Faith to Discern - Acts 13:1-12
The work of the Holy Spirit is a major theme i the Book of Acts from the beginning and throughout the text. The early church did not grow by the hard work and cunning plans of its “founders” but by the direct action of the Holy Spirit guiding the disciples. In Christians began to move out from Jerusalem as persecution and other circumstances scattered them. is a bit different as it identifies three distinctive missionary journeys of the apostle Paul and his companions. By the time of the episode in today’s text, Paul (known as Saul at the time) was linked with Barnabas by the need to assure the Jerusalem Christians that their former persecutor had become a faithful believer in Jesus.
Barnabas was already notable in the Jerusalem church for his generosity (4:36, 37). After the gospel spread to Antioch, Barnabas invited Paul to join him there as a teacher in the church. Antioch, where our text begins, was a mojor city in Syria; we take care not to confuse it with a different Anitoch of .
Syrian Antioch featured a multienthnic population and was one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire. As the gospel spread to the city, both Jews and Gentiles became believers. This multicultural group found itself living in fellowship. As a famine approached, they generously provided relief for their fellow believers in distant Jerusalem (). Such a background prepared the church at Antioch well as the first to send missionaries to share the gospel with people in other places.
Accept the Assignment -
Accept the Assignment -
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, 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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.
Modern readers of the Bible often associate prediction of the future with prophets. But the biblical prophet is less a “foreteller” than a “forthteller” - someone who proclaims God’s truth, though sometimes that truth does deal with the future. Teachers are those who instruct others in the Christian message.
The book of Acts understands their work to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, who enables the church to prophesy (), to speak the message of God truly and boldly. The book list in verse one three names that demonstrate the diversity of the multicultural Antioch church. Simeon is an Aramaic name, likely indicating birth and upbringing as a Jew in the Jewish homeland. He is called Niger, a Latin word meaning “black”. While the modern notion of race did not exist in the biblical world, peoples from Africa south of the Sahara commonly migrate to the Mediterranean region and are well known in the world of the Bible. Simeon may be such a person.
Lucius is a Greek name, and he is said to come from Cyrene, a region of North Africa to the west of Egypt (approximately where modern Libya is). So two of the leaders of the church in Antioch are likely from Africa.
What can we do to achieve more diversity in church leadership? Regarding racial diversity; Regarding socioeconomic diversity
Verse 2 shows us that the scene is that of church leaders joined in focused worship with fasting. Fasting is associated with seeking God’s will in some texts. This is a fasting to focus on discerning God’s will, those gathered may be startled in receiving direct communication from the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the fasting is clear: to push forward God’s program of witness to Christ to the ends of the earth ().
Verse 3 does not explain or reveal God’s message to the teachers and prophets, but how the leaders readers respond is clear: they obey fully. Continuing in their prayer and fasting, they place hands on Barnabas and Saul in a way that shows that they pray for God’s blessing and power to be with them.
How can the church do better in the area of prayerful decision making?
Verses 4 & 5 show that underlining the Holy Spirit’s calling is the movements of Barnabas and Saul. Seleucia is the harbor city on the Mediterranean coastline that serve Antioch, which lies a dozen or so miles inland. From Seleucia the missionaries move southwest to Cyprus, a large well-populated island. Barnabas now finds himself on home territory. Since he is a native, he knew the people and culture. His cultural and spiritual affinity contributed to the success of the missionary journey.
Recognize Roadblocks -
Recognize Roadblocks -
When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. But the magician Elymas (for that is the translation of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
Paphos is located on the western end of Cyprus. After a preaching journey of unknown duration, the team encounters a figure common to the Greco—Roman world: a sorcerer. Sorcerers present themselves, in the biblical world, as having ability to manipulate unseen beings and forces of the spirit world. Reciting long incantations, using potions, performing strange tasks are their stock-in-trade.
We see the sorcerer’s Jewish name here: Bar-Jesus. From Aramaic, it means “son of Jesus.” This does not refer to Jesus of Nazareth, of course, as the name Jesus is common in biblical times. Bar-Jesus is an attendant of the court of a Roman official. The provinces of the Roman Empire are governed by local rulers who have pledged loyalty to Rome or by those appointed by the emperor or senate. The missionaries apparently are having such an impact on Cyprus that they come to this official’s attention.
In verse 8, the gospel represents a threat to the sorcerer, whose Greek name is revealed as Elymas. If Sergius Paulus is to be persuaded by the message brought by the missionaries. Elymas will have to lose influence and position. The power behind the gospel leaves no need for any competitors. So Elymas resists the message that Barnabas ans Saul bring, perhaps by interrupting and challenging them as they speak with the governor.
Counter Conclusively -
Counter Conclusively -
But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 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? And now listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he went about groping for someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.
This is the point in Acts where Saul begins to be known by his Greek name, which is Paul. Along with this change in designation comes a switch in the order of names: henceforth “Barnabas and Saul” becomes “Paul and Barnabas”. This likely indicates a change in leadership as Paul becomes viewed as “the chief speaker”. And in the verse at hand, it is Paul who confronts the antagonist. Filled with the Holy Spirit is an expression the author uses to indicate that a bold act of speech is pending. With eyes focused on the sorcerer, Paul is set to deliver to Elymas a stark message from God.
Here we see Paul accuse another of making the same terrible mistake he once made. As a persecutor of Christians, Paul himself had been one who perverted the right ways of the Lord. Having seen the risen Lord Jesus and come to faith in him, he takes a stand against another who perverts the right ways of the Lord Jesus.
What circumstances today call for strong confrontation rather than a gentler approach, if any? Why? Regarding tensions between church and culture; regarding tensions within the church
After the Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Paul was blind until a follower of Jesus came to lay hands on him in prayer and to baptize him. The physical blindness was an apt expression of Paul’s spiritual condition as a persecutor of Christians. Now Paul pronounces the same sign on Elymas.
The mist and darkness that surround the man may be either a way of describing the sorcerer’s own experience of blindness or an indication that the man’s blindness is accompanied by a miraculous sign that is visible to others. Having to be led by the hand also happened to Paul, an ironic repeat of the “time out” imposed on each for misleading other in opposing the gospel. Paul makes clear that this act is the Lord’s, whose hand is upon Elymas in judgment.
But this judgment is not final: the blindness is temporary. God’s purpose in this event is to demonstrate to Elymas and those around him how wrongheaded is his opposition to the gospel. As it was for Paul on the road to Damascus, the act of judgment has repentance and faith as its goal, even if the outcome is different in each case.
Whether Elymas changes in his opposition to the gospel, the book of Acts does not say, We simply know that each time in Acts where messengers of the gospel encounter those who engage in witchcraft, the gospel prevails. Paul’s teaching about Jesus fills Serguis Paulus with astonishment that drives him to faith. The greatest work of God is not vanquishing the magician opponent, but raising Jesus from the dead.
What are some ways to present the gospel that will cause unbelievers to take notice? Regarding unbelieving acquaintances; regarding unbelieving family members; regarding unbelieving strangers.
How has God worked in your life to accomplish his purpose in the last year, or since you came to faith in Jesus? While he may not have done with us what he did with Paul, through the Holy Spirit, God is shaping us and using us to reclaim rebellious humanity. As he does so, he usually surprises us.
How can we respond to such surprises? Like the leaders in the Antioch church, we need to share God’s perspective on our broken world, ready to be his instruments by the Spirit’s power in the next surprising situation. We need to accept each situation that lies before us as filled with potential for service in Christ’s name. We need to trust the power of God’s Holy Spirit to work in us when we know we are inadequate for the task. We need to act by a faith that sees God at work in even the most surprising circumstances.
Give us true faith, O God. Help us to face each day trusting in you, even if we don’t know what will happen, and recognizing that we can’t control everything that will happen. Help us to know that you are with us and will sustain us; in the name of Jesus, who faced even death with faith. Amen.