Key Verse: 14:1
“At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.”
The chapter we are looking at today is the continuation of Paul’s and his companion Barnabas’s very first missionary journey. As the Holy Spirit directed them, they had gone out from the first missionary minded church at Antioch and set out to share the good news of the gospel wherever the Lord would send them. So they had sailed to the island of Cyprus where they evangelized a few coastal cities, and after that, they crossed over to the mainland, to Asia minor to what is known today as the country of Turkey. And it is in some of the old cities of Turkey where most of the events of chapters 13 and 14 are taking place here. So, the last place we left these two missionaries off was in a city called Pisidian Antioch (13:14), and of course, we left them off being persecuted and even expelled from its region (50). And all this terrible persecution and rejection didn’t seem to shake them up at all. Instead, here’s what they do. They shake the dust off their feet and go on to another city called Iconium, and after that to another city called Lystra and then to Derbe. And then finally their first missionary journey ends up back home in the original city of Antioch, and in their home church where they share their testimony of God’s work. Today’s story is slightly different from the other missionary stories of Paul and Barnabas because the people they minister to were different. These people are truly Gentile, that is, they’re godless and ungodly to the core.
The first thing these missionaries do is to plant the gospel seed in Iconium. Look at 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 Gentiles believed.” It’s not so hard to understand why they would first go to the Jewish synagogue. Paul and Barnabas were both Jews, educated in the Jewish ways and held great affection in their hearts for their people. After all, their people were God’s chosen, called to bring his blessing to all nations. Paul had just reminded the Jews of another synagogue of God’s original purpose for them when he quoted them Isaiah saying: “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (13:47) But how could they fulfill this amazing purpose for their lives and nation if they didn’t know Christ their Savior whose death and resurrection was God’s gift of righteousness to everyone who believes, first for the Jew then for the Gentile! How could they fulfill their holy purpose and become the light of the world for the Gentiles if they didn’t first repent of their sins and be washed in his blood shed on the cross for their sins! How could they fulfill their awesome purpose to bring anyone to God’s holy salvation if they themselves haven’t yet tasted the salvation that comes from faith in the Risen Christ! These Jews came to worship every Sabbath in the synagogue and to read the Scriptures. But they didn’t understand what they were reading. They didn’t know him whom they worshiped. They didn’t know the loving Father who gave his One and Only Son to ransom his lost children both Jews and Gentiles alike. No wonder Paul and Barnabas felt they had to first go to the synagogue to share the good news of the gospel with their own people. Knowing it would invite persecution and bring about conflict and eventual rejection as it had done in all the synagogues they’ve been to, these missionaries were ready to share the gospel message even at the cost of their own lives.
Why? Well I suppose there are many reasons why missionaries like Paul and Barnabas are willing to share the Lord’s message even when they know their lives are at risk. I guess obedience to the Lord’s command would be at the top of the list. The Lord himself commanded all who believe in him, that is, all who confess his name and are born again of his Spirit and submit to his Lordship [that is, not only a select few who are especially called to do so but all who are in Christ and belong to him] to go and tell of this good news. Another reason Paul and Barnabas were willing to share the gospel even with a potential hostile crowd is LOVE for the Lord as well as for those they went to, in spite of their hostility. Loving Christ, or love for Christ beats in the heart of every Christian, especially in the heart of the missionary. Nothing surpasses that love such that they eagerly desire to tell of the One they Love. And they tell His story to those whom they also love; They love them simply because Christ whom they love loves these lost people passing on his love to the Christian’s heart hearts— to the missionary’s heart. Obedience to Christ, and the Love that’s often so closely associated with is powerful motivator for missions even when dangers are involved. But that’s not all.
I suppose another reason Paul and Barnabas were willing to share the gospel even through danger may be FAITH IN the message itself, and HOPE FOR those who are hearing it. The gospel message Christ has entrusted to us to tell others isn’t an ordinary message. [I may give a sorrowful and fearful mother a message that her only son who is on the warfront is finally coming home today. My message to her is going to be a powerful message that sends goose bumps up her spine and chase away the sorrow and fear from her heart. Still, it’s just an ordinary message whose effects may wear out if she hears that his plane was delayed.] But the gospel message Christ you hold in your hand is different. It’s extraordinary. It’s of divine origins. It has power. Here’s how Paul describes the Gospel: “The power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) Paul describes it as the power of God! So it’s not just an ordinary message, but it’s God’s power; and not just power; but a power with the unique ability to save people’s souls from the hell they live in every day without God. A power that penetrates deep into their hearts and souls and exposes the darkness and brings in the light of God; How it works only God knows. Of course God never forces gospel power upon anyone. But when they believe, it works to change their fate from someone hopelessly unforgiven to someone forgiven and resting in God’s peace. Now this is the question! Do you have such faith in the gospel message— that it’s extraordinary— that it has within it the Divine Power to rescue souls? If you do, only then your hope for these people also can never be quenched. Paul, the missionary, had that kind of faith and that kind of hope when he walked into that synagogue that day. Look at verse 1 again. He wasn’t selfishly thinking about who might reject him and who might persecute him. He was selflessly thinking about how wonderful it would be even if one received the gospel message and turned their heart to the Lord! It would be worth all the persecution he was sure to get! And that’s the heart of the shepherd, the mind of the missionary.
What happened that day? According to verse 1, it seems that a great number of Jews as well as Gentiles believed. Surely the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. But look at verse 2. Not everyone believed. It seems that there were those who refused to believe. The gospel message itself is clear. God had not left anything undone in history that doesn’t clearly show the way to the Messiah and how to get to him. The evidence is overwhelming for anyone who is genuinely looking for God’s deliverance. But as many reasons as there may be for men and women as to why they seek the Lord and his salvation in their lives, there are also equally as many reasons why they don’t. In other words, people don’t believe not because the message isn’t true or insufficient or even incomplete, but they don’t believe because as the Lord Jesus who is the Light of the world once told us: “Men loved darkness instead of the light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21) People don’t believe mostly because they love their darkness more than the light. In other words, they love their sinful lives and don’t want to give them up. They are afraid that if they come into the light of Christ, the filth in their hearts will be exposed and others would see them for who they really are.
And although the darkness of sin is still the same darkness, one kind of darkness manifests differently from another. For example the darkness of sin among the Gentiles was mostly a darkness of ignorance of God, and of moral decadence, and of idolatry and such. While the darkness of the Jews who refused to believe the gospel message was a darkness of unbelief, and a darkness of pride and that of self righteousness. The Jews who refused to believe were simply too proud and self righteous to accept God’s way of righteousness, which was a righteousness given to all people through grace by the sacrifice of his Son Jesus. But the Jews who refused to believe, fully understood this truth, yet strongly held on to their own ideas that the righteousness of God is earned through man’s adherence to the Law and his good works. To hold on to this falsehood is to pride oneself in one’s own righteous works, and to refuse God’s ultimate gift of grace. It’s simple! There is nothing complicated about the gospel message. What’s complicated is the sin that’s in the human heart and makes the heart, whether Jew or Gentile, it makes the heart callous and unbending before God. Listen to a comment Luke (the same author as this book of Acts) makes regarding two groups of people who heard Jesus’ message. Luke says these remarkable words: “[All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, BECAUSE they had been baptized by John.
But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, BECAUSE they had not been baptized by John.”] (Luke 7:29-30) It’s a side comment but one of the most significant comments in the Bible in my opinion. One group acknowledged God’s way was right. God’s way is the way we’ve been talking about, the way of grace, the way God provides his righteousness to all people— the way God offers salvation to those who want to be saved.
God has a way to make us righteous, to save us. And he’s made it known through Christ Jesus his Son. And when his Son came proclaiming it, one group of people accepted God’s way and another group didn’t. What was the difference between them? Look at the verse again. One was baptized by John and the other wasn’t. In other words, one repented and the other didn’t. Repentance is very much a big part of God’s way. God provides his gift of grace through faith in Christ— yes he does. But you and I have cannot come into fellowship with Christ with all our sins upon our hearts from our life in this world. The Lord calls all to repent of our sins. And that takes a person to humble ourselves, and bring our sins to the Lord, to get them exposed by the Light of Christ, especially by the light of his word. You and I may know our sins. But you and I may not know what all our sins are. I may know some of my sins. But some of my sins may be hidden too deep for me to see or even to know. Some sins of mine may be too vague and not so clear that they are sins. So who will tell me that they’re sins so that I might repent of them? Because if I don’t bring them to the Lord for cleansing I won’t be fully cleansed and there’ll be areas of my life that are still dark and untouched by the cleansing power of God. I can’t have that. No Christian should have that. Those who didn’t take this seriously have suffered much— unnecessarily. Sometimes a man or woman of God can tell me about a sin I don’t know about. But only the word of God is the perfect light in my heart and life that can show me my sins. So as I study the word of God, his light shines and it exposes the dark. And when I see, then I can repent. But then I need to live a life of repentance, as John the Baptist puts it “In keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). That is also God’s way as well.
People in the synagogue that day heard the same message from Paul as he delivered the gospel of our Lord with the same zeal he always does. As verse 1 tells us, he spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. They must have been cut to the heart when they heard of the Savior’s life and his sacrifices as he lived among us becoming the shepherd who walked our streets and ate and drank with us, who cried with us and laughed with us, and who healed our sicknesses, and finally who died in our place to take upon himself the punishment for sin that was due us. And when they all heard, as we saw, some believed and others refused to believed. What did Paul and Barnabas do? Look at verse 3. “Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.” They did the only thing they could do, which is to defend the gospel and to prove from Scripture that the Lord Jesus is indeed the Promised Savior and Son of God. All Scripture foretells that the Messiah would not only rise from the dead, but would ascend to the highest heaven to take his place at the right hand of God to become the judge of all men. When Paul defended the gospel, God graciously worked amazing signs and wonders in that city among those who received his loving grace with humility and gratitude. But regardless of how beautiful and life giving the gospel message is, the devil always stands to disrupt it. Look at verses 4-7. When Paul and Barnabas found out about a plot to harm them, it was time for them move on again— this time to the cities of Lystra and Derbe “Where they continued to preach the good news”.
There are many good lessons to learn from this short passage. I am amazed how Paul and Barnabas were such effective missionaries and effective workers in the mission field. It’s not only the message they carried with them that was powerful and effective. It was their spirit as well. They were determined to share it wherever they went. They had hope that those who heard it would receive it and turn their hearts to the Lord. And it wasn’t a faith in their own ability or skill that we see in them, because no where do we see anything about their special skills or abilities. It was their faith in the message itself and in the Lord of the message who moved them to speak. We who are Christians by virtue of God’s grace are also all missionaries one way or another. At work we are missionaries and at school and at home and wherever we are in a different country, we are missionaries. In other words, we carry the message of the Lord to those who haven’t heard it yet. May God make us effective workers in his kingdom work at Triton campus and wherever else we may be. God bless you.