So much happens in the book of Acts, and one of the difficult things is to understand the timeline because it changes how it reads. As you go from chapter to chapter or story or story, it can feel like days and weeks, but in reality, this is a book of years. It is hard because after reading through the gospels, which mainly centered around the three years of Jesus' ministry, and most of them had significant portions of their books written in connection to the final week of Jesus' life, now looking at Acts and realizing just how spread out it is can be hard to keep straight in your head.
The book of Acts begins around 30 AD at the ascension of Jesus, 40 days after Jesus' resurrection, but quickly jumps forward just ten days later, where the outpouring of the Holy Spirit takes place. Now between Chapter 2, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the conclusion of Chapter 7 the stoning of Stephen and Paul's Damascus road conversion in chapter 9, it is five years of church growth in the city of Jerusalem. Stephen's death signals an increase in the persecution of the church, and the message of Jesus starts to expand rapidly as the believers scatter and Saul begins to chase them. Now in 35 AD, Saul/Paul has his conversion and has to flee Damascus due to death threats, and then works to connect with the disciples and does that due to Barnabas vouching for him. He begins ministry to the Greeks in Jerusalem, who then try to kill him, and he ultimately has to flee to Tarsus in 38 AD. This is now eight years after the Holy Spirit's outpouring and the church's start.
Paul is in Tarsus for five years before Barnabas gets him and brings him to Antioch. He spent three years teaching there before being sent to Jerusalem for a short time and on a mission before returning to start his first missionary journey, which we see in chapter 13. Mind you, this is 16-18 years after the Holy Spirit's outpouring and the church's start and 11-13 years after Paul has had his Damascus road conversion, and the story of Acts begins to pivot. Up until this point, the focal point has been Peter, and Paul has just been Barnabas's assistant, so to speak, and the villain of the story. But in Chapter 13, we see a shift; Saul, for the first time, goes by Paul and begins the work as scripture says he was "set aside for." We actually see Paul use the phrase "set aside" on three different occasions in his life. Here for his ministry calling in Acts 13:2, at his birth described in Galatians 1:15 and his conversion- he talks about it in Romans 1:1. The chapter begins by describing the people that were doing the work there.
I want you to notice the diversity of people on that list. It again illustrates that God's church is made up of all people and does better when we see that happening. Simeon is from Africa and could be the same man forced to carry Jesus' cross, a man from the royal circle and the ruling party in Manaen, a highly trained Jewish leader in Saul, and Lucius, another northern African, as well as another Jewish man, a Levite, that lived in Cyprus in Barnabas. Now for brevity's sake, I want to highlight a few things and then be done. Look at how this chapter starts: Acts 13:2 "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said…" - I don't find this an accident that it was during worship and fasting that the Holy Spirit showed up. If you need to hear from the Lord, I recommend following this model! They sought the Lord and found out they were the answer to a kingdom problem. Now look at their response when they heard from the Holy Spirit that they were set apart: Look at Acts 13:3, "After they had fasted and prayed, they sent them of." So during fasting and prayer, they heard God, then did more fasting and praying, and then sent them off! Do you notice how much Luke talks about the Holy Spirit as a part of this process? Vs. 2 "The Holy Spirit said," verse 4 "sent on their way by the Holy Spirit," verse 9 "Paul filled with the Holy Spirit!" We need the Holy Spirit active in our lives. Chapter 13 illustrates so well the OPENNESS to the word as we see in verses 4-7 on the island and the OPPOSITION we see to God's word as we see with the false prophet or sorcerer. This chapter is significant because Paul establishes an evangelistic strategy that becomes the format for all his missionary trips. Following the example of the Twelve, who centered their evangelistic efforts at the heart of Judaism, the temple, Paul and Barnabas preached at the local synagogues in urban areas. As the synagogue floor remained open to all qualified speakers, these settings exposed the gospel to mixed crowds of Jews, Gentile God-fearers, and Gentile converts to Judaism. From the very start, a pattern develops in which Gentile enthusiasm for Christianity generates Jewish jealousy that causes the missionaries to abandon the synagogue setting and pursue evangelism exclusively among area Gentiles. Persecution by persistently hostile Jews eventually causes the evangelists to flee to the next town, where the cycle repeats.
Let me give you a couple of walkaway points for our chapter:
1. "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." - Acts 13:2. This scripture shows that God called Paul and Barnabas to go on a missionary journey. It reminds us that God has a specific plan and purpose for each of our lives and that we should be open to his leading and direction.
2. "So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus." - Acts 13:4. This verse highlights the importance of being led by the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul and Barnabas didn't embark on this journey on their own initiative - they were sent out by the Holy Spirit. Similarly, we should seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives and be willing to follow his lead, even if it takes us out of our comfort zone.
3. "But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 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?'" - Acts 13:9-10. These scriptures show us that Paul wasn't afraid to confront evil and stand up for what was right. He didn't back down from the challenge of preaching the gospel, even when faced with opposition and persecution. We should also be bold and courageous in our witness for Christ, speaking the truth in love and standing up for what is right, even when it's unpopular.
4. "For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" - Acts 13:47. This statement reminds us of our mission as Christians - to be a light to the world and to share the message of salvation with all people. We are called to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, just as Paul and Barnabas did on their missionary journey. We should be passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus with others and be willing to go wherever God calls us to go in order to do so.
5. "And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." - Acts 13:52. This statement shows us the result of faithful obedience to God's call - joy and the presence of the Holy Spirit. When we do what God has called us to do, we will experience a deep sense of joy and fulfillment and continually be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out his work.
May we be like Paul and Barnabas, obedient to God's call and empowered by His Spirit to carry out His mission in the world?