“I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”’ (Acts 13:46)
We pick up with Acts Chapter 13, where the focus turns to Paul and Barnabas and their first missionary journey. It begins in the church at Antioch, where prophets and teachers were together. According to Boring and Craddock, “prophets are those who speak the word of the risen Lord directly, which they receive in visions and revelations, while teachers clarify the meaning of the church’s traditions, including materials from and about the historical Jesus.”[i] The church of Antioch is different from the church at Jerusalem in that “there are no apostles or elders mentioned.”[ii]
While they were worshipping, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” They fasted and prayed for them, laid hands on them, and set them on their way. “Luke affirms both the charismatic presence of the Spirit in the life of the church, and the orderly process of selection and ordination by the church to particular ministries.”[iii]
Paul and Barnabas set sail to Cyprus from Seleucia. While in Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogue. John was with them at this point (John Mark of Jerusalem). They traveled the whole island until they came to Paphos. Here they met a sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus (renegade Jew and magician). Bar-Jesus was an attendant of the proconsul, of Sergius Paulus. Sergius sent for Paul and Barnabas because he wanted to hear the word of God (a summary of the Christian message).
But Bar-Jesus (or Elymas the sorcerer), opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Saul called Elymas out, telling him that he was the son of the devil, and went on to pronounce that because of his evil deeds, he would be struck blind. And this is exactly what happened. Elymas was struck with mist, darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. These accounts parallel Saul being struck blind on the Damascus Road, and Peter’s encounter with a magician. Also, go back and read what we said about punitive miracle stories and if they line up with the Jesus that we learned to follow.
When the proconsul saw what happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. But I wonder if he was amazed by what he saw!
From there, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia. This is where John left them and returned to Jerusalem. This will become a problem later as to why John Mark left them. From there, they went to Antioch (this Antioch is on the shores of Pisidian, not the Antioch in Syria). They went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, to hear the reading of the law and the prophets. After this, the leaders of the synagogues sent words to them asking if there was any word of exhortation. Paul preached his first missionary sermon in this setting. “This speech is an evangelistic, missionary sermon addressed to a mixed audience of Hellenistic Jews and Gentile Godfearers (see on 10:2).”[iv]
Paul stood and recounted the history of the Israelites from their ancestors, through a 450-year span of the judges, prophets, and the lineage of David in the Old Testament. He connected Jesus to David, as the one God brought to Israel, the savior Jesus, as promised. David died and was buried, but Jesus, the one whom God raised from the dead, did not decay. “Through Jesus, the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you (and us). Through Jesus, we are set free from sin. Something that we could not obtain through Moses.
After Saul finished this sermon, he warned that what the prophets spoke, he hoped would not happen to them. “Look you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.” That God is doing a work, acting in the Christ event and the Christian mission, is Luke’s primary point.”[v] When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas. They encouraged them to continue in the faith. The next Sabbath, almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw this (the numerical growth and interest in the word of the Lord), they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict Paul’s message.
When Paul and Barnabas saw that the Jewish leaders rejected the message that they shared, they reminded them that they had been given the word first. Since they rejected it, and did not consider themselves worthy of eternal life, Paul and Barnabas now turn to the gentiles. “No one is worthy in the sense of deserving, but salvation is a matter of God’s forgiveness and grace. They made their own decision to reject the offer of salvation in Christ (see v. 48).”[vi] We will see this play out in the remainder of the book of Acts: The message is shared with the Jews first and then to the gentiles (see 18:4-6; 19:8; 28:17-31). The gentiles were excited to receive the message of salvation and eternal life.
After this, the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women and high-standing men, stirring up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and had them expelled from the region.
[i]Good evening, Friends! We are excited to pick up where we left off with our Acts exploration on how the church expanded. If you are just joining us, please know that it is impossible to review and cover all aspects of these chapters. Therefore, we touch on highlights, major themes, and the wisdom from our church scholars Fred B. Craddock and M. Eugene Boring, in “The People’s New Testament Commentary.” We are also reminded that Luke is the author of the book of Luke-Acts. You may want to go back and read the summaries of Acts Chapters 1-12.
[iv] Ibid., pg. 410.
[vi] Ibid., pg. 413.
[vii] Ibid., pg. 412.