The congregation in Antioch was blessed with a number of prophet-preachers and teachers: Barnabas, Simon, nicknamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, an advisor to the ruler Herod, Saul.
One day as they were worshiping God - they were also fasting as they waited for guidance - the Holy Spirit spoke: "Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do."
So they commissioned them. In that circle of intensity and obedience, of fasting and praying, they laid hands on their heads and sent them off.
Sent off on their new assignment by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Saul went down to Seleucia and caught a ship for Cyprus.
The first thing they did when they put in at Salamis was preach God's Word in the Jewish meeting places. They had John along to help out as needed.
They traveled the length of the island, and at Paphos came upon a Jewish wizard
who had worked himself into the confidence of the governor, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man not easily taken in by charlatans. The wizard's name was Bar-Jesus. He was as crooked as a corkscrew.
But Dr. Know-It-All (that's the wizard's name in plain English) stirred up a ruckus, trying to divert the governor from becoming a believer.
But Saul (or Paul), full of the Holy Spirit and looking him straight in the eye, said,
"You bag of wind, you parody of a devil - why, you stay up nights inventing schemes to cheat people out of God.
But now you've come up against God himself, and your game is up. You're about to go blind - no sunlight for you for a good long stretch." He was plunged immediately into a shadowy mist and stumbled around, begging people to take his hand and show him the way.
When the governor saw what happened, he became a believer, full of enthusiasm over what they were saying about the Master.
From Paphos, Paul and company put out to sea, sailing on to Perga in Pamphylia. That's where John called it quits and went back to Jerusalem.
From Perga the rest of them traveled on to Antioch in Pisidia.
After the reading of the Scriptures - God's Law and the Prophets - the president of the meeting asked them, "Friends, do you have anything you want to say? A word of encouragement, perhaps?"
Paul stood up, paused and took a deep breath, then said, "Fellow Israelites and friends of God, listen.
God took a special interest in our ancestors, pulled our people who were beaten down in Egyptian exile to their feet, and led them out of there in grand style.
He took good care of them for nearly forty years in that godforsaken wilderness
and then, having wiped out seven enemies who stood in the way, gave them the land of Canaan for their very own -
a span in all of about four hundred fifty years.
But then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul, son of Kish, out of the tribe of Benjamin. After Saul had ruled forty years,
God removed him from office and put King David in his place, with this commendation: 'I've searched the land and found this David, son of Jesse. He's a man whose heart beats to my heart, a man who will do what I tell him.'
"From out of David's descendants God produced a Savior for Israel, Jesus, exactly as he promised -
but only after John had thoroughly alerted the people to his arrival by preparing them for a total life-change.
As John was finishing up his work, he said, 'Did you think I was the One? No, I'm not the One. But the One you've been waiting for all these years is just around the corner, about to appear. And I'm about to disappear.'
"Dear brothers and sisters, children of Abraham, and friends of God, this message of salvation has been precisely targeted to you.
The citizens and rulers in Jerusalem didn't recognize who he was and condemned him to death.
They couldn't find a good reason, but demanded that Pilate execute him anyway.
They did just what the prophets said they would do, but had no idea they were following to the letter the script of the prophets, even though those same prophets are read every Sabbath in their meeting places.
And then God raised him from death.
There is no disputing that - he appeared over and over again many times and places to those who had known him well in the Galilean years, and these same people continue to give witness that he is alive.
"And we're here today bringing you good news: the Message that what God promised the fathers
has come true for the children - for us! He raised Jesus, exactly as described in the second Psalm: My Son! My very own Son! Today I celebrate you!
"When he raised him from the dead, he did it for good - no going back to that rot and decay for him. That's why Isaiah said, 'I'll give to all of you David's guaranteed blessings.'
So also the psalmist's prayer: 'You'll never let your Holy One see death's rot and decay.'
"David, of course, having completed the work God set out for him, has been in the grave, dust and ashes, a long time now.
But the One God raised up - no dust and ashes for him!
I want you to know, my very dear friends, that it is on account of this resurrected Jesus that the forgiveness of your sins can be promised.
He accomplishes, in those who believe, everything that the Law of Moses could never make good on. But everyone who believes in this raised-up Jesus is declared good and right and whole before God.
"Don't take this lightly. You don't want the prophet's sermon to describe you:
Watch out, cynics; Look hard - watch your world fall to pieces. I'm doing something right before your eyes That you won't believe, though it's staring you in the face."
When the service was over, Paul and Barnabas were invited back to preach again the next Sabbath.
As the meeting broke up, a good many Jews and converts to Judaism went along with Paul and Barnabas, who urged them in long conversations to stick with what they'd started, this living in and by God's grace.
When the next Sabbath came around, practically the whole city showed up to hear the Word of God.
Some of the Jews, seeing the crowds, went wild with jealousy and tore into Paul, contradicting everything he was saying, making an ugly scene.
But Paul and Barnabas didn't back down. Standing their ground they said, "It was required that God's Word be spoken first of all to you, the Jews. But seeing that you want no part of it - you've made it quite clear that you have no taste or inclination for eternal life - the door is open to all the outsiders. And we're on our way through it,
following orders, doing what God commanded when he said, I've set you up as light to all nations. You'll proclaim salvation to the four winds and seven seas!"
When the non-Jewish outsiders heard this, they could hardly believe their good fortune. All who were marked out for real life put their trust in God - they honored God's Word by receiving that life.
And this Message of salvation spread like wildfire all through the region.
Some of the Jews convinced the most respected women and leading men of the town that their precious way of life was about to be destroyed. Alarmed, they turned on Paul and Barnabas and forced them to leave.
Paul and Barnabas shrugged their shoulders and went on to the next town, Iconium,
brimming with joy and the Holy Spirit, two happy disciples.