What kind of expectations did the church in Antioch have about Barnabas and Paul’s first “missionary journey” back in AD46? I bet they didn’t expect the two men to be chased out of almost every city they entered! Check this out.
After Barnabas and Paul shared the Gospel with some people in Cyprus, including the Roman Proconsul (Acts 13:7-12), they set sail for Perga, a coastal city in Pamphylia (now southern Turkey). We don’t know if they spoke in the synagogue there or spent any significant amount of time among the people.
Pisidian Antioch: Strike 1
Next, they traveled inland, through the mountains to Pisidian Antioch (Called that because this Antioch stood on the border between the regions of Phrygia and Pisidia. Can you tell I pulled out my Bible atlas today?) The two stayed in Pisidian Antioch for a few weeks and spoke in the synagogue there. The Jewish authorities disputed their claims, but many Gentiles believed and were saved (Acts 13:48). In this way, “the word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (Acts 13:49). But, the Jewish leaders “stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region” (Acts 13:50).
Strike 1 for Paul and Barnabas.
Iconium: Strike 2
Seems like, everywhere they went,
the local Jews stirred up trouble.
It was 90 miles by foot to Iconium—their next stop with a significant Jewish population. As usual, Paul and Barnabas spoke first in the synagogue, where “a great number of Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1). And again, the unbelieving Jews stirred up trouble. Eventually, our two missionaries heard about a plan to stone them, so they fled (Acts 14:6).
Lystra: Strike 3
It wasn’t that far to Lystra, a smaller city in the region. Maybe Paul and Barnabas thought there wouldn’t be as much opposition in a less significant area. They were wrong, but not at first.
In fact, the Lystrians loved them! They thought Zeus and Hermes had come down to them, and they tried to make sacrifices to the two men. Of course, Paul & Barnabas refused (Acts 14:14-18).
Before long, some Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium caught up with Paul and Barnabas. They “won the crowd over,” and…
They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. –Acts 14:19
He wasn’t dead, but still, Strike 3.
3 Strikes But Not Out
This is where it gets especially interesting. What would you have done at this point?
Three times, Jews—their cultural and religious brothers!—have stirred up opposition against them. Three times, they’ve been chased out of town. And now, Paul was beaten so badly they thought he was dead: broken ribs, black eyes, a concussion, maybe a broken nose and busted lip, deep bruises all over his body, probably broken fingers…
Would you take expulsions and
beatings as a sign to quit?
Would you take this as a sign? Would you think God was closing the door on your ministry? Would you turn your face to the east and head toward home? I would. They weren’t that far from the Cilician Gates: a shortcut through the mountains to Tarsus (Paul’s hometown), which was just a short distance from their home church in Antioch. Were they tempted?
Paul was laying on the ground, barely breathing, every part of his body screaming with pain.
But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. –Acts 14:20
He went back into the city. Just give yourself a minute to think about that.
Paul and Barnabas spent the night in Lystra despite the threat to their lives. But maybe they did consider going home because the next day, they travel eastward to Derbe. Once in Derbe, however, they preached the gospel again “and won a large number of disciples” (Acts 14:21a). I think God gave them a reprieve from the opposition in Derbe. Maybe they stayed long enough for Paul’s bruises to yellow and his broken bones to mend.
Watch what happens next:
Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. –Acts 14:21b-22
Paul and Barnabas went back to the very cities that had rejected them!
Paul still wasn’t done with these cities. On both his second and third journeys, he traveled through Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch on his way to other, further destinations. (Check your maps in your study Bibles.)
2 Common Strike-Outs Today
There are a couple of common church phrases that we need to strike out (See what I did there? Different kind of ‘strike.’ #wordnerd) of our thought processes. These chapters clearly contradict both of them.
First, “the safest place is in the center of God’s will.” Nope.
Paul was exactly where God
wanted him to be, doing exactly
what God wanted him to do.
Paul was exactly where God wanted him to be, doing exactly what God wanted him to do, and people threw big rocks at him until they thought he was dead. They drug his limp body through the streets and tossed it out the city gate. There is no concept of “safe” that encompasses this condition.
This is just one of many times Paul faced death in service to the Gospel. That’s why he could write,
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. –Philippians 1:20
God doesn’t promise us safety. He promises His presence, which is peace—a very different thing.
Second, “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” Nope.
Okay, sometimes God is the one to close the door. But a closed door is not an indication of God’s will on its own. It’s just a door. We cannot let our circumstances substitute for discerning God’s will. People like to talk about God opening and shutting doors for their ministry and/or personal lives. (See my very old post, Signs and Circumstances.) By that logic, Paul and Barnabas should have looked for other, more friendly cities. They should have focused on places like Derbe, where they didn’t face opposition. Or maybe they should have just gone home and reexamined their calling.
But they didn’t. They knew sometimes we must open closed doors and bust down locked gates. They knew their circumstances didn’t determine their calling.
“3 strikes and you’re out,” but Paul & Barnabas were just getting started (Acts 13-14)! Why did they jump back in the game? Because my #circumstances are #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
Have you tended to use circumstances as an indicator of God’s will? I have. Can you think of a time when God led you in a way that seemed to contradict your circumstances? Bless us all by sharing your story in the comments below. (You can find one of mine in the post I mentioned above, Signs and Circumstances.)