When the time came, Paul, Barnabas and John Mark left Cyprus and sailed for Asia Minor. For whatever reason, Mark decided he had had enough and went home; Luke does not tell us why he did that, thus we can only speculate. The rest of the party set out for Pisidian Antioch which was quite a distance inland, beyond the Tarsus Mountains. Upon arrival, they proceeded to the synagogue, where Paul stepped up as the leader and delivered a barn-burner of a message.
As had Peter before him, Paul went through the history of Israel, showing the chain of events that had led to the present day and the preeminence of Jesus, the Son of God. The Jews who were present, along with a number of Gentile converts were electrified by his message, and you might be too if you read it; it was certainly one for the ages. Afterwards, the leaders of the synagogue invited them back the following week to teach further about Jesus.
So far, so good.
The following Sabbath, not only the synagogue members, but the whole town came out to hear what Paul would say. Apparently, the Jewish leaders were upset by this; Luke says they were jealous of Paul. I don’t know about you, but this makes me wonder… what had they expected; didn’t they know that this young Paul was a real up-and–comer… a Pharisee among Pharisees? Surely they knew that he was one of those young men who would later be called the “best and the brightest” of their generations…
Whatever the case may have been, they turned on Paul and Barnabas, contradicting them and heaping abuse on them:
Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
Two things jump out at me here: The first, and obvious one is that this is the pattern we have seen before; the gospel is proclaimed first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles. Second is a point that many will have a problem with: When the Jewish leaders decide for whatever reason to reject the message of Christ, Paul and Barnabas were done with them. Neither Paul nor Barnabas got down on their knees begging them to reconsider, and no, they didn’t share the love… the Jewish leaders turned on the message, and the messengers turned on the Jewish leaders. In doing this, they shared God’s love with the ones who were still receptive to it; the Gentiles.
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (13:48)
The Jewish leaders weren’t quite finished; they stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, who withdrew from the area, but the Word spread throughout the region
I must admit that this is a tough lesson, maybe that’s why many commentators don’t speak of it as plainly as I just did, but Paul had warned them the week before when he quoted the prophet:
“‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.’” (Acts 13:41; c.f. Hab. 1:5)
For Paul and Barnabas, it was on to Iconium…