Recently I was part of a tour group of 60 people who journeyed to Turkey and Greece to visit the sites where the apostle Paul traveled and ministered. From San Francisco, we flew direct to Istanbul, Turkey, in the north of the country, and boarded another flight to Antalya, which is located on the Turkish Riviera on the Mediterranean Sea.
Antalya borders the ancient ruins of Perga, where Paul and Barnabas landed on their first missionary journey into what was then called “Asia Minor.” According to Acts 13:13, John Mark, the young cousin of Barnabas, suddenly left the missionary team and returned home to Jerusalem. The account in the Acts record (13:14) simply stated that Paul and Barnabas departed from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia, where they visited the Jewish synagogue.
After touring the ruins of Perga and Aspendos, we boarded buses which took us up through the mountains for approximately 155 miles. As we wound through the ravines beside beautiful lakes, I tried to picture what this journey would have been like for these first-century men hiking or possibly catching a ride on a cart or an animal. It would have taken them days, even weeks, to have completed this arduous climb.
I did not realize Antioch of Pisidia was 4,000 feet above sea level, and instead of the balmy breezes of the Mediterranean, we got out of the buses at these mountaintop ruins with 40-mile-an-hour winds blowing snow. While some in our group had heavier jackets, I discovered that my light jacket and hood was hardly adequate. When we climbed from the road up to the ruins on top of the mountain, it was evident that there had once been a large city of about 100,000 people located here.
We walked in the stone streets, the ruins of what buildings had been uncovered, and stood in what was left of the synagogue where Paul was described as preaching in Acts 13:15-41. The biblical record said the missionaries got a mixed reaction from their visit. When opposition broke out against them, they shook the dust off their feet and left the city on their journey to some neighboring towns.
But as I boarded the bus to leave, I wondered why a highly talented, educated Jewish man from a wealthy family would even bother to come up this mountain uninvited and preach a revolutionary message that violated everything they had believed. Then I remembered the drastic experience this man had on the road to Damascus as recorded in Acts 9. He was supernaturally stopped by the voice of Jesus from heaven. The result of that experience so changed his life that he was truly a different person. His hatred was gone, and he was filled with incredible love.
Paul would later state that he was so obsessed with the message that what Christ had done for him should be shared with everyone he could reach. So he went up into these mountains of central Turkey, even when he was sick, to tell these people that they could experience a brand new life, free from the guilt and shame of sin, depression, addictions, and all the baggage from their past. There were some who believed what he and Barnabas preached, placed their faith in what Jesus had done for them, and experienced the promised new life. The effort was worth the privilege of sharing the “good news.”
The missionaries’ message is still the same today as what they shared in the mountains of Turkey. If you and I will place our faith in Jesus’ death for us, we too will know personally what some of the residents of Antioch experienced up on that mountain. If you will give God a chance to change your life, this modern journey to you through this medium will be well worth the effort!