Paul, Barnabas, and some other hot-hearted gospel preachers were a part of the church at Antioch. From there, the Holy Spirit sent these men behind enemy lines to shine the light of the gospel and push back the darkness. An old soldier said this: “When the fighting starts, there are three kinds of soldiers – those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who are left wondering what happened.” I think there are churches like that, too. The church at Antioch (where the believers were first called Christians) was the kind of church that made things happen for the glory of God.
I love the fact that Paul’s mission team was diverse in nationality, race, and background. The five mentioned in verse 1 were brothers in Christ, but they were a colorful bunch: Barnabas was Greek, Simeon Niger and Lucius the Cyrenean were black, Manaen was Italian, and Saul was a Jewish rabbi. Apparently this team didn’t care whether a person was black or white, African or European – they just cared about whether a person was lost or saved!
Paul and his team sailed to Cyprus, Barnabas’ home, where he surely would have had many contacts. In what would become Paul’s ministry pattern, they preached first in the Jewish synagogues (v.5). Almost immediately they met with opposition (v.8).
Satan’s objective was to keep Sergius Paulus in the dark. Just think of the influence an important official of the Roman government would have for the cause of Christ! Satan was working through the sorcerer Bar-Jesus, something like a shaman or a witchdoctor who had become an advisor to Sergius. Was Bar-Jesus a real sorcerer? Could he do real magic? Probably not — Paul said that he was “full of deceit” (v.10). Isn’t it amazing that a fraud, a trickster could deceive an “intelligent” man (v.7)? But Satan blinds the minds of even intelligent people so that they don’t know they are believing a lie. Some of the smartest people in politics, journalism, and entertainment are the most deceived.
God used Paul and Barnabas to break through the darkness with (v.12) the teaching of the Lord. They were faithful to give Sergius the gospel in spite of the opposition, and God gave their message a great, big exclamation point with a miracle (v.11): here was a man who was a fake sorcerer with no power for the supernatural, and God allowed Paul to show him some real supernatural power. This man who wanted to keep Sergius blinded to the Son of God was blinded so that he could not see the sun. And the result was that Sergius was saved.
Leaving Cyrpus, Paul and his team sailed north and went inland to the city known as Pisidian Antioch. While at worship in the synagogue there, Paul was asked to speak. His message (v.16-41) was brilliant: he showed how all of Jewish history led up to the coming of Jesus, the promised Savior (v.23). He shared the heart of the gospel in verses 28-32, how Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. By the next week, “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (v.44). The Jews, “filled with jealousy,” and incited the leading citizens to “stir up persecution against Paul and Barnabas” (v.45, 50). While the Jews were aggravated, the Gentiles celebrated — many of them were saved! That’s the way it is when we share the gospel: some reject it, some receive it, and some rebel against it. Our job, like Paul and Barnabas, is to faithfully share it.