God’s Word for You
Acts 13:13-14a Perga
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, May 15, 2020
13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch.
This little passage may not seem to present very much information but combined with some things written by Paul shortly after this moment (summer of 47) that we can see that a significant event happened here, an important change in their plans.
The simplest sailing directions from Paphos to Perga involve almost no navigational ability at all. Rounding the cape north of Paphos (Cape Arnauti), they had only to sail due north. A voyage of almost exactly one hundred miles would bring them to Pamphylia, not far from the modern city of Alanya. Proceeding west-northwest up the coast (the central coastline of Pamphylia) they would arrive at Attalia (modern Antalya), where their ship surely anchored. From there it is a short road to Perga, a matter of just a few miles’ walk (although it is inland, it was often considered to be a port city).
We are presented with at least three questions here. (1) Why does Luke mention Pamphylia, since there was no other city called Perga? (2) Why does Luke spend time explaining the trip through Perga in Pamphylia if their destination were the Antioch that was more than seventy miles north, on foot, through a mountain pass? (3) Why did (John) Mark leave them? Many commentators have found it wise to try to connect these questions, and I agree.
I believe that Mark’s departure had to do with the answers to the other questions. Mark may have felt that they had bitten off more than they could chew; that the plan to evangelize Cyprus was one thing, but all of Asia Minor? With just three of them? That was something else. It has been proposed that Mark didn’t like his cousin Barnabas stepping into the subordinate role, which might be supported by Barnabas taking Mark with him when he returned to Cyprus later on (Acts 15:39). Either of these might have contributed to Mark’s departure, but there is another detail to be considered.
Paul himself says that he became ill at this time, either down on the coast or during the journey north. He told the Galatians, “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn” (Galatians 4:13-14). He also implies that his eyesight may have been affected by this illness: “I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (Galatians 4:15). In ancient times and still today, many illnesses are treated with the recommendation that a change of climate, such as a trip up into the mountains, will help. Therefore, the illness Paul describes seems to provide the explanation for the journey north and the apparent change of plans with regard to work that was never really undertaken in Pamphylia except for a little preaching in Perga (Acts 14:25).
If we put all of these details together, we arrive at a pretty good account of what happened in the summer of 47: After a few weeks’ sailing, Paul, Barnabas and John Mark arrived on the southern shore of Asia Minor at the city of Perga. While there Paul at least seems to have been struck ill and plans to preach in Pamphylia changed. They went or were taken over a mountain pass up to Pisidian Antioch, but before they departed, John Mark left them, returning to Jerusalem, perhaps on the same vessel that had brought them this far. He may have been frustrated by Paul’s rise to the leadership of the group or he might have been afraid of whatever illness Paul contracted (malaria has been suggested, but it is not the only possibility). So, the little group had gone from three to two, but the work of the gospel continued.
When we apply this verse to our faith, we see that sometimes the devil tries to thwart the progress of the gospel using little details in the world itself: sickness, the fatigue of travel, and even hurt feelings and frustrations over what our leaders do or even who our leaders are. But God accomplishes what he wants despite the devil’s machinations, and God even shows us that he is able to work through the devil’s attacks, outmaneuvering the old enemy no matter how wicked his attacks become. It’s easy to become frustrated because the old rascal seems to have got the upper hand for a while, whether there is disease, war, shortages, or even broken hearts. But what we should do is roll up our sleeves and get ready for the opportunities the Lord is planning for us, because no matter what happens, his will is that the gospel will keep going out into the world.
Pastor Timothy Smith