The First Missionary Journey – Acts 13-14

The Holy Spirit set Paul and Barnabas apart

The church in Antioch had grown and served as the headquarters for the Christ movement. Among the prominent leaders serving in the Church, The Holy Spirit called Saul and Barnabas to carry the Gospel to the Gentile nations. The decisions of the church were governed directly by the Holy Spirit and contrasted with the drawing of lots to choose a replacement for Judas in Acts Chapter 1.

Paul and Barnabas set sail from Seleucia and arrived on the Island of Cyprus , to the town of Salamis. From the other side of the island they headed towards Pamphylia and visited Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe before heading back the same route strengthening the churches they had built.

Cyprus (Acts 13: 4-12)

They first arrived at Cyprus and as it was Barnabas’ homeland they would have felt right at home. John Mark also accompanied them as a helper. They traveled through the whole island until they arrived on the other side to a place named Paphos. There they met a Jewish false prophet who was an attendant to the proconsul. The proconsul sent for Paul and Barnabas as he was interested in hearing their story. Worried that his false prophesies would be exposed, Elymas the sorcerer opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.

Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! ….. Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. – Acts 13:9-12

This is the first instance where we see the name Paul associated with the former Pharisee, Saul. More importantly, this is the first recorded sign that Paul performs. It is hard to miss the similarity in Paul’s first sign and his own decision to change his ways brought upon due to his blindness, when encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus. Seeing what had happened to the powerful sorcerer, the proconsul accepted Christ in his life. Oftentimes we face discouraging elements in our walk with Christ, but remember the nearer we are to the next transformation phase in our lives, more is the effort from the evil one to alter our course.

Paul filled with the Holy Spirit would not allow Elymas to hinder in his mission and God did great works through them in the island of Cyprus. Paul and Barnabas left Paphos and sailed to Perga in Pamphylia and from there for Pisidian Antioch, but John Mark returned home to Jerusalem.

Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13: 13-52)

In Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas first brought the good news to the Jews of the city. During one sabbath, when Paul was asked to say a few words of exhortation, he started narrating the entire history of Israel and used scripture to prove that Jesus is the messiah that they had been waiting for. The people were moved by the connection that Paul had made between the scriptures and asked him to speak again on the same topic. But seeing the crowds that had gathered, the Jewish leaders started contradicting everything Paul and Barnabas had preached. They even incited the Jews of that area and heaped persecution on them. But Paul and Barnabas continued their mission amongst the Gentiles of Pisidian Antioch and many of them believed in Christ.

Iconium, Lystra and Derbe

Again Paul and Barnabas went into a synagogue and tried to convince the Jews who had gathered, that Jesus was the messiah. Amazingly, there were many who believed them but the small group who did not believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned the minds of the Jews and Gentiles who had believed. Paul and Barnabas stayed longer than they had initially planned, speaking boldly, performing signs and healing the masses as they preached about Jesus. However, the city remained divided, with some siding with the apostles and rest sided with the Jews. When the Jews had had enough they plotted to stone Paul and Barnabas but they fled to Lystra and Derbe where they continued to preach the word. 

In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 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. But the Lyconians who had gathered mistook the miracle as a sign of power and assumed Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes. They thought that Paul and Barnabas were gods walking amongst them and offered sacrifices to them. Seeing all this unfold, Paul and Barnabas did not mess around and tore their clothes in sorrow, for they knew blasphemy against the God most high is the greatest sin. They shouted and tried their best to convince the Lyconians not to sacrifice before them but the crowd would not listen to them. 

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. – Acts 14:19-20

How quickly did the attitude of the people change towards the Apostles. One minute they were sacrificing bulls and wreaths and the next minute they were stoning them, trusting the words of Jews from another city. Perhaps these were the same Jews that the Apostles had fled from back in Iconium. The Jews had amazing people skills as they convinced an entire city to kill someone whom they had previously believed to be gods amongst them. How is that even possible? Oh yes, they also convinced Jerusalem to kill the Messiah that they had waited for so long.

The Return to Antioch in Syria

On their Journey back to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas visited the churches they had planted to strengthen the believers. They appointed elders for each church and prayed and committed them to the work of the Lord. They knew in order to reach more cities they could not keep coming back to the churches they had planted, but ensured that Godly men would take charge of the local ministry.

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples. – Acts 14:26-28

Discussion Questions

  1. Why were Paul and Barnabas chosen from the other prominent leaders of the church?
  2. The Holy Spirit had separated Paul and Barnabas for the first missionary journey, but why did they take John Mark also with them?
  3. Why did Paul and Barnabas always preach the good news to the Jews first, each time they visited a new place?
  4. Why did they flee from their persecutors in some instances and in other instances stand up to them?
  5. What does Luke mean when he writes, “He had faith to be healed?”
  6. On their way back they revisited the churches on their journey but skipped Cyprus. Why?

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