Unit: Acts (Part 2)
Theme: The Church Goes Global
Lesson Text: Acts 13:1-13, 26-31, 38-39
Supplemental Text: Psalm 96; Isaiah 6:1-8; Acts 1:8; 13:14-25, 32-37; 40-52; 14:1-28
Aim: Find how God is calling you to take the gospel beyond your locality.
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By Mark Scott
In the animated movie Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear’s famous catchphrase was, “To infinity and beyond!” One could use that same line upon coming to Acts 13. The chapter continues the geographical expansion of the church outlined by Jesus in his commission to the apostles, with the goal of reaching “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Acts 13–20 contain the missionary journeys and the church-planting efforts of “Team Paul.” The first journey is recorded in Acts 13–14. Barnabas and Saul (and those who assisted them, such as John Mark) traveled more than 1,200 miles in perhaps two to three years and planted several churches. Not bad for the ancient world. Acts 13 is rich with gospel content and missionary principles.
A Divine Calling
Following the death of Herod Agrippa I, the gospel spread effectively and multiplied fruitfully (Acts 12:23-24). Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem to the missionary-enterprising church in Antioch of Syria where they had spent time earlier (Acts 11:19-30). Armed with resources of people and funds, the Great Commission church in Antioch would lay evangelistic claim to the Roman world.
The church in Antioch included prophets (inspired speakers) and teachers (those who gave formal instruction). Five of them are mentioned by name. The list of five is quite diverse, for it includes at least one African, a Levite, a Jewish man who was a Roman citizen, and one brought up with royalty. God would set apart two-fifths of the leadership of this church for the mission field.
The divine call to the mission field came in the context of worship and the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer. “The Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” We do not know if this was an audible voice (which would be the most natural way of understanding the text), or was spoken through one of the prophets, or was some kind of inner impulse. But the Holy Spirit was a missionary Spirit, calling Barnabas and Saul to leave Antioch and travel to places yet unreached with the gospel.
A Large Obstacle
The road forward made perfect geographical sense. Most likely Barnabas and Saul left Antioch and boated down the Orontes River to the port at Seleucia on the Mediterranean Sea. From there they sailed to the island of Cyprus and worked their way from one end of the island to the other (from Salamis to Paphos). Since Barnabas was from Cyprus (Acts 4:36), he may have influenced where they went first. They proclaimed the word of God (i.e., preached the gospel) in the Jewish synagogues (a typical starting point for Paul in his church planting). John Mark was their helper (or servant).
But whenever and wherever the gospel is preached, one can be sure Satan will rear his ugly head and try to nip the growth of the church in the bud. The primary obstacle in the city of Paphos was a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-Jesus—later referred to as Elymas—who is identified as a false prophet (that’s a lot not to like—see Deuteronomy 18:9-14, 22—plus his name mocked Jesus’ name). This man attended to the proconsul (who may have been the governor of Cyprus), Sergius Paulus. (It is interesting that the changing of Saul’s name to Paul is mentioned in connection with the conversion of Sergius Paulus.)
Elymas did everything in his power to turn the intelligent leader of the island away from Christianity. Saul, now identified as Paul, confronted the sorcerer. Paul exposed Elymas for who he really was (child of the devil, enemy of everything right, one full of deceit and trickery, and one who had perverted the right ways of God). Through Paul, God’s hand was against Elymas. A mist came over him that caused him to go blind. (Is history repeating itself, for Paul also was blinded [Acts 9:9]?) Having witnessed such a clear demonstration of the Lord’s power, the proconsul believed. The missionary team then sailed from the island to what is now southern Turkey, where they commenced their treacherous climb to the cities of southern Galatia.
A Road Sermon
Acts 13:26-31, 38-39
Upon coming to Antioch of Pisidia, Paul followed his established strategy of going to the Jewish synagogue first. At the right time in the liturgy, Paul was asked to deliver the exhortation. He launched into what could easily be called his road sermon. Luke shares much of what Paul said because most likely this was Paul’s go-to sermon upon entering synagogues. It offered a bird’s-eye view of the Bible and mirrored Stephen’s speech in Acts 7.
Paul traced Israelite history and brought it down to its fulfillment in the saving message of Jesus. The message was that Jesus came, people did not recognize him as God’s Son, he was condemned, crucified, buried, and then God raised him from the dead. This saving event was witnessed by many people. Therefore, the forgiveness of sins is now offered to everyone. Justification, not possible through the law of Moses, is now provided. The gospel was being boldly proclaimed by those whom the Spirit had commissioned.