April 20, Monday
The church sent them on their way; and they headed down through Phoenicia and Samaria, telling the story of the conversion of the Gentiles as they went. All the brothers were overjoyed to hear about it. Upon their arrival at Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church and by the apostles and elders. They reported all that God had done through them. But some members of the Pharisees’ party who had become believers stood up and declared that it was absolutely essential that these new believers be told that they must be circumcised and observe the Law of Moses.
The apostles and elders met to consider the matter. Finally, after much debate, Peter stood up and addressed the group: “Men and brothers, you know that in this matter of taking the Message to the Gentiles, God chose me to be the first to carry it to them when He sent me to Cornelius. God, who knows the hearts of all, confirmed that He had cleansed their hearts when He gave them the Holy Spirit just as He had us. He made no distinction between their faith and ours.
“So why would you further test God by putting a burden on the shoulders of these disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? There is no denying that it is by the grace of the Lord Jesus that we are saved by faith, just as they are!”
This quieted the crowd, and they listened as Barnabas and Paul gave a detailed account of the signs and wonders which God had worked through them among the Gentiles.
At the conclusion of their report, James spoke up, saying, “Men and brothers, listen to me. Peter has explained how God went about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. This is not a new concept. Even the prophets wrote as much in the Scripture, saying, ‘After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen down. I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord Who brings about things foretold long ago.’
“I do not believe that we should put any additional obstacles in the way of these Gentiles who are turning towards God. Instead, I think we should write to them, telling them to avoid anything polluted by idols, sexual immorality, eating the meat of strangled animals, or tasting blood. These regulations are commonly known since Moses has been read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath day in every city.”
Then it seemed good to the apostles, elders, and the whole church to choose representatives and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. Judas, surnamed Barsabbas, and Silas, both leading men of the brotherhood, were chosen to carry this letter:
“The apostles and elders send their greetings to our brothers who are Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Since we have heard that some of our number have caused you deep distress and have unsettled your minds by giving you a message which certainly did not originate from us, we are unanimously agreed to send you chosen representatives with our well-loved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent with them Judas and Silas who will give you the same message personally by word of mouth. For it has seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no further burden upon you except what is absolutely essential, namely, that you avoid what has been sacrificed to idols, tasting blood, eating the meat of whatever has been strangled, and sexual immorality. Keep yourselves free of these things and you will make good progress. Farewell.”
And so the group was sent to Antioch, carrying the letter. Upon their arrival the believers gathered and the letter was read, resulting in great rejoicing. Judas and Silas had much to say to the believers by way of encouragement and instruction. After some days they returned to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of the Lord along with many others.
Some days later Paul spoke to Barnabas, “We should go back and visit the brothers in every city where we have proclaimed the Word of the Lord, to see how they are doing.”
Barnabas agreed and wanted to again take John, surnamed Mark, as their companion. Paul refused to take along one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and who was not prepared to go the distance with them in their work. There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted ways. Barnabas ended up taking Mark and sailing to Cyprus.
Paul recruited Silas; and together they set out on their journey, commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers in Antioch. They travelled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches and from there went on to Derbe and Lystra.
At Lystra there was a disciple by the name of Timothy whose mother was a Jewish believer, though his father was a Greek. Timothy was highly respected by all the brothers at Lystra and Iconium, and Paul wanted to take him on as his companion. Everybody knew his father was a Greek, so Paul had him circumcised because of the attitude of the Jews in that region. As they went from city to city, they shared the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, explaining the instructions. As a result the churches grew stronger and their numbers increased daily.
They continued on through Phrygia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit prevented them from speaking God’s message in Asia. When they came to Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia, again the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them. So they skirted Mysia and came down to Troas. While there, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia calling to him in these words: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”
Paul, recognizing this as a call from God to take the good news into Europe, immediately began making plans to sail from Troas. I, Luke, joined them there; and we put out to sea, sailing directly to Samothrace, then on to the port of Neapolis. From there we set off for Philippi, a Roman garrison town and the chief city in that part of Macedonia.