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BARNABAS AND SAUL’S MISSION ON CYPRUS

Acts 12:25-13:12
Key Verse: 13:9-10

In chapter 12 we studied about the power of the prayer of the church in Jerusalem. When they earnestly prayed to God for Peter, God brought him out of prison. This was the church’s victory over the evil world. Today’s passage is about Barnabas and Saul, sent as missionaries by the Antioch church to the island of Cyprus. In this study we can learn about the church at Antioch and about the first part of Barnabas and Saul’s mission journey.

First, the church with Bible teachers and missionary sending (12:25-13:3). In chapter 11, we could learn the characteristics of the church of Antioch. The church was pioneered by the nameless scattered believers who simply told the good news about the Lord Jesus to Greeks. They remained true to Jesus encouraged by Barnabas, and Barnabas and Saul devoted themselves to Bible teaching for a whole year, which resulted in producing disciples who were called "Christians" first at Antioch. When the disciples in Antioch heard about the severe famine in Judea, they were willing to provide help for the congregations there and sent their gift to the church by Barnabas and Saul. 12:25 says, “When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.”

Look at verse 1. “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simoeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.” Barnabas was a Levite from Cyprus (4:36), Simeon was called Niger meaning black, so presumably an African, Lucius of Cyrene must have been one of the pioneers of the church (1120), Manaen was definitely from the Judean country, having beenbrought up with Herod the tetrarch, that is, Herod Antipas, and Saul was from Tarsus in Cilicia. These five men therefore symbolized the ethnic and cultural diversity of Antioch. Although they had different human backgrounds, they were all teachers who taught the words of God to the church congregations. And it is noticeable that at first there were two Bible teachers, Barnabas and Saul and then the other three were raised as Bible teachers.

How important Bible teachers are! In the time of King Jehoshaphat 4 officials, 11 Levites and 2 priests taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the LORD; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people (2 Chro 17:7-9). Then the fear of the Lord fell on the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah, and the nation were strong and became more and more powerful. The strength of the nation was Bible teachers. Ezra was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the LORD, the God of Israel, had given. He had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. Then the gracious hand of his God was on him. God moved the heart of the king of Persia, and the king in the fear of the LORD let Ezra and the Israelites return to their home, providing all the necessary things (Ezra 7). This indicates how pleased God was with one devoted Bible teacher. And Godblessed his life and made Ezra a blessing to the whole nation at that critical time.

After resurrection Jesus gave his disciples the great commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20a). It denotes that Jesus prepared his disciples as Bible teachers in the earthly messianic ministry and finally commanded them to live as Bible teachers in the direction of disciple-making. Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:2, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” Here “reliable men” is “faithful men” in other translations (NASB, ESV, NRSV, KJV). We can say that the faithful are the reliable and they can teach others what they have been taught and entrusted with. Paul as a shepherd and spiritual father for Timothy, gave him a clear direction to teach the Bible to those who can be Bible teachers. In this way the teaching of the Bible would continue generation after generation.

One undeniable strength of Antioch church was that there were Bible teachers, and those Bible teachers raised other Bible teachers in the church. Then what took place to the church? Look at verse 2. “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.’” When there were only two Bible teaches, Barnabas and Saul, the Lord could not give the church this direction. But when other Bible teachers were raised, the Holy Spirit spoke to the church to set apart for Barnabas and Saul for a special mission according to God’s purpose for them. The church was ready to receive this kind of direction. Also, the church was sensitive enough to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. They were devoted to the Lord with one spirit and heart and mind. When they received this direction, they fasted and prayed to confirm and be assured of God’s leading. Afterward they placed their hands and sent off Barnabas and Saul. They discerned and obeyed God’s will. In this way Antioch church became a missionary sending church for the evangelization of the whole world. The direct effect of this missionary sending would be the saving of onesoul in Cyprus, as we will soon see in the next section of this passage.

Missionary sending is the very work God is pleased with. We have several examples from our home soil, UofT. For example, Robert A. Hardie (1865-1949) who had been a medical student at University of Toronto was sent out as a (Sothern Methodist) medical missionary to Korea. He was the cause of Wonsan Revival Movement (1903-1906) through his repentance. He confessed his inability to gain any fruits. And he repented of his strong racial prejudice toward Korean people. Then the congregation also asked his forgiveness for hating him. Later on the Wonsan Revival Movement sparked the Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910). May God raise Bible teaches and send missionaries from U of T to many other nations.

Second, rescuing one soul in Cyprus. Look at verse 4. “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.” They arrived at Salamis on the east coast of the island. When they arrived there, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. How God worked in Salamis is not recorded here. From Salamis, they traveled the whole island until they came to Paphos. From Salamis to Paphos was ninety miles (about 145km). Paphos was the provincial capital of Cyprus, while Salamis, a commercial city on the east coast of Cyprus. Paphos was infamous for its worship of Venus, the goddess of love. These were intensely superstitious times and most great men kept private wizards, fortune tellers who dealt in magic and spells. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, meaning son of salvation. He was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. So the proconsul was not an exception among the great men who kept private wizards. Though of high position, how poor and vulnerable this soul was-- having a magician and false prophet as his attendant!

What was written about him? Look at verse 7b. “The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.” What a surprise! The proconsul seemed to be the last person who wanted to hear the word of God. But he was not. His soul must have been tormented by magic arts and superstition and falsity. Yet, his soul was longing to hear the word of God. Before God he was also one of the lost souls, yearning to come back to God, regardless of his high social position. The book of Acts deals with this kind of people, such as Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius the Italian centurion, and this proconsul.

While the work of God was expected, a certain force hindered it beforehand. Look verse 8. “But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.” Here we can infer that Barnabas and Saul taught the word of God to the proconsul and the proconsul was willing to put his faith in the words he heard. Then right away Elymas opposed Barnabas and Saul and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. At this point we can sense a spiritual battle between the two, the Holy Spirit and the evil spirit.

How did the battle proceed? Look at verses 9, 10. “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?” Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, had clear spiritual discernment to see Elymas and exposed who he was. Here we see that with spiritual anger Paul fought the spiritual battle against the evil one in Elymas. Finally, Paul declared God’s judgment upon him: “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.” At this what happened? 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.

Here we learn two things very clearly. Firstly, the power of the Holy Spirit is much more powerful than the that of evil spirit. The power of the Spirit is incomparable, for it is the power of God. Last Monday there was a hockey game between Toronto Leafs and Boston Bruins. Leafs was leading by 4:2 until the last 90 second left in the third period. Then they score became 4:4 and at the overtime Leafs lost the game. The hearts of many Canadians were broken, as a newspaper head line says, “Hearts breaking in Leafs Nation.” In this world winning and losing, and success and failure seem to be very close;it is like flipping of a coin. Because of this slight difference, some shout in victory and others cry in sorrow. However, the spiritual world is different. Our victory in God is not like that. We have complete and overwhelming victory in Jesus, who crushed the head of Satan through his death and resurrection. This victory is assured. At the power of the Holy Spirit, that is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the evil spirits cannot move even a step and cannot say a word. God wants us to claim this victory and experience one victory after another in Jesus. This is the reason God wants us to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Secondly, we learn Paul’s shepherd heart for one soul. Paul’s words to Elymas were very harsh and seem too strong. However, we cannot deny that it was out of his heart for Sergius Paulus. He was ready to do anything, even to risk his life, if only he could save the one pitiful soul, Sergius Paulus. In this case saving involves spiritual fight to rescue the soul from the hand of the evil one, fundamentally Satan. In Genesis chapter 14 we see that Abraham invested everything--his men and money and even his life--in the battle with the powerful kings of that time only to rescue his nephew Lot, his selfish and heartless sheep. God blessed his shepherd heart and gave him a great victory over the powerful allied kings, so that he could bring back Lot. Our Lord Jesus healed a man with a shriveled hand on a Sabbath in front of religious leaders, who were watching him to see whether Jesus would heal the man on the Sabbath so as to accuse him. Jesus saved a condemned woman caught in adultery from the hand of legalistic Jews, who were ready to stone her and trap Jesus at any moment. On another occasion Jesus confronted six thousands demons in a man and drove them out to bring him back to himself and to the Lord God. Soon after two thousand pigs were sacrificed as the price of transaction. Later on Jesus would give himself on the cross to rescue helpless souls one by one from sin and Satan, from the dominion of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of light (Gal 1:14; Col 1:13). In Acts 26 when Paul testified to Jesus’ grace before King Agrippa, he said of Jesus’ calling for him, “…I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:17,18).

Look at verse 12 again. “When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.” When Paul fought the spiritual battle against the evil one, the proconsul was in the safe zone and could freely and joyfully believe in the amazement at the teaching about the Lord.

Our God is rescuing God. Our Lord Jesus is rescuing Lord. He wants us to participating in his rescuing work because of his rescuing grace that came upon us. May we serve rescuing work for one soul after another with the power of the Spirit and the words of God.

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