But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.
After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’ And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.
Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.
‘End of the mission’ – in more ways than one:
1. Victory of the opponents? It might have been! Some Jews from Antioch and Iconium caught up with the missionaries in Lystra, won over the crowds, stoned Paul and dragged his body out of the city, thinking he was dead. But surrounded by the disciples Paul rose up and went back into the city!
2. The furthest point of the missionary journey? Yes, but it didn’t finish there. From Derbe they could have headed straight to Paul’s home town by the shortest route, but they turned back into the fray!
3. The objective of the mission? Acts 14:21 gives a summary of what Paul and Barnabas did in Derbe. ‘Having evangelised that city and having discipled many they returned to Lystra and Iconium and Antioch,’ is how Luke wrote it in Greek. His word for ‘many’ can also mean ‘enough’. They had discipled enough to get the new Christian group started on their new way of life in Christ in that setting.
That is also the objective identified in what we call the Great Commission. Matthew 28:18-20 in Greek has only one imperative verb: disciple! ‘Disciple all the nations!’
Incidents recorded in other parts of Acts 13 and 14 show the approach that Paul and Barnabas took to discipling the different societies they met along the way: living with them for a while, responding to the various features and challenges of their cultures, and together developing their understanding and experience of the purposes and power of God the creator known through Jesus.
Maybe this will help us when we think more about Walking the Way, living the life of Jesus today which is being developed as the URC’s renewed emphasis on discipleship and mission.
4. Embedding the transformation? Paul and Barnabas returned to those communities, establishing the souls of the new disciples, encouraging their faith, appointing elders in each assembly, and with prayer and fasting entrusted them to the Lord.
5. Debrief, feedback and evaluation? The conclusion of this mission came through returning to Antioch in Syria, to the congregation which had committed them to the grace of God. Paul and Barnabas spoke of what God had done with them, and how God had opened a door of faith to the nations.
And so God’s mission continues …
God our Father, thank you for opening the door and for calling us to walk your way. As we are going along, in whatever situation, help us to fulfil our part in the transformation of society by the grace of your love in Christ. Amen
The Rev’d Bernie Collins is a retired minister and member at Avenue St Andrew’s URC, Southampton and Convenor, URC Mission Committee