Read: Acts 12:25-13:12
The subtle change of Saul’s name to Paul slips into the narrative today, but Luke is careful to avoid making a big deal out of the name change. There’s lots of speculation about the purpose of the new name. I have a few thoughts on this based on what I’ve read. It’s interesting, but what is important is the shift in Acts toward Paul’s missionary travels. We’re about to embark on an extensive journey around the modern world of Paul’s time. My prayer is we would learn something from each stop along the way, that we would gain an appreciation for Paul’s deep desire to make Christ known above everything else, and somehow figure out how we should be doing the same.
…go and make disciples of all nations… Matthew 28:19
Funny thing about names
Names are important. They are personal and most of the time very intentionally picked. In biblical terms, names are descriptive of the person. For example, Simon’s name was changed by Jesus to Peter (John 1:41-43), the rock. Luke gives us a handful of names with qualifications in today’s reading:
- John also called Mark
- Simeon called Niger
- Lucius of Cyrene
- Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch)
- Bar-Jesus who was also called Elymas
- Saul, who was also called Paul
In this passage, we read about Saul changing his preferred name to Paul. Saul is a name that relates to Jews, but Paul relates to Gentiles.
A few years ago I was working with the Monterey Herald to produce videos that recognized efforts by the Salvation Army to help families during Christmas. In one case we were interviewing someone whose son was named Isaiah. Though the reporter and I never spoke about religion, he and his cohort turned to me and said, “you’re a church guy, how do you spell Isaiah?” My intentional desire was to build a relationship with the news crew while looking for bridges to talk about my faith. I’d like to say the ensuing conversation led to his immediate baptism, but that was not the case. My prayer is that it moved him closer. Though I don’t know, I’m pretty sure our interaction, the relationship we developed, didn’t move him farther away from Christ. All because of a question about a name.
The Art of Neighboring teaches us a lot about developing a Christ-centered community in our own backyards — and it all begins with names. Taking time to know someone’s name is important. Your barista has a name. The waiter has a name. Take time to learn names of people you see and you will begin to build a relationship that can change their lives for eternity.
That’s a lot of talk about names, now it’s time to focus on the text!
Barnabas and Saul Sent by the Spirit
My hero Barnabas is listed first in the text through Acts 13:7, but from there through the rest of Acts (I’m pretty sure), Paul is listed first. Subtle. No complaints, no hedging for the front of the line, just a subtle shift in leadership for the sake of Jesus and the vast population of Gentiles.
The prophets and teachers in Antioch hear from the Lord and gather to send their leaders away.
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:2-3
Take note of the fact they were worshiping, fasting, and praying. They were listening intently for the direction of the Spirit. In a beautiful moment, they laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul and said goodbye. This could not have been easy or simple. These two men poured themselves into the growing church in Antioch and now they must send them out for the greater good. I know you can’t read the pause, but I’m simply sitting here viewing the scene, fighting tears as I stand on the verge of my own transition. Parting is difficult, even for the best of reasons.
Paul Confronts Elymas
They set off for Selecuia to Cyprus and arrived at Salamis where we read that the Apostle John is there serving as well.
It’s interesting that they are preaching in the Jewish synagogues. When they got to Paphos, they met Bar-Jesus (Elymas). The story focuses on this interaction for two main reasons: an intelligent proconsul sought the wisdom of Paul and Barnabas and the sorcerer who was not happy with their appearance.
I love how Luke emphasizes that the proconsul was an intelligent man that wanted to hear the word of God. Intelligence is a gift we refer to in our Spiritual Gifts assessment as knowledge. It can lead to arrogance, but for those who put Christ first, I pray they recognize this gift of knowledge can have a profoundly positive impact on the local church. If that’s you, please share your gift!
Elymas is not so gifted. His personal desire for fame is fueled by Satan.
[Paul], filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! … Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Acts 13:9-10
Paul doesn’t wait for an answer. He tells Elymas that he will be blind for a time, in essence, he’s been given a second chance. The proconsul is moved to submission by this incredible act of the Spirit and I believe by the love expressed by Paul through confrontation and discipline. That’s a whole story by itself!
When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. Acts 13:12
The discussion in this narrative focuses on the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. My prayer is that you and I will embrace Him wholly, that we would seek His input on all our decisions, not just checking the box or filling the square, but earnestly seeking to know His voice and follow His direction. I pray we will embrace the notion of worship, prayer, and fasting; of seeking His direction and sending people out at the right time. All for the benefit of adding more to the kingdom of God.