A NEW MISSION
In this passage, Luke records the birth of “foreign missions.” Up until now, mission to the Gentiles had been a result of God’s provision more than man’s purpose. The early church was blessed with many skilled teachers. Now God called them to be missionaries.
Acts 13:1-3 Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 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.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Where do we expect change to come from? For some, we expect change to come from the mouth of a skilled politician. For others, from the united voice of grass-roots movements such as the Tea Party or Occupy group. But do we believe that God can change the world? If we do, that changes everything. When God set aside Barnabas and Saul (later called Paul), it was out of a clear intention: God empowers the few to impact the many.
The prayers of the church confirmed this new mission. Their identity as God’s representatives had not changed, but there was now new work to be done.
A NEW CULTURE
The men travel to the island of Cyprus. Since the days of Alexander the Great, the Jews had been migrating to this island. There, they shared the gospel in several cities:
Acts 13:4-12 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. 6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 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? 11 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.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
Paphos was an interesting place. It was there that the religions of ancient Greece blurred together with Jewish beliefs. We meet two characters:
- Bar-Jesus: Though God’s word condemned such practices, magic was known to be a part of Jewish folk religion. “Elymas” was his title. It most literally means “wise,” probably referring to his magical insight. His actual name was Bar-Jesus—literally meaning “son of Jesus/Joshua”—so it’s ironic that Paul would call him a “son of the devil.” Paul confronts and God intervenes. Bar-Jesus is temporarily blind. No one would not sit in this man’s darkness as Paul brings a message of light.
- Sergius Paulus: He was a prominent Roman official. History tells us that he was in charge of water management. Apparently Bar-Jesus had been his spiritual advisor. When Paul removed this source of darkness, he experienced the true light of the gospel.
Sadly, we know nothing more about what happened in this community. But do you see God’s plan at work? God used these early missionaries to transform a culture from the top down. The leadership was transformed by the gospel—not influenced by a deceptive spiritual advisor.
We must therefore pray for similar transformations to take place, both near and far. The mission of the gospel is lighting up the darkness—bringing the Light of the World into the darkest corners of our culture. Let’s pray that this light would continue to spread.