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"Missionaries in Battle"
Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
July 9, 2008
Theme: Luke shows us that, from the very beginning, God's call to send the gospel to the Gentiles was a serious battle for the souls of men and women.
This evening, we enter into the third great section of the Book of Acts. You may remember that structure of the book is given to us in these words; "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Chapters 1-7 dealt with the witness in Jerusalem; chapters 8-12 with the witness in Judea and Samaria; and now, chapters 13-28 will deal with the witness as it spread to the remotest parts of the earth. With chapter thirteen, the spread of the gospel to Asia Minor and Europe begins with the first missionary journey of the Apostle Paul.
This first missionary journey—detailed for us in chapters 13-14—was a very active one. It was filled with serious challenges, amazing victories, and much danger. And though Luke shares with us a little later (specifically 13:14-42) what the content of Paul's message in the Gentile world sounded like, he begins by showing us how much of a spiritual battle the delivery of that message would be.
This section should be a reminder to us, not only that it is a great privilege to share the gospel to the world, but also that it is a great battle. The forces of hell are unleashed to stop it. But it also reminds us that, as Jesus said, "the gates of Hades shall not prevail" (Matthew 16:18).
I. THE MISSION IS ESTABLISHED (vv. 1-3)
A. The story begins in Syrian Antioch; where the new center of Christianity came to be focused (v. 1). Ministering in this context were "prophets and teachers"—those who not only spoke authoritatively from God to the church, but those (of probably a more permanently established ministry in that location) who instructed the Christians with respect to what God had spoken (Ephesians 4:11-12). Among these "prophets and teachers", five particularly stood out for mention.
1. Barnabas. He has already been introduced to us in this book as a key figure (Acts 4:36-37; 9:27; 11:22-30). As we are about to see, his role becomes even more significant in the church.
2. Simon. He is also called Niger—which is Latin for 'dark-skinned'. Clearly, racial divisions didn't exist in the early church.
3. Lucius of Cyrene. This is not to be confused with the Luke who has written this book. He is of the region that the man who carried our Lord's cross came from (Matthew 27:32). He may have been among those who shared the gospel with Greek-speaking Jewish people in Antioch (Acts 11:20); which would make him a very mission-minded man.
4. Manaen. He particularly stands out as a man who was "brought up with Herod the tetrarch (see Acts 4:27). What a powerful witness his conversion must have been! His presence shows the absence of resentment on the part of the church for a man's past associations.
5. Saul. His story has already begun to be told to us in chapter nine. He goes on to be the church's greatest missionary; and the key human figure in the remainder of the book of Acts. His presence in this group shows how quickly the former persecutor of the church came to be recognized for his call by God (Acts 9:10-16).
B. As these men (and, no doubt,others with them) were 'ministering' to the Lord (probably through their prayers) and 'fasting', the Holy Spirit (through the ministry of the prophets, most likely) said that the first and last men mentioned in the listing of the five—Barnabas and Saul—where to be separated for the work to which He had called them (v. 2). Saul's time of appointment to the ministry of the Gentiles had finally come; and along with him, the Spirit would send his faithful sponsor Barnabas.
C. This was no ordinary missionary call. This was clearly something issued to the church, through its leaders, by the Holy Spirit in a very direct way. The response was to fast and pray further over the clear call of God; and then, to lay hands on the missionaries and send them away (v. 3). It's interesting that we're not told where they were to be sent; and this may be why the church fasted and prayed further. But we can be sure that the divine Hand that points out His appointed servants will always be faithful to guide them in His way—if they will but obey His call.
II. THE MISSIONARIES GIVEN A HEARING (vv. 4-7).
A. Being sent by the Holy Spirit , they went immediately down south from Antioch to Selucia—a port city; and from there, they sailed 100 miles to the Island of Cyprus (v. 4). It may be that this destination was selected because it was Barnabas' home-town (4:36); and because a hearing of the gospel had already begun to be given there (11:19). Sometimes, when God calls without giving specific directions, the best thing to do is to begin moving and allow the Spirit to steer along the way. On arriving at Salamis, on the south eastern border of the island, they began preaching according to the pattern that they would follow throughout the mission to the Gentiles—they would begin in the synagogues and share the gospel first with the Jews (v. 5). Here, we're also introduced to another key figure in the New Testament story—John Mark. He was already introduced to us in 12:12, and was apparently the relative of Barnabas (Col. 4:10). He will always be remembered as the writer of one of the earliest Gospel accounts in the canon of Scripture.
B. As they made their way across the island in a westerly direction, they came finally to the city of Paphos; where they encountered a "certain sorcerer". Luke gives us some interesting background about this man; saying that he was a "false prophet", and that he also was a Jew. How such a man came to be a false prophet who advertised himself as a sorcerer is a story in itself that we are not told; but it certainly underscores his own depravity. He is called Bar-Jesus (v. 6); but we're later told that he is also known as "Elymas the sorcerer" (which may have been the name he used for publicity's sake) (v. 8). Just how it is that they "found" him isn't said; but it would seem, given what we later read of him, that he probably engaged in an active effort to oppose their message. (This is the second 'sorcerer' that the apostles encountered—the first being Simon in 8:9-24.)
C. But this sorcerer was the instrument by which the missionaries also encountered a very significant citizen of Cyprus. The sorcerer was, somehow, associated with the proconsul Serguis Paulus; who Luke tells us was "an intelligent man". He was the governor of this Roman province; and he had apparently heard something of the message that the missionaries were preaching in his territory. But God was clearly at work in him, because he called for them and earnestly and eagerly "sought to hear the word of God" (v. 7). This was no intrusion into unwelcome territory. This was a Gentile who actually pleaded that the gospel message be brought to him. And no doubt, the missionaries realized the key position he could play in helping the gospel spread even further throughout the strategic island of Cyprus.
III. THE MESSAGE IS OPPOSED (vv. 8-11).
A. But whenever and wherever the gospel spreads, we should expect it to be opposed. We don't war against flesh and blood, as the Bible warns us (Ephesians 6:12); but unseen spiritual forces, with which we do war, use flesh and blood instruments. Elymas the sorcerer actively engaged in an effort to pervert the gospel message that the missionaries were giving to the proconsul (v. 8), and sought to turn him from the faith even as he sought to hear it.
B. This was not something Saul—former persecutor, now defender of the faith; who we are now introduced to as Paul—would stand for. We're told that what he did was under the influence of the Holy Spirit; so it was not an expression of anger that was out of control (v. 9); but it was, no doubt, an expression of holy anger. We're told, first that he looked intently at the sorcerer—and we can be sure it was an intimidating gaze indeed! The sorcerer was, perhaps, beginning to realize he wasn't going to be 'unopposed' in his opposition. Then, Paul really let him have it (v. 10); calling him "full of deceit and fraud", saying that he was a son of the devil (see John 8:44), identifying him as an enemy of all righteousness, and accusing him of perverting the straight way of the Lord. And it wasn't simply name calling (v. 11). He said—again, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—that the hand of the Lord (whom he opposed) was now on him, and that he would be blind, "not seeing the sun for a time". Then, a "dark mist" fell upon the sorcerer; and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. This reflects the words of our Lord in John 9:39. The fact that it was "for a time" that he would be blind, suggests that his sight was eventually restored. But we can speculate that, during that time of blindness, he did a lot of thinking—as had Paul during his own time of temporary blindness (Acts 9:8-9). No doubt, the proconsul immediately received the impression that this "message" was far more than a man-made philosophy or religion.
IV. THE MISSION MAKES AN IMPACT (vv. 12-13).
A. As a consequence, the proconsul believed on the Jesus that Barnabas and Saul preached. He saw that this was a message with power (v. 12); and was astonished—not at the power itself alone, but "at the teaching of the Lord". A soul had been saved; and a significant door had been opened to the gospel into the Gentile world.
B. Note how this event must have established Paul's leadership. The team is now referred to as "Paul and his party" (v. 13). They set sail from Cyprus from the city of Paphos; and went on the 150 mile journey across the sea to the Posidian region of Pamphylia. Sadly, however, John Mark didn't continue with them. We're told that he left and returned to Jerusalem. We're not given the details; but it was clearly for a bad reason that he left. When the missionaries set out on their second journey, Paul was greatly opposed to bringing him along because he had "departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work" (Acts 15:38). It may be that the opposition to the gospel took the spirit out of John Mark.
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We also know that Mark must have been restored and came to be a great blessings to the cause of Christ. Before he died, Paul wrote to his associate Timothy to "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11). But whatever the exact reason for John Mark's early departure, it's a reminder to us that the work of the gospel is a spiritual battle.
And yet—praise Him— it's a battle that our mighty God wins!
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