Barnabas and Saul Sent – Acts 13
The Church in Antioch
Just in case you are confused, there are two places called Antioch in this chapter. The first, mentioned in verse 1, is in Syria, north of Israel. The second is in Pisidia in Asia Minor, now Turkey, mentioned in verse 14.
The church in Antioch in Syria was one of the early mainly Gentile churches established after the persecution which arose over Stephen, when the disciples were scattered abroad from North Africa to Asia Minor. We are introduced to some of the members of the church who were prophets and teachers. Apart from Barnabas and Saul, these were probably Gentiles, and from different ethnic backgrounds. Two were probably from Africa, Simeon who was called Black (translated from Niger) and Lucius who was from Cyrene, which is in an area of North Africa now called Libya. Manaen was Herod’s foster brother.
Prophets and teachers are two of the five ministries which Christ gives to the church. The other three are apostles, pastors and evangelists (Ephesians 4 v 11).
Barnabas and Saul were back in Antioch in Syria, along with John Mark. The prophets and teachers were spending time worshipping God and fasting. This was a natural thing for them to do. It was not uncommon for them to fast, it was something the early church did on a regular basis as part of their worship and service to God. On this occasion, though, God had something special to say to them. “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” I don’t suppose Barnabas and Saul were surprised! They had already received the call. Saul knew that God had said “He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” This was the ‘sending off’ point for them, and was as much for the church as for them. In sending them off, the church were taking on the responsibility of encouraging and supporting them, and providing accountability for them. When Barnabas and Saul were sent out, they would be taking up their ‘apostleship’. ‘Apostle’ is the Greek word for ‘Sent out one’. Notice that God did not mention John Mark as separated out for the work. Perhaps this was not the right time for him. He turned back from the work after their time in Cyprus. This caused a problem between Paul and Barnabas later on, so they went their own ways (Acts 15 vs 36 – 41). Later on Mark redeemed himself, both with Paul (as Saul became) and Peter.
The leaders of the church in Antioch laid their hands on them, and sent them away. Verse 4 says that they were “sent out by the Holy Spirit!” When a church moves according to the revelation of God’s will, then the Holy Spirit will work with and through that church. One gets the idea from this account that when they were sent out, they went straight down to the local port, called Seleucia, and caught the first boat to Cyprus. Certainly there were no months of planning, booking flights and organising itineraries. The Holy Spirit was in charge of the itinerary! They sailed across to Salamis, on the eastern end of Cyprus, and went to preach in the synagogue, as was to be their usual custom. After all, the Jews were familiar with the Old Testament scriptures, the one true God, and the idea of a coming Messiah (Christ). They travelled the length of Cyprus, no doubt sharing the gospel on the way, until they came to Paphos. There they came across a false prophet called Bar-Jesus or Elymas. The Proconsul, named Sergius Paulus, called for Barnabas and Paul. He wanted to hear the word of God, but Elymas withstood the apostles. Paul spoke to him, not very politely! “You fraudster, son of the devil, enemy of righteousness!” Paul then pronounced how God was going to deal with him. “You shall be blind … !” Seeing what happened, the Proconsul believed.
The apostles then sailed for Asia Minor, but John Mark decided he would return home. They arrived at Perga, and then travelled on to Antioch – the one in Persidia. In the synagogue Paul stood up and preached. Starting with the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, he taught about Samuel, King Saul, King David, John the Baptist, and finally Jesus. He spoke about the crucifixion, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus, quoting from the Psalms and the prophecy of Isaiah. He then challenged them to believe in this Jesus. The following Sabbath the crowd was so large that the leading Jews were jealous, and started to oppose Paul and Barnabas. So they turned to the Gentiles, and many of them believed. In the end the apostles were expelled from the city, and they shook the dust of Antioch from their feet, and left for the next town, Iconium. God confirmed His workings by filling the disciples with joy and the Holy Spirit. A new church had been established!