Monday, February 25
And They’re Off
13:1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
2As 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.” 3Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.
4So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5Arriving in Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. They also had John as their assistant. 6When they had traveled the whole island as far as Paphos, they came across a sorcerer, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus.7He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God.8But Elymas the sorcerer (that is the meaning of his name) opposedthem and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
9But Saul—also called Paul—filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at Elymas 10and said, “You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery, you son of the devil and enemy of all that is right. Won’t you ever stop perverting the straight paths of the Lord? 11Now, look, the Lord’s hand is against you. You are going to be blind, and will not see the sun for a time.” Immediately a mist and darkness fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
12Then, when he saw what happened, the proconsul believed, because he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
Act 13:1-12 (CSB)
This passage begins not just a new chapter, but a whole new movement in Christianity. Jerusalem—and all its Temple represented—are left behind, and with Antioch as the new home base missionaries go out to fulfill Christ’s commission to preach the Gospel to “the ends of the world.”
The first missionaries called and commissioned by God are Barnabas and Saul, the encourager and the Pharisee. Barnabas’s positivity and Saul’s intensity are a strange and almost comedic combination, but together for the Gospel they form a powerful partnership. These two do not go off on their own, though. Their calling is recognized by a group of leaders in Antioch, and they are the ones who pray, fast, and lay hands on them in preparation for their journey. From this point on in Acts, Luke focuses solely on Paul’s missionary activity, but Paul is by no means solely responsible for building the Church, nor is he the only missionary. In every city Paul establishes a faith community, he leaves behind local leaders, teachers, pastors, patrons—the people. They become part of the mission, building up their community and sending out missionaries in other directions. Paul’s contribution to the Gospel is inestimable, but his story is not the autobiography of some super-human Christian celebrity—it is a paradigm for the life of the Church in all places at all times.
Finishing off this first missionary team is John Mark. He is not commissioned along with Paul and Barnabas, but they take him along likely to train him. He is young but from a family of believers deeply invested in the Church (his mother’s house is where Peter went after his rescue from prison, and Barnabas is Mark’s cousin). John Mark’s participation is unremarkable and brief, but this is the beginning of his own calling and ministry which will become vital to the spread of the Gospel to all believers, both across the nations and across time.
Besides the shift from Jerusalem to Antioch, from the Jews to the Gentiles, we see another shift in this section. From Saul to Paul. There is a belief common among Christians that God changed Saul’s name to Paul when he called him to be a missionary. There is certainly precedent for name changes accompanying calling, like with Abram-Abraham and Jacob-Israel, but that’s not the case here. In none of the many Damascus Road accounts does God change Saul’s name. The Saul/Paul distinction is just language. Saul is a Hebrew name. Paul is a Greek one. Just because God does not change Paul’s name does not mean the shift is not significant, though. In chapter 13, Luke begins to refer to him as Paul and never goes back, because this is the point at which Paul begins his mission to the Gentiles, the Greek-speakers. He does not abandon his Judaism or his Jewish people; his pattern will always be to first preach in synagogues, but he has fully embraced God’s larger vision fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.
Acts 13 is a hinge that opens the door of Christianity wide to the world. The pace quickens and the geography widens. All the names of the people and places may seem boring or academic, but behind those names are people and stories and journeys that one day bring the Gospel to you and your city. Put your feet on the ground on Antioch and feel the earth shake. History is changing. Lives are changing. The Gospel is spreading.
Have you noticed a theme in Acts? Since this devotional series is only 8 weeks long, we must take large chunks at a time, which means we aren’t always looking at the details of the story –like today when Paul rebukes a sorcerer so strongly it’s almost comedic. When we take this longer view, though, what we see is that, over and over, Acts isn’t a story about missions or evangelism, it’s about the Church and all her functions. We see the Church growing and people finding their place and gifting among God’s people and serving for the health of the body and the spread of the Gospel. Healthy churches are not all Pauls. Find your spot. Use your gifting. Encourage others to do the same. Let’s commit to our health this year.
Lord, help us to be a healthy and thriving Church. Help us to identify our own and each other’s gifts and calling. May we encourage one another and serve one another, and not be competitive or prideful. Use us to spread Your love, bring many to Christ, and mature disciples. Amen.
Pick Four More Activities
Listen and Worship.
Pray a Psalm.
Read a Book.
Retell the Gospel to Yourself.
Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.
Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.
Memorize a Verse.
List Five Things You're Thankful For.