Continuing our re-visitation of
THE GREAT COMMISSION
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age”(Matthew 28:19-20) With these words, Our Divine Lord commissioned the Apostles immediately before His Ascension.
Paul, ”last of all, as one untimely born … for I am the least of the Apostles”(1 Cor. 15:8-9), accepted the great commission with his whole soul, spirit, heart and body –“ for necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel !”
At the time of his conversion the Church was truly in its infancy. Our Lord had been crucified and the Holy Spirit had come down at the first Pentecost in 32-33 AD In the ensuing years, as we have seen, Paul goes from Damascus to Arabia, back to Damascus, to Jerusalem and home to Tarsus. These travels, including 3-4 years in each of Arabia and Tarsus cover a period of 12 –13 years.
CALL TO THE MISSION
It was Barnabas, a Cypriot by birth, who invited Paul to leave his present preaching of the Word in his native Tarsus to join him in Antioch(Syria) where much had been accomplished since St. Peter’s initial preaching, and the potential remained great. Like hundreds of thousands of the Church’s missionaries over the millennia, Paul, in accepting the cross of the missionary life, gave up the familiarity and relative comfort of home and his own people for a life among strangers – for the sake of Jesus Christ.
FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY 46 –48 AD (Paul is 41-45 years old as he begins) COVERS MODERN SYRIA, ISRAEL, CYPRUS, TURKEY)
Antioch in Syria (there was a lesser Antioch in Pisidia) on the river Orontes, was the third largest city of the Roman Empire and was dubbed “Queen of the East”. It had Hellenistic origins. When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC the region was acquired by one of his generals who founded this Antioch around 300 BC(He is said to have founded 15 others – of which Antioch in Pisidia was one- all named after a member of his family.) The people and their Kings had a troubled history and finally Antioch became a free state under Roman “protection” in 64 BC. Julius Caesar visited in 47 BC and confirmed the city’s freedom. Antioch was progressively dignified by major Roman building works under Augustus and Tiberius. Lying in a major earthquake zone it was badly affected by a great earthquake in 37 AD and again during Nero’s reign.
The growth of the Church In this large city(population at the time estimated at around 500,000) must have been significant, for here the followers of the Way were given a name for the first time – Christians.
This growth was a remarkable demonstration of God’s grace and the effectiveness of St .Peter’s earlier preaching. For this was a very “modern” pagan city. Its four miles long main street catered to every pagan desire and its climate is such that it would please any modern Australian.
The converts in the church at Antioch were very largely Gentile and so these earliest efforts began the formation of the Apostle to the Gentiles.
When a visiting member of the church in Jerusalem prophesied that a famine was to come upon the world, the church in Antioch elected Barnabas and Paul to take financial aid to the church in Jerusalem. Having done so they returned to Antioch accompanied by John Mark (St Mark the Evangelist).
The work of St Peter and St Paul and St Barnabas in Antioch was in due course, to produce one of the greatest Doctors of the Church – St John Chrysostom (349 – 407 AD) Patriarch of Constantinople – a native of Antioch.
Then (Acts 13:2) via the prophesy of a member of the Antioch congregation the Holy Spirit directed that Barnabas and Paul should be set aside for further missionary work. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they set out for the port of Seleucia, and embarked for Cyprus arriving at the port of Salamis.
In Cyprus there was a greater Jewish population, and as Barnabas was a Cypriot they had connections they could develop. Accompanied by John Mark they visited all the synagogues, travelling the 60 miles paved road across the island from Salamis to Paphos.
In Paphos the Roman Governor Sergius Paulus asked the Apostles to speak to him about Jesus Christ A magician in the assembly, Elymas, contested everything that Paul said. Filled with the Holy Spirit Paul fixed his eyes on him, and firmly condemned him, telling him that for his evil deeds he would be made blind for a time And so it happened in front of the assembly. Sergius Paulus became a believer. It is interesting that Paul chose to demonstrate God’s power using the same means – temporary blindness- by which Our Lord had so dramatically evidenced His power in Paul’s case.
From Paphos they sailed on to Perge in the Province of Pamphylia. Perge was, even then, a truly ancient city dating from around 1,000 BC. Ruled by the Romans since 188 BC, in Paul’s and Barnabas’ time it was a thoroughly Roman city. It stood 20 km inland on the fringes of the mighty Taurus Mountains rising 12,000 feet high and stretching 500 miles east to west in the northern distance. Acts does not record them preaching in Perge at this time.
Passing on through increasingly mountainous country, they made the 100 mile journey to the Roman Provincial capital of Galatia – Antioch in Pisidia.(Mark left them at Perge and returned to Jerusalem.)
|ANTIOCH IN PISIDIA - RUINS OF ST. PETER'S CHURCH|
Pisidian Antioch was founded in 280 BC and in 25 BC it became a Roman Military Colony. It stood at the intersection of north/south and east/west roads, a location which, coupled with its fertile surroundings and splendid mountain views, made it of great strategic importance for centuries. Augustus had increased its importance in the Empire and settled 3,000 veterans there.
Paul and Barnabas took their place in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Invited to speak, Paul began as St Stephen had done in Paul’s presence on that terrible day 15 years ago, by recounting the history of God’s dealings with Israel culminating with the Messiah –Jesus Christ. The following Sabbath a huge number of the city’s population turned out to hear Paul and his companions . The Jews resented their success with the Gentiles and opposed them in a very hostile manner. Paul and Barnabas clearly instructed them that they had preached to the Jews first out of duty, but, as they had rejected their teaching, they would now concentrate on the Gentiles. Their success in this effort spread throughout the countryside
But the leading Jews of the city conspired to persecute Paul and Barnabas driving them out so that the Apostles “ shook off the dust from their feet as they left them” and proceeded to Iconium.
Iconium –65 miles south-east of Pisidian Antioch is at the foot of Mount Taurus ( to-day it is known as Konya, Turkey).It stands 120 miles inland from the Mediterranean and almost 4,000 feet above sea level. Excavations on the site reveal settlement as far back as 3,000 BC. In later times it became a Hellenistic city, but it was finally ceded to Rome in 133 BC. Iconium was the last city of the region of Phrygia before the border of Lycaonia. Because of its fidelity to Rome, Claudius, Emperor at the time of Paul’s and Barnabas’ visit was to grant it the title Claudioconium . It is the only one of the Galatian cities visited by Paul that still exists. It is here that Paul converted St Thecla mentioned previously in regard to the apocryphal “Acts of Paul and Thecla”.
|ANCIENT ICONIUM IS NOW THE CITY OF KONYA|
Paul and Barnabas preached in the synagogue of Iconium and made a large number of converts. But again, the leading Jews, despite Paul’s and Barnabas’ successes were able to incite such a tumult among the unconverted Jews and Gentiles that it was necessary for Paul and Barnabas to pass into Lycaonia, visiting Lystra and Derbe.
Lystra was only 30 km south of Iconium and had been a Roman Military Colony since 6 BC to enable the Romans to better control the mountain tribes to the west .A proper Roman road had been built between Lystra and Iconium for military purposes, making the journey an easy one.
Here Paul’s and Barnabas’ preaching had a surprising effect. The pagan inhabitants – not Romans, because they spoke their own local dialect- were astounded when Paul healed a man who had been lame from birth. They were sure that Paul the chief speaker, was the god Hermes and that Barnabas was the god Zeus. The local priest of the god Jupiter (Defender of the city) brought out bulls for sacrifice and wreaths for the city gates to worship the “divine” visitors. Distraught at this diabolical turn of events Paul and Barnabas tore their garments and did everything they could to insist that they were mere mortals ,but servants of the one true God. With great difficulty Paul and Barnabas prevented the sacrifice.
But Jews from Antioch and Iconium had followed them. Again they stirred up the volatile crowd against Paul and Barnabas. They were highly effective and the mob took up stones and commenced pelting Paul dragging him out of the city and leaving him for dead.. But the disciples formed a protective ring around Paul to protect him from any further violence .In time he recovered somewhat and struggled to his feet re-entering the city which he and Barnabas left the next day.
They went on to Derbe 60 miles south-east of Lystra. For 1,000 years from the time of Paul Derbe was to be a Christian city. During the persecution of Diocletian in 300 AD its people were to suffer terribly. Its church was burned and buried under a hill of earth .The survivors became refugees across the lands as far as western Europe. In modern day France the surname “Derbes” testifies to their suffering for the Faith .Paul and Barnabas made very many converts in Derbe before returning to Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch encouraging the faithful and, after prayer and fasting, selecting and ordaining presbyters for each of the churches.
They returned to Perge, preaching there on this occasion, then went down to the port of Attalia and embarked for Antioch in Syria. They recounted to the faithful in Antioch all that God had helped them to do on their travels, and remained there building up the church for some time.
COPYRIGHT This article first appeared in the August, 2008 Issue of FOUNDATION