The First Missionary Journey Begins
By Pastor Teddy
Key Verse 13:2
“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.’”
Chapter 13 of Acts marks a new age in Christian history— the age or history of world missions— a history begun by the Holy Spirit and those who were ready to obey his world mission call. Look at the first three verses of this chapter. Here’s how that holy process began; “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with 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.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
The way God did it was to first establish a base for world missions— a church, and he established one in Antioch. If you look at that church from a human perspective, it really didn’t look like much. To begin with, it didn’t seem ideal for the enormous task of world missions! It was small church, with a small membership of mixed races, ethnicities and backgrounds. But they did have something in common that bonded them all together as one. They were of one creed and of one faith— and they all had one heart for the Lord Jesus. Jesus— the Lord Himself— was the one who brought them together through faith in his blood and through the working of the Holy Spirit— and he is the one who had helped them put down strong roots in the gospel— and strong roots in his church. And that changed everything. What was humanly unsuited and unlikely to be a center for world missions, became the ideal place for world mission to be borne and to grow and prosper.
And so God did something totally unexpected among them. You’d think that they’d be allowed some time to get used to the truth of world missions first— even a time of education and training in world mission studies at least. But it wasn’t to be. Here’s what the Lord did. Read verse 2. “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.’” He called the two most mature shepherds of the church, the very ones responsible for establishing this church— the very ones everyone relied on— he called them to leave the church and go elsewhere. God didn’t even say where they would go. It must have been one of the hardest tests a budding world mission church would encounter. But whatever the Lord asked them to do, it would without doubt be the very thing that would make them strong! It wouldn’t be easy for this congregation at Antioch to let these top shepherds go. It would be like cutting off their own hands and feet. So how could they let them go? They would have to be spiritually mature. They would need faith to let them go. Let me explain. When Israel asked for a king to lead them, the prophet Samuel was terribly upset with them. He prayed to God and God said to him: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Samuel 8:7) That’s truly astonishing! They didn’t have the faith to trust the man of God Samuel’s leadership. But what’s worse, is this. They didn’t have enough faith to trust God’s leadership in their midst either. God establishes shepherds for the church, but it is always the Lord himself who is King who is the Shepherd of his church. The Antioch church let these men go because they had the maturity and faith to trust that the Lord is the Shepherd.
How about the two shepherds who were called by the Holy Spirit to go as missionaries on their first world mission journey? It wasn’t easy for them either. It wasn’t easy because they would have to leave behind a church and environment they were so accustomed to, and people they dearly loved, and entrust the ministry they built to the hands of younger less experienced shepherds. And here’s another difficulty. The Lord never told them where they were to go. But it didn’t matter because both Barnabas and Saul were men of faith who trusted the Lord with their lives. They had surrendered their lives to the will of the Lord, and what that actually means is that they were now open for the Holy Spirit to guide them according to his will, in any way he may choose. I say this because there are many Christians who recite the Lord’s prayer, “Your will be done”, and those who claim to be living in surrender to the Lord’s will, but who lead and direct their own lives. That’s not called surrender— it’s called hypocrisy. Barnabas and Saul were chosen by the Holy Spirit to launch world missions. They understood the seriousness of such a holy responsibility and they were also ready to bear it. And so they surrendered to the Lord’s leading and then got ready to go according to the Lord’s will. Those who understand the seriousness of the Lord’s call to mission usually surrender. Others usually do not— that’s the truth.
So where did the Lord send them? Look at verse 4. “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.” The gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the most precious gifts a child of God receives from the Father at the moment of conversion; when one’s sins are confessed and repented of; when one’s whole heart and mind and strength turn to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation in faith and in holy surrender. The Lord then forgives and cleanses that soul from sin; and as a sign that it is now born again of God, that soul is also given a comforter, the Holy Spirit who comes from heaven to dwell within and to help that soul in its new spiritual journey to the Kingdom where the Lord wants all his children to be. My point is this: Without the Holy Spirit a soul isn’t only unborn and groping in the pitch darkness of life and the unholy darkness of this world, but without the Holy Spirit, the soul is desolate; it’s orphaned and walking blindfolded over a cliff. That’s the reality of all people who don’t believe, nor have salvation in Christ, nor the comfort of the Holy Spirit who the Lord gifts to those he loves. He gives them the Spirit so that by the guidance of the Spirit they might see the way he wants them to go; that they might not wander off in the dark; that they might not walk into a trap; that they might not fall off a cliff, but find the way. How blessed are those who have the Holy Spirit, and are led by his light, and who follow the way he sets before them, wherever it may go. Saul and Barnabas didn’t know where he was leading them. But they trusted that it was where they would be most needed; where the gospel is most needed; where the Lord’s love would be most welcome; where world mission was guided not by the skilled plans and ideas of clever men, but by the Holy Spirit himself who knows the heart and mind of God! He then sent them to Cyprus— an island off the coast of the Eastern boarders of the Mediterranean ocean.
Although it wasn’t only Saul but also Barnabas who went on this journey, Christian history would come to term this particular journey as Paul’s first missionary journey. It may be because Paul was so passionately inspired and driven to bring the gospel message to the world like none other. Thus there would also be a second and a third missionary journey in the book of Acts which will also be accredited to the Apostle Paul until his death at the end of a Roman sword. From the start, ever since the Holy Spirit set him apart for this work, Paul was driven by the spirit of world missions. He is the Spirit who calls all those who are touched by Jesus’ grace to share message of grace wherever the Lord may lead them. The spirit of world mission isn’t a special calling that touches only a select few in the Christian family. It is that Spirit and calling which touches the whole family of believers. While Barnabas and Saul were the first to be set apart to be sent out, they were surely to pave the way for the whole church family to follow. Eventually, Jesus’ command to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) must be heard and obeyed by the whole church family. In truth it’s a great honor for a child of God to follow in Saul and Barnabas’ footsteps of world mission. Whatever the sacrifice may be, it’s a privilege to take the gospel message to places where it has not been heard.
From the Antioch church, then, the headquarters of world missions, came the history we know as God’s world mission history. It was from there that God began to bring the renegade world back to himself. And Luke tells us the story of its beginnings.
Read verses 4-5. “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.” So they travel to Cyprus and arrive at Salamis. And there, they find a Jewish synagogue where they begin to “proclaim the word of God”. That’s what they did. They proclaimed the word of God. It was their legacy. And it is also the legacy of anyone who has been blessed with God’s forgiveness through what God has done for us and for the whole world through the cross of his Son Jesus Christ. For the whole purpose of proclaiming the word of God is to proclaim that wonderful grace by which the Lord God had loved us and loved the world so much that he was willing to sacrifice his One and only Son to save the world through him. Sin demands punishment. Without forgiveness, there is no redemption. We needed redemption. We needed forgiveness. We needed to repent to believe to trust God. We needed to return home to God. The world needs forgiveness. It needs faith. And God met our need. He offered forgiveness through the gospel of his Son, at the pain of the cross. This is the message. This is the word proclaimed! This is what these men proclaimed— their legacy and the legacy of all who have personally received the Lord’s forgiveness. What better way to love as the Lord loves than to proclaim the word of God— that word which offers forgiveness and reconciliation!
Paul began what became his lifelong mission to “proclaimed the word of God” wherever he went. It was his life story. He used to have a different life story. That life story was stained with self righteous bigotry, snobbery, violence, prideful arrogance and murder. But Jesus showed him mercy. Jesus changed his life story from something putrid to something too good to be true. The man once wrapped in sin and violence became the man forgiven and set apart to serve God. He was now shrouded in two eternal truths; God’s grace and God’s word. In other words, his legacy was no longer what he used to be, but who he is now in Christ. He was a man marked by God’s grace— a man of God’s grace; and a man marked by God’s word— a man of God’s word. He was the man who proclaimed the grace of God as he proclaimed the word of God wherever he went. How would your life and mine be marked I wonder? May every one of your lives be identified and marked as Paul’s someday.
Wherever Paul went, he surely proclaimed the message of grace of God to everyone— the grace of Jesus through the gospel which saved him and set his life on a new course. He did not fail to speak to others of Jesus’ forgiving grace in his life. But to do this, he had to tell his testimony to reveal his own wretchedness before the Lord found him, and how much mercy the Lord had on him. He had to speak of how much the Lord changed him and would have him share that same grace with the world. Ultimately Paul’s most concrete and convicted confession to everyone he encountered were these words: “by the grace of God I am what I am.” (1Cor.15:10) At the same time, wherever he went, he also carried the word of God with him, since only the word of God has the power to change a man like Paul himself. He believed that the Christian’s weapons and armor isn’t one’s intellect or education or ability to argue or cleverness or anything else, but that the only weapon is God’s grace and the living word of God in one’s heart. And when these are deeply rooted in one’s life of faith and mission it’s all he or she needs to serve the Lord.
Look at verses 6-11. Paul and Barnabas traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There, an unusual event took place. The Bible tells us that the Roman governor there was an intelligent man. “An intelligent man” describes not only this governor, but perhaps many people of the time. He had to be as the appointed governor of a huge island like Cyprus and subject to Rome. Many around him were endowed with similar intelligence and intellect in an environment that reflected cultural advancement. But all this might lead us to believe that they were also endowed with an equal measure of common sense— the common sense to discern and to understand the most basic of life’s truths. And what are these basic life truths that every intelligent human being should in fact discern or conclude at some point in life? Well, that’s easy. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) “That God is God, and we are his creation. That God created us for a purpose. That because I am a creation of God, I am the most precious and important entity in the universe. And I have a unique purpose, and to find my purpose I must seek God and I must find God as of first importance. There is another truth that takes common sense of any intelligent human being. Something is wrong with me and I need fixing and only God can fix me. I need a Savior and only God can provide me a Savior. Thank you God for providing a Savior. Now where do I find him?” The most intelligent thing a person can do in their life is to acknowledge God and then to pursue God. But unfortunately, human intelligence is stained by the sin that often leads them anywhere but to God. Most of the time, it leads to traps set by the devil to divert the way from God. Without God’s intervention, even the most intelligent of men is nothing but the plaything of devils. In this story the governor proconsul revealed this so clearly.
How did this intelligent man use his intelligence? Look at verses 6 and 7. He was being attended and advised by a magician named Elymas. Elymas was a sorcerer. Perhaps in modern terms, he was a psychic and a con-artist who made his living preying on people’s fears of the future. You know, those who don’t know God are always afraid of the unknown and especially of the future. If people don’t have faith in God, and as long as they cannot entrust their lives and future to God, there is nothing left for them but to be trapped by their own fears of what the future holds. And the future always seems cloudy and uncertain. And as long as people refuse to turn their hearts to the Lord in faith to trust him, to put their lives in his hands, then people like this Elymas are always ready to take advantage and trap them with intrigue and with false promises of a secure future. We’re not surprised then that the governor was seduced by this magician who held the whole court captive by his tricks. It is a tragic nation that trusts its future and decisions to psychics, magicians and fortune tellers. I remember when Nancy Reagan, the president’s wife consulted an astrologer in the white house for her future and the destiny of the nation. I also remember when princess Diana sought the advice of a psychic for her life and for the future of her family. How sad when intelligence proves nothing but idiocy when it leaves faith in God out.
However, there was one thing that acted towards this governor’s favor. Verse 7 tells us that “he wanted to hear the word of God.” We see that he was a sincere man searching for truth; and he was a humble man. So he sent for Barnabas and Paul to listen to what they were teaching. He heard they were Bible teachers proclaiming the word of God. I wonder how heart moving the Bible study Paul gave had been in the governor’s court. Maybe some hearts opened and revived. Maybe some were convicted of sin and drew to the Lord. The word of God was so living and active that day in the court of the governor that this psychic was threatened to be exposed as a fraud. What really threatened to expose him was the gospel message— the gospel truth. The devil in his heart was aroused to oppose God’s servants and this message of hope and freedom which they were bringing. It was hard for Paul to stand up against a stronghold of evil, of corruption and of deception. But look at verses 9-11. Paul simply depended on the grace and truth of the gospel, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit he confronted this enemy of the truth. Paul rebuked him openly— publicly. God intervened that day and demonstrated the authority of the gospel in the face of the devil’s tricks. Look at verse 12. Because of Paul’s stand as a defender of gospel truth, the governor believed in Jesus and became a student of the Bible.
It is blessed to be set apart by God for world missions as Paul and Barnabas were. It is also blessed to be marked by others as a man or woman in Christ, and a man or woman of God’s grace; as well as a man or woman of God’s Word. It should also be our legacy to proclaim the word of God and his grace wherever we are. And it should be our ambition to one day be his world missionaries to bring the gospel message to the ends of the earth. May God bless us to proclaim the gospel truth to our generation until they are set free from Satan’s tricks and lies. Amen.