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The Spreading Flame - Series 4: Episode 2

Paul’s message in Pisidian Antioch

| Martin Charlesworth
Acts 13:13-52

From Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas went to Pisidian Antioch to the synagogue where Paul was invited to preach. He started with the Jewish scriptures and went on to explain that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic promises. Gentiles were also present. There was a division amongst the Jews but a church was established.

From Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas went to Pisidian Antioch to the synagogue where Paul was invited to preach. He started with the Jewish scriptures and went on to explain that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic promises. Gentiles were also present. There was a division amongst the Jews but a church was established.


It’s great to have you with us for Series 4 Episode 2, as we continue in the exciting journey that Luke portrays, as the Gospel is spreading further and further away from where it started in Jerusalem, in Acts 1 and 2 and the subsequent chapters.

Background and Introduction

The Gospel has been spreading ever since then and each series represents a step on the journey. We started in Jerusalem in Series 1; in Series 2 the Jewish and Samaritan areas nearby, Judea and Samaria; then in Series 3 the Gospel begins to get to the Gentiles and we ended up in the city of Antioch. Now, in Series 4, we see that Paul and Barnabas become the first Apostolic team to set out formally to plant churches in places where the Gospel is unknown. This is an interesting methodology which becomes a normal part of the New Testament pattern all the way through from this point onwards and gives us some ideas about fresh church planting in the modern age, as we’re seeking to reach more and more people for Christ. There are many things that we can learn.

Mission to Pisidian Antioch

We noticed at the beginning, that from the church in Antioch the Holy Spirit spoke, Paul and Barnabas were commissioned, and they were sent off. In the last episode, they were on the island of Cyprus where they had a good impact amongst the Jewish congregation, and with the Roman ruler, the proconsul Sergius Paulus. Now they are travelling north from the island of Cyprus and into an area called Asia, or Asia Minor, with several provinces in the Roman Empire, which is in the area of modern-day Turkey. As far as we know, there was no Christian witness in this area at all. It was a brand-new mission and Paul and Barnabas are leading the way. We are going to find out what happened - the adventures they had, and the challenges they faced. Acts 13: 13 - 15 tells us how this journey starts,

13 ‘From Paphos, (that’s in Cyprus) Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”’

Acts 13:13-15, NIV

They have landed and gone inland to a city also called Antioch. The first city of Antioch we encounter in Acts 11, Antioch in Syria. This is another Antioch in the province of Pisidia, hence Pisidian Antioch, a different city. We are 150 km inland in a hilly and mountainous area of what we would now call Turkey. We’re in a regional capital and we know there was a Jewish community there. Paul and Barnabas always headed for the Jewish community first. Whenever you go to a new place you find the best point of contact in order to begin preaching the Gospel, and for them it was their Jewish culture and heritage. This very quickly leads them to the synagogue. The synagogue for the Jewish people, especially in these places outside their own land, was a place of social gathering; a place of community; a place of family; a place of helping the poor; a place of worship on the Sabbath day - the Saturday of the week - where they would gather and worship and they always welcomed visitors. The Jews loved to be visited by other Jewish people coming into their community who were travelling. So, when Paul and Barnabas appeared - both Jews - they were welcomed warmly into the synagogue.

There were readings from the Law and the Prophets. It was traditional in the synagogue in many parts of the Roman Empire at this time, for there to be two readings in the service - one from the first five books of the Old Testament, called here ‘the Law’ - (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Then a reading from the prophetic books of the Old Testament, or perhaps the Psalms or Proverbs. The pattern was to have two readings, prayers and a talk, or an address, or message. One of the traditions that existed, as far as we know, in some of these synagogues was for the synagogue ruler to allow a visitor, who was suitably qualified, to give the message. They identified Paul as very well trained in Judaism. He was a Pharisee by background; he had been trained in one of the religious schools that was famous in Jerusalem under a rabbi called Gamaliel. We see this mentioned several times in the book of Acts. Just talking to Paul casually you would realise he’s well-qualified. So, they said, “Why don’t you give the message this morning?” and that’s exactly what Paul wanted.

Preaching to the Jewish Community

In the next passage, we have Paul’s approach to this Jewish community who don’t know much, if anything, about Jesus Christ but they are very familiar with the Old Testament. He goes through the story of the Old Testament before explaining about Jesus Christ. Acts 13:16 - 25,

16 ‘Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ 23 From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’”

Acts 13:16-25, NIV

Paul’s strategy here is to draw his listeners into God’s story by starting at their starting point. They are Jews; they value the Old Testament. So, he reaffirms the foundations of the fact that God called the Jews in ancient times. He called Abraham; God led them to come out of Egypt; he refers to the forty years in the wilderness; he refers to getting into the promised land; he refers to the huge timescale of all that happens; he refers to the judges who were the first rulers of the settled people of Israel in the promised land, and he refers to the first king whom the prophet Samuel appointed as a result of the people’s pressure whose name was Saul and was very unsatisfactory; he was removed after forty years. Then Paul comes to the punchline of this section. They have the human King Saul, chosen by the people because of his capacities and skills, and then we have the divinely chosen king, David, a shepherd boy - the last in the line of his family - an unlikely candidate who Samuel picks out and anoints. Paul emphasises here that the kingship of David is very important. This is a key part of his argument because the Jews listening knew perfectly well that God made a promise to David, which they would be familiar with. Paul may have spoken about it but it isn’t quoted directly by Luke, but in 2 Samuel 7: 16 God made an incredible promise to David and it’s directly relevant to the Gospel. He said,

“Your house (that’s your dynasty) and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

In other words, David’s kingship isn’t a one generation wonder, or a temporary factor in Israel. There’s going to be, in the long term, a greater king coming out of David’s bloodline and his dynasty and his heritage, who will be a divinely appointed ruler to bring in the Kingdom of God. All the Jews believed this. There was no king in Israel now; there was no Davidic king - the Romans were ruling. Any kings they appointed were puppet kings, temporary kings. The Herod dynasty had nothing to do with David’s family. They knew that one day a ruler was going to come and they called that person ‘the son of David’. The punchline of Paul’s argument is that the son of David has come, and his name is Jesus. This is very clear in the argument. Verse 23,

“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.”

This is a very powerful argument amongst the Jewish people because in the prophets there is a promise of a great king coming from David. For example, in Isaiah 9: 7,

“Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

This is a reference to ‘a child who is born, ‘a son who is given,’ in verse 6. That’s a promise they knew about. For example, in Isaiah 11: 1

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”

Jesse was the father of David. This is David’s line we’re talking about. The concept of a branch is used in the Old Testament prophets to describe the Messiah coming; a branch who comes out of the Davidic family, out of the tree of David. Paul is alluding to all these prophecies that are in the minds of many of his listeners, and saying, ‘actually the son of David has come’. If you know the Gospels, you’ll know that Jesus was often called the son of David. Can this be the ‘son of David’? “Hosanna to the Son of David!” This is a powerful claim that he is the Messiah. Then Paul goes on to mention John the Baptist. They’d probably have heard of John the Baptist, who preached before Jesus, but said he was not the one they should look out for. He was pointing in the direction of Jesus. Can you see what Paul is doing here? He’s targeting his audience, explaining to these Jewish people the connection between their faith and the coming of Jesus and saying there’s a direct connection.

Preaching About Jesus

He then goes on in the next passage, Acts 13: 26 - 43, to explain the Gospel. Having introduced Jesus and connected him to Jewish history and said, ‘You should listen to Jesus because he is the one predicted in the Old Testament. It’s all part of your story’. He then explains about Jesus in a way that helps them to understand the Gospel.

26 ‘“Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. 32 We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’ 34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ 35 So it is also stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’ 36 Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. 38 Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the Law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: 41 ‘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.’” 42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.’

Acts 13:26-43, NIV

Here is Paul’s energetic communication with the Jewish audience about Jesus. He tells the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection which is so central, and he points out that Old Testament prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus when he quotes from Psalm 2 in verse 33:

“You are my son; today I have become your father.”

Psalm 2:7, NIV

Psalm 2 was recognised by the Jews as a Psalm about the Messiah. They knew that it was pointing forward to the Messiah. When Paul quoted from Isaiah 55:

“I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David,”

Isaiah 55:3, NIV

they knew this was about the covenant that God had made which pointed to Jesus. When he quoted from Psalm 16,

“I will not let your holy one see decay,”

Psalm 16:10, NIV

they understood that this psalm was David talking about the afterlife for himself, but also potentially predicting a resurrection from the dead, and therefore potentially predicting that Jesus would rise from the dead. That’s the meaning that Peter finds in that passage when he quotes it, on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. So, Paul is using prophecy in a way that only Jews can understand in those days, to say, “These prophecies are pointing to Jesus. Something actually happened in Israel: Jesus died and he rose again from the dead. People have actually seen him risen from the dead and those people are now the witnesses who are travelling around.” Paul was one of those; he saw Jesus on the Damascus road in a unique experience. Probably Barnabas was also one of those who joined the Apostolic group in this period having had a resurrection appearance from Jesus in the forty days between his resurrection and his ascension.

So, Paul is bringing the message very firmly to them, and explaining the Gospel, particularly explaining that Jesus forgives sin in a unique way through his death on the cross that brings about a fundamental change within us, which couldn’t happen through the Law of Moses - the Law that they were obeying. All the regulations that they followed never really made the transformation of the individual in the same way that the cross and the resurrection do. This is a very specific, Jewish-orientated message of Paul. It was like a bombshell, landing in the synagogue. They had never heard anything like it before. Here they were, in a remote Roman province, hundreds and hundreds of kilometres away from the homeland - a small Jewish community - and then this firebrand of a Jewish Rabbi comes in and tells them about Jesus. It was astonishing. It really made them think and they were trying to work out whether they thought he was mad or whether this was the best news they had ever heard and whether he had got his interpretation of the Old Testament right. They were trying to work it out and so, at the end of this passage, we see that they ask him to come again the following week. Some of them wanted to ask Paul lots of questions and so they followed Paul around to ask some more questions.

A Week Later

Our story ends a week later. That was the first Sabbath day in Pisidian Antioch - one sermon, one big impact and a very confused congregation not quite sure what to make of this message. They needed a bit of time to think about it. The final part of this passage is exactly seven days later and the situation has developed enormously in seven days. Acts 13:44 - 52:

44 ‘On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. 46 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. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made youa light for the Gentiles, that youmay bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. 49 The word of the Lord spread throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.’

Acts 13:44-52, NIV

What a difference a week makes! Paul, one Sabbath, is speaking to a small congregation of Jews in the synagogue and hardly anybody else knows he’s in town, and a week later the whole city, probably thousands of people, are gathering. What happened in that week? We don’t know exactly but word got out. Some of the people in the synagogue the week before weren’t Jews, they were actually local Gentiles who were interested in the Jewish God. They went to tell their friends. During that week Paul and Barnabas were probably out and about in town, in the marketplace, talking to people. There may have been some miracles performed by Paul, because very often that’s what happened in the places he went. People were talking about this strange Jewish preacher who had suddenly arrived , and a huge amount of curiosity was stirred up during that seven-day period. We know the Holy Spirit must have been at work in that curiosity because the next time Paul came to the synagogue there were so many people gathered outside it so he must have spoken in public. Literally thousands of people had gathered in that part of town, around where the synagogue was, to hear this man as he came to speak.

The Jews became hostile and they thought, “No, we don’t want this guy. He’s stirring up trouble. His message is confusing. It’s getting all the Gentiles involved in our religion,” and so, they started speaking against him. But Paul said, “I’m turning to the Gentiles. If you don’t receive the message, I will offer it to them.” Many of them believed on that second Sabbath in Pisidian Antioch.

What an extraordinary story! How amazing it is that Paul made such an impact in such a short period of time. He could see trouble brewing because there was opposition rising and he feared that he might be put in prison or attacked physically. So, after a short period of time, Paul realised the best thing to do was to get out of the city and go on to the next place. By the time he had done that, there was a church in Pisidian Antioch that had come to birth through this short evangelistic campaign.

Welcome to the world of St Paul the Apostle. You will see this sort of story being repeated time and again through the next few chapters. He’s on the move; he’s coming to a new place; he goes to the Jewish community; there is a divided response, some believe and some don’t. Then he goes to the Gentile community, more people believe; a church is formed; opposition rises up, there’s controversy in the city; and sometimes there’s persecution; and often Paul has to move on. That’s the kind of pattern we’re going to get all the way through the coming chapters. Be prepared to see that pattern emerging.


What reflections can we make as we come to the end? First of all, the spread of the Gospel is about going to new places. There is still a need in our world today for people to go to new places. It might be a part of your city which hasn’t got a living church. It might be a town or village which has never had the Gospel. It might mean you moving to another country which has been closed to the Gospel. It might mean getting into a social group in the city that has never heard the Gospel. We are always called to look for new places to preach Christ. Paul and Barnabas were willing to go to new places with absolutely no certainty about what the outcome would be; facing tremendous risks but also tremendous opportunity. There is a great momentum in the world today for Apostolic church planting that is similar to the style in the New Testament - taking the word of God in simple terms to people’s homes, marketplaces, and communities. That process needs to go on and on and get even stronger than it is now, in order that the whole world can be reached, and the Gospel proclaimed to every nation. Paul and Barnabas started on this task, 2000 years ago. A task that we still have in the Church today.

The second reflection I have is, in terms of sharing our faith, the best place to start is with people you have most connection with, most natural links. Who is that for you, I wonder? For Paul it was his fellow Jews. He went to the synagogue. It was the natural place to start but it will be different for you. Who are the people you can most naturally share your faith with? That’s where you can prioritise your energy.

In conclusion, I want to say that the birth of this church here in Pisidian Antioch, is dependent not only on the incredible courage of Paul and Barnabas, but the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, which is evidenced in the text in two beautiful ways towards the end. I want to conclude with this positive reflection on the work, the creative work, of the Holy Spirit. In verse 48, when talking about the Gentiles listening to Paul it says, in the second half of that verse:

‘and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.’

This indicates God’s initiative, God’s reaching out and revealing himself to some people in particular, so that they can respond to the message given. This is a divine initiative. How does God do that? He does that through the work of his Holy Spirit. We’ve experienced that work of the Holy Spirit as believers, if we are believers today. That’s happened in us and that happens in other people. The Holy Spirit goes ahead to help us believe. We also notice in verse 52, after Paul and Barnabas had left, that the Holy Spirit strengthens the church:

‘the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.’

That’s a miraculous verse. Why should they be joyful when their leader’s been forced to leave through persecution? They are joyful because they have found a great salvation and they’ve got a great assurance. We thank God in final reflection, for the role of evangelists and leaders who brought the Gospel to us but even more, we thank God for his own work within us that brings us to salvation and keeps us experiencing the reality of that salvation.

Thanks for joining us for this episode and do join us again as we continue on the road with Paul and Barnabas as they travel from place to place in Asia Minor.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Who are your friends? What do you share together?
  • Discipleship
    1. Who are the people you meet naturally who you could share your faith with?
    2. What does it mean for you to move on to different places?
    3. Thank God for evangelists and the work of the Holy Spirit.
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