5/16/16 The Return Journey

The next morning, Paul and Barnabas enter Derbe, another Gentile town, prepared for the worst but hoping for the best.  After going door to door, introducing themselves and inviting people to hear their message in the center of town, they have a large number of people interested in what they have to say.  Everyone they have met so far has looked curiously at Paul’s numerous wounds, but nobody has commented or asked about them.  When they have met most of the population of the town, at least those who live centrally, they make their way to the town square, praying as they go.  Paul once again gets up in front of the townspeople and patiently and lovingly explains the message of Jesus’ love and forgiveness to them.  Many people seem eager to hear more, but many more turn away before Paul has even finished speaking.  “Anyone who is interested in learning more, please join Barnabas and me for supper this evening,” Paul says, wrapping up his address.  That evening, about half the town shows up to eat and speak with the two men, their faces shining with anticipation.  Seeing the hope in their eyes renews Paul’s spirit, and he animatedly begins to teach the people all about Jesus and why He came and died for us.  At the end of the evening, just about everyone present is ready to be baptized.  There is singing and joyful celebration as the people turn to Jesus to forgive them for their sins and give them a new life that can never be taken away from them.  Paul and Barnabas stay in Derbe for quite a while, giving Paul a chance to both heal his own body and to help these new believers to form a church of their own.  They find a few men who are very strong in their new faith and make them the leaders of the new church.  When Paul and Barnabas feel that the church is strong enough to stand on its own, they hold a special prayer gathering to ask for God’s blessing on the church and all the townspeople.  Then they say goodbye and set out to retrace their steps back to Antioch, stopping along the way to encourage and strengthen the believers in each city they visited on their journey.  At each town, they set up church leadership and pray for the believers.  Their first stop is Lystra.  Paul doesn’t let the frightening memories of his stoning there prevent him from entering the town boldly and working with the believers there to establish another new church.  He tells them, “We have to endure much trouble before we get to the Kingdom of Heaven.  But take heart, because it is promised to us by God, and cannot be taken away by men!”  Soon, the church of Lystra is on its feet, new leaders are chosen, and Paul and Barnabas make their way back to Iconium.  Now that the Jews there have had a chance to cool off and have lived with the new believers for several months, they are no longer hostile to the presence of Paul and Barnabas.  The two men stay for a short while, strengthening the church that they started when they were there last, and finally they depart for the Pisidian Antioch.  When they reach this next stop on their route, they are again somewhat surprised at the lack of reaction from the Jews.  Thanking God for His help on their mission, they do the same things in the church there that they have all along their way, teaching and encouraging the believers, strengthening them in their faith, setting up church leadership, and praying for them.  When all this is done, they travel on to Pamphylia and Perga, establishing churches there as well.  Leaving Perga, they go to Attalia and board a boat to return to the Syrian Antioch, where they began this whole journey.  Arriving in the Syrian Antioch, they go at once to the area of the city where the believers gather to worship.  They spread the word among the community that they have returned and would like to meet with them to share all that happened along the way.  The people gather together and listen raptly as Paul and Barnabas tell about their journey, all the new believers, most of them Gentiles, and about Paul’s stoning and miraculous recovery.  “It is as if God has opened a locked door and is now allowing Gentiles to come into His Kingdom,” Paul tells them.  “It has been wonderful working with these people; they are so overjoyed to be worshipping the true God and to know without a doubt that Jesus is the Messiah and they are saved by His sacrifice on the cross.”  Happy to be back among these people that had sent them off on their journey in the first place, Paul and Barnabas end up staying for quite a while, worshipping and encouraging them, and learning from them as well.

 

Acts 14:21-28,

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