Acts 13: Four Lessons

Application

Acts 13 marks the beginning of a new era for the church. Up until now, the spread of the gospel has been propelled by persecution. The result was a rather disconcerted, almost haphazard expansion. Now, though, the church at Antioch assumes a leadership role when it deliberately sends Barnabas and Saul, along with John Mark (writer of the gospel of Mark), to spread the gospel further than it had ever gone before. In the actions of the church and the ministry duo, we see four essential lessons on ministry and life.

First, let’s talk about the church. The church at Antioch has been mentioned before in the book of Acts. We learned in chapter 11 that it was the first place where the gospel was presented to pure Gentiles. Back then, the apostles had dispatched Barnabas to check things out, and Barnabas had eventually recruited Saul to help him lead this new congregation into spiritual maturity. Now, barely more than a chapter later, the church there moves to send their esteemed leaders on an absolutely unprecedented missionary journey. They sent Barnabas and Saul, rising superstars in the church, off to do some other ministry. From a human standpoint, this would have been akin to a highly successful company sending the CEO largely responsible for its success off to start a new company. In the business world, that would be suicide. But the church at Antioch recognized that, while the departure of Barnabas and Saul would be a loss to the local congregation, it would be a significant investment in the greater kingdom of God.

God’s kingdom does not advance without someone, somewhere, making some painful investments. Believers must be willing to sacrifice comfort and esteem to share the gospel. Churches must be willing to give up finances and people to plant new churches. What are you being asked to invest in the kingdom of God today?

Once Barnabas and Saul were on their way, they stopped in Paphos, a city on the island of Cyprus, and met with the Roman proconsul there. They then sailed on to Perga in what is now south-central Turkey, and it was there, as they were preparing to move on again, that there was a problem. In verse 13, we read that John Mark, who had set out with the team as a helper, left them to return to Jerusalem. In chapter 15, when Paul and Barnabas have a heated dispute about taking John on their second missionary journey, we discover that the circumstances of his departure were not exactly positive. So we know that this event, even though it’s recorded in just one sentence here in verse thirteen, was considered by the team to be a significant setback. And yet, look at what happened in the very next sentence: “From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch.” It seems simple, almost anticlimactic, but then again, maybe that’s the point. After John left, Barnabas and Saul didn’t just flop down on the ground and pout. They didn’t run back to Antioch with their tails in between their legs. They simply went on.

There will be setbacks in ministry. People will give up. Ministries will fail. Churches will fall by the wayside. If we’re going to accomplish our God-given objectives, though, we must not allow those setbacks to preclude us from pressing forward in faith. We must press on.

Third, take a look at what happened when Barnabas and Saul reached Pisidian Antioch. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, tells us, in short, that they went into the synagogue and proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone who was there. In fact, that’s exactly what they called it: good news. In vs 32-33, Paul pronounced, “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us.” And then, in vs 38-39, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” This was the one thing that the Jews at Pisidian Antioch knew they were missing! After years of following the law, they were keenly aware that they were unable to satisfy its very high standards in and of themselves. The promise that God would do that through Jesus Christ was indeed profoundly good news!

The gospel is supposed to be the good news of Jesus Christ. And yet how often do we present it because we have to? As though it hurts us? With fear and trepidation? How often do we just not present it at all? We need to start acting and ministering like the gospel message is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to us!

And finally, look at what happens at the end of the chapter here. After they proclaim this good news, controversy erupts, and the chief troublemakers end up stirring up the prominent women in town as well as the leading men. I suspect that the ordering of those events was far from coincidence or happenstance. The bad guys wanted to see Barnabas and Saul driven out of town, and it worked. In fact, we’re told in vs 50 that the opposition succeeded in stirring up persecution against the two ministers such that they were driven from the region, not just from town. And yet what happens in verse 52? We learn that “the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Barnabas, Paul, and the new disciples at Pisian Antioch were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of persecution.

We must expect persecution if we’re going to truly make a difference for the Lord. But tough as it may be, persecution does not have to mean that we go through life with a long face or bitter spirit. In fact, we don’t even have to get by with a little joy or Holy Spirit. The believers here were filled! It means that there was absolutely no room for more. They were filled with joy! That is a stark contrast to happiness. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit! The very presence and power of God was poured out within them until they were completely full!

We can’t shy away from persecution. Rather, we must welcome it as an opportunity for God to peel back a little more of our outer armor so He can fill us with all the things that we’re going to need to carry on.

So there you have it. Four lessons from Acts 13. Be prepared to invest in the kingdom of God. Expect setbacks and resolve to get around them. Believe that the gospel message is truly good news for all who hear it. And welcome persecution as an opportunity for God to fill you that much more.

Notes

  • (1-3) The sacrifice of the Antioch church is significant. Barnabas and Saul had become prominent leaders in the church since their arrival. Sending them off to be missionaries meant the loss of a tremendous asset to the church. Then again, you can’t invest for gain without first experiencing loss.
  • (10-11) Saul’s response to Elymas/Bar-Jesus is astoundingly bold. How often do I shrink away from worldly resistance? Paul just turned and confronted it head-on!
  • (11-12) Saul’s response – and God’s action against this sorcerer – served as evidence of the gospel which he preached.
  • (13) John’s departure at Pamphylia was not exactly planned. Yet, for as much trouble as it would cause heading into the second missionary journey, it’s funny how little attention it gets here.
  • (14) It’s also interesting how, even after John left to return to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas continued. So often, we allow the first little hiccup along the way completely derail our pursuit of God’s will. We must resolve to be more resilient.
  • (42-45) When the gospel is preached boldly and as good news, people will have an insatiable hunger for it. And they will be compelled to bring others to it, too!
  • (46-48) Again, Paul and Barnabas didn’t shy away from the resistance to the gospel but engaged it directly. We must not fear engagement but pronounce the gospel boldly to those who will listen and be prepared to answer any challenge which confronts us.
  • (52) This is an interesting statement. Persecution breaks out. Paul and Barnabas are driven out of town. “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” How often do we fear difficulties because they’re hard when, in reality, God uses them to pry open the lids of our lives so He can fill us completely and abundantly with joy and the Holy Spirit?
  • (52) The choice of words here is interesting. Joy instead of happiness; joy is clearly independent of circumstance. Filled instead of given; filled implies that there was no room for more. They were absolutely overflowing with joy and the Holy Spirit. Disciples instead of believers, followers, or attenders; Jesus isn’t looking for people who will merely nod their heads. He wants people who will study His words and apply His teachings to their own lives.
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