God likes things to grow: families (Genesis 1:28), gardens (v. 29), nations (11:8, 9), and churches (Acts 5:14). In fact, God expects his church to grow (Matthew 13:31, 32) and it is unnatural if she does not grow (vv. 8, 23).
If “well begun is half done,” then the church is off to a great start (see the former lesson series on Acts 2-10). Now we are ready to see the church grow through its missionary efforts. The spotlight shifts from the mother church in Jerusalem to the missionary-minded church in Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:19-30). The missionary journeys occupy Acts 13-21 and this four-part lesson series.
The first journey alone was stunning: two years, 1,200 miles, and six new churches (Acts 13, 14). From five very different leaders in the church at Antioch (13:1), God chose the first one and the last one (Barnabas and Saul) to begin spreading the gospel to the Roman Empire. It spread first to the islands and southern Turkey.
Obedience to the Mission
Acts 13:2, 3
The missionary call occurred in the context of worship. The prophets and teachers of the Antioch church were worshiping and fasting and praying. It was in that context that the Holy Spirit’s voice was heard. John Piper is famous for saying, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t” (Let the Nations Be Glad). In this passage the mission was birthed in worship. First there was “consecration” (fasted and prayed), then there was “ordination” (placed their hands on them), and finally there was “commission” (sent them off). When the call to missions came, the church obeyed.
Opposition to and Success of the Mission
Not everyone was won to Christ yet in Antioch of Syria, but the gospel needed to make its way to other places. Barnabas and Saul went down to Seleucia (port on the Mediterranean Sea) and sailed to the island of Cyprus. They worked their way through the island from east to west as they proclaimed the word of God (i.e. preached the gospel). John Mark is mentioned as their helper (literally “under rower”). For whatever reason John Mark would leave them soon (Acts 13:13). This troubled Paul greatly (15:38, 39), but the tensions between the two seemed to have been resolved (2 Timothy 4:11).
Know this—where the gospel goes the enemy will rear his ugly head. When the gospel spread to a new geographical region or was embraced by a different ethnic group, there the devil tried to nip the growth of the church in the bud (Acts 8, 13, 16, 19). In this case, a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, whose real name was Elymas, opposed (stood opposite) the gospel. Paul called him two names (child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right), said he was full of all kinds of deceit and trickery, and accused him of perverting the right ways of the Lord. That is about as much evil as any one person can conjure up. Missionary work usually involves a fight. God’s hand was against this man.
Paul countered the enemy’s hand through Elymas by causing the sorcerer to become blind (think back to Saul’s conversion—Acts 9:8, 9, 17, 18). This caused the proconsul Sergius Paulus, described earlier as an intelligent man, to believe, as he was amazed at the power of God. Missionary work will receive opposition, but God will have the last word and eventually succeed.
Message of the Mission
Acts 13:13-16, 26-30, 38, 39
The missionaries traveled north and got back on the continent (modern Turkey). They worked their way through rough terrain and came to Antioch of Pisidia. Using the Jewish synagogue as a base camp for their evangelistic efforts, Paul and Barnabas attended the weekend service. At just the right spot in the liturgy (following the reading of the Law and the Prophets), the synagogue leaders asked the missionaries if they had a word of exhortation (see Hebrews 13:22). Were they kidding, asking Paul if he had something to say?
What followed is a typical synagogue address. Dr. Ronald Heine (Christian Standard) called it, “A Bird’s Eye View of the Bible.” Much like Stephen did in Acts 7, Paul told the story of salvation history. That history led to Jesus who was sentenced and executed. But God raised him from the dead.
The last two verses of our text sound very Pauline. The major themes in Romans and Galatians are in clear focus in these verses. Forgiveness is found in Jesus. One has to place faith in Jesus to be justified. None of this was possible under the law of Moses. This is the message of the mission.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.