The Dynamic Story of Paul the Apostle, Part 2: First Missionary Trip

The year was 46 A.D., and with the death of King Herod, the church was again free to preach the gospel. However, the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem by the Jews and Roman authorities increased; they forced many believers to leave the area.

Paul and Barnabas headed to Jerusalem to meet Cephas (birth name Simon but later renamed Peter, by Jesus). Cephas was the fourth child born to Noah after the great flood. The men spent fifteen days fasting and praying. One day, news arrived the melting pot church in Antioch (in Syria) wanted missionaries to preach to the Jews and Gentiles. Many believers moved during the upheavals in Jerusalem, and they needed churches throughout the region.

The Holy Spirit spoke to the church elders in Antioch, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) The church laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas in 47 A.D., and they boarded a ship headed to the island of Cyprus on their first missionary trip.


SALAMIS/ PAPHOS

They arrived in the port city of Salamis. The Roman influence was everywhere – public baths, a large theater, and a temple dedicated to Zeus. The Graeco-Roman world was ready for the message of the gospel. Focusing on the Jews, Paul and Barnabas wasted no time proclaiming the word of God in local synagogues. Most who spread the word of God were Jews who scorned and persecuted Christian missionaries. But many believers were ready to receive Paul’s ministry across the island.

Three months passed, and the two disciples decided to walk westward to Paphos, the seat of the Roman government. It was the worship center for the goddess Aphrodite (Venus). Word spread quickly they arrived in town. Soon a message arrived – the island’s Roman governor, Sergius Paulus, wanted to meet them and hear God’s word. It was also an investigation who was causing all the commotion in his community.

When the governor entered the room, Elymas (also called Bar-Jesus), a threat to the Christian community, strayed in behind him. Paul heard about this false prophet (sorcerer), and he became infuriated of his intentions, but just the same, they spoke the message for the governor. Elymas turned to the official and urged him not to pay attention to their untrue words. Paul was livid and stared Elymas in the eyes. He remembered his own experience in Damascus and knew blindness would humble a proud man.

“You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? Watch now, for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” (Acts 13:10-11)

Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

Elymas stepped back, and a mist and darkness came over his eyes.

“Help me! I can’t see! Someone, please, take my hands and guide me out of here!”

The governor’s eyes opened wide, and he proclaimed the gospel as truth.

*SPECIAL NOTE: This incident was a critical turning point for Paul and his ministry. He became the team leader, initiated by Barnabas because Paul showed unusual faith and courage. The move showed Barnabas was selfless enough to set the good of others above personal glory. Instead of always striving for power, it is always seeking to help.


PERGA/ PISIDIAN ANTIOCH

Paul and Barnabas set sail once again, this time to the mainland of Turkey. They arrived in Perga, an ancient city of Pamphylia, and proceeded onward to the Roman colony, Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath, they visited a synagogue and the church leaders invited them to speak.

Paul lifted his hand and began his speech. He started with the Israelite history, and finally, he introduced Jesus.

“It is one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Savior of Israel! Before he came, John the Baptist preached that all the people of Israel needed to repent of their sins and turn to God and be baptized… Brothers – you sons of Abraham, and also you God-fearing Gentiles – this message of Salvation has been sent to us!” Acts 13: 23-24

He told the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and the laws of forgiveness. Paul ended his speech with these final words:

“Brothers, listen! We are to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is made right in God’s sight – something the law of Moses could never do. Be careful! Don’t let the prophets’ words apply to you.” Acts 13: 38-40

Many of the Jewish and Gentile listeners were so enthralled, they invited him back the following week. This time, the whole city gathered to hear the news. Angry, jealous Jews stood in the crowd slandering, and they created arguments with Paul. Persecution soon followed Paul and Barnabas. In a state of frustration, they declared they would no longer preach the word of God to Jews…

“…since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles. For the Lord gave us this command when he said, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’” Acts 13: 46-47

The Ruins of Antioch

The elated Gentiles spread the Lord’s message throughout the region. They celebrated their conversion to Christianity. However, the furious Jews gathered prominent members of the city to expel Paul and Barnabas from their city. They did not want the missionary’s blasphemy in Antioch. So be it…


ICONIUM

With a smile in their heart, and the happiness of converting many Jews and Gentiles to Christianity while in Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas headed southeast to Iconium. They preached much in synagogues, and the Lord gave them the power to perform miracles. The city became divided in their beliefs of the Good News – is it Judaism or Christianity? Upheavals ensued, and the opposition grew in strength. A huge plot to kill Barnabas and Paul spread across the town. Rumors of their impending death instigated the missionaries to flee Iconium. Paul and Barnabas left immediately and traveled to the remote city of Lystra, just twenty miles away.


LYSTRA

This little city laid within tall Roman walls and many beautiful temples dedicated to Greek Gods stood tall and proud. The temple of Zeus was the most popular for he was the father of the Greek gods. Paul and Barnabas settled right into their new surroundings. They continued to minister in the synagogues and converted many to Christianity.

One Sunday, Paul looked out over the audience and noticed a man with crippled feet intently absorbing his spoken words. Paul thought, “He needs the faith of God.”

“You! Stand up!” Paul yelled to the man. The startled man jumped to his feet and started walking. (Acts 14: 8-10)

A loud gasp of shock, then cheering erupted from the crowd. People everywhere shouted, “These men are gods in human form!” (Acts 14:11)

The priest of the temple of Zeus and a crowd of people began laying wreaths of flowers and some pulled bulls to the town gates. These were signs of sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. The people mistakenly thought Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. The apostles tried to convince the crowd they were mere men.

“Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings – just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.” (Acts 14: 15-18)

It was impossible to restrain the crowd. In the distance, Paul and Barnabas saw some Jews from Antioch in Turkey and Iconium arrive on the scene. Were they here to support them? No! The Jews yelled out to the masses.

“These men are imposters! They are blasphemous! Stone them! Stone them!”

Stoning of Paul. Attribution to Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

The crowd, in great anger, surrounded the apostles and pounded Paul with rocks and stones. (It was never disclosed if Barnabas was also stoned in the Bible). In the agony of pain, Paul passed out, so the angry people dragged him out of the city. A small group of believers gathered around him for they thought he was dead, but God had different plans. The Lord miraculously healed Paul on the spot, and he got up off the ground and walked right back inside the city.

The next morning Paul and Barnabas made the grueling thirty-mile walk to Derbe in central Turkey.


DERBE

Paul preached the Bible with great success in Derbe, and in each town, he established priests to say Mass and celebrate the sacraments. The early Christian churches were quickly establishing themselves as a stronghold in every city he visited on his mission trip. Eighteen months passed, and they felt it was time to go home.


REVISIT TO LYSTRA, ICONIUM, AND PISIDIAN ANTIOCH

Though victims of persecution, Paul and Barnabas decided to retrace their steps. They would return through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch on their way to the ship. The apostles strengthened and comforted believers and they appointed elders in the church of each city. Paul was confident the Lord would protect these early churches.


GOING HOME TO ANTIOCH OF SYRIA

Paul and Barnabas returned home by ship to Antioch of Syria in 48 A.D. Paul gathered his church together and reported all of his good deeds while in each city. “…we’ve opened a door of faith to the Gentiles,” he exclaimed with delight. The gospel spread far and wide. Paul’s journey was a preparation of more to come.

COMMENTARY:

Paul’s first successful missionary trip gives us an idea of the very beginning of Christian churches in the world. King Herod’s reign boasted fear and hatred, particularly amongst the Jews. After he died, Christianity took hold of the land for many witnessed the life and resurrection of Jesus. The church of Antioch of Syria was the foundation for sixteen more Antioch’s built in the ancient world. They had several outstanding leaders of which Paul and Barnabas were two of them.

What can we learn about the early Christian churches?

  1. Though God selects who will disciple His word, the early churches developed the skill of leadership. They meticulously trained their missionaries and ministry teams which came from many diverse backgrounds. Strong support for their apostles came in the form of prayers, education, and mentoring skills.
  2. The first Christians were Jewish Christians, either by conversion or birth. They revered the Hebrew bible in religious text which was often in Greek. They were a sect of Judaism in Rome.
  3. The early Gospels spread only by word of mouth, so training of leaders was critical for success. Preaching included the history of Jesus and His parables, salvation, and forgiveness.

Paul built many early Christian churches in this eighteen-month trip. His first journey covered the regions of south-central Asia Minor, Turkey, and Syria. He traveled about 1,400 miles spreading the Good News.

Paul’s first missionary trip teaches us several Christian highlights:

  1. Christianity met with horrible opposition and much persecution. As I’ve always said, history repeats itself for this perplexing situation still continues today. God warns all Christians; many will not believe in Him. Walk away from non-believers and pursue those who want to find a better way of life. In Paul’s case, he always began teaching to the Jews, but the Gentiles became the church’s followers.
  2. Perseverance is a virtue and is a mark of great spiritual maturity. A strict dedication to God is the only way to covert doubters to believers.
  3. It is unnecessary to fully convert non-believers. God uses Christians just to plant the seeds.
  4. Paul demonstrated the ultimate meaning of forgiveness. They expelled him from Perga, plotted his murder in Iconium, and almost died from stoning in Lystra, yet he walked back into every city and pardoned their people. He prayed for their forgiveness of sins.
  5. Paul could perform unusual miracles, but they were done as a last resort – to testify of God’s power and strength.

In conclusion, I pray for those who do not know the light of God. Let us never give up planting seeds, but remain in constant prayer… just as Paul.

Did you miss Part 1? Click here to read it.


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Spiritual Happiness

Much is written about joy in the Bible. Jesus spoke of being joyful unto His Father, later transcribed to, “Be joyful unto the Lord.” As we face disillusions and fears, of either, we endure many hardships. I, too, have these familiar symptoms, but God always remains constant in my mind. These words resonate in my mind, “Bring Me your woes and do not worry for I will help you with your inspirational battles.”

Unforeseen problems arise in the worldly pressures and obligations that meet us, not greet us, at every doorstep. Life, sometimes, can appear to be short-lived… unless your faith asks God for a special blessing and miracle. Some have experienced God at His best as unfortunate events end with a silver lining.

I often write of my sordid past life, but I glance back at those times and realize God intervened in my life. Today’s blog, however, is not about me, but the one I’m closest to, my wife. This young, vibrant, and outgoing woman, plagued with a virtue of grief and sadness in the past few months, almost lost her life in a car accident twenty-five years ago. The doctors just diagnosed her with heart failure as a repercussion of the injuries.

In disbelief, we took part in many tests and things seemed questionable, but nevertheless, okay… until the last test screening. It confirmed her life might be terminal. I can’t say how one prepares to die, except to “live life like there’s no tomorrow”… and so we did, in apprehension. With no other choice, I fought for the spiritual happiness of both of us. I walked on pins and needles, often hearing the crunch of eggshells. I was too frightened to speak much, so I stayed in constant prayer. Following my blog called Faith for Two, I knew only God would see us through this dilemma.

Matthew 6:25-27

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

The day arrived for her medical procedure, and hopefully, it would not become an open-heart decision. I watched the love of my life that morning, and I observed her quietly whispering, “Goodbye, mommy loves you” to her favorite parrot of twenty-seven years. I read her last words, “No food or drink after midnight,” as she prepared herself for a procedure which could end her life. It would have been easier to move a mountain than to keep her spirits positive. I maintained my strong convictions and stayed where I knew God wanted me to be – in prayer. Only my Lord Jesus could restore that which would destroy her many years ago.

In the lobby, in front of the doors to the operating room, I kissed her goodbye. Keeping up our spiritual happiness, I told her,” I’ll see you for lunch.” With tears in her eyes, we prayed it was not our last forever kiss. I needed to go to God! Father bless her and keep her in your arms, my dear Lord.

The wait seemed like an eternity. I took a seat beside a minister, and we shared our own hearts. The door at last opened, and a doctor in scrubs called out my name, “BICKS.” He took me into a quiet room and invited me to sit beside him on the couch. I had my faith until the moment he elected to move closer to me.

“She’s all clear, Mr. Bicks,” he said. “We found no blockages, and she’s as good as new.” My sweet love, who worried for five months of dying, was born again to the likeness of the sweet, little girl I remembered thirty-two years ago. She will live! Thank You, Jesus!

A curious thought crossed my mind. Two weeks ago, the cardiologist saw the blockage in a scan, and now it doesn’t exist!? Was this one of God’s miracles? You decide…

It has been six days now, and I see a glow where worry over-shadowed her face. A renewed life called spiritual happiness far exceeds a biblical joy. Saved by grace, quite literally, His miracle child is born again. There is no greater gift than the gift of life; and when death comes calling, defying Satan’s force is a miracle!

Living in a spiritual realm of happiness, where no pressure or problems exist, can be conquered when we reach out in faith. A great example of this in the bible was the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people on five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:15-21 and Luke 9:12-17). It is called the marvel of God’s healing hands, just as He did to my wife.

We read the miraculous stories of defying doctors’ diagnoses, but until it happens to you, we shun it with some other explanation. The Lord’s greatest feat was saving my wife’s life, and not once but twice; she put her heart and soul close enough for Him to heal her with His touch.

May I suggest we armor ourselves in prayer each morning to maintain spiritual happiness? Don’t identify with suffering, loss, or sickness. Remain steadfast in our Lord’s word, and He will calm every facet of your life. Today, my wife and I wake with a smile and a good-morning kiss, for God came to bless us with another anointed day. Our spiritual happiness is more than we ever asked for, and it is all because we serve our Almighty Savior.


NOTE FROM ANNE BICKS:

I would like to sincerely thank everyone for your cards, love, and support through this difficult time. Your kindness means the world to me! God bless you all!


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Don’t be surprised!

You shouldn’t be surprised;
They will be unexpected;
I mean your blessings;
Your blessings will come,
But will be unexpected;
When you will be expecting them,
They will not come;
When you will not be expecting them,
That is when they will come;
They will flow in like a river;
That is how
Your miracle will happen;
Don’t be surprised
When it does;
It will fall like from heaven;
God’s ways are mysterious.
He is a mighty God;
Things which you cannot imagine,
Are the things he does;
And with great ease;
All the ease you can imagine.
A God of all possibilities.
Don’t be surprised
By the marvels he does.

Miracles happen everyday

Miracles happen;
Miracles keep happening;
Miracles happen everyday;
They happen under our noses;
They happen in our lives;
They happen to us;
You only need to see;
Open your eyes widely enough,
And you will see them;
It’s not just one miracle
It’s not just once in a while;
It’s not just a few miracles;
It’s lots of miracles
That happen;
Yes, miracles happen;
Miracles are happening now
Even as we talk.
Miracles happen everyday.

God can make you anything

Don’t miss these great facts:
God can make you anything;
God can make you a superstar;
God can make you great;
God can make you a legend;
He does what He likes;
And His ways are miraculous;
You don’t see
How what He does is possible;
But he does it;
You don’t see
That what He does is possible;
But he does is;
You don’t see
Why what He does is possible;
But he does it;
The things
That are impossible
To us, He does them
With ease;
Go to Him without fear,
Without doubt;
With faith,
And confidence;
What you want to do
Is not impossible to Him,
If you bring him in;
And make him
Your Senior Partner.
Take it from me;
He will make you a superstar.

A series of coincidences!

Dear friends,

How are you all doing?  I hope you are learning something new everyday from life. I, for my part, get my lessons when I least expect them.

Just now, I was browsing the TV channels and came across a movie that I like.  So, I decided to watch it for some time before getting back to my work.

The story is about a wife who forgets her identity (i.e who she really was) as she is busy taking care of her family before one of her friends reminds her of the person she used to be in college.  So while trying to motivate her to be her old self again and to start dreaming again, the friend tells her a very powerful line:

“Your dream is your signature!!”

I went numb hearing those words.  All of a sudden I could see all the possibilities my one dream could have for me and for the world around me.  I kept thinking about the line again and again and every time I thought about it, I felt a shiver in my body.  It was such a deep thought.  The line had the power to change the destiny of anybody who believed in it.  I felt so powerful!

I had tears in my eyes. I went numb and my mind just took a different route and started dreaming.  I went into a zone of dreaming and then came back just in time to hear the second line which again blew my mind:

“I am 36 years old.”

Why does that matter to me? Well no points for guessing! I am 36 at the moment.  So what was this? A message for me? A sign?

I have seen this movie many times before but I never felt like this before. You know why? It is because back then, I was not sure what my dream was.  I had no idea about what I wanted to do with my life. I was struggling to know what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be. But in the last few days I somehow knew what I wanted to do with my life and now I got this message. It further confirmed my thoughts that I was on the right path.

Such experiences are called “Moments of Grace” according to Neale Donald Walsch in his book “When God Steps in, Miracles Happen” which happens to be a book that I am currently reading (a third coincidence!).

So let me now connect the dots here – I read a book on miracles which says that  we all experience “Moments of Grace” in our lives when our questions (the questions will mostly be the ones that are most important to us at those particular moments of our lives) are answered through our experiences, through people, through books etc. (in my case it was a line from a movie).

I have no words to write about this anymore.  I am blabbering while trying to connect everything and understand the huge moment I just had.

Has this ever happened to you?  Do let me know your experiences and what do you feel about such experiences.

Love,

Rashmi

You haven’t seen anything yet

Your miracle has happenend
Hasn’t it?
Your miracle has just happened;
The miracle you have prayed for,
And waited for,
And hoped for,
Has just happened
Under your very eyes;
Yes, miracles do happen;
Miracles do occur;
God does it for they who put
Their trust in Him;
He has done it for you;
He has shown himself to you;
He has shown you he loves you;
That He never fails
They who put their trust in Him;
He invites you to trust Him more;
To rely on him fully;
To surrender everything to him;
Have you got the message?
And are you paying heed to it?
So favoured you are.
Put your full trust in Him;
The miracles you see,
Have only begun;
You haven’t seen anything yet.

Let’s talk miracles

Tell me what you think
About miracles;
Some say miracles do occur;
And ask: who doesn’t know
Miracles do occur?
They say miracles, in fact,
Do occur and are common;
They say many miracles have occured;
And many of them to you;
But if you don’t have eyes
To see miracles,
You will not see them.
Tell me what you say;
They say you need eyes
For miracles
To see miracles;
That you need a mind
For miracles
To see miracles;
That you need to believe
In miracles
To see miracles;
That those who don’t believe
In miracles
Call miracles good luck;
But those who believe
In miracles
Call what some call good luck miracles.
Are you aware?
Tell me what you think
About miracles.
Let’s talk miracles.