Before Acts 13 the gospel had spread either as a result persecution (Acts 8) or divine intervention (Acts 10). In Acts 13 we find the leaders of the church of Antioch gathered in a state of fasting and worship. The group was made up of five men who were classified as prophets and teachers. As these five church leaders were meeting the Holy Spirit led them to set apart two from the group, Barnabas and Saul. The group were called to send and Barnabas and Saul were called to go. It is important for the church today to recognize that both works are necessary in order for the gospel to penetrate into dark and lost areas where it has not before reached.
As the first international missionaries, Saul and Barnabas board a boat to Cyprus. Once there three things occur that repeat themselves through the end of Acts. These things are instructive to believers, missionaries and churches today.
1. Saul and Barnabas go to Jewish synagogues upon entering a new city. This approach made sense logically and theologically. Paul would later write in Romans 1:16 that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” As the Old Testament people of God, Paul knew it was right to give the Jews first opportunity to come to faith in Jesus and thus become spiritually what their ancestors had been ethnically.
From a strategic position going to the Jews first made sense because Saul and Barnabas were both Jews. Jews were minorities in Gentile cities. New Jewish men would naturally been welcomed into these Jewish places of worship. The Jews in these synagogues would welcome their Saul and Barnabas upon their arrival. While the Jews would often turn against Saul and Barnabas after they preached the gospel, this approach gave the first missionaries a listening audience in a new town so that the gospel could go out, some converts would be made and a church would be quickly planted. Even when Saul and Barnabas would be beaten or run out of town, they would leave behind a group of new believers to carry on the work.
In missionary work today, whether with a person across the world or across the street, it is important to look for natural bridges upon which the gospel can be communicated. For Saul and Barnabas the bridge was their Jewish background. For us it may be shared experiences, interest in a persons life or meeting a felt need.
2. Saul and Barnabas always preached the gospel, which is the saving message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. This was the constant in their missionary strategy. Missionaries are often overwhelmed by the physical needs they encounter in the third world. Without a solid conviction of the necessity of the gospel, missionaries can be easily swayed to believe they are doing all they can by providing for a peoples external needs. However, even if all the social ministry is accomplished in the name of Jesus, without the gospel the recipients of the social ministry are still the children of wrath (Ephesians 2) and will still go to hell when they die. We must remember that regardless of what else may or may not happen, people’s hearts are changed by the gospel.
3. Saul and Barnabas were early into their first missionary journey when they had a power encounter with Elymas the magician. Because the missionaries knew their authority in Jesus they confronted the demonized magician and demonstrated the power of God over the enemy. Many Jesus followers are unprepared for the spiritual battle that necessarily occurs when encroaching on an area that has been under demon control for centuries.
The modern church and missionaries should be prepared to deal with the demonic as they move into the darkest areas of the planet.