Missionaries looking for a Welcome mat
Run out of town, again1 When Paul and Barnabas got to Iconium, they did the same thing they had done in other towns. They went to the local synagogue. There, they boldly talked up such a storm that they convinced a lot of people into believing them—Jews and non-Jews. 2 But some Jews didn’t believe them. They stirred up trouble. They spread poison about Paul and Barnabas, even among the non-Jews. 3 Regardless, Paul and Barnabas stayed a long time. And they were anything but shy when they talked about the Lord—the one who showed his kindness by letting them do miracles there. 4 The town folks split over what to make of the two men. Some sided with the Jews who didn’t like them. Others sided with the two apostles. 5 Jews against the apostles rallied with non-Jews. They worked up a plot to kidnap, shame, and stone the two.
Hello Lystra and Derbe6 Paul and Barnabas found out about the plot to stone them. They got out of town pronto. They went to the towns of Lystra and Derbe in the district of Lycaonia. 7 There, they spread the good news. 8 In Lystra, they noticed a man sitting among the crowd because he couldn’t walk. His feet were useless. He had been crippled since birth. 9 The man listened to Paul speaking to the people. Paul looked hard into the eyes of this gentleman and realized the man had the faith it took to be healed. 10 Paul suddenly raised his voice and spoke directly at the man: “Stand up. Get right up on those feet.” The man jumped up and started walking. 11
Paul and Barnabas as Zeus and Hermes12 They started calling Barnabas by the name of the Greek god Zeus. They called Paul by the name of Hermes because he did most of the talking. 13 The Temple of Zeus sat just outside the city entrance. The priest of Zeus rounded up some oxen. He also got some decorative wreaths made of plants. He brought it all to the city gate, intending to sacrifice it to Paul and Barnabas. 14 When the two men heard what was going on, they ripped their clothes, ran deep into the crowd, and started yelling. 15 “People! What do you think you’re doing? We’re humans like you! We have the same limitations you have! We came here to tell you the good news that you don’t have to fool around with worthless stuff like this. We’re here to tell you about the God who is actually alive. He’s the one who made heaven, earth, and sea—and everything in them. 16 In years gone by, he let nations do whatever they wanted. 17 But he didn’t hide from them. People could see evidence of him in the rain he sent from heaven and in the bumper crops that filled their bellies with food and their hearts with joy.” 18 That said, Paul and Barnabas were only barely able to stop the people from offering the sacrifice.
Stoning Paul, leaving him for dead19 Then along came some Jews from Antioch and Iconium. They turned the town against Paul and Barnabas. A mob snatched Paul, stoned him, and dragged him out of town. They thought he was dead so they left him there. 20 Believers in town gathered around Paul as he lay on the ground. He got up and went back into the city. The next day, he and Barnabas left for the neighboring city of Derbe.
Backtracking through hostile towns21 They spread the good news to the people in that town—and made a lot of believers in the process. Then the two of them headed back home by the same route they came. They doubled back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. 22 In each of those towns they encouraged the believers to hang on tight to their faith. They told the people, “The road into the kingdom of God is a tough one to travel. We’re going to suffer on this trip.” 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed leaders in every church. The two prayed over these leaders, skipping meals as they focused hard on prayer. Then they entrusted the leaders to the care of God—the one whom they had decided to worship. 24 Paul and Barnabas, on their way home, traveled through the region of Pisidia, finally arriving in the town of Pamphylia. 25 They spread the word in the town of Perga. Then they went down to the coastal city of Attalia. 26 From there, they sailed back to Antioch in Syria—the church that had sent them in God’s care on this mission. Mission accomplished. 27 When they arrived, they held a meeting at the church. They reported everything God had done for them, and especially how he had opened the doors of ministry to non-Jews. 28 Paul and Barnabas stayed with the believers for a long time.
Iconium was about a 100-mile (160-km) walk along the trails from Antioch in Pisidia—about a one-week trip by foot.
It means “messengers.” It was a title that originally referred to the 12 disciples of Jesus. Later it became the title for top leaders in the early Christian movement—leaders who personally had seen the resurrected Jesus.
Lystra was about a two-day walk (30 miles, 48 km) west of Iconium. Derby was about a three-day walk (60 miles, 96 km) east of Lystra. Both towns were in the district of Lycaonia, in the Roman province called Galatia.
Zeus was boss of the Greek gods and king of the gods on Mount Olympus. Romans called the top god Jupiter.
Hermes is better known by his Roman name: Mercury. People considered him the son of Zeus and the god who delivered messages from gods on Mount Olympus. He functioned a bit like the angel Gabriel in the Bible, who delivered messages from God to people such as the prophet Daniel and the Virgin Mary.
The gate leading into a city was a popular meeting place for people. It’s a good guess that this is where Paul and Barnabas talked to the people.
Ripping clothes was a way of expressing anger—a bit like putting a fist through drywall in the living room when you found out your spouse traded in your beloved Prius for a Hummer, or vice versa.
Believers didn’t seem to have church buildings until the AD 300s, after Rome legalized Christianity. Until then, most church groups met in the homes of fellow believers.
Literally, “elders” from the Greek word presbyteros. That’s where Presbyterians got their name.
By some estimates, Paul and Barnabas spent about two years on this mission trip, traveling some 1400 miles (2250 km).
Paul and Barnabas had a standard operating procedure when they went into a town to tell them the story of Jesus. “They went to the local synagogue” (14:1). Why would you guess they did this?
Jews who couldn’t buy into the idea that Jesus was the Messiah and that he rose from the dead “spread poison about Paul and Barnabas” (14:2). What kind of poison do you think they could have spread?
Paul looked hard into the eyes of a crippled man in Lystra and “realized the man had the faith it took to be healed” (14:9). How do you think Paul could tell this by merely looking at the man?
The Temple of Zeus was just outside the city entrance, which may have been the place where Paul was talking to the crowd. The gates into the city were a popular place for people to meet, vendors to sell their products, and beggars to ask for help. Do you think that may have played a role in why the crowd assumed that Barnabas and Paul were Zeus and Hermes, the son of Zeus?
Paul and Barnabas got over-the-top upset when they found out the people were going to offer sacrifices to them as though Paul and Barnabas were Greek gods. “They ripped their clothes… and started yelling” (14:14). Is that any way to tell people about Jesus?
Paul and Barnabas went from being the most popular people in town to the people most likely to get dead. A mob stoned Paul and left him lying on the ground because they thought he was dead. What turned the town were “Jews from Antioch and Iconium” (14:19). They sound a little like bounty hunters on the trail of two fugitives. What do you think they might have said to turn the crowd?
When Paul came to, after almost getting stoned to death, he got up and went back into the town. And after he finished taking his mission as far from home as he had intended to go, he backtracked and went to the towns that had been hostile toward him. He did this to encourage the believers he had left behind “to hang tight to their faith” (14:22). What do you think that says about the character of Paul and Barnabas?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul said, “The road into the kingdom of God is a tough one to travel. We’re going to suffer on this trip” (14:22). What is tough about it for those of us in our culture? What is tough about it for Christians in other cultures of the world?