“Acts is a selection of events showing the tendencies, passion and patterns of early Christians, and “every story reveals principles and laws, operating with undeviating regularity, and contributing the secrets of the amazing spread of Christianity in the world” (G.C.Morgan). This is a story of mission history and how the gospel moved across cultural, racial and geographic barriers. It encourages us to overcome fears, get out of our comfort zones and trust God to do wonderful things. From now on, throughout Acts 13-28, the focus is on Paul’s ministry and missions activity. No greater missionary has lived than Paul the Apostle (his Jewish name was “Saul” and Roman name was “Paul”). His life provides us with insights that may help us discern the characteristics of a Missions call, commitment and message.
I. The First Missions Trip (Acts 13:1-14:28)
This first of Paul’s journeys would take his team through Seleucia, the island of Cyprus, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and back home again to Antioch of Syria. The time involved in this mission trip would be about 3 years, around A.D. 46-49.
Saul spent his early years at Tarsus (Acts 9:11; 21:39; 22:3), and went there again after his conversion to Christianity (Acts 9:30; 11:25). Saul stayed a while in Tarsus but later returned to Antioch with Barnabas to minister for a whole year. Then, they carried the special offering to Jerusalem because of a famine, and then returned again to Antioch. John Mark, the son of Mary, also returned with them. The prophetic presbytery at Antioch commissioned “Barnabas and Saul” for their First Missionary Journey. This trip would produce the Galatian churches, but began on the island of Cyprus (Barnabas’ homeland) at Salamis. On the western end at Paphos, they encountered the sorcerer Barjesus (Elymas), who was blinded in the meeting with “Paul” (so named in Acts 13:9). Sailing from Paphos, the team landed at Perga, and then on to Pamphylia, where John Mark decided to return to Jerusalem. Paul’s journey from Perga to this Antioch may have been fraught with the “danger of rivers” and the “danger of robbers” (2 Cor. 11:26).
“Paul and his company” (Acts 13:13) began their mission to the Galatian churches at Antioch of Pisidia, where Paul preached at the synagogues (13:15-42). The Gentiles received the Word but the Jewish uproar made them move on to Iconium. They later had to flee to Lystra, where because God healed a cripple, Paul was deemed to be a god. Later, he was stoned and left for dead. Paul then experienced a miraculous healing and recovery or was raised from the dead. After moving on to Derbe, the team retraced their steps and sailed back to Antioch, where they stayed a “long time” (about 2 years, 14:28).
II. The Call to Missions
“The 1st missionary journey was revealed by God to men giving themselves to special prayer and waiting upon God. It’s this alone that can meet the needs of the world”-A.M.
There are several characteristics of the call to full-time missions or ministry work. This call must come from God. Missions and ministry leaders do not choose themselves – their call is directly from God. This call is also confirmed by spiritual leaders (13:1-3). When someone responds to a calling, it often will also require great personal commitment and sacrifice, as well as the encouragement and blessing from others.
It’s essential for the Church to be missionary to the ends of the earth and the end of history. To believe that relationship with God and participating in His purposes are inseparable. To know God, we get close to His heart…and there we discover love for the world and billions of people! This inspires a life of worship and witnessing while helping us read the bible and see other people with God’s heart and eyes. “For God so loved the whole world” that HE gave Jesus and sent us. Learning to live Jn.3:16, motivated by love with a mission vision is important for us all.
Mission is not something peripheral to the Christian life. It is to have priority over mind and manifestations. Understanding this will help us to avoid the traps that have often paralyzed the western church. The pursuits of both the intellectual mind and spiritual manifestations are valuable, but they are not of 1st importance. There are many well meaning Christians that have pursued almost exclusively one of these to the neglect of the others. However, mission is to have priority and the mind and manifestations are to serve the mission of knowing God and making Him known.
It’s also important to notice that both Peter and Paul (Acts 8, 13) had confrontations with sorcerers. This compares with Moses and the magicians of Egypt (Ex. 7:11, 22; 8:7, 18-19; 19:11, 2 Tim. 3:8); as well as the witchcraft in Samuel’s day (1 Sam. 10:1-12; 19:19-24; 28:6-7); and the giants in the days of Noah. These are clear evidence of a real spiritual battle going. We will look at spiritual warfare in later lessons.
III. Leadership & Life Insights
On this 1st mission trip, Barnabus learns and lives a leadership insight that is important. Barnabus had been Paul’s mentor since the 1st trip to Jerusalem, and had brought him to Antioch as well (Acts 9:27+, 11:25+). During their ministry in Cyprus it appeared to Barnabus that Paul was specially anointed and exercising a new level of spiritual authority. Paul was at the point where he needed to move beyond the mentoring relationship with Barnabus. The blessing of God and obedient faith of Paul combined with the discernment of Barnabus to bring about a leadership transition…a passing of the baton. From now on (Acts 13:13, 43), with only 3 exceptions, the Bible always refers to “Paul and Barnabus.” Prior to that, it was “Barnabus and Saul” (13:2,7). Paul took the lead and led from here on.
It takes great grace and maturity for a man like Barnabus not only to allow such a leadership change, but to work to make it successful. It takes humility, wisdom and relational insights to recognize the need to change jobs, switch roles or take a different position on a team. It takes a big man to be willing to step down and become a partner or follower, rather than the leader. Barnabus sensed a difference, took the necessary steps for change and learned to relate to Paul and serve in ministry in a new way. The results were powerful and history-making!
We can learn insights from the situation with John Mark also. After sailing to Pamphylia, he decided to return to Jerusalem. He left the mission team and abandoned his commitment half-way through. Why did John Mark leave and return to his early childhood home (Acts 12:12,25)? Was the attraction of his earthly home, him simply wanting to see his mother and old friends; was he leaving the team because he freaked out over the spiritual warfare and intense confrontations; or was he upset that cousin Barnabas was becoming the “second” man as Paul was ever coming to the forefront???
We don’t know…but we do know this wasn’t the end for him. This event would later spark great contention (dispute) between Paul and Barnabus at the outset of the 2nd Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36-39). However, this believer who wavered in one battle, would live to obtain a glorious victory. He was not unwilling to go on the 2nd Journey, and Barnabus became his mentor. He then accompanied Barnabas back to Cyprus, the place where he had faltered (Acts 15:39)! Often God will take us back to the place we failed to bring fresh revelation and encouragement to move forward in faith and obedience. Lastly, notice that Paul did not retain an unfavorable judgment of John Mark (Col.4:10; 2Tim. 4:11). The result of all this…we have the “Gospel of Mark!”
Lastly, we have insights here about “decisions, direction and divine guidance.” God clearly spoke to them, led/directed/sent them forth on this mission. They also apparently decided to go to Cyprus 1st because Barnabus was from there and it was easily accessible. It was a good decision. They later sensed guidance to stay or were forced to leave places according to the good fruit or unfavorable circumstances. We too are to live a life of finding/following God’s lead/will through a tapestry of discerning and deciding to move by faith/obedience in certain directions. Life and faith direction decisions are almost always a combination of God’s voice/word, our choices (hopefully by godly wisdom, counsel and desires), and prayerfully/thoughtfully navigating through real-life circumstances. There is no set pattern, 5 steps to, or secret formula for discovering Divine guidance. We must seek and trust God to ‘discern and decide’ HIS will in ways that bring HIM glory and bless people. All this…is being “led by the Spirit.”
III. The Message Preached
In regard to preaching, Luke gives us 2 distinct discourses. In 1 we find the Gospel preached to the Jews in Antioch which Luke emphasizes with 30 verses. And in the other, we see a different tone from Paul when speaking to Gentiles in Lystra (5 verses).
At Lystra, Paul calls the Gentiles to turn from their vain idol-worship to the Living God, who made Heaven and earth, whose providence through generations has watched over the nations, and who gives witness to Himself from Heaven in all the blessings He bestows. Paul appeals to their consciousness of a heavenly power and challenges them to turn to the God whom he preaches. This approach to ministry will be looked at later, when we study Paul’s visit to Athens and Mars Hill.
Now, compare this sermon of Paul to the Jews with Stephen’s (Acts 7; 13:16-41+), and notice the similar style and use of the historical psalms (Ps.105, 106+). The apostle dwells upon the previous history of the Jewish people. He proves that the Messiah, the Son of David, whom he proclaims was the same one their own prophets bore witness to, and that His Advent was heralded by John, His predicted messenger. He then proceeds to remove the prejudice which the rejection of JESUS by their authorities in Jerusalem, their headquarters, would naturally raise among the Pisidian Jews against his divine mission. He shows that Jesus’ death and resurrection had fulfilled the O.T. prophecies, and declares this to be the “Good News” (Acts 13:32) which the apostles were charged to proclaim. But then he continues in a bolder tone to declare Jesus’ finished work of salvation, and the antithesis between the Gospel and the Law. Paul ends his sermon strongly warning against the bigoted rejection of Jesus’ person, work, and teaching. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is clearly his main/concluding point.
Paul was a JESUS preacher! His MESSAGE was the death, the burial, and the resurrection of Jesus! (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Dr. Luke, the author of Acts, the constant companion of Paul, and the eyewitness to his incredible ministry and message records Paul’s sermons throughout Acts: Acts 13:16-41; 14:14-18; 17:22-33; 20:17-38; 21:40-22:22, 30-23:9; 24:10-22, 25; 25:10-11; 26:1-29; 27:11-26; 28:17-20, 25-28.
In conclusion, it’s important to understand that in both ministry approaches and messages, and throughout the New Testament, there is a clear pattern to the structure and communication of the Gospel. The 3 principles are: 1) “Find common ground” with those you’re speaking to; 2) “Tell them what they already know/believe to be true;” 3) “Put it in a Gospel context.”