Acts: For the Cause of Christ #20
Title: Paul’s First Journey – Pt 1
Last week we saw how God was still actively aiding and protecting the church in Jerusalem as Herod Agrippa began persecuting the church by arrest James the brother of John and Peter. Though James was executed, God divinely helped Peter escape the same fate. We also saw how God judged Herod Agrippa for accepting worship as if he were a god and quite possibly for executing James and harassing Peter. We saw that the church, fervently praying on Peter’s behalf had their prayer answered, and that the church continued to grow and the word of God flourished. Luke then turns the attention back to Barnabas and Saul who have completed their mission of delivering a relief fund from Antioch, and returned to Antioch with John Mark. This week, we start Paul’s first missionary journey from Antioch in chapter 13.
1. Antioch and Cyprus vv 1-12
Luke focuses back on the church of Antioch in Syria as we begin this chapter. Luke gives us a brief view of some of the leadership in Antioch. Barnabas and Saul we know are gifted teachers. These other men we know little to nothing about. Simeon (or Simon) called Niger we only know that both his Hebrew and Latin, not Greek, names are given. The name Niger means black, leading many to think he had a dark complexion and was possibly from the northern coast of Africa, but that is not for certain. Next we are told Lucius from Cyrene, also had a Latin name and because he was from Cyrene we do know he was from the northern coast of Africa, but nothing else is known. Then we meet Manaen, we don’t know anything else about him except that he was a close friend of Herod Antipas. It is suggested, that Manaen grew up with Antipas in the court of Herod the Great, much like Agrippa had grown up in Rome with Caligula. These men were prophets and teachers in the church in Antioch. It can be assumed that these three men could have been involved in the original planting of this church.
We are told that “as they were worshipping the Lord and fasting”, whether this refers to a worship service of the church or these men were having a time of fasting for something like a “men’s bible study”, I’m not too sure. But, during this time of fasting, the Holy Spirit made it clear that Barnabas and Saul were to be set apart or separated from the rest of the church for the work He had for them. In chapter 9 we saw how the Lord Jesus had chosen Saul to take the gospel to the gentile world, now Barnabas was being included as well. They finished their fast, prayed about this commission and then the leaders laid hands on the newly appointed missionaries. It is important to remember that the Holy Spirit, working through the local church, calls and equips people for service. It is the local church, not a denomination, or mission agency that sends missionaries. Barnabas and Saul took John Mark with them, as we see a few verses later, went to the nearby port at Seleucia and set sail for the island of Cyprus.
The party arrived in Salamis, a port city on the far eastern coast of the the island. This city had a Jewish settlement that was large enough to more than one synagogue. Here is Salamis, the team establishes their pattern for the journey, enter the cities, find the Jewish section if the Jews do not listen go to the Gentiles. However we were told in chapter 11:19 that disciples that fled Jerusalem from the persecution after Stephen had come to Cyprus, so it is possible that there may have been a small group of believers already established.
Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark travelled across the whole island, we can assume they preached at any town or city they came to along the way, until they reached the capital city of Cyprus, Paphos. Here the Roman proconsul was a man named Sergius Paulus. Though we are told the proconsul was an intelligent man, he had as part of his advisors a Jewish false prophet (or teacher) and sorcerer named Bar-Jesus or son of Jesus (Joshua). Later Luke calls him Elymas which means sorcerer. Sergius Paulus wants to hear what Barnabas and Saul have to say, he must have been somewhat interested in theology to summon these men. Elymas tries to counter their argument and sway the proconsul away from the gospel.
We are given for the first time Saul’s Roman name or Paul, and for the rest of Acts he is referred to as Paul. Paul recognizes Elymas for what he is, a son of the devil and certainly not a child of God. Through the Lord’s power Paul works a miracle against Elymas blinding him for an undetermined time. This miracle is enough to cause Sergius Paulus to believe. There is disagreement as to whether this belief was for salvation, I tend to think that Luke is saying the this Roman Proconsul, as Gentile as you can get, believed the gospel that Paul and Barnabas had presented it. Paphos held a blinded Jew and a believing Gentile.
We see that missionaries are raised up and sent out by the Lord and the local church. It is the local church’s job, by way of its leadership (Pastors, teachers, etc.) to “[equip] the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).
We see with Elymas that the Lord will and does judge those who oppose the Gospel and the church. Elymas was a Jew, he should have known better. The more light we are given, the more accountable to God we are for that light, of course Elymas may have been Jewish by birth and hadn’t been a practicing Jew for a long time. Our job is to share the gospel and be true disciples of Jesus, God will judge those who oppose the church, who oppose Him.
2. Antioch in Pisidia vv 13-52
Paul’s Sermon vv 13-41
After the encounter in Paphos, Paul and the others set sail to north from Cyprus to Asia Minor and came to Perga in the region of Pamphylia. Luke doesn’t give us any details here, other than for some reason John Mark decides to leave Paul and Barnabas and return to Jerusalem. There are many suggestions given as to why John Mark left, one is that the wild area of Pisidia was known for robbers and John Mark did not want to continue north from Perga. However, the truth is we do not know for sure.
Paul and Barnabas did continue north to Pisidian Antioch about 100 miles north of Perga. They went to a synagogue on Sabbath and listened to the reading of the Law and the Prophets. It was customary for visiting Rabbis to be invited to offer a message based on the readings from the service, Paul may have been identified as a former student of the famed Gamaliel and was asked to speak.
Paul’s first recorded sermon in Acts follows, he is addressing Jews as well as God-fearing Gentiles. His sermon is similar to Stephen’s as it follows Jewish history, and similar to Peter’s at Pentecost in the interpretation of certain OT passages. He starts with the Egyptian captivity and exodus, the wilderness wanderings and then the conquering of the land. He mentions the judges, and Samuel, Saul and David. Here, Paul ties God’s promised Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, to David’s descendants, God fulfilled the promise. He confirms that John the Baptist was the forerunner preparing the way for the Messiah before he continues.
Paul now gets to the meat of the gospel. He shows how the Jewish Leadership fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah, they refused to recognize in Jesus. Verses 30-37 Paul spends more time on as he deals with the resurrection of Jesus as the best proof that Jesus was/is the Messiah. He interprets Psalm 2:7 as referring to Christ’s resurrection. Then he cites Isaiah 55 showing that if Jesus had remained dead and buried, He couldn’t be the Messiah, then Paul quotes Psalm 16 showing that promise was about the Messiah and not David himself. [read 36-7] David died, and was buried. His body saw decay, as did his ancestors, but Jesus was raised not to see decay, and not to face it again.
Paul closes his message with a call of repentance and faith. He tells his audience that they can only find forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and that justification before God’s throne is found in Jesus, not in Moses. We hear similar statements from Paul in Romans and Galatians. In Romans 3:19-20 Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.” Then in Galatians 2:16 he says, “and yet because we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. This was so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified”, and Galatians 3:11 reads, “Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith.”
Paul closes in verses 40 and 41 with a warning from prophets. This is a reference back to Habakkuk 1:5. In that instance God was telling Israel that He would punish them by using the evil Chaldean empire, Paul using the same verse warns those listening not miss out of God’s forgiveness through the Jewish Messiah of Jesus Christ.
Aftermath vv 42-52
Paul’s words were heard with great interest and many coming to faith in Christ. Paul and Barnabas were invited to return the following week to speak again, and many began following Paul and Barnabas whom they were encouraging. Things seem to be going well.
The following Sabbath, news of the missionaries and their message had spread and nearly the whole town had come. Not only God-fearers and proselytes to Judaism, but unbelieving Gentiles came as well. This caused the unrepentant Jews to become jealous and angry. Whether this jealousy was more envy that they had not reached so many people or that they wanted to protect their traditions and teachings and the promises of God for the Gentiles, I’m not sure. Their reaction however was to insult and contradict Paul’s teaching, thereby blaspheming against the Word of the God.
Paul and Barnabas knew what their mission was. They knew what the Lord wanted them to do. So they told the Jewish community that the message of the gospel had to go to the Jews first, but since they deemed themselves better than the Word of God, Paul and Barnabas announced they would continue to go to the Gentiles. To back up their decision, they quoted from Isaiah 49:6, “‘he says, “It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”’”
When the Gentiles heard that the missionaries would be declaring salvation to them, they were overjoyed. Many believed and the gospel continued to spread from Pisidian Antioch as well. There are many arguments and debates over the doctrine of election, but it is unavoidable as Scripture is clear that God chooses whom He will. Here in verse 48 we see another example of God’s election. This is also an example of human responsibility working with God’s sovereignty.
The Jews wanted Paul and Barnabas out of their town. They spoke with some prominent God-fearing women and leading men in the city. It is possible that these men are the husbands of these God-fearing women. This created opposition to Paul and Barnabas and caused to have the missionaries thrown out of town.
Paul and Barnabas did what they could in Antioch of Pisidia, but now what they could do was shake the dust of their sandals as a testimony against the unbelievers, you might remember that Jesus told the twelve to do the same in Luke 9:5 when He sent them out proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The missionaries then moved on to the city of Iconium about eighty miles away leaving new disciples filled with the Holy Spirit and joy in Antioch.
We can’t control what happens. Paul and Barnabas were welcomed into the Jewish synagogue, and experienced positive results with and crowds hungering for more. But the gospel will meet opposition. Our responsibility is to proclaim the gospel, we can’t make someone accept Christianity. That is between the Lord and the individual. Human responsibility and divine sovereignty go hand in hand. We can’t explain it perfectly. We can’t explain God’s election for salvation perfectly either, and if you hear someone say they completely understand the doctrine of election they are probably very arrogant and have deluded themselves into thinking that they are so smart and so wise. Only the Godhead fully understands the doctrine of election.
We see that missionaries are raised up and sent out by the Lord and the local church. It is the local church’s job to “[equip] the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). This should be a continuing cycle for the local church to develop leaders and workers, send them out and start developing new leaders and workers.
We see with Elymas that the Lord will and does judge those who oppose the Gospel and the church. The more light we are given, the more accountable to God we are for that light. Our job is to share the gospel and be true disciples of Jesus, God will judge those who oppose the church, who oppose Him.
We can’t control what happens. Paul and Barnabas were welcomed into the Jewish synagogue, and experienced positive results with and crowds hungering for more. But the gospel will meet opposition. Our responsibility is to proclaim the gospel, we can’t make someone accept Christianity. That is between the Lord and the individual. Human responsibility and divine sovereignty go hand in hand.