A Study of Acts 14
Introduction: Back in 1977, when I began pastoring Harris Memorial Church in Greeneville, Tennessee, I was a young pastor and didn’t much know what I was doing. But I knew I wanted to do something regarding missions. I wanted to have a missions minded church. We had a very famous retired missionary couple in the church – Paul and Nell Woolsey – but as I recall the church was not at that time actively supporting a missionary family. I felt that a church that didn’t support missions was incomplete. So I called the Nashville office of International Missions and they sent up a missionary couple for the weekend (Jim and Karen Cowart). I booked the room of a local restaurant and we had a missionary banquet. I recall the menu was hamburgers – I only remember that because someone later complained about it – but I was trying to keep the costs down. We began supporting the Cowarts; and in the years since, I’ve always been part of a church that was heavily invested in missions. Today we have a number of missionaries from our church that span the globe. We highlight our missionary involvement every fall at our Global Outreach Conference, but really we need to do more throughout the year to keep these missionaries in front of us.
Well, the pattern for missions that we still follow to this day was started in a particular church in the book of Acts. It was the church of Antioch. What happened in this church in Antioch has set the stage for what local churches have been doing for the past 2000 years. It’s really remarkable that one church could establish a pattern that is transferable across cultures and across ages. It’s still going on today.
Where was Antioch? If you travel from Jerusalem in a northward direction, you cut through Galilee, through Lebanon, through the western flanks of Syria near Aleppo, and into the southernmost tip of Turkey. There was and is the city of Antioch. Today Antioch is a thoroughly Islamic city, although some years ago I met a man who was planning a church there!
Well, the story of the church at Antioch is found in:
- Acts 11:19-26
- Acts 13:1-3
This was the church were the first missionaries were commissioned and sent out. This establishes the church as an aggressive and assertive agent for the proclamation of the Gospel. Up until now, people spread the Gospel as they were scattered abroad. But now for the first time a local church had commissioned and ordained and set aside and set a team to evangelize areas where the Gospel was not known.
Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark headed off to Cyprus, as Tommy told us last week, and then they reached another city called Antioch – Pisidian Antioch. This was the furthest point of their journey. Now we’re coming to the last half of this first missionary journey and to chapter 14 of Acts.
Verse 1: At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.
Missions and church growth should also follow a strategy. Paul didn’t just follow his instincts nor did he act impulsively. His strategy was to start with the Jews in the synagogue, if there were any Jews in the town and if there was a synagogue. As a respected and well-trained rabbi, he was able to speak in synagogues. He was comfortable there. That was his home turf. That also fit the theological pattern of going to the Jews first.
Verses 2-3: But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of His grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders.
In the book of Acts, the apostles retained some of the power of Christ in performing miracles to confirm their message. I’m intrigued with that word “so.” The passage seems to indicate that since they encountered opposition, they stayed there longer. The opposition actually created more opportunities for their witness. We’re getting more and more opposition to our message in our own culture; but perhaps that wills simply provide more opportunities to evangelize.
Verse 4: The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles.
Notice that Paul and Barnabas were called apostles. The word apostle is used in two ways in the Bible. It’s used with a capital “A” as it were to describe the Twelve. But it’s also used with a small “a” so to speak to describe those who are set out. The word “apostle” literally means “someone who is sent.” The Greek stem word means “to send.” In the Latin, this becomes our word “missionary.” Paul was perhaps an apostle in both senses; Barnabas in only the second. Paul and Barnabas had been commissioned and sent out by the church in Antioch.
Verses 5-7: There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 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 Gospel.
They had opposition at every turn from both Jews and non-Jews, but they kept pressing ahead as best they could. In the town of Lystra, something interesting happened:
Verses 8-10: In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way 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.”
This is very similar to what happened in Acts 3 with Peter and the lame man at the temple gates. This is no accident. Chapter 13 is a sort of turning point in the book of Acts. The first 12 chapters are mainly centered on the ministry of the apostle Peter. Now from his point Peter recedes into the background, and chapters 13-28 are primarily about Paul.
Near the beginning of Peter’s ministry he meets a man lame from birth, looks at him, heals him, and the man responds by leaping and walking. Now near the beginning of Paul’s ministry we have the same thing. Paul encounters a lame man, looks at him, heals him, and the man leaps up and begins walking. Perhaps this is Luke’s way of telling us that Peter and Paul were equally commissioned by God for their work. These are the two human heroes of the book of Acts.
Verses 11-13: 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.
Some of the commentators point out there was a folktale in that area that ages before the gods Zeus and Hermes came down and visited the area. They were ignored or rejected by the population, except for one couple who showed them hospitality and honor. Shortly afterward the area flooded and people drowned, but the old couple’s house became a temple. The superstitious population of Galatia didn’t want to make the same mistake, so they applied this fable to Paul and Barnabas.
Verses 14: But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are brining you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in him.
Notice the approach Paul takes in his impromptu sermon.
Verses 16-17: 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 you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides You with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
A few months ago I preached a sermon from Psalm 19 and talked about the two books God had written—the book of nature (general revelation) and the book of Scripture (special revelation). When Paul approached the Jews, who had special understanding into the Hebrew Scriptures, he started at that point. But when he preached to people who didn’t know the Scriptures at all, he started with creation. We’ll see this more fully developed in Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in chapter 17.
Verses 18-19: Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing 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.
Evidently Paul wasn’t dead. If Luke had wanted to sensationalize the account, he could have done so here. He could have written as if Paul was resurrected. But Luke is very restrained in the way he described this event, which speaks to its authenticity.
Verse 20: 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.
As I’ve been reading through Acts 14 for the last couple of weeks, verse 20 has become my favorite verse in the chapter. You couldn’t keep Paul down. He was battered, stoned, rejected; he faced countless discouragements. But he was undefeatable. He kept getting up and going right back into the fight. And his perseverance paid off.
Verses 21-22: They preached the Gospel 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.
There’s nothing easy about being a Christian or about doing the work of Christ on this earth. It is a life and a labor of hardship.
Verse 23: 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.
This is a critically important verse. Paul and Barnabas didn’t just evangelize and make Christians; they established and formed churches. From the very beginning, organized Christian missions has not simply been about soul-winning but church-planting. Now, the elders in these churches were evidently new converts themselves, but Paul and Barnabas selected the best leaders available and put them in charge of things.
Verses 24-26: After going through Pisidia, they came to 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.
In the beginning in chapter 13, they had been committed to the grace of God for the work. Now at the end of chapter 14, the work had been completed to that point. So what did they do? They gave a report to their sending church.
Verse 27: 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.
Notice the word “through.” This concept occurs repeatedly in the New Testament, and it harkens back to Acts 1:1. The story of Acts and the story of our church isn’t what we are trying to do for the Lord, but what He is doing through us.
Verse 28: And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
Conclusion: Now, let me end with an interesting side-note. This first missionary journey created a great deal of excitement in the early church, and we have the idea that a group of Jewish-oriented preachers followed Paul around. These Judaizers as we call them believed you had to become a Jew before you could become a Christian. You had to be circumcised. You had to adopt the Jewish dietary plans and calendar. You had to exercise Christianity within the context of Judaism. These Judaizers followed in Paul’s footsteps, went into these early church, and corrupted the faith of many. This area – Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe is what was called Galatia. And it was right after this journey, probably while he was still there in Antioch, that he heard troubling reports and he sat down and wrote a letter to these churches, and we call it the book of Galatians (See Galatians 1:1-9). In the next chapter (Acts 15) this issue will compel Paul and Barnabas to go to Jerusalem and speak at a church council, which convened to tackle this issue.
Nothing was easy for Paul, and nothing has been easy since then. As he said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” But this one journey described in these two chapters (Acts 13-14) established the pattern we’ve followed for 2000 years of local churches sending missionaries in teams to the regions beyond for the sake of church planting, taking the Gospel where we’ve not been invited, and being assertive in trying to reach the world for Christ. That’s why we’re committed to missions and to the missionary mandate.