Paul's First Missionary Journey
We have concluded Luke's description of Peter's ministry among the Jews and the calling that he received from God to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. After Pentecost it seemed that the Apostles understood the great commission to be that they preach to all the Jews in the world. It took a miraculous event (Cornelius speaking in tongues) to convince Peter to not only preach to the Gentiles but to offer them the same salvation through faith, expressed in repentance and baptism, that he had offered the crowd he was preaching to on the day of Pentecost. This breakthrough encouraged others to bring the gospel to Gentiles. Luke will describe one such effort in the area of Antioch, where Barnabas and Paul had an extensive preaching ministry among this mixed Jewish and Gentile congregation.
Let's take a quick look at our outline and note that we are beginning the second section of this book where Luke will deal primarily with Paul's ministry and travels.
- Peter's First Sermon – Acts 1:1-2:47
- Peter's Post-Pentecost Ministry – Acts 3:1-4:37
- Persecution of Peter and the Apostles – Acts 5:1-42
- Persecution of the Church – Acts 6:1-7:60
- Persecution of the Church Part II – Acts 8:1-9:43
- Peter Preaches to the Gentiles – Acts 10:1-12:25
- Paul's First Missionary Journey – Acts 13:1-15:35
Luke has set the geographical scene, Antioch, as well as the historical moment, after Peter's contact with Cornelius. At this time Barnabas and Paul have gained considerable experience not only in working together but working with Jewish as well as Gentile converts to Christianity. They were able to meet each group's particular religious and cultural needs.
Paul's First Missionary Journey - Acts 13:1-14:28
A Call to Ministry
1Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
- Acts 13:1-3
What we read here is really the third step in Paul's call to ministry. His call to ministry sets a pattern for those who feel they are called to full-time ministry but are not sure if their calling is a legitimate one from God.
When studying Paul's life we see three stages in his call to ministry:
- The Calling: This describes the way God has called/directed/led a person into full-time ministry. Paul was called in a miraculous way (blinded, heard the voice of the Lord, healed of this blindness - Acts 9:3-9; 17) but the manner of his calling is the exception, not the rule. For most people the calling begins as a desire or opportunity to serve in some way that grows stronger with time. In many instances it takes the form of positive feedback from church members or leaders who see talent in a person and encourage them to develop and use that skill in service to the Lord. Many ministers go into full-time ministry because they see a great need that the church (or the lost) have and feel compelled to step up and fill the gap (even if they do not feel qualified). Whatever the way a person is called, one feature is the same for all: the feeling that God's call does not go away until it is answered. Some battle with it for years and even when they choose to do something else with their lives, continue to feel that calling from time to time.
- The Consecration: The consecration (or setting apart) is the time that the called person spends in preparation for their ministry. In Paul's case there was a period of approximately 10-12 years between his calling and the beginning of his ministry to the Gentiles on his first missionary journey. During that time he spent three years in the desert of Arabia being taught by the Spirit of Christ (Galatians 1:11-17), he travelled to Jerusalem, then returned to teach in his home town of Tarsus for an additional four years (Acts 9:30), he was then recruited by Barnabas to come and teach at the Antioch church for an entire year. Finally, he and Barnabas escorted food and relief supplies to Jerusalem after a two year famine had gripped the country (Acts 12:25). Paul's consecration period saw him being taught by the Lord, teaching at the church at Antioch, traveling and meeting with various Apostles and church leaders, and managing a benevolence program to help the church in Jerusalem. A ten year period of training and preparation for the ministry he was originally called to at the time of his conversion. Today, we have preacher training schools operated by various congregations in our brotherhood, there are also colleges and universities where a person with a calling can receive training to prepare him or her (many types of full-time ministries are open to women) to prepare someone with a calling for ministry. The confusion some have is thinking that they must begin their ministry the moment they receive the cal. The consecration time is important because it usually serves to confirm if ministry is truly one's calling.
- The Commendation: The commendation to ministry is what is taking place in Acts 13:1-3. The Holy Spirit, through the church (its leaders and teachers) commend, send or authorize Paul and Barnabas to take the gospel to the world. This scene teaches us that God works through His church. The Lord had called Paul on the road to Damascus but when the time came for him to fulfill his ministry, God used the church to commend him since Paul could not commend himself. The point here is that no one appoints themselves to positions in the church. For example, there are no self-appointed elders in the church (these are appointed and trained by evangelists - Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). There are no self-appointed evangelists in the church (these are appointed by elders - I Timothy 4:14). There are no self appointed deacons in the church (these are selected by the church and confirmed by the elders - Acts 6:3-6). There are no self-appointed missionaries in the church (these are trained by the church and sent by the church leadership - Acts 13:1-3). We see this taking place with Paul and Barnabas as the first missionaries confirmed and sent by the church, and this method continues to this day in the Lord's church. It is not a certificate of studies or a college degree that authorizes a person to be an evangelist or teacher or missionary. It is the commendation by the church that sends or confirms both the calling and the consecration to the Lord's service in and for His church.
The First Missionary Journey (13:4-14:28)
Here's a geographic overview of Paul's first mission trip:
Luke writes that Paul, Barnabas and his cousin, John Mark, leave from the port city of Selucia, near Antioch and sail to the island of Cyprus where Barnabas was from (Acts 4:32).
Their first stop was the friendly confines of the local synagogue where Barnabas was probably known and welcomed to speak. At this point they are reaching out to the Jews since this was the opportunity open to them.
6When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, 10and said, "You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? 11Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time." And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. 12Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.
- Acts 13:6-12
Note that their work on the island was so successful that the governor sent for them to hear the gospel message. The fact that Barnabas is mentioned first suggests that he was the leader and chief speaker at this point. The name "Elymas" meant "expert" so this magician was called, Bar-Jesus the Expert. He had the favor of the governor and interfered with their mission so Paul denounced him, and Bar-Jesus was rendered blind for a period of time, the first miracle credited to Paul. The governor was converted and Luke mentions that it was the teaching of the Lord that amazed him, not the blinding of the magician. The miracle confirmed the teaching, and the teaching produced the conversion.
Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem.
- Acts 13:13
Luke names Paul first denoting that after their work in Cyprus (especially the miracle done through him) Paul is now the leader of the mission. John Mark leaves them to return to Jerusalem, probably because he lacked the courage to travel on in an unknown land. Note that it was Barnabas and Paul (in that order) that had been called by the Spirit to undertake this mission. John Mark was added by Barnabas, his cousin, not by the Holy Spirit. God knew that John Mark was not ready, however, it took Barnabas, John Mark and Paul a little longer to discover this as well.
Pisidian Antioch (13:14-52)
Paul and Barnabas do no work in Perga but make their way north to the city of Antioch located on the border of Pisidia, thus named to differentiate it from the city of Antioch located in Syria from which they had come. Here Luke gives a detailed account of Paul's preaching and the reaction of the people to his and Barnabas' ministry.
14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways;
- Acts 14:14-16
Luke describes the method Paul used in preaching the gospel among the Jews and converts to the Jewish faith. The service was led by elders or officials who would invite visiting rabbis to speak. Paul, the famous student of Gamaliel, and Barnabas a Levite and resident of Jerusalem, were both known among the Jews and so Paul was asked to speak.
Luke records the teaching that was probably a basic lesson that Paul preached when addressing a Jewish audience. Paul's lesson has four parts and could be entitled, "Israel's Savior is Jesus Christ" (Lenski, p. 516).
1. Israel's history leads to Jesus (13:17-25)
And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.'
- Acts 13:25
2. Israel rejected the Savior spoken of by the prophets and sent by God (13:26-29)
When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb.
- Acts 13:29
3. God fulfilled His promises to Israel by raising Him from the dead (13:30-37)
32And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, 33that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'You are My Son; today I have begotten You.'
- Acts 13:32-33
4. In Jesus alone is forgiveness and salvation (13:38-41)
38Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.
- Acts 13:38-39
In the following verses a familiar pattern emerges where Paul's words draw large crowds which, in turn, antagonize the Jewish leaders who begin attacking him. Many Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism decide to follow Paul and his teachings to the point where the Apostle declares openly that because of Jewish rejection and persecution he will now focus his ministry on the Gentiles. This produces joy and enthusiasm among the Gentiles because God has offered salvation to them making them equal partners with Jewish Christians in God's kingdom, the church.
Iconium, Lystra, Derbe (14:1-21a)
Luke mentions several towns where they continued preaching and teaching. He focuses on two places:
1. Iconium (Acts 14:1-7): The same pattern appears here as their preaching divides the audience (some believe, others do not). The Jews then step up their opposition by enlisting Gentiles who form a mob to stone Paul and Barnabas who are then forced to escape to another one of the cities mentioned in verse 6.
2. Lystra (Acts 14:8-20a): Luke describes a second miracle performed by Paul (healing of a man lame from birth) which causes a stir in the crowd who think Paul and Barnabas are incarnations of their pagan gods Zeus (Greek god of sky and thunder) and Hermes (son of the Greek god Zeus).
14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." 18Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
- Acts 14:14-18
Paul begins preaching to these Gentiles using the situation at hand as a starting point.
19But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city.
- Acts 14:19-20a
However, the Apostle has no chance to continue as the Jews from other cities begin following him from town to town. Paul has been harassed and chased, but this time the Jews manage to capture and stone him on the spot, then drag his body outside the city leaving him there for dead. Luke simply states that Paul, surrounded by disciples (gathered there to bury him), awakens (no mention of a miracle so he was probably unconscious) and returns to the city.
3. Derbe (Acts 20b-21a): Luke briefly mentions that Paul and Barnabas go to this city to preach and they have many converts but no opposition.
Lystra, Iconium, Antioch (14:21b-23)
At this point they begin to backtrack and revisit the young churches that they planted during this first two-year mission trip (44-46 AD).
When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
- Acts 14:23
Many Jewish converts had the moral and spiritual maturity to serve as elders in these churches. They may have had leadership positions in their synagogues before their conversion. Christianity was the fulfillment of their Jewish faith and the knowledge of the gospel was the final mystery that completed all that they had learned and believed as Jews. In that first generation church many Jewish converts continued to practice their Jewish faith and held to the Jewish religious calendar (containing feast days, etc.). With time and the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD the distinction and practice of these two faiths became quite separate, with Christianity being recognized as a stand alone faith and not simply a sect connected to the Jewish religion.
Pamphylia, Perga, Attalia, Antioch (14:24-28)
Luke continues naming the various stops along their route home to Antioch in Syria. He writes that Paul and Barnabas gather the church that had originally sent them out in order to give them a report of their work, especially the breakthrough they had in preaching to and converting Gentiles.
This sets up the next scene where Luke describes an important meeting and decision concerning the Gentiles and their entry into the church.
The Jerusalem Council - Acts 15:1-35
In Acts 15:1-35, Luke summarizes the issue and the approach to its resolution in the first two verses.
Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
- Acts 15:1
Jewish Christians from Jerusalem (Acts 15:5 - Pharisees converted to Christianity) come to Antioch teaching that Gentiles had to first adhere to Jewish laws of conversion before they could become Christians. This meant that they had to first be circumcised before they could be baptized.
If you were a Jewish Pharisee converted to Christ, this idea was quite logical. Judaism came first, Jesus was a Jew, Christianity was simply an extension of the Jewish faith, so adhering to Jewish law and custom before identifying as a Christian made sense. For them, baptism was simply an add-on.
The problem with this teaching was that it did not understand Christianity's relationship to Judaism:
1. Judaism was a vehicle designed to deliver Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of mankind, to the world.
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.
- Matthew 5:17
Judaism's rituals, laws and practices were meant to be a preview of what was to come: Jesus dying on the cross as a perfect sacrifice to save mankind from condemnation due to sin. These Jewish Christians thought that their religion was the substance of God's will when in fact it was only the shadow of what God had planned to do through Jesus Christ: offer Himself as a perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind and then offer redemption to both Jews and Gentiles based on faith in Him as the Son of God.
2. This teaching was dangerous because it substituted a salvation based on Law (be circumcised, obey food and other laws) in order to be worthy of becoming a Christian. They were replacing a gospel based on grace and faith, "I am saved because I believe in Jesus and express my faith through repentance and baptism" (Acts 2:38); this was being replaced with, "I am saved because I obey the Law" (circumcision and the rules of Judaism). In other words, I am saved because I do things, instead of I am saved because I believe in Jesus.
The Solution (15:2-35)
And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.
- Acts 15:2
Since Antioch was a church consisting of both Jews and Gentiles, and since much of Paul's ministry involved outreach to non-Jews, much was at stake here.
Note the different parties (the missionaries, Jewish Christian teachers, elders of the church, and Apostles) gathered to discuss this issue. This was not decided by an executive group or Peter as some kind of chief Apostle. Luke writes that there was extensive discussion and he records part of Peter's argument.
10Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are."
- Acts 15:10-11
He also argues that bringing the gospel to the Gentiles was part of God's plan recorded in the Scriptures.
14Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written,
- Acts 15:14-15
In the end all agree to continue preaching to the Gentiles with a caution for them to avoid sexual immorality, which was part of the Gentile lifestyle, and came to respect certain Jewish sensitivities towards eating meat previously offered in pagan sacrifices and then sold in the public market, along with the eating of blood which was forbidden for Jews. These were given to guarantee peace in an assembly where both Jews and Gentiles worshiped and often ate fellowship meals together. So you have the problem stated, debated and ultimately resolved according to God's word, then recorded in a letter to the Antioch church and sent back with Paul, Barnabas and brethren from the church in Jerusalem.
Luke finishes this section by recording the joyful reaction of the Gentile Christians at the news that they were not to be subjected to the Jewish Law, and were accepted by no less than the Apostles themselves as equal and full members of God's church along with their Jewish brethren who also had been converted.
The final scene sees Paul and Barnabas remaining in Antioch busy teaching and preaching to the brethren there.
- Have you ever felt a calling to serve the Lord in a greater way? How did He call you? What was your response?
- Have you ever failed in ministry? Explain how. What did you learn from the experience?
- Explain how each part of Paul's basic four part sermon to the Jews would be relevant to a Gentile audience today.