Updated: Nov 21
If you are saved and follow Christ as a dedicated believer, please know that you are saved for a purpose in both this life and the next. Purpose is a major theme throughout the Book of Acts. The book of Acts starts with the mandate from Jesus whose aim was for the gospel of the Kingdom to go forth. Now as we enter into chapter 13, we are turning to what might be the most notable turning point in the entire storyline of Acts.
Up until this point from Acts chapter 1-12, Luke has been primarily focused on Jerusalem and Peter, showing how God has fulfilled His promises, how Jesus is Israel’s crucified, risen, and exalted Messiah, and how he is restoring Israel in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. And most notably, in the last few chapters, he has shown us how God has started to press the gospel into the Gentile world beginning with Cornelius and extending to the church in Antioch. But everything changes when we get to chapter 13. Luke shifts the spotlight from Peter to Paul. In this transition, the storyline quickly shifts from the gospel’s impact in Jerusalem to the gospel’s impact throughout the entire Gentile world, fulfilling Jesus’ final words. Remember what Acts 1:8 tells us:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Yet, in this shift between gospel witnesses and geographic locations, Luke wants to make it clear that one thing remains the same: The mission of the church is wholly dependent upon the person and power of the Holy Spirit. Under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the base of gospel expansion shifts from the church at Jerusalem to the church at Antioch. So now, let’s turn our attention to the ANTIOCH CHURCH and the APOSTOLIC CHARGE! First,
The Antioch Church
Antioch: A Multi-Gifted Church
“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, …” (vs 1a)
We see right from the beginning that Antioch received the gifts of the Spirit. These gifts were in the form of gifted and called leaders/ministers as well as the expressive gifts that each member carried within them. An effective church for the gospel and the Kingdom will be filled with prophetic teaching and active members in the gift of the Spirit. As we continue reading, we also see …
Antioch: A Multi-Ethnic Church
“ … Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the Tetrarch, and Saul.” (vs 1b)
The church in Antioch was very different from the Church in Jerusalem. Whereas the church in Jerusalem was comprised of ethnic Jews and was led by a team of Jewish apostles, the church in Antioch was a multicultural church led by a multiethnic team of spiritually gifted ministers. This is significant in the story-line of Acts because it helps us see that, God is gifting his church without any regard for ethnic distinctions or personal backgrounds.
Barnabas a Jew from Cyprus;
Simeon is most likely an African because his Latin nickname “Niger” means “Black;”
Lucius is a North African from Cyrene;
Manaen, a high-ranking individual who was most likely a foster brother or intimate friend of Herod the Tetrarch;
And then finally we have Saul, a Jew who was born and raised in the city of Tarsus, trained in the Law under the pharisee Gamaliel, and former persecutor of the church.
Antioch: A Prayer and Worshiping Church
“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.’” (Vs. 2)
We see that the entire church in Antioch appears to be gathered together in verse 2 for something more than weekly worship, in that, “they were worshiping and fasting” together (v. 2). As one scholar notes,
Given that the Spirit calls the church to set apart Saul and Barnabas for service in verse 2; it is most likely that the entire church (not just the leadership) is worshiping and fasting with its leaders. In fact, when we consider the Spirit’s calling in verse 2, it seems reasonable to propose that they were seeking God’s will in the continuing advance of the gospel into the Gentile world.
How do they respond to the revelation of the Holy Spirit’s leading? They responded by calling the entire church (again not just the leaders) together for a prolonged period of fasting and prayer so that they might confirm their sense of the Spirit’s call and commission Saul and Barnabas for their new calling.
The church fully believes that the God who disclosed his initial calling would certainly confirm his calling as his people pursued him in fervent prayer… which is exactly what he does.
Antioch: A Commissioning and Sending Church
“Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (vs. 3)
And just like, that the first official missionaries in the history of Christianity are sent out by their local church at the leading and initiative of the Holy Spirit Himself. A point that Luke reiterates again in the opening lines of verse 4 to reinforce the fact that the Holy Spirit has not only called Saul and Barnabas to this new ministry BUT that the Holy Spirit is actively directing and empowering them to fulfill their gospel calling.
The Apostolic Charge
Apostolic: An Adventurous Ministry
“So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.” (Vs. 4)
The trip from Antioch to the port town of Seleucia was only 16 miles. And once they boarded the ship in Seleucia, they only had to travel 60 miles to the port of Salamis in Cyprus. To put it in modern terms, their entire journey (from Antioch to Cyprus) was only about 76 miles OR about the same distance we would drive from Victorville to Pasadena.
Saul and Barnabas’ initial journey to Cyprus seems to be motivated by at least three strategic reasons: (1) Barnabas was a native of Cyprus which meant that he had contacts. (2) Cyprus was home to a significant Jewish population, which meant that there was an organic gospel audience in Cyprus. (3) And a group of Christians had already brought the gospel to Cyprus shortly after Stephen was murdered (Acts 11:19–20).
Apostolic: A Challenging Ministry
"When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.” (Vs. 5)
The first step of the first missionary journey seems to be primarily focused on the Jews. They went to the synagogues! They were willing to challenge religion.
Apostolic: A Courageous Ministry
“When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.’ Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” (Vs. 6-12)
An Important Invitation and Unexpected Opposition (Acts 13:6–12)
This is a significant development in the early expansion of the church. Saul and Barnabas are inconsequential nobodies. They don’t have any political power. They do not have any connection to the upper crust of society. They are not well-known philosophers or teachers. They have no authority of their own. Yet, they are personally invited to share the gospel with a Roman governor who is known for his intelligence. It’s like Cornelius all over again. A Gentile wants to hear the Word of God. And God—through a divinely orchestrated series of events—sends virtual nobodies all the way from Antioch to make the connection.
But just as they start to share the gospel with the governor, the governor’s spiritual advisor —an apostate Jewish sorcerer whose name is literally “Son of Jesus”— launches a preemptive attack against Saul and Barnabas in a desperate attempt to turn his master away from the faith. The so-called “son of Jesus” wants nothing to do with the real Jesus Christ! And while Luke does not tell us how he was trying to turn the governor away; he does tell us how the Holy Spirit himself responded to his attack against the gospel.
An Intense Invocation and Unusual Occurrence
Don’t miss this, why does Paul confront Bar Jesus and curse him with temporary blindness instead of Barnabas? It’s not just because Barnabas was passive or afraid. Nor was it because Paul was more assertive or wanted to prove that he had greater power than the false prophet. No, it was because, at the moment, the Holy Spirit chose to actively work through Paul instead of Barnabas.
Yes, this is the moment that Saul assumes his Roman name “Paul” for the rest of the book foreshadowing his greater call to the Gentile world. Yes, this is the moment that Paul begins to take the lead role in their missionary endeavor. But these developments are the direct result Spirit’s filling (v. 9). We have seen the Holy Spirit do this before in Acts. Right? And what was the result of the Spirit’s filling in each instance? It was nothing less than gospel boldness and spiritual insight, which is exactly what we see in Paul’s response.
Who is Bar Jesus? He is not a powerful foe to be feared. He is not a representative of Jesus. He is not even walking in the ways of his father Abraham as a Jew. No. He is the son of the devil. As the devil’s Son, he is following in the deceitful ways of his father, trying to twist and pervert the straight paths of the Lord that lead to forgiveness and life through faith in Jesus Christ. And in all of this, what is he ultimately trying to do? He is trying to blind Sergius Paulus to the light of the gospel.
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)
Elymas hates the light because he loves the darkness. So how does the Spirit direct Paul to respond to his deceit? He directs him to pronounce a fitting judgment against the sorcerer— instant but temporary blindness.
And what was the ultimate result? The Holy Spirit reversed the false prophet’s attempt to hinder the faith of his master, in that, his attempt to make crooked the path of God was transformed into a straight and narrow path to saving faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Apostolic: A Confrontational Ministry (vs. 13-54)
During their first missionary journey in AD 44, Paul and Barnabas came to a city in Asia Minor called Antioch. This was different from the Antioch they had been sent from by the church which was in Syria. To distinguish it from Antioch, this one is referred to as Pisidian Antioch. Because of its strategic location, it was colonized by many successive groups of people resulting in a very large population that included Greeks, Jews, and Phrygians. The Romans colonized it in the first century and made it the capital of southern Galatia.
About 90 years ago archaeologists discovered the remains of a first-century synagogue beneath the ruins of a Byzantine church. It is believed that this was the actual synagogue where Paul preached the sermon that is recorded in Acts chapter 13. Since Paul and Barnabas were Jews, they were welcomed to the Sabbath day worship which took place here. The synagogue service included the reading of the scriptures and after that, it was customary for visiting Jews to be asked to speak. We see this in Acts 13:15 –
“And after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”
Paul then took the opportunity to CONFRONT them by preaching the Word. There are three things about the Word that Paul spoke that reveal the Wonders of the Word and how it CONFRONTS the sinner. I want to close by sharing these. The first wonder of the Word is its:
It rests on God’s participation in history. Paul made this point as he began to preach his sermon at Antioch. He gave a summary of Israel’s history beginning in v.17,18 – “The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with a high arm brought He them out of it. And about the time of forty years suffered He their manners in the wilderness…”
These two verses cover about 500 years of history from Genesis chapter 12 to the end of Deuteronomy – How God chose Abraham and made his descendants grow into nationhood in Egypt, brought them out in a great exodus when the Egyptians enslaved them, and then patiently led them to the Promised Land. Then in the next four verses, Paul summarized the transformation of Israel from a loose federation of twelve tribes in Canaan to a powerful kingdom under King David. This covers another 500 years of history that is recorded in the books of Joshua, Judges, and 1 and 2 Samuel.
I want you to observe that God is the subject of almost all the verbs in this summary. In these six verses God is the One who chose… exalted… brought out… suffered… destroyed… divided… gave… raised up… and said. This shows that God revealed Himself through His active participation in history. When history is used as the vehicle for declaring truths about God, all these truths become objective and verified. They do not belong to the subjective realm of human philosophy, speculation, or opinion.
The main application here, however, is to ensure that your faith in God is based on objective verifiable facts and not on subjective stories. myths and legends. The only way to do this is to make God’s written Word the only grounds for all your beliefs. This is the only reliable source of truth from God because it rests on a firm foundation: God’s participation in human history.
That is the first wonder of the Word. We go on now to the next wonder, which is its …
It records how God’s promises were fulfilled in Christ even to the smallest detail. This is the point that Paul made as he continued his preaching in vv.23-37. In v.23, he mentions Jesus as being the fulfillment of God’s promise.
“Of [David’s] seed hath God according to His promise raised unto Israel a savior, Jesus.”
You may ask, ‘Where in the Bible is this promise of God found?’ It is spelled out clearly in Jeremiah 23:5,6 –
“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch and a King shall reign and prosper and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely…”
This brings us now to the third wonder of the Word that Paul spoke about in his sermon. He spoke of it’s …
The Word reveals God’s plan to save all men through Christ. Let us look at vv.38,39 where the main thrust of Paul’s sermon is found –
“Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
Here the problem that needs to be solved is identified: It is the sins we commit. The Law of Moses could not save anyone from sin. It only shows that all have sinned. The more we try to keep the Law that God had given through Moses, the more aware we become of our failure to keep it. Then we realize how sinful we are and that our only hope is for God to forgive us of all our sins. But how can a God who is perfectly just and holy forgive us? There is only one possible way – through the death of Jesus for us.
What a great salvation is revealed here in God’s Word! But the question which each one of us has to answer is this: Have your sins been forgiven? Have you truly believed in Jesus alone for salvation, or are you still trusting in your ability to keep God’s laws to save you? If you haven’t believed in Jesus yet, I urge you not to delay any longer. This is because the Word of God has come to you, and you have just seen its Wonders - its objective foundation, its amazing fulfillment, and its great salvation. A Wonderful Word like that certainly requires a good response from you.