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Acts 13:1-12: The Spirit and the Mission Print E-mail

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The Holy Spirit is at work in the mission of the Church in the book of Acts.  Jesus tells the believers to wait for the Spirit in chapter 1.  In chapter 2 the Spirit is given on the day of Pentecost.  When Peter is arrested and speaks to the council, he is filled with the Spirit (4:8ff).  The Spirit fills the Church when they pray and ask for boldness (4:31).  Stephen was full of the Spirit (6:5, 10) and is given a vision of glory by the Spirit before he dies (7:55).  The Holy Spirit falls on the Samaritans when Peter and John visit them (8:14ff).  Philip was led by the Spirit to speak to the Ethiopian (8:29) and was taken away by the Spirit afterwards (8:39).  The Church was comforted by the Comforter (9:31).  The Spirit was at work in Cornelius and Peterís life so that the gospel would be preached to Gentiles and they would be saved (10:19, 44ff).  Agabus warned the Church of the coming famine by the power of the Spirit (11:28).  In all of these instances in Acts, the Spirit is mentioned by name.  His work in and through the Church is obvious.  He is equipping and empowering these believers to fulfill their mission of getting the good news of Jesusí death and resurrection to the ends of the earth.

Our passage this morning marks the beginning of Paulís missionary journeys.  Over the next three weeks we will be looking at the first journey which takes place in chapters 13-14.  And just as the Spirit has been leading and guiding the believers to this point, we continue to see His work as the mission continues.  It is important for us to see the connection between the work of the Spirit and the mission of the Church.  Luke continues to point out the Spiritís involvement throughout the book of Acts.  As we seek to take up the mission that these disciples began so long ago, we must recognize our dependence upon the Spirit.  So then, as the first missionary journey of Paul is beginning, how do we see the Spirit at work?

The Spirit sets apart Saul and Barnabas for this particular mission (v. 1-3)

Chapter 12 ends with Barnabas and Saul returning to Antioch from their trip to Jerusalem where they delivered the relief for the famine (12:25).  Chapter 13 begins with Luke giving us a list of leaders in the Church at Antioch.  Look at verse 1.  Luke names five men who were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul.  These men were the leaders of the Church.  Again, I think we should note the plurality of leadership present in the Churches in Acts.  We will continue to see this principle as we work through the book.  The early churches were led by a plurality of men.

The Spirit speaks in verse 2.  Look at that with me.  It is hard to know exactly how this played out.  Most view this as happening while the whole Church was worshipping.  Perhaps one of the prophets stood and spoke this message from the Spirit.  Perhaps it happened in another way.  What is clear is that the Spirit led the Church to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a particular work.  As we have noted before, this does not mean that they were the only ones to be sharing the gospel and making disciples.  No, this was the call for every believer.  Rather, the Spirit was calling these men to leave Antioch and take the gospel to another location. 

So how does the Church respond to the Spiritís leading?  Look at verse 3.  The Church responds by praying, fasting, laying on hands, and sending.  They pray for these men as they send them out.  They fast for them.  They set aside time as a Church to sacrifice eating for the purpose of interceding for these men.  It is a practice that we have lost in the Church and need to recover.  They lay hands on these men, which my commentators noted should not be viewed as ordination, but simply a sending out for missionary service.  Finally, Luke says that they sent them out.  It would be difficult for this Church to make this sacrifice, but they did it because that is what the Spirit told them to do.  They follow His leading.  One of my commentators contrasts their approach and the Church today: ďIn an age when many churches spend so much time, money, and energy on self-preservation and improvement, Acts presents churches that released their most capable people for reaching the lost.Ē   As the Spirit led, they obeyed, even in sending out.

The Spirit directs them to go to Cyprus for this particular mission (v. 4-5)

The first place that they go is to the island of Cyprus.  Look at verse 4.  Again, Luke notes that it was the Spirit who was doing the sending.  And where did He tell them to go?  They went to Cyprus, which is an island out in the Mediterranean.  If you have one of those maps of Paulís missionary journeys in your Bible then you can trace where they went.  They started out by going to Seleucia, which was the port for Antioch and then set sail for Cyprus where they landed at Salamis.  They eventually traveled across the whole island to get to the city of Paphos, which was basically the capital at that time.  The point I want to make is simply that when you look at those maps and think about these missionary journeys, remember that it was the Spirit that was directing Paul and the others to take the gospel to these unreached places. 

What are they doing when they get to these places?  Well, look at what they were doing on Cyprus in verse 5.  They proclaimed the Word.  We donít want to oversimplify mission and the task of taking the gospel to lost areas, but at the end of the day, we go to simply proclaim the Word of God to those who have not heard.  Sometimes that involves years of work to learn the language and translate and understand the cultures.  Sometimes it means simply opening our mouths and telling people about what God has done.  Either way, the point of mission is to get the good news of Jesusí death and resurrection to those who have not heard so that they can repent of their sins and believe in Him.  This is what Barnabas and Saul were doing and what John Mark was helping them do.  They were simply proclaiming the good news of Jesus.  Their strategy at this point was to go to the Jews first and share in the synagogues.  But, as we will see, they were also open to sharing with Gentiles as well.  They simply looked for open doors to share the gospel and took advantage of any opportunity that they were given.

The Spirit empowers them for ministry during this particular mission (v. 6-12)

When they eventually get to the city of Paphos, they encounter a problem.  Look at verses 6-8.  In the city of Paphos, there was a Roman official, Sergius Paulus, who wanted to hear them teach the word of God.  Luke tells us that he was intelligent and apparently he had heard of their teaching and wanted to hear it himself.  So he asked for them to come and they agreed.  Yet, there was a magician in the court by the name of Bar-Jesus, or Elymas.  Luke tells us that he was a Jewish false prophet and that when Barnabas and Paul came to speak he opposed them.  We are not told exactly why he opposed them (afraid he would lose his position or be shown to be false), but Luke makes it clear that he did not want them to share with Sergius Paulus.

So what happens?  Look at verses 9-11.  We might expect Barnabas to speak up at this point since the narrative has focused on him.  But that is not what happens.  Instead, the Spirit fills Saul, who Luke notes is also named Paul, which is what he will call him for the rest of the book. (seemingly since Saul was his Jewish name and he will be working primarily with Gentiles).  From this point on, it is the ministry of Paul that will be the focus of Acts.  So what does Paul say to Elymas?  He calls him a son of the devil and an enemy of all righteousness.  He notes that he is full of all deceit and villainy and that he is making crooked the straight paths of the Lord. 

Needless to say, this is not a very flattering address.  Paul is using strong language to confront this false-prophet.  Jesus did the same thing on certain occasions.  There is a time for being gentle and there is a time for being harsh.  The Spirit helps us discern and in this instance the Spirit leads Paul to confront Elymas and his errors.  Not only that, but the Spirit empowers Paul to blind the man.  It is not always a good thing for the hand of the Lord to be upon us.  For Elymas, it meant judgment and blindness.  We do not know how long this lasted, but it seems to only be temporary.  The magician had been leading people astray with his lies and deception, and now he would be desperate for others to lead him.  He wanted to keep Sergius Paulus from the truth and so the Lord keeps him from being able to see.

Luke tells us how this impacted the Roman ruler in verse 12.  Look at that verse with me.  After seeing the magician blinded and hearing the teaching of Paul, the proconsul believed.  Notice that it was not just the display of power that made him believe.  He was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.  He heard the good news and was amazed at what God had done through Christ.  The miracle validated the message and he believed.  He is the first Gentile to believe who did not have a background in Judaism.  Again, the gospel keeps breaking down barriers and expanding in the book of Acts.  The mission continues.

On this first missionary journey, we see that the Spirit sets apart Barnabas and Paul, directs them to go to Cyprus, and empowers them for ministry once they are there.  As we continue to engage in the mission of taking the gospel to any and all, we must recognize our great dependence upon the Spirit.  It is the Spirit who calls out individuals to certain tasks.  Again, this does not mean that the Spirit only calls out certain people to be making disciples.  But the Spirit does set us aside for particular missions, whatever that might look like.  We need to pray and fast that he will continue to send out people on mission from our Church, as with the upcoming youth mission trip.  And the Spirit continues to guide us in where we should go.  As we pray and seek His face, both individually and corporately, the Spirit gives us direction. 

A year ago, when I went to the missions conference in Mississippi, I was particularly praying about what we should do in our small groups and mid-week meetings.  At the conference, we talked about using those times to really focus on missions by having accountability and talking about how we could share the good news with others.  I believe that the Spirit guided me (and us) toward that approach.  Finally, it is the Spirit that fills us when we need the words to speak and the power to act.  We may never pronounce blindness on a false prophet, but we need to continually look to the Spirit for the power that we need to minister.  He will give you the words to say to that family member who does not want to hear anymore about Jesus.  He will give you the strength to keep interceding for that child or that parent or that friend.  The Church is still on mission.  We are still taking the good news to the lost.  And we are still dependent upon the Spiritís work to accomplish that task.  We can trust Him to give us all that we need.  Amen.

1 Ajith Fernando, Acts NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1998), p. 41.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 21 August 2014 )

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