Devotional # 53. 9/23/13. Paul and Barnabas are sent to the Gentiles via Synagogues.
This week’s Reading: Acts 13:1-52.
Introduction. Chapter 13 marks a turning point in Acts, Peter has been the focus prior to this. Since Peter was sent to the Israelis that was the focus but now the remainder of the book will focus on Paul (Saul) and consequently the Gentiles (Source 1, p. 1656). As we’ll see visits to certain Israeli cities and sharing the gospel with them is what kicks off the mission to the Gentiles.
vv. 1-3. Verse 1 is interesting because we are given a list of the leaders of the church in Antioch but Saul, the most famous, is at the end. Who are these other guys? “Barnabas” we first read about in Acts 4:26 who was a “member of the priestly tribe of the Levites” (Source 1, p. 1641). “Simeon who was called Niger” was probably African (since “Niger” means “black”) and could have been the Simon who carried Jesus’ cross (Source 2). We know who “Lucius of Cyrene” wasn’t more than who he was: he wasn’t the one from Romans 16:21* or the writer, Luke, of this book (Source 1, p. 1656). “Manaen…brought up with Herod” was brought up as a ‘foster-brother’ of Herod from the Gospels (Source 1, p. 1656). Interesting that “Manaen” was a Hebrew name (2 Kings 15:14) but grew up with Herod who killed John the Baptist and oversaw Jesus’ trial (Source 3). What a difference in how the boys grew up, I wonder if Manaen consistently felt like he needed to try and right some of Herod’s wrongs. Either way he was a significant believer used by God.
Notice it was when the church “ministered to the Lord and fasted” that the Holy Spirit spoke. Although the church was helping people it wasn’t a ministry to others but “to the Lord.” We don’t work for men and women but God (Colossians 3:22-24) and when we do that, we won’t be stressed out or overwhelmed. If I continue taking on tasks at church but neglect my family or personal spiritual walk I am on dangerous ground! God will never give me more than I can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13) so we have faith that God will send His Holy Spirit to work in any situation that God has called us to minister to Him in.
Notice that the Holy Spirit spoke here! There is at least one religion that says the Holy Spirit is not a person of God but an “impersonal force” kind of like electricity. But this is not true, here the third person of the Trinity uses audible words to communicate His plan and instruction of separating Saul and Barnabas from their responsibilities in Antioch. How good and amazing are God’s plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11)!
*Romans 16:21: Although Jamieson, Fausset & Brown disagree (Source 3).
vv. 4-5. So although we know Saul, Barnabas and Mark (sometimes known as Mark, John, or John Mark) have been sent to the Gentiles they go straight to the synagogue (church for Hebrews) like Jesus had. In fact the Holy Spirit is using them to minister to the Israelis yet again but we also see a prominent Gentile converted. We should note that if they had gone into a city and skipped the synagogue they would have been automatically rejected by the Hebrews. So although they were rejected by many Hebrews after speaking in the synagogues they did fulfill God’s promise that the gospel would go to His people first (see Jesus’ comment in Matthew 10:5-6).
vv. 6-12. The men are asked by Sergius Paulus to come explain the Bible to him. He is a Roman governor (“proconsul”) and has a Jewish magician named Bar-Jesus hanging out with him. Bar-Jesus was a sorcerer (like Simon from Devotional 48) who was used by Satan for evil. So Satan, using Bar-Jesus, tries to turn Sergius Paulus away from the gospel but the Holy Spirit, using Paul, condemns him. The truth of what the Holy Spirit says is shown in the power of Bar-Jesus being blinded.
Here is the first time that we see Saul called “Paul.” Saul is a Hebrew name and “Paul” is the Roman equivalent. The significance of Paul being called Paul here, and throughout the rest of the New Testament, is that he is sent on his mission to the Gentiles who called him by the name “Paul.”
vv. 13-15. Paul and Barnabas continue on but John Mark leaves them which we later learn Paul has an issue with (Acts 15:36-40). They come to “Antioch in Pisidia” (this is different than the Antioch that they left from at the beginning of this chapter) and again go into the Hebrew church. They are asked to share anything that God has put on their heart. What an opportunity!
vv. 16-21. Paul shares Old Testament history with the congregation. But it’s not just old stories, it is the story of the Messiah. How God loved men enough to send His Son.
vv. 22-25. Paul seamlessly ties God’s statement that if He were a man He would be like David (“man after my own heart”) to God’s becoming a Man (Jesus). Paul has a great knowledge of what happened with John the Baptist prophesying about Jesus and who Jesus really was. Paul’s life had been transformed (see Devotional 50) by Jesus and it was his passion to tell others about the Messiah.
vv. 26-41. Paul explains how Jesus was perfect dying on the cross, was buried and resurrected as a conqueror. It is because of His conquering that any man can have eternal life. It is not by keeping the “law of Moses” since that is impossible but He is the fulfillment of the “Law and the Prophets.”
vv. 42-45. Interestingly people left church and there is no mention of the usual resistance of the Hebrew listeners. But the Gentiles who heard “begged” that Paul tell them what he had just said again. Do you remember in Devotional 1 we talked about how the temple structure was laid out? Although they are not in the temple here the same rules and layout applied to the synagogues (Source 4). See this picture:
Diagram, Source #5
Look how far away the Gentiles were! No wonder they wanted to hear it again. It must have been a little difficult to hear. And they wanted to bring their friends and family members to hear this good news. But that is not enough for this spiritually hungry crowd, they follow Paul and Barnabas. At verse 44 a week has gone by. Now we see the Hebrew religious leaders becoming indignant. It had been a week and almost every single person had turned up to hear the Truth preached. Can you imagine going to church and having a guest speaker that is asked to come back the next week then your entire city shows up?! The pastor might be a little jealous. That was the case with these leaders so much that they contradicted and blasphemed. This was the very charge that the religious leaders had levied against Jesus, Stephen and others because they said Jesus was God.
vv. 46-52. So given strength by the Holy Spirit, Paul and Barnabas are very bold in their response to the leaders. They explain that although God’s promises are first to His people (Israel) He has always promised the others (Gentiles) to be included also. Then they quote Isaiah 49:6, one of the very prophets every Hebrew read from out of their Bible.
Regarding “shook the dust from their feet” was a common gesture in this time period. It was similar to when we clap our hands together showing that we are done with something. To them dust represented the town it was from so if you knocked the “city” off your shoes it meant you were done with it. When I mentioned this in Devotional 16 it had the idea of leaving an unbelieving Hebrew city being the same as leaving a Gentile city (which was looked at with disgust). Now Paul and Barnabas are leaving a city because the Hebrews are kicking them out and they shake the dust off because of Gentiles! So although Paul and Barnabas endured “persecution” they, and many other Christians, “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Conclusion. We have covered so much in this chapter: Paul and Barnabas are separated by the Holy Spirit and sent to the Gentiles but consistently witness to Israeli’s, Hebrews and Gentiles were converted and Paul and Barnabas endure their first set of beatings. But through all of this one question remains…how does the chapter end with “joy”? How does the Saul from Acts 8 persecuting Christians and a blatant racist towards Gentiles end up doing a 180, becoming Paul the Christian who joyfully gets beaten for Gentiles? Because his heart of stone had become a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26) and the Holy Spirit inside him had helped him care about the salvation of his Hebrew people (Romans 10:1; 11:14) and the Gentiles (Galatians 3:16; Ephesians 3:8)! Few of us will face the many trials that Paul did in sharing our faith but we can be sure that we will have joy in them if our heart is right with God and we are following His plan for our life.
Source 1: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible.
Source 2: David Guzik’s Commentary: http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Act/Act_13.cfm?a=1031001
Source 3: Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary; http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Act/Act_013.cfm?a=1031001
Source 4: Arye Forta, Judaism: http://books.google.com/books?id=NhdoWlrzcg4C&pg=PA84&lpg=PA84&dq=synagogues+the+same+layout+as+temple&source=bl&ots=Q2z7dLTSO1&sig=ywhwwMHwiOP759lzhtXE1zYcOHU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=h_dBUtisGKmg2gXtyYDQAQ&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAw