Two weeks ago we saw how Barnabas and Saul were sent out as missionaries and evangelists by the church at Antioch which they led and built up.
Acts 13 1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
So began the first of three missionary journeys Saul undertook. Very early on he became known as Paul so whenever we read about Paul we should remember it is the same person as Saul of Tarsus who met Jesus on the Road to Damascus. In many ways Paul and Barnabas were the first and also the most important missionaries in the history of the church. So this morning I want us to take us in their footsteps on this first journey. In 44 AD they set out from Antioch in what is today Turkey and sailed across the Mediterranean Sea to Cyprus. They walked across the island and then sailed north back into Turkey where they spent time in different towns before sailing back to Antioch again. In two years they walked around 500 miles and sailed about the same distance. And everywhere they went they preached the Good News about Jesus Christ. They began by taking the gospel to the Jews.
13 4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues.
They even got to meet some important people like the governor of Cyprus.
13 6 They travelled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.
But then, no surprise, there was opposition to the gospel.
8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.
But God was in control. God would use this opposition to Paul’s advantage. We have talked before about how God the Holy Spirit was at work throughout the early church. Signs and wonders, miracles of healing and deliverance and words of knowledge and wisdom and prophecy. God did that! Here on Cyprus a sorcerer was opposing Paul and Barnabas. But the Holy Spirit intervened in a suitably dramatic way.
9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 ‘You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.’
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
God temporarily afflicted the sorcerer with blindness. So the proconsul came to faith because the Holy Spirit was at work in Barnabas and Paul in dramatic and visible ways. God did that!
As Jewish teachers, Paul and Barnabas would usually start off by preaching in the Jewish synagogues.
13 13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.’
In the synagogues Barnabas and Paul started from the history of Israel in the Old Testament. He started with the Exodus and the formation of the nation of Israel and went on to talk about great king David. But they always then led on to talk about the Saviour who God had promised to send, Jesus. Above all they talked about Jesus’s resurrection and the good news that Jesus is still alive. So Paul’s sermon continues:
13. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about (Jesus), they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
32 ‘We tell you the good news: what God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:
‘ “You are my son; today I have become your father.”
34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. ….
37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
This is the first part of the good news – Jesus is alive and Paul and Barnabas are witnesses to that fact. This is the good news we have to share – Jesus is risen from the dead, never more to die, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And then Paul goes on to the second part of the gospel. Because Jesus rose from the dead we can be forgiven for our sins.
38 ‘Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.
Jesus is risen from the dead, and everyone who believes is set free from every sin. That is the gospel Barnabas and Paul were preaching, and that is the same Good News God has give US to share with our friends and our neighbours and even with strangers. Jesus is alive, and everyone who believes is set free from every sin.
God was with Barnabas and Paul. And EVERYWHERE they went, people believed in Jesus and were saved.
42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
But at the same time as more and more people were becoming Christians, Barnabas and Paul faced fierce opposition and even persecution. We mustn’t give up talking about Jesus when some people don’t want to know, or even if they make life difficult for us. Jesus’s parable of the sower tells us to expect that when we tell people about Jesus, some will believe in him but some will reject the message. That was certainly true for Barnabas and Paul.
13 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.
The Jews rejected Paul’s preaching. So instead he moved on to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles, which just means everybody who was not a Jew.
48(the Gentiles) were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.
Some believed, but some rejected the gospel and once again this led to more opposition from the Jews.
50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Some people are completely closed to the good news of Jesus. They just don’t want to know. We shouldn’t be discouraged. There were people who wouldn’t even listen to Barnabas and Paul. There are times when the only thing we can do is move on.
Iconium was close to a hundred miles further on, so Paul and Barnabas started again in the synagogue. And we see the same pattern repeated.
14 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. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 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.
They preached the good news about Jesus. We read “a great number” of people believed. But then there was a backlash of opposition again. This time Paul and Barnabas stuck around and persevered in preaching boldly. And once again the Holy Spirit worked powerfully in signs and wonders. God did that! When we tell other people about Jesus, sometimes they will believe in him too. Sometimes we will face opposition. But God the Holy Spirit will always be at work in us, helping us to say the right things and giving us the power to be witnesses for Jesus. And we should always be praying for signs and wonders to happen here too!
In the end Paul and Barnabas faced such fierce opposition that they had to run away to the cities of Lystra and Derbe where they kept on preaching about Jesus. Again there the Holy Spirit continued to work miracles of healing and deliverance.
8 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
Another wonderful healing miracle in the name of Jesus! Sometimes when miracles happen, people get the wrong end of the stick. The Lystrans thought that Paul had healed the man in his own strength.
11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 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.
A bit of confusion there. So Barnabas and Paul get the attention off themselves and back on to Jesus. It’s all about Jesus – not about us! The people there were mostly Gentiles and especially Greeks. So Paul preached the good news in terms they could understand. Instead of talking about the God of Israel from the Old Testament, he pointed to God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. When we are talking about Jesus we always need to start where people are at.
14 15 ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing 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 them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 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.’
At this point some Jews from the places Paul had been before caught up with them and stirred up the crowd to stone Paul. He didn’t die, but that was the cue for them to move on again to Derbe.
21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 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.
New Christians often need strengthening and encouraging. There is a truth which needs repeating. In this country it is not difficult to be a Christian. Compared to many places around the world where Christians are facing imprisonment and even death for worshipping together, or preaching the gospel, our lives are easy. Paul knew the reality of being a missionary and an evangelist in places which were hostile to the good news of Jesus. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ If we face opposition and rejection and even hardships for talking about Jesus, that isn’t because we are doing something wrong. It’s a sign we are doing something right.
On this first missionary journey we have seen very many people become Christians as Paul and Barnabas preached to them. But those missionaries weren’t just evangelists. They were also church planters. They did not just leave behind a random bunch of new Christians. They established new churches.
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.
When a person becomes a new Christian God does not just expect them to survive by themselves. The New Testament word for Christian believers is disciples – those who follow Jesus and learn from Him. Jesus calls disciples. And God’s plan is for every new Christian to belong to a local church where they can grow in their faith. In those churches God provides elders, or ministers, so strengthen and encourage and to lead and to teach and to help the whole church to continue the work of evangelism.
So there is a snapshot of two years of Barnabas and Paul’s missionary journey. The same pattern occurred time and again. They go to an area. They preach the gospel boldly – Jesus is risen from the dead and those who believe in Him are set free from their sins. God the Holy Spirit does amazing things in signs and wonders, miracles of healing and deliverance and words of prophecy. Many people believe in Jesus and are saved. Some other people reject the message and stir up opposition. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ And local churches are established to strengthen and encourage the disciples. Those are the kinds of things which have happened everywhere all through the history of the church. Paul and Barnabas were brave enough to keep on talking about Jesus even if the going gets tough. And we need to do the same today.
Two weeks ago we saw how Barnabas and Saul were sent out as missionaries and evangelists by the church at Antioch which they led and built up.