Monthly Archives: March 2015

Paul’s First Missionary Journey – 3. Paul’s Sermon in Antioch

Luke’s account of Paul’s visit to Pisidian Antioch contains his only record of a sermon delivered by Paul in a synagogue (Acts 13:16-41). Although only a summary rather than a transcript of what Paul said on the occasion, it indicates how he presented the gospel to an audience of Jews and God-fearing Gentiles familiar with the Old Testament. In it, Paul surveyed God’s acts on behalf of Israel from Abraham to David (verses 16-22), argued that Jesus was the promised Saviour, his death and resurrection fulfilling Old Testament prophecies (verses 23-37), and closed with an altar call (verses 38-41).

After addressing the congregation as “men of Israel and you who fear God” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV), Paul surveyed God’s acts on behalf of Israel from Abraham to David. The particular acts of God that he noted were:

– He chose their “fathers” (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).
– He exalted them in Egypt.
– He brought them out of Egypt.
– He put up with them in the wilderness.
– He gave them the land of Canaan.
– He gave them judges.
– He gave them Saul and then David when they asked for a king.

Paul concluded this part of his sermon by observing that God had described David as “a man after my heart, who will do all my will (a reference to 1 Samuel 13:14, in which Samuel told Saul, “The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart”).

From David, Paul jumped to the descendant of David whom God had raised up, as He’d promised (see, for example, Isaiah 11:1-16), to be the Saviour of Israel–Jesus. Paul said these things about Jesus:

– John the Baptist prepared the way for him by preaching the baptism of repentance and announced his coming.
– The people of Jerusalem and their rulers didn’t recognize him and asked Pilate to execute him.
– God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by his followers.

Paul then showed that God’s raising of Jesus from the dead fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, elaborating on why Psalms 16:10, “[Y]ou will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption,” referred to Jesus rather than to David. (Peter also referred to and elaborated on Psalm 16:10 on the Day of Pentecost [Acts 2:25-31].)

Paul closed his sermon by applying what he’d said about Jesus to his hearers, offering them forgiveness and justification through faith in Jesus and warning them against rejecting the offer:

38 Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: 39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. 40 Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; 41 Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.

Verse 39 contains ideas that are typical of Paul’s letters–belief, justification (declaration of not guilty), and the inability to be justified by the law of Moses–and shows that Paul already held what he would later call “my gospel” (Romans 16:25) and defend vigorously in person and pen. According to it, forgiveness of sin and justification cannot be obtained through observing the law of Moses (or any human effort) but can be obtained only through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul warned his audience that those who rejected this gospel would meet the same fate as those who scoffed at Habakkuk’s warning (Paul quoted Habakkuk 1:5 in his warning) of the impending invasion and destruction of the kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians.

The result of Paul’s “altar call” was that the people asked him to speak again the next Sabbath. When he did, some believed and were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:42, 48, 52).

Paul’s First Missionary Journey – 2. Antioch in Pisidia

Having evangelized part of Cyprus, “Paul and his companions” sailed to the south coast of Asia Minor (Turkey), coming to Perga in Pamphylia. Here John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. Luke’s not saying why Mark left, various reasons have been suggested, including homesickness, rigours of travel, and dissatisfaction with the change in leadership from Barnabas to Paul. Paul was displeased with Mark’s leaving (Acts 15:37-39) but later grew to respect him (Colossians 4:10-11; 2 Timothy 4:11).

From Perga, Paul and Barnabas travelled inland and northward to Antioch in Pisidia (a Roman colony and the civil and military centre of the area). Citing Galatians 4:13, in which Paul says that it was “because of a bodily ailment” that he first preached the gospel in the area, some biblical scholars speculate that Paul caught malaria in Pamphylia and went to recover in the higher altitudes to the north. If that were the case, it would explain why Luke doesn’t refer to Paul and Barnabas’ preaching in Perga at this time although observing that they preached there on their return journey (Acts 14:25). This article focuses on their ministry in Antioch and is based on Acts 13:13-52. Biblical quotations amre from the ESV.

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On the first Sabbath after arriving in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue. As I observed in my last article, not only did it make good sense for them to seek out people of their own kind first but also the synagogue was the most convenient place for them to come in contact with local God-fearing Gentiles. Its being customary to invite visiting rabbis to address the gathering, the synagogue rulers invited Paul and Barnabas to do so after the reading of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Paul stood up, motioned with his hand to get the attention of the congregation, and began, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen,” acknowledging both the Jews and God-fearers present. He went on to survey God’s acts on behalf of Israel from Abraham to David and to argue that Jesus was the promised Saviour, his death and resurrection fulfilling Old Testament prophecies and concluded:

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. Beware, therefore, lest what is said in the Prophets should come about: “Look, you scoffers, be astounded and perish; for I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will not believe, even if one tells it to you.”

As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people asked them to speak further about these things the next Sabbath. As well, when the congregation was dismissed, many of them followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to remain open to the grace of God.

Apparently those who had heard Paul’s address told others about it because on the next Sabbath almost the whole city turned out to hear Paul and Barnabas preach the word of God. However, when the Jewish leaders saw the crowd, they were filled with jealously and talked abusively against what Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas boldly said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.” (Paul and Barnabas backed their turning to the Gentiles by applying Isaiah 49:6, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations [or Gentiles], that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” to their ministry. However, since in the next town that they visited they again started at the Jewish synagogue (Acts 14:1), they must have been referring specifically to Antioch rather than to their mission as a whole when they spoke of turning from the Jews to the Gentiles in Acts 13:46-47.)

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified God for the word that they had heard and “as many as were appointed to eternal life” believed and spread the word of God through the region. However, the Jewish leaders stirred up the leading men of the city, evidently through their God-fearing wives, and they persecuted Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their region.

Following the instructions that Jesus gave the twelve when he sent them out in pairs (Mark 6:11), Paul and Barnabas shook off the dust from their feet as a symbol of their being free of responsibility for those who had rejected the gospel and went on to Iconium. However, “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Paul’s First Missionary Journey – 1. Cyprus

“So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Selucia” (Acts 13:4, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV). Thus Luke begins his account of Paul’s first missionary journey, recognizing that, although he’d just said that the church at Antioch had sent Barnabas and Paul on their way (13:3), it was actually God who had sent out the two as His messengers. Although “they” refers just to Barnabas and Paul, they were accompanied by John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas whom they had brought with them when they returned to Antioch from Jerusalem (12:25), as their helper.

The three set sail from the seaport of Antioch, Seleucia, for the island of Cyprus. Cyprus was a good place for Barnabas and Paul to start their missionary work—Barnabas came from there (4:36), many Jews lived there, and the gospel had already been preached there (10:19). I’ll limit this article to a consideration of their ministry in Cyprus, based on Acts 13:4-12. Below is a map of this part of Paul’s first missionary journey.

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Landing at Salamis, a thriving commercial center on the east coast, Barnabas and Paul preached the word of God in the Jewish synagogues there. Not only did it make good sense for them to seek out people of their own kind first, but also the synagogue was the most convenient place for them to come in contact with the local God-fearers. God-fearers were Gentiles who, although they weren’t willing to become full converts to Judaism, were attracted to it and observed some of its practices.

From Salamis, the missionaries travelled through the island from east to west until they reached Paphos, the seat of the provincial government and of the worship of Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love), on the southwest coast. Here they had a memorable meeting with the proconsul or governor, Sergius Paulus, and a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet, Bar-Jesus or Elymas. The meeting took place because Sergius Paulus wanted to hear the word of God and sent for Barnabas and Paul. Fearful of the threat that their message posed to his influence, Bar-Jesus, who was with Sergius Paulus, opposed Barnabas and Paul, trying to divert the governor from the Christian faith.

Then Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on Bar-Jesus and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately, Bar-Jesus was struck blind and went around trying to find ones to lead him by the hand. His punishment reminds me of Paul’s conversion, in which on meeting Jesus he was blinded for three days (9:8-9). Luke doesn’t tell us how long Bar-Jesus remained blind or if he was converted.

However, Luke does tell us that when Sergius Paulus saw what happened he believed, “for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” Evidently, the miracle opened the heart of the proconsul to receive the message of Barnabas and Paul and be converted. Thus, the incident demonstrates the importance of both the proclamation of the gospel and the miraculous in evangelism. It also illustrates the power of God over Satan and the opposition inspired by him against the word of God.

That Luke considered the incident a turning point in Paul’s ministry is indicated by his from here on (1) calling him by his Roman name, Paul, instead of by his Hebrew name, Saul, and (2) naming him before Barnabas (exceptions are Acts 14:14; 15:12; and 15:25, situations in which Barnabas may have been more prominent) instead of referring to them as “Barnabas and Paul.” Apparently, he viewed the incident as marking Paul’s becoming, as Paul was later to describe himself (in Romans 11:13), the apostle to the Gentiles.

Paul Commissioned

When Paul ministered in Antioch with Barnabas, he may have thought that he was carrying out the mandate that Jesus had given him at his conversion to witness to the Gentiles. Nobody could blame him if he did–after all, fourteen years had passed since Jesus had given it. However, his ministry in Antioch, although important, was just another step in preparing Paul for the mission to which Jesus had called him–not the mission itself.

Thus I concluded my last article in this series of articles on the life of Paul. In this article, which is based on Acts 11:27-30 and 12:25-13:3 and Galatians 2:1-10, I’ll consider Paul’s commission to that mission. Biblical scholars disagree on whether to identify the visit to Jerusalem that Paul describes in Galatians 2:1-10 with the visit that Luke refers to in Acts 11:29-30 or with the one that he describes in Acts 15:1-29. In this article, I identify it with the former.

While Barnabas and Paul were ministering in Antioch, some prophets (individuals through whom the Holy Spirit gave messages from God) came there from Jerusalem. One of them, Agabus, predicted through the Spirit a severe famine throughout the Roman world. (Luke says that the famine came to pass during the reign of Claudius [41-54 A.D.], and other sources confirm that famines occurred in various parts of the Roman world during Claudius’s reign and that Judea suffered a bad one about 45-47 A.D.) The Christians in Antioch believed Agabus’s prophecy and immediately decided to send help to the Christians in Jerusalem. They contributed according to their ability and sent their gift to the elders (leaders) of the church there by means of Barnabas and Paul. Thus, they “discharged the duty of charity towards the needy brethren, and testified to the great value they put on the Gospel by token of the fact that they bestowed honour on the place from which it had flowed” (John Calvin, The Acts of the Apostles 1 – 13, trans. John W. Fraser and W. J. G. McDonald [Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1965], page 334).

Apparently wanting assurance that Gentile Christians would be recognized as genuine Christians without becoming proselytes to Judaism, Paul set before the leaders in Jerusalem–James (the brother of Jesus), Peter, and John–the gospel that he preached among the Gentiles. His pointing out in his account of the visit in Galatians that Titus, a Gentile Christian whom Paul had taken on the visit as a helper (and possibly as a test case), wasn’t compelled to be circumcised indicates that Gentile freedom from the law was an important part of that gospel.

According to the account in Galatians, everything seems to have worked out well. The leaders not only added nothing to Paul’s gospel but also agreed that Barnabas and Paul should take the gospel to the Gentiles and they should take it to the Jews. All that they asked was that Barnabas and Paul would remember to help “the poor” (the Jerusalem Christians), which Paul says he was eager to do. When Barnabas and Paul had completed their mission in Jerusalem, they returned to Antioch, bringing with them John Mark, a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10).

Sometime afterwards, while the prophets and teachers (including Barnabas and Paul) in the church at Antioch were worshipping the Lord in prayer and were fasting, the Holy Spirit said through one of them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2, ESV). After they (or all the church) had fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them off. The clause “to which I have called them” indicates that God had called both Barnabas and Paul before this time. We have no way of knowing when Barnabas was called, but we know that Paul was called when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Jesus telling him then:

[R]ise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles–to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. (Acts 26:16-18, ESV)

Now, fourteen years later, he was finally commissioned by the Holy Spirit and the church at Antioch to fulfil that calling. Why did God make Paul wait fourteen years after calling him to take the gospel to the Gentiles before commissioning him to that mission? I don’t know. Perhaps Paul had to be prepared to preach the gospel that He wanted him to preach to the Gentiles. Perhaps the Church had to be prepared to accept that gospel. Perhaps…

Similarly, God may make us to wait for something. For example, I had to wait so long after my first wife’s death before meeting the woman who would become my second wife that I resigned myself to remaining single. However, I finally (after over twenty years) met and married her. Believe me, she was worth waiting for!

You may be waiting for something to happen in your life. You may even have waited so long that you think that it will never happen. Don’t give up. God may just be saying, “Wait.”