Acts 13: 1 – 13.
What we heard about in our reading from the book of Acts was of a pivotal point in the life of the Church. It was at this point that the leaders of the early church decided to take the Gospel out to all the world.
It would not have been an easy decision for those involved, they knew it would be difficult, it would probably cause them to suffer hardship and danger, but they knew it was what God wanted them to do and so they accepted the task.
After hearing that there are prophets and teachers we then hear who they are and we could be confused by the names used, as at that time most people were referred to by different names dependant on the group they were with, and we have a pretty mixed group in this passage.
Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus, Lucius came from Cyrene in North Africa. Simeon was also a Jew from Antioch, but his other name was Niger, Manean was someone who had aristocratic connections, he was brought up with Herod the Tetrach.
And of course Saul was a Jew from Tarsus who had been trained as a Rabbi.
The group came from not only different places but also from widely varying backgrounds, some highly educated some not so.
We hear that the first port of call in spreading the word was to Cyprus, not really surprising as that was the home of Barnabas, who seemed to be taking the lead at that time, and he would want to take the good news to his own people first.
At that time Cyprus was a Roman province, it had copper mines and ship building which were of great commercial interest to the Romans.
It was sometimes called Makaria which means the happy isle because the climate was so perfect and everything was there you could imagine needing for a happy life.
Sounds like a great place to start but Barnabas and Paul who went with him did not take the easy way, they did much of their work in Paphos the capital which was infamous for the worship of Venus the goddess of love. Not a very receptive starting point.
Most people there were also intensely superstitious and this included Sergius Paulus who was Governor of Cyprus.
He like many, despite their intelligence, employed private wizards and fortune tellers who dealt in magic and spells, generally telling them what they wanted to hear, for a nice fee.
Bar-Jesus or Elymas as he was sometimes known, this is an Arabic word meaning the skilful one, was one of these, a magician, and he was concerned that if the Governor was won over by these Christians he would be out of a job.
But guided by the Holy Spirit Paul was more than a match of him, and after this we never hear Paul referred to by his Jewish name of Saul.
The shear breadth of backgrounds shown in these few key followers called to do His work shows clearly the intent that the message was not just for the chosen few, not just for one town or area, or just country, but for all people everywhere, whoever and whatever they were.
As we follow the journey as it goes on in our reading we see that Paul in fact takes over the lead, but that there is no complaint from Barnabas.
We also see that the group split up, Paul and Barnabas went on to Perga in Pamphylia but John left them and went back to Jerusalem.
The John mentioned here is John Mark who we know better as Mark the writer of the Gospel.
We know that Mark was younger than the rest, his mother’s house in Jerusalem seems to have been the centre of the church there and so he was brought up at the centre of the faith.
Paul and Barnabas took him with them probably because he was a cousin of Barnabas, we don’t know if this was part of the reason he returned to Jerusalem, that he resented his relative Barnabas being down graded from leadership by Paul.
Perhaps he just got cold feet as the next stage of the journey was a dangerous and difficult one, it may also have been that he was not so convinced that they should be preaching to the gentiles.
Initially Paul found it hard to accept Mark leaving and resented it, in fact when he and Barnabas set out on their second missionary journey Barnabas suggested taking Mark but Paul would have none of it, he did not want a quitter with them.
What I think this passage tells us is that God is prepared to use anyone in his service, it does not matter what their background, if they have had formal education or none, if they come from a good family or the poorest of the poor, the most important thing is that they are prepared to let God into their lives and in doing so to understand that they have to listen to God and let Him guide them rather than being obsessed by their own ambition or pursuit of wealth.
I believe it also tells us that we can change, Saul who was such a persecutor of the early followers of Christ changed to become one of the leaders in spreading the Gospel Jesus brought into our world.
Originally a staunch Jew, a Rabbi even and yet he was the one who led the way in bringing Christ to the Gentiles throughout so many different parts of the world.
Mark too who for whatever reason left Barnabas and Paul to return home but who gave us one of our most important records of the Life and work of Jesus.
It also shows us that there are many different ways we can serve our Lord even today, possibly in some form of formal Licensed Ministry, ordained or lay, or just by being prepared to be there for others as a Christian presence so that our Lord can do His work through us.
Yes we can all serve the Lord in our own way, and I hope we do.
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