The book of Acts is transitional in nature. The new covenant was established with the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, and Acts records the transition from old to new covenant that took place in those early years. While the covenant was once-for-all inaugurated with the shed blood of Christ, there were nevertheless certain structural changes that were necessary. For example, the people of God needed to realise that the covenant focused no longer on the temple, the Levitical sacrifices, and the Jewish holy days and festivals. They needed to understand that those were mere shadows of the substance of Christ, and this realisation would take time. Certain supernatural changes were also necessary: The Holy Spirit needed to indwell all believers without measure.
But the book is also reformational. That is, it shows clearly that the new Israel of God was multi-ethnic.1 Worldwide evangelism was to be the focus of the church. As was God’s intention with old covenant Israel (Exodus 19:5-6), God intended the new Israel of God to be “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). This was not realised under the old covenant because of the disobedience of Israel, but it was to be (and, in fact, was) recognised in the new covenant by the obedience of the church. Acts, then, is the record of a reformed Israel of God doing what He commanded.
And so there are various transitions recorded in Acts. This is quite evident in the record of Acts 13. In this chapter, the centre of church history moved from Jerusalem to Antioch. A shift was made in terms of Saul (Paul) becoming the primary spokesman for the church, rather than Peter. The apostle of the circumcision gave way to the apostle of the uncircumcision. The gospel shifted from a primarily Jewish focus to a primary Gentile focus. While the opening twelve chapters detail a church with very Jewish trappings, chapter 13 begins to portray a church without this flavour. In short, Acts 13 begins to paint the gospel as being global rather than parochial.
It is very apparent in this chapter that, even at this early stage, the church was committed to a world outreach celebration. They understood the truth of Psalm 67: that God wanted His “way” to be “known on earth” and His “salvation among all nations.” God’s plans for the gospel are global, and the believers in Antioch understood this.
As we commence an exposition of Acts 13, we need to keep before us two important truths.
First, we must keep before us the reality that Jesus Christ died for the elect, and that every single one of the elect will be saved (John 6:37-44; 10:22-30). This is the promised end of the gospel.
Second, we must keep before us the responsibility of the church to reach the unreached by preaching the gospel to them (Romans 10:9-17; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20). This is the prescribed means to the promised end.
And since the elect are scattered across the globe, it is incumbent upon the church to preach the gospel globally. The church—Brackenhurst Baptist Church and every local church—exists to glorify God by making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in all nations. We must minister for the glory of God globally. God must be glorified, and the nations be made glad, through the church proclaiming the gospel in all nations. The church in Antioch understood this truth. The question before us in this study is, do we?
The revealed purpose of God for his church is that it should be the means by which the gospel of his free and sovereign grace in Christ is preached throughout the world (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:45-48; Acts 1:8). Every local church has, by divine mandate, a singular purpose for existence, and that purpose is that it be a lighthouse, a sounding-board for the gospel. The church of Christ is to be a preaching centre, in which the gospel of Christ is preserved from generation to generation and from which it is preached unto all men (1 Tim. 3:15). Every believer is called by God to be . . . a witness for him (John 20:21; Isa. 44:8). Our business, our goal and occupation in life, is to seek the Lord’s sheep, the salvation of God’s elect.
I can think of no reason for God leaving his people in this world except to use them for the saving of chosen, redeemed sinners. Every believer is completely fit for heaven (Col. 1:12). We are completely forgiven of all sin, perfectly righteous and approved of by God through the sin-atoning blood and imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we have been given a righteous nature in regeneration. Righteousness has been imparted to us by the Spirit of God. Why then has God left us in this world to live in this body of flesh? It is because he has chosen to use saved sinners to carry the gospel to other sinners for the saving of his elect!
In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit has recorded for our learning the beginning of world evangelism. In this chapter God’s eternal purpose that the gospel be preached in all the world began to be fulfilled.2
In this study we will examine the beginning of this world outreach celebration with a view to imitating this biblical example.
The Call to World Evangelisation
In vv. 1-3 we read of the call of God to the Antioch church to world evangelisation.
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
The Call to the Church
The call to global missions came to and through the local church. We see very clearly in this text that the local church is God’s ordained means for the Great Commission. The focus in our present text is on “the church that was at Antioch.” As the leadership of the church spent time in prayer and fasting, the Holy Spirit called the church (through its leadership) to separate Barnabas and Saul for missionary service. The missionaries were sent by (and under the authority of) the local church, not by a parachurch organisation.
The May-June 2012 edition of the Mission Frontiers magazine celebrated two hundred years of mission society sending. Ralph D. Winter includes an article titled “Learn from Our Mistakes,” in which he includes “the mistake of congregations sending missionaries, not using mission agencies.” By “congregations” he means local churches, and by “mission agencies” he means parachurch mission organisations. Winter writes,
Today many congregations are large enough and strong enough to feel that they don’t need a mission agency through which to send their missionaries. This is a new and widespread phenomenon which ignores the great value of the veteran mission agencies which can draw upon the insights of missiology and the vast field experience which are lacking in the average congregation. It may be true that some mission agencies are more experienced and wiser than others, but to my knowledge there is no example of a local congregation bypassing mission agencies with any great success.3
One wonders what mission agency was used to send Saul and Barnabas to the mission field. The fact is, the Antioch church was founded by “missionaries” from the Jerusalem church (not the Jerusalem mission agency), and Saul and Barnabas were called from and sent by the local church in Antioch (not a mission agency in Antioch). Missionaries come from local churches. Working this way through a local church may sometimes be slower, but God’s (sometimes slower) methods are always surer.
The Character of the Church
But it was not just any local church that was instructed by the Spirit to send missionaries. It was, in particular, “the church that was at Antioch.” And our text is very revealing in what it teaches about the nature of this particular church.
First, we know that thus church was well-founded—on Christ. The founding of the church is recorded earlier in Acts.
Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.
You will notice that it was “the Lord Jesus” who was preached in Antioch. “The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great umber believed and turned to the Lord.” The foundation of this church was Jesus Christ, and this foundation is essential for any local church that will impact the world with the gospel.
But note that foundations, by definition, must be built on. The lordship of Christ must be proclaimed by the church that is founded on that lordship.
Second, we see that this well-founded church was also well-grounded—in Christ. In our very text “they ministered to the Lord and fasted.” And “they” included “were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.”
According to Acts 11:22-26, when news of this church’s founding reached Jerusalem, the apostles sent Barnabas to verify the reports. When he arrived in Antioch, he found that the reports were true. He saw the same thing in Antioch that he was accustomed to in Jerusalem. A genuine, New Testament local church had been founded. Barnabas stayed in Antioch to shepherd the fledgling church, and when church growth required that he obtain some help, he went to find Saul. Together, Barnabas and Saul pastored the church and discipled the Antioch saints. They were so effective that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (11:26).
In our present text, we see that spiritual men produced spiritual men. No longer was the leadership confined to Barnabas and Saul, but other men had been added who “ministered to the Lord and fasted.” They had been discipled (taught the Word) and now they were worshipping workers. The Greek word translated “ministered” in 13:2 is a word that is used in the New Testament of priestly service. These were godly men who served as “royal priests” (1 Peter 2:9).
We see, then, that the depth of this church was key to its breadth. It was only because it was so well-founded and well-grounded in Christ that this church was able to send its own members to reach the lost in other nations. And the church’s depth was the result of the spiritual maturity of its leaders. MacArthur notes,
The responsibility of spiritual shepherds is spiritual ministry. Unlike many in the ministry today who are busy with shallow activities and programs, the leaders at Antioch understood their spiritual mandate clearly. They patterned themselves after the apostles who, according to Acts 6:4, devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word. Those are ever the priorities of the man of God.4
It takes time for a church such as this to develop. But it is important that the church does develop like that. We need to prove ourselves at home before we will do much out there in the world. Submission to the lordship of Christ must first be practised at home before it is proclaimed abroad.
Third, it was a well-rounded church. Once again, “in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” This church enjoyed a multicultural leadership team, in a multicultural church, which was not the result of political correctness.
The church in Antioch was a multi-gifted church. There were “prophets and teachers.” “Prophets” employed a Spirit-wrought revelatory gift, and spoke under inspiration. According to Ephesians 2:19-20, the church was built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone. “Teachers,” on the other hand, were gifted didactically. Their ministry was that of instruction and indoctrination. They did not necessarily speak under revelation, but explained and taught that which had been given under revelation.
The Antioch church was, further, a multicultural church. The leadership itself was multicultural. Barnabas, the encourager, was a Hellenised Jew, who hailed from Cyprus. Simeon “was called Niger.” The nickname Niger (“black”) probably indicates that he was an Africa. Certain Christian traditions tell us that it was this Simeon who carried Jesus’ cross, but we cannot be sure of that. Lucius was from Cyrene in Libya. Manaen “had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch.” Evidently, he was some sort of companion to Herod, who had been raised in the same environment and under the same care. How sad that Herod had fallen under divine judgement for seeking to stifle God’s Word (Acts 12), while Manaen served as a leader in the very church that first sent that Word to the nations! Saul, of course, was a Hebrew of Hebrews, formerly a member of the Pharisees, who had been born in Tarsus but evidently raised in Jerusalem under the tutelage of Gamaliel (22:3).
It was this multicultural leadership in this multicultural church that first, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, sent missionaries to the unreached. One wonders if Saul and Barnabas hadn’t perhaps returned from Jerusalem, having witnessed Herod’s persecution there, with great zeal to move forward (see 12:25). Perhaps they returned encouraged, enthused and educated about the dangers, but energised nevertheless to expand and evangelise elsewhere. If this is the case, it would certainly highlight the value of short-term ministry visits to the church elsewhere.
The multicultural nature of this church is important to grasp, because it shows us that when cultural and ethnic barriers are removed at home, the same barriers are often removed so that those who are at home can go elsewhere. World outreach becomes the natural outlook of the church.
I am always blessed when our church enjoys the singing ministry of our children’s choir. It is a blessing for various reasons, one of which is the ethnic makeup of the choir. The children in our church are from a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and this is starkly highlighted when they all stand together on the stage to sing.5
Fourth, this well-founded, well-grounded and well-rounded church was also a well-tuned church. “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” I don’t know how the Holy Spirit spoke to these leaders. Perhaps it was by revelation to one of the “prophets” of whom we read in v. 1, or perhaps He simply burdened their hearts in an obvious way as they prayed and studied. Whatever the case, it is clear and significant that they discerned the voice of the Spirit.
This church was well-positioned to hear the voice of the Spirit. Its leaders “ministered to the Lord.” Again, “ministered” is a term that usually speaks of priestly service and thus of worship. It was as they worshipped that the Spirit spoke to them.
The work of world evangelism is ultimately a matter of worship. Worship fuels our worship, and this vision fuels our work as well as our worship. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law.” I love the KJV translation of the text: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” The church needs visionaries before it will produce missionaries, and often the visionaries become the missionaries!
But this church also “fasted.” The church was devoted (“ministered”) and dependent (“fasted”). Fasting and prayer frequently go together in Scripture, as they do here (v. 3), and thus fasting, as prayer, is an acknowledgement of dependence. A church that is devoted and dependent is well-poised for outreach.
We should acknowledge that they were perhaps in this position of worshipful prayer and fasting because they were seeking direction. Again, perhaps Saul and Barnabas had returned from Jerusalem with great zeal for missionary outreach, and so the church was in prayer about this very matter (cf. Matthew 9:36-38). Regardless, their prayer and fasting was clear evidence that they had lost all earthly appetite for a greater, heavenly appetite.
The Confirmation by the Church
When the Spirit spoke, the church (represented by its leaders) “fasted,” “prayed,” “laid hands” on Saul and Barnabas and “sent them away.” This pattern is essential, though it is often ignored. As Gaebelein writes,
They were not in a hurry to rush into the new departure. They had formed no plans, had appointed no committee. Alas! all that which is so prominent in our modern day Christian activities is entirely absent in this great book of the beginning of the church on earth, and that which is most prominent in the divine record, dependence on the Lord and definite guidance by the Holy Spirit, is almost entirely absent today. . . . The simple gathering in Antioch did not look like a great movement; but it was great because the Holy Spirit was the Person who started it and guided in it.6
Don’t miss this vital principle: The confirmation came through the church by means of its leaders. Many a Christian has attended a missions conference and felt called to the field. I have had many church members say to me in the past that they have felt called. The solution is not to rush them into ministry, but to follow the biblical pattern. How does one know, biblically, whether they are called to the field?
First, there must be constraint or compulsion. The individual must feel pressed upon by the Spirit to the task. Second, there must be character. The qualities laid out for the eldership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are the same qualifications that are expected of missionaries. Third, there must be competence. The missionary is called to difficult work, which involves wise evangelism and discipleship; he must be equipped to perform this work. Fourth, there must be confirmation. There is no biblical warrant for a Christian to head for the field without confirmation from his local church. Barnabas and Saul did not leave Antioch until the church leadership had recognised the call and sent them. They went under the authority of their local church.
World outreach requires work. It is no light matter to head to the mission field. The missionary must be sovereignly called, for the work to which he is called is great.
But consider, further, the great cost to this church. They sent their best. I am sure that it was not an easy task to replace such leaders as Barnabas and Saul. (Can you imagine losing the apostle Paul from your church leadership?) When leadership leaves, the church feels the loss, but that is no excuse for disobedience. God always resupplies where He creates need.
The sending of a missionary ought to create loss in the church. It ought to be felt, for those whom we send to the field ought to be leaders of the highest qualities. It was my experience when I lived in the United States that many churches considered missionaries to be those who could not make the grade as pastors in the United States. If you had the desire but lacked the competence to pastor, you might be sent to the mission field—at least until you gained the necessary competence, at which point you might be called back to the pastorate. The New Testament pattern is that of sending the absolute best.
We must also note the commending by the church. After they had fasted and prayed, they “laid hands on them” and “sent them away.” They let Barnabas and Saul go. The process was repeated late when Paul (Saul) was commissioned on his second missionary journey with Silas (15:40).
By “commending” these brothers, the church was pledging identification, promising supplication and picturing substitution. Saul and Barnabas would be their missionaries. They would pray fervently for the missionaries in the field. And the missionaries would represent their church to those to whom they ministered.
The point is simply that the church was “in it” with those whom they sent. Churches should never take it for granted when their missionaries express appreciation for prayer and other forms of partnership. Missionaries need this type of support. It is vital to their ministry.
The Course of World Evangelism
In vv. 4-12 we have the record of the beginning of this missionary journey.
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant. Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
This first missionary journey would last anywhere from two-and-a-half to three years. It would cover several thousand kilometres. It would head for key cities and aim for the discipleship of key men to lead key churches. The “course” that they traversed is similar to that faced and followed by countless missionaries since. Let’s note some key components.
Communion of the Spirit
Luke informs us that these brothers were “sent out by the Holy Spirit.” Humanly speaking, as we have seen, they were sent by and under the authority of the local church, but since this was done God’s way, they were in fact sent by and under the authority of God Himself. Jesus said much the same in the Great Commission, as recorded in Matthew 28. The promise of the Commission is that “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
The Holy Spirit’s ministry with regard to missions is set out in John 16:7-15:
Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
He is the great evangelist, the great exhorter and the great exalter. No one is fit to run the missionary course apart from the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The flesh can only deceive for so long.
Communication of the Scriptures
Beginning their journey, “they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.” Their mission was to preach the Word (cf. Romans 10:17; 2 Timothy 4:1-4), and that is precisely what they did.
Salamis was the first city they reached on the island of Cyprus. When they arrived there, they made a beeline for the local synagogue. They began where they were likely to find the most receptive hearing. After all, they knew that the gospel was the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).
Our church supports a missionary, sent from the church, in a particular country in which nominal Christianity is rife. Pagan, very unchristian, religion is equally rife, but the greatest focus of his ministry is the nominal Christians, many of whom attend church elsewhere. His goal is not to “steal” sheep, but to rescue goats who think they are sheep! Because these nominal Christians profess allegiance to Christ and the Bible, he has a somewhat friendly hearing when he ministers to them. He does not exclude those from pagan, antichristian religions, but, like these missionaries, he has chosen to minister first to those among whom he is most likely to find a receptive hearing.
Of course, preaching at the synagogue was no guarantee that they would be well-received, as the remainder of the book of Acts bears out. Judaism was the gospel’s greatest enemy in those early years. Barnabas and Saul understood that their only hope was the power of the Spirit-wielded Word. The Holy Spirit, it has been said, rides most gloriously in His own chariot.
“John,” whom they had as their “minister,” was John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin and the eventual author of the Gospel of Mark. The word “minister” was used of those who assisted doctors, priests, military officers and politicians. Mark’s ministry might have been either pastoral (e.g. teaching and discipleship under Barnabas and Saul’s direction) or practical (e.g. cooking and cleaning).7 Whatever the case, his presence in this team highlights the significance of teamwork and the value of practical help in Great Commission ministry.
Conflict with Spirits
The section that follows (vv. 6-11) recounts the missionaries’ contact with the first opposition to their missionary work.
Saul and Barnabas were clearly serious about their ministry, for it was not long before “they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos.” They did not skip from city to city, neglecting to preach the gospel. You can be sure that they preached it wherever they went. Their intention was to evangelise the entire island.
When they arrived in Paphos they encountered a certain Roman proconsul, named Sergius Paulus, who summoned Barnabas and Saul to hear more of their message. “Bar-Jesus,” however, known also as “Elymas,” who was a “magician” and a “Jewish false prophet” opposed the missionaries. Sorcery is identified in Scripture as demonic, and so here we have Barnabas and Saul involved in some very real and serious spiritual conflict (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 10:1-5).
Satan’s motive is made evident in our text: he was “seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” The devil always opposes the course of the kingdom, and when progress is made you can be sure that problems will arise. Opportunity is always attended by opposition; advancement always invites adversity.
We must not miss the fact that Elymas was “a Jewish false prophet.” He was not a complete pagan, but a religious half-brother. Our greatest opposition usually comes from religious half-brothers (see 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). Jesus predicted this, and Barnabas and Saul soon felt the weight of His words.
By God’s kind providence, Sergius Paulus had heard of the ministry of Barnabas and Saul, and was interested in learning more. Elymas, however, “was with the proconsul.” The language used here probably means that Elymas was a private wizard of sorts, on the proconsul’s payroll. The term “opposed” means “to stand against,” and “turn away” means “to distort” or “pervert.” This sorcerer sought to pervert to the gospel of God so that the proconsul would not submit to Christ.
The missionaries, however, responded with great courage. Verse 9 is the first indication in the book of Acts that the relationship between Barnabas and Saul was beginning to change. Until now, we have always read of “Barnabas and Saul.” The indication seems to be that Barnabas was the teacher and Saul the disciple. But now we real of “Saul” on his own, and his more familiar name, Paul, is noted for the first time. From now on, you will read of “Paul and Barnabas” rather than “Barnabas and Saul.” It appears that Paul had outgrown his mentor.
Paul responded to Elymas with courageous confidence, born of great conviction. “Filled with the Holy Spirit,” the apostle “looked intently at [Elymas] 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, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.”
Paul was not afraid to call a spade a spade. He passionately spoke to the truth and correctly identified the threat to the gospel. And he did so, not filled with anger or self-righteousness, but “filled with the Holy Spirit.” He exhibited great self-control, for he was, in fact, controlled by the Spirit.
The result of Paul’s confrontation was dramatic: “Immediately mist and darkness fell on [Elymas], and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.” Paul’s words of confrontation were attended by God’s great power.
Those who are called of the Spirit can speak with confident authority. In fact, those who are converted and are convinced by Scripture can likewise speak with authority. And those who are consecrated—passionate about the truth of the gospel—will do so. We should not go looking for demons, but neither should we run from them when they find us! Showdowns of a spiritual nature are heavily favoured on the side of God, “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Running the course will lead to some interesting encounters!
Conversion of the Sheep
Despite Satan’s opposition to the gospel, “the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” Through the power of God’s Word, one of the sheep for whom the Chief Shepherd had died was born again. Indeed, Jesus was building His church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).
Let us note that it was doctrine in action that so “astonished” Sergius Paulus. He was converted because Paul and Barnabas were committed to the Word. We do not need clever gimmicks in the task of the Great Commission; we ought simply to stick to God’s Word and allow God to do a great work.
We should be hopeful in the world outreach celebration. The proconsul no doubt proved instrumental in the furtherance of the kingdom. God will save those whom He may use in the greatest way to expand His kingdom on earth.
The Continuation of World Evangelisation
“Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem” (v. 13). The first chapter in the story had been written, and it was time for more. Much more was, in fact, to come. The world outreach celebration would not be halted, despite the opposition that it would certainly face. Two forms of opposition are revealed in our text.
First, as we have seen, the missionaries faced the challenge of darkness. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, but this message is not popular in the kingdom of darkness. Just as Elymas opposed Paul and Barnabas, so we can expect opposition in our Great Commission ministry. How should we respond?
In the face of darkness, we must keep praying, keep preaching and keep believing. To quote Fleetwood Mac, “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow; it will soon be here.” Or to cite an infinitely better source,
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Historian William Ramsay, who studied the record of Acts in great detail, concluded that at least two generations of well-known believers came from Sergius Paulus. I am sure that the opposition of Elymas did not seem like a light thing to Paul and Barnabas, but the victory was God’s, not Satan’s.
Paul, Barnabas and John Mark had left Jerusalem on this journey. When they arrived in Pamphylia, however, “John left them and returned to Jerusalem.”
Luke does not tell us why John left, and no one knows for sure. Some have surmised that he was afraid of the opposition they might face. Others suggest that John, as Barnabas’ cousin, was displaying nepotistic jealousy now that the relationship had shifted from “Barnabas and Saul” to “Paul and his companions.” Still others suggest that he may have felt resentment over Paul’s focus on the Gentiles, or perhaps that he was simply home sick. Whatever the reason, the three-party missionary team was now down to two.
The desertion caused some angst in the team. Later, when they were preparing to go on their second journey, Paul was not impressed with Barnabas’ suggestion to take John with them again. There, “Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work” (Acts 15:38). The disagreement was so sharp that the two missionaries eventually separated.
Happily, that was not the last word on John Mark. Paul later considered Mark to be a “fellow labourer” (Philemon 23) and instructed the Colossians to “welcome him” (Colossians 4:10). In his last inspired letter, the apostle urged Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11). And, of course, Mark was used by God to record the Gospel that bears his name.
None of that, however, takes away from the disappointment that Paul and Barnabas certainly must have felt when Mark left them. And yet here we are today. The spread of the gospel was not irreparably hindered by this disappointment. Discouragement in gospel ministry is a reality, but no discouragement can ever ultimately destroy the work of God. He will build His church; nothing and no one will stop Him.
Local church, let us (continue to) be committed to being churches of spiritual men pursuing spiritual ministry, engaging in a spiritual mission with the goal of seeing a saved multitude one day singing to our sovereign Master, “You are worthy to receive glory and honour and power.”
That, my friend, will truly be a world outreach celebration!
- Technically, this ought to have been true of the old covenant Israel of God too—see Isaiah 42:6; Exodus 19:5-6; etc.—but the Jewish nation had become so inward focused that they had ceased reaching out to the Gentiles with the gospel. ↩
- Donald S. Fortner, Life After Pentecost: A Guide to the Acts of the Apostles (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 1995), ??. ↩
- Ralph D. Winter, “Learn from Our Mistakes,” Mission Frontiers May-June 2012, 19. ↩
- John F. MacArthur, Jr., Acts: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 2:4-5. ↩
- In truth, the same can be said of the adult choir, but it is somehow just more obvious in the children’s choir. ↩
- Arno C. Gaebelein, The Acts of the Apostles: An Exposition (Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers, 1983), 232. ↩
- John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990), 219. ↩