Acts chapter 13       Next chapter           Back to Bible Studies     

The chapter opens with a statement which indicates that the church at Antioch was indeed thriving and the reason for that is clear - God was in charge of that church. Not only in verse 2 but also in verse 4 do we see that the Holy Spirit is guiding and directing the church activity. The act of laying on of hands by the elders is not an ordination but an indication of their blessing and confirmation that Paul and Barnabas went on their way with the authority of the church. In his own words Paul was ordained by God himself (Acts 26:16, 1 Timothy 2:7, Romans 1:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1). There is a powerful Scripture in this regard which emphasises for us that if God is not calling and directing, no good can come of our work, however spiritual we may think it is - Jeremiah 23: 30-32 "Therefore,” declares the LORD, “I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. 31 Yes,” declares the LORD, “I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The LORD declares.’ 32 Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” declares the LORD. “They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the LORD.

It is interesting to note that Paul and Barnabas head straight for Cyprus - the home of Barnabas. How many times do people have a dream of serving God in a far away country, but God may well want us to start right in our back yards before He entrusts us with greater things...This reminded us of the demon-possessed man whom Jesus healed and sent back to his hometown to testify to what God had done for him - Mark 5: 14 - 20. It is also striking that Paul and Barnabas always headed off to the Jewish synagogues - we find that in v 5, v 14, and again in chapter 14:1. This was probably for two reasons. Firstly we have Jesus' instruction in Matthew 10: 5-15 and, on the other hand, the synagogue was a place where people came in search of God and those were the very ones that Paul and Barnabas wanted to speak to.

The events involving Elymas the sorcerer and the proconsul Sergius Paulus contains a number of lessons for us. In verse 7 we find that Elymas the sorcerer had a position as attendant to the proconsul. We also learn that Sergius Paulus was a 'prudent, sensible man' (original Greek) who intentionally sent for Barnabas and Paul when he heard that they were in the area because he had a desire to hear the Word of God. Elymas the sorcerer tries everything to turn the proconsul away from the faith but Paul does something which will definitely not be considered 'P.C.' in our day. He looks the sorcerer in the eye and rebukes him for his deceit and trickery and declares that he will be blind for a season. This reminds us very much of Paul's own conversion when he was struck blind for a time (Acts 9:7-9). This blindness 'for a season' is no doubt an opportunity to be convicted by the Holy Spirit just as Paul must have been during those three days of blindness. How merciful is our God...

Turning out attention to the Proconsul, we see that it is noted that 'when he saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord'. It is significant that he recognised a power greater than what his sorcerer had, and that the miracle had the right effect in that it led him to believe the teaching about the Lord. That is and has always been the purpose of miracles, also in Jesus' own ministry - a means to confirm his presence, power and authority and draw men unto himself (John 10:38, John 20: 30 -31). In this case the miracle was not what the Proconsul clung to, but he found the One behind the miracle, just as it was always intended.

Verse 13 gives us a glimpse of Paul's character and that he probably was quite a task master! There is a reference to John Mark leaving them and returning to Jerusalem in Acts 15: 36-38: "Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the Word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work." From this reference it is clear that Paul felt that John Mark had 'deserted' them on this occasion. It makes me wonder how we, with our fondness of our homely comforts, would have fared as Paul's travel companions!

In verse 14 we find Paul and Barnabas entering the Jewish synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, Paul immediately takes the opportunity given to him to speak and starts sharing with his audience that Jesus Christ is indeed the promised Messiah. Again, like Stephen and Peter earlier in Acts, he does so with reference to Old Testament Scriptures. How the Jews must have regretted giving him the opportunity to speak! In verse 42 the oldest manuscripts read: " ...and when the Jews had left the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath". On that next Sabbath day, almost the whole city gathers to hear the Word of God and this enraged the Jews. As we have seen before with Jesus' ministry, the Jews "were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against Paul" revealing the evil in their hearts. This leads to Paul and Barnabas making that pivotal statement: "...we had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it, and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles". It is interesting to note some of the reasons why the Jews rejected Jesus and held that he was not the promised Messiah giving us better insight into their perspective:

According to the Jews, Jesus was not a real prophet because prophecy can only exist when the land is inhabited by a majority of Jews. The majority of Jews refused to return after the exile in Babylon and so prophecy ended with Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi
The Messiah has to be a descendant of David with a Jewish father. The virgin birth makes this impossible
'Revelation' has to be to the whole nation of Israel and not one individual. See Deuteronomy 5:3
The Messiah will lead the people to complete observance of the Torah (Law of Moses). Jesus broke the Law by healing on the Sabbath, so he cannot possibly be the Messiah

In verse 50 the word 'expel' literally means 'to throw something away with no regard for where it falls' - describing aptly what happened to Paul and Barnabas. In response they shook the dust from their feet and went to another city. See Matthew 10:11-15. It is interesting to note that according to Jewish custom, after travelling through a Gentile town, Jews were required to even shake the dust of that 'unclean' town from their feet. Here we see quite the reverse carried out by Paul and Barnabas...The chapter closes with a glorious confirmation that the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit, despite their circumstances.

© 2011 Werner Schreiber

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