13 Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; 14but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.’ 16So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:
‘You Israelites,* and others who fear God, listen. 17The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18For about forty years he put up with* them in the wilderness. 19After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance 20for about four hundred and fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. 22When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.” 23Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; 24before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25And as John was finishing his work, he said, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals* on his feet.”
When Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark left Syrian Antioch they embarked on what we now call Paul’s first missionary journey. They traveled first to the island of Cyprus, as we have already seen, then set sail from Paphos, at the western end of Cyprus, to sail up to Perga, and from there moved inland to what was known as Pisidian Antioch. This Antioch was a Roman colony in the district of Phrygia, west of the Taurus Mountains. It would now be in Turkey. John Mark, however, left them there to return to Jerusalem. Luke does not tell us why the young man left, but we will find later that his leaving became a source of contention between Paul and Barnabas.
The missionaries went first to the synagogue, where they spoke to the Jews (Jews of the Diaspora were scattered throughout the Roman territories) and the God-Fearers who joined them. God-Fearers were those Gentiles who believed in the One God of Israel; some simply believed, and perhaps prayed and studied the scriptures, while others became full converts – to convert fully to Judaism men had to be circumcised and then underwent a ritual bath of cleansing, and were expected to follow the Jewish laws of separation, including food and Sabbath laws and those that said to whom one could speak or with whom one could dine.
It would have been common for the leader of the synagogue to ask any visiting Jews to speak words of encouragement to the believers, and that is what happened here. And when they were asked to speak, Paul began. Paul received a thorough education in the scriptures and the story of Israel – and that is where he begins as he speaks to the people in the synagogue. He speaks of slavery in Egypt, and of God’s deliverance; he speaks of the time of the judges, and then of King Saul, and the greatest king, David, a man after God’s own heart. This is what the people expected to hear. But then, he puts in something they had not expected: From David’s descendants, God has brought forth a Savior, Jesus Christ. John had prophesied, saying he was coming, but John was not the Savior – but Jesus, who came after him.
Sometimes, the message of Jesus is not what we were expecting, does not fit our pre-conceived notions of what he should be, does not reinforce our own self-righteousness!