The Start Of The Mission Trip
1. Going into Acts chapter thirteen, the setting again moves to the church at Antioch. Today we read up to verse twelve. Here Barnabas and Saul were sent by the Antiochian Church on a missionary tour and [here] the occurrence is first recorded that the Island of Cyprus became the very first area to be governed by a Christian.
2. Let's start looking at the details of when Barnabas and Saul set out on their tour. As I already hit upon in chapter eleven, Antioch was a great metropolis that ranked next to Rome and Alexandria. The gospel was proclaimed there for the first time to Gentiles and the result of that was the formation of the church at Antioch. What kind of church was that church? We don't have detailed info on that, but we can see here the list of names of [its] prophets and teachers. Even if we just take a look at this we will be able to understand one aspect of the church.
3. In [the list of names] was Barnabas who was sent from the Jerusalem Church. Also, there was Simeon who was called Niger. The one called Niger was a black person. We see from the Hebrew name, Simeon, that he was according to the traditions as a dispersion Jew (the Diaspora). Perhaps he was born and raised in the home of a Jewish convert from Africa. Next comes a person from Cyrene. Cyrene was in a northern section of Africa. That means that though it names him an African along with Simeon, Lucius meant he did not have a Hebrew name. He had a Latin name. By paralleling the Hebrew name Simeon here the differences in the cultural backgrounds of the two were emphasized.
4. The one written about next after Lucius was "Manaen who was raised with Herod the territorial lord [tetrarch]." He was a childhood friend of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. He was probably born of the palace nobility. Then, the last one to be written about was Saul. He was a Jew from Tarsus. As for his religion, he was originally a Jew of the Pharisee sect and received under Gamaliel a most orthodox rabbinical education and was a leading figure as a persecutor of the churches. He was now being set forth as an example of a person serving Christ.
5. Even though he names only teachers, this shows there was a great deal of diversity. In recording the beginnings of the church when the gospel was preached to the world, Luke names the lineup of the personnel which is surprising at first; for, this reality which was seen in the Antioch Church surely became a symbol of when the gospel was later preached in different countries and in different cultural circles and whenever we think about later periods of the church we cannot omit thinking of the character of this Antioch Church. For example, we are a small congregation, but still we are an assembly of people with various backgrounds. We take no surprise even though we have met folks of completely different strokes than our own backgrounds because that is what "the church" is about. The important thing then is what is it that makes us one? At what points did these particular many kinds of people become one in the Antioch Church? How did they begin working in one direction and come to send off Saul and Barnabas?
6. In verse two it is put like this: "As they worshipped the Lord and fasted the Holy Spirit revealed, 'Now, choose out for me Barnabas and Saul for they have been suited to the work that I have previously set for them,'" (13:2). The word "fasting" is not what we'd call "penance, or mortification." Fasting in the church is associated with prayer. They were worshipping and praying. Their being made up into one body did not stem from a simple common understanding between themselves. Also, they were different from what you might call this world's various organizations and groups which lump into one for a particular objective. If they had that kind of an association they would be little different from the people who built the tower of Babel. But that's not how it was, when they became one it was in worship and prayer. It was in the place of worshipping God, humbling themselves together before God's presence, and seeking His will together. They became one when they were listening to the word of God together and when obeying God. It is the same for us as well.
7. Well, it is important here when the Holy Spirit said to the church "choose out for me Barnabas and Saul." In the midst of worship and prayer the church believed they had heard the word of God and at this point surely was the will of the Lord. Therefore, we have in verse three that "after fasting and praying, they laid hands on the two of them and sent them out." The important point was not just that the church of Antioch supported the missionary fervor of Paul and Barnabas. The church [itself] believed in the commission of Christ and "sent them out." They had a common understanding that [the sending forth of the messengers] came from Christ and not from what belonged to men and women. The Bible says this in verse four, "Barnabas and Saul who were sent out by the Holy Spirit...." Similarly, the phrases "by the Spirit" and "by the church" are not unrelated to each other. In the phrase "after they fasted and prayed, they laid hands on the two of them," we see the posture of those who go out and send out becoming one body under the sovereignty of Christ. They were sent off based on the prayers of the church and "they were sent off by the Holy Spirit."
8. This is not unrelated to how we are in our own churches. For example, I go to Sasayama each week, and to Nara twice a month and to Kure once a month. Pivotal in [each of] these assemblies are Mrs. Iwashita, Mrs. Nishiguchi, and Mrs. Shimamoto [respectively]. However, the churches are not to carry the load of the work of their evangelistic missions nor mine. That's not the way it goes, the churches do their own evangelistic mission in each respective place and I am sent specifically for that purpose [to assist] and there are responsible persons in each respective place. So, the churches, including the people of each area, need to remember to pray with a commonly shared understanding [about evangelism] and need to remember to pray with the attitude that the mission of the churches that they might be under the commission of Christ sent out by him.
A Showdown With Sorcery
9. Well, next let's transfer our attention over to verse four and following. Barnabas and Saul set sail out from Seleucia and to the island of Cyprus and arrived at Salamis. Salamis was a harbor on the eastern coast of Cyprus. From there they went around the entire island and came to Paphos. Paphos was a seat of the Roman regional governor and the center of administration for the island of Cyprus. An individual named Sergius Paulus was the regional governor who was over Cyprus at that time. On Cyprus the Christians who were scattered because of persecution had begun a mission some time ago. (11:19) Even Sergius Paulus probably knew of the new work taking place among the Jews on the island. He invited Saul there and had decided to hear the word [of God].
10. But, then there appeared a character on the scene called "a Jewish sorcerer, a false prophet," and [also] called "Elymas the sorcerer." This man was an acquaintance of Sergius Paulus. Elymas was a court prophet in the palace or probably had the rank of court sorcerer. This leads us to suppose that the sorcerer Elymas had great authority to control Cyprus.
11. This Elymas began a persecution of Barnabas and Saul. The text says, "The sorcerer Elymas - his name means sorcerer - resisted the two and tried to put the regional governor at a distance from this faith." On the first missionary journey what they encountered first was the problem of the showdown with this particular sorcerer. Is this old-time pre modern talk? No, even today we can hear for instance similar stories from preachers in South America. But then what about in Japan? At least it has nothing to do with us, right? No, wrong. Because a number of black magical dominations exist in varying forms around us.
12. To begin with, what is sorcery? Why are spiritualists and persons with special powers respected in ancient times and can such [attitudes] be seen even in modernity as well? It is clearly not unrelated to "the fear" which is inherent in humanity. Everyone knows that there are various powers which go beyond us. For example, for ancient persons, the powers which appeared in natural phenomena were powers that definitely surpassed their understanding and ability. Therefore, a person who could control these various powers or who could predict the directions these powers would go was a necessity. However, in effect, because of fear they would become under the control of a type of sorcerer or divinator. Even in modern times there are just as many regions which have a controlling power over them by a spiritualist.
13. Well, how is [the situation] in modern Japan? It is definitely so that because of advances in science many of the designs of the different powers in nature which used to be inexplicable are now explained. They are no longer objects of ominous dread. However, humanity is still under [the power of] fear. [Humanity] is ill at ease. Therefore, shamanistic arts have changed forms a great deal, but the control it has over the everyday minds of human beings has not changed. Are we able to laugh off the astrology pages in every magazine with a "It's just entertainment"? Many youth frequently visit so-called "houses of fortune," commercial laws for sacred institutions do not impede their influence, many people seek to ward off evil, or seek [relief from the guilt of the ghost of a fetus] in an Aborted Baby Memorial Service [in Buddhism] and end up very easily complying with the demand to pay big bucks. Also, superstitions related to everyday matters, whose natures are not really understood, appear everywhere, and when something bad happens [some people] end up thinking they must be under a curse because they think their family did something wrong. Can this be settled with a laugh?
14. The Bible consistently opposes sorcery. There are many passages, especially in the Old Testament, that definitely prohibit sorcery (such as Leviticus 19:26). Why is sorcery put down like this? Because when people seek in magical things release from fear or the resolution of some fear it turns out that they truly miss out on the One they have to face. Because the person who resolves their fears often becomes some kind of object of worship they have to face. To say this in another way, magical things cannot produce a unique personal relationship or a bond of love with the Supreme Being. If a fortune or a Shinto oracle turns out for you will a love for God the Absolute Supreme One be produced out of that? Will truth and obedience with respect to God the Absolute One and God the Source of Life come out of any Aborted Baby Memorial Service? The answer is obviously "No." Furthermore it means, in the final analysis, there will be no resolution of their fear or uneasiness. Therefore, when you are under the control of a sorcerer or some type of superstition, even though you get released from one fear, you are put under the control of another.
15. First off, more than anything Barnabas and Saul "made known the word of God in many Jewish synagogues," (verse five). This was the focus of their work. Also, even the governor, who was there and was guided in the faith, did not want just to see the miracles performed by Barnabas and Saul, but he "wanted to hear the word of God," (verse seven). In a sense, the governor was heading in the right direction. Because a true relationship with God is produced only by the speaking and the hearing of "the Word of God." The grace of God which was revealed through Jesus Christ the Word of God was spoken and then heard by the men and the women, but an encounter with Christ through the missionary work did not occur and righteous relationships between God and the individuals were not recovered.
16. Saul said to this sorcerer, "Right now, the hand of the Lord is coming down upon you. You will become blind and will not see the light of the day until the time comes." Thereupon, the sorcerer's eyes became dimmed and then completely blind. At that time, it says in the text, "the governor saw this event happen, was very surprised at the teaching of the Lord, and entered the faith." We must read this carefully. The text does not say, "he was surprised at this event and entered the faith." If he had a faith obtained only by the wonder of this event, it would hardly be different from magic and superstition. That is not what [happened]. It reads, "he was very surprised at the teaching of the Lord." That is, it means an encounter with the One who is truly Lord took place here. It doesn't even tell us what the basis of "the teaching of the Lord" was which they had already been proclaiming.
17. The work of the church is the same both then and now. Church is not based on a simple sense of mission, nor even from a feeling of loyalty like patriotism, but has obeyed under the authority of Christ, remembered the commission of Christ, and kept speaking out the word of God. However, we are led to re-think how that as compared to the different black magical situations, did we believe and respond to the preaching and the hearing of the Word as a great and powerful thing? Instead, isn't it [true] that we ourselves are quite easily controlled by superstitious and magical things and missing out on God's love we get controlled by fear? We would like to stand familiar in the place Paul and those with him [stood]. I would like us to be a church that believes that through the very missionary work of the word of God the controlling powers which confine men and women in darkness are pulverized and a relationship of life with God is built up and [I would like us to be a church] that continues preaching out the Word.