In our study of Acts chapter fourteen, we look at the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. As we saw in chapter 13, jealousy and opposition broke out against Paul and Barnabas in Antioch so they left for Iconium. This was the start of visits to several cities which is commonly called Paul's first missionary journey.
At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.
As usual, Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue to speak to the people. Once again, God used them to reach a large number of the people.
But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.
Once again, the leaders of the synagogue became jealous and opposed Paul and Barnabas. The leaders did not want to lose their power and influence so they told lies. It was more important to them that they have followers than getting people to follow God. It is much the same in many "churches" of today as many are following a man or a tradition instead of the leading of God through the Holy Spirit. (You can read a testimony about escaping from this at Saved From Tradition.)
So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.
In the face of opposition, God demonstrates his power as Paul and Barnabas were enabled to do "miraculous signs and wonders". You see, by allowing these demonstrations, God was showing the people whose side he was on in this matter. We, as Christians, can take heart from this passage and realize that, when we face opposition, it is God himself who is at work in and through us.
The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles.
In the last verse, we saw that God showed what side he was on in this situation. Therefore, the division in the city was between God's people and those that are being disobedient. The same is true in our cities and countries today.
There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them.
The gospel of Jesus Christ was not a popular message, especially among the religious leaders of the time. Therefore, they plotted to hurt the apostles just as they had done to Jesus himself. The same situation exists today in most of the world but we have comfort in the fact that God is with us.
But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the good news.
God takes care of his own. We are not told of how Paul and Barnabas learned of the plot only that they were able to avoid it. They went to another area and continued to share the gospel. Our first thought may be to stay and argue in the face of the opposition but Paul had proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ and it was up to God to change the people's hearts and minds. It is a good reminder to us that our "job" is merely to share the Word and that God is the one who draws them to him.
In Lystra, there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out,'Stand up on your feet!' At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
In this passage, God worked through Paul to heal a man that had been crippled all of his life. There are many "faith healers" today that basically say that anyone can be healed (for a price) but we see here that Paul "saw that he had faith to be healed". Therefore, we can assume that there were people who did not have the faith to be healed. We might also note that Paul did not ask for anything in return either before or after the man was healed.
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, 'The gods have come down to us in human form!' Barnabas they called Zeus and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The 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.
Because of what they had seen and heard, the crowd believed that their false gods had come down to them. They even wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. This passage may seem ridiculous to us as they are clearly committing idolatry and we know that it is wrong but we have to ask ourselves if we are not in fact doing the same thing without even realizing it. Our culture elevates movie stars and other so called celebrities to an almost godlike status and we take our "sacrifices" to their altar (the box office or dvd rental store).
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 'Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.'
Here we see the example of true humble Christians. Instead of letting their ego get the better of them, Barnabas and Paul try to give the glory to God. They remind the crowd that they are merely men created by God himself and that the creator is greater than the created thing.
'In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.' Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
Paul goes on to remind the crowd that it is God who provides for them. Even as they try to give the glory to God, the people are still wanting to commit idolatry by sacrificing to them. We, like Paul, must strive to let the people know that it is God who should be glorified and not us mere men and women.
Then 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. But 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.
So, it wasn't enough that some of the Jews had ran him out of Antioch and Iconium. Now, they followed Paul and Barnabas to Lystra to keep the people there from hearing the gospel. They tried to kill Paul by stoning him but God was with him and he lived. So, he and Barnabas dusted off their feet and left for another city. Doesn't it seem like the same sort of thing happens even today? Many people that don't want to hear the gospel go so far as to try and keep others from hearing as well. Entire countries attempt to keep the Word from their people but, just as we see with Paul and his stoning, God is still in control.
They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening 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.
So, even though it appeared that Paul and Barnabas were running from the other cities, they boldly preached the gospel in Derbe and many were saved. Then, they returned to the cities that they had fled. Though it may have seemed that they were running in defeat earlier in the chapter, we now see that they did not surrender the cities to Satan. We also see that they expected hardships in service to God. It seems that many of us today have lost that expectation even though Jesus called us to take up our cross and follow him. Jesus didn't say it would be easy to follow him!
Paul 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.
Paul and Barnabas realized that there had to be leaders (elders) in the groups of believers (churches) that had been started in the cities. They could not be everywhere at once and the new believers needed someone to mentor them and help them to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. We see here that they appointed these leaders and through prayer and fasting committed them to the Lord.
After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.
Paul and Barnabas continued their journey of sharing the gospel and then sailed back to Antioch which was their "home church". This was the group of believers that had committed them to God for service.
On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
When they returned home, they told the people of what God had done through them on their trip. Then, they stayed there "a long time" and built up the local believers. Paul and Barnabas had a great testimony to share with the people as they had saw the hand of God at work in several places. By telling them about it, they could build up the local believers and help them to see that God is bigger than just their little group. This pattern of evangelism was good enough for the most famous "missionary" ever yet, today, most Christians do not pay any attention to how Paul went about it. The pattern today of "relationship evangelism" is not what the early church did. They simply went and stated the good news of Jesus Christ and trusted God to use his word. Today, much money is spent supporting "missionaries" that move to an area to live and share the gospel as if they were some sort of "super Christians".