After disembarking from a ship on the southern Turkish coast, the Apostle Paul and his traveling companion, Barnabus, began their journey inland toward the Roman Province of Pisidia. They had no idea of the exciting adventure that lay ahead!
Crossing over the Suitan mountain range in central Turkey, they came down the fertile, cultivated slopes to the city of Pisidian Antioch near the shores of Lake Aksehir. Because the surrounding land was rich with grain, sheep and cattle, many wealthy Romans and Greeks resided there. A small community of Jews, attracted by the prosperous life in the region, had also settled in the city and worked in various trades.
As usual, when they entered a new city, Paul and Barnabus went first into the Jewish synagogues to preach about Jesus! The reason for this was simple: Paul and Barnabus were converted Jews themselves, so wanted to reach their Jewish brethren. Also, in a way, they owed it to the Jews to tell them first, because the Jews had been waiting expectantly for hundreds of years for their Savior to come and save them. Therefore, Paul and Barnabus expected, that, of all people they would meet, the Jews should be the most eager to hear the good news about Jesus Christ!
After being in Pisidian Antioch a couple of days, the Sabbath day arrived, and Paul and Barnabus entered the local synagogue and sat down. It was rare that visiting Jews came to this somewhat isolated city, so the elders were pleased to see the two new faces! Looking around, Paul noticed that there were not only Jews present, but there were a number of Greek men and women there who had been converted to faith in God.
One of the elders, an old man named Joel bar-Zabdiel, stood up and unrolled a scroll and began to read from the Law of Moses and the writings of the Old Testament Prophets. After he had finished reading, he sent a young man over to where Paul and Barnabus were sitting, who passed on a message to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, or any exhortation for them, please speak."
Standing up, Paul nodded to the elders, then began to speak. To their surprise, he began to tell them that the Savior that they had waited so long for had come!--And that His name was Jesus Christ! Astonished, the audience listened attentively as Paul showed how Jesus--by His life and death--had fulfilled the prophecies that the Old Testament Prophets had written about the Messiah!
Then Paul said, "Even though they read the words of the Prophets every Sabbath day, the people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah that the Prophets foretold!--Yet even when they sentenced Him to death on the cross, they fulfilled the words of the Prophets which said that He would die just such a death to take away the sins of the World! (See Psalm 22:1; 7-18; Isaiah 53:4-12.)
"Therefore," Paul said, "I want you to know that you can have forgiveness of sins through Jesus! Everyone who believes in Him is freed from all sin!--Something that the law of Moses could never do for you!"
Several people in the audience were thrilled with this good news, but several of the Jewish elders began angrily whispering and murmuring among themselves.
"Why, I've obeyed the laws of Moses faithfully for over sixty years!" Joel muttered indignantly, "Does this stranger mean to tell me now that I'm still not righteous and that I haven't earned my Salvation after all my years of righteous works?--That only this fellow called Jesus can save me?! Bah!"
Several people shared Joel's sentiments, but many others were excited to hear the message of Salvation, and invited Paul and Barnabus to come back the next Sabbath to speak further about these things! Grudgingly, Joel agreed to let them return the following week to speak again.
When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and Greek converts followed Paul and Barnabus out of the synagogue, and Paul explained to them more fully how they only needed to believe on Jesus to be saved! Soon the news spread like wildfire through the entire city that he was going to speak at the Synagogue in one week to teach both Jews and Greeks how they could be saved!
Such news caused a great stir in this isolated city, so the next Sabbath, almost the entire city gathered to listen! This was the first time that most of them had ever gone anywhere near the synagogue, as the Jews' strict, traditional religion had never appealed to most of them.
By the time Joel bar-Zabdiel and the regular Jewish congregation arrived, there were so many thousands of people gathered around their synagogue that they could barely push their way through the crowd to the front! As he finally struggled through the crowd to the front door, Joel saw Paul and Barnabus about to speak.
Standing on the steps of the synagogue, and speaking in a loud voice so that all could hear him, Paul began to explain God's simple plan of Salvation. But the Bible says that "when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy"! In all of his 60 years, Joel had only seen but a mere handful of Greeks convert to the Jewish faith, but now there was a crowd of nearly 15,000 people gathered around their synagogue!--But not to hear him! No!--They had come to hear from the strange leaders of this "erroneous new Jewish sect"!
Filled with envy, Joel climbed up on the steps and began to contradict and argue against what Paul was saying. Then the other Jewish elders chimed in and began denouncing Jesus, saying that Jesus was not the Savior and that Paul was speaking lies!
"You can't be saved just by believing in this false prophet, Jesus!" Joel cried, "You have to be righteous and live a strict, holy life and obey every jot and tittle of the Mosaic Law to earn your Salvation!"
The whole city listened in stunned silence, and Paul saw that the crowd was beginning to become confused by the Jews' screams and arguments! Then suddenly the Holy Spirit fell on Paul and Barnabus, and with great power Paul boldly shouted, "We were obliged to speak the Word of God to you Jews first! However, since you reject it and show yourselves as being unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Greeks!"
A roar of applause broke out amongst the thousands of Greeks! Hooted down by the crowd, the jealous Jewish elders were put to silence! That day, multitudes of Greeks opened their hearts and accepted Jesus as their Savior! So overjoyed were they about their Salvation, that they began to spread it to their friends and relatives throughout all the villages of the Province of Pisidia!
Joel was insane with jealousy!--Not only had he been exposed for the self-righteous phoney that he was, but now over half of his Jewish congregation, as well as hundreds of people in the city and the surrounding villages had been converted to this new faith! What could he do to stop them? They had already defeated him in a public debate, proving from the scriptures that they were right! Finally he came up with an evil plan:
There were several influential Greek women in the city who believed in God and were sympathetic to the Jews, so Joel and the other elders poisoned them against Paul and Barnabus, convincing them that these strangers were deceiving the people, and that they needed to stop them! Then, together with these influential noblewomen, the Jews went to the city rulers and pressured them into taking action against Paul and Barnabus!
Soon the persecution was made official. Paul and Barnabus were summoned by the city officials and ordered to leave not only the city, but to be out of the Province of Pisidia in only a couple of days! To make sure that they left, the rulers, accompanied by Joel, the Jews and the high noblewomen, escorted them to the city gates.
But hundreds of believers watched from the city walls and lined the roadway out of the city, cheering Paul and Barnabus as they left, begging them to come back soon. And the Bible says, these new Christians "were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit!"
The happy ending: Although Paul and Barnabus had been unjustly deported from the Province, within one month they returned secretly to Pisidian Antioch to "strengthen the disciples and encourage them to remain true to the faith!" Paul warned them, "Be prepared to go through many such hardships and persecutions before you finally make it to Heaven!" Then Paul and Barnabus appointed leaders amongst the new Christians to be responsible for the church in their city. After praying over them, they left and went through the many villages of the Province, strengthening the disciples. (Acts 14:21-24)
(1) Every Sabbath day, the Jews read the Scriptures which talked about the coming Savior, yet they still did not recognize Jesus when He came. Jesus said, "You study the Scriptures, for you trust that by them you have eternal life, and these Scriptures speak of Me! Yet you refuse to come to Me that you might have life." (John 5:39,40) Why do so many people refuse to come to Jesus and simply accept His forgiveness? Because that would be admitting they are not righteous enough to save themselves, which is just too humiliating for many self-righteous "good" people to do! (See Romans 10:3.)
(2) The main reason that the Jews of Pisidian Antioch persecuted Paul and Barnabus was not because they genuinely believed they were Scripturally wrong and that they were a "false sect", but because they were jealous of the appeal that their liberating message of Love had on the common people!
(3) Jesus' message didn't appeal to the self-righteous religious leaders, but the Bible says, "the common people heard him gladly"! (Mark 12:37) Because of their jealousy over Jesus' large following, the religious leaders plotted to kill Him (John 11: 47-50,53-54), and finally "delivered him to Pilate out of envy." (Matthew 27:18)--The same reason that they persecute us true Christians of today!
(4) Paul and Barnabus could prove that they were right from the Word of God!--So because their religious enemies couldn't defeat them in honest debate, they resorted to lying to the "good" religious people of their city in order to turn them against Paul, and then to use their influence with the authorities to have them deported!--And religious persecutors of this modern day still use the same exact tactics!
Prayer: "Dear Lord, please help me to humbly accept the Truth from Your Word, and not to resist it or fight against it in a spirit of pride or jealousy. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen."
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