The nineteenth-century English pastor J. H. Jowett reportedly said, “I once saw the track of a bleeding hare across the snow. That was Paul’s track across Europe.” Indeed, the ministry of Paul and Barnabas met with great difficulty and opposition.
Many hearers in the synagogues resisted the message. “Filled with jealousy” (13:45), they not only contradicted Paul’s message but also stirred up the crowds against Paul and Barnabas. In Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were forced out of the region. In Iconium, a plot emerged to “mistreat them and stone them” (14:5). And in Lystra, the Jews “stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead” (14:19). As the Apostles recognized, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (14:22).
Yet that rejection ultimately led Paul to a more intentional ministry to Gentiles. The word of God would go forth into new places. Paul realized that the coming of the Messiah always had in mind the salvation of the whole world, and he cited Isaiah 49:6 as proof. But not all Gentiles responded well either. In Lystra, the citizens mistook Paul and Barnabas for gods and attempted to offer them sacrifices! Only with great difficulty were the Apostles able to stop this misplaced worship.
Despite these challenges and physical suffering, the underlying good news was that many people did come to faith in Jesus. In Pisidian Antioch many Gentiles believed, and “the word of the Lord spread through the whole region” (13:49). In Iconium, “a great number of Jews and Greeks believed” (14:1). And in Derbe, their preaching "won a large number of disciples" (14:21). The challenges were real, but the exciting news was that people were coming to faith. As Paul reported in Antioch, it was God who had opened the doors.