GENTILE CHRISTIANS SET FREE FROM JUDAISM: VI
Paul and Barnabas came to Iconium with joy and with great expectations; however, they nearly escaped with their lives. False Jewish prophets began to follow the messengers of Christ and incited hatred against Jesus’ followers. Paul and Barnabas had to flee to Lystra. And even then, the enemies followed and preceded them. Also, the use of a miracle was being misinterpreted, which added fuel for the opposition. They stoned Paul and left him for dead. Obviously by this time, it became apparent that the Gentiles had no future living among the Jews. Therefore, the Gentiles and the Jews had to go their separate ways.
Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue, and so spoke that a great company believed, both Jews and Greeks. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to molest them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they preached the gospel.
Now at Lystra there was a man sitting, who could not use his feet; he was crippled from birth, who had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking; and Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice,
“Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and walked. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the people. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude, crying, “Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” With these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them (Acts 14:1-18).
Paul and Barnabas managed to calm the people in Lystra down. They hoped to walk away with a feeling of accomplishment. However, their hope were shattered when the Jewish persecutors of Christ arrived and nearly killed Paul. They ended their first missionary trip going back to Antioch where they had started. What appeared to be the end of their ministry was actually the beginning for the Gentile Christians. Paul and Barnabas were set free by the Jewish Christians so that they could travel their own way with Christ:
But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium; and having persuaded the people, they stoned Paul, and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city; and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed.
Then they passed through Pisidia, and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples (Acts 14:19-28).
Paul and Barnabas were welcomed back with open arms, not to a peaceful time of rest, but to a fight with the Judaisers of the circumcision group. The Judaisers demanded that the majority of Gentile Christians, in Antioch, be received as full members only after they were circumcised.
But some men came from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, reporting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the brethren. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses (Acts 15:1-7).
Fourteen years earlier in Jerusalem, the leaders had extended the hand of fellowship to Paul. And they recognized Paul as the missionary to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. But when Peter came to Antioch, he sided with the Judaisers; and therefore, Paul had to remind him of his promise:
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up by revelation; and I laid it before them (but privately before those who were of repute) the gospel which I preached among the Gentiles, lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage—-to them we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—-those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me; but on the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised; only they would have us remember the poor, which very thing I was eager to do. But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified b to bey faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified (Galatians 2:1-16).
Paul’s reminder did move Peter to do the right thing. Regarding certain conditions, a council had called to settle the difference between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians:
The apostles and the elders were gathered to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter (Cephas) rose and said, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brethren, listen to me. Symeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.’
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood. For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.
Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, with the following letter: “The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting. Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us in assembly to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15:6-29).
Paul and Barnabas, along with two new names, Judas Barsabbas and Silas, returned from the council meeting with the good news. They decided that the Gentiles were set free from being interfered by Judaism. Their second missionary journey began with a hitch that turned into a double blessing. Instead of one group reaching out to the Gentiles, they had two: Barnabas with John Mark, and Paul with Silas.
So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words and strengthened them. And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brethren to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.
And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (Acts 15:30-41).
Paul and Silas revisited Paul’s first journey. In Derby or Lystra, Timothy, son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father, joined Paul and Silas. Paul left no hint when doctor Luke became his personal and accompanying physician, except that his eye trouble started on the road to Damascus (Galatians 4:15). The three were urged by the Holy Spirit to go to Europe. They boarded a ship in Troas and landed in Neapolis, and from there they went to Philippi in Macedonia, a Roman colony. In Philippi, Paul met a god-fearing lady by the name of Lydia and her converts by the river, who accepted Paul’s message. Paul stopped a slave girl for following and identifying him and Paul ended up being mistreated and jailed because of her. The Lord opened the jail with an earthquake. By not escaping, Paul converted the jailer and his whole household to Christ. Then, Paul revealed to them that he was a Roman citizen. This alarmed the authorities to apologize and they begged Paul and Silas to leave. The people whom they impacted were the Philippians. And they became one of Paul’s best house churches. There were no synagogue in Philippi (Acts 16).
Paul and Silas passed many towns. They stopped in Thessalonica because it had a synagogue where people met. However, the main reason that they stopped in Thessalonica was because some of the Old Testament scrolls were available there. Paul argued from the Law and from the Prophets that Christ was the “Chosen One of God.” Paul was the pioneer who broke the trail in evangelism and also in building a theology for others to follow. Paul’s encounter with the people and with their problems led him to write thirteen letters, and several other writings, which were lost to posterity. Without Paul’s experience and Paul’s insight into the Hebrew Scriptures, the posterity’s understanding of Christ may not be what it is today. Paul laid a solid foundation and it began after his stay in Thessalonica. The hostile Jews incited a mob and they apprehended and abused Jason, where Paul and Silas were staying. The brethren had shipped the apostles to Beroea, where Silas and Timothy remained for a short time. Meanwhile, Paul alone was taken to Athens. There Paul had to learn that oil and water do not mix. The wisdom of the world will never comprehend the simplest things of God. Therefore, the Jews and the Gentiles can co-exist, but they do not mix (Acts 17:1-15). Luke gave his view of Paul’s attempt to impress the Greek intelligentsia.
Now while Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those
who chanced to be there. Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him. And some said, “What would this babbler say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling and hearing something new.
So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he had given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from among them. But some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them (Acts 17:16-34).
Paul helped to free the Gentile Christians from the Jewish tradition, but not for himself. Even after he was forced out of their synagogues and ousted by his own kin, he died as one of them. If it could have been possible, he would have given his life to bring his Jewish people to Christ. Later on, Paul wrote to the Jews in Rome, and gave them the reason why God turned to the Gentiles.
I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race (Romans 9:1-3).
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is righteousness through faith (in Christ); but Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law (traditions) did not succeed in fulfilling the (real) law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith (the law that predicted the coming of Christ), but as if it were based on works (keeping and observing tradition). They stumbled over the stumbling-stone, as it is written, “Behold I am laying in Zion a stone that will make them stumble, a rock that will make them fall; and he who believes in him (Christ) will not be put to shame” (Romans 9:30-33).
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own (tradition), they did not submit to God’s righteousness (Law). For Christ is the end of the law (Jewish tradition and not the ten Commandments or Prophets), that everyone who has faith (in the one that has fulfilled the law) may be justified (Romans 10:1-4; Matthew 5:17-20; Mark 7:9-12).
The Gentile Christians have the real Law written in their hearts (Romans 2:15).