(67) They examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true – Acts 17:11

After recording Peter’s experience with Cornelius and the conversion of Saul, Luke moves his focus to the church in Antioch. Antioch was the leading city of Syria at this time, and the third city of the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria in Egypt (its ruins are near the current town of Antakya in Turkey). It was a very multi-cultural city and when disciples who were scattered after the stoning of Stephen arrived there some of them preached to the Greeks as well as the Jews. As a result, a large, multiracial church was established.

When the Jerusalem church heard about this they sent Barnabas to check it out. He was very pleased with what he saw and stayed to encourage the young church. He also went to find Saul, who had returned to his home town of Tarsus, and asked him to come and join him in Antioch to teach the new converts.

Luke notes that “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (Acts 11:26). Whether this name was used proudly by the disciples or was a term of mockery used by outsiders we are not told, but it stuck and became the name for those who followed Christ.

The second half of Acts is dedicated to Paul’s travels around the northern Mediterranean – known as his missionary journeys – taking the good news of Jesus to Jews and Gentiles and establishing many churches. His first journey started in Antioch when God told the leaders of the church to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2), which was to go and spread the good news to other regions. They set sail for Cyprus and then to towns in the province of Galatia (in present day Turkey).

Their time in each town followed a similar pattern. Paul, as he is called from this time on, started by preaching to the Jews in the local synagogue. As a consequence, some Jews accepted that Jesus was the promised Messiah and became Christians while others opposed the message, both verbally and physically. As a result, Paul and Barnabas were excluded from the synagogue and went to preach to the Gentiles, many of whom responded positively and became Christians. Paul’s preaching was accompanied by “signs and wonders” (Acts 14:3), including healings and the popularity of their message led to great jealousy from the Jewish leaders who had them driven out of the town or, in some cases, even stoned.

This left new church congregations which had the Old Testament and what they had heard about Jesus from Paul and Barnabas. Revisiting the churches on their return journey they appointed leaders, known as elders, to oversee the churches. This was Paul’s pattern throughout his three missionary journeys recorded in Acts.

Paul and Barnabas had taken John Mark, the author of the second gospel, with them on their first journey but he deserted them when they got to Galatia. As they planned a second journey Barnabas, always the encourager, wanted to give John Mark a second chance but Paul saw him as a liability and refused to take him. Luke records that “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company” (Acts 15:39), an example of how the Bible records its great men’s failings. It also shows how God works through our weaknesses as this resulted in Barnabas and Paul going separate ways so doubling the area covered.

Paul had many companions who travelled with him, including Timothy, Titus, Silas and Luke who wrote the Gospel and Acts. He was also later reconciled to Barnabas and John Mark.

On his second journey Paul went through Cilicia and Galatia to the Roman province of Macedonia (present day Greece) and established churches in Philippi, where Paul and Silas were released from prison by an earthquake, Thessalonica and Berea. Rather than being hostile, the Jews in Berea “were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They set us an excellent example of neither rejecting what we hear out of hand nor just accepting it at face value. Christianity does not require blind faith. The balance of being open to what people have to say but weighing it carefully to see if it is true is to be commended.

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