A Church on a Mission: The Gospel Explodes Geographically

by | Apr 16, 2023 | Podcast, Sermons

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Preacher: Pastor Jim McCasulin

Scripture: Acts 13:1-12

Barnabas and Saul were called by the Holy Spirit to set out on a special work for God which would turn out to be Paul’s first missionary journey from Antioch to Cyprus.


Gracious Heavenly Father you showed us Your Love by sending your only begotten son into the world that all might live through him pour out your spirit on your church that we may fulfill his command to spread the gospel to all people that they might be saved through your son Jesus Christ Our Lord amen please be seated well following our celebration of the Glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday we now return to our church on Mission sermon series through the book of Acts and we continue with today’s lessons from Acts 13. now in case you wondered I’m sure you must have David Chuck and I don’t coordinate our sermons before we preach as a case in point Pastor David stoled my opening introduction to today’s sermon last month when he preached on the miraculous release of the Apostle Peter from herod’s prison as a result of the church’s Earnest prayer and the power of God’s holy spirit he stole my introduction by noting how that amazing story was well suited to be filmed as a Hollywood spectacular the stuff of which exciting movies are made most of you know that I too am a lover of excellent movies in today’s passage also gives us great material for a fascinating movie and the more I read through it the more I thought about what it would be like to be the screenwriter and the director for this Holy Spirit drama what makes a really good movie for you well for me great movies all have intriguing characters spellbinding stories without too many puzzling plot holes struggles between good and evil perhaps some twists and turns suspense as to how they will end little in the way of unresolved issues and loose ends and of course the ultimate Triumph of good over evil as the closing credits roll well today’s passage from acts 13 has got it all now we learned at the end of Acts 12. that Barnabas and Saul had returned from Jerusalem bringing with them John whose other name was Mark well our Saga starts today in Antioch the capital of Syria the center for a large Jewish Community with a growing number of Christian groups and you’ll remember that it was an Antioch that the Believers in Jesus were first called Christians so now it’s time for the spread of the Gospel to explode as John Stott of Langham Palace London wrote all the time the action had been limited to the Palestinian and Syrian Mainland nobody has yet caught the vision of taking the good news to the Nations overseas remember how the gospel spread across cultures with the outpouring of the holy spirit in the second chapter of Acts now it’s about to explode geographically we’ve seen how the gospel can transform anyone and so the stage is set for its spread to the ends of the Earth it begins with a Church of Antioch where we have a full cast of characters and it’s interesting to note how Luke now refers to this group of Christians as a church suggesting that may well they may well have taken on some organizational structure now the church there had both prophets and teachers prophets to call the people to repentance and teachers to instruct them in the way of the Lord now Tim Keller points out that they had a council of five leaders evidently functioning like some sort of a board of Elders and some denominations today are led by Boards of Elders of these five Barnabas known as the son of encouragement is mentioned first perhaps as a senior in status and the next three we won’t see these next three of the five again as our story unfolds Simon called Niger is mentioned second known as Niger meaning black he may have been from North Africa next comes Lucius which is a Latin name and he was from Cyrene may have been one of those who first preached the good news to those Gentiles in Antioch and the fourth Elder was maneon an influential Jewish Christian who came from the court of Herod Antipas who you’ll remember had John the Baptist beheaded for calling him calling him out on his notorious Affair and marriage now the last of the five mentioned in that Council of Elders is Saul still referred to by his Jewish name at this point now I introduced these five Elders to you because their role is in what will become known as the Apostle Paul’s first missionary journey is instructive for us as a church on Mission today so to be on Mission we must first be grounded in prayer just as they were they regularly spent time together in prayer and worship and as the Holy Spirit Led them they commissioned two of their members two of their number to travel out as missionaries to lead others to Jesus in this case they selected Barnabas and Saul who would be joined later by John Mark a cousin of Barnabas now as it’s most always true we don’t know how the Holy Spirit worked in their midst to lead them to discern God’s will for the mission we do see here the critical ingredients of worship prayer and fasting we’re not told that there were that they were in any kind of a special season of Prayer or that they were specifically and deliberately planning for mission rather they were going about their routine work of worship and seeking God’s presence now many other members of that church may have been at prayer along with the five elders but once the decision was made the elders sent off Barnabas and Saul by laying their hands on them a tradition which as you know many churches still follow today when they commissioned folks now we’re going to meet two more characters as our saga continues with our adventurers Now setting out on a journey by land and sea and then all across the island of Cyprus we don’t know what Provisions they took exactly how they traveled or how long they expect it to be gone missionary Journeys have a lot of unknowns in fact anytime we’re following the holy spirit’s lead we’ll no doubt encounter unknowns as well just as we have here at the church of our savior as Jesus told Nicodemus you’ll remember the wind and directions of the Holy Spirit below where the Lord Wills now the first leg of their Journey was a short one of about 12 miles to seleucia at eox Seaport just west of the city I wish I had a map at the mouth of the erotics river they next sailed to salamis on the eastern coast of the island of Cyprus which is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily and Sardinia salamis was a major port and Commercial Center boasting the largest Marketplace in the Roman Colonial Empire and Cyprus was host to a significant Jewish population and Barnabas was originally from there as we were told back in Acts the fourth chapter of Acts the persecution of Believers in Jerusalem which as you’ll recall followed the stoning of Stephen caused the disciples to spread out with Barnabas and Saul being sent to Cyprus where they shared the good news about the Lord Jesus now it was only natural that Saul Barnabas and John Mark first preached Jesus in the Jewish synagogues there were probably two main reasons first Saul believed that the gospel should first be preached to the Jews and then to the Gentiles the second reason was more pragmatic the easiest way of reaching the Gentile Community was by presenting the gospel to the Gentile proselytes and God fears who gathered regularly in the synagogues you see many of these Gentiles had already turned away from their idols and were seeking the one true God and all that they needed to hear was that the promises for them had now been fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah so the conversion of these Gentiles in turn promised a natural Segway for reaching the larger Gentile community you know we’re not told how long these missionaries labored in Salamis their next destination was a desolate town of paphos on the western side of Cyprus and since there was a temple to the goddess Venus there they could expect many of the inhabitants to worship this Pagan Idol and be resistant to hearing the true word of God they may well have preached in a number of synagogues and salamis before they work their way across the whole island to paphos which was a distance of roughly a hundred miles now in paphos we meet the last two of our cast of characters the first one mentioned is bar Jesus also known as elimas which means magician he was also called a magus which is a singular form of Magi and shall recall from the story of the Three Wise Men from the East who followed their star until it rested over the manger where the baby Jesus lay the Magi were the astrologers and wise men of Perth but this Magus bar Jesus was no more than a charlatan whom Luke also called a false prophet this elimas who turns out to be the villain in our drama was on the staff of the Roman proconsul for Cyprus Syracuse Palace now the plot indeed thickens here and the tension bills as Sergio’s Palace summons Barnabas and Saul to hear the word of God we now come to the denuma the final resolution of the intricacies of what turns out to be a grand struggle between Good and Evil we’re told that sergius paulus was an intelligent man moreover he represented all the power of the Roman law there he was a powerful prosperous man who was feared and obeyed he had probably heard how Saul and Barnabas had been preaching the word of God all across Cyprus being a false prophet elimas had been trying to convince Sergio’s Palace that the gospel message was untrue but the proconsul wanted to hear for himself what the missionaries had been saying about the faith we’re reminded the powers of Darkness are always eager to influence those who rule we’re reminded remember in the book of Ephesians that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities against Powers against the rulers of Darkness of this world against spiritual wickedness in high places now Saul did not mince words with elemas filled with a holy spirit Saul stared him down and gave him what we might call both barrels you’re a son of the devil an enemy of all righteousness and full of Deceit and villainy and most importantly you’re making crooked the straight path of the Lord preparing the way of the Lord he was not what happens next indicates how serious Saul considered this obstruction of the Gospel to be Paul not only spoke harshly to elimasu but he also took action saying the hand of the Lord is against you you are going to be blind and he was again we see here the power of God’s holy spirit at work the blindness may have overtaken him gradually since Luke speaks of mist and darkness coming over him but in the end it was totaled then later he had difficulty finding anyone to act as his guide

Saul probably remembered when he was struck blind on the road to Emmaus for persecuting the Lord on the road to Damascus they’d have said for persecuting the Lord and as Luke implies the immediate purpose of today’s miracle was to punish for Jesus for resisting the gospel however the reference in verse 11 to a Time May mean that he would only remain blind until he repented in other words the Judgment may have been conditional and the punishment and the nature of a warning meanwhile the Miracles served the further purpose purpose of demonstrating the power of the Gospel when the pro Consul saw what had happened he believed and we don’t know what becomes of sergius paulus after this now the reference to Paul’s name in verse 9 should be noted Paul already had two names his Jewish name was Saul his Roman name was Paul and Luke May well be showing here that it was now time for Saul to be known as Paul since he was now moving away from a predominantly Jewish fear into the Roman world in his preaching to sergius Palace may have brought it home to him that he would now be focusing on his mission to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles anyone not Jewish his Jewish name Saul is only found again in Acts in the two accounts of Paul’s conversion in chapters 22 and 26 and not at all in Paul’s Epistles and it is also noteworthy noteworthy that from this time forward Paul is usually named first before Barnabas probably meaning that Paul had become the dominant partner in the missionary team the conversion of Sergio’s Palace was in fact a turning point in Paul’s whole mystery Ministry the focus of the gospels expansion now shifts from the Apostle Peter’s Ministry to the work of the Apostle Paul at a revolutionary new policy in the mission to the Gentiles was inaugurated as you’ll recall earlier Cornelius had been converted apart from any prior commitment to Judaism and the Jerusalem Church had accepted his conversion to Christ but we don’t know that the Jerusalem Church took cornelius’s conversion as a precedent for expanding the Christian Mission and apparently preferred not to dwell on it at the time however Paul whose mandate was to the Gentiles saw in the conversion of sergius Palace further aspects of what a mission to the Gentiles involved and was prepared to take this conversion as a precedent fraught with far-reaching implications for his his ministry after this it is Paul’s Insight that set the tone for the church’s Outreach to the Gentile world and as the story of the Gospel spread will continue this missionary team will no longer be referred to as Barnabas and Saul but as we’ll see in next week’s lesson as Paul and his companions with the center of the church’s missionary efforts having moved from Jerusalem to Antioch and then Paul and his companions will next set out and set cell from paphos and move on to the port of perga and pamphilia lying Northwest of Cyprus in modern day Turkey sergius paulus was astonished at the teaching of the Lord this just reminds us that we never know where God is working it appears that the worship of his Roman gods did not satisfy the deepest needs of his soul it also suggests that all his prosperity and power had left sergius paulus empty he must have wanted something that he could not find in his religion and his work or in the Roman law think about all the men who’ve already been mentioned in this text it’s clear that God Saves people from all Races who live in various places and who occupy many levels of society and this should encourage us to witness to everyone we meet when God gives us the opportunity because God can save anyone who will hear his word and respond to him in faith whether it is a king or a president or a homeless man on the street God can touch their hearts and create a longing within them for him and so we want to be active witnesses to all those who do not know the Lord for no one is beyond the reach of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

a few points as I close

I couldn’t help but notice that just as the pro-consul sergius palace was a Roman official so Theophilus May well have been also you remember Theophilus Luke addressed both of his books his gospel and the book of Acts to this unknown Theophilus a name meaning friend of God or loved by God he called him most excellent suggesting that he too was a man of some importance just as sergius paulus clearly was and you know Luke’s two volumes of the gospel and acts give us some 25 percent of the New Testament and among his major themes are the importance of the Reliance on prayer the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and a strong call to discipleship The Acts of the Apostles has also been referred to as the acts of the Holy Spirit it’s clear that Barnabas and Saul were called by the Holy Spirit to set out on a special work for God which would turn out to be known as Paul’s first missionary journey from Antioch to Cyprus all of this occurs at the initiative of the Holy Spirit

while at their regular worship and regular prayer the Elders of Antioch discerned this call and laid hands on them to send them off and so it is through our worship and our prayer and our fasting that we still can hear that that still small voice of the Holy Spirit leading us to the will of God the holy spirit is God’s agent on Earth leads each one of us for the work of his kingdom even right here in Jacksonville Beach another important lesson for us to learn is that each and every one of us is a disciple available to be used by God now Barnabas was not on the top rung of Christian leaders he was not one of The Twelve Apostles yet he was a leader in the church at Antioch but the main point here is that the Servants of the word of God do not need to be great by human standards and Jesus said the greatest among you must be the servant of all the last point I’d like to make is that God is always watching over us full of grace and truth and love he is sovereign he is in charge and he will continue to work for the spread of his kingdom and he wants us to work with him to share his good news so that this gospel will continue to explode to the ends of the Earth and we close in prayer

gracious Lord you were all-knowing and full of wisdom help us as your disciples to follow you in every thought word and deed give us hearts of obedience and trust that we would not get wrapped up in doubt or what we think is the right choice help us to recognize that your good and perfect will does not always look the way we think it should but that doesn’t make it any less good or any less perfect we desire to be your disciples and follow you all the days of our lives give us we pray your presence and the power of the Holy Spirit that only you can give amen


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