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THE FIRST EVANGELISTIC TOUR OF BARNABAS AND SAUL
1. . . . “Simeon called Niger.” As this word means black, we have the clear assurance that this eminent prophet and teacher, associated in labor with the apostles, Was a regular black African negro, which is the literal translation of Niger. “And Lucius the Cyrenean.” Here is another African from the city of Cyrene, which was in Africa. “And Manaen, the foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch.” This is the same Herod above mentioned, the murderer of the apostles, eaten up by worms and precipitated into an awful hell. The royal Herodian family were staunch members of the Jewish church, walking in the footprints of the high priest, and leading ministers who killed Jesus and persecuted His followers. This Manaen, though a member of the Herodian family, an adopted son of the king, and thus brought up along with Herod Antipas, who killed James and tried to kill Peter and sank to his awful doom; yet we see that he espoused the cause of the despised Nazarenes, became a disciple of Jesus, got saved and sanctified, and was honored of God with a place among the “prophets and teachers” in the gospel church. Oh, what a contrast between him and his royal brother, killing the apostles, eaten up with worms and sent to hell! If the blood royal had flowed in his veins, doubtless he would have stayed with the devil, sharing the awful doom of his royal comrades. What a blessing to him that he was not born a king!
2. This verse says that they were “ministering to the Lord and fasting” when the Holy Ghost spoke to them. Hence we see that the Lord approves and blesses fasting. So if you want to get far away from the world, the flesh and the devil, fast as well as pray.
3. “Then fasting, and praying, and laying hands on them, they sent them away.” This is all the ordination you can find in the New Testament. The great ecclesiastical institution conferring exclusive privileges is utterly unknown in New Testament history. When the saints of God thus gather around you, and, with imposition of hands, commit you to the Holy Ghost “for the work to which He has called you,” then and there you receive all the ordination known in the Bible. I see much of this in the holiness meetings, thus setting apart the saints for the work to which the Holy Ghost has called them.
4, 5. They go from Antioch to Seleucia, a large city on the river Orontes, down which they sail into the Mediterranean, landing at Salamis, the metropolis of Eastern Cyprus, the native city of Barnabas, who, as the elder minister, led the expedition, having his own country on his heart for the salvation of the Lord. Mark accompanies them, a boy preacher helping in the meetings. We find in the evangelistic tours they invariably went to places where there was a Jewish synagogue, which they first entered, and preached the gospel.
SATAN’S PREACHER AND THE CONVERSION OF THE PROCONSUL
6-12. Having traveled across the island of Cyprus throughout the whole length from east to west, everywhere preaching the Word, they arrive at Paphos, on the west coast, the metropolis of the West End and the residence of Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul, a well-disposed, intelligent man and an earnest inquirer after truth. They are soon confronted by the resident pastor, Elymas, who forbids them the privilege of preaching in his pastoral charge. He is a Jew and a prophet, i. e., a preacher in good standing, even having the confidence of the Roman governor, and wielding so potent an influence as to have the right to keep all the heresies and strange doctrines out of his bailiwick. We have him here pronounced a false prophet, because the Holy Ghost is the Author of the history. You must remember that the false prophets in the days of Elijah were the popular pastors of the influential churches, who believed themselves to be the true ministers of God and Elijah a false prophet. So Elymas is Paul’s brother in the popular church, an able preacher of the gospel, as they understood it, having the confidence of the people and enjoying the patronage of the Roman proconsul, who was looking to him for light and salvation. He forbids Paul and Barnabas to preach at Paphos, and if modern ecclesiastical law be correct he had a right to order them out of his dominion. Good Lord, help us all to profit by the clear truth here elucidated and perfectly explanatory of a thousand parallel cases at the present day. It is only a false prophet who is unwilling to have all the help he can get against the armies of hell, which are running rough-shod all over this wicked world. Every heart in sympathy and co-operation with the Savior of sinners welcomes every helping hand and covers every soul with blessings that will join in the common crusade against the powers of hell, and make an honest effort to rescue the perishing. How the present opposition to the holiness people, who preach no creed and nothing but Jesus and His pure and unadulterated truth, is fulfilling the latter-day prophecies, “Men will not endure sound doctrine.” But you say we ought to be very polite to the false prophets who forbid us to preach the Word at some place over which they claim the right to wield the scepter of ecclesiastical tyranny. Let us see how polite and courteous Paul was to this false prophet, at the same time remembering that he was his brother in the Jewish church.
9. “O thou full of all hypocrisy and all rascality, thou son of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease perverting the right ways of the Lord?”
11, 12. Now Paul, in the name of the Lord, pronounces on him an awful anathema of physical blindness, symbolic of his spiritual darkness, which immediately supervenes, beginning with a mist and developing into total darkness. Consequently the people are convinced that Elymas (an Arabic word, meaning “wise man,” by himself assumed) is wrong, and Paul is right. Therefore the proconsul is happily converted, as the Greek says, “delighted with the doctrine of the Lord.”
SAUL VERSUS PAUL
He was honored with the royal name of Israel’s first king. It suited him well to be called Saul, i. e., “the grand one,” while standing at the head of the fallen church and persecuting the poor holiness people. But when he got sanctified the name no longer had the right ring. So he did a thing very common with scholars even down to Luther’s day, i. e., he changed his name into Greek. Paulus is a Greek word, and means “little,” i. e., “the little one.” Saulus versus Paulus only changes one letter. Sanctification takes the royalty out of you and makes you so little the devil can not find you, and never will while you keep sanctified. Hence he finds it convenient to make this little change in the form of the word and call himself Paulus, instead of Saulus, i. e., Paul, “the little one.” Hence in the Pauline writings we hear no more of King Saul. He died in Arabia and Paul buried him in the sand, where I buried a college president, Freemason, and Odd Fellow, and have never gone back to pay homage at their graves.
13. “Those about Paul, having embarked from Paphos, came into Perge of Pamphylia.” Here we have the first indirect reference to Luke, our historian, who is so modest we have to watch every little hint to even keep a trace of him. Here also John Mark disgraced himself by skedaddling away from the work and returning to Jerusalem. Paul held it to his discount, and refused to take him on the tour. The critics believe that the robbers, who at that time awfully infested the mountain ranges intervening between the Mediterranean plain and the interior tablelands, on which Perge, the capital, stood, got after them and perhaps treated them very roughly, as they are accustomed to do in the East, thus scaring Mark out of the work.
14. They now go on south into Antioch of Pisidia.
15-21. They constantly everywhere make free to attend the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath, preaching on the streets and from house to house through the week. Hence they go in and sit in the audience, by physique and costume recognized as Jews by the entire audience. Having passed through the routine of Sabbath service, the leader sends a person back to invite them to speak freely as the Lord will. Thus Paul proceeds with a historic sermon on the plan of salvation in the former dispensation, culminating in the fulfillment of all the types, symbols and ceremonies in Jesus of Nazareth, whom he preaches to them as the veritable Shiloh of prophecy and the Christ.
22. “Having deposed him,” i. e., King Saul. Why did God depose Saul and cast him away? Because he spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites. Why was this? Because the Amalekites fought against Israel and did their utmost to keep them out of the promised land. See this grand symbolic truth. You must destroy everything that keeps you from sanctification. Agag typifies inbred sin, which must be utterly destroyed. Saul spared Agag and lost the kingdom and his soul, dying a suicide; so if you do not destroy inbred sin in entire sanctification, you will forfeit the kingdom of God, commit spiritual suicide and lose your soul. Why was David a man after God’s own heart? He was not infallible. He fell in case of Uriah, but God wonderfully restored him. “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will do all of my wishes.” Would you be a man after God’s own heart? Then you must do the whole will of God. King David was an exception to all the kings of the earth, in the fact that he did not his own will, but the will of God. David’s throne was unearthly, focalizing in heaven. He was simply the executive of the divine administration, sitting on the throne of the theocracy, ruling as God’s vicegerent. Hence the risen Jesus was crowned David’s Successor (as He is his heir) in heaven when He ascended (Acts 2:30), and will be crowned David’s Successor on earth when He comes again (Acts 2:35).
23-25. John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets, disclaimed the Messiahship and testified to the Christhood of Jesus.
27. Paul shows how the Jews and Romans all fulfilled the Messianic prophecies in the crucifixion of Jesus, quoting those wonderful predictions of David, which were only fulfilled in David’s greater Son.
39. “In him, every one believing is justified from all things from which you are not able to be justified by the law of Moses.” Paul enforces the fact that there never was justification in any other name. All the bleeding birds and beasts on Jewish altars slain, since the world began, never could wash away a solitary sin. They could only point earth’s guilty millions to the “Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.” The first four thousand years were prospective, faith looking forward through types and symbols to the coming Christ. Paul assures them their own Christ of prophecy, whom the patriarchs and prophets trusted to save them, has already come; and, of course, it is the best news they ever heard.
40-41. He here quotes Habakkuk 1:5, in which the prophets warned them lest they reject the glorious tidings of their crucified, risen and ascended Lord, and be plunged into hopeless ruin.
42. The crowd is astounded and utterly bewildered. The audience is dismissed; meanwhile there is a general clamor for those wonderful words to be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Amid the exhortations of the apostles to the lingering crowd, many of the Jews and pious proselytes are actually converted to the Christhood of Jesus. We must remember that conversion in that day included the new birth, i. e., spiritual elevation in case of a saved people. Anon, they fell in with godly members of the Jewish church, like Zachariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, and many others, who knew the God of Israel experimentally, and were intelligently saved through the Lord’s coming Christ. Such did not have to be converted to God, but only to the Christhood of Jesus.
44. The wonderful news of the first Sabbath received universal publicity and brought a great host to hear the apostles the next Sabbath; meanwhile they pressed the work, in every open door, through the week.
45-52. The vast Gentile crowd aroused the old prejudice of the Jews so they could no longer keep the peace. Therefore the apostles turn to the Gentiles, who greatly rejoice to think that all the riches of the Jews’ religion and the wonderful grace of Israel’s God is as free for them as for the Jews, whereas the Jews had always taught them that they must first be made Jews by proselytism before they could receive the salvation of their God. The responsive appreciation of the Gentiles make the Jews so mad that they actually run the apostles out of the city; so they kick off the dust from their feet as a testimony against them, and bid them adieu. Jesus says it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city. Awful will be the doom of many in our day who reject the gospel preached by the Lord’s holy people.
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Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 13". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent