Story 49 – Barnabas and Saul Sent Out
Based on Acts chapter 12 verse 25 to chapter 13 verse 12
So the relief mission to Jerusalem took place and the church continued to grow even though people like Herod Agrippa tried to stop it. These people who opposed the church couldn’t stop the spread of the Good News and the growth of the church anymore than they could hold back the sun as it crossed the sky, for, when God’s at work, no one can oppose Him and succeed.
Once the relief mission was complete, Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch and took along with them John, who was also known as Mark and sometimes called ‘John Mark’. It was in John Mark’s mother’s house that the prayer meeting for Simon Peter had been held and where Rhoda the servant girl worked, who’d left Peter standing outside the door! John Mark was also Barnabas’ cousin.
The church at Antioch was blessed with good leaders including both prophets and teachers. These leaders were Barnabas, of course, and Simeon who was probably from Africa as he was known for being black. Then there was Lucius from Cyrene, which is also in Africa, and Manaen who was an interesting person as he’d been brought up with Herod Antipas in the household of Herod the Great! Manaen was probably raised as Herod Antipas’ foster brother but, thankfully, he’d turned to the Lord and was now part of the godly leadership of the church. And, last but not least, there was Saul. So the leadership consisted of 5 men, Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Saul, who took the responsibility for teaching, leading and serving the church very seriously as they worked not to please people, but the Lord.
Now, while they, and probably the whole church with them, were worshipping the Lord and fasting, they were no doubt seeking the Lord’s provision to build His church. And, the Holy Spirit spoke to them saying, ‘I want you to set apart for Me both Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’.
To be honest, the calling seemed rather vague. What specifically did God want them to do? Where did God want them to do this work? In some ways, it was a call similar in nature to God’s call to Abraham many many years before; a vague call to go, with no specified destination. However, the church understood that the key wasn’t knowing exactly what and where so much as obeying a clear call from God to go – and then going – trusting God that He would make things clear as they went, in a similar way to Abraham. It was a call to move forward in faith, to trust God that He would lead and help them.
The church and these godly leaders responded at once to what the Holy Spirit had said. Firstly, with more prayer and fasting, no doubt to confirm the message from God and to ask for His blessing on these two men. And then, they laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul to indicate that they identified with them in the work that the Lord was calling them to do. That work would no doubt involve telling people about Jesus in the parts of the world that God would take them to. So, the leaders released these faithful men out on mission. And, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Saul went to the nearest port, a place called Seleucia, some fifteen to sixteen miles away, and took passage on a ship bound for Cyprus.
Cyprus was actually a good place to start this outreach to people who had never heard about Jesus, not least because it was where Barnabas had grown up and came from. For Barnabas at least, it would be a familiar place and so a good starting point. Also, as well as being quite close to Antioch and so easy to reach, there was a large population of Jews in Cyprus, large enough for there to be several synagogues across the island. So, they arrived at the port of Salamis on the east cost of Cyprus and there they started the work of telling people about all God had done for them in Jesus. Beginning in the Jewish synagogues, they travelled all over the island until they came to Paphos on the west coast, with John Mark acting as their assistant.
Now, Paphos was a great centre for the worship of Aphrodite and so an important place on the island. It was a place many visited and also where there was a lot of immorality!
There was a Roman governor called Sergius Paulus in Paphos. Governors, or ‘proconsuls’ as they were known, would have been Rome’s eyes, watching what was going on in the area to make sure nothing was happening that would hurt the interests of Rome. These proconsuls were important people and had great power. It seemed that Sergius Paulus was an intelligent man who kept an eye on what was taking place in Paphos and any new teachings or ideas that could affect the people under his care.
However, there was also a Jew named Bar-Jesus who had attached himself to the proconsul, no doubt trying to influence him and get power for himself. This Bar-Jesus was a magician and also a false prophet, telling lies about God to lead people away from God rather than towards Him. He was actually known as Elymas, the sorcerer, by the people, which seems to be a translation of the Arabic word for magician into Greek, the language spoken on the island.
As Rome’s representative in the area and, no doubt, because of an interest in magic and things that he shouldn’t have been interested in – as indicated by the fact that this Elymas the sorcerer character was part of his inner circle – Sergius Paulus invited Barnabas and Saul to come and visit him. He probably asked for the meeting to hear about this new teaching that had been spreading all over the island since their arrival and to work out if it was a danger to Rome. This did not please the false prophet Elymas because he wanted to lead people away for God and not towards Him. He also realised that, if the proconsul believed Barnabas and Saul, he would no longer have power over the proconsul and his privileged position would come to an end. So, Elymas did everything he could to oppose Barnabas and Saul, trying to keep the proconsul from believing and being saved.
However, Saul, who also went by the Greek name ‘Paul’, realised the truth of the situation. What was really happening here was a spiritual battle. Elymas, the sorcerer, whose name was Bar-Jesus – which actually means ‘son of salvation’ – was doing everything in his power to keep the proconsul, and no doubt everyone else who was listening, away from salvation. Now that, is the work of Satan, not of God. So, the power of God was working through the words of Barnabas and Saul and the power of Satan was working to keep the proconsul from listening to these words. But Satan is no match for the Holy Spirit. For Saul, now known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked Elymas directly in the eye and said, ‘You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, an enemy of everything that’s good! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord? Now look, the Hand of the Lord is on you to punish you, and you will be struck blind. You will be completely unable to see the sun – for a time.’
At once a kind of mist and darkness came over Elymas and he groped around looking for people to lead him by the hand. (P) How gracious God was to Elymas by only letting this punishment last for a while and not for the rest of his life. We know nothing more about him, but I hope this punishment gave him reason to stop and consider the direction he was heading in, because nothing good could come from it! His only hope would be to turn to the Lord.
As for the proconsul, when he saw what happened, he became a believer. Yet, it wasn’t so much the miracle of Elymas’ punishment that caused him to believe, although the evidence of how much greater the power of God is than the power of Satan was clear for all to see. Instead, he believed because he was so greatly astounded at what Barnabas and Paul taught about how good, loving, kind and forgiving the Lord is in sending Jesus to take away our sins and make us right with God.