When they got to Iconium they went, as they always did, to the meeting place of the Jews and gave their message. The Message convinced both Jews and non-Jews - and not just a few, either.
But the unbelieving Jews worked up a whispering campaign against Paul and Barnabas, sowing mistrust and suspicion in the minds of the people in the street.
The two apostles were there a long time, speaking freely, openly, and confidently as they presented the clear evidence of God's gifts, God corroborating their work with miracles and wonders.
But then there was a split in public opinion, some siding with the Jews, some with the apostles.
One day, learning that both the Jews and non-Jews had been organized by their leaders to beat them up,
they escaped as best they could to the next towns - Lyconia, Lystra, Derbe, and that neighborhood -
but then were right back at it again, getting out the Message. Gods or Men?
There was a man in Lystra who couldn't walk. He sat there, crippled since the day of his birth.
He heard Paul talking, and Paul, looking him in the eye, saw that he was ripe for God's work, ready to believe.
So he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "Up on your feet!" The man was up in a flash - jumped up and walked around as if he'd been walking all his life.
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they went wild, calling out in their Lyconian dialect, "The gods have come down! These men are gods!"
They called Barnabas "Zeus" and Paul "Hermes" (since Paul did most of the speaking).
The priest of the local Zeus shrine got up a parade - bulls and banners and people lined right up to the gates, ready for the ritual of sacrifice.
When Barnabas and Paul finally realized what was going on, they stopped them. Waving their arms, they interrupted the parade, calling out,
"What do you think you're doing! We're not gods! We are men just like you, and we're here to bring you the Message, to persuade you to abandon these silly god-superstitions and embrace God himself, the living God. We don't make God; he makes us, and all of this - sky, earth, sea, and everything in them.
"In the generations before us, God let all the different nations go their own way.
But even then he didn't leave them without a clue, for he made a good creation, poured down rain and gave bumper crops. When your bellies were full and your hearts happy, there was evidence of good beyond your doing."
Talking fast and hard like this, they prevented them from carrying out the sacrifice that would have honored them as gods - but just barely.
Then some Jews from Antioch and Iconium caught up with them and turned the fickle crowd against them. They beat Paul unconscious, dragged him outside the town and left him for dead.
But as the disciples gathered around him, he came to and got up. He went back into town and the next day left with Barnabas for Derbe.
After proclaiming the Message in Derbe and establishing a strong core of disciples, they retraced their steps to Lystra, then Iconium, and then Antioch,
putting muscle and sinew in the lives of the disciples, urging them to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn't be easy: "Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times."
Paul and Barnabas handpicked leaders in each church. After praying - their prayers intensified by fasting - they presented these new leaders to the Master to whom they had entrusted their lives.
Working their way back through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia
and preached in Perga. Finally, they made it to Attalia
and caught a ship back to Antioch, where it had all started - launched by God's grace and now safely home by God's grace. A good piece of work.
On arrival, they got the church together and reported on their trip, telling in detail how God had used them to throw the door of faith wide open so people of all nations could come streaming in.
Then they settled down for a long, leisurely visit with the disciples.
It wasn't long before some Jews showed up from Judea insisting that everyone be circumcised: "If you're not circumcised in the Mosaic fashion, you can't be saved."
Paul and Barnabas were up on their feet at once in fierce protest. The church decided to resolve the matter by sending Paul, Barnabas, and a few others to put it before the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem.
After they were sent off and on their way, they told everyone they met as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria about the breakthrough to the Gentile outsiders. Everyone who heard the news cheered - it was terrific news!
When they got to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were graciously received by the whole church, including the apostles and leaders. They reported on their recent journey and how God had used them to open things up to the outsiders.
Some Pharisees stood up to say their piece. They had become believers, but continued to hold to the hard party line of the Pharisees. "You have to circumcise the pagan converts," they said. "You must make them keep the Law of Moses."
The apostles and leaders called a special meeting to consider the matter.
The arguments went on and on, back and forth, getting more and more heated. Then Peter took the floor: "Friends, you well know that from early on God made it quite plain that he wanted the pagans to hear the Message of this good news and embrace it - and not in any secondhand or roundabout way, but firsthand, straight from my mouth.
And God, who can't be fooled by any pretense on our part but always knows a person's thoughts, gave them the Holy Spirit exactly as he gave him to us.
He treated the outsiders exactly as he treated us, beginning at the very center of who they were and working from that center outward, cleaning up their lives as they trusted and believed him.
"So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors and crushed us, too?
Don't we believe that we are saved because the Master Jesus amazingly and out of sheer generosity moved to save us just as he did those from beyond our nation? So what are we arguing about?"
There was dead silence. No one said a word. With the room quiet, Barnabas and Paul reported matter-of-factly on the miracles and wonders God had done among the other nations through their ministry.
The silence deepened; you could hear a pin drop.
Simeon has told us the story of how God at the very outset made sure that racial outsiders were included.
This is in perfect agreement with the words of the prophets:
After this, I'm coming back; I'll rebuild David's ruined house; I'll put all the pieces together again; I'll make it look like new
So outsiders who seek will find, so they'll have a place to come to, All the pagan peoples included in what I'm doing.
It's no afterthought; he's always known he would do this.
"So here is my decision: We're not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.
We'll write them a letter and tell them, 'Be careful to not get involved in activities connected with idols, to guard the morality of sex and marriage, to not serve food offensive to Jewish Christians - blood, for instance.'
This is basic wisdom from Moses, preached and honored for centuries now in city after city as we have met and kept the Sabbath."
Everyone agreed: apostles, leaders, all the people. They picked Judas (nicknamed Barsabbas) and Silas - they both carried considerable weight in the church - and sent them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas
with this letter: From the apostles and leaders, your friends, to our friends in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Hello!
We heard that some men from our church went to you and said things that confused and upset you. Mind you, they had no authority from us; we didn't send them.
We have agreed unanimously to pick representatives and send them to you with our good friends Barnabas and Paul.
We picked men we knew you could trust, Judas and Silas - they've looked death in the face time and again for the sake of our Master Jesus Christ.
We've sent them to confirm in a face-to-face meeting with you what we've written.
It seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that you should not be saddled with any crushing burden, but be responsible only for these bare necessities:
Be careful not to get involved in activities connected with idols; avoid serving food offensive to Jewish Christians (blood, for instance); and guard the morality of sex and marriage. These guidelines are sufficient to keep relations congenial between us. And God be with you! Barnabas and Paul Go Their Separate Ways
And so off they went to Antioch. On arrival, they gathered the church and read the letter.
The people were greatly relieved and pleased.
Judas and Silas, good preachers both of them, strengthened their new friends with many words of courage and hope.
Then it was time to go home. They were sent off by their new friends with laughter and embraces all around to report back to those who had sent them.
Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of God. But they weren't alone. There were a number of teachers and preachers at that time in Antioch.
After a few days of this, Paul said to Barnabas, "Let's go back and visit all our friends in each of the towns where we preached the Word of God. Let's see how they're doing."
Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark.
But Paul wouldn't have him; he wasn't about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia.
Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways: Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus;
Paul chose Silas and, offered up by their friends to the grace of the Master,
went to Syria and Cilicia to build up muscle and sinew in those congregations.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)