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Story of the Bible by  Jesse Lyman Hurlbut
Table of Contents


 

 

THE EARLIEST MISSIONARIES

Acts xi: 19 to 30; xiii: 1, to xiv: 28.

[703]

W E have seen how, after the death of Stephen, those who were driven out of Jerusalem went everywhere telling of Jesus. Some of these men travelled as far as to Antioch in Syria, which was a great city, far in the north, two hundred and fifty miles from Jerusalem. At first they spoke only to Jews, preaching the word of Christ; but soon many Gentiles, people who were not Jews, heard about the gospel and wished to have it preached also to them. So these men began preaching to the Gentiles, telling them about Jesus Christ and how to be saved.


[Illustration]

ANTIOCH IN SYRIA

The Lord was with the gospel, and in a little time many believed in Christ, a great number, both of Jews and Gentiles. Thus at Antioch in Syria arose a church where Jews and Gentiles worshipped together and forgot that they had ever been apart. The news came to the mother-church in Jerusalem, that in Antioch Gentiles were coming to Christ. As all the followers of Christ in Jerusalem were Jews, they were not sure whether Jews and Gentiles could worship together as one people. It was decided, after a time, that some wise man should go from Jerusalem to Antioch and see this new church of Jews and Gentiles. For this errand, they chose Barnabas, the good man who had given his land to be sold to help the poor, and who had brought Saul to the church when the disciples were afraid of him. So Barnabas took the long journey from Jerusalem to Antioch. When he saw these new disciples, so many, so strong in their love for Christ, so united in their spirit, and so earnest in the gospel, he was glad, and he spoke to them all, telling them to stand fast in the Lord. For Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.

The church at Antioch was growing so fast that it needed men for leaders and teachers. Barnabas thought of Saul, who had once [704] been an enemy, but was now a follower of Christ. Saul was at that time in Tarsus, his early home; and to this place Barnabas went to find him. He brought Saul to Antioch, And there Barnabas and Saul stayed together for a year, preaching to the people and teaching those who believed in Christ. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called by the name Christians.

At one time some men came from Jerusalem to Antioch, to whom God had showed things that should come to pass. These men were Prophets, speaking from God. One of them, a man named Agabus, said through the Spirit of God, that a great famine, a need of food, was soon to come upon all the lands. This came as Agabus the prophet had said, in the days when Claudius was emperor at Rome. Over all the lands food was very scarce, and many suffered from hunger. When the followers of Christ in Antioch heard that their brethren of Jerusalem and Judea were in need, they gave money, as each one was able, to help them; and they sent Barnabas and Saul with it. Barnabas and Saul carried the gifts of the church to Jerusalem, and stayed there for a time. When they went back to Antioch, they took with them the young man John Mark, the son of the Mary to whose house Peter went when he was set free from prison, as we read in the last story.

Some time after they returned to Antioch, the Lord called Barnabas and Saul to go forth and preach the good news of Christ to the people in other lands. At one time, when the members of the church were praying together, the Spirit of the Lord spoke to them, saying, "Set Barnabas and Saul apart for a special work to which I have called them."

Then the leaders of the church at Antioch prayed, and laid their hands on the head of Barnabas and Saul. And Barnabas and Saul went forth, taking with them John Mark, the young man from Jerusalem as their helper. They went down to the shore of the Great Sea at Selucia, and took a ship, and sailed to the island of Cyprus. In that island they visited all the cities, and preached Christ in all the synagogues of the Jews.

At a place called Paphos, in the west of the island of Cyprus, they met the Roman ruler of the island, a man named Sergius Paulus. He was a good man, and sent for Barnabas and Saul, that he might learn from them of Christ. But with the ruler was a Jew named Elymas, who claimed to be a prophet, and who opposed [705] Barnabas and Saul in their teaching, and tried to persuade the ruler not to hear the gospel.

Then Saul, full of the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on this man Elymas, the false prophet, and said to him, "O thou man full of wickedness, thou child of the evil one, thou enemy of the right, wilt thou not stop to oppose the word of the Lord? The hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind for a time, not able to see the sun!"

And at once a mist and a darkness fell upon Elymas, and he groped about, feeling for some one to lead him by the hand. When the ruler saw the power of the Lord in bringing this stroke of blindness upon his enemy, he was filled with wonder, and believed the gospel of Christ.


[Illustration]

ELYMAS STRUCK BLIND

From this time Saul ceased to bear his old name, and was called Paul. He was no longer Saul, but "Paul the Apostle," having all the power that belonged to Peter, and John, and the other apostles.

From the island of Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas and John Mark [706] sailed over the sea to a place called Perga. At this place John Mark left them, and went back to his home in Jerusalem. But Paul and Barnabas went into the land of Asia Minor, and came to a city called Antioch. This was not Antioch in Syria, from which they had come, but another Antioch in a region called Pisidia. There they went into the synagogue, and Paul preached to both Jews and Gentiles. Not many of the Jews believed Paul's words, but a great number of the Gentiles, people who were not Jews, became followers of Christ. This made the Jews very angry, and they roused up against Paul and Barnabas all the chief men of the city and they drove Paul and Barnabas away. They went to Iconium, another city, and there they preached the gospel with such power that many of both Jews and Gentiles believed in Christ. But the Jews who would not believe stirred up the city against Paul and Barnabas. They gathered a crowd of people, intending to seize the apostles and to do them harm, and to kill them. But they knew of the coming of their enemies, and as they had now done their work in Iconium, and had planted the church, they quietly went away from the city.

The apostles Paul and Barnabas next went to the city of Lystra, in the land of Lycaonia, and there they preached the gospel. There were few Jews in that city, and they preached to the people of the land who were worshippers of idols. Among those who heard Paul speak at Lystra was a lame man, who had never been able to walk. Paul fixed his eyes on this man, and saw that he had faith to be made strong. He said to him with a loud voice, "Stand up on your feet!"

And at the words the man leaped up and walked. As the [707] people saw how the lame man had been healed they were filled with wonder, and said, in the language of their land, "The gods from heaven have come down to us in the forms of men!"

They thought that Barnabas was Jupiter, whom they worshipped as the greatest of the gods; and because Paul was the chief speaker, they thought that he was Mercury, the messenger of the gods. In front of their city was a temple of Jupiter; and the priest of the temple brought oxen, and garlands of flowers, and was about to offer a sacrifice to Barnabas and Paul as gods. It was some time before the two apostles understood what the people were doing. But when they saw that they were about to offer sacrifice to them, Paul and Barnabas rushed out among the people, and cried out, "Men, why do you do such things as these? We are not gods, but men like yourselves. And we bring you word that you should turn from these idols, which are nothing, to the living God, who made the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and all things. It is God who has done good to you, and given you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling you with food and gladness."


[Illustration]

PAUL AND BARNABAS REFUSE THE SACRIFICE

And even with words like these they could scarcely keep the people back from offering sacrifices to them. But after a time some Jews came from Iconium. These Jews stirred up the people against Paul, so that instead of worshipping him, they stoned him, and dragged out of their city what they supposed was his dead body. Then they left him, and as the believers gathered around, weeping, Paul rose up alive, and went again into the city. On the next day he journeyed with Barnabas to Derbe. There they preached the [708] gospel and led many as disciples to Christ. After this they went again to the cities where they had preached, to Lystra in Lycaonia, to Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia, and to Perga in Pamphylia, and visited the churches which they had founded. They encouraged the believers, telling them to continue in the faith, and saying to them that those who would enter into the kingdom of God must expect to meet with trouble, and that God would give them a full reward.


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