There are several things that catch my eye in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas head off on their first missionary journey from Antioch, and took Mark with them. They locked horns in a spiritual battle with a sorcerer on the island of Cyprus, after which Paul seemed to become the acknowledged leader of the group. Then they sailed off for the mainland where Paul and company preached in the synagogues of Galatia, but Mark left and headed for Jerusalem immediately after their visit to the synagogue in Perga. Why did Mark leave? This always puzzled me years ago as a young believer, and why did he return to Jerusalem? He was sent out from Antioch. Was he homesick and wanted to return to mommy? This doesn’t seem to fit, but I’ll speak more of this when we come to Acts 15, because, whatever occurred, it was serious enough to separate Barnabas and Paul, after they’d been through so much together.
Next we find Paul giving his longest sermon on record in the Bible. He spoke to the Jews and the God-fearers (gentiles) of Antioch in Pisidia. His words got mixed reviews there, mostly because the gentiles were so taken with what Paul had to say, that they got their friends, relatives and neighbors to come to the service on the following Sabbath. This caused the local Jews to become very wary of Paul’s message. All of a sudden they were in the minority in their own synagogue. What would such things lead to? So, they began to criticize and reject Paul’s Gospel. It is here where it really gets interesting. One would think, if the Jews rejected the Gospel, Paul wouldn’t have a base whereby to preach his message. Most gentiles didn’t know beans about the God of the Jews. Only the gentile God-fearers knew anything about God, and that only because they worshiped with the Jews each Sabbath. So, how would Paul get the message out?
According to Romans 8:28 God works out all things for the good of those who are called according to his will. The unbelieving Jews were so upset with Paul that they began to speak with leading gentiles of the community to the end that Paul and Barnabas were ejected from the community. After all, if every gentile became a believer, the economy would suffer in that those who created idols etc. would no longer have a market for their products, so Paul and company had to go! This is what is known as preaching “Christ of contention” (Philippians 1:15-16). More and more gentiles began hearing about the Gospel from those who hated Paul, so whether Paul was preaching or preached against—the Gospel that God raised Christ from the dead to save us from our sins, was getting out. Even those speaking against Paul had to say why they were against him. It is astonishing, is it not, that the word of God cannot be harmed by its enemies? God is able to use even the enemies of the Gospel to preach about Jesus and what he has done. It is all up to the Holy Spirit to use this for God’s purposes and for the ultimate good of his people. Praise God!