Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles: The spiritual awakening at Antioch produced two things: generosity toward the poor and a heart for the lost. As a result, Paul and Barnabas were sent out to bring the gospel to other people and places. They traveled to Cyprus and then to Pisidian Antioch and shared the word of God with a demonstration of spiritual power — and both Jews and Gentiles responded in faith. Paul was sent by the Spirit with power from the Spirit to all peoples. Recorded on May 21, 2023, on Acts 12:25 – 13:48 by Pastor David Parks. (Apologies for the loss of about 10 seconds of audio!!)
The Life of Paul is a new sermon series (mostly) from the book of Acts in the Bible. The Apostle Paul has a fantastic story. Born Saul of Tarsus, Paul was a brilliant young man who was a violent persecutor of Christians. But then he met Jesus, which changed everything. Eventually, Paul would become not only the preeminent Apostle to the Roman world but one of the most influential people who ever lived. Paul’s story offers a great case study of what it looks like to learn the way of Jesus.
The theme of our preaching ministry this past year has been Learning the way of Jesus. And today, we’re continuing a sermon series on the life of the Apostle Paul. Now, Paul’s story is fascinating, but for us today, it serves as a great case study for learning the way of Jesus. Because Paul was born Saul of Tarsus, a brilliant young man who was a violent persecutor of Christians. But then Paul met Jesus, which changed everything. He became a Christian and had to relearn everything in light of the way of Jesus. In our passage today, it’s about 15 years after Paul became a Christian. He’s in his early 40’s and has been serving the church in Antioch (about 450 miles north of Jerusalem) for a year with his friend, Barnabas, during a great period of spiritual renewal/awakening. We looked at this time last week, and we called it an unexpected outpouring of grace. For the first time, a large number of Jews and Gentiles had believed the gospel and started following Jesus. As we said, this doesn’t really mean anything to us, but in their day, this was a radical change. There was a wall of separation (social/cultural/ethnic/religious) between Jew and Gentile and now they saw themselves as brothers and sisters in the same church because of Jesus. Maybe the closest thing to this for us today would be hearing that there was a church where people on the extreme political left and right were actively loving each other and seeing themselves as brothers and sisters because of Jesus. That would be unusual, right? Maybe unusual enough to seem suspicious? I’m sure that’s how many people felt about Antioch. But that’s what God was doing. Well, today, we’ll see what happened next. And what happened next was that this gospel-centered, Jew and Gentile uniting, radically new thing that God was doing in Antioch — that started to spread. In fact, as it spread around the Roman Empire, the world would never be the same. If you have a Bible/app, please take it and open it to Acts 12:25. We’ll put the Scripture up on the screens for you as well. But today, we’ll work through this passage in three sections. First, sent by the Spirit. Second, sent with power from the Spirit. And third, sent to all peoples.
Acts 12:25-13:3 (NIV), “25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. 13 Now 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. 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.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
Ok! Let’s pause here. So when Luke writes that Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, he’s referring to their delivery of the financial gifts that the church in Antioch had sent to Jerusalem in response to a prophetic word about a coming famine. We saw this last week as one of the things that an unexpected outpouring of grace produces. God’s grace produces good works, particularly for those in need. So when Barnabas and Saul returned, they brought a man with them named John Mark, who was a cousin of Barnabas. And this young man would prove to be very helpful to the Apostles over the years. He grew up in Jerusalem, was likely well-educated, and his mother, Mary, hosted a Christian church in their home. John Mark served as an assistant and perhaps as a scribe to both the Apostles Paul and Peter and eventually produced what would be known as the gospel according to Mark in the Bible, which is thought to be largely based on the testimony of the Apostle Peter. But here, he joins his cousin and this fiery man named Saul on their way back to Antioch.
Luke continues by saying that there were prophets and teachers serving as leaders in the church in Antioch, including Barnabas and Saul, of course, but also a few others, including Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch). A prophet is someone inspired by God to reveal God’s word (speaking/writing). A teacher is someone who helps explain and apply God’s word. And both roles were needed in this early church. Now, we don’t know much about these leaders in Antioch, but we have a few clues from this text about who they were. The fact that Simeon was called Niger, which means black in Latin, is taken by many to mean that he was dark in skin color, probably from somewhere in Africa. Lucius, another African, was from Cyrene, a Greek city in modern Libya. Finally, Manaen, raised with Herod the Tetrarch, the Roman governor of Galilee during the ministry of Jesus, would likely have been an older Jewish man. Herod was born in 25 BC, which meant that Manaen if he grew up with Herod, would have been in his mid-70s. Barnabas was a Jewish man from Jerusalem. And Paul was a Jewish man from the Greek city of Tarsus. I point these things out simply to show that from the beginning of the movement of Christianity; it was a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural movement. All kinds of people were coming to faith in Jesus and learning to follow his way. Praise God! But it was from this church context that one time, when they were worshipping with fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit told them to “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So the church placed their hands on these brothers and prayed for them and blessed them, and sent them out to do the work that God was calling them to do. My first observation today is this: 1. Paul was sent by the Spirit. The Apostle Paul was chosen by God the Father from before the creation of the world and received a revelation of Jesus Christ, the Son, on the road to Damascus, and here, maybe 15 years later, was sent out from Antioch by God the Holy Spirit, the very personal power and presence of God. Now, notice that Barnabas and Saul weren’t sent out after a strategic planning session for how to grow the church. They weren’t sent out by some missional mastermind in Antioch. They don’t appear to even be talking about the mission of God. They were worshipping/praying/fasting. They were experiencing this spiritual revival that we saw last week. But it was from out of the outpouring of grace that the Spirit made clear that Barnabas and Saul needed to be sent out. In one sense, they were sent by the church, but only after God made it clear that this was his will. I said last week that one thing a revival produces — either in one person’s heart/life or in a church or in a city like Antioch — is good works, and especially for those in need. But the other thing revival produces is a heart for the lost. True revival produces evangelists who share good news and missionaries who bring good news to other people/places. So Paul was sent by the Spirit, with a blessing from the church and with his friend and coworker Barnabas and John Mark, their helper. And this scene marks a shift in focus in the Book of Acts. For the rest of Acts, Luke will follow Paul’s missionary journeys as the Apostle to the Gentiles. Let’s continue with part two, sent with power from the Spirit.
Acts 13:4–12 (NIV), “4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. 6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.”
Let’s pause here. So first, let’s look at a map. There are a number of places mentioned in this passage, and it might be hard for us to picture what is happening. So we start in Antioch in the Roman province of Syria in the modern country of Turkey. They travel to the port at Seleucia and then sail to the island of Cyprus. They land at the city of Salamis and eventually make it to Paphos, where they encounter the sorcerer Bar-Jesus. And eventually, we’ll see that they’ll travel north through Perga to Pisidian Antioch. But isn’t this great? I love the boldness of the Apostle Paul. He isn’t arrogant here, but he is bold with the truth when he rightly discerns the dark and demonic influence of this sorcerer and false prophet, Elymas Bar-Jesus, against the message of the gospel. Perhaps Elymas realized that if Paul was right and Jesus was Lord, then he would lose his influence over Sergius Paulus, the powerful Roman governor of Cyprus. This would likely mean he would also lose his status as the spiritual advisor to a member of the elite. What happens is a reversal of a number of miracles that Jesus performed. In several places, Jesus opened the eyes of the blind as a picture of seeing the truth about God in him. Paul, in the power of the Holy Spirit, blinds Elymas as a picture of judgment against his deceptions about God. Nevertheless, Sergius Paulus was open to the Christian faith. He wanted to hear what Barnabas and Saul had to say. He wanted to hear the word of God. And this is so encouraging to me. Even in a dark and broken world, a world that is influenced by all kinds of spiritual forces of evil, there are still people who want to know God and who want to hear the truth about who God is and what he has done. The parable of the sower teaches us that not everyone is equally open to the gospel all the time, but some people are ready to hear the truth today. And Sergius Paulus was that day. So when he heard the gospel from Saul (and here is when Luke switches from using Saul, his Hebrew name, to Paul, his Greek name) and saw the evidence of the power of God over this false prophet, he believed. But Luke clarifies it wasn’t primarily the spiritual power that made him believe. That only testified to the truth of the claims of the gospel. He was amazed at the teaching about the Lord Jesus. The message of the gospel struck him like a thunderbolt. But this is just one example of what we will see over the next few weeks, of how God worked through Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. On Cyprus, Paul started in the Jewish synagogue but also shared the gospel with Gentiles like Sergius Paulus. He experienced spiritual opposition from the forces of darkness but also saw evidence of God at work in people coming to faith in Jesus. My second observation of this passage is this: 2. Paul was sent with power from the Spirit. Paul had spiritual power from God to endure, to speak the truth in love, and to face the spiritual forces of darkness. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes his ministry among them in this way. Listen to this. “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1Co 2:2-5) We see this in action on the island of Cyprus, too. Paul was sent by the Spirit, so would the Spirit not provide what Paul would need? So when Paul faced opposition, not just from a rival advisor to the governor, but from forces of spiritual darkness, from a deceiver, from a false prophet who was leading people astray and blinding people to the true light of the world, the Spirit provided a demonstration of power. So the gospel wasn’t received as a testimony to the brilliance of Paul but as a testimony to the power of God and the truth of God’s word about Christ. Paul was sent by the Spirit with power from the Spirit. Let’s finish with part three.
Acts 13:13–16 (NIV), “13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.” 16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!” Ok, I wish we had time to listen to Paul’s sermon here, but for the sake of time, we’re going to do what some of you wish you could do with me and just skip to the end. Let’s jump down to v. 42.
Acts 13:42–48 (NIV), “42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “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. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” So Paul followed his pattern of ministry in Pisidian Antioch, sharing the gospel first with the Jews and then with the Gentiles or non-Jewish peoples. Paul was familiar with the Gentile culture, having grown up in Tarsus and having ministered in Antioch. But he also knew from when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus that he had a unique calling to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, and we’ll see this same pattern of ministry in the weeks ahead as we consider his work in Philippi, Athen, and Ephesus. But my third observation is this: 3. Paul was sent to all peoples. About 700 years earlier, God had said through the prophet Isaiah that his Messiah, the Lord Jesus, would be a light for the Gentiles so that his salvation would reach to the ends of the earth. Here, Paul understands his ministry/mission as a fulfillment of this promise. The gospel of Jesus, the good news of Jesus, and the saving work of Jesus wasn’t just for the Jewish people. Even though he was the Jewish Messiah, Jesus was the Lord of all, he was the savior of all, and his message was for every nation, tribe, and tongue. The gospel is for rich/poor, male/female, young/old. Everybody needs Jesus. And this is how I’d like to close today. I’m not the Apostle Paul, and neither are you. But as Christians, we have been given the Holy Spirit. And every single one of us is under the Great Commission of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. And some of us, like Paul, might be sent to another people/place. And others of us, like the rest of the church in Antioch, might be sent not to another people/peace but to their own neighborhood and to their own city. But all are sent — this is part of our identity; this is who we are. And every Christian is sent how Paul was sent: sent by the Holy Spirit, sent with the power from the Holy Spirit, and sent to all peoples. God doesn’t show favoritism. Everybody needs Jesus. So today, do you know that you have been sent? Do you understand that you’re a vital part of a community/church/family that has been sent? Do you see the incredible meaning/purpose this gives us in life? Do you see that you have the word of God and the very power of God over the forces of darkness? Do you see that everyone matters to God (Jew and Gentile) and are united together as one new people in Christ? If so, then let’s go. Let’s live sent. And let’s join the work that God is already doing in the world for his glory and our joy and for the good of all people. Let us pray.