GETTING THE MESSAGE/The first mission team sent
Luke records for us in this passage the first mission team sent off by a church, taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. The church in Antioch was led by the Holy Spirit to set apart Paul and Barnabas for mission work (verse 2). After fasting and praying, the church sends them off. We learn some important principles of missions here.
The first is missions are commanded by the Lord. The Holy Spirit initiates this mission work. The Lord Jesus had told his apostles they would be his witnesses to “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). God has a passion for missions. God desires the salvation of the lost. He does not delight in the destruction of the wicked. He gathers his people through the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.
The church in Antioch is set forth as an example in supporting mission work. Paul and Barnabas were the most gifted teachers, yet the church gladly encouraged and supported this mission work. The church was zealous for other people to find the life and forgiveness of sins they had found in Christ. Antioch is sometimes called the “cradle of Christianity” for its contribution to Christian missions.
This initial mission trip was as our Lord said, to seek and save the lost. The first stop in world- wide missions was the island of Cyprus (verse 4). Barnabas was from Cyprus, so he would have known the landscape and the culture. They end up in Paphos, the capital.
Paphos was the center of the worship of Aphrodite, or Venus, the goddess of beauty and sexuality. People from all over the regions of the Mediterranean Sea made pilgrimages to Paphos to celebrate the cult of Venus.
Athanasius, and early Christian leader, would later write that Paphos was a place of Satan’s seat, a city given over to the deification of lust. And the Lord directed his servants Paul and Barnabas to proclaim salvation and the forgiveness of sins to the people. Corinth in New Testament times had a similar culture (and we see it in our own culture today).
Paul wrote the church in Corinth reminding them that they were delivered out of such depravity into the life of God and that those in the church must leave such practices: “Do you not know the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor those who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of The Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Many in Paphos are in heaven today because of Paul and Barnabas bringing Christ to them. They were enslaved to sensuality, but they were forgiven and delivered from it. They now know and love the living God. The church is to have concern for the souls of people in its preaching, not anything like levity. The world may have the appearance of a festival to men, but it is displeasing to God.
God shows his love for sinners in that he gave his Son for them. Christ came to turn people from the power of the devil to the power of God. The opposition of the devil comes in the person of Elymas the magician (Acts 13:8). He tries to dissuade the governor of Cyprus from listening to the gospel.
Paul rebukes him, calling him a son of the devil and says: “will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” This is a reference to John the Baptist’s ministry and the need of men to repent, to turn from their crooked paths to the way of the Lord. The devil would also dissuade you from listening to the word of God.
Satan uses false teachers such as Elymas, a man who would be assuring the governor that all this talk about forgiveness and repentance is foolishness. But what is the devil but a spirit of vanity? The wise response to the gospel is to become poor in spirit and call upon the Lord.
Sergius Paulus, the governor, was a man of intelligence (verse 7). But he was also a man with a great spiritual need. He didn’t need touches of reform here and there. He needed his guilt before God removed and the creation of a new nature given to him from God. And that is the good news of Jesus Christ. He came to make us new, to atone for our sins, to give us reconciliation and fellowship with the living God. And he is willing to receive whosoever comes to him.