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Patterns to Follow From the First Missionary Endeavor

June 25, 2023 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 13:4–12

Patterns to Follow From the First Missionary Endeavor – Acts 13:4–12


INTRO: Luke is laying out what would become the pattern of these missionary endeavors.

(Patterns emerging from this new missions effort) We’ll be asking, what can we learn from these patterns to apply to our lives as we pursue faithfulness to be Christ’s people? (who are set apart apart to him and sent as his witnesses in every walk of life)

Acts 13:4–12 ESV

4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. 6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

-The missionary endeavor (of Barnabas and Saul/Paul) is marked by... geographical movement in order to reach new people, the guidance and power of the Spirit, the proclamation and progress of the word, teamwork (strong and unified, even with diversity), intentionality (faithfulness requires purposeful planning), ongoing opposition to Christ and his people (their efforts to proclaim him and see people submit to him), and the power of the Spirit and effectiveness of the word to transform lives.

Let’s begin tracing our way through these, and I’ll kind of follow a combination of logical order and the order we see them coming up in the verses. Perhaps the most obvious one is that this missionary endeavor is marked by geographical movement in order to reach new people with the message of Christ.

[map - image credit ESV Study Bible] -show getting your bearing in the eastern Mediterranean (Syrian Antioch). Show leaving Antioch and the port city of Seleucia, arriving at Salamis on Cyprus on journey on foot to Paphos (undoubtedly stopping to proclaim Christ in towns along the way). From here they would take a ship north to Perga in Pamphylia (further west of Tarsus and region of Cilicia, where Saul has already been spreading the gospel), and journey northward to another Antioch in Pisidia, and then east to other cities in southern Galatia.

What can we learn from a ministry marked by geographical  movement  in order to reach new people with the gospel?

We must have people who are willing to uproot their lives and move to another part of the planet for the purpose of preaching Christ and seeing thriving churches planted.

To do this, we can also cooperate and coordinate with likeminded missionary endeavors. -gospel-centered, bible-saturated, disciple-making, church-planting ministries. Driven by and focused on being… [repeat: gospel-centered...]

So besides the super obvious geographical moved of their ministry, at v. 4 we hear immediately that they were sent out from the Antioch church “by the Holy Spirit.”

What can we learn from a ministry marked by the guidance and power of the  Spirit 

… including the support of the local church, which is to be guided by the Spirit - previous section in the text (Ac 12:25-13:3). So also it is reiterated in v. 4 that they were ultimately being sent out by the Spirit.

We should take care not to make little of this, because it seems to be the entire point of the book of Acts: Christ continuing his work by his Spirit present with his people. God the Holy Spirit is both the guide and the power. Not only are we set apart by the Spirit of God to be in Christ, and sent out to be witnesses by the Spirit’s guidance, but God’s people are empowered for service and proclamation by the Spirit of God in us.

We hear again in v. 9 that this response to Elymas comes about precisely because Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit. How many times have we heard from Luke that these instruments and messengers from God are filled with the Spirit? If it is not the key theme of the book of Acts, it is at least a key theme of this theological narrative.

[repeat question] Well, we can learn first of all that this is not our ministry. This is God’s ministry, and his Spirit is the guide and the power. … We’ll come back to this again in the last point from our text this morning.

We should also have no doubt that this team prays together for clear direction… again, together. (Just as the team of leaders and the whole body at the Antioch had done, so too this missionary team would continue to seek to be sensitive and submissive to the Spirit’s guidance, and that would come through prayer and confirmation as a team.)

Just as Acts emphasizes the primacy of the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, whom God the Son has sent to be with us and in us, so too it emphasizes that this ministry is word-centered. That is, it is a ministry of proclaiming that God has revealed himself through Jesus Christ as the pinnacle fulfillment of his promises. So this ministry of the word is grounded in the Scriptures and focused especially on Jesus being the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world.

What can we learn from a ministry marked by the proclamation and progress of the  word ?

(with particular emphasis on the good news of fulfillment in Christ Jesus, and necessary response of repentance/faith/submission)

Luke therefore can summarize the advancement of the gospel into the the lives of new people in new places like this: Act 12:24

Acts 12:24 ESV

24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.

Similar language was used to describe the ongoing effectiveness of gospel preaching and the Spirit’s work in Ac 6:7

Acts 6:7 ESV

7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

And as evidence to support my claim that this “word of God” is centered on Christ in particular, we only need to look back from chapter six to Ac 5:42

Acts 5:42 ESV

42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Or we can also look ahead in our text to the next section of Acts 13, where we have an example, a pattern, of what kind of message Paul preached in the synagogues upon arriving to a new city (Ac 13:14-42).

Acts 13:23 (ESV)

23 Of this man’s offspring [David] God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.

[repeat question] … the gospel of Jesus Christ? Let me ask another question: What have we to say other than what God has said? That is why we are people of the word. We submit to the inerrancy and authority of God’s completed Scriptures, with the Lord Jesus Christ as the center of that word. Christ Jesus is the point, the pinnacle, the hinge, the fulcrum—all scripture leads to him and from him.

So, like Paul and Barnabas and company, like the early church, we aim to have a ministry marked by the guidance and power of the Spirit, and marked by proclamation and progress of the word of God that Jesus is Lord. And now too…

What can we learn from a ministry marked by  teamwork  that is strong in its unity with diversity?

It’s pretty plain that this is a team, and every team takes shape with varying roles and responsibilities according to ability and gifting, and according to maturity and established order, and so on. This is especially the case in a team of Jesus’ disciples in ministry together.

We’re not surprised to find that John Mark, and other apprentices who would come after him, have a role of assisting the primary leaders. There would be logistics to handle as they travel, especially traveling light, on foot (where to stay and what to eat).

It doesn’t take much imagination here to presume that in these places where they are preaching the word of Christ in the cities and towns of Cyprus, that some are coming to faith in Jesus. So maybe John Mark could have assisted in organizing the baptisms for these new converts to faith in Christ.

This passage also demonstrates a natural shift (and supernatural based on the Spirit’s gifting and guidance), from Barnabas to Paul as the point-man on this team. Almost in passing Luke transitions from referring to Saul by his Jewish name to Paul as his Roman name, which goes along with the shift to intentional outreach among the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Luke doesn’t call him Saul again in Acts except the two places where Paul retells the story of his conversion—“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me”). It also corresponds to Paul seeming to become the primary speaker, the voice of the team.

But that doesn’t mean Barnabas becomes an unnecessary appendage. I believe Barnabas to be the elder statesman, continuing to encourage and mentor Paul, planning alongside and teaching alongside. Plus there would need to be communication and coordination with believers already present in some communities, and an effort to establish some leaders among the believers, and so on.

What we can see, though, is that even with differing roles and responsibilities, and even with a shift in who was the out-front, vocal leader, this team still was still unified in spirit and in mission.


What can we learn from a ministry marked by intentional and purposeful  planning ?

They had a system. No doubt they had to be flexible within that system, but their ministry was marked by some purposeful planning. While we need to be marked by prayer and sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading, in accordance with God’s word, … faithfulness requires purposeful planning.

They proclaimed the word of God first in the synagogues of the Jews, which would become a common pattern when they entered new cities. There are at least a couple of reasons that this makes sense. The synagogues would have been a natural place for them to gain a first hearing, because of their own Jewish heritage. Plus, those who met at synagogue would be people most familiar with Jewish Scriptures and convinced that they were the authoritative words of the one true God. Also, if Paul preached to the Gentiles first, then the Jews would likely never give them a hearing.

Their movements are also purposeful and intentional. They arrive on one side of Cyprus, and make their way to the other side, passing through the whole island, the text says, giving indication that they almost certainly stopped other places along the way to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. They would have taken a route that allowed them to stop at population centers to reach new people.

So this team plainly trusts the Lord and leans on the Spirit, but they don’t blindly and ignorantly blaze onward without intentionality and planning. We too can follow this pattern and learn that faithfulness requires purposeful planning.

Now I’m finally coming to the most detailed part of this passage, which gives us indication that Luke chooses particular episodes to relate common trends and themes, and to highlight important people and events.

So when they reach Paphos, the seat of Roman government in Cyprus, we have a common pattern, opposition to the ministry, but also a couple of uncommon people and a unique confrontation and result.

What can we learn from a ministry marked by ongoing  opposition  to Christ?

(Keep in mind: Opposition to his people and opposition to the message is opposition to Christ.)

This Elymas guy kinda reminds us of Simon the Sorcerer that Peter faced in Samaria (one of several intentional parallels between the ministries of Peter and Paul), but this magician (sorcerer) in Paphos on Cyprus is Jewish (the name Bar-Jesus means son of Jesus or son of Joshua—not a reference to the Jesus Paul and Barnabas proclaim), and Elymas is a false prophet (meaning that he twists the word of God for his own purposes, “making crooked the straight paths of the Lord”), and he is highly influential with the proconsul, the highest ranking Roman official on the island of Cyprus. His job would have been to govern this region, and Elymas apparently has his ear.

Now Sergius Paulus summoned Barnabas and Saul to hear the word of God, no doubt because he had heard of their effective teaching already in Paphos, and likely that there were others coming to faith in Christ. But this false prophet opposes them, deliberately trying to convince the proconsul not to listen to them about the faith (probably referring to the whole body of teaching about Christ, including salvation in him and a life of following him).

But Saul, who was also called Paul, had a dramatic name change (ba, ba, ba, baaa…), and simple Saul became superhero Paul who put this false prophet in his place. No, just a simple, matter-of-fact transition from using his Jewish name to using his Roman name, which makes sense that he might have even introduced himself as such in this context… and with the way his ministry now continued to spread more broadly in the Gentile world.

But seriously, Paul was being controlled by the Spirit and he hit the nail on the head with Elymas: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” The source of his sorcery is the great adversary, making him an enemy of all righteousness, and his true character and selfish motivation are unveiled.

And this is one of the few times, like Ananias and Sapphira, that a miracle is for judgment (the hand of the Lord is upon) and warning to others. So Elymas is struck blind (for a time), unable to see the sun, just as Paul says, and he is forced to grope around and ask for help to be guided by the hand.

Elymas, even by the power and influence of the devil, is no match for power of the Spirit of God.

[repeat question]

We accept that there will be opposition and prepare our hearts and minds to abide in Christ and trust the Spirit to sustain and to guide. 

We will encounter those who are using religion falsely as a means of personal gain. We will encounter those who seem to wield a great deal of worldly power and influence, even evil power and influence. But they are no match for God, either now or in the future. We can trust that God knows when and how he will judge them, and we can trust God to care for us his way and in his timing.

Finally, we do not preemptively presume rejection of the gospel. - In spite of a pattern of Jewish opposition, they would enter the synagogues first again and again. And one might think that these pagan, false-god worshipping Romans would be the last to trust in Christ. (but that leads to our final point, and last part of the passage)

What can we learn from a ministry marked by the power of the Spirit and effectiveness of the word to  transform  lives?

-We can expect not only spiritual opposition, but with the Spirit of God at work, we can also anticipate some spiritual successes.

-In our evangelistic efforts, we often encounter people entangled in false spirituality and religion. In fact, no one is a blank slate, and the environment is never a vacuum.

(But even with all these hurdles) Sergius Paulus saw the powerful reinforcement of the teaching that was already astonishing him, and he believed, submitting to Jesus as Lord.

You could title this episode: Paul Faces a False Prophet Sorcerer, & a High-ranking Roman Official Is Saved. In the Spirit I may not strike anybody blind today… or any day… but God is pleased to use the least of his people... because he can!… so that we don’t get the glory and he does. And God is in the business of transforming even the most unlikely of lives, through his Spirit miraculously bringing dead souls to spiritual life.

And though our aim is faithfulness (to be and do what Christ has commanded), God does provide us at times with great encouragements by his work in the lives of those around us. What could be more fulfilling and uplifting to these missionaries, making all the effort and sacrifice worth it, than this—someone coming to faith in Jesus?

These brothers would leave this island to reach out to others with a full wind in their sails, because God had graciously given them some success in their ministry.

“Father, grant us some success, cause us to bear rich fruit, not for our glory, but for the sake of your own great name. Amen.”

While it is clear that we should invest ourselves fully, and be purposeful and intentional, we do not trust in ourselves but in God. We rely on God’s guidance and power through his Spirit, we rely on God’s means of proclaiming Christ from the word, and we keep God himself as our aim.

That’s a pattern we should aim to follow, and teach others to follow.



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