The Apostle Paul: Three Journeys That Would Change the World: Part II of III
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”
In our previous blog about Paul, he was converted to serve Jesus and went on three extensive missions throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. We pick up the story where Paul has now retreated to Tarsus, his hometown, and is waiting for a sign of what to do next. As a professional tent-maker, he was kept busy tending those who needed his services. For a zealous person like Paul, sitting and waiting for his next path in service to Jesus was certainly hard. But events had to line up before Paul could precede.
Peter, the leader of The Way, had a dream that showed him the next step—it was time to spread the word about Jesus beyond the confines of Judea. Peter began to visit other cities outside Judea and realized that the message of the Gospel was a universal one by saying:
“Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
All the world needed to hear the story of Jesus.
Also, by now, people outside of Judea had heard about Jesus and had begun to believe on their own. Peter felt they needed help with the message of Jesus and Peter turned to Barnabas. So Barnabas went to Antioch to help investigate this phenomenon of the growing desire to know Jesus outside of Judea. Realizing he needed more than himself, he went to Tarsus to get Paul.
Finally, Paul had a way to pitch in and work for Jesus.
The last few years had humbled Paul and cut away the clumsiness of his overly exuberant approach. He was ready and now was his time. Thus began the first missionary trip of Paul.
On this trek, Barnabas and Paul first went to Antioch. They continued to minister to the faithful there but eventually left to go Cyprus and then on to southern Asia Minor before finally returning to Antioch.
While in Antioch, they were invited to speak at the local synagogue on Sundays. Paul took the lead and accurately depicted the history of Israel—from the wanderings of Abraham to King David. Paul then introduced Jesus as the continuation of this story. He explained the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Many were amazed, and Paul and Barnabas were invited back the next Sunday to preach. The next Sunday, most of the town showed up to hear Paul. Again, many were converted. This upset the local Jewish officials, who spoke against Paul.
For Paul, this led to an important decision.
No longer would he preach in front of the traditional Jewish community, but only to the Gentiles. This left Paul with a problem to solve.
Many of the followers of The Way in Judea viewed themselves as a sect of Judaism and, as such, all those who converted must also agree to continue the prevailing Jewish customs—things like circumcision and eating only kosher foods. Paul’s argument was that Jesus wasn’t looking for obedience, but for a conversion of the heart. True belief didn’t rest with adherence to customs, but to a heart that loved God.
It was hard for those in Jerusalem to agree with Paul.
After a lifetime of following the prescribed rituals, this was a big hurdle. At a council meeting, of which there was much debate, they eventually agreed to let Paul proceed.
Paul’s first Journey is estimated to have lasted as long as eight years. But in this journey, two thoughts developed that clarified Paul’s direction. First, his mission was to convert the Gentiles. The second was that a heart for God was more important than following local customs and traditions.
Paul’s second journey would take him further.
Starting in Jerusalem, he would visit places like Athens, Corinth, and Philippi. Before the start of this second trek, Paul and Barnabas went back to Antioch. There they had a disagreement about a fellow traveler—John Mark. Paul was disappointed that John Mark had left them during the first journey when things got tough and didn’t believe he should join them on the next trip. Barnabas disagreed with Paul. They agreed to part ways, and now Paul was on his own. The last vestige of connection to the group in Jerusalem was now gone. Paul would join up with Silas and Timothy on his subsequent journeys.
But Paul thrived.
In Athens, he was invited to speak at the famed Areopagus—a place where the intellectual elite of Greece gathered to hear speakers and philosophers of great reputation. As Paul roamed the city of Athens, he noticed the many statues of the Greek Gods. One of these statues was of the unknown God. The statue of the unknown God became the centerpiece for Paul’s message to the Greeks. After he presented the history of Israel and the story of Jesus, Paul asserted that because they didn’t know the story of Jesus, perhaps this unknown God was Jesus. The full sermon can be read in Acts [17:22]-31.
While not all were converted, all were amazed at Paul’s gift for oratory. Later, the Greek Orthodox church became an important part of Christian history. In fact, during the Dark Ages, many of the forward movements of Christianity came as a result of the Greek church’s involvement.
In Philippi, Paul met a fortune-teller of great repute. She was the servant of a few locals and generated a substantial amount of income. Paul converted her, and she immediately gave up telling fortunes, which naturally upset her masters. They turned the city against Paul and his companions, who were jailed. An earthquake opened the doors to the jail, and Paul escaped, converting more people, including the jailor who was an eyewitness to the doors being opened by the earthquake.
During his second journey, Paul established himself as an independent street preacher who converted many around the Mediterranean world.
Paul went back to Antioch to rest before he started his third journey. From here, he went back to many of the communities he had previously visited to strengthen their faith.
The importance of the third journey was that many of Paul’s writings come from this period. Notably, Paul’s great letter to the Romans. While Paul didn’t visit Rome, he knew that there were many who believed there, and the letter was instructional. But it stands today as the first book in the New Testament after the book of Acts. Its placement is symbolic of the encompassing story of our faith.
Paul returned to Jerusalem after the third journey, where he was initially warmly received. This would be his fifth and last visit.
To be continued….
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
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