11 May 2015

Acts 13:1-12

“When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord” (v. 12)

Psalm: Psalm 6:1-9


Acts 13 opens with the church in Antioch (now Antakya in Turkey). This was one of the earliest Jewish Christian communities outside Judaea, Samaria and Galilee. Acts 11 tells us that it was a wave of migration following the martyrdom of Stephen which took the early Christians to Antioch. It was a major centre of early Christianity with prophets and teachers, including Barnabas who was sent by the Jerusalem church, and of course the Apostle Paul, or Saul as he is still called, until verse 9.

The context for today's passage is the mission field. The UK today is very much post-mission, almost 300 years after another 'apostle', John Wesley preached widely, facing similar challenges and threats to those of Paul. It is a feature of the Bible that bringing the word to new, or even old, places results in conflict, sometimes of a supernatural kind. It is in these contexts that we encounter 'magicians' and others, as here. It does not make for easy reading, it is hard to imagine missionaries saying, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness..." (v. 10). Reading it now it seems coercive at best, possibly even vindictive. However, it made an impact, leading to the punchline at verse 12, "when the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord".

The "teaching about the Lord" is often challenging. Reading these texts 2,000 years later may raise questions that did not immediately occur to the original readers and hearers. Yet it is essential that they still astonish - as readers of the word we cannot afford to take these accounts for granted and read them as if they describe everyday events.

To Ponder

  • How aware are you of the history of the early Christians and key Christian centres? How might you learn more about this period?
  • What kinds of conflict have you experienced when sharing your faith?
  • How does the gospel (good news of Jesus) make an impact in your life?

Bible notes author

Julian Bond

Julian works for the Connexional Team as the grants team leader. Previous to that he was the director of the Christian Muslim Forum, which is built on friendship between a group of Christians and Muslims, showing how faith is a catalyst for good relationships and welcomes the 'other'.