Winter Quarter: Faith in Action Unit 1: The Early Church Proclaims Faith in Christ
Sunday school lesson for the week of December 10, 2017 By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture Lesson: Acts 13:1-12
The second lesson skips over several chapters in the Book of Acts describing how the church begins to spread out from Jerusalem, as Jesus had told them in his valedictory in Acts 1:7ff—“you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and unto the ends of the earth.”
Persecution and opposition were part of this dispersion. Today’s lesson focuses on the church in Syrian Antioch, one of the largest cities of the Roman Empire. The church in Antioch is where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christian.” (Acts 11:25) Five leaders of the church there are named.
We know two of the names very well—Barnabas and Saul/Paul, but the other three are unknown to us. From Luke’s information, whom they were is very significant. All are called prophets and teachers, titles Paul will later use when he lists the gifts of the Spirit in Romans and Corinthians.
We usually think of prophets as predictors of the future, but, in the biblical context, they were more spokesmen for God—a “forth-teller” rather than a “fore-teller.” Teachers were those who taught the faith to converts. Each task is important in the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. In his call to ministry, Sam always felt God called him to do both—preach and teach. Helen answered a definite call to teach. Preaching relates the faith to the world in which we live, and believers need good teaching to be thoroughly grounded in the matters of the faith. Hopefully, we were faithful to our calls!
The three other leaders in Antioch were Simeon/Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, and most intriguing of all, Manaen, a childhood friend of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. This man was tetrarch of Galilee and had John the Baptist beheaded!
The alternate name of Simeon—Niger—identifies him as being black and from Africa, south of the Sahara. Lucius was a Roman/Latin name and his home was Cyprus, also the home of Barnabas and the first stop on the First Missionary journey.
The ethnic and cultural diversity revealed in Acts 13:1 tells us much about the early church. People from every race and class were already followers of Christ. We also learn very soon of a third person who became part of the team—John, whose surname was Mark! John Mark’s home in Jerusalem is where the early church gathered—the place of the Upper Room!!
These men were in earnest prayer, with fasting, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit for direction—and they got it! We don’t know anything about the “how” of the answer, but we can surely see the results of the answer—obedience! Our response to the guidance of God through the work of the Spirit is always the critical dimension. Do we get up and go to the task before us? Barnabas and Saul did!
Barnabas is an important person for us to remember. He is the one who takes Saul to the church in Jerusalem to assure them he is a convert to the faith and a brother in Christ! They know Saul as a threat and are afraid of him. Barnabas—“the Son of Encouragement” – says the right word at the right time. Also, we know he was a generous man who shared his resources with the Jerusalem church when they were suffering deprivation and hunger. We also learn Barnabas is John Mark’s cousin! (Colossians 4:10) How marvelous are God’s ways when a man like Barnabas is open and trusting to the leadership of the Spirit.
After their commissioning, Barnabas, Saul, and Mark sail from Seleucia, the seaport 12 miles from Antioch, to Salamis on Cyprus. Salamis is the easternmost port on the island and closest to Antioch. Already, we can see a strategy at work in this beginning of the breakout of the faith to the west. Cyprus was where Barnabas was reared. He has many connections of family and friends. Moreover, they begin their work in the Jewish synagogue where persons who believed in God were gathered to worship. This pattern becomes habitual with Saul throughout his journeys.
Today, this pattern, used by these three, is called affinity evangelism. When the faith is shared with a person with whom you have a connection, the reception is much more likely than with a stranger. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a modern example of this pattern in practice. One athlete shares with another their faith. The reinforcement is very effective.
All kinds of patterns work just as well. Years ago in South Georgia, Ross Freeman urged us to use frangelism—friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors! Just think about your connections and use them for the glory of God and the spiritual well-being of those you touch. Remember, the gospel receives a better hearing when communicated to those known to have something in common with the messenger.
Luke’s travelogue takes the missionary team from one end of Cyprus (Salamis) to the other (Paphos). They must have been doing a good job because both interest and opposition meet them. The interest came from the pro-consul Sergius Paulus, an appointee of the Roman Senate, and the opposition from one named Bar-Jesus (Son of Jesus/Joshua), who was one of the pro-consul’s advisors—and a sorcerer. Sorcery was a pseudo religious practice, using all kinds of deceitful acts to manipulate people.
At this point in Acts, Luke changes Saul’s name to Paul – his Latin name—and the team is no longer Barnabas and Saul, but Paul and Barnabas, reflecting the leadership is being passed. It is Paul who confronts the evil represented by the sorcerer, who has another name as well—Elymas. Without hesitation he labels this man and his work as totally contrary to God’s plan for “the right ways of the Lord.”
Paul also gives him a warning and a sign with which Paul himself is very familiar—blindness. We do not know the results with Elymas, but the pro-consul became a believer. The power of God working in Paul through the Holy Spirit won that battle…there would be many more.
We too are in a battle against forces opposed to God’s plan for the earth and its people. Our faith should set the standard in discerning which battles to fight. Surely this decision is most difficult, and we will not always win, but we must draw the line when the obvious intentions and will of God are in jeopardy. We truly must become “Soldiers of the Cross.” Fight the good fight and keep the faith.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.