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22. Mission Accomplished (Acts 14:1-28)

Introduction

On my first trip to India, I was stranded in my hotel room in Bombay for several hours waiting for a phone call so that I would know where to meet with other Christians. One of the scenes which helped to occupy my time was that which was taking place far below in the parking lot. An Indian “carpenter” was building some shelves. It took virtually the whole day to build some very simple shelves. The quality of the finished product was not that good, something visible even from the distance. I was frustrated to see how long it took this man to build a finished product of limited beauty and quality. One good reason for this man’s limitations was immediately evident to me—his tools.

This man had two tools. He had a short hand saw, with a blade about 18 inches long. His other tool was a hammer. Besides the nails in his pocket, this was his entire tool collection. It was a scene which I saw repeated many times over in India—people who could do very little because they had no tools with which to work. For a man like myself—with a garage full of tools—it was distressing to watch. How hard it would be for me to work with such limitations.

I think there is a very valid principle underlying my observations in India which might be summarized in these words: ONE’S ABILITY TO DO A TASK WELL IS DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE NUMBER OF TOOLS AVAILABLE TO DO THE JOB.

Have you ever noticed how many tools a doctor or a dentist have at their disposal? The reason the doctor sends us to the hospital is because there are even more tools there.

It is my understanding and conviction that God has an infinite number of “tools” at His disposal, so that He is able to accomplish His will in a variety of ways and to achieve the exact result He desires. And yet many Christians resist this, perhaps without even knowing it. Some Christians, for example, insist that God no longer employs miracles, insisting that the signs and wonders of the Bible (Old Testament and New) are banned in this age. I think that for such people, their God is too small (to borrow from the wording of J. B. Phillips). On the other hand, there are some people who seem to think that miraculous intervention is God’s only tool, and thus they expect (and even demand) that miracles be a part of their constant experience. To such people I must also say, your God is too small.

The Book of Acts is, among other things, a dramatic description of the infinite array of tools at God’s disposal, which He sovereignly employs to achieve His predetermined ends. In our lesson, we will see some of the tools God employs in order to achieve His purpose of saving the Gentiles. The Old Testament promised it. God called and commanded Israel to do it (which they refused to do—like Jonah of old). Jesus spoke of it (cf. Luke 4:16-30), and in His final words, He commanded it (Matthew 28:18-20) and promised that it would happen (Acts 1:8). And yet it is not until the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, described by Luke in Acts 13 and 14, that we see an organized effort to save the Gentiles, with multitudes of Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus as Messiah as a result.

Because we must understand the first missionary journey as a whole, we will begin by reviewing the first events of the journey as described in chapter 13, and then we will focus on the conclusion of this mission as described in chapter 14. There is much to be gained by comparing the beginning of this mission with its conclusion.

A Review of Chapter 13

In verses 1-3, Luke reports the divine intervention of God into the affairs of the church at Antioch, instructing this body of believers to send forth Barnabas and Saul to the work to which they were called. This command probably came as an inspired utterance spoken by one or more of the prophets in the church. Thus, after being bathed in prayer and the commissioning of the church, they went forth.

Verses 4-12 describe the first “leg” of their journey—ministry on the island of Cyprus (where Barnabas had been born, Acts 4:36). Their approach was to visit those cities where Jews and synagogues were found and to preach Jesus as the promised Messiah on each occasion (cf. 13:5). Luke chose to select and record one incident in this Cyprian Campaign, the conversion of Sergius Paulus, the proconsul. The emphasis of this account falls not on the proconsul as much as on the Jewish false prophet, Elymas (or Bar-Jesus). It was not so much “in spite of” this Jew’s resistance as it was “because of” it that the proconsul came to faith (cf. 13:12). The salvation of Sergius Paulus, resulting from the blinding of Elymas, serves as a prototype of the Gentile evangelism which will follow—because of Jewish resistance, Gentiles will come to faith.

The remainder of chapter 13 (13:13-52) is taken up by Luke’s account of the evangelization of Pisidian Antioch, where Paul and Barnabas preached after leaving Cyprus. They first passed through Perga, where Mark deserted them (13:13) but where evangelization was delayed until the return visit of Paul and Barnabas (cf. 14:25). At Pisidian Antioch, the gospel was proclaimed by Paul, focused toward those who were Jews or Jewish proselytes (cf. 13:16, 26). Paul called upon his audience to accept Jesus as God’s anointed King, the Messiah, and by so doing to reject and renounce the actions taken by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, who rejected Jesus and orchestrated His death. He also warned them about rejecting this gospel, as the Old Testament prophets had foretold.

A number of those who heard were convinced and converted. These and other interested folks wanted to hear more on the following Sabbath. But when, on that next Sabbath, a throng of Gentiles arrived, eager to hear the gospel, the unbelieving Jews became jealous and began to oppose Paul and Barnabas and to blaspheme. The response of Paul and Barnabas seems to indicate a major turning point. They find, from the text of Isaiah 49:6, a command to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and from their experience, a resistance to this by their Jewish opponents. Therefore they decide to change the focus of their ministry toward the Gentiles,294 which brought about the salvation and rejoicing of the Gentiles, and further, more intense, opposition from their Jewish opponents (13:48-52). Shaking the dust off their feet, they left Pisidian Antioch for ministry in other places, leaving behind a congregation of joyful saints, who were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit (13:52). Paul and Barnabas will see their opponents from this city before they return to visit the saints (14:19).

The Ministry of
Paul and Barnabas at Iconium
(14:1-7)

And it came about that in Iconium295 they entered the synagogue of the Jews together,296 and spoke in such a manner that a great multitude believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren. 3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace,297 granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.298 4 But the multitude of the city was divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.299 5 And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe,300 and the surrounding region; 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.

Arriving at Iconium, Paul and Barnabas resumed their usual approach to evangelizing cities where a number of Jews (and a synagogue) were to be found. They both spoke the gospel with power, so that a large number were converted, including Jews and (God-fearing) Greeks. There were those who heard who did not believe and who actively began to oppose the ministry of these two apostles. They opposed the gospel by stirring up resentment toward the saints on the part of unbelieving Gentiles, perhaps those of prominence and position (14:2l; cf. 13:50).

Verse 3 seems out of place.301 Luke tells us that as a result, the apostles stayed on—a long time, no less, preaching the gospel with boldness and with the confirming witness of the Lord, through signs and wonders. Normally in the gospels and in Acts, we are accustomed to the departure of those bearing witness to the gospel when the opposition is aroused. Why, here, does Luke tell us that the two men, Paul and Barnabas, stayed on, for a long time, continuing to proclaim the gospel?

Actually, the solution to this problem is not all that difficult. The Jewish opposition stirred up the souls of the Gentiles against the saints, not against the apostles. It was the new believers who were “taking the heat” of the opposition at first and not the two apostles. If there was ever a time for teaching and encouragement in the church, it was when it was facing hostility and opposition. Furthermore, the extent of the opposition, thus far, was only resentment and bitterness, not outward acts of violence. When the opposition was aroused to the point of plotting to stone Paul and Barnabas, they did leave town, but only then.

Paul and Barnabas were not only preaching with boldness, they were, by God’s enablement, performing “signs and wonders,” attesting miracles (14:3). These signs and wonders may not have convinced and converted men,302 but they did cause the opponents of the gospel to fear and respect Paul and Barnabas. The opponents of the gospel were not eager to take on men who could perform signs and wonders. (This seems to be the reason why the apostles were able to stay on in Jerusalem when the rest fled, Acts 8:1).

The result of powerful preaching and resulting conversions, as well as strong resistance and opposition, was a divided city. Some sided with the apostles, while others joined the ranks of those who opposed them (14:4). In time this opposition intensified, from mere bitterness and resentment to a violent intention to kill the two apostles. When word of the plot to stone Paul and Barnabas reached the two, they departed—better yet, they fled—moving on to the cities of Lystra and Derbe, as well as their suburbs (14:6). Leaving town did not silence these two, however, for they kept right on preaching the gospel.

The Lame Man of Lystra
(14:8-20)

8 And at Lystra303 there was sitting a certain man, without strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze upon him, and had seen that he had faith to be made well, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk. 11 And when the multitudes saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes,304 because he was the chief speaker.305 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order 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. 16 “And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and 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.”306 18 And even saying these things, they with difficulty restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them. 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium,307 and having won over the multitudes, they stoned308 Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 But while the disciples stood around him, he arose and entered the city. And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.

We are not told that Paul and Barnabas went to a synagogue in Lystra and preached there, as was their custom. This may mean that there was no synagogue, but it may simply be that Luke has chosen to focus on this healing, and on the ministry to Gentiles—pure pagans—as opposed to Gentile God-fearers, who would be found at the synagogue. It would seem that Paul and Barnabas were engaged in “street preaching” here, which they may have also done from city to city, especially if they were not welcomed in the synagogue.

A lame man was sitting nearby, who heard the preaching of Paul and whose face must have manifested not only keen interest but faith, a faith sufficient to both save and heal him.309 Paul, knowing that he had the power of the Spirit to heal the man, and that the man had the faith to be healed, commanded the man to stand up and walk, much as Jesus and Peter had done before.310 The man leaped up and began to walk. If this man was like his predecessors, he probably went leaping about, following after Paul and Barnabas and testifying to what had happened through their hands.

The response of this pagan crowd was indeed enthusiastic, but it took some time for Barnabas and Saul311 to recognize exactly what was happening. It took even more time and effort to convince the multitude to cease what they were doing. Paul and Barnabas were truly in heathen territory. Paul was probably preaching in the Greek language, which was not the native tongue of these Lycaonians (v. 11), but it was a language which they would have used commercially. In their excitement, the crowds of Lystra reverted to their native tongue, a language which neither Paul nor Barnabas seem to have understood.

You can imagine the puzzled looks on the faces of these two men, as they heard the excited speech of the people and as they saw that preparations were being made for some kind of ceremony. They did not, however, know what the nature of this ceremony was. Did they ask questions of the crowd, in Greek, to determine what was happening? Probably so, although we are not told. Somehow, they discovered that the were about to be worshipped as an incarnation of the “gods,” Zeus (the principal god) and Hermes (the son of Zeus, and his spokesman). They were horrified at the thought of such worship. It was precisely the opposite of what they hoped would happen. Immediately, they began to fervently convince the crowds to stop.

The response of Barnabas and Paul (note the order in verse 14) was not an evangelistic message, not a proclamation of the gospel, so much as it was an argument intended to stop this heathen worship—of them, no less. The actual argument is very similar to that found in chapter 17, spelled out in more detail. But in its more concise form, the appeal of the apostles was as follows:

(1) Worshipping them was wrong because they were mere men, too.

(2) Worshipping them as gods was opposed to the gospel which they preached.

They were only men. They were not incarnations of the gods. They had come as the representatives of the one true God, not as manifestations of the heathen gods which this crowd sought to worship. Their God was the Creator of the heaven and the earth, the Creator of all things. He gave them rains and seasons, crops and happiness. He was not just the God of the spectacular miracles, such as the healing of this lame man; He was the God of the orderly, the day-to-day blessings of life. If they would see the hand of God, they must look not only for spectacular interventions, but for the constant (and seemingly “natural”) blessings as well. This God was not only the God of the supernatural, but of the natural.

In the past, God had let the heathen go their own ways, but even in this He had not left men without a witness to Himself in nature. There should have been, as well, the witness of Israel, called and commanded by God to be a light to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:47). But now, the gospel was being proclaimed in its full form to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas had not come to confirm the heathen worship of these people, but to confront them with the true God and with His good news of salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. They had come to turn men from their heathen worship, to that which was true. How could they allow these men to worship them? With a sigh of relief, Paul and Barnabas noted that they, finally, were able to convince the crowds to cease their “worship.”

How quickly things reversed. Those who came with a sacrifice and with garlands now press upon Paul312 with stones. The reason for the sudden change in the sentiments and actions of the crowd seem to be the result of at least two major factors:

(1) The Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who had resisted and opposed Paul and Barnabas in their home towns, now came to Lystra, and instigated this stoning. The Jews at Iconium had wanted to stone Paul and Barnabas, but were thwarted by their escape. They were not about to let Paul get away this time.

(2) The gospel was now clear to them, as that which would do away with their religion. They welcomed (and sought to worship) Paul and Barnabas, because they thought they were the consummation of their heathen religion. Now they knew that they were competition to their religion. When this fact became clear, there were many who would gladly be rid of Paul, rather than to be rid of their religion. The gospel has often been welcomed in history because it was misunderstood, and then resisted when its meaning and implications are made known. So it was in Lystra.

What amazing restraint and simplicity we see in Luke’s account of Paul’s “rising” and departure. He seems to feel no need to have a miracle here, and thus he makes no effort to describe the event as miraculous.313 Luke, the medical doctor, does not tell us that Paul was dead. He tells us rather that the hostile crowds “supposed him to be dead.” They left him for dead. We are not told that the disciples who gathered around Paul were praying, though they may have been. We are simply told that Paul was left for dead, that the saints gathered about him, and that he got up and went back to town. If there is a miracle here, it is that Paul returned to Lystra, not that he got up. The next day Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe,314 where they preached the gospel and many came to faith (14:21).

The Return
(14:20b-28)

And the next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.315 21 And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra316 and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”317 23 And 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. 24 And they passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. 27 And when they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent a long time with the disciples.

How easy it would have been for Paul and Barnabas to simply continue on, not that many miles, to Syrian Antioch, Paul’s home.318 Instead, they turned back, returning to the cities they had previously evangelized.319 With the exception of Perga, which does not appear to have been evangelized on the first visit (13:13-14; cf. 14:25), the mission of Paul and Barnabas on their return trip seems to have been the edification of the churches which came into existence through their ministry. And so, on their return, they appointed elders320 in these churches, commending them to the Lord, and encouraging them to stand fast in the Lord in the midst of persecution, which they taught as an expected part of the Christian experience. These two men, who deeply believed in God’s ability to save, also believed in His ability to keep those whom He saved (Acts 14:23; cf. 20:32). This did not imply passivity on the part of the saints, but rather an active endurance (cf. Acts 11:23).

Finally, Paul and Barnabas returned to the church in Antioch of Syria, from which they had been commended to the grace of God (verse 26). The “work to which they had been appointed” (cf. 13:2), was now much more apparent—it was the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles (cf. 14:26-27). It was, I think, with considerable wonder that this report of a systematic and widespread Gentile evangelism was reported and received. Truly it was God who had “opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (verse 27). For some time Paul and Barnabas remained on in this, their home church.

Conclusion

For me, there is a strong sense of accomplishment in the completion of this first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. That which we Gentile Christians now take for granted was a source of wonder, praise, and joy to the early saints (cf. Acts 11:23; 15:3; Philippians 1:3-11, 18).321 The salvation of the Gentiles was a part of God’s eternal purpose (Ephesians 1, 3). It was contained in the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3), and it was promised by the Old Testament prophets. It was also clearly revealed by our Lord Jesus (cf. Luke 4:16-30). The salvation of the Gentiles was in view in the Great Commission (Matthew 18:28-30), and in our Lord’s final words to His disciples (Acts 1:8). Although this purpose to save the Gentiles was centuries old, its fulfillment did not begin in any significant way until the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, in the text which we have been studying.

As we come to the conclusion of this first journey, we must begin by recognizing that the salvation of the Gentiles, as Gentiles, has begun. There is much that will follow, but the program of saving the Gentiles has commenced. This is the essence of the report which Paul and Barnabas brought to the saints at Antioch: He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27b).

A new chapter in the history of Israel has begun, as well as a new chapter in the history of the church.

My focus in this message is not only on the fact that a new chapter in history has begun, but on how it began. In broadest terms, God brought about the salvation of the Gentiles, through men. It is clear in the statement of the apostles, Paul and Barnabas, that it was God who opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. But it is equally clear that God brought about the salvation of the Gentiles through human instruments—through the church at Antioch, and through Paul and Barnabas.

Stepping back, as the Scriptures enable us to do, we can see that the salvation of the Gentiles was purposed and promised by God, centuries before He brought it to pass. The salvation of the Gentiles was first a purpose of God, and then it was a program, one which employed many different people and many different means. God used the apostles, such as Peter, who set a precedent in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles gathered in the home of Cornelius (Acts 10). He used men like Philip, who shared the good news with an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). He used spectacular demonstrations of His power, as in the healing of the lame man at Lystra, and in the other “signs and wonders” which He performed through the hands of the apostles (Acts 14:3). But God also used those apparent failures and defeats as well. He used the opposition of unbelieving Jews to propel the gospel from one city to another. He used the apostles’ escapes (sneaking out of sight and the cities, Acts 9:24-25; 14:6), and even the stoning and misdiagnosed “death” of Paul, outside the gates of Lystra (Acts 14:19-20). God used the rejection and persecution of the unbelieving Jews to spread the gospel abroad. He employed the testimony of some unnamed, non-conformist Jews, to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:19-20). The longer I study the Book of Acts, the longer the list becomes of those means which God employed to accomplish His purpose of saving the Gentiles.

Observing the creativity and variety of God’s methods of bringing about His purpose of saving the Gentiles is of great importance to Christians today. There are those who would seek to limit God’s freedom and creativity, and who fail to see in this their own unbelief and their own lack of comprehending the power and wisdom of God (cf. Romans 11:33-36). There are some, for example, who would say that God does not and cannot employ “signs and wonders” today, as a means of drawing men to faith. In my estimation, their “God” is too small. But there are others who err in the opposite direction. They seem to insist that God’s only tool for saving men is “signs and wonders.” They, to use their own words, “expect a miracle, and nothing else will do.” They are not free, as Luke was, to look at the “rising of Paul” as an act of God’s providence—they must have a miracle in it, a resurrection. And they are not free to see the hand of God in the mundane, non-miraculous, matters of life. They find it somehow unspiritual to see God’s presence and power in the everyday things, like rain, and seasons, and crops. They want God’s presence and power to be displayed by His disruption and setting aside of the normal. They expect life to be a never-ending sequence of “signs and wonders,” as though their faith depended upon them. Their “God” is too small as well.

Allow me to linger on this matter of “signs and wonders” for it is the source of controversy and debate between believers. There must be a balance in this matter, and that balance is provided by the Book of Acts. There must be a balance between those who reject “signs and wonders” as an option today and those who would see them as a norm. We need to view God’s sovereignty in such a way as to leave Him free to achieve His purposes as He wills, whether that be with “signs and wonders” or without them.

As a rule those who want to deny the possibility of “signs and wonders” today want to turn our attention away from the Book of Acts, as though this book and its events were not normative, but exceptional. On the other hand, those who lean toward “signs and wonders” seem to act as if there were no other book in the Bible than Acts. I would suggest to you that both groups need to take the Book of Acts more seriously, and study it more carefully.

The following observations concerning “signs and wonders” in the Book of Acts should be a point of departure for your own study of this matter.

(1) Signs and wonders in the Book of Acts are not a constant phenomenon; they are intermittent. Signs and wonders come and go in Acts; they are not a steady flow. They are the exception, not the rule.

(2) Signs and wonders in Acts, while granted by God, were given through apostles, who knew that the power of God was available to them at the time. Those who speak of “signs and wonders” today do not restrict this power to apostles, as seems to be the consistent case in Acts, and they will often pray for a miraculous intervention of God without any sense of whether God will grant it or not. In our text, Paul knew that the power of God was, at the time, available for Him to use, and he knew that when he spoke to the lame man he would rise up and walk.

(3) Signs and wonders were not a substitute for the Word of God, but a confirmation of the Word (Acts 14:3).

(4) Signs and wonders did not necessarily produce a greater number of converts, nor did they serve to convince the unbelieving. There seems to be no correlation between signs and wonders and a great revival. The signs and wonders of 14:3 are followed by a “but” in verse 4, which speaks of a divided city. Even in the ministry of our Lord, signs and wonders did not convince or convert anyone. The unbelievers continually asked for more proof, but they were never convinced.

(5) Signs and wonders could also lead men to the wrong conclusion. The healing of the lame man at Lystra came close to concluding with the worship of Barnabas and Paul, as pagan gods.

(6) Signs and wonders are not the only evidence of God’s presence and power. Paul and Barnabas pointed to the routine blessings of God in nature as evidence of His existence and benevolence toward men. They did not want these pagans to see “God” only in the miraculous.

(7) God is not restricted to miraculous, spectacular, interventions into the affairs of this world in order to achieve His purposes. All through history, God had promised the salvation of the Gentiles. We see the first wave of this promised evangelistic thrust in Acts 13 and 14. But we also see that God used a great variety of means to accomplish that which He had purposed and promised. He achieved His purposes in spite of the racial prejudice and hard-heartedness of His people, including His own disciples. He even used the unbelief of the Jews and their resistance and persecution to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. In the next chapter of Acts (15:36ff.), He will use the argument between Paul and Barnabas to further propel the gospel. God’s sovereignty means that He not only has the power to achieve His will, but that He has great freedom in the way He works “all things together for the good” He has purposed. Signs and wonders are but one of the means available to God to achieve His will.

(8) Signs and wonders are not a guaranteed escape from suffering, nor a sure way to prosperity. How often we hear of men speaking of God’s power to achieve “signs and wonders” as a power we can harness and “tap into” so as to achieve our will, to indulge our fleshly desires, to bring us prosperity and a peaceful life. Paul, whom God enabled to perform signs and wonders, was persecuted often, stoned and left for dead (in our text), and imprisoned. Signs and wonders were no escape from suffering for Paul, nor are they for Christians today either. The principle that suffering has a place in God’s plan was taught these new believers (Acts 14:22), and it is the same for saints today (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12).

(9) Signs and wonders are not used as a divine shortcut, to avoid achieving God’s will through a process which takes time. We are an impatient people, who want everything in an instant. As I read through the Book of Acts, I am impressed with God’s patience and the slow progress which He has ordained for the achievement of His program. Look how long it took—centuries—for the evangelization of the Gentiles. Look how long it took for the fact to even be comprehended by the apostles. God is in no hurry. God does not use the spectacular to speed up the processes He has ordained. And so it is with our sanctification. How we would love to have a miracle, so that we would not have to agonize through the process of sanctification which He has ordained.

In no way should we disdain “signs and wonders” or take them lightly, but neither should we think of such miraculous interventions as the norm, and as the only evidence of God’s presence and power, or as the only means which God has to achieve His will. There are those who would claim that “signs and wonders” are ours to claim at any time, if we but have the faith. I would strongly suggest, from the Book of Acts and elsewhere in the Bible, that this is not the case at all. Signs and wonders were granted through the apostles at certain times, but not at all times. And when they were granted, the apostles knew it and could boldly exercise this power. And yet, on many other occasions, God worked through men in seemingly non-miraculous ways, achieving His will. But the fact that men’s actions were orchestrated by God in such a way as to perform His purposes is just as miraculous, but not as spectacular or as immediately evident. Let us realize that God’s sovereignty is His ability to achieve His will, in a great variety of ways, some of which are immediately apparent as miraculous, and others of which will only be seen as miracles in time or in eternity.

I have tried to demonstrate that God, as a sovereign God, has a great many ways at His disposal to achieve His purposes. But how does this intersect our lives? What does this truth teach us?

First, we must believe that God is at work, even when it does not appear to be so, even when life seems to be going on as it always has, with no miraculous interventions. God is no less in control in the normal, predictable events of life than He is when He supernaturally intervenes into the affairs of men.

Second, I believe we should exercise restraint in our prayer lives, praying for those things which God has promised, but leaving the means and the methods to Him. Often, I fear, we seem to instruct God as to how He should answer our prayers, without realizing that His ways are higher than ours, and that He is able to accomplish far more than we could ever imagine or ask for. Let us make our petitions to God in a way that recognizes His sovereignty and His creativity, rather than in a way that restricts (from our human perspective) the way in which He can answer our prayers.

Third, let us beware of those “success schemes and strategies” which are so popular among Christians today. The “church growth” movement has some serious flaws, in my opinion, and one of them is the way it seeks to be successful. The approach works this way. A criteria of success is first established. Generally, those churches are successful that have a significant growth numerically, and who seem to be prospering economically. Then, the “successful” churches are analyzed, to see what practices and programs they have in common. And then, the things which characterize these successful churches is recommended to all other churches who wish to grow, too.

The first problem is that our view of success may not agree with God’s view. The second is that by advocating the imitation of other churches which we think are successful, we limit the creativity of the church, and we limit the ways in which we expect God to work in and through our church. Even if a church was successful and we were able to determine those things which made it so, is no assurance that imitating its practices would make our church successful.

We are, in my opinion, far too “methods oriented.” We spend too much time trying to figure out the best way to do things when we should be looking at other factors, like our motivations. I think I am beginning to understand why so much of God’s instructions are given to us in broad principles, rather than in mechanical programs or steps. God does not want us to go about His work like clones, imitating those who we deem successful. He wants us to act in obedience to His Word, in the way that seems best, and in a way that looks for His modifications. Let us learn from this first missionary journey that God progressively reveals His will and achieves His purposes through an almost infinite variety of ways. That is what makes serving Him so exciting. We find no cookie cutter churches or Christians, but those who walk in the Spirit, seeking to obey, and looking for His direction as we do.

There is one final observation. If we see that the early church was slow to understand that God was going to bring salvation to the Gentiles, we ought to recognize that these Jewish saints and apostles were little different from most Christians today. In principle, we agree that God’s grace is sufficient to save the heathen, but most of our evangelism is focused on the “up and outer,” rather than on the “down and outer.” There are studies which indicate that the great majority of those who are converted to faith in Christ today are those with some kind of Christian heritage or background. Very few “raw pagans” are being reached by the church. Perhaps it is because of ignorance. Perhaps it is because we do not wish to associate with the heathen, or that we don’t want them in our church with us. If the salvation of the Gentiles was a bitter pill for the Jewish saints to swallow, I am convinced that we are not swallowing the pill any easier. Let us consider how we, as a church and as individuals, may reach out to the heathen, the pagans in our society, to the glory of God, and to the good of those who believe.


294 I am inclined to see the action of Paul and Barnabas as being broader than simply the decision to turn from a Jewish to a Gentile focus at Pisidian Antioch. I think this change of emphasis is for the entire missionary journey, which seems to be borne out by the remainder of their mission, as Luke records it.

295 “This distance of 60 miles southeastward they traversed by the Roman highway that followed the ancient Alexandrian route eastward to a verdant and fruitful plateau watered by Pisidian mountain streams. . . . A modern Turkish city of 47,000 people, bearing the name of Konia, is located at the site of ancient Iconium.” Charles W. Carter and Ralph Earle, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 193.

Iconium, modern Konya, lay on the Roman road about 90 miles (145 km) east of Antioch in the same area of the province of Galatia (the old district of Phrygia).” I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1987), p. 233.

“. . . it seems clear the apostles spent some time in the second city . . . and the success of this longer mission is reflected in later history. Iconium became a major centre for the diffusion of the gospel, and geographical convenience is probably not the only reason for this influence.” E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company {photolithoprinted}, 1966), p. 106.

296 Together is better rendered ‘after the same manner,’ or ‘in the same way’ . . . Ramsay translates it, ‘after the same fashion.’” Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, p. 107, as cited by Carter and Earle, p. 193. The NIV renders it, At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue (emphasis mine).

297 “The phrase word of his grace as a description of the gospel message recurs in 20:32 in Paul’s address at Miletus (see also Lk. 4:22), and Luke’s use of it here may deliberately reflect the prominence of grace in Paul’s message (cf. 13:43; 20:24). The whole of verse 3 is reminiscent of Hebrews 2:3f. where the activity of God in confirming the message by miraculous signs is also described.” Marshall, p. 233.

The word of His grace was, to be sure, the preaching of the gospel which was a matter of grace. I believe the fact that grace was preached, and not “law” or “works” was the reason the Jews so strongly opposed the preaching of the gospel. They not only rejected grace; they despised it. They not only refused it for themselves; they strongly resisted its being offered to the Gentiles. I see a replay of what is evident in the Book of Jonah here. Jonah, as a typical Israelite, rejected grace for himself because of his self-righteousness; and he resisted it for the Gentiles because they were unworthy of it. Grace, believe it or not, is repulsive to the self-righteous. Only sinners love grace. This is at the root of the rejection of Jesus by the Jews of Jesus’ day, especially those with “standing” (they thought) before the people and God.

298 Bruce writes, “The preaching was attended by miraculous signs, of a kind which confirmed its truth in the minds of the people.” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 271.

I disagree with the conclusion of Bruce. It seems the opposite to me. Indeed, the next verse begins with a “but,” and goes on to describe an ever-increasing opposition, and not a revival.

299 “This is the only passage where Luke refers to Paul as an apostle, a fact which is somewhat surprising in view of the emphasis that Paul himself lays on his status as an apostle. . . . More probably, however, the explanation lies in the fact that by apostles Luke thinks primarily of the Twelve appointed by Jesus during his earthly life (Lk. 6:13; 9:1f.; 22:28-30) with a particular mission to the Jews. But Luke was well aware of Paul’s apostleship, as is seen in the present passage and in the use of the cognate verb ‘to send’ (Greek apostello) in 22:21 and 26:16f. Thus he recognizes that there was a group of apostles, commissioned by Jesus, wider than the Twelve, and he does not deny that Paul and Barnabas belong to this group.” Marshall, pp. 233-234.

300 “They departed from the area of Phrygia into Lycaonia, and made their way to Lystra, some 18 miles (29 km) distant, and then to Derbe, some 55 miles (89 km) further.” Marshall, p. 234.

301 It seems so much out of place that some alleged “scholars” have attempted to solve the tension of this text by rearranging the order of the verses.

302 I am inclined to view the abruptness of verse 3 as deliberate, perhaps used by Luke to underscore the fact that it was not the “signs and wonders” which were instrumental in converting the lost as it was the Word of God preached with power. Thus, the report of the conversion of many is found in verse 2, tied to powerful preaching, while the signs and wonders are followed by the report of further opposition. I see no indication in Acts (or anywhere else in Scripture) that signs and wonders increased the number of converts, when compared to those accounts where simple preaching took place, without the signs and wonders. In our Lord’s ministry, signs and wonders convinced and converted no one. Those who believed in Jesus, believed in His teaching. At best, signs and wonders serves to point to the spoken or preached word, and to attest to its veracity and power.

303 “Lystra lay 18 miles (29 km) south-southwest of Iconium; it was an insignificant village which had been made into a Roman colony in 6 BC, as part of a scheme for defence against local warlike tribes.” Marshall, p. 236.

“. . . the elevation of this city {Lystra} was approximately 3,800 feet.” Carter and Earle, p. 196.

304 “Local legend told of earlier occasions when the gods came down to them in the likeness of human beings--in particular, the two gods known to the Greeks as Zeus (father of gods and men) and Hermes (his son by Maia, and messenger of the gods). We cannot be sure if the crowds used these two names or (since they were speaking Lycaonian) the names of two Anatolian divinities identified with Zeus and Hermes.” Bruce, p. 274.

“In the neighborhood of Lystra two Greek inscriptions have been found, one of which mentions priests of Zeus, and the other of which is on a statue of Hermes with a sundial dedicated to Zeus.” Carter and Earle, p. 197, citing Cadbury and Lake, Beginnings, IV, p. 164.

305 “Ramsay says the reason the people called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercury was that ‘the Oriental mind considers the leader to be the person who sits still and does nothing, while his subordinates speak and work for him.’ Hence in Oriental religions ‘the chief god sits apart from the world, communicating with it through his messenger and subordinate. The more statuesque figure of Barnabas was therefore taken by the Orientals as the chief god, and the active orator, Paul, as his messenger.’”” Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller, p. 84f., as cited by Carter and Earle, p. 197.

306 “The providence of God in giving human beings rainfall and harvest is an Old Testament theme (cf. Gen. 8:22), and the conjunction of ‘food and rejoicing’ (cf. 2:46) is a feature of Old Testament language (cf. Ps. 4:7; Isa. 25:6; Eccl. 9:7).” Bruce, p. 277.

I find it noteworthy that God is said to have been the source, not only of the material needs of the Gentiles, but also as the giver of gladness. Have you ever heard it said or implied that no one but a Christian can be happy? That is not what Paul and Barnabas seem to be saying. There is a happiness, an enjoyment of life, which God gives to the Gentiles. At times it seems that the heathen seem to have found a larger piece of this enjoyment of life than we who are truly saved. God is not the giver of gloom, but of gladness.

307 “Luke does not say if there was a Jewish community and synagogue at Lystra. Probably there was, however; this would more readily explain how Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium were able to incite the Lystrans against Paul and Barnabas. This would not have been so easy had those Jews been complete strangers, lacking any point of contact with the populace of Lystra, but they could achieve their purpose more conveniently through a Jewish community in Lystra.” Bruce, p. 278.

308 “When, some years later, he recalled the hardships he had endured for the gospel’s sake, he says, ‘once I was stoned’ (2 Cor. 11:25), referring necessarily to this occasion. And when, writing to Christians in the cities which figure in the present narrative, he says, ‘I bear on my body the marks of Jesus’ (Gal. 6:17), those marks or stigmata certainly included the indelible scars left by the stones at Lystra.” Bruce, p. 279.

309 Bruce, p. 274, cites Ramsay, who points out that the word for the lame man’s healing is the word often rendered “save,” as is indicated also in the marginal note of the NASB. The word which Luke employs can be used for a physical healing (Luke 8:50), the preservation of physical life (Luke 9:24), a deliverance from demonic possession (Luke 8:36), and spiritual salvation (Luke 8:12; 18:15-26; 19:10). In a number of cases, the use of this word seems to suggest a blending of its meanings, as in Luke 7:50 (and its context). It would seem, Bruce (and Ramsay) feels, and so do I, that the faith which this man had to be healed was the same faith he had to be saved. I think he had heard Paul speak of Jesus, of His miraculous works of healing, as well as His atoning sacrifice. The lame man believed, and thus he was both saved and made well.

310 “The various episodes in the story differ in form--a healing miracle (which has parallels with Lk. 5:18-26; Acts 3:1-10; 9:32-35, showing that Paul has the same powers as Jesus and Peter). . . .” Marshall, p. 235.

311 The order of the names is reversed here. Initially, the order in Acts was Barnabas . . . and Saul (e.g. Acts 13:1, 7), but after Saul’s confrontation of Elymas (Bar-Jesus) the Jewish false-prophet, it became “Paul and Barnabas” (e.g. 13:13, 42, 43, 46). Why then is it reversed here? Because, as Luke points out, the crowds assumed that Barnabas was Zeus, the chief God, while Paul was thought to be Hermes, the spokesman of Zeus--his press agent. Thus, the order of the names of these two is a reflection of the thinking of the crowds, as I understand the text.

312 Barnabas is not mentioned here. Was he somewhere else, preaching or ministering? It could well be. Or was Paul, as the more prominent speaker, selected as the example? We are not told.

313 Even if we understand this stoning and “rising” to be that which Paul described in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, there is no statement that he was “raised from the dead.” At most, it would appear that some kind of “life after death” glimpse into the glories of heaven was his, only to pass when life returned. It may have been a divinely provided experience, for Paul’s edification and encouragement, but it need not have been a miraculous rising from the dead. Even if it were a miracle, Luke has chosen to veil it. God is not in need of man’s public relations efforts as we might think. We often seek to find miracles where they are not. Luke does not.

“. . . the historicity of the incident is beyond question; we need not doubt that this is the event to which Paul himself referred in 2 Corinthians 11:24f., and further references to it are probably to be found in Galatians 6:17 and 2 Timothy 3:11. The story does not suggest that Paul actually died and came to life again, although some have been attracted to this inference, but Luke’s manner of expression, supposing that he was dead, and his failure to provide any positive indications to the contrary, indicate that there is no question of a miraculous resurrection here.” Marshall, pp. 239-240.

“Ramsay concludes: ‘A writer who tried to find marvels would have found one here, and said so.’” Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, p. 51, as cited by Blaiklock, p. 108.

314 “The lack of opposition in this city is a bit surprising, in view of the missionaries’ fortunes in the other three cities of Galatia. There is a striking coincidence in II Timothy 3:11, where Paul mentions his persecutions ‘at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra,’ but omits Derbe.” Carter and Earle, p. 202.

315 From Acts 20:4, we see that Gaius, from Derbe, became attached to Paul.

“The site of Derbe, formerly identified as Gudelisin about 60 miles (97 km) south of Konya (Iconium), has now been identified as Kerti Huyuk, about 60 miles (97 km) south-east of Konya; inscriptional evidence found on the site establishes the identity. . . . Derbe marked the easternmost extremity of the missionary tour, lying as it did on the east border of Galatia.” Marshall, p. 240.

316 Lystra was the home of Timothy, who would accompany Paul from the second missionary journey onward (Acts 16:1-3). It would seem that Timothy had been converted on this first journey, though it is not stated (cf. 2 Timothy 1:2-5).

317 “The kingdom of God (1:3, 6; 8:12) is thought of here as the future realm to be established by God into which men may enter by death or by living until the parousia of Jesus (2 Tim. 4:18). Those who set out on this road can expect to be persecuted (1 Thes. 3:2-4; 2 Thes. 1:5; 2 Tim. 3:11-13), but they stand under the protection of the Lord into whose care they were committed by the missionaries (cf. 20:32; 1 Pet. 4:19).” Marshall, p. 241.

318 “Notice . . . that Tarsus, Paul’s hometown, was only 160 miles away from Derbe, by way of the Cilician Gates.” Irving L. Jensen, Acts: An Independent Study (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), p. 181.

“. . . in the face of their former opposition and persecution, and in full consideration of the fact that they could easily have crossed the Taurus Mountains through the Cilician Gates and returned via Tarsus, Paul’s home. This indicates the extent of their devotion to the Christian cause.” Carter and Earle, p. 202.

319 They did not, however, return to Cyprus. It is my opinion that they did not feel the need to return to Cyprus because there was, with the conversion of Sergius Paulus, a different political mood there; there was no persecution mentioned, and there seemed to be others ministering there as well (cf. Acts 11:19-20).

320 “This is the first reference to elders outside the church at Jerusalem; elsewhere we hear of them in the church at Ephesus (20:17), in the church order described in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 5:17; Tit. 1:5), and in James (Jas. 5:14) and 1 Peter (1 Pet. 5:1, 5). Marshall, p. 241.

Let us remember too that Paul gave clear instructions concerning the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Since Timothy was probably present in Lystra when elders were appointed, he would have had a greater experiential knowledge of the process Paul used (in Lystra) to appoint elders and thus helpful insight into how elders could have also been appointed in Ephesus. This is not to say, however, that there is but one inspired method for appointing elders, since the New Testament never records any specific method of appointing them. There must, therefore, be freedom in the way the principles provided can be carried out.

321 Even as the salvation was, on the other hand, the source of great anger and hostility on the part of some Jews (cf. Luke 4:28; Acts 11:1-3; 13:45; 22:21-22).

Related Topics: Miracles