The Apostles Go Their Separate Ways to Further Spread the Good News About Jesus
To Better Spread the Gospel, the Apostles Split Up
Barnabas and Saul Embark On Their First Missionary Trip
(Acts chapter 13, verses 1–15)
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Last week as we closed out chapter 12, we chronicled the apostle Peter’s miraculous escape from prison, which continues to prove that just because something is illegal does not necessarily make it wrong. Had Peter stayed and been ‘obedient’, it would have cost him his life, but God was unwilling to allow any such thing to occur. He was not martyred until many years later because the Lord had so much for him to do, and Peter was made by God specifically for those tasks.
This week as we move on to part 1 of chapter 13, in our ongoing studies of the writings of the apostle Luke, we find ourselves moving on from Antioch. Antioch was an ancient Greek city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. Its ruins lie near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey. In this week’s study, we first move on to Cyprus, and later to Pisidian Antioch, another city named Antioch in an entirely different part of what is modern Turkey today. So let’s all get started together at verse one.
Part One of This Week’s Study Verses
“1) Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2) While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3) So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. 4) The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5) When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.” (Acts 13, verses 1–5)
Although Christianity Had Been Criminalized by Rome, the Believers Remained Steadfast
The church at Antioch from that time period was the very same church who hid Peter from the pursuing authorities. Unlike some churches today, the early church at ancient Antioch was very actively practicing their faith, particularly when they found themselves compelled to obey unjust laws such as the criminalizing of Christianity. They faced these challenges to their faith together as a cohesive unit by fasting and prayer. Instead of begging others for money to meet their needs and expenses like many modern preachers do, they prayed to God, fasting as a show of unity and sincerity, and waited patiently for His reply. At some point during their prayers, the Lord replied, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” In modern terminology, Barnabas and Saul were being sent on a mission.
Barnabas and Saul Go Fishing for Souls
In the following verse we have yet another example of how the early Church leadership physically laid their hands upon each other as they prayed for one another. “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.” Now Seleucia was a coastal fishing town about 3 day’s walk southwest from ancient Antioch. So evidently Barnabas and Saul had set out for the coast to embark on a journey in a similar way that we would head to the nearest airport today. What strikes me the most is they were unconcerned with where they were going or how they would get there. All Barnabas and Saul knew is they were going on a fishing expedition, and they were going to be fishing for souls.
Arriving On Cyprus
“When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.” For those who may not know, Salamis is the capital of Cyprus. So now we can see that Barnabas and Saul had decided, undoubtedly after some additional prayer just between themselves and the Lord, to get the first boat out of Seleucia, which happened to be Cyprus bound. So onward to Cyprus they went. Upon their arrival, Barnabas and Saul began proclaiming the Word of God through Christ Jesus in all the synagogues. And John, also called Mark and the author of the Gospel of Mark, was there working right along side them as they ministered to all who would embrace Jesus as Lord. And now let’s move on to part 2, beginning at verse 6.
Part Two of This Week’s Study Verses
“6) They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7) who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8) But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9) Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10) “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11) Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12) When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.” (Acts 13, verses 6–12)
The Enmity Between Sorcery and Christianity
Paphos is a seaport on the west side of Cyprus, the opposite side of the island from where Salamis is located. Upon arriving there, Barnabas and Saul encountered Bar-Jesus, which means ‘son of Jesus’, whose given name is Elymas, which meant ‘sorcerer’ in the local dialect. Elymas’ ‘day job’ was that of an attendant to Sergius Paulus, a Roman governor of that era. I guess you could say sorcery was Elymas’/Bar-Jesus’ side hustle of sorts. And what a hustle it was! Bar-Jesus was a Jewish sorcerer — which is like calling someone a ‘Catholic sorcerer’ or a ‘Pentecostal sorcerer’ — and the name “bar” means “son of” in Hebrew. So Elymas was calling himself a “son of Jesus” when in fact we are not sons and daughters of Christ but rather brothers and sisters in God’s kingdom. Elymas’ very name was raw blasphemy to the risen Lord. In the very next verse we see the converted Saul make known the full extent of his own conversion as he puts Elymas back down in his place.
Imagine What Jesus Can Do For You
“Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” So here we have Saul — who for the first time is being called Paul — so filled with the Holy Spirit that he is telling “Bar-Jesus” everything there is to know about him in only two sentences. Remember, this is the same person who oversaw the stoning death of the great church leader Steven back in Acts chapter 7, which we have studied several months ago. So Saul has gone from being an executioner of Christians to being Paul, a warrior for Christ so filled with the Spirit that he can have people struck blind at will. What a contrast the Holy Spirit can create, and what a difference in the hearts of every true believer! If Jesus can do this for a reformed murderer, imagine what He can do for you.
Divine Healing Works Both Ways
“Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.” During the three and a half years of Jesus’ ministry, he healed the blind and infirm on a daily basis. However, we also see that Divine Healing can run both ways, as the apostle Paul demonstrated in verse 11 when he struck Elymas blind through the power of the Spirit of the Lord.
This Power of the Spirit was also demonstrated back in chapter 5 of the Book of Acts in much the same way when the apostle Peter had Ananias and Sapphira struck down and killed for trying to deceive the Holy Spirit. As we saw in verse 14, the proconsul (governor) of Cyprus was converted to the faith with power and yet with gentleness that are always present with the presence of the Holy Spirit. And now let’s conclude this week’s lesson starting at verse 13.
Part Three of This Week’s Study Verses
“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. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15) After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.’” (Acts 13, verses 13–15)
The Spreading of the Gospel in Ancient Turkey
Pamphylia was a Roman coastal province in what is now southern Turkey. It lies directly across the Mediterranean from Cyprus near the northeast corner of that great body of water. Perga was the capital of that province in those days, so that’s why the three of them went there. From that point, John left on still another ship to return to Jerusalem, presumably at the prompting of the Holy Spirit and with the encouragement of Barnabas and Paul. From there they went north to Pisidian Antioch, a distance of roughly 120 miles, give or take, into what would be central Turkey today. This was in the Roman province of Galatia, which eventually was chronicled into the Book of Galatians in the New Testament. Today, Turkey is largely a Muslim country, so I don’t know whether any of the Galatian churches are still in existence or not.
Be Sure and Return Next Lesson for Part Two of Acts 13
Notice in verse 14, we have another repetition of the same pattern we see time after time throughout the Bible. Upon their arrival, the first thing Barnabas and Saul did was to proceed directly to the first synagogue they saw, and they walked right in like they owned the place. Because actually, they represented the One who owns it all. We would all do well to carry ourselves the same way. After the main part of the service was concluded, “the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.’” It is at this point that the apostle Paul, formerly known as Saul prior to being ‘born again’, stands up to deliver his first public message about the salvation of Christ. So be sure and come back next week, when we move on to part 2 of Acts chapter 13.