How the Gospel Spread
As the church grows, a dark cloud of persecution hovers over them from Herod Agrippa, who persecutes anyone following Christ. But as often happens in difficult times, the church grows in strength and number and the Word of God multiplies.
Thirty years have passed since Jesus went back to heaven. Agrippa brutally killed James, John’s brother, with a sword, along with many others who died for their faith. Agrippa captures Peter, but miraculously doesn’t kill him.
To hear Peter’s account of his rescue clearly shows God’s hand, even His sense of humor. God sends an angel to escort Peter out of prison, but Peter thinks it’s a dream. Then, when Peter knocks on the door where the church is praying for his release, they think he’s a ghost. Meanwhile, Peter just keeps knocking. “It’s really me! Let me in!”
Isn’t that same thing true of us so many times? When God answers our prayer, we’re surprised by it. How gracious He is!
Now that the gospel has spread to Judea and Samaria, Barnabas and Saul leave Jerusalem and return to Antioch.
The First Missionary Journey (Acts 13—14)
Up till now, the Holy Spirit at work through the apostles takes the gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem, then to Samaria. But now Gentiles are following Jesus as Savior. The gospel is moving out—on its way to the ends of the earth.
In this surge of the gospel beyond boundaries, Saul’s name changes to Paul as he becomes the leader and chief spokesman and Peter disappears from the scene.
Paul begins his journey with Barnabas, sent out from the church in Antioch. These were amazing but difficult days, full of resistance, dangers, and hardships. When Paul and Barnabas arrive in a town, their pattern is to visit the synagogue first. As is customary, visitors from Jerusalem were invited to say something. Paul took this opportunity to preach about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then, Paul asks them for a decision to believe on the Lord Jesus. He urges fellow Jews not to reject the message.
The recurring pattern becomes the gospel being preached to the Jews first, but them rejecting it. Then Paul turns to the Gentiles with the good news.
Next they traveled to Galatia in the heartland of Asia Minor and faced the hardest mission fields so far. They preached and healed the sick and are welcomed and also run out of town. In Lystra the crowds saw Paul and Barnabas heal and thought they were gods come down to them. But Paul and Barnabas shouted, “We are human like you!” Then the crowd turned on them, and stoned Paul and left him for dead. When Paul described this later (see 2 Corinthians 12:2-4), he shared that he very well could have died and God raised him from the dead.
Paul and Barnabas now retrace their journey and return to Antioch and report back how God had now definitely opened the door to Gentiles. The churches in Asia Minor are made up entirely of Gentiles. In most places the Jews rejected the gospel and the Gentiles received it.
Next, everyone realized they stood on the threshold of a new age ….