Paul and Barnabas were obliged to flee from Antioch in Pisidia (in the western part of today’s Turkey) where they had been proclaiming the truth concerning Jesus. They arrived in Iconium, where they made known the same truths. But again they had to flee – to Lystra and Derbe. “And there”, we are told, “they preached the gospel.” It was the same wherever Paul went, whether alone, or with Barnabas or Silas or Timothy or anyone else -whatever the circumstances, through “honour and dishonour”, through “evil report and good report” – he must always preach the gospel.
But why? Why was he so anxious to preach the gospel? Why did he, and Barnabas too, preach the gospel so consistently in all these cities? Let us briefly consider three reasons.
1. Because of the need of the people. Wherever Paul and Barnabas went, those they came in contact with were sinners. Without the gospel, the end of these people would be a lost eternity. They were the creatures of a righteous God; they had rebelled against Him. The solemn truth is that “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps 7:11); He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and [cannot] look on iniquity” (Hab 1:13). All unbelievers therefore are under condemnation; they are on their way to eternal destruction. They desperately need to hear the gospel – the good news about Christ, who came to give His life a ransom for many.
Paul and Barnabas were also conscious that the people of Lystra and Derbe were in a state of spiritual death. They were all under obligation to love God, to turn from their sins and do the will of God from the heart, but were completely unable to do any of these things. Paul and Barnabas knew that only the Holy Spirit could deliver the people of these cities from this state of spiritual death “in trespasses and sins”. They knew too that the Holy Spirit does His work of regeneration in connection with the proclamation of the gospel, for sinners are “born again . . . by the Word of God” (1 Pet 1:23). They therefore felt the necessity and urgency of proclaiming the gospel.
2. Because the gospel has divine authority. It was Christ Himself, the Son of God, who sent out the first preachers. After His resurrection, He reminded His disciples of the great significance of the work He had just accomplished: “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:46). What was more, it was His will “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things” (vv 47,48). Those disciples, who were witnesses of the death and resurrection of their Master, must bear testimony to His saving work. They must bring their hearers the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins on the ground of this perfect work of redemption.
Paul had the same divine authority to preach the gospel – as had Barnabas and Silas also, and every other preacher whom the Lord has sent out since then. They have all gone out as His ambassadors, to proclaim in His name repentance and remission of sins in all parts of the world. So, wherever they went, in Lystra and Derbe and every other city they reached, Paul and Barnabas had authority to preach this gospel. They had the spirit of Micaiah, the prophet who told King Ahab’s messenger: “As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak” (1 Kings 22:14). Micaiah had a message from heaven, and he must deliver it. Paul and Barnabas likewise had a message from heaven – the good news of salvation through a crucified Saviour. It was the only gospel they had authority to preach. Peter was perfectly clear on that point. “Neither is there salvation in any other,” he declared, “for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Every other message is false.
In any case, there is no need for any other gospel; this gospel is suitable for all. Christ directed the disciples and, through them, all preachers in all future ages: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth . . . shall be saved” (Mk 16:15,16). In the gospel, sinners are presented with a divinely-authorised message which meets their needs as individuals. It is as suitable for today’s hearers as for those Paul and Barnabas spoke to. It always has divine authority.
3. Because the gospel is effective. Paul and Barnabas had seen repeated evidence of the effectiveness of their preaching; they had seen many sinners believe the gospel and become new creatures in Christ Jesus. Even though they had to flee so soon from Iconium, “a great multitude” believed as a result of their preaching. They knew from their own spiritual experience that the gospel is powerful. Paul was referring to himself when he said: “Who was before a blasphemer . . . but I obtained mercy” (1 Tim 1:13). And he could add, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (v 15). This gospel which he had found powerful in his own soul was perfectly suited to others, whatever their circumstances. If he, the chief of sinners, had been saved, no one was beyond the reach of this salvation.
So it was to prove in Thessalonica; he told the believers there, “When ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1 Thess 2:13). There were people in Thessalonica who had been totally ignorant of the truth, whose hearts were firmly set in opposition against it, but they were made to bow before the preaching of the gospel because it was accompanied by the saving power of the Holy Spirit. It was no idle boast that Paul made to the Corinthians: “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Cor 10:4). The gospel message proved effective in all these various places because it was the instrument which God in His wisdom had provided for that purpose. Satan’s kingdom is strongly fortified, but it cannot hold out against the preaching of the gospel when the Holy Spirit is pleased to apply it.
Almost 2000 years have passed since Paul and Barnabas wended their way from city to city in what is now part of modern Turkey. Many things have changed since then. But the need for the gospel is still as great as ever; the gospel still has the same divine authority; and it is still effective in turning sinners “from the power of Satan unto God”. The Church must go on preaching this gospel to each succeeding generation of unbelieving sinners, every one of them – because of their rebellion against God – under His condemnation.
It is the same gospel that is to be preached today; it has never lost its God-given authority and it never will. It was designed by infinite wisdom to meet the needs of sinners of every kind – however primitive or sophisticated, however poor or wealthy, however religious or atheistic. It will never need revision. Nor will it ever lose its effectiveness. It is still “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth”, and it always will be. True, the Holy Spirit does not in every generation work to the same extent. But, whenever He has a purpose to work, it is the same gospel that He uses – the same testimony about the finished work of Christ for sinners. The truth “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” is still the testimony that the Holy Spirit is pleased to apply to the souls of sinners today to bring them out of Satan’s dark kingdom into the glorious light of the kingdom of God. Let us be thankful for that gospel. Let us pray for God’s blessing to follow it to all parts of the world. But woe to us if we do not make good use of it!