Daily Devotional

October 7, 2019

Daybreak: Acts 13:1-52

“As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” (Acts 13:2-3)

In a grassy clearing on the campus of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, stands a simple marble monument inscribed with the words, “The Field is the World.” The “Haystack Monument” does not appear on most maps, yet it commemorates an important event in Christian history: a prayer meeting that sparked the formation of the first official mission organization in the United States.

On a hot August afternoon in 1806, a group of five spiritually minded students from the college met together in a grove of trees near the Hoosic River. Their purpose was to discuss missionary William Carey’s small booklet, “An Inquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen,” a controversial publication that put the responsibility of world evangelism on all believers.

The leader of the group was Samuel Mills, who laid out a radical idea: sending missionaries to distant lands with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Moreover, he proposed that the five of them be among those to go.

The group was so absorbed in their discussion that they failed to notice an approaching storm. However, thunder began to rumble around them and within moments, pouring rain and lightning strikes caused them to scramble for the nearest shelter — which happened to be a haystack! Over the roar of the deluge, the five continued to talk.

One of the group objected to Mills’ proposal, insisting China was too dangerous. But Mills felt certain that in spite of the danger, the Gospel message must be taken to remote areas. He finally cried out, “We can do this if we will!” At that moment, something broke loose in the hearts of all five — something that changed them forever and motivated an endeavor that would impact the world.

Until then, missionary organizations in the United States had focused entirely on the Western frontier and Native American tribes. These men felt believers had a responsibility to all nations. They continued to pray about this, and eventually went before the General Association of Massachusetts to urge that an American missionary agency be created. Their proposal was approved, and on June 28, 1810, the first official foreign missions organization in the United States began. Many missionaries were sent overseas by this organization.

Our text today also records a landmark in the history of evangelism — when believers in Antioch laid hands on Saul (soon after, called Paul) and Barnabas and sent them out. This was the beginning of a great step forward in the spread of the Gospel. While a gradual expansion of the church beyond the confines of Judaism had already begun through the efforts of Philip and Peter, it was these two men who completed the process of establishing the Gospel among the Gentiles. This was the start of Paul’s initial missionary voyage. For the first time, the Gospel was carried over the sea.

God has given us the pattern for evangelism in His Word, and provides the power for it through His Spirit. The charge to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature is still in effect. Are we willing to listen for the direction of the Spirit and do our part? We will not all be called to distant lands. Our part may be to pray for those who go. We may be called to offer our resources, or devote our time and energies for some task on the home front. The specific calls will differ, but the challenge is the same for all of us — to consecrate ourselves to the work of soul-winning. It will involve sacrifice and effort, but commendation and a heavenly reward will be given to those who do so!

Background

Today’s text marks a natural division in the Book of Acts; from this point forward in the narrative, the principal figure is Saul. Chapter 13 describes the commissioning of Saul and Barnabas (verses 1-3), their visit to Cyprus (verses 4-12), and the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey to the mainland of Asia Minor (verses 13-52).

Barnabas likely was the main leader of the church at Antioch, given that his name is mentioned first in the list of “certain prophets and teachers” in verse 1. He was among the Early Church members who laid their possessions at the feet of the Apostles (see Acts 4:36-37). He is also mentioned in Acts 9:27 as the one who verified Paul’s testimony before the Apostles when they were unsure of Paul’s true commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. According to Acts 11:30, Barnabas had accompanied Paul on a trip to Jerusalem with an offering for the relief of Christians there who were suffering want because of a famine.

The past tense of the words “have called” in verse 2 implies that the Holy Spirit already had revealed to Saul and Barnabas the sphere of their work prior to their being separated (“set apart for some purpose,” from the Greek word aphorizo). The actions by the church were simply a recognition and confirmation of the divine call. Some Bible scholars suggest that the phrase “sent them away” in verse 3 should be rendered “gave them leave to depart,” as verse 4 reiterates that that they were “sent forth by the Holy Ghost.”

Antioch in Syria was a logical embarkation point, being by that designation, differentiating them from Jewish adherents to the old Law. Cyprus, the first destination, is an island about 150 miles long and 40 miles wide, located about 100 miles southwest of Antioch. The missionaries began their ministry in Salamis, a main seaport on the east end of the island. After visiting Jewish synagogues throughout Cyprus, they departed from Paphos, the seat of the Roman government in Cyprus, located on the west end of the island.

The statement that Saul and Barnabas had John “to their minister” (verse 5) could be translated “as their attendant.” The Greek word used is hyperetes, which literally means “under rower” or one who serves under the authority of another. No reason is given for John Mark’s departure, noted in verse 13, although in Acts 15:37-38, Luke indicated that Paul thought the younger man, who was a nephew of Barnabas, was not worthy of traveling with them again because of his early departure from the first journey. (Later Paul and John Mark were reconciled; see 2 Timothy 4:11).

Establishing a pattern that Paul continued in later outreach efforts when entering a new location, the two men went first to the synagogue to preach (see verses 5 and 14). It was customary for the leaders of the synagogues to invite visiting rabbis to speak, so that was a natural place to minister. However, when Paul began to teach that Jesus was the Messiah, his message was vehemently rejected. At that point, he went to the Gentile community to teach about Jesus.

At verse 9, Luke began to refer to Saul as Paul. Since “Paul” is the Greek form of the Jewish name “Saul,” this may have been related to the fact that the missionary was now in Greek-influenced territory.

Paul’s rebuke of the sorcerer Elymas, who opposed the missionaries, was both stern and direct (verses 8-12). He charged the magician and false prophet with being “full of all subtilty” (or deceit). As punishment for resisting the true light, Elymas was temporarily struck blind. This divine retribution so affected the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, that he came to faith in Christ. The verb “being astonished” in verse 12 means “to strike with panic or shock.”

Paul’s message to the Jews in Pisidia (verses 16-41) is given in great detail. He began with familiar ground to his Jewish audience — God’s covenant with Israel. At the conclusion of his message, the Gentiles present asked to hear more of the truth on the next Sabbath. When a great crowd gathered on that day, the devout Jews were “filled with envy” (perhaps because of the attention Paul and Barnabas were attracting) and contradicted Paul’s words. The two men informed the Jews that the message had come to them first, but since they had rejected it, they would turn to the Gentiles. This was a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 49:6.

Amplified Outline

(Hannah's Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)

IV.    The witness “unto the uttermost part of the earth”
    A.    The first missionary journey of Paul
        1.    The activity in Antioch (13:1-3)
        2.    The activity on Cyprus (13:4-12)
            a.    Arrival at Salamis (13:4-5)
            b.    Controversy with Bar-Jesus (13:6-11)
            c.    The faith of Sergius Paulus (13:12)
        3.    The activity in Galatia
            a.    Arrival at Perga and departure of John Mark (13:13)
            b.    Ministry at Antioch (Pisidia) (13:14-52)
                (1)    The occasion (13:14-15)
                (2)    The message (13:16-41)
                (3)    The result (13:42-52)
                    (a)    Evidence of belief (13:42-49)
                    (b)    Evidence of unbelief (13:50-52)

A Closer Look

  1. What did the church at Antioch do before they sent Paul and Barnabas out with the Gospel message?

  2. Why do you think Paul began his message in the synagogue at Pisidia with an emphasis on God’s covenant with Israel?

  3. What principles for evangelizing can be drawn from Paul’s presentation to the Jews that will be helpful for us as we reach out to unbelievers?

Conclusion

All of us can and should take part in reaching out to the unsaved.

Reference Materials