Preaching Among the Heathen
FROM Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium. In this
place, as at Antioch, they began their labors in the synagogue of their
own people. They met with marked success; "a great multitude both of
the Jews and also of the Greeks believed." But in Iconium, as in
other places where the apostles labored, "the unbelieving Jews
stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the
The apostles, however, were not turned aside from their mission, for
many were accepting the gospel of Christ. In the face of opposition, envy,
and prejudice they went on with their work, "speaking boldly in the
Lord," and God "gave testimony unto the word of His grace, and
granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands." These evidences
of divine approval had a powerful influence on those whose minds were open
to conviction, and converts to the gospel multiplied.
The increasing popularity of the message borne by the apostles, filled
the unbelieving Jews with envy and hatred, and they determined to stop the
labors of Paul and Barnabas at once. By means of false and exaggerated
reports they led the authorities to fear that the entire city was in
danger of being incited to insurrection. They declared that large numbers
were attaching themselves to the apostles and suggested that it was for
secret and dangerous designs.
In consequence of these charges the disciples were repeatedly brought
before the authorities; but their defense was so clear and sensible, and
their statement of what they were teaching so calm and comprehensive, that
a strong influence was exerted in their favor. Although the magistrates
were prejudiced against them by the false statements they had heard, they
dared not condemn them. They could but acknowledge that the teachings of
Paul and Barnabas tended to make men virtuous, law-abiding citizens, and
that the morals and order of the city would improve if the truths taught
by the apostles were accepted.
Through the opposition that the disciples met, the message of truth
gained great publicity; the Jews saw that their efforts to thwart the work
of the new teachers resulted only in adding greater numbers to the new
faith. "The multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the
Jews, and part with the apostles."
So enraged were the leaders among the Jews by the turn that matters
were taking, that they determined to gain their ends by violence. Arousing
the worst passions of the
ignorant, noisy mob, they succeeded in creating a tumult, which they
attributed to the teaching of the disciples. By this false charge they
hoped to gain the help of the magistrates in carrying out their purpose.
They determined that the apostles should have no opportunity to vindicate
themselves and that the mob should interfere by stoning Paul and Barnabas,
thus putting an end to their labors.
Friends of the apostles, though unbelievers, warned them of the
malicious designs of the Jews and urged them not to expose themselves
needlessly to the fury of the mob, but to escape for their lives. Paul and
Barnabas accordingly departed in secret from Iconium, leaving the
believers to carry on the work alone for a time. But they by no means took
final leave; they purposed to return after the excitement had abated, and
complete the work begun.
In every age and in every land, God's messengers have been called upon
to meet bitter opposition from those who deliberately chose to reject the
light of heaven. Often, by misrepresentation and falsehood, the enemies of
the gospel have seemingly triumphed, closing the doors by which God's
messengers might gain access to the people. But these doors cannot remain
forever closed, and often, as God's servants have returned after a time to
resume their labors, the Lord has wrought mightily in their behalf,
enabling them to establish memorials to the glory of His name.
Driven by persecution from Iconium, the apostles went to Lystra and
Derbe, in Lycaonia. These towns were inhabited largely by a heathen,
superstitious people, but among
them were some who were willing to hear and accept the gospel message.
In these places and in the surrounding country the apostles decided to
labor, hoping to avoid Jewish prejudice and persecution.
In Lystra there was no Jewish synagogue, though a few Jews were living
in the town. Many of the inhabitants of Lystra worshiped at a temple
dedicated to Jupiter. When Paul and Barnabas appeared in the town and,
gathering the Lystrians about them, explained the simple truths of the
gospel, many sought to connect these doctrines with their own
superstitious belief in the worship of Jupiter.
The apostles endeavored to impart to these idolaters a knowledge of God
the Creator and of His Son, the Saviour of the human race. They first
directed attention to the wonderful works of God--the sun, the moon, and
the stars, the beautiful order of the recurring seasons, the mighty
snow-capped mountains, the lofty trees, and other varied wonders of
nature, which showed a skill beyond human comprehension. Through these
works of the Almighty, the apostles led the minds of the heathen to a
contemplation of the great Ruler of the universe.
Having made plain these fundamental truths concerning the Creator, the
apostles told the Lystrians of the Son of God, who came from heaven to our
world because He loved the children of men. They spoke of His life and
ministry, His rejection by those He came to save, His trial and
crucifixion, His resurrection, and His ascension to heaven, there to act
as man's advocate. Thus, in the Spirit
and power of God, Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Lystra.
At one time, while Paul was telling the people of Christ's work as a
healer of the sick and afflicted, he saw among his hearers a cripple whose
eyes were fastened on him and who received and believed his words. Paul's
heart went out in sympathy toward the afflicted man, in whom he discerned
one who "had faith to be healed." In the presence of the
idolatrous assembly Paul commanded the cripple to stand upright on his
feet. Heretofore the sufferer had been able to take a sitting posture
only, but now he instantly obeyed Paul's command and for the first time in
his life stood on his feet. Strength came with this effort of faith, and
he who had been a cripple "leaped and walked."
"When the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their
voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in
the likeness of men." This statement was in harmony with a tradition
of theirs that the gods occasionally visited the earth. Barnabas they
called Jupiter, the father of gods, because of his venerable appearance,
his dignified bearing, and the mildness and benevolence expressed in his
countenance. Paul they believe to be Mercury, "because he was the
chief speaker," earnest and active, and eloquent with words of
warning and exhortation.
The Lystrians, eager to show their gratitude, prevailed upon the priest
of Jupiter to do the apostles honor, and he "brought oxen and
garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the
people." Paul and Barnabas, who had sought retirement and rest, were
not aware of
these preparations. Soon, however, their attention was attracted by the
sound of music and the enthusiastic shouting of a large crowd who had come
to the house where they were staying.
When the apostles ascertained the cause of this visit and its attendant
excitement, "they rent their clothes, and ran in among the
people" in the hope of preventing further proceedings. In a loud,
ringing voice, which rose above the shouting of the people, Paul demanded
their attention; and as the tumult suddenly ceased, he said: "Sirs,
why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and
preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living
God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are
therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.
Nevertheless He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and
gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with
food and gladness."
Notwithstanding the positive denial of the apostles that they were
divine, and notwithstanding Paul's endeavors to direct the minds of the
people to the true God as the only object worthy of adoration, it was
almost impossible to turn the heathen from their intention to offer
sacrifice. So firm had been their belief that these men were indeed gods,
and so great their enthusiasm, that they were loath to acknowledge their
error. The record says that they were "scarce restrained."
The Lystrians reasoned that they had beheld with their own eyes the
miraculous power exercised by the apostles.
They had seen a cripple who had never before been able to walk, made to
rejoice in perfect health and strength. It was only after much persuasion
on the part of Paul, and careful explanation regarding the mission of
himself and Barnabas as representatives of the God of heaven and of His
Son, the great Healer, that the people were persuaded to give up their
The labors of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra were suddenly checked by the
malice of "certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium," who, upon
learning of the success of the apostles' work among the Lycaonians, had
determined to follow them and persecute them. On arriving at Lystra, these
Jews soon succeeded in inspiring the people with the same bitterness of
spirit that actuated their own minds. By words of misrepresentation and
calumny those who had recently regarded Paul and Barnabas as divine beings
were persuaded that in reality the apostles were worse than murderers and
were deserving of death.
The disappointment that the Lystrians had suffered in being refused the
privilege of offering sacrifice to the apostles, prepared them to turn
against Paul and Barnabas with an enthusiasm approaching that with which
they had hailed them as gods. Incited by the Jews, they planned to attack
the apostles by force. The Jews charged them not to allow Paul an
opportunity to speak, alleging that if they were to grant him this
privilege, he would bewitch the people.
Soon the murderous designs of the enemies of the gospel were carried
out. Yielding to the influence of evil, the Lystrians became possessed
with a satanic fury and, seizing Paul,
mercilessly stoned him. The apostle thought that his end had come. The
martyrdom of Stephen, and the cruel part that he himself had acted upon
that occasion, came vividly to his mind. Covered with bruises and faint
with pain, he fell to the ground, and the infuriated mob "drew him
out of the city, supposing he had been dead."
In this dark and trying hour the company of Lystrian believers, who
through the ministry of Paul and Barnabas had been converted to the faith
of Jesus, remained loyal and true. The unreasoning opposition and cruel
persecution by their enemies served only to confirm the faith of these
devoted brethren; and now, in the face of danger and scorn, they showed
their loyalty by gathering sorrowfully about the form of him whom they
believed to be dead.
What was their surprise when in the midst of their lamentations the
apostle suddenly lifted up his head and rose to his feet with the praise
of God upon his lips. To the believers this unexpected restoration of
God's servant was regarded as a miracle of divine power and seemed to set
the signet of Heaven upon their change of belief. They rejoiced with
inexpressible gladness and praised God with renewed faith.
Among those who had been converted at Lystra, and who were eyewitnesses
of the sufferings of Paul, was one who was afterward to become a prominent
worker for Christ and who was to share with the apostle the trials and the
joys of pioneer service in difficult fields. This was a young man named
Timothy. When Paul was dragged out of the city, this youthful disciple was
among the number who took their stand beside his apparently lifeless body
and who saw him
arise, bruised and covered with blood, but with praises upon his lips
because he had been permitted to suffer for the sake of Christ.
The day following the stoning of Paul, the apostles departed for Derbe,
where their labors were blessed, and many souls were led to receive Christ
as the Saviour. But "when they had preached the gospel to that city,
and had taught many," neither Paul nor Barnabas was content to take
up work elsewhere without confirming the faith of the converts whom they
had been compelled to leave alone for a time in the places where they had
recently labored. And so, undaunted by danger, "they returned again
to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the
disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith." Many had
accepted the glad tidings of the gospel and had thus exposed themselves to
reproach and opposition. These the apostles sought to establish in the
faith in order that the work done might abide.
As an important factor in the spiritual growth of the new converts the
apostles were careful to surround them with the safeguards of gospel
order. Churches were duly organized in all places in Lycaonia and Pisidia
where there were believers. Officers were appointed in each church, and
proper order and system were established for the conduct of all the
affairs pertaining to the spiritual welfare of the believers.
This was in harmony with the gospel plan of uniting in one body all
believers in Christ, and this plan Paul was careful to follow throughout
his ministry. Those who in
any place were by his labor led to accept Christ as the Saviour were at
the proper time organized into a church. Even when the believers were but
few in number, this was done. The Christians were thus taught to help one
another, remembering the promise, "Where two or three are gathered
together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20.
And Paul did not forget the churches thus established. The care of
these churches rested on his mind as an ever-increasing burden. However
small a company might be, it was nevertheless the object of his constant
solicitude. He watched over the smaller churches tenderly, realizing that
they were in need of special care in order that the members might be
thoroughly established in the truth and taught to put forth earnest,
unselfish efforts for those around them.
In all their missionary endeavors Paul and Barnabas sought to follow
Christ's example of willing sacrifice and faithful, earnest labor for
souls. Wide-awake, zealous, untiring, they did not consult inclination or
personal ease, but with prayerful anxiety and unceasing activity they
sowed the seed of truth. And with the sowing of the seed, the apostles
were careful to give to all who took their stand for the gospel, practical
instruction that was of untold value. This spirit of earnestness and godly
fear made upon the minds of the new disciples a lasting impression
regarding the importance of the gospel message.
When men of promise and ability were converted, as in the case of
Timothy, Paul and Barnabas sought earnestly
to show them the necessity of laboring in the vineyard. And when the
apostles left for another place, the faith of these men did not fail, but
rather increased. They had been faithfully instructed in the way of the
Lord, and had been taught how to labor unselfishly, earnestly,
perseveringly, for the salvation of their fellow men. This careful
training of new converts was an important factor in the remarkable success
that attended Paul and Barnabas as they preached the gospel in heathen
The first missionary journey was fast drawing to a close. Commending
the newly organized churches to the Lord, the apostles went to Pamphylia,
"and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into
Attalia, and thence sailed to Antioch."
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