April 18, Saturday
Included among the believers in the Church at Antioch were a number of prophets and teachers: Barnabas; Simeon from Niger; Lucius from Cyrene; Manaen, the foster-brother of Herod Antipas; and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, saying, “Set Barnabas and Saul apart for Me for a task to which I have called them.” After further fasting and prayer, they laid their hands on them and sent them on their way, John Mark accompanying them.
The Holy Spirit led them to the port city of Seleucia where they boarded a ship for the island of Cyprus. They explained God’s Message in the synagogues from Salamis to Paphos and throughout the island. In Paphos, the provincial capitol, they made the acquaintance of Sergius Paulus, the governor, a man of considerable intellect. He summoned them, anxious to hear what they had to say. Now a Jewish magician by the name of Elymas was a personal advisor to the governor. When he heard them explaining the word of God, he tried hard to prevent the governor from taking hold of it.
Then the Holy Spirit filled Saul, who is also called Paul, with a rebuke for Elymas: “Why, you son of the devil! You’re as devious and deceptive as the devil himself, the enemy of all that is right, forever twisting the simple ways of the Lord. May the Lord touch you with blindness since you refuse to see the truth and would hinder others.” Instantly, something like a foggy mist came over Elymas; he had to get someone to lead him about. Witnessing this dramatic event convinced the governor of the truth of Paul’s message.
From Paphos, Paul and the team sailed for Perga in Pamphylia on the mainland. John Mark turned back, however, and did not continue with them, returning instead to Jerusalem. After passing through Perga, they went on to Antioch in Pisidia. On the Sabbath they went to the local synagogue. After the reading of the Law and Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue invited them to speak, saying, “Men and brothers, if you have any message of encouragement for the people, by all means speak.”
Paul stood up and proceeded to give them a brief history of God’s dealings. “Fellow Jews and all of who fear God, listen to me. God chose our fathers and prospered the people of Israel while they were exiles in the land of Egypt. Then He demonstrated His power and led them out of that land after which time He put up with them for forty years in the wilderness. He destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan and gave them that land as their inheritance.
“For the next four hundred and fifty years He gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. The people begged for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, to be their king for forty years. Saul was replaced by David, a man of whom God Himself said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’
“And it is from the line of David that God, as He had promised, brought Jesus to Israel to be their Savior. Right before Jesus came, John the baptizer proclaimed the baptism of repentance for all the people of Israel. Toward the end of his ministry John said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not He. Behold, Someone comes after me whose shoe-lace I am not fit to untie!’
“Brothers, sons of Abraham, and all who fear God, hear me when I tell you that this message of salvation has now been sent to us! The people of Jerusalem and their rulers refused to recognize Him or to heed the prophets which are read every Sabbath day. In condemning Him they fulfilled these very prophecies!
“Even though they had no grounds for a death penalty, they begged Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out everything that was written about Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead. For many days He was seen by His followers from Galilee. These men are now His witnesses to the world.
“We have come to tell you the Good News that the promise made to our forefathers has come true. God has fulfilled it by raising up Jesus as He foretold in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten You.’ When He said, ‘I will give You the sure mercies of David,’ God was affirming that He would be raised up never to see death again, as He mentions in yet another Psalm, ‘You will not allow your Holy One to see corruption.’
“It could not have been referring to David, you know, because after he had completed God’s plan for his life, he died and was laid with his ancestors. His body did experience decay, but this Man whom God raised never saw corruption!
“The point of all this is that forgiveness of sins is available to you through this Man. Everyone who entrusts themselves to Him is freed from all those things from which the Law of Moses could never set him free. Only be careful that this saying of the prophets should never apply to you: ‘Behold, you scoffers, marvel and perish; for I am doing something incredible in your day which you will by no means believe, even though it is explained to you.’”
As the people left the synagogue that day, they urged Paul to return the following Sabbath to share the message again. Many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke personally to them and urged them to put their trust in the grace of God.
On the next Sabbath almost the entire city gathered to hear the message of God; but when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They contradicted what Paul was saying and slandered him. Paul and Barnabas turned to the agitators and said, “We came to speak the Message of God to you first; but since you reject it and evidently do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we will turn our attention to the Gentiles! In fact, the Lord commanded us to do so when He said: ‘I have set you to be a light to the Gentiles, that you should take the message of salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
When the Gentiles heard this, they were thrilled and responded wholeheartedly to the word of the Lord. All those who were destined for eternal life believed, and the Word of the Lord kept spreading throughout the region. But the offended Jews stirred up some of the prominent women and leading men, who, in turn, started a wave of persecution against Paul and Barnabas, ultimately forcing them to leave the area. Shaking the dust from their feet in protest, they went on to Iconium. The disciples continued to be full of joy and the Holy Spirit.