Paul’s first journey
We are continuing our study of Paul and his journeys by turning our attention now to Paul’s first journey.
In our last post, we saw that following his conversion Paul spend around 4 years in Tarsus before Barnabas came to find him and take him to Antioch. We can imagine that Paul’s time in Tarsus was lonely and difficult. His family were devout Jews and perhaps they excluded him from family life. He must surely have been overjoyed when Barnabas arrived, the great encourager, to take him to Antioch and there they began their ministry.
During Paul’s first year in Antioch, the Christian community received a vision from God that He wanted to use Paul and Barnabas for a special ministry. The community prayed and fasted and with God’s blessing sent Paul and Barnabas on what was to become Paul’s first missionary journey.
They set sail with the gospel writer Mark (Barnabas’ nephew) for Cyprus the birth place of Barnabas. The walk across the South coast of Cyprus from Salamis to Paphos teaching and preaching as they travelled.
They then travelled from Paphos over to Turkey close to the modern day port of Antalya. At this point Mark who was very young, leaves the group and Paul and Barnabas continue on without him. From here they travel up through the Tarsus mountains to the city of Antioch in Pisidia near modern day Yalvac, where they preach in Synagogues to increasingly large crowds of Jews. This of course attracted the attention of the Jewish leaders who rejected Paul’s message about Jesus being the Messiah. As a result, Paul turns his attention to the non-Jews and for the rest of his ministry he focuses his work on delivering the message of salvation to the gentiles.
Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But 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. When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. So the Lord’s message spread throughout that region. (Acts 13:46-49)
The leader of Antioch in Pisidia unhappy at Paul and Barnabas’ teaching expel them from the city and they make their way to Iconium known now as Konya. Once again they are attacked by the leaders of the Jewish community and they flee the city and travel to Lystra about 35 km from Iconium.
It’s here that Paul was stoned for preaching the Good News. This is an unimaginable punishment and the victim is left for dead. But Paul miraculously survives although badly beaten, wounded and in a lot of pain but with the help of Barnabas they move onto the town of Derbe. Although little remains of the ancient town of Derbe. it is believed to be not far from the modern city of Karaman.
After spending time preaching in Derbe, Paul and Barnabas decide to retrace their steps and to visit the churches and communities that they had founded as the travelled through Galatia to encourage and strengthen them. They appointed leaders, thus establishing organised communities that could grow and develop.
On returning to Antalya, they sailed back to Antioch in modern Syria to report to the elders of the church of their experiences.
While Paul was in Antioch, he heard disturbing news that the young churches in Galatia were being attacked by Jewish preachers who argued that all Christians needed to be circumcised to become Jewish Christians.
Paul strongly disagrees with this view and teaches that the Good News sets us free from laws and the power of sin and gives us freedom to serve the Lord.
Paul’s journey to Cyprus and Galatia was just the beginning of an amazing adventure, the absolute belief that Paul’s mission, which was instigated by his truly life changing conversion,was the grand plan to spread God’s message of love , forgiveness, tolerance and that all people are equal in God’s eyes, the message first preached by Jesus.
What does Paul’s first journey tell us? Surely most importantly it tells us we must be ambitious in spreading the word of God. Set sail with God in our hearts as Paul did and seek new ways of telling the world about the love of God. Along the way we will meet resistance and criticism just as Paul did during and on his return from his first journey. He worked hard at changing the views held by some early apostles and won. Hurrah for persistence!!