by Nicole McLeod
Please open your Bibles to Acts 13. And may the Lord to speak to our hearts and teach us today, as we read through these scriptures. May He help us understand how we fit in, to His great mission, and the Great Commission that He began so long ago. In Jesus name.
It’s been exciting to study the book of Acts together this year. We’ve seen the birth of the church, and God pour our His Holy Spirit within her. We’ve seen her take root in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, as God added daily to the church those who were being saved. And all of this was according to the Word of the Lord that Jesus spoke to his followers in Acts 1:8.
Now, in Acts 13, the focus is going to shift from Peter’s ministry and the church in Jerusalem, to the missionary endeavors of Paul, Barnabas (and others) as they carry the gospel “to the ends of the earth” based out of their home church in Antioch. As we go through this chapter together today, I want us to appreciate the key role of the Holy Spirit in these missionary efforts. It was the Holy Spirit who spoke, selecting specific men for this work of Christ. He them empowered them with authority to speak, and on occasion perform miracles and He sustained them under persecution. We will focus on some teachings in depth, and lightly pass over others. I have also included this map, which I believe is helpful.
A. The Church in Antioch… The Holy Spirit selects missionaries.
13:1 “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers” 5 men are named here: “ Barnabas”, was a Jewish priest, a Levite, from Cyprus, and would have grown up with a good understanding of Greek culture. He was described as “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” “Simeon who was called Niger”, which means “Black”. Some believe he is the same man who carried the cross for Jesus, but we don’t know for certain. Next named is“Lucius of Cyrene”(which is in N. Africa). Lucius may have been one of the founders of the church in Antioch (see Acts 11:20). “ Manaen had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch,” This is the Herod who had John the Baptist killed and ruled over one of the trials of Jesus before His crucifixion. These two men, Herod and Manaen grew up together but went different ways when it came to Christ.Last on the list, but soon to become “first” in world missions, is Saul a Jewish rabbi from Tarsus, (who will soon use his Roman name Paul). He was a former enemy of Jesus’ followers, and now lived as a devoted teacher of the gospel and servant of Christ.
“Jesus unifies a wide spectrum of people.” Chuck Smith
This church in Antioch was a Spirit filled, well led church with godly leaders that understood their dependence upon the Lord and the Great Commission, and the Lord’s desire to seek and save the lost.
Acts 13: 2 “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.
You could say that ‘it all began in a prayer and worship meeting’. They wereministering “to the Lord”. Ministry should be to the Lord first, and for His glory. It is doing what pleases and honors Him; worship, prayer praise, Loving God, and people…As they worshipped and prayed, the Holy Spirit spoke to them calling two men apart to serve Him in a special work He had for them.We are not told how He spoke, but it could be that one of these men present gave a word of prophecy (these were prophets and teachers) (see vs. 1). I thought this was helpful from one of my commentaries:
“The prophets spoke for God by the Holy Spirit to helped lay the foundation for the church The teachers helped to ground the believers in the doctrines of the faith using the gospel and OT scriptures to teach them”. Remember this was pre-written Word times.
(3) “Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”
The Holy Spirit calls missionaries into His work, the church then confirms this call (vs. 3) and sends them out with prayer, blessings, and support. All this is directed by the Holy Spirit.
B. Cyprus… The Holy Spirit empowers them with authority vs. 13:4-12.
(4)“So, being sent outby the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia,(the port city in Antioch).…and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
The Holy Spirit first sent them to island of Cyprus where Barnabas grew up (Acts 4:36). There they would have the benefits of his connections and knowledge of the lay out of the land. As we follow Paul’s journeys in the book of Acts, we will see that they usually went to strategic populated cities with the gospel, and planted churches that went on to evangelize the surrounding areas.
(5a) “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.
The local synagogue was a great place to go with the good news, as Jews and God-fearing Gentiles would be there prepared to hear the Word of God, and people would already be familiar with the OT scriptures. There would be a synagogue building, regularly scheduled meetings, it was a ready-made preaching situation.
And they hadJohn to assist them. Side note: Those who minister need assistance. I think of the many women who followed Jesus, ministering to Him and to the disciples, taking care of them often out of their own means. Their devotion showed in all that they did to assist and serve the Lord.
John Mark, their assistant, would have been a great help discipling of new believers, assisting in baptisms, and the practical aspects of ministry. He had grown up in Jerusalem and had been an eyewitness of Christ, and the events in early church.
(6-7) “Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul, sought to hear the word of God.”
They had traveled some 90 miles over land from Salamis to Paphos preaching the gospel all along the way in the synagogues. The Pro-Counsel may have heard reports/complaints, and as an intelligent leader, he would have wanted to investigate thoroughly.This may have been an “official “inquiry.
(8-11) “But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit , looked intently at him, and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? “And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord isupon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.””
This Jewish, so-called spiritual advisor to this powerful Roman leader, was under the influence of the demonic. No doubt he crafted deceitful language to try to oppose the gospel message and turn the pro-counsel from it. The Holy Spirit filled Paul and empowered him to speak with authority and do a miracle.
Luke tells us this man’s Jewish name was Bar-Jesus, which means “son of Jesus,” which he clearly wasn’t, so Paul called him Bar-devil , or son of the devil which he clearly was. He was full of fraud, deceit – an enemy of the gospel. It’s still like this today. Satan still tries to attach himself to lawmakers and influencers using well-crafted lies so that ungodly laws pass which hinder the kingdom of God. We need to keep all our government officials and decisionmakers in our prayers. The Holy Spirit led Paul to pronounce a judgement on him, and Elymas was temporarily blinded by God’s power. This indicates a merciful judgement that was temporary, intended to bring him to repentance. Look what was the result…
(12) “Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord”.
Sergius Paulus was Paul’s first gentile convert and was in a powerful position of influence. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me… The miracle God did gave him evidence that these were the servants of the true God, preaching the true message of salvation. The governor was astonishedat the divine teaching of the Lord . After this Saul took the lead in the missionary work, using his Roman name Paul which would fit with his ministry to reach the gentile world for Christ. Luke began listing his name first…
(13) “Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.”
We aren’t told why John Mark left, but commentators offer lots of speculations!!! Perhaps the shift in leadership (from his uncle Barnabas to Paul) didn’t settle with him. Perhaps it was the very real daily challenges of missionary life and travel? Barnabas, his uncle was disappointed as it was a loss for them, but Paul was upset (according to Acts 15). This reminds us that as godly as these men were, and as great as the work was that they were called to do, they still had human problems.
It became a divisive issue between Paul and Barnabas later, and they parted ways over it, but God used it to expand the missionary outreach ultimately, and eventually other men were added to the teams. Thankfully, these problems were ultimately resolved, and a beautiful relationship developed between Paul and John Mark in years to come and this is the Mark who the Gospel of Mark, using a lot of Peter’s eyewitness accounts – which he got because he went back to Jerusalem. God does work all things for the good here.
C. The Ministry in the other Antioch… Paul’s sermon inspired by the Spirit.
(14) “But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down.”
(This is a different Antioch). I read that there were 7 cites named Antioch in this region at the time.) This is where *maps (show map) and commentaries come in handy.
(15) “And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” As was customary, the synagogue ruler invited these distinguished guests to share, Barnabas was a Levite, and Saul, a Rabbi who had studied under the esteemed Gamaliel. This was an open door of opportunity for the gospel, and Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit and ready.
(16) “Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: Paul with the gesture invited all present to listen to the good news of Jesus Christ.
This is the first recorded sermon of Paul’s, and it can be divided into three parts. Each section is introduced with an appeal to ‘Jew and gentile’. I hope you will read it in depth on your own. It is very interesting and in depth, so please bear with me as I summarize the first two sections and focus mostly upon the third section.
In the first part of his sermon( vs. 17-25), Paul reviewed the many ways God remained faithful throughout Israel's history, highlighting God’s wonderful saving acts. They would enjoy this very much. Peter and Stephen had done this in their sermons too. He led up to the time of King David, (a man after God’s own heart), and God’s promise to bring forth a Savior through him. In vs. 23 ,Paul told them, “ Of this man's (David’s) offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised”. Paul declares to them that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He announces this fact in the context of History so no one would miss it’s importance. Jesus is the long awaited, promised by God Savior and Messiah. He is the One.
In the second part of the sermon (vs. 26-37), Paul changes from using the third person, (“they”) to the second person (“you”) saying to them:
(26) “Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sentthe message of this salvation.”
This message of salvation is for us, for the Jews and the gentiles of all time – it is for all who would believe. It is it is for you who fear God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Look with me at vs. 29-33 where Paul continues…
(29-33a) “And whenthey had carried out all that was written of him,they took him down fromthe tree and laid him in a tomb.ButGod raised him from the dead,and for many dayshe appeared to thosewho had come up with himfrom Galilee to Jerusalem,who are nowhis witnesses to the people.And we bring you the good newsthat what God promised to the fathers,this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus…”
What news from Jerusalem these visitors Paul and Barnabas have brought with them. Paul explained that the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem killed Jesus because they did not recognize Him nor understand the Word of God through the prophets concerning Him. There was no guilt in Him, by putting Jesus to death as was foretold, they also fulfilled God’s Word. But God proved Christ’s righteousness by raising Him from the dead, and proved His divinity. And as Christ was raised, so we too will be raised to eternal life, and this truth affects how we live in this present life.
In Romans 8:11 Paul wrote, “ But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
Then, in an effort to reason with their minds and reach their hearts, in vs. (34-37)Paul quotes several OT prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus, Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 55:3 (13:34) and Psalm 16:10 (13:35) to prove that Jesus Christ was not only the promised King and the Savior of the world, but also the very Son of God.
In the third part of his sermon, vs. (38-39), he gives the application…
“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers,that through this man(Jesus) forgiveness of sins is proclaimedto you,and by himeveryone who believes is freed(Gk Justified) from everythingfrom which you could not be freed(Gk Justified) by the law of Moses. ”
This was the point he was leading up to. Speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit he declares with authority that: “Everyone whobelieves is forgiven and freed. *(Justified)”
In Paul’s epistles we read more about “justification by faith”.
It is an important Bible term to understand. Justification is “the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous in Jesus Christ”. (Justify = just as if I never sinned.) Justification is a legal term – it is the opposite of condemnation, and there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. If you picture God as the judge in the courtroom, in Christ you are declared right, justified by the judge. If you feel accused and condemned by the courts of your mind/the enemy’s lies, and/or people, cling to the truth that in Christ Jesus, you are justified by the court of God.
*Romans 5:1 says “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. ”
Paul ended his message with a strong warning to not reject this good news and gift from God of forgiveness and salvation.
(40-41) “Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: ‘Behold, you despisers, Marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, A work which you will by no means believe, though one were to declare it to you.”
Paul quotes this passage from Habakkuk 1:5, in which the prophet had spoken a warning from God to Israel - regarding the judgment that was to come upon them for not believing God’s Word. If God judged them for their unbelief, would He not also judge those who reject Jesus, their long-awaited promised Messiah? Believe God’s Word, He says what He means, and He means what He says.
(42) “So, when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.” The Gentiles were eager to hear more and invite others to hear of the good news next Sabbath!
(43) “Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.”
There was much interest in what He spoke and no doubt many questions, and he told them to keep growing in God’s grace. “Indicate the true character of your faith by continuing in the grace of God.”
D.The response to the ministry… The next Sabbath…the Holy Spirit sustains them in persecution.
(44-45) “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul.
Some of the Jews did not like what he was saying!
Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold,” have you ever had that experience? Maybe you were taking a stand, and from within you felt a strength arise in you to speak the truth. They replied, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; … since the gospel came from and was for the Jews first, but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to ‘the ends of the earth’.’”
Paul made a remarkable statement to these opposers of the gospel. God had chosen that the gospel be given to the Jews first, and yet they “judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life” by rejecting it. Salvation is for all that will believe, Jew and Greek, free and slave, old and young, male, and female.
Paul quotes Isaiah 49:6b. “I will make youas a light for the nations,thatmy salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”to back up his decision to take the gospel to the gentiles. That verse had a threefold application: First, it referred to Israel who was supposed to be a light to the gentiles. Secondly, it applied to Christ the light of the world. Remember when the elderly Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms in the temple, he called Jesus “a light for the nations”.And thirdly, Paul applies this to the work of the Holy Spirit through missionaries like himself, and their efforts to bring the light of the gospel “to the ends of the earth”.We also shine as lights in this dark world as we walk in the light and in the Holy Spirit today.
(48-49) “Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the regions.” !
You can almost picture their elation as the gentiles responded to Paul’s invitation,and they spread the word of this good news to everyone. The Gentiles were elated to know that God had “chosen” them too. But how sad that some of the Jews, though they were “God’s chosen people”, chose to reject Christ. When it comes to salvation, and the question of who chooses who? “God chooses and man chooses and that’s what we know.” – that’s a quote from Pastor Steve Carr on the subject.
One other thing for us to remember, Paul stood on “Word of the Lord/Word of God”, this phrase is used 4 times in these verses -44, 46, 48, 49. We are to stand on God’s Word too.
(50) “But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.” The Holy Spirit sustained them in persecution, but it was severe enough to force Paul and Barnabas to leave the area.
(51-52) “But they shook off the dust from their feet against them and came to Iconium.” This was a Jewish expression of dis-association and protest.In ministry,we will either shake it off and continue, or get shaken up by the opposition and quit.Chapter 13 ends with this, “The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
This is a great ending place. We will continue this first missionary journey next week as we study Acts 14. The missionary movement of the church has always been a work of the Holy Spirit. So, as it is continuing today, let’s pray to be full of joy and with the Holy Spirit as we share the gospel and point people to Jesus Christ.
Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”