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#carmelprays – Acts 13:1-12

Opening Song: King of Kings, Majesty

Read Scripture: Acts 13:1-12

Up till now in the book of Acts, missionary expansion, while under the providential hand of God, from an organization point of view, has been more a result of persecution than planning. There had been no conscious policy of missionary advance on the part of the early church. Well, this is about to change (again!) in this chapter – for the first time an entire congregation was purposefully pushing to further the frontiers of missions. 

In the first few verses, we see the teachers and prophets of the Antioch Church gather together. They were deliberately seeking the Lord on the specific task of sending missionaries. They worshiped, prayed and fasted – activities that the Bible records are important when making major decisions. We do quite a lot of the first two, but not so much of the latter. Perhaps we should do more of the latter.

The group of teachers and prophets mentioned here was a motley crew indeed. We have the priestly Jew Barnabas, then Simeon -probably a proselyte because of his Latin name Niger, suggesting he was black. Some suggest he may even have been Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus’ cross. Certainly his colleague Lucius, who was from Cyrene (modern day Libya) was likely black too. Then there was Manaen, by tradition, the foster-brother to Herod Antipas, who executed John the Baptist – an ironic testimony to the grace of God – though these two men were brought up in the same family, one of them became a murderous politician who contributed to the execution of Christ and the other found himself becoming a leader of the Early Church. Finally, there was Saul the Pharisee-turned-Apostle. 

An extraordinary company indeed, no doubt brought together only by the providence of God. They all had one thing on their minds – the possibility of world evangelization. From the passage, we get the sense that they had been thinking about sending a missionary for some time, but they waited for the Holy Spirit’s prompting. There was no impetuous rush to send a team out, nor did they spend all their time organizing things, but rather they waited and fasted and sought God’s face with real commitment. They were totally dependent and receptive to the Holy Spirit. In our personal lives, perhaps we should emulate the habits of these leaders more, listening and acting on the Holy Spirit’s directions rather than often rushing to act on our own plans. 

As directed by the Holy Spirit, the leaders at Antioch laid hands and prayed and sent Saul and Barnabas off. They made their way to Seleucia (a seaport at Antioch) and then sailed off to Cyprus. John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin travelled with the two as their helper. At the western end of Cyprus (Paphos), they reached the HQ of Roman rule for this senatorial province. They meet the governor, Sergius Paulus, who is described as an intelligent man who wanted to hear the Word of God. It’s easy to think that the governor was curious about the message and wanted to hear more, but more likely, this was an official inquiry into what Saul and Barnabas had been up to and assess the need to head off any incendiary talk among the Jewish community. Within the governor’s court, was the sorcerer, Elymas who had likely portrayed himself as the Jewish spokesperson opposing these Christian evangelists. Then most extraordinarily, in a dramatic scene similar to Gandalf’s silencing of Grima in his encounter with King Theoden in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; Saul, filled with the Holy Spirit, silences Elymas in his tracks and blinds him for a period. This miracle convinces Sergius Paulus of the truth of Saul and Barnabas’ message and he comes to faith.

In our application today, we must remember the Christian faith is not a tame religion, there is most certainly a supernatural element. In our Reformed tradition, we don’t often exercise it or see it, but the Holy Spirit is still part of the Trinity and He wills and acts as he pleases to protect the church and bring unbelievers to faith. Today let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill us (in the same way he filled Saul) and allow him to act through us to help someone to faith.

Pray in Response

Father, we thank You that Christianity is not just about doctrines and rules, but also of power – power in the name of Jesus. We thank You this power is not a mysterious unknowable force, but there is a loving person behind that power – the Holy Spirit. We  pray today that You would fill us with the Holy Spirit to help guide our thoughts, plans, and actions and wait on You as the early believers did, in full expectation that You will use us to further your kingdom. Amen.

Response Song: We Speak To Nations

By Loh Pin Chuan

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