“The congregation at Antioch was blessed with a number of prophet-preachers and teachers: Barnabas, Simon nicknamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manean, an advisor to the ruler Herod, and Saul.

“One day, as they were worshiping God — they were also fasting as they waited for guidance — the Holy Spirit spoke. ’Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do.’

“So they commissioned them. In that circle of intensity and obedience, of fasting and praying, they laid hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 13: 1-3 (The Message).

Is there a clue, in these three opening verses of chapter 13, to the success of the church which is largely missing today? It would seem that this group of leaders, incidentally made up of an interesting cross-section of black and white, were aware that they must embark on another phase of outreach and growth. Barnabas and Saul had spent time instructing the new believers and it was time to move on. Who would go and who would stay?

What did this group of leaders do? Did they call a church meeting and take a vote? Did they meet in a huddle and draw straws? They worshiped, fasted and prayed and kept doing that until the Holy Spirit spoke to them. He had his men and it was up to them to find out who they were.

It was this intimate fellowship and co-operation with the Holy Spirit that gave Paul and his companions the courage and confidence to do what they did in spite of opposition and persecution. They did not quit because they knew they were called, ordained and accompanied by the Holy Spirit on a divine commission that could not fail.

“Sent off on their new assignment by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Saul went down to Seleucia and caught a ship to Cyprus. The first thing they did when they put in at Salamis was preach God’s Word in the Jewish meeting places. They had John along to help out as needed.” Acts 13:4-5 (The Message).

Commissioned by the Holy Spirit and in partnership with Him, Barnabas and Saul made their way to the nearest sea port, Seleucia, and set sail for the largest island in the vicinity – Cyprus. Why there? We are not told anything about their planning and strategy before they left. They must surely have sat down together and discussed where they would go and how they would go about their mission, assuming that they would always be led by the Holy Spirit.

They did not go in the direction of Saul’s home city because, obviously, he had thoroughly saturated it with his teaching while he was there. There would be no necessity to go over that ground again. They trusted the Holy Spirit to redirect them if they went off course and set off in the confidence of His presence with them.

Their strategy – the most obvious place to start would be the synagogue, the place where Jews met regularly for worship. They were guaranteed a ready-made congregation of their own people who would already be familiar with the Scriptures — no need for lengthy instruction in the basics.

“They travelled the length and breadth of the island and at Paphos came upon a Jewish wizard who had worked himself into the confidence of the governor, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man not easily taken in by charlatans. The wizard’s name was Bar-Jesus. He was a crooked as a corkscrew.” Acts 13:6-7a (The Message),

So far so good! They traversed the island, preaching in synagogue after synagogue with no incident. The Cypriot Jews were seemingly more open-minded than their Judean cousins. In the main centre, however, they ran into a rather unusual fellow countryman, of all things a magician; not a magician practicing illusion, mind you, but a Jew who dabbled in the occult.

As if that were not enough, he had wormed his way into the confidence of the Roman governor — a dangerous situation if ever there was one. This man must have been so convincing that not even an intelligent man like Sergius Paulus saw through him. Imagine the influence he must have had on the governor himself, something akin to the tactics of Hitler who was deep into the occult.

“The governor invited Barnabas and Saul in, wanting to hear God’s Word first hand from them. But Dr Know-It-All (that’s the wizard’s name in plain English), stirred up a ruckus, trying to divert the governor from becoming a believer.'” Acts 13:7b-8 (The Message).

Once again the first sign of opposition on the island of Cyprus came from a Jew. Satan’s emissaries are taken from all people and all walks of life. The governor’s interest in the gospel touched a nerve ending and Bar-Jesus immediately raised a very vocal protest, trying to divert the governor’s attention from the truth.

This was the smooth-talking imposter’s undoing. Thankfully his influence over Sergius Paulus had not yet deadened the governor’s appetite to hear the truth. What Paul and Barnabas had to say awakened in him the awareness that these men had a message that rang true and he wanted to know more. Truth and lies banged heads, and alerted the two missionaries to a very real enemy that needed to be dealt with.

Light and darkness cannot co-exist. Darkness is merely the absence of light and as soon as the light is turned on, everything that is hidden in the darkness is exposed. The light of God’s truth shone into this man’s heart, exposing him for what he really was and his reaction was to fight back violently.

Luella Campbell

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