In Acts 13 and 14, we see Paul and Barnabas set out on their first missionary journey together. They initially travel across the sea from Antioch to the island of Cyprus and immediately we see them establishing a pattern as they enter the Jewish synagogues and sharing the Gospel among the Jews in the towns that they visit. A sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus was an attendant of the proconsul of the island (like a governor or someone overseeing the occupied area on Rome’s behalf) and tried to prevent the proconsul from hearing Paul, something that he had wanted to do. Paul declares that he won’t be able to see, and as Bar-Jesus is blinded, the proconsul believes and is amazed also with their teaching.
Paul and Barnabas then travel again across the sea to the north into the Galatian area and make their way to Pisidian Antioch. Again, they enter the Jewish synagogue and share the Gospel. This is one of the few times that we get to see how Paul shares the Gospel with the Jews, through a retelling of their history, starting from the time that God led the Israelites out from Egypt, through the prophets and kings, and ultimately to Jesus, speaking of his preaching, his death, his resurrection, and ultimately the significance of everything that he was teaching.
From their teaching, some of the people of the synagogue followed them and they asked them also to return in the following week to speak again. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well because when they came to speak on the following Sabbath, the Jewish leaders became jealous because most of the city came to hear them speak! At this point, then, Paul told them that they would not continue with them but would go and speak to the Gentiles.
Paul made disciples among both the Jews and the Gentiles and it says that the word of the Lord spread throughout the entire region which I believe means that the people began to share with others what they had been learning about Jesus. Ultimately, the Jewish leaders persecuted Paul and Barnabas and they were forced to leave, and so they headed to a nearby city called Iconium.
In Iconium, Paul followed a similar pattern as he had done previously. They spoke at the Jewish synagogue and both Jews and Gentiles believed in Jesus. Again, the Jews who would not believe spoke out against Paul and Barnabas, but they continued to work and teach the new believers. They were also continuing to perform signs and miracles through the Holy Spirit as confirmation of their teaching.
The people of Iconium were divided, and some of them began to plan to kill Paul and Barnabas, so they left there also to continue to preach in other cities.
Lystra and Derbe
At Lystra, Paul healed a man who was lame and not able to walk. As a result, the people began to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, thinking that they were gods. Paul tried in vain to stop them, sharing about the true God with the people, but they continued to sacrifice to them.
The Jews from Antioch and Iconium who had driven Paul and Barnabas out of their cities followed them also to Lystra and won over the crowds, ultimately stoning Paul and dragged him out of the city. But with his new disciples around him, Paul was able to get back up and return into the city of Lystra.
He also went into Derbe, a nearby city, and preached there as well. Paul was particularly effective there and won many disciples.
Establishing churches and returning to Antioch
As Paul and Barnabas began to think of returning home, they decided to return back through each of the cities, including Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch to teach them and appoint elders among the communities of new believers, leaving behind churches as they went from city to city. In the end, Paul and Barnabas return back to their home city of Antioch to share with the church all that they had seen God do through their work.
There are a few important points that I think that I can take away from this first journey from Paul and Barnabas. Those are:
- They have a critical role in getting the churches started. They do not intend to plant one church. Instead, they are not from that area, so they are going to start several churches among the people who live in that local area. They share the Gospel, make disciples among these new believers, and start at least four new churches.
- They leave the church in the hands of the local believers, appointing elder leaders among them, even though they are relatively new believers.
- Even though Paul and Barnabas are being persecuted for the message that they have brought to these cities, the people are quickly sharing and spreading the Good News that they have learned.
- They enter the places of worship to share their message. It seems that they almost always go to the synagogue first to share the Gospel message.
- They don’t seem to try to make many friends and a lot of relationships initially. Paul and Barnabas seem to allow the message to go before them, and then they develop relationships and make disciples among those who believe. In other words, they seem to have a priority to share the Gospel first, make disciples second, then start and encourage the churches, ultimately leaving them with local leadership. We will later see that Paul develops deep friendships with the people in these churches.
- Persecution followed them wherever they went as a result of the Good News that they carried with them.
- But the churches were started and the Gospel was spread, even in the face of that persecution.
- The Holy Spirit enabled them to perform miracles. These miracles served to confirm the message that they were preaching among the people.