Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers. When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them.Acts 12:24-25
Remember in Gem 1603 I left you with the following:
- And while you are at it, ponder the significance of what followed.
- And do you see anything curious about how Luke tells us the story?
Do you see that in 12:24 we have another of those boundary markers. Another of those summary statements on what is happening to the mission of being His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the outer parts of the earth. Notice too how Luke switches back and forth between Peter and Saul as I have commented on before. It is almost as though with 12:25, Luke takes us back to remind us of Acts 11:27-30 again.
During this time some prophets traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius.) So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem.Acts 11:27-30
As happens with all summaries in the Book, Luke looks back and looks forward. In the time that Barnabas and Saul have been to Jerusalem and back Luke has told us the story of what has happened to Peter at the hands of Herod in Jerusalem. But is that the way it happened? Did Herod seek to execute Peter while Barnabas and Saul were going to Jerusalem or is this just the way Luke is telling the story in switching back and forth between the major players. Taking one story so far along the narrative and then at a convenient point leaving it to pick up the other thread again. What if these two threads met in Jerusalem at the same time. We would expect Barnabas and Saul to be tied up somehow in the events in Jerusalem. It may well be that this is not written chronologically. Rather Luke is developing the story in a way to associate parts of the story for us to make some connections. Much like action films which build tension by switching between two scenarios which we know will come together in tension.
- What is also interesting is that Luke appears to link the references to John Mark.
- Luke tells us, “Barnabas and Saul take John Mark with them on their return to Antioch.” (Acts 12:25)
- Notice how this matches with 12:12 and with 13:5.
When he realised this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer.Acta 12:12
There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God. John Mark went with them as their assistant.Acts 13:5
There is some debate over when this happened, how the two stories come together in the sequence. There is also discussion over whether the reference to Jerusalem in verse 12:25 should read “to Jerusalem” or “from Jerusalem”. The more natural reading would be “from Jerusalem”. If so then Peter’s prison story then becomes the interlude between Barnabas and Saul’s departure and their return to Antioch. There is much debate among the experts as to whether the visit to Jerusalem takes place before, during or after Peter’s encounter with Herod and his time in prison. But don’t you see, it is not Luke’s purpose to give us a chronological outline of the events. Rather he is arranging the events in a way to force us to make connections. In a sense the debate over “to Jerusalem” or “from Jerusalem” is irrelevant. Luke appears to use the bulk of Chapter 12 – James’ beheading and Peter’s sojourn in prison to highlight the opposition to the Good News. He shows us clearly that when human forces oppose the Divine purpose behind the spread of the Gospel then “all heaven breaks loose”. I am sure you see why I didn’t say “all hell breaks loose”. That is the purpose of Luke’s chronicle, to give us the key concepts in how the Spread of the Gospel works.
Some of you have written to me confused as to how it is that Barnabas and Saul suddenly pop up again at the end of Chapter 12 and then we have these curious three verses at the beginning of Chapter 13 which break the flow. Ah but do they? Or are they there for a purpose? I have called this Gems “At the Edge of a Plate Boundary” because it is like we are at the brink of a significant step in the story of the gospel being taken to the ends of the earth. I imagine it’s like being on the edge of one of the tectonic plates of the earth’s crust, where all the seismic action takes place. It is almost like that with this chapter boundary. Notice how the story, the thread, the purpose, the action and the theme merge across the boundary between these two chapters. We are on the edge of a significant change.
Following this I have given you the next chapter. Read it all and begin your musing on what is to follow but don’t forget to set it all in the context of what has gone before it. Take note of the detail and set the details in the context of the big picture. That is exactly what Luke wants you to do. Oh yes, he is telling a story but he is doing more than that. Watch for it.
Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul. One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.Acts 13:1-3
So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit. They went down to the seaport of Seleucia and then sailed for the island of Cyprus. There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God. John Mark went with them as their assistant. Afterward they traveled from town to town across the entire island until finally they reached Paphos, where they met a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He had attached himself to the governor, Sergius Paulus, who was an intelligent man. The governor invited Barnabas and Saul to visit him, for he wanted to hear the word of God.
But Elymas, the sorcerer (as his name means in Greek), interfered and urged the governor to pay no attention to what Barnabas and Saul said. He was trying to keep the governor from believing. Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye. Then he said, “You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? Watch now, for the Lord has laid His hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” Instantly mist and darkness came over the man’s eyes, and he began groping around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him. When the governor saw what had happened, he became a believer, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.
Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. But Paul and Barnabas traveled inland to Antioch of Pisidia. On the Sabbath they went to the synagogue for the services. After the usual readings from the books of Moses and the prophets, those in charge of the service sent them this message: “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, come and give it.”
So Paul stood, lifted his hand to quiet them, and started speaking. “Men of Israel,” he said, “and you God-fearing Gentiles, listen to me. The God of this nation of Israel chose our ancestors and made them multiply and grow strong during their stay in Egypt. Then with a powerful arm He led them out of their slavery. He put up with them through forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Then He destroyed seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to Israel as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. After that, God gave them judges to rule until the time of Samuel the prophet. Then the people begged for a king, and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. But God removed Saul and replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after My own heart. He will do everything I want him to do.’ And it is one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Saviour of Israel! Before He came, John the Baptist preached that all the people of Israel needed to repent of their sins and turn to God and be baptized. As John was finishing his ministry he asked, ‘Do you think I am the Messiah? No, I am not! But He is coming soon—and I’m not even worthy to be His slave and untie the sandals on His feet.’ Brothers—you sons of Abraham, and also you God-fearing Gentiles—this message of salvation has been sent to us!
The people in Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus as the One the prophets had spoken about. Instead, they condemned Him, and in doing this they fulfilled the prophets’ words that are read every Sabbath. They found no legal reason to execute Him, but they asked Pilate to have Him killed anyway. When they had done all that the prophecies said about Him, they took Him down from the cross and placed Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead!
And over a period of many days He appeared to those who had gone with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now His witnesses to the people of Israel. And now we are here to bring you this Good News. The promise was made to our ancestors, and God has now fulfilled it for us, their descendants, by raising Jesus. This is what the second psalm says about Jesus: ‘You are My Son. Today I have become Your Father. ‘ For God had promised to raise Him from the dead, not leaving Him to rot in the grave. He said, ‘I will give You the sacred blessings I promised to David.’ Another psalm explains it more fully: ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to rot in the grave.’ This is not a reference to David, for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed. No, it was a reference to someone else—someone whom God raised and whose body did not decay.” “Brothers, listen! We are here to proclaim that through this Man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in Him is declared right with God—something the law of Moses could never do. Be careful! Don’t let the prophets’ words apply to you. For they said, ‘Look, you mockers, be amazed and die! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.'”
As Paul and Barnabas left the synagogue that day, the people begged them to speak about these things again the next week. Many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, and the two men urged them to continue to rely on the grace of God. The following week almost the entire city turned out to hear them preach the word of the Lord.
But when some of the Jews saw the crowds, they were jealous; so they slandered Paul and argued against whatever he said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and declared, “It was necessary that we first preach the word of God to you Jews. But since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles. For the Lord gave us this command when he said, ‘I have made You a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.'” When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. So the Lord’s message spread throughout that region.
Then the Jews stirred up the influential religious women and the leaders of the city, and they incited a mob against Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town. So they shook the dust from their feet as a sign of rejection and went to the town of Iconium. And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.Acts 13:4-52
Having given you all of the above and the text of what follows I am going to take a break. Not because I am tired, but because you will be. You need some time to ponder the significance of all of the above. Just as the church in Antioch was left in a hiatus as Barnabas and Saul were travelling and Peter was in prison, so too for those you who get these Gems in New Zealand. Time for us to take stock, come out from our prisons and transitions and move forward.
When we find ourselves on the brink of another of life’s journeys or a turning point in the road, it is prudent to pause and ponder.Ian Vail
No learning experience or relationship is ever a waste of your time. If it didn’t bring you what you want, it taught you what you didn’t want.Ian Vail
There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find you yourself have altered.Nelson Mandela
While everyone else was busy brainstorming, the Wright Brothers were busy failing. That is why you know their name!Rick Godwin
Keep on moving in spite of every obstacle thrown at you… that is the true definition of character.Jay Mullings
We ourselves feel what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.Mother Teresa