The Holy Spirit, a Bible, a Passport, and a First-Aid Kit, Part 1


The Holy Spirit, a Bible, a Passport, and a First-Aid Kit, Part 1

Acts 13:4-52

Main Idea: In these initial stops on the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Paul, we find several important applications for Word-driven, Spirit-empowered missionaries.

  1. Stop 1: Paul and Barnabas in Cyprus (13:4-12)
    1. Some people will be open to God’s Word (13:4-7).
    2. Some people will oppose God’s Word (13:8-11).
    3. Some people will embrace God’s Word (13:12).
  2. Stop 2: Paul and Barnabas in Perga (13:13-14a)
    1. Be ready for relational conflicts within your ministry team (13:13).
    2. Be ready for physical challenges as you make the gospel known (13:14a).
  3. Stop 3: Paul and Barnabas in Pisidian Antioch: Proclamation Suitable for Their Audience (13:14b-52)
    1. Introduction: Preparation for the coming of Christ (13:16-25)
    2. Proclamation: The death and resurrection of Christ (13:26-37)
    3. Application: The promise of forgiveness and justification for all who trust in Christ (13:38-41)
    4. A mixed reaction (13:42-52)

Someone once advised, “When traveling, you should lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half your clothes and twice the money!” That sounds pretty wise because traveling usually costs more than anticipated—and not just in terms of dollars spent. Murphy’s Law often holds true on the road: Nothing is as easy as it looks; everything takes longer than you think; and if anything can go wrong, it will! (Especially if you’re traveling with five kids in a minivan!)

In Acts 13–14 we will journey with Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey and will consider several important applications for Word-driven, Spirit-empowered missionaries. Though their journey involved numerous tribulations, many gospel victories were won because of the faithfulness of Barnabas and Paul. The passage teaches an important missions law: “We won’t reach the nations apart from personal sacrifice” (Azurdia, “Progression by Intention, Part 2”).

Previously, we considered the significance of the Antioch church’s sending of missionaries. We noted five significant characteristics of this world-changing church: (1) effective evangelism (11:19-21); (2) dynamic discipleship (11:22-26); (3) mercy ministry (11:27-30; 12:25); (4) multicultural membership/leadership (13:1); and (5) Spirit-directed, church-sent/supported missionaries (13:2-3). Now in Acts 13–14 we see the two commissioned missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, going out to make disciples in several unreached places.

The intentional sending out of missionaries to overseas locations was unique to the church in Antioch. So far in Acts the gospel has advanced outside of Jerusalem mainly because of persecution and a few special cases of divine intervention—as when Peter was called to visit Cornelius and Philip encountered the Ethiopian. In other words, to this point people have been forced out of Jerusalem and taken up missions efforts as a result. As Christians were scattered, they carried the gospel with them and by God’s grace made many new disciples. But in this particular passage we witness a planned attempt to take the gospel to the world. Here the missionaries are intentionally sent out, which is evidence of the church’s beginning to grasp a bit of God’s heart to make the gospel known to the ends of the earth (1:8).

While these missionary journeys throughout Acts have particular relevance for international missionaries, people who cross the street to bear witness to Jesus can also find much instruction and inspiration in these moving narratives.

Here we will look at the stops Paul and Barnabas made in Cyprus, Perga, and Pisidian Antioch.

Stop 1: Paul and Barnabas in Cyprus

Acts 13:4-12

Before telling us where the missionaries travel, Luke reminds us that these two men were “sent out by the Holy Spirit” (v. 4; cf. v. 2). We must recognize the absolute necessity of living by the Spirit when living out Jesus’s mission (1:8).

From Seleucia, the port for Antioch, Paul and Barnabas sailed west to the island of Cyprus, stopping first at the eastern port of the island, Salamis (13:4-5). Barnabas was a native of Cyprus (4:36), and the Hellenists had already begun some work there (11:19). Also, there were other Christians from Cyprus who belonged to the Antioch church (11:20).

The missionary team employed a strategy that would characterize Paul’s evangelism efforts elsewhere: they started by proclaiming the Word in the local Jewish synagogues (v. 5). Pragmatically, this made sense because the Jews believed the Scriptures, though they failed to see Christ as the fulfillment of them. Nevertheless, the motivation for starting in the synagogues may have been driven more by this conviction: God’s promise to Israel’s patriarchs demanded that the gospel be preached to the Jew first and then to the Greek (see Rom 1:16; 2:9-10; Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, 157).

As Paul and Barnabas labor, they work the ninety-mile width of the island until they arrive in Paphos. The missionaries there encounter “a sorcerer, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (v. 6), and a Gentile, Sergius Paulus (v. 7). The latter was the proconsul, the Roman governor of Cyprus, and “an intelligent man” (v. 7). Here we learn three important truths for Word-driven, Spirit-empowered missionaries.

Some People Will Be Open to God’s Word (13:4-7)

Sergius Paulus “summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God” (11:7). He was hungry for more than the idolatry of his day and the counsel of his personal prophet, Bar-Jesus (“Son of the Savior”). While Bar-Jesus may have promised to know the way of salvation, Paul’s message was radically different from anything he taught. And Paul’s teaching apparently attracted Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man of high standing.

When we engage neighborhoods and nations with the gospel, we should expect that some people will be open to our message. We may find an audience with “the least of these,” those who are poor, uneducated, and marginalized or with “the greatest of these,” those who are powerful, wealthy, and influential. In this case the missionaries found an audience with an influential leader. Their experience reminds us that you never know to whom the Lord will direct you—who will listen to the gospel. Understand that these apostles were nobodies compared to the Roman proconsul, yet here they find themselves in front of him, speaking the good news to his heart. Paul told the Corinthians that the conversion of the powerful was rare (1 Cor 1:26), but here in Paphos a powerful man found himself attracted to the Word.

Some People Will Oppose God’s Word (13:8-11)

The opponent in this passage is Bar-Jesus, also known as Elymas, meaning “sorcerer” (v. 8). Romans placed value on omens and divination. They also thought the Jews had inside information on spiritual matters, a fact helping to establish Bar-Jesus as a popular sage. He, however, was a false prophet in touch with dark powers. He was not a “magician” (v. 6 ESV) who pulls rabbits out of hats but a superstitious occult leader.

Bar-Jesus proved to be a false prophet opposing the Word of God that Paul and Barnabas taught. Bar-Jesus tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith, seeing the missionaries as a threat to his prestige and livelihood (Stott,Message of Acts, 219).

Two reasons people oppose the gospel are pride and materialism. Many people arrogantly refuse to admit they’re wrong. They refuse to humbly repent and say the gospel is true and salvation is in Christ alone. And many others refuse to give up their materialistic lifestyles to follow the path of discipleship. The gospel confronts idols. And when collisions happen, heated opposition sometimes ensues.

In verse 9 Luke alerts us to the shift of Saul’s name to Paul. Paul was probably his Roman name, and since his missionary ventures would be in Greco-Roman territory, it makes sense for him to be addressed primarily as Paul from this point forward. Further, from here on he will be mentioned first or alone, indicating that he became the team leader (13:13,42,46,50; 14:1,3).

The confrontation between the missionaries and Bar-Jesus was intense (vv. 9-11). Perhaps you think Paul’s resulting curse on the man isn’t very nice. Know that the fate of Sergius Paulus’s soul was at stake in this situation, and Paul—out of deep compassion—wanted him to believe. Remember how firmly Jesus spoke about those who hinder children from coming to him? He said it would be better for them to tie millstones around their necks and jump into the sea than to cause someone to stumble away from faith (Matt 18:6). Eternal life is serious business.

Paul is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Bar-Jesus is filled with “deceit and trickery.” Paul is a child of God. Bar-Jesus, far from representing his name, is a “son of the devil” (cf. John 8:44). Paul is telling everyone about the righteous One who makes sinners righteous. Bar-Jesus is an “enemy of all that is right.” Paul is announcing the way of salvation (cf. Luke 3:4). Bar-Jesus is “perverting” the way of salvation. Instead of advocating real conversion, Bar-Jesus advocates spiritual perversion.

As a consequence, the Lord judges Bar-Jesus. He strikes him blind, perhaps representing his spiritual blindness (John 3:19-20; 9:39). This move was particularly fitting since the man was a proponent of darkness (Isa 5:20). His judgment was a foretaste of what will happen to all who fail to bow the knee to Jesus: they will be thrown into utter darkness (Matt 8:12; 25:30).

Consider three personal exhortations tied to this encounter between Paul and Bar-Jesus.

View opposition from a Christian perspective. Expect spiritual warfare when doing gospel ministry. Christians today will be opposed not only by Islamic terrorists but also by secularists in the media, professors at the universities, and by those who like to argue. Opposition, as we have seen, is inevitable.

A joy, however, comes from standing firm in the face of opposition (v. 52), a sweetness of joy we will experience only as we encounter opposition for living faithfully to Jesus (cf. 5:41).

In adversity we have the opportunity to advertise the power of the gospel. When some people see Christians standing firm in the face of demonic opposition, it affects them! We show the world the worth of Christ when we follow Jesus in the face of conflict.

You’re not alone when you face opposition for making the gospel known! The Lord of heaven and earth is with you and for you (Matt 28:16-20).

It’s important you don’t assume you’re in the wrong place when you face opposition. In fact, it may indicate that you’re exactly where you should be! In this case the Spirit led the missionaries into a war zone, much like the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1). This passage, like others in Acts, helps us understand opposition.

Speak boldly. I don’t suggest we go around talking to our opponents exactly as Paul addresses Bar-Jesus, but we should seek to boldly tell people the whole gospel, which includes sharing what the terrifying consequences will be should they refuse to bow the knee to Christ. Sharing this truth is an act of love! Notice Paul doesn’t say, “Now, Elymas has his perspective, and I have my perspective. Both are acceptable.” No! Paul challenges us to speak boldly in our tolerant, postmodern world.

Trust wholeheartedly in the triumphant power of the Word and Spirit. John Polhill reminds us, “Christianity has nothing to do with the magic and superstition of this world; its power, the power of the Word and Spirit, overcomes them all” (Acts, 294). The gospel really is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). John Stott says,

[T]he Holy Spirit overthrew the evil one, the apostle confounded the sorcerer, and the gospel triumphed over the occult. (Message of Acts, 220)

Let this story encourage you in your witness! Maintain an unshakable confidence in the gospel. And maintain an unshakable confidence in the Spirit’s power to overcome obstacles and to open people’s hearts to the gospel.

Some People Will Embrace God’s Word (13:12)

Luke concludes by telling us a great report (v. 12). While the darkness of judgment came on Bar-Jesus, the light of salvation burst on the Gentile ruler Sergius Paulus! As in the early chapters of Acts, a miracle provided an occasion to proclaim the gospel, and this prominent Roman official, who had “no religious background in Judaism”(Stott, Message of Acts, 320), became a member of the family of God.

Let this conversion story encourage you as you seek to make the gospel known to unbelievers. Some people will repent and turn to Christ when a bold witness makes the good news clear to them. God is at work in the world, bringing all sorts of people to faith in Christ through the witness of faithful missionaries! Your Sergius Paulus is waiting!

Stop 2: Paul and Barnabas in Perga

Acts 13:13-14a

The missionary squad leaves Cyprus and sails northwest to Perga in Pamphylia, which is present-day Turkey. Perga was twelve miles inland, between the Tarsus Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. The missionaries probably first landed at Attalia and traveled by foot to Perga (Polhill, Acts, 296). It seems they didn’t stay in Perga long, as Luke records only one detail about the stop: “John left them and went back to Jerusalem” (v. 13). Then they continued on to Pisidian Antioch (v. 14). Allow me to point out two brief applications.

Be Ready for Relational Conflicts Within Your Ministry Team (13:13)

Why did John, also known as John Mark, leave the team? Was he scared of the journey across the mountains? Did he miss his mother’s home in Jerusalem? Did he protest the shift of leadership from his cousin Barnabas to Paul (Col 4:10)? Did he contract an illness, like malaria, in the Pamphylian lowlands? Did he disagree with Paul’s zeal for reaching the Gentiles? Was Paul ill, leading Mark to think it foolish to cross the mountains? We know that when Paul arrived in the cities of South Galatia he was suffering from an illness, which apparently affected his eyesight (Gal 4:13-15).

Luke simply says that Mark “left them.” He resurfaces later in the narrative when Barnabas tries to persuade Paul to take Mark on another trip. Luke records Paul’s negative reaction to that suggestion (15:38).

Based on this text, it seems that Mark abandoned the team, and some of the reasons mentioned above don’t really fit into the desertion hypothesis. I doubt that his departure was due to illness or theology. My guess is that it probably had to do with homesickness or fear. Originally, he may have been enamored by the allure of travel, and since he was Barnabas’s cousin, he may have also had connections in Cyprus that made the trip sound appealing. But over time the shine of the trip began to fade—an experience you likely know something about if you’ve ever been on a lengthy mission trip. My first mission trip, for example, was to Australia. During the first few days I couldn’t get over the fact that I was in Australia. Our earliest days of ministry were thrilling. But after five or six days passed, I couldn’t wait to get back on home soil and sleep in my bed. Perhaps Mark was overcome by such feelings.

One thing is absolutely clear: the team was rocked by a relational conflict. We will experience them as well. And while such disputes are unfortunate distractions, it helps to remember that even Paul and Barnabas had them.

Conflict doesn’t have to end in failure. The good news about Mark is that he finished well. After all, he ended up writing the Gospel bearing his name. When Paul writes his last letter, he says, “Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry” (2 Tim 4:11). That mention gives insight into the grace and restoration that had to follow what happened here in verse 13. At this point in Acts, Paul wants nothing more to do with Mark. Later he will want Mark to visit him, commending him as “useful.” So, while you may have conflicts on your team, rest assured that restoration can occur.

Be Ready for Physical Challenges as You Make the Gospel Known (13:14a)

Luke’s brief mention of the team’s trip to Antioch in Pisidia makes no mention of the arduous nature of the trek. Polhill helps us imagine it:

Antioch lay some 100 miles to the north across the Taurus mountain range. The route was barren, often flooded by swollen mountain streams, and notorious for its bandits, which even the Romans had difficulty bringing under control. Antioch itself was in the highlands, some 3,600 feet above sea level. (Acts, 297)

Add to that the likelihood of some physical illness plaguing the group’s leader, and you have one extremely challenging venture.

Ministry isn’t for the faint of heart. Advancing the gospel will cost us. If you ever imagine that pioneer evangelism and church planting are glamorous, just read about some of Paul’s afflictions in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. Then read about the church’s larger history; you will find some of God’s choicest servants like Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, and William Wilberforce suffering from all sorts of health problems. Others, like George Whitefield and David Livingstone, suffered under violent threats.

Paul’s desire to reach the Gentiles reminds us of part of the reason we have so many unreached people in the world: they live in extreme, hard-to-access places—on steep hillsides, in deserts, and out in the middle of nowhere. Many other unreached peoples live in dangerous places, in locations where society is violently hostile to Christianity. But here in Acts 13 we see an example of the type of grace-enabled endurance that must reside in the hearts of gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered, Christ-exalting missionaries.

Stop 3: Paul and Barnabas in Pisidian Antioch:Proclamation Suitable for Their Audience

Acts 13:14b-52

Although it is referred to as “Pisidian Antioch” to distinguish it from other places such as Antioch in Syria, this town was actually in Phrygia, just across the border from Pisidia in the Roman province of Galatia (Polhill, Acts, 297). In Paul’s sermon in this section, he strikes a major theme in his letter to the Galatians—namely, justification by faith alone (vv. 38-39). Many Jews also resided in this city, so he follows his typical approach of beginning his evangelistic efforts in the synagogue. Pisidian Antioch was an influential political and economic region. Paul’s approach to fulfilling the gospel mission involved evangelizing important cities like this one.

Perhaps word spread that Paul had been taught under the great rabbi Gamaliel, leading to his invitation to give the exposition for the day (vv. 14-15). Paul has been preaching already, but here Luke records one of Paul’s sermons—to a Jewish audience. This sermon has a lot in common with Peter’s Pentecost sermon, especially in the way it shows Jesus as the promised Messiah and in that both cite Psalm 16. It also bears similarity to Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, although Stephen emphasized Israel’s rebellion while Paul emphasizes God’s grace to Israel.

From this sermon we learn to proclaim Christ in a way that is suitable for a particular audience. To be sure, Paul always proclaimed Christ in evangelism. He never changed the fixed gospel. But Paul was flexible in approach. His sermon to this primarily Jewish crowd differs from his evangelism efforts to pagans. We will see this much more in 14:15-17 and 17:16-34. In addition, Paul’s sermon to a group of pastors also bears a distinct flavor (20:17-35). And his speeches before Felix and Agrippa (24; 26) were also situational. The way Paul addresses the Jews in a synagogue in Acts 13 makes sense. They were familiar with David, the law, and the Old Testament story.

At issue here is the same challenge every missionary has today, whether speaking to large crowds or to individuals, to locals in their hometowns or to those who live among unreached peoples. They don’t try to evangelize a sixty-year-old grandma who spent some time in American Sunday school the same way they speak to a Chinese college student who has absolutely no clue about what is in the Bible. Similarly, your Muslim neighbor has a different worldview from the teenager that goes to the private Catholic school. This will require you to share the fixed gospel with flexible communication if you intend to reach them effectively.

Evangelizing people with this kind of sensitivity is the task of contextualization, making the gospel known in a way appropriate for the context. Steve Timmis says,

In every situation, there needs to be a point of contact with the people (understand their values, history, communication style) and a point of conflict that reveals how their own narrative conflicts with that of the Gospel. (“How to Plant a Church”)

This requires both faithfulness to the gospel and an effectiveness and awareness in communication. Here in Acts 13 it’s a Jewish setting, so Paul exalts Jesus from the Old Testament. He uses his audience’s existing grasp of Scripture to show them that Jesus is the hero of their Bible.

Rabbinic sources show that the synagogue service was typically opened by a reading of the Law of Moses and one of a related text from the Prophets, a recitation of the Shema (Deut 6:4-5), and the praying of prescribed prayers (Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, 161). An exposition then followed, sometimes given by a visiting rabbi (cf. Luke 4:16-30). This word of encouragement or exhortation (v. 15; Heb 13:22) was a sermon based on the readings for the day and the application of the texts to the people. It was basically what we call expositional preaching (cf. 1 Tim 4:13).

Paul’s Christ-exalting sermon contains three parts. It received a mixed reaction.

Introduction: Preparation for the Coming of Christ (13:16-25)

Paul begins by emphasizing God’s grace to Israel as he briefly summarizes Israel’s history. God is the subject of nearly every verb he chooses (Stott, Message of Acts, 223). John Piper notes, “This text [vv. 17-30] is utterly saturated with God. Sixteen times Paul presses home the truth that God is the central Actor in history” (“History Is God’s Story”). Indeed, this sermon is Scripture saturated, God centered, and Christ exalting. Notice the initiating work of God. God “led them out . . . put up with them . . . gave them their land . . . gave them judges . . . gave them Saul . . . [and] raised up David.” None of their history is random because God doesn’t do random. He is accomplishing his purposes in history.

After mentioning David the king, Paul then jumps to Jesus, the promised Messiah and descendent of David (v. 23), showing the continuity of the Bible and setting his emphasis on Jesus as the risen and reigning King. He then mentions the King of king’s forerunner, John the Baptist (vv. 24-25).

With this brief sketch of history leading up to the coming of Christ, Paul, like John the Baptist, exalts Jesus with great boldness. And like John the Baptist, he tells his audience that Jesus is the climax of biblical history. It culminates in the arrival of David’s greater Son, Jesus—God’s promised Messiah and the world’s Savior.

Proclamation: The Death and Resurrection of Christ (13:26-37)

Paul’s focus is to herald “the word of this salvation” (v. 26), or “the good news” (v. 32), which centers on the person and work of Jesus.

Paul says that Jesus’s identity has been confirmed by his resurrection victory(Ferguson, “Acts 13:13-57”). The residents of Jerusalem and their rulers “did not recognize him,” and even though they found no guilt in him, they condemned him (vv. 27-28). The people actually thought Jesus was the opposite of who he really was, so they had him executed. Further, the fact that Jesus was crucified was proof to his opponents that he was an imposter since the Scriptures teach that God sets a curse on any who hang on a tree (v. 29; Deut 21:23-23). But Paul tells his audience that such a view of Jesus is a man-centered judgment. In raising Jesus from the dead, God confirmed Jesus’s identity as the Messiah (v. 30). Resurrection is verification. The resurrection proved that Jesus’s work on the cross was sufficient. And God’s raising of Jesus proved Jesus’s words true. Paul adds that many still-living eyewitnesses can testify to Jesus’s bodily resurrection (v. 31).

Paul adds that Jesus fulfills biblical prophecy. God fulfilled his plan through the hands of those who had no desire to see Jesus as the Messiah (vv. 27,29). Jesus didn’t self-engineer the fulfillment of prophecy. It was carried out through the evil deeds of others. Contrary to the executors’ own purposes, they fulfilled God’s purposes.

Paul goes on to cite several texts (Pss 2:7; 16:10; Isa 55:3), showing that in these specific ways prophecies about Jesus have been fulfilled. For instance, Jesus, the Holy One and universal King, did not see decay—unlike David (vv. 36-37).

This sermon highlights Paul’s own words in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11: we must preach the things that are “most important.” We must keep the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus—as recorded in the Scriptures—the main message of our ministries. Christ is the hero of the Bible, and he must remain the hero of our teaching and preaching.

Application: The Promise of Forgiveness and Justification for All Who Trust in Christ (13:38-41)

Paul shifts to application at this point, as indicated by the transitional word “therefore.” What do Christ’s death and resurrection mean for them (and us)?

In effect Paul says, “Here’s the good news of the gospel: You can have the forgiveness of sins through Christ! You can be justified—that is, declared righteous in God’s sight through Jesus. We, who can’t be perfectly obedient to God, can be counted righteous through placing faith in Jesus. We can’t earn righteousness; we must receive it. We can receive justification—meaning not only ‘just as if I never sinned,’ but also ‘just as if I always obeyed’—when we trust Christ alone.”

People will try everything to get rid of the guilt they feel, to deal with their unsettled consciences. They try therapy, exercise, diets, medicine, and countless other remedies. And while these things can treat some of the symptoms of underlying issues, they won’t ultimately heal a person of his or her real problems. Some religious types even try to deal with guilt by religious performance, but that only leads to pride or despair. Other religious types practice self-mutilation, physically whipping themselves in a hopeless attempt to make atonement for their sin. Some even try to dismiss their guilt by saying, “I won’t worry about it. That way it will go away.” But that doesn’t work either.

God has provided only one solution for the problem of guilt: we must trust in Christ alone. We must trust in the One who bore our curse on the cross, setting us free from condemnation. Jesus says to repentant sinners, “You are forgiven. You are free from condemnation” (cf. Rom 8:1). Each person, then, must come to Jesus and be “justified” from everything from which they could not be freed by following the law of Moses (13:39; cf. Gal 3:10-14). Everyone can exchange condemnation for justification and the experience of peace, learning to sing wholeheartedly, “It [really] is well with my soul!”

How do people receive this forgiveness? It is through faith in Christ. Paul says, “Everyone who believes is justified through him” (v. 39, a theme he unpacks in Galatians in particular; e.g., Gal 2:16). So rest the weight of your sin, guilt, and restless conscience on him. Rest in the grace of Jesus. Stop trusting in anything else. Think you have done too much to be forgiven? Think again. Even those who put Jesus to death were not beyond the reach of God’s saving grace (Acts 3:15,19; 1 Tim 1:13).

Paul adds a warning for all who would scoff at and reject the gospel, quoting Habakkuk 1:5. He says, in effect, “Don’t set this matter aside. This is a matter of eternal life or eternal judgment!” He warns against the hardness of heart that keeps people from believing the message. He warns against the cynic who scoffs at the truth. Often people assume that it’s because of some lofty intellectual argument that people make fun of the message of salvation. But accepting or rejecting what Jesus accomplished at Calvary is not about one’s intelligence; it’s about one’s heart. Previously in Acts an intelligent man, Sergius Paulus, became a Christian. But here many in this crowd refuse Paul’s message because of nothing more than hard-heartedness.

A Mixed Reaction (13:42-52)

One group wanted to hear more on the following Sabbath (vv. 42,45). Others “followed Paul and Barnabas,” not just physically but spiritually (v. 43). The missionaries urged these new disciples to “continue in the grace of God” (cf. 11:23; 14:22), meaning that just as they entered the faith by grace, they must persevere in the faith while relying on God’s grace—a needed warning in light of rising persecution in the town.

“Almost the whole town assembled” to hear that forgiveness is available for anyone who will simply trust in Christ—a message just as applicable to Gentiles attracted to Jewish monotheism as to those immersed in paganism. Upon seeing the crowds gather to hear the missionaries on the Sabbath, however, the Jews were filled with “jealousy” and “began to contradict what Paul was saying, insulting him” (13:45; cf. 5:17; 17:5). Sadly, the people who knew the Bible best became the most hostile. And when they didn’t have an argument, they attacked the messenger.

Paul and Barnabas answer their opponents by telling them it was by divine necessity that they preached to the Jew first, just as they will do in other cities (14:1; 17:2; Rom 1:16), being mindful of God’s promise to the patriarchs. But the Jewish community in Pisidian Antioch in general rejected the Word, so Paul and Barnabas declared, “We are turning to the Gentiles” (13:46). Thus, they fulfilled the calling that was given to Israel through the prophet Isaiah: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles to bring salvation to the end of the earth” (v. 47; Isa 49:6).

This announcement causes the Gentiles to rejoice, worship, and believe (v. 48). Israel rejects its Messiah, but God still has his chosen ones, who will feast at his banquet (Luke 14:21-24). The book of Acts is filled with expressions of God’s sovereign plan at work in the salvation of sinners (2:23,39,47; 3:16,18; 4:27-28; 5:14,31; 11:18,24; 15:8-9; 16:14; 18:27).

The Word then spread beyond the city into the region (v. 49). Its success reminds me of some basil we planted last year. It just grew like crazy. Perhaps you’ve seen some vegetables in your garden take off in a similar way. That’s the picture I get when reading this passage.

Sometimes missionaries endure persecution; sometimes they move on as a result of it. On this occasion, they leave town, shaking the dust off of their feet as a sign of God’s indictment against the place (cf. Luke 9:5; Acts 18:6). But they leave “filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” and head east to Iconium (v. 52), remaining on mission. Once again, we see the connection between suffering for the sake of the gospel and Christian joy. That’s a joy many haven’t tasted because they haven’t suffered for the Name (cf. 5:41).

Some were intrigued by the message the missionaries shared. Some were enraged by it. Some believed it completely. And the messengers were filled with joy. We should expect to encounter similarly mixed results when we make the gospel known.


Perhaps you are familiar with the Bible but have never trusted in Jesus (John 5:39). Recognize that these Jews knew the Bible also, but they remained unconverted. You need to know more than a few hundred Bible verses to have the assurance of spending eternity in heaven. You must come to faith in the living Savior.

Perhaps you are a genuine Christian. Can you explain the gospel from the Bible? Be ready to explain the good news to people because you never know who may be open to embracing the message.

And perhaps you’re zealous to share the good news—but are you ready for opposition? It’s inevitable, but along with persevering in spite of it comes a deep joy that comes from obedience to Jesus. So go in the power of the Holy Spirit, telling the nations how to find forgiveness through Christ—even though it will cost you. Grab your Bible, your passport, and your first-aid kit and make the light of the gospel known in this dark world.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. What can we learn from the church in Antioch about making the gospel known to the world?
  2. Why should Paul’s ministry to Sergius Paulus encourage us in our witness?
  3. What does this chapter teach about opposition?
  4. How does this chapter highlight the overcoming power of the gospel and the Spirit?
  5. Why do you think John Mark went back to Jerusalem? What does this relational conflict teach about ministry teams?
  6. What does this first missionary journey teach about the physical challenges of making the gospel known among the nations?
  7. Explain how Paul was faithful and flexible in evangelism.
  8. What do we need to know in order to present the gospel to different types of people?
  9. What about Paul’s sermon in Pisidian Antioch most resonates with you?
  10. What do you learn from the people’s reaction to Paul’s sermon in Pisidian Antioch?