Jesus said, “Come follow me,” and the disciples did. He told them to go make disciples, and they did. And no disciple was more like Jesus than Paul.
RVL teaches his group near the Damascus Road, where he reads the story of the conversion of Saul, later Paul. Saul had been a faithful Jew, persecuting Christians because this is what he thought God wanted.
Paul had just walked past a temple to Caesar, built to proclaim Caesar as lord. Saul learned who the true Lord is!
The lesson moves to Galatia, where Paul did some of his missionary work. The capital of Galatia is Antioch. Paul had to walk 200 miles to Antioch, passing through small villages, only to see the astonishing grandeur of Antioch of Pisidia.
Augustus built 13 Roman colonies populated by veterans of his legions, planted to declare the glory of Rome in the midst of a Grecian territory.
Some of the original road has been preserved — the Romans built 57,000 miles of such roads!
Antioch, like Rome, was built in 7 districts, to replicate Rome, built on 7 hills, and each district was named after a hill in Rome. The idea was to reproduce the image of Rome. In the center of the town was a temple to Caesar — with his statue in the middle.
Paul’s first missionary tour sailed from Antioch of Syria to Cyprus, and converted a high official of Rome — Sergius Paulus — equivalent to the secretary of state of Rome (Acts 13:7 ff). Then Paul went to Galatia, a miniature Rome, where he he took the name of his first convert. But Sergius Paulus, who is known to history, was from Galatia!
(Paul is first referred to as “Paul” in Acts 13:9, as part of the story of the conversion of Sergius Paulus. God did not rename Saul, a Jewish name, as Paul, a Roman name. RVL speculates that it’s no coincidence that Paul took the surname of his first convert.
Who knows? Sergius Paulus may have given Paul letters of introduction when he traveled to his home town.)
Paul says he always wanted to go to Rome — to stand before the emperor himself. But God had other plans.
Paul went first to the synagogue, and they asked him to speak. Perhaps they knew he was a student of the famous Gamaliel. He then goes through history to show how God’s story leads to Jesus.
Then he declares that God wants Jews and Gentiles to know Jesus!
(Acts 13:16-41) Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, 18 he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, 19 he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave 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. He 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 Savior 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 think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’
26 “Brothers, 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 tree 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 traveled 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 fathers 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 The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words:
“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’
35 So it is stated elsewhere:
“‘You will not let your Holy One see decay.’
36″For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
38 “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by 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.'”
And they said they wanted to hear more, the following Sabbath. Then the “whole city” gathered to hear him — Jews, God-fearing Gentiles, and the other Gentiles — here in a mini-Rome. The God-fearing Gentiles rejoiced — they didn’t have to become fully Jewish.
(Acts 13:46-49) 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 you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region.
But some Jewish leaders objected to this idea and stirred up trouble with the “leading women” of the city, so Paul was kicked out of town.
Notice, that to Gentile/Roman ears, “good news” referred to the enthronement of Caesar, the “lord” and “savior” of the world and “son of god.” The words Paul preached could have been taken as sedition, that is, treason, but in this city of Roman soldiers, the word was gladly accepted by many Gentiles. But some of the Jews were unhappy with this new preaching.
(Acts 13:50-51) But the Jews 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 from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.
“God-fearing women” would have been Gentile women who believed in the God of the Jews. The Jews likely objected to Paul allowing Gentiles to be converted without becoming Jews.
Paul then traveled to Iconium.
(Acts 14:1-7) At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders.
4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the good news.
The Jews objected to Paul for surely the same reasons Paul had earlier persecuted the followers of Jesus. Some doubted that Jesus was the true Messiah. After all, how could the true Messiah be crucified? He was hung on a tree, making him accursed under the Torah (Deu 21:23). But Paul actually emphasized the crucifixion in his sermon (13:29).
Others would have objected to inviting the Gentiles into the kingdom without requiring them to convert to Judaism, particularly not requiring circumcision and the honoring of Sabbath and other holy days. You see, during the Maccabeean period (under the rule of the Hellenistic kings who followed Alexander), the Jews revolted and gained their independence over their insistence on honoring Torah, particularly circumcision and Sabbath. Thus, these became the “marks” of being faithful to Torah. To reject the necessity of these practices would have seemed to dishonor their ancestors, many of whom died to preserve the right to practice these things.