) – The idea is they were teaching the new believers about the ways of God.  The point of this statement is not that suffering makes us worthy of the kingdom but that entering the kingdom is always accompanied by suffering and persecution.  The apostles did not want the new believers to be surprised by or taken back by that.
  • “when they had appointed elders for them in every church” (v.23) – They helped the churches get organized and call out leaders.  By this time those with leadership gifts had been identified by the churches.   Paul and Barnabas helped the churches call out these people, affirm their gifts, and place them in leadership positions.
  • “having prayed and fasted, they commended them to the Lord” (v.23) – The word commended carries the idea of making a deposit as one would deposit money in a bank.  They deposited the people in the Lord!  The apostles recognized that the best thing they could do for these new believers is place them in the Lord’s hands.

 

The Report to Antioch (Acts 14:24-28)

In a sense the Christians in Antioch, who sent out Paul and Barnabas, had been with them every step of the journey.  After being away for a little over two years, the natural thing for the apostles to do was to return to the people who had faithfully prayed for them and share the results of their journey.  Paul and Barnabas reported to them “all the things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (v.27).  The things God had done included:

  • The establishment of at least four churches in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.
  • Spreading the seeds of the gospel over a very large geographical area.
  • Calling more and more Gentiles into the kingdom of God

 

Practical Application of Acts 14:8-28:

    1. We must remember who we are.  The confession that “We are also men of the same nature as you…” is one that all of us should make.  It is spiritually deadly to begin to view ourselves as being superior to others.  All of us our people who stand in need of the grace of God!
    2. Perseverance is a great virtue.  Paul and Barnabas did not allow persecution, personal attacks, etc. to discourage them.  They kept on doing what God called them to do.
    3. We must not live for the praise and acceptance of others.  Words of praise can quickly turn to words of criticism.  Acceptance can quickly become rejection.  We are to live to please God, not people.
    4. The Christian life demands sacrifice.  Paul demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice by foregoing a trip to his home in order to return and strengthen the new believers and churches.