Paul’s Ministry – Acts 13

Read the Passage: Acts 13

Calling of Paul (13:1–12)

Acts 12 narrates several important events in the life of the early church, including the martyrdom of James, the freeing of Peter, and the death of King Herod. Following these events, and the delivery of a famine relief offering from Antioch to Judea (cf. Acts 11:29–30), Acts 12:25 records that Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch of Syria, taking with them John Mark, who was Barnabas’ cousin (cf. Col. 4:10). These men had likely been lodging at John Mark’s mother’s home (cf. Acts 12:12). Upon returning to Antioch, the Lord called Barnabas and Paul to full-time mission service. As was sometimes the case before the writing of the New Testament was completed (cf. Acts 11:28; 21:10), here the call of Paul and Barnabas was an audible call from the Holy Spirit, possibly through the mouths of several prophets, who resided in the church of Antioch (cf. Acts 13:1).

Paul’s and Barnabas’ first missionary journey, reported in Acts 13–14, essentially consisted of visiting four local Roman provinces: Cyprus, Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia. Cyprus was a logical first destination for Paul and Barnabus, for this island was only a two-day journey from Antioch and it was the home of Barnabas (cf. Acts 4:36). While in Cyprus, after traveling the entire island preaching in the Jewish synagogues, Paul and Barnabas eventually found an audience with Sergius Paulus, the proconsul, or governor, of Cyprus. After being resisted by a sorcerer named Bar-Jesus, whom Paul confronted and the Lord miraculously blinded, the proconsul came to faith in Christ. This event is likely included by Luke to show the original recipient of this letter, Theophilus, that other royal officials had been converted (cf. Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1).

Early Travels (13:13–41)

After ministering in Cyprus for some time, Acts 13:13–14 reports that Paul and Barnabas took the ~200-mile journey north to the regions of Pamphylia and Pisidia. In an easily overlooked yet important verse, Acts 13:13 reports that John Mark abandoned the mission team in Perga. No specific reason is given in the text for John Mark’s departure; however, from material later in the narrative we can discern that John Mark’s departure was less than amiable. Indeed, this event would later lead to a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas and the dissolution of their own mission partnership (cf. Acts 15:36–40). Thankfully, however, in Paul’s later epistles we learn that this breach in fellowship was resolved, with Paul even requesting John Mark’s presence near the end of his life, referring to John Mark as “useful . . . for ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11; cf. Col. 4:10).

Acts 13:16–41 is an important passage, for here more clearly than anywhere else in the book of Acts, we can observe Paul’s ministerial pattern, as well as read his longest sermon in this book. The text records that upon leaving Perga, Paul and Barnabas arrived in Antioch of Pisidia (which is to be distinguished from Antioch of Syria, the location of the apostles’ sending church). As Paul had done earlier at Acts 9:20 and 13:5, so here Paul went into the local synagogue and preached to the assembled Jews. Paul would follow this ministry pattern of preaching to the Jews first on all of his mission journeys (cf. Acts 13:42; 14:1; 17:1, 10, 17; 18:4, 19, 26; 19:8). Further, here we can see the content and context of Paul’s gospel message. In a similar manner to Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, here in Acts 13 Paul shared the gospel with many historical references to Israel.

Later Travels (13:42–52)

Acts 13:42–52 records the events that transpired in Antioch following the preaching of the gospel. Unlike several of the later occasions when Paul preached the gospel, his message in Antioch did not seem to create immediate hostility from his Jewish hearers. Yet, the Jews must have shared Paul’s gospel message with their neighbors, friends, and co-workers, for it is recorded that the Gentiles begged Paul that they might hear the gospel, too. Consequently, Paul prepared to preach the gospel to the Gentile crowds on the following Sabbath day. However, Acts 13:45 notes that “when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy . . . [and] they opposed the things spoken by Paul.” Interestingly, it seems that it wasn’t the immediate content of Paul’s message that caused offense with the Jews, but the later size of his largely Gentile audience.

Application Questions:

  1. How does God call people to full-time, vocational ministry, such as mission service or the pastorate, today?
  2. Does the Lord still use miracles to confirm the message of the gospel? Were miracles frequently used by Jesus to confirm His message (cf. Matt. 13:58)?
  3. How would you define ministerial success and ministerial failure? How can we work to resolve breaches in fellowship between members of the church?
  4. How can we share the gospel using the Old Testament? In a gospel presentation using the Old Testament, which passages would you use?
  5. Why does the preaching of the gospel sometimes produce hostility, sometimes result in apathy, and sometimes gain acceptance?