Monday, June 25, 2012

Acts 13 – Saul and Barnabas, the First Christian Missionaries (part 1 of 2)

Acts 13:1-3 (ESV)
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

The Good News of The Kingdom of God has been spreading far and wide, to people of all ethnicities, religions, and classes. Boldly have the followers of Jesus preached that the Good News is not just hope for some distant future, pie-in-the-sky reality, but a real, tangible participation in the coming Kingdom of Justice and Love that begins here and now. In the execution and resurrection of Jesus, the age of empire was ended and the Kingdom inaugurated. From that point until his return, the gates have been swung open for all people to enter.

As more and more people live the Holy-Spirit empowered life of God's Just Kingdom, he also works a Great Reversal in the world. Rulers are removed, and the humble exalted. The poor rejoice and the rich mourn. Prisoners are set free. Mountains are brought down, and valleys raised. The last will be first and the first, last. The freedom offered in Jesus is freedom from the oppression of the world's empires, and freedom from the consequences of the spirit of empire within us. In it's place he gives believer's the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God dwelling within them and empowering them to live free, and in resistance to the corrupt patterns of the world.

These resisters have formed communities where they share their things radically with one another, living in equality and harmony in opposition to the striving and hierarchies of the world's systems. These believers were first called followers of “The Way”, and were badly persecuted for their faith. As they scattered to escape persecution, they spread like living seeds, and more communities grew in the cities where they settled. Wherever they go, they continue to demonstrate Kingdom love and justice, and share the story of Jesus and forgiveness. Here in Antioch, the believing communities are fist called Christians.

Among the believers in Antioch is Saul. He once violently persecuted the Christians, but has since been transformed by the power of God, turned away from his violence, and joined the Kingdom communities, all at great cost to his old rank and reputation. He has counted all his previous life rubbish in comparison to the truth of the Good News he now lives.

The church in Antioch is a diverse one. By now, the gospel has been presented without hindrance to anyone who would receive it, so the church is made up of a diversity of peoples in all areas of its life. Here we see five men named, called prophets and teachers, intentional and necessary roles fulfilling church life. There is great diversity among them alone.

Barnabas is one of the first Jewish converts, called the encourager. He is often described going out of his way to include outsiders, and may be partly responsible for diversity in this group.

Simeon and Lucius are both black, and Lucius is an immigrant.

Manaen is an old friend of the ruler Herod, who presided over Jesus' trial on the day of his execution, had one of Jesus' original disciple's executed, and threw another in jail. He was likely a wealthy and influential man before joining the Christians.

Saul is the infamous violent persecutor of the church, radically transformed by Jesus into one of their greatest advocates. Barnabas was one of his first friends among the Jesus followers, and had helped him enter the community.

From here in Antioch, Saul and Barnabas are sent out as the first intentional Christian missionaries. They will travel together with the express intent to share the Good News of freedom in Jesus to people away from their home. Chapter 13 records their travels to Cyprus and Pisidia. In chapter 14, they travel to Iconium and Lystra. Their experiences on this first short journey illustrate a pattern in travelling ministry that continues through the rest of Acts.

Saul and Barnabas with John (Mark) in Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12)

Saul and Barnabas sail to Cyprus with John (Mark), nephew of Barnabas. They enter the Jewish synagogue first, a starting point that makes good sense since their message is rooted in Jewish faith, scripture, and practice. They would be received well but for one agitator, described as a magician. Saul calls him out, rebukes him, and prophesies judgment. The man goes temporarily blind, a miracle that represents the blindness he communicates and practices. The demonstration of Holy Spirit power results in people receiving the message that Saul and Barnabas share.

In verse 9, Saul (his Hebrew name) begins to be called Paul (his Greek name), as he begins to intentionally reach out to the Greek outsiders with the Good News.

Paul (Saul) and Barnabas in Pisidia (Acts 13:13-52)

Paul (Saul) and Barnabas continue on. John (Mark) leaves them, but we are not told why. This parting of ways later becomes very significant to Paul and Barnabas' relationship, so we can assume there has been some sort of falling out between Paul and young John (Mark). Even among brothers and sisters, citizens of the Kingdom sharing in ministry together, offenses and broken relationships can occur. We are still broken people, living by faith in the promises of God. Until he returns, we can all make mistakes, and from those mistakes offenses may come. The Good News is not that we will never be hurt again, but that we may be redeemed to one another in grace and forgiveness.

In Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas again begin their ministry in the synagogue. This time they are unopposed, and the people gladly and enthusiastically receive their bold message of freedom, hope, and love. They are asked to return the following week.

But when they return one week later, they bring with them most of the Greek outsiders who also live in the city. Before this time, the religious Jews of Pisidia would have faithfully excluded the Gentiles in obedience to their law code. But the Good News that Paul and Barnabas preach is for everyone, regardless of their cultural or religious background. The two new missionaries have probably been spending the last week inviting everyone in town to come and hear what they have to say. This radical practice of inclusion has been controversial and difficult for the church so far. Here in Pisidia, the religious faithful are not ready to open the doors to the masses.

Still, many of the religious faithful do receive the message, as do many of the pagan Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas shake off the dust of those that rejected them. They do not press the issue or try to manipulate or coerce those who do not want what they offer. They simply move on. Meanwhile, they also rejoice in the freedom received by those in Pisidia who believe and follow the message of freedom.


vv2-3 – The sending of Saul (Paul) and Barnabas
v5 – JOHN MARK was with them
v12 – preaching to men of power
v13 – JOHN MARK LEFT THEM at Perga
vv16-41 – Paul (Saul) preaches in the synagogue
v42 – He’s invited back.
v44 – They must have spent the week inviting people to church
v52 – Joy

(Click to read Acts 13)

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