This morning we want to tackle a fairly large passage of Scripture – approximately two chapters in the book of Acts – but we are going to go through it fairly quickly. Today we want to take a bird’s eye view of the first official missions trip recorded in the Bible.
You’ll recall from a couple of weeks ago, the church in Antioch was told by the Holy Spirit to appoint two men – Barnabas and Saul – for the special work that God had called them to. At this point, we’re not told exactly what this special work would be, but as we read on, we discover that it would include traveling over 1400 miles to visit dozens of towns and cities, preaching the Gospel and planting churches all along the way.
This would be no small task, so to assist them in their journey, they would take along John Mark – who was a cousin of Barnabas and the eventual author of the Gospel of Mark.
This first missionary journey is recorded for us in Acts chapters 13 and 14 – and as I said, that is a lot of Scripture to cover in one sermon, so we are going to go though it fairly quickly. We won’t be looking at each verse in detail, but rather, we want to zoom out and try to see the big picture. What are the themes and what are the principles that we can learn about life and ministry as we look at this first missionary effort?
So naturally, there will be lots of good bits in these verses that we just won’t get a chance to look at today, but that just means there are lots of great things for you discover in your own personal study of these chapters later on!
Now we have already looked at some parts of Acts chapter 13. Two weeks ago, we went through the first 5 verses that talk about Barnabas and Saul’s commissioning as missionaries. Then last Sunday, Mike took us through a big chunk of Paul’s sermon in the middle of chapter 13. So we won’t rehash all that stuff. But there are four main stories that come out of these two chapters, and so that’s what I want to look at today.
The first story takes place in Paphos, so let’s begin reading in Acts chapter 13, starting at verse 4, as Barnabas and Saul first leave Antioch. It reads like this:
4 So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit. They went down to the seaport of Seleucia and then sailed for the island of Cyprus. 5 There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God. John Mark went with them as their assistant.
6 Afterward they traveled from town to town across the entire island until finally they reached Paphos, where they met a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He had attached himself to the governor, Sergius Paulus, who was an intelligent man. The governor invited Barnabas and Saul to visit him, for he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas, the sorcerer (as his name means in Greek), interfered and urged the governor to pay no attention to what Barnabas and Saul said. He was trying to keep the governor from believing.
9 Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye. 10 Then he said, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? 11 Watch now, for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” Instantly mist and darkness came over the man’s eyes, and he began groping around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him.
12 When the governor saw what had happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.
Now this little story certainly could warrant an entire sermon’s worth of observations and application, but for the sake of time, let me just make two quick notes before we go onto the next story.
First of all, notice that it didn’t take long at all for Barnabas and Saul to face opposition as they faithfully proclaimed the Word of God. Verse 8 says…
8 But Elymas, the sorcerer (as his name means in Greek), interfered and urged the governor to pay no attention to what Barnabas and Saul said. He was trying to keep the governor from believing. Acts 13:8
If there is one thing we can count on in this world, it’s opposition to the Word of God. Perhaps you’ve probably experienced that yourself… We’re certainly going to see that throughout the rest of the book of Acts – and in fact, we can see that throughout the entire Bible – even way back to the beginning of time. You’ll remember in the garden of Eden, the first strategy of the devil was to cast doubt on the Word of God…right? The serpent said to Eve…
“Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” Genesis 3:1b
Satan’s #1 strategy is to keep people from believing the Word of God. Why? Because God’s Word is truth and Satan is the father of lies. If he can keep people from believing the Word of God, he can keep people captive to sin. That’s why Jesus said in John 8:32…
“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b-32
The truth of God’s Word brings freedom. It brings insight and understanding and wisdom! It brings life!
And this is exactly why Barnabas and Saul centred their ministry around preaching the Word of God! Because that’s where the power is. They didn’t centre their ministry around meeting the needs of the community – although we do see them ministering to the needy a little later on. They didn’t centre their ministry around flashy programs that would attract large crowds. They didn’t centre their ministry around doing miracles or casting out demons – although we do also see some of that as well! But all of those things were all secondary. None of that was the central part of their ministry.
Their ministry centered around preaching the Word of God.
Notice in verse 5 it says…
“…they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God.” Acts 13:5
Verse 6 tells us…
“The governor invited Barnabas and Saul to visit him, for he wanted to hear the word of God.” Acts 13:6
And even in verse 12, after Elymas was struck blind, it wasn’t that miracle that convinced the governor to believe – it was the Word of God.
“When the governor saw what had happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.” Acts 13:12
It doesn’t say he was astonished at what had happened to Elymas – He was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.
And so we have three key things happening in this passage.
#1. Barnabas and Saul are preaching the Word of God.
#2. Their preaching stirs up opposition
#3. Despite the opposition, the Word of God changes people’s lives.
And of course, there is much more that could be said about this passage, but for the sake of time today, we’re going to move on. Just keep those three point in mind as we continue reading. Take a look at verse 13 now.
13 Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. 14 But Paul and Barnabas traveled inland to Antioch of Pisidia. Acts 13:13-14
Now just two really quick notes here that are not really related to our topic today, but I just want to point them out for future reference.
First of all, notice that John Mark has now decided to go back to Jerusalem. We aren’t given any reason why he decided to leave at this point, but we’re going to see later that it wasn’t really a positive parting. Acts 15 tells us that John Mark abandoned them or deserted them. And this will be an issue that comes up later – so just keep that in mind for now.
But the second thing to notice is that Saul is now going by his Roman name – Paul – and he now seems to have taken the lead in this missionary team. Up until this point, they are always referred to as Barnabas and Saul, now we see “Paul & his companions” or “Paul and Barnabas”. From this point on, Paul will become the lead character and his leadership will become more and more evident.
But those are just two little side notes that will probably come up again in some future messages, so just keep those things on mind.
But Paul & Barnabas have now arrived in Antioch of Pisidia – and as you might expect, there, they preach the Word of God. The next 25 verses are a summary of Paul’s preaching to these folks and Mike led us through these verses last week, so I won’t read through them again. So we’re just going to jump down and pick it up at the end of Paul’s sermon in verse 42.
42 As Paul and Barnabas left the synagogue that day, the people begged them to speak about these things again the next week. 43 Many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, and the two men urged them to continue to rely on the grace of God.
44 The following week almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord. 45 But when some of the Jews saw the crowds, they were jealous; so they slandered Paul and argued against whatever he said.
46 Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles. 47 For the Lord gave us this command when he said,
‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’”
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. 49 So the Lord’s message spread throughout that region.
50 Then the Jews stirred up the influential religious women and the leaders of the city, and they incited a mob against Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town. 51 So they shook the dust from their feet as a sign of rejection and went to the town of Iconium. 52 And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Now do you remember the three key things that happened in our last passage?
#1. Paul & Barnabas were preaching the Word of God.
#2. Their preaching stirred up opposition
#3. Despite the opposition, the Word of God changed people’s lives.
This is the same pattern we see here! Except in this story, everything seems to be a bit amplified! There appears to be more preaching – we see both the Jews and the Gentiles (entire cities had come out to hear them preach). We see more opposition, as the Jewish leaders slander and argued against Paul – eventually inciting a mob to run Paul and Barnabas out of the town – and yet there is also more impact for the kingdom of God – as many gentiles accept the Word of God and become believers! They are filled with joy and the Holy Spirit!
It’s the same pattern as what we saw in the first story. But let’s not stop here…
Let’s see what happens in the next verses as Paul and Barnabas continue on to Iconium… Flip over now to chapter 14 – verse 1.
The same thing happened in Iconium. Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish synagogue and preached with such power that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. 2 Some of the Jews, however, spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. 3 But the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders. 4 But the people of the town were divided in their opinion about them. Some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.
5 Then a mob of Gentiles and Jews, along with their leaders, decided to attack and stone them. 6 When the apostles learned of it, they fled to the region of Lycaonia—to the towns of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding area. 7 And there they preached the Good News.
And so, the pattern continues.
#1. Paul & Barnabas are preaching the Word of God.
#2. Their preaching stirs up opposition
#3. Despite the opposition, the Word of God changes people’s lives.
And again, everything seems to be amplified even more. Verse 1 tells us that great numbers of Jews and Greeks became believers. Verse 3 tells us they preached the Word of God for a long time! And this time, the opposition was so great, that the angry mob decided to attack and stone them!
And so once again, they fled the town and continued preaching the Good News!
And that leads us now to the final of the four stories in this missionary journey. We read now in verse 8.
8 While they were at Lystra, Paul and Barnabas came upon a man with crippled feet. He had been that way from birth, so he had never walked. He was sitting 9 and listening as Paul preached. Looking straight at him, Paul realized he had faith to be healed. 10 So Paul called to him in a loud voice, “Stand up!” And the man jumped to his feet and started walking.
11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their local dialect, “These men are gods in human form!” 12 They decided that Barnabas was the Greek god Zeus and that Paul was Hermes, since he was the chief speaker. 13 Now the temple of Zeus was located just outside the town. So the priest of the temple and the crowd brought bulls and wreaths of flowers to the town gates, and they prepared to offer sacrifices to the apostles.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening, they tore their clothing in dismay and ran out among the people, shouting, 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In the past he permitted all the nations to go their own ways, 17 but he never left them without evidence of himself and his goodness. For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts.” 18 But even with these words, Paul and Barnabas could scarcely restrain the people from sacrificing to them.
19 Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. 20 But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
And so, our pattern continues.
#1. Paul and Barnabas are preaching the Word of God.
#2. Their preaching stirs up opposition
#3. But despite the opposition, the Word of God changes people’s lives.
And that brings us now to the conclusion of the chapter – and the conclusion of Paul & Barnabas’ first missionary journey. Verse 21 says…
21 After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, 22 where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. 23 Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 Then they traveled back through Pisidia to Pamphylia. 25 They preached the word in Perga, then went down to Attalia.
26 Finally, they returned by ship to Antioch of Syria, where their journey had begun. The believers there had entrusted them to the grace of God to do the work they had now completed. 27 Upon arriving in Antioch, they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, too. 28 And they stayed there with the believers for a long time.
So what is the lesson in these chapters for us? Not many of us are travelling missionaries – going from town to town preaching to crowds of people…. So what can the rest of us take away from these verses and apply to our lives?
I think that three-part pattern that we’ve noticed can serve as a template.
#1. We need to preach the Word of God.
And I know I just said that we are not all traveling missionaries – but in a way, we are! We might not travel to different cities or countries for the specific purpose of preaching the Gospel, but all of us continually have opportunities to share the Word of God wherever we are – and to tell other people about the goodness and grace of Jesus Christ.
We mentioned in our child dedication earlier this morning that as parents, we have this responsibility in raising our children! We must teach them the things that God has said in his Word.
Because as we’ve seen in these two chapters, it’s the Word of God that changes lives! Hebrews 4:12 says…
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12
2 Timothy 3:16 says..
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
There is incredible power in the Word of God – and because of that, we must keep the Word of God at the centre of our church ministries, at the centre of our homes, at the centre of our own personal walk with God. God’s Word is truth. It is reality. It is alive and powerful – it is what God uses to change people’s lives!
So let’s make sure that we keep on preaching the Word of God – both to ourselves – and to those around us.
The second lesson we can take away from all this is that opposition and hardships are an expected part of the Christian life.
I found it interesting that after Paul & Barnabas had made all those disciples in those different places, on the way home, they made a second stop at all those same places to visit the believers and it says in verse 22…
“They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
Paul and Barnabas fully expected those new believers to suffer through hardships. Hardships are an expected part of the Christian life. It’s part of the process through which we enter into the Kingdom of God! It’s not even optional – Paul says… “We must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God!” The Christian life is not an easy life. In fact, Jesus even said….
“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b
It’s a guarantee – here on earth, we will have many trials and sorrows. I think all of us can testify to that – in fact, I know that many of you are going through some pretty difficult trials and sorrows right now.
But I would encourage you as Paul did, that you continue in the faith. Keep looking to Jesus even in the midst of your trials, because He has overcome the world. He has already won the victory.
The trials and sorrows and the hardships that we must endure right now are only for a short time. They might feel like they last forever – but they won’t. We have an eternity of peace and joy and goodness in the presence of God to look forward to. And He will sustain us and keep us until that time.
And that leads us into the final take-away point for today. And that is this: We can trust God to carry out his good will.
Despite all the opposition and hardships that Paul & Barnabas faced, they chose to trust God through it all, and God did some amazing things.
In fact, even as Paul & Barnabas had to leave behind all those new little churches that they had invested so much time and effort into, they were able to trust God to continue his good work – even in their absence. It says in verse 23…
23 Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Acts 14:23
And I guess that’s the final exhortation that I’ll leave with you today. I encourage all of you to turn everything over to the care of the lord – in whom you can put your trust!
•That opposition your facing in your life right now – turn that over to the care of the Lord…
- The trials you’re going through as we speak – turn that over to the care of the Lord…
- The relationships in your life that are strained or falling apart – turn them over to the care of the Lord…
Christ has promised us that we will face trials and sorrows, but we can turn those things over to Him and trust Him to take care of it all – because He has already won the victory. He has overcome the world!
So I encourage you this morning. Trust in Him. Find your strength and your joy and your peace in Him. Turn everything over to the care of the Lord, in whom you can confidently place your trust.