In our study of Acts chapter thirteen, we look at God's calling and plan for Barnabas and Saul. We learn how God used these two faithful men to bring many Gentiles to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Barnabas was born in Cyprus with the name of Joseph. After he came to Christ, he sold all of his goods and gave the money to the apostles in Jerusalem. They then gave him the name Barnabas which, in Greek, means Son of Encouragement. When the number of believers in Antioch started to grow, Barnabas was sent there by the church in Jerusalem. When he saw what was happening there, he went and got Saul (Paul) and they taught the church there for a year. (Acts chapter 11)
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. 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.' So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.
Barnabas and Saul were faithful workers in Antioch but God had much bigger plans for them. The Spirit called them to be set apart and the other leaders sent them on their way. They could have been content in where they were and the contribution they were making but instead they were listening to the Lord and were obedient to the call. We all, as Christians, should look at ourselves and God's plan for us. We must be open to listening to the Holy Spirit and heeding the call that God has for our lives. It is much easier to be content and comfortable with our local group of believers and our efforts there but, just like Barnabas and Saul, God might have bigger plans for us. Imagine how different things would be if Barnabas and Saul decided to just stay where they were and work with that local "church".
The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.
Barnabas and Saul didn't really know all of the details about what God had called them to do but they took the first step. We see that they went to Cyprus and began to try to tell the Jews about Jesus. Today, we know that they were called out to preach to the Gentiles but, at the time, they didn't know. They were obedient in taking the first step without knowing all of the steps that God had in mind. Sometimes, that is hard for us to do but we must take the first step and let God reveal the rest in his time.
They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 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. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.
Paphos was the capital city of Cyprus at this time and so that is where the proconsul (governor of a Roman province) lived. This city was a famous important city for worshiping the Greek goddess of love and beauty (Aphrodite) and in fact the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite was near the city. The proconsul (governor) called for Barnabas and Saul so that he could hear about God but a sorcerer/false prophet, who was also an attendant to the governor, tried to stop it. One of the cool lessons in this passage is that, if you are faithful in God's work, people will notice and know who to call when they want to know more about Jesus. You see, Barnabas and Saul had traveled all over the island and were known for their work so, when the governor wanted to know more, he knew who to call. That is how each of us are called to walk, so that everyone can see Jesus Christ. But, just like Barnabas and Saul in this passage, there will be those who oppose us and the sharing of God's word.
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? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable 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. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
Isn't it amazing how God can even use a "child of the devil"? You see, Elymas was determined to keep the proconsul from learning about Jesus but instead he was used to demonstrate the power of God. Because of that demonstration of power, the proconsul (governor) believed and was saved. This passage can be a great comfort and inspiration for us today, as Christians who face opposition and persecution. It can remind us that God is in total control and he takes care of his own. It can also be encouragement to get involved in the ministry of the gospel as we see that God can and will use anyone for his purposes (even an unwitting sorcerer like Elymas).
From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.
So, Barnabas, John Mark, and Paul left Cyprus and sailed to what is now the country of Turkey. Then, John left them to go back to Jerusalem. At first glance, this verse may seem rather unimportant but, as we will see later in the Book of Acts, it was a major event. You would think that, after such a wonderful experience in Paphos, things would really be going well but here we see the beginning of a major dispute.
From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, 'Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.'
Paul and Barnabas continued on their journey. At the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, a passage from the "Law and the Prophets" (Old Testament) was read and then Paul and Barnabas were encouraged to speak. This passage gives us another glimpse into the worship of the early church. In these days, a portion of the Word was read from the scriptures and then it was discussed and explained where necessary. Today, the focus is more on the words of men than the Word of God.
Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: 'Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance.'
Paul stood up and began to speak in the synagogue. We notice that he addresses both the Jews and the Gentiles and pleads with them to listen. He then reminds them of what God has done in the history of his people.
All this took about 450 years. 'After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: "I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart, he will do everything I want him to do." From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.
Paul continues his history lesson to the synagogue and recounts the time of the judges and the kings. He points out that Jesus fulfilled the promises that God made to his people. All of the Jews that were listening would have already known this history but Paul was reminding them and pointing them to Jesus.
Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: 'Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'
Paul continues his history lesson with John the Baptist as he transitions from the Law and the Prophets to the good news of Jesus. The Jews new the prophecy that there would be one who would come before their Messiah and Paul was explaining to them that this prophecy was fulfilled in John and the coming of Jesus.
Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.
It is almost as if you can feel Paul pleading with the people to understand about salvation through Jesus Christ. This verse can serve to remind us that this good news is for all men who will accept it.
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.
Paul is telling the people that the words that they hear spoken in the synagogue each week refer to Jesus. The lesson is for us as well. Many try to separate the Old Testament and the New Testament as if God just abruptly had to change his plans. In reality, God knew it all from the beginning and Jesus, the Savior of the world, was not a "backup plan".
Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.
Paul continues to show the people that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He reminds them that there was no legal reason to kill Jesus and that the grave could not hold him.
We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father.'
Paul tells of how the words of the Psalmist are fulfilled in Christ and his resurrection. There is also a promise for us as, when we accept Jesus, we too become sons of God. We inherit all things through our relationship with the Father.
The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.' So it is stated elsewhere: 'You will not let your Holy One see decay.' For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.
Paul now uses the words of Isaiah and David to show the people the promise that God fulfilled through Jesus Christ. He is showing them that death was conquered through Jesus and his resurrection.
Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: '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.'
Paul ends his history lesson with the reason for the history which is salvation through Jesus Christ. He explains that God knew there would be "scoffers" who would not believe and be saved and Paul begs them not to be one of them. The quote is from Habakkuk the prophet and comes after Habakkuk has asked God why he allows the injustice in the world. God's reply was that he would bring judgement that the prophet would not even believe. God was referring to the coming invasion by the Babylonians.
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
By simply presenting the good news (gospel) to the people and trusting God to work, Paul set a very good example that is missed today. Paul didn't have a fancy planned out sermon with bullet points and the like; he simply told people about Jesus. Too many "preachers" today are trusting in their words, wisdom, and works instead of allowing God to work. We see that, in this passage, God worked on the people's hearts and caused them to want to know more about him and his Son; it wasn't anything about Paul or his wisdom and strength.
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.
Wouldn't it be awesome to have an entire city turn out to hear about Jesus? When God works in people's hearts this can happen. That's what happened here but the Jewish leaders weren't happy about it. Instead of being happy that people were coming to worship, they saw there influence diminishing and were jealous. The same thing is true today in many cities where churches compete for "members" instead of reaching out to those who do not know Jesus.
Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: 'We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth."'
Now, God reveals his purpose for Paul and Barnabas and they turn their attention to the Gentiles. (That is most of us in the world.) Their new goal is to "bring salvation to the ends of the earth". Like Paul and Barnabas, we all (as Christians) are called to share the message of salvation with the world.
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
The non-Jews gladly accepted the news of Jesus Christ and many believed on him for salvation. The last part of this verse has caused some confusion among Christians. Many take the "all who were appointed" and use it as an excuse for not going and sharing the gospel. The reasoning is that, since God has appointed them, then we do not need to do anything. The thing to understand is that God knows and has appointed those that will be saved but we do not have the wisdom of God and so we do not know all that will be saved. We cannot look at someone and know whether they will come to Christ or not therefore, we must share the gospel with all people and trust God to work.
But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.
The rich and powerful in the city worked together to get rid of Paul and Barnabas.
So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.
Instead of quarreling with the religious leaders and others that were persecuting them, Paul and Barnabas left and went to Iconium which is in the modern country of Turkey. They put the situation in God's hands as they "shook the dust from their feet". That is a good pattern for us as well when people start to argue and persecute us. We too must give all situations and people over to God and realize that only he has the power to change people.
And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Joy and the Holy Spirit; Does that describe your life in Christ? In the face of persecution, the disciples were filled with joy because they were focused on God and his eternal perspective. When things get difficult (and they will if you are following Jesus), that is when you have the opportunity to demonstrate the power of God in your life. Others can see that your joy is not affected by your situation.