Pauls First Missionary Journey
It was now spring, A.D. 46. Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called the black man), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (childhood companion of Tetrarch Herod Antipas), and Saul. As these men were worshipping and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work I have for them. So after more fasting and prayer, the brethren laid their hands on the two men and they were commissioned to spread the Gospel abroad.
Barnabas and Paul, who would now use his Greco-Roman name, were at last free to take the good news to more distant cities, a missionary journey they had been planning for almost a year. Barnabas cousin, John Mark, had arrived from Jerusalem to assist them. Although Paul was not yet sure the young man was seasoned enough to face whatever might lie ahead, he finally agreed.
At Seleucia, the seaport near Antioch, the three men arranged for passage on a cargo ship to Cyprus, Barnabas birthplace fifty miles away. There were no passenger ships at that time; travelers by sea were often carried on square-rigged cargo ships which regularly sailed the Mediterranean Sea lanes between Africa, Asia and Europe. Most of the space on ships was taken up by cargo and crew, but there were limited accommodations for passengers. The two missionaries and their assistant boarded the ship, and set sail in a southwest direction.
They came ashore at Salamis, eastern harbor of Cyprus. The third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus was fertile and prosperous. Many Jews worked in the famous copper mines that supplied most of the Roman Empire, and a number of Jewish Christians from Palestine had settled on the island. Barnabas relatives welcomed the three missionaries and introduced Paul to the Jewish and Christian communities. The men received immediate invitations to speak about the good news on the Sabbath at local synagogues and Christian gathering places. Cheered by the reception at their first stop in Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas remained at Salamis for several weeks.
Light and Darkness Collide
From Salamis the three traveled overland, preaching from town to town as they went until they came to Paphos, a prosperous city on the southwestern coast. It was the seat of the Roman government in Cyprus and an important naval station. The local proconsul Sergius Paulus, a man of considerable insight and understanding, was curious about the new Christian faith, and so were many cultivated Romans.
One day, Paulus invited Barnabas and Paul to his palace to speak to him and his guests. As Paul began teaching the word of God, a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Bar-Jesus, walked boldly into the room wearing a luxurious blue robe with mysterious gold symbols. He stood in front of Paul, interrupting his speech and blocking his view of the governor. Eager to keep his influence with Sergius Paulus, the sorcerer shouted, Pay no attention to what he just said. Only listen to me! I am the prophet of God.
As he attempted to turn all the listeners away from the Gospel, Paul glared at him in righteous indignation, with an even more intense look than he had first given Peter at his trial. He spun Bar-Jesus around to face him and shouted, You son of the devil, full of every sort of trickery and villainy, enemy of all that is good; will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? And now the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be stricken blind for a while.
Instantly mist and darkness fell on the sorcerer (also called Elymas), and he began wandering around begging for someone to take his hand. The terrified false prophet was led away sightless, blind to the truth as well, and wondering how the apostle had gained such power over him.
Triumphantly Paul turned to Paulus, and without further interruption told him about the life, death, and resurrection power of Jesus the Christ. Already impressed over what he had just seen, the proconsul was even more affected by Pauls promises of salvation through the true Son of God. Instantly light fell on the soul of Sergius Paulus and before the day was over he asked to be baptized. He was the first Roman of high rank to become a Christian and some of those among his guests also believed.
From that moment, Apostle Paul was recognized as the leader of their missionary journeys. Leaving Paphos, the three sailed northward to Pamphylia, a Roman province to the west of Cilicia on the coast of Asia Minor (Turkey). They landed near Perga, where John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem.
Paul and Barnabas continued north to a different Antioch, the capital of Pisidia, 100 miles inland. Pisidian Antioch was an important center with a large Jewish community. In their synagogue, Paul delivered an address to both Jews and Gentiles who worshipped God. His words caused a great stir among the congregation. Leaders of the synagogue urged their people to attack the missionaries with clubs and stones, and an angry mob drove them out of the city. Paul and Barnabas turned east to Iconium (modern day Konya). Again their visit followed the same pattern, but this time a church was formed before they were forced to move on.
Healing in Lystra
When they reached Lystra, there was no synagogue, so Paul spoke outside in an open area. From their first appearance, the most eager listener had been a man whose feet were paralyzed from birth. Like the beggar in the temple at Jerusalem, he was brought by his family to the marketplace each day and left there to beg. After Paul began to preach, the man listened daily at his place, anxious to hear more about the Savior of the world. He hoped to find salvation and even walk again.
As the apostle approached the paralyzed man, he looked into his eyes and saw that he had faith to be healed. Stand on your feet! Paul commanded in a voice loud enough to be heard all over the marketplace.
From every direction, heads first turned to look at the cripple, and then to the stocky broad-shouldered Jew who had been preaching a strange doctrine for several weeks. Sensing a coming moment of drama, the crowd moved closer. A murmur of awe swept over them when the beggar suddenly leaped to his feet, laughing and weeping with joy at being able to walk for the first time in his life.
The excited people had never seen anything like this and it caused an unexpected problem. An ancient and well-known Greek legend told of a visit of the gods Zeus and Hermes to a humble Galatian couple. Someone proclaimed in the Lycaonian language, The gods have come down to us in human form! A hundred voices immediately took up the cry, convinced that the two strangers were the same two gods in disguise. They considered the tall dignified figure of Barnabas to be Zeus (Jupiter), father of the gods; and Paul, the shorter man, to be Hermes (Mercury), messenger of the gods.
Some of the crowd raced across to the temple of Zeus which was just outside the city gates, alerting the chief priests of the amazing activities happening nearby inside the city. Shortly a group led by the priest of Zeus emerged from a building adjoining the temple, leading oxen and wreaths of flowers toward the open altar where they could be sacrificed to the deities who had so suddenly appeared.
Unable to understand the local language, at first Paul and Barnabas did not realize that the priest was preparing to offer sacrifices to them. When they did, they stopped the ceremony, tearing their clothes in horrified protest. Paul cried out to them in Greek, Stop! Why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God who made heaven, earth, sea, and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way, yet he has not left himself without testimony. He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.
Reluctantly, the people abandoned their sacrifices, and Paul began to proclaim the Gospel.
A short while later a group of Jews from Iconium and Pisidian Antioch, still nursing their resentments from the recent missionary visits, converged on Lystra. They persuaded the people that the preachers were both liars and traitors, since Jesus had been crucified by the Romans. The crowd stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. At night, Barnabas brought with him a few men who had believed Pauls message, and they carried him back into the city. Next morning before dawn the two missionaries headed for Derbe, a days journey to the southeast. Pauls wounds healed and he gathered many followers.
Undaunted, Paul and Barnabas revisited the cities where they had been persecuted. This time they avoided the local synagogues, meeting instead in the private homes of their new followers, encouraging them all to persevere in their newfound faith. Before they left, they instructed the converts in the faith, and appointed elders to carry on the work in their absence and to report progress within these new Christian communities. One of the most zealous converts was a young man from Lystra named Timothy.
Return to Syrian Antioch
After retracing their steps, Paul and Barnabas set sail for Syrian Antioch where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arrival in A.D. 48, they gathered at the home church and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. The two stayed there for a year or more with the disciples.
By any standards their first journey had been a success. In less than three years time, the missionaries had covered a distance of nearly 1,400 miles and had established small but strong Christian communities in major cities of Cyprus and Asia Minor.