Paul’s first mission trip
It starts at a prayer meeting1 There were prophets and teachers in the Antioch church. Barnabas, for one. And there was Simeon, but people called him Mr. Black. There was Lucius from Cyrene, too. And there was Manaen, who grew up as a friend of Herod, the ruler, and Saul. 2 While they were worshipping—and focusing especially hard on it by skipping meals—the Holy Spirit spoke to them: “I have a special job that I’m calling on Barnabas and Saul to do. Commission them to do it.” 3 The group prayed and skipped more meals. Then they placed their hands on the two men and sent them on their way.
Road trip begins4 It was the Holy Spirit who called on them to leave. So they left. They traveled down to the city of Seleucia. There, they boarded a ship that sailed them to the island of Cyprus. 5 They arrived in the Cyprus city of Salamis. They went to various synagogues throughout the town, the places where Jews worshipped. John Mark travelled with them as an assistant. 6 They taught their way from one end of the island to the next, eventually reaching the city of Paphos. There, they met a Jewish magician named Bar-Jesus. He lied by calling himself a prophet; he was a fraud. 7 When they met Bar-Jesus, he was with the governor of the island, Sergius Paulus, a man with a sharp mind. The governor called in Barnabas and Saul. He wanted to hear what they were saying about God. 8 The magician didn’t approve. He was also known as Mr. Wisdom (Elymas) because that supposedly described him. He tried to talk the governor out of believing the message about God. 9 But the Holy Spirit had filled up Saul, also known as Paul. And Paul took a long, hard look at that man. 10 Then Paul said, “Oh, you son of the devil—you enemy of all things good and godly! You lying sack of fraud! Will you ever stop trying to twist the truth of God into the lies of a crook? 11 Take a look. Here comes the hand of the Lord. He’s reaching out for you. He’s going to touch you now and strike you blind. You’re not going to see even the sun for a while." Instantly, everything went misty for him. Then completely dark. He started stumbling around, trying to find someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the governor saw this, he was sold. He believed the teaching about the Lord, and was amazed by what he heard.
Goodbye Cyprus, hello mainland13 Paul and his associates left the island. They sailed out of Paphos and arrived in the city of Perga in the region of Pamphylia. That’s where John Mark decided to turn around and go back to Jerusalem. 14 Paul and Barnabas left Perga and went to the city of Antioch in the province of Pisidia. On Saturday, the Sabbath day of rest and worship, they went to the synagogue and sat down. 15 Worship included a Bible reading: one passage from the writings of Moses and another from the writings of the prophets. After that, synagogue leaders sent an invitation to Paul and Barnabas: “Brothers, if either of you have an encouraging word you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it.”
Time for a history lesson16 Paul stood up and stretched out his hand as he addressed the group. “Gentlemen of Israel and any others of you who respect God, please listen to me. 17 The God of Israel picked our ancestors for something special. He grew them into a great nation during their long stay in Egypt. Then with his strong arm he picked them up and carried them out of there. 18 They spent some 40 years in the badlands for their bad behavior; God patiently put up with them. 19 After that, God eliminated seven nations in Canaan. Then he gave that land to Israel, as the inheritance he had promised them.Genesis 17:8). " href="#"> 20 This took about 450 years. After that, God gave them heroic leaders to rule them: people called judges. He did this until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21 That’s when the people of Israel insisted on a king to rule them. God gave them Saul, the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul ruled for a generation, 40 years. 22 After God removed him from the throne, he chose David as the next king. God thought so much of David that he said, 'I see in David, the son of Jesse, a man who’s like me in many ways and who will do whatever I ask.' 23 God had promised that one of David’s descendants would become Israel’s savior. That savior is Jesus. 24 Just before Jesus came, John the Baptist showed up. He preached that the people of Israel needed to reject their sinful way of living and get baptized. 25 As John approached the end of his ministry, he repeatedly said, ‘Who do you think I am? Well, you’re wrong. I’m not him. Look, there’s someone coming after me. I wouldn’t be worthy to untie his sandals.’ 26 Listen to me brothers, you children of Abraham along with anyone else who respects God. This message of salvation was intended for us. 27 But I’m afraid the people in Jerusalem, along with their leaders, didn’t recognize Jesus as the savior that the prophets wrote about. They missed it even though they read about him in the writings of the prophets every Sabbath. They rejected him—just as the prophets said they would. 28 They couldn’t find a reason to execute him because he hadn’t committed any crime. They insisted Pilate execute him anyway. 29 When they finished doing to him everything the prophets predicted, they took him down from the cross. Then they laid him in a tomb. 30 We’re here today to tell you that God raised him from the dead. 31 Many people saw him. Over a stretch of many days, his followers who came down with him from Galilee to Jerusalem are the ones who saw him. They are eyewitnesses, and they’re telling people what they saw.
And now for the sermon32 We’ve come here to give you this good news. God made a promise to our ancestors. 33 Well, people, God has kept his promise by raising Jesus from the dead. God has done what a psalm writer said he would do:
‘You are my son.
Today, I brought you to life.'
Look at this, you haters.
'Go ahead and get amazed. Then die.
I’m on the job in your generation.
I’m doing something you’ll never believe,
Even if someone shows you the blueprint and gives you the tour.’”
Goodbye Jews, hello non-Jews44 Nearly the whole city showed up the next week. They wanted to hear what the visitors had to say about the Lord. 45 Jews saw the crowd these men attracted—and got downright jealous. So they started badmouthing Paul and arguing against what he said. 46 Paul and Barnabas got blunt. They said, “We had to bring God’s message to you Jews first. But now that you’ve trashed it and condemned yourselves as unfit for eternal life, we’re going to take God’s message to everyone but you—to non-Jews. 47 God commanded us to do that:
‘I have given you a job.
Take spiritual light to people who aren’t Jews.
Take salvation to everywhere people take their feet.’"
Literally, Simeon’s nickname was Niger. In Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire, niger means “black.” Bible scholars speculate that people called him Black because his skin was dark. The derogatory English “N” word likely came from this Latin word. He and Lucius may have both come from Africa.
A city in what is now Libya in northern Africa. See the note for Acts 6:9.
“Ruler” is literally the Roman title of tetrarch, a person who governed a territory or a province. But Herod was more than just a governor-like ruler. His friend since childhood, Emperor Caligula, in AD 37, named him “king” (12:1).
Often called “laying on of hands,” this was a Jewish ritual that went back at least to the time of Moses, when he transferred leadership of the Jewish people to Joshua (Numbers 27:18).
The port city of Seleucia, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, was a day’s walk from the church Barnabas and Saul served, in Antioch. It was about 15 miles (24 km).
The voyage from Seleucia to the port town of Salamis, Cyprus was about 130 miles (210 km). Based on reports from Roman and Greek writers, the voyage could have taken just a couple of days, with favorable winds. Against the wind, twice as long. Cyprus, an island about 140 miles (225 km) long, was home to Barnabas (Acts 4:36). Its footprint in the Mediterranean Sea is almost the size of the main island of Hawaii (Cyprus: 3600 square miles, 9300 sq km).
Salamis, on the east coast, was the island’s biggest city. Emperor Augustus ordered it rebuilt after an earthquake some 30 years earlier, in AD 15.
This isn’t John the apostle, who was one of Jesus’ 12 original disciples. It was another John, apparently nicknamed Mark. Or maybe his mom liked the name “John” and his dad liked “Mark.” Who knows? Bible writers sometimes called him “John,” sometimes “Mark,” and sometimes “John, also called Mark.” He was a cousin of Barnabas and an associate of Paul, who sometimes traveled with Paul on mission trips (Colossians 4:10).
Traveling along the coastal trails and hitting cities along the way, they could have traveled more than 120 miles (193 km) before reaching Paphos, capital of Cyprus. Like Salamis, it was rebuilt after the AD 15 earthquake destroyed the buildings.
Bar-Jesus means “Son of Jesus.” Jesus comes from Greek, the international language of the day. The Hebrew version of the word is Joshua. Jesus and Joshua come from the same Hebrew word.
Sergius Paulus’ Roman title was “proconsul.” That’s an official who managed one of the senate’s provinces—a peaceful area where Rome didn’t need to maintain a military presence. The Jewish homeland was different. It was one of the emperor’s provinces—an uneasy territory where Rome stationed some of their army.
Sergius Paulus’ name appears on some first-century inscriptions found on Cyprus. One was discovered near Paphos; it mentions “the proconsul Paulus.”
Elymas is a name that may have come from the Arabic word alim, meaning “a wise man,” It’s a word used to describe magicians along with sages like the magi who visited young Jesus from a land somewhere east of the Jewish homeland—possibly what is now Iraq or Iran.
Saul was his Hebrew name—a name common among the Jews. Paul (literally Paulus) was the name he used among non-Jews because it was more common there. It was the governor’s name, for example. A modern example of adapting a name to a different language: “Stephen” in English becomes “Stefanos” in Greek and “Esteban” in Spanish.
The voyage from Paphos to Perga was about 180 miles (290 km).
Pamphylia was a territory, a bit like a county or a province, in what is now southern Turkey. Roughly the size of Cyprus, it was north of that island, and next to Paul’s home territory of Cilicia, where he grew up in the city of Tarsus.
The writer doesn’t say why John Mark left. But whatever the reason, it didn’t seem good enough to Paul (see Acts 15:37-41).
The trip from Perga to Antioch in Pisidia was about 100 miles (160 km) as a crow flies. But Paul and Barnabas weren’t crows. They faced a tough, week-long walk up from the coast to the hill country more than half a mile (1 km) high. Some 2,000 Jewish families lived in Antioch, according to first-century Jewish historian, Josephus.
Canaan was the ancient name for what is now roughly the nation of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.
“I’m giving every bit of this land to you and your descendants. This will be a family-owned land forever. I’ll be God to your family” (Genesis 17:8).
“450” is a round number. The Jews lived in Egypt “430 years” (Exodus 12:40 NLT). Then, for their bad behavior, God made them stay in the badlands south of Israel for another generation, around 40 years (Numbers 14:33-34). Some Bible experts, however, say we shouldn’t take any of these numbers too literally.
Stories about the judges appear in the book of Judges. Most were not judges who settled legal disputes, though some were: Deborah, for example (Judges 4:4-5).
First Samuel 13:14.
Possibly a reference to Bible passages such as Jeremiah 23:5, 2 Samuel 7:12-16, and Ezekiel 21:27.
The least important slaves in a household often got the job of welcoming guests by taking off their sandals and washing their feet.
The Greek word is charis, often translated as “grace.”
Jesus told his followers, “Wherever the people don’t welcome you, don’t stay. Shake the dust of that town off your feet. Use that to send your message of disapproval” (Luke 9:5).
It sounds like some of the church leaders in Antioch were black-skinned Africans. “Mr. Black” (13:1) for one. And probably Lucius from Cyrene, Libya. What does that tell you about the Christian movement that began with a group of Jews in Jerusalem?
Early Christians not only prayed. They fasted, meaning they skipped meals. Why do you think they fasted? Do you think it’s a practice Christians today should consider, whether or not they need to drop a few pounds?
When the church commissioned Paul and Barnabas, “they placed their hands on the two men” (13:3). People in church do that sometimes, too, when they pray for someone. Do you think there’s anything helpful about this practice?
In Acts 13, the writer switches from calling Paul by his Hebrew name of Saul. He starts calling him Paul, a name that flowed more smoothly off the Greek-speaking palate because it was a common name among Greek-speakers as well as Romans. The writer never explains why he switched here. Got any theories?
The Roman governor believed the message of Paul and Barnabas after he saw Paul strike the city magician blind. Would a conversion to Christianity based on a miracle stick, do you think? What do you think it takes to make Christianity stick with a person?
Paul quotes Bible verses to support his argument that Jesus was the Messiah—the savior God promised to send Israel. Does it feel to you like Paul took some passages out of context and gave them a meaning that wasn’t intended in the first place (13:33, 34, 41, 47)? A seminary student today would get a low grade for doing that on a test. If Paul did this, why should he be allowed to get away with it?
“Nearly the whole city showed up the next week” (13:44), to hear Paul and Barnabas talk about Jesus. There’s no indication Paul and Barnabas did a miracle at the first Sabbath meeting with the people. Why do you think so many people were attracted to the meeting on the second Sabbath?
Paul said “We had to bring God’s message to you Jews first” (13:46). Well, that could sound downright snooty, if not bigoted. Why do you think he would say something like that—and right there in front of a bunch of non-Jews?
LIFE APPLICATION. Missionaries today often go through a gauntlet of testing, vetting, and interviewing before a church appoints them to a mission assignment. All it took for the first missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, was a prayer meeting. Is it smart to put that much trust in prayer, or did they get lucky?
LIFE APPLICATION. Somehow the Holy Spirit told the prayer group in the Antioch church to send Barnabas and Paul on “a special job that I’m calling [them]…to do” (13:2). Ministers often describe their career as “a call.” Do you think it’s fair for ministers today to compare themselves to early church leaders who had such a distinct “call” from God to do what they did?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul and Barnabas, as visitors to the synagogue, got invited to speak to the group: “We’d love to hear it” (13:15). It might sound a bit like a testimony service. Do you think those off-the-cuff speeches are a good idea in a worship service?
LIFE APPLICATION. When Paul and Barnabas left Antioch of Pisidia, they “shook the city dust off their feet” (13:51). Jesus would have approved (Luke 9:5). In our relationships today, do you think there are times when we need to make such a dramatic break from people, and let them know that we are no longer going to seek any kind of a relationship with them? In other words: this is THE END?