Acts Lesson Twenty-nine: Acts 14:1-28 – The First Missionary Journey Completed

The same thing happened in Iconium; they entered the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against the brothers. So they stayed there for some time and spoke boldly in reliance on the Lord, who testified to the message of His grace by granting that signs and wonders be performed through them.  But the people of the city were divided, some siding with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to assault and stone them, they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian towns called Lystra and Derbe, and to the surrounding countryside. And there they kept evangelizing. 

In Lystra a man without strength in his feet, lame from birth, and who had never walked, sat and heard Paul speaking. After observing him closely and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 Paul said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet!” And he jumped up and started to walk around. 

11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the form of men!” 12 And they started to call Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the main speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the town, brought oxen and garlands to the gates. He, with the crowds, intended to offer sacrifice. 

14 The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their robes when they heard this and rushed into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Men! Why are you doing these things? We are men also, with the same nature as you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way, 17 although He did not leave Himself without a witness, since He did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and satisfying your hearts with food and happiness.” 18 Even though they said these things, they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them. 

19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they had won over the crowds and stoned Paul, they dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead. 20 After the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. 

21 After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.” 

23 When they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 After they spoke the message in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed back to Antioch where they had been entrusted to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 After they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported everything God had done with them and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent a considerable time with the disciples. (HCSB)

This lesson will be divided into three sections.

  • The work in Iconium – verses 1-7.
  • The work in Lystra – verses 8-20.
  • The return trip to Antioch – verses 21-28.

The Work in Iconium

Before we dig into this section, let’s look at some background information on the city of Iconium.

  • It was located about 90 miles southeast of Antioch.
  • It was located on the main route that connected Ephesus with Syria and Mesopotamia.
  • It was located on a plateau about 3,300 feet in elevation.
    • There were forests and plains to the south.
    • There were mountains to the north.
  • It contained a strong Greek emphasis.
  • It also contained a heavy Roman influence. 
    • In A.D. 41, its name was changed to Claudiconium by the emperor Claudius.
    • It was considered an honor for a city to be named after the emperor.
  • Paul and Barnabas encountered a cultural mixture; native Phrygians, Greeks, and Jews dating back to the Seleucid period and Roman colonists.
  • From a geographical standpoint, it was an ideal place in an otherwise unattractive location.  

Paul and Barnabas followed their standard pattern.

  • They first went to the city synagogue.
  • They evangelized to the collection of Jews and Gentiles who were gathered there.
  • A significant number of both groups believed in Jesus.

However, just as in Antioch, they met opposition to the message of the Gospel.

  • The Jews who chose not to believe incited the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas.
  • In contrast to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas “stayed for some time.”
    • Luke is often ambiguous in assigning a specific period of time to various events.
    • Here, the amount of time they spent was likely weeks to months.
    • Regardless of the amount of time they stayed, they relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to speak boldly to the people.
  • They performed “signs and wonders” while they were there.
  • However, the populace was still divided; some believed, and some were in opposition.

Those who opposed Paul and Barnabas decided to take action.

  • The opposition grew stronger, and they decided to take deliberate and strong action.
  • The group contained three elements.
    • The Jews who opposed the Gospel.
    • The Gentiles who were incited by the Jews.
    • The rulers, which likely refers to the civil authorities in the city.
  • From the context of verse five, it would appear that the action taken was not through deliberate legal action. Instead, it would appear that a riotous mob mentality had consumed those in opposition to the message, driving them to take drastic action.
  • Once Paul and Barnabas learned of the threat to their lives, they left to the Lycaonian region and the towns of Lystra and Derbe.
    • Lystra was approximately twenty miles south of Iconium.
    • Derbe was approximately sixty miles southeast of Lystra.
    • Since there were no other significant towns in the area, the phrase “surrounding countryside” may refer to smaller pockets of people they met on their journey. 
  • As they traveled from Iconium to the Lycaonian region, they evangelized along the way.

The work in Lystra

Before we start digging into this section, let’s look at some information regarding the town of Lystra.

  • The remains of the city were found only recently, in 1885, near the modern village of Khatyn Serai.
  • It was located about eighteen miles southwest of Iconium.
  • It was in the hill country and surrounded by mountains.
  • In Paul’s time, it was a small country town.
  • Its primary significance was as a Roman military outpost, and because of that, it was given the status of a colony in 6 B.C. 
  • A Roman military road connected it to Pisidian Antioch, about 100 miles to the northwest.
  • The population consisted primarily of Roman military veterans.
  • There was no synagogue in the town.
  • The residents followed pagan idolatry and knew neither Jewish religion nor Greek philosophy.
  • The setting required Paul and Barnabas to “contextualize” the Gospel to the people of Lystra.

We’ll now look at this passage, divided into four sections.

  • The lame man’s response to the Gospel – verses 8-10.
  • The crowd’s response to the lame man – verses 11-13.
  • The Apostle’s response to the crowd – verses 14-19.
  • The disciples’ response to Paul – verse 20.

Verses 8-10.

Just as in Acts 3, Paul here cures a man who had been lame from birth. This is a key discriminator. If he had become lame because of an injury or sickness, the healing, still significant, would not have carried the same weight as someone who was born lame and is now able to walk. 

The word “speaking” means ordinary conversation in the original Greek. We can infer that the lame man heard Paul evangelizing the crowd and something in his demeanor convinced Paul that the man had at least some measure of faith in the message being preached. Hearing the message produced faith, just as is written in Romans 10:17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. One difference from the earlier miraculous healings is that the name of Jesus wasn’t proclaimed, although we know that is the power through which the lame man was healed. However, the people at Lystra, being pagan and without any exposure to the living God, react in a way that was not expected.

Verses 11-13.

This is the first time in Acts that a crowd reacted in this way to a miraculous sign. However, we shouldn’t be surprised by this at would be normal for those who are accustomed to worshipping false gods. A key point that Luke mentions is that the residents of Lystra spoke in their own language, Lycaonian, which was not understood by Paul and Barnabas. If they had understood what was being said, there is no doubt they would have stopped their wrong understanding of the healing immediately. Let’s look at a few points about this section.

  • The residents believe the “gods” have visited them.
  • They even identified which gods they were.
    • Barnabas was identified as Zeus, possibly because of his physical stature.
    • Paul was identified as Hermes, the Greed god of oratory and the inventor of speech. Since Paul was doing the majority of the speaking, this connection makes sense.
  • Zeus was the patron deity of the city, which afforded the priest of the temple a great opportunity to become important and lead the people in honoring their “god.”
  • There was also a localized ancient legend that said that Zeus and Hermes once descended to earth in human form.
  • Paul and Barnabas may have been initially unaware of the details of the reaction of the residents. However, once the priest of the temple arrived with oxen and garlands, along with a crowd, to sacrifice, the situation became clear. The residents thought that Paul and Barnabas were “gods” and intended to honor them.

Verses 14-19

At this point in the narrative, both Paul and Barnabas are fully aware that the crowd believes they are worthy of worship and the priest, along with the crowd, plans on honoring them with a sacrifice. However, the reaction of Paul and Barnabas likely surprised the crowd as much as two missionaries were surprised.

  • Paul and Barnabas rush into the crowd and tear their robes. The tearing of their robes is found in numerous places in the Bible.
    • It could indicate a state of mourning – Genesis 37:29.
    • It could express great distress – Joshua 7:6.
    • It could be a protest against a perceived blasphemy – Mark 14:63.
    • The tearing of their clothes represented a strong protest and was designed to stop the intended sacrifice.
    • They were not going to accept adulation, equating them to god-like status.
  • We remember earlier in Acts where Herod Antipas was exalted as a god, accepted the adulation, and subsequently died.
  • It seems that our human nature wants to be able to reach out and touch our gods, gods in the likeness of men.
  • The same temptation occurs today. Religious leaders fall to the temptation of being revered instead of allowing God to be glorified through their ministry. All ministry leaders would do well to remember the example of Paul and Barnabas.

Once Paul and Barnabas got the attention of the crowd, they explained their protest in the form of a mini-sermon. This is the first sermon in Acts to an entirely pagan group, who believed in many gods and had no prior knowledge of the God of the Jews and Christians. Here are the points in their message.

  • They needed to start with the very basics.
    • The theological assumption of monotheism.
    • God is one – Deuteronomy 6:4.
  • This message has parallels with the message Paul gave to the Areopagus in Acts 17:22-31.
  • The introduction points to the vanity of their worship.
    • Any religion which focuses on the idea that men are gods is an empty religion.
    • The pagan polytheism was vain, empty, worthless, and idolatrous worship of a god who wasn’t a god.
      • Jeremiah 2:5 – This is what the LORD says: What fault did your fathers find in Me that they went so far from Me, followed worthless idols, and became worthless themselves?
      • Romans 1:21-23 – For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.
    • Paul exhorts them to turn from idol worship and turn to the living God. Paul makes three points in his message.
      • God is the creator of all life.
        • On the earth.
        • In the seas.
        • In the heavens.
        • Exodus 20:11 – For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy. 
      • God has patience and mercy.
        • In the past, God allowed the Gentiles to go their own way.
          • They acted in ignorance.
          • They experienced no revelation.
          • They didn’t know the true God.
        • Now, God was using Paul to reveal Himself to them.
          • They now had a revelation.
          • They now had knowledge.
          • They now were accountable.
      • God always had the means to declare His power and majesty.
        • In the past, it was His works of providence; rain, harvest, and bounty.
        • In the present, it was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
        • The pagans often spoke of the benevolence of the “gods.” 
        • Paul’s message declared that there was one God, who was the source of all creation.
  • Even after presenting the Gospel, they were barely able to stop the pagans from going ahead with their sacrifices.
  • We also see Satan at work trying to prevent the spread of the Gospel.
    • Enemies came from Antioch and Iconium to dispute with Paul and Barnabas and turn the pagan crowd against them. 
      • They were able to convince the crowd that Paul and Barnabas were two ordinary men with no special qualities about them.
      • Since Paul was the main speaker, the brunt of their wrath was directed at him.
    • There is some debate in theological circles as to whether Paul was actually dead or the crowd thought he was dead. From the context, the latter view seems to be the correct one.
    • However, it is safe to say that a miracle occurred. Paul was saved from the actions of an out-of-control mob who wanted to kill him.
  • The disciples who were there were able to protect Paul and bring him into the city, likely to be treated and get some rest.
  • Realizing it was no longer safe to stay in Lystra, they begin their journey to Derbe, about sixty miles southeast of Lystra. 
    • The journey would take several days on foot.
    • Derbe was the easternmost church established by Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey.

The return trip to Antioch

Paul and Barnabas definitely didn’t choose the easiest path to get back to Syrian Antioch. This could have been easily accomplished by traveling about 150 miles to Paul’s hometown of Tarsus and, from there, back to their sending church. Instead, they decided to retrace their steps and visit each of the congregations they established on this mission trip. The return visit would allow them to follow up and assist each of the locations with any issues that might have arisen. Looking ahead, Paul will visit each of these congregations on his next mission trip in Acts 16. Here are the key points about their return leg as they visited the previously established congregations.

  • Even though they had been threatened in the previous locations, they felt the need to return and solidify their work.
  • They were engaged in evangelism on their journey.
  • They strengthened and encouraged the faith of the young congregations. 
    • This was likely done through further teaching and preaching.
    • They were told to expect troubles as a follower of Christ but to stand firm in their faith.
    • Paul and Barnabas may even have used their experiences on this missionary journey to illustrate what the new believers could face.
    • The idea of suffering is one that Paul often used in his epistles; we must be willing to suffer with Christ if we expect to share in His glory. 
  • They organized the churches by ordaining spiritual leaders and placing responsibility for the care of the congregation on them. An elder had the same role as the modern-day pastor; they are shepherds over a flock.
    • Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for each congregation.
    • It is possible that each congregation then affirmed these elders, although the wording in the original Greek doesn’t make that point clear.
  • They prayed and fasted with each congregation before moving on.
  • Although Perga wasn’t mentioned at the beginning of the trip, they spent some time evangelizing that town.

Finally, Paul and Barnabas completed their journey back to their sending church in Antioch. The church at Antioch had commissioned them, committed them to the Lord through prayer, laid hands on them, and sent them on their journey. Now, the missionaries have returned, and they will present a report on their journey.

  • The entire church was gathered to hear the report.
  • Paul and Barnabas related how the Lord had opened the doors to Gentiles, a subject that would  be the main topic of the Jerusalem Conference in the next chapter of Acts.
  • The entire missionary trip took just over a year to complete. The phrase “a considerable time” indicates about the same amount of time.
  • Therefore, Paul and Barnabas spent about a year in Antioch before the events of the next chapter unfolded. During this year, they were hardly idle.
    • Undoubtedly they did take a period of rest after their return.
    • They were likely involved in teaching the congregation at Antioch.
    • Paul likely wrote Galatians during this period.
    • Paul also refined and clearly communicated his theology on salvation during this time.

As we look back on Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey, here are several key points they followed.

  • They worked primarily in the key cities and instructed the believers to carry the message to the more remote areas.
  • They used one approach in the synagogues and another with the Gentiles.
    • In the synagogues, they referred to the Old Testament Scripture.
    • When preaching to the Gentiles, they emphasized the God of creation and His goodness to the nations.
    • Their starting point was different, but they always finished with the need for saving faith in Jesus.
  • The establishment of local churches was critical. This aligned with the Great Commission.
    • Making disciples – evangelism.
    • Baptizing – the responsibility of a local church.
    • Teaching the Word of God.
  • Paul and Barnabas were involved in extensive teaching to the congregations. This never included the idea of an easy or prosperous Gospel.
  • They did all this without modern communication and transportation.

Applications

  • Before beginning any ministry work, make sure that it’s God’s plan and not your plan. Everything we do in ministry should be for His glory, not our ego. If you align with God, your work will prosper and last.
  • Make sure you have a clear plan for your ministry work. During our five years in the mission field in Thailand, we ran across some who just “winged” it. It wasn’t a surprise they didn’t experience much success in their work. The God of the Bible is an organized God. When we do God’s work, there should be some level of organization to what we do.
  • Expect resistance as you are involved in ministry. Some of the opposition may be mild, but some may be strong. Hopefully, none of us will experience a stoning, but Scripture makes it clear that as we evangelize the Gospel message, the world will hate us.
  • Always truthfully report your ministry work to those who sent you and support you. While in Thailand, I ran across some missionaries who “embellished” the work they were doing. Be truthful about your results. On the flip side, if you support any missionaries, realize there will be dry times. Evangelism can be a lengthy process. God works in His time, not ours.

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