In Iconium Paul and Barnabas Message the Gospel
From Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium. In this place, as in 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 brethren.”
Opening the Mind and Convert
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 pieces of evidence of divine approval had a powerful influence on those whose minds were open to conviction, and converts to the gospel multiplied.
Populism is Dangerous
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 In Iconium at once. Through 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.
Law-abiding Iconium Citizens
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.”
Paul and Barnabas Charged
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.
Doors are Not Closed Forever
In every age and 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.
From Iconium to Lystra and Debre
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 the surrounding country, the apostles decided to labor, hoping to avoid Jewish prejudice and persecution.
Paul and Barnabas in Lystra
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 Wonderful Works of God
The apostles endeavored to impart to these idolaters a knowledge of God the Creator and 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.
Paul and Barnabas Preached the Gospel
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.
The Cripple Stood on is Feet
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 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.
Party in Lystra
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.
No Party in Lystra
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.”
The Heathen were “Scarcely Restrained”.
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 “scarcely 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 purpose.