As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said…
1. At Antioch there was a very large Christian society. But, however large, it is always spoken of as "the Church," and not "the Churches," as was the case in Judea and Galatia. We do not wonder, therefore, at finding that there were several instructors, as was probably always the case. Variety of gifts, division of labour, adaptability for special service, a governing body, with other advantages, were naturally secured by this arrangement. In the present case it is very likely that each of the persons named was a man of some consideration and culture. God is a God of order; and however, in introducing into the world something new, men who are rude and unlettered may be employed, yet when things get into a condition that is to be permanent, then laws come into operation which belong to the ordinary requirements of common life. When you have not inspiration, you must have men who have original power and acquired knowledge, and cultivated faculty, which become "spiritual gifts," fitted for "the work of the ministry and the edification of the body of Christ," when they are sanctified by God.
2. There was something special about the exercises in which we find these men engaged. They were fasting and praying perhaps under the influence of the state of things in the persecuted Church in Judaea, and because there was a growing feeling amongst them that they should be making aggressions upon the world. As they fasted and prayed the Holy Ghost said, "Separate Me now, Barnabas and Saul," etc. They had been called long before, and had been endowed with gifts and authority, but now they were to be solemnly set apart to go to their special "work." They went forth, seeing perhaps the first step or two before them, but not knowing whither they were to be led.
3. In being called specially to set forth on a work of this kind, I do not know whether they were directed, or whether they were left to decide for themselves. If the latter, several circumstances and motives might have influenced them. Saul had been to his native place; what was more natural than that they should now go to Barnabas's? And then the Church at Antioch owed its very existence to men of Cyprus. A sense of obligation to Cyprus, as well as the natural feeling of Barnabas, might determine them to go there first.
4. The first place they came to was Salamis, where they preached in the synagogues; it is not said with what success, unless there be an underlying implication of success, when it is said that "they had also John to their minister"; in which capacity, as Peter did not baptize Cornelius, and Paul tells us that "Christ sent him not to baptize, but to preach the gospel," he probably assisted Barnabas and Saul by taking that work.
5. From Salamis they passed on through the island, to Paphos, but most likely preaching as they went. We have here, in vivid type, an image of that grand contest between truth and error which was then beginning — the age, with its inquiry and philosophy, looking on. First of all we have "a certain sorcerer," the representative of corrupted Judaism and perverted intelligence. He has got a wonderful amount of knowledge from the study of the Divine Word and the science of the day, but he seeks to turn it to selfish purposes, and by false pretensions impudently pretends to be possessed of supernatural powers. This sort of thing was very common in that age, just as it is now, when some of the most gifted are to be found putting faith in communications from the dead — communications which never are anything that seems worth coming from "Hades" to tell! But, on the other hand, you have in Paul Judaism refined, elevated, purified — its prophecies fulfilled, its dark sayings illuminated, and the old faith developed into that high and perfect form of truth which is in future to rule the world. Then, in Sergius Paulus you have the age looking on. Sergius Paulus was "prudent," most probably an earnest philosophical inquirer, who had seen the absurdity of idolatry, and the insufficiency of scepticism, and in search of truth was ready to welcome it however it came. He thinks he may learn something from Bar-Jesus, and therefore he listens. He hears of the other strangers, and he "calls for" them. When the two are brought together they are found to be opponents. Truth in the one instantly detects the lie in the other. Then there comes forth, at last, a manifestation of Divine power. Immediately there fell upon Elymas "a mist and a darkness," etc. An outward and visible type of his spiritual state, and of the vanity of his pretensions! Instead of being able to be a guide it was his place to ask for those who might lead the blind. The intelligence of the age, in the person of the deputy, was subdued by "the power of God and the wisdom of God" — and thus he became an unconscious prophecy of what was afterwards seen in the Roman empire, and what will one day be seen in every part of the "round world."
6. But now there comes a change in the language of the narrative. "Barnabas and Saul," which we have always had before, now gives place to "Paul and Barnabas." It is very singular that this change should take place just where this illustrious convert is introduced. It can hardly be thought, however, that Saul took the name of Paul out of compliment to the deputy. It is most probable that he had always had the name, and it came to be used in consequence of his becoming recognised as the Apostle of the Gentiles.
7. Passing from Cyprus, they went over to the continent, and got to Perga, and there Mark left them. We must not be too hard upon this young man. His conduct, no doubt, was very disappointing and mortifying to his uncle, and it greatly displeased Paul. He was inexperienced, and perhaps naturally timid. When he got to Asia, and saw the savage aspect of the country, heard of rivers and robbers, his young heart probably failed. Perhaps he thought that he was not called like Paul and Barnabas, and it is also very likely that his natural feelings towards Peter, his spiritual father, who was more to him than either Paul or Barnabas, had something to do with it. So the two men had, henceforth, to journey alone.
8. They travelled on; and probably the journey was such as to lead to the reference which we have in one of the apostle's letters to "perils of waters, and perils of robbers, perils in the city, and perils by the heathen," etc. At last they got to Antioch in Pisidia. There were a good many Jews in this city. On the Sabbath day they "went into the synagogue," where they were recognised in the synagogue as brethren, though strangers. Their personal appearance indicated, possibly, that they were not ordinary men; or they had been long enough in the town to give rise to some curiosity. After that part of the service was concluded, in which the "minister" brought out the scroll, and read portions of the law and the prophets, the rulers sent to Paul and Barnabas, saying, "If ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on" — expressing both national and religious unity, which made the Jewish people one throughout all the world. Paul began by addressing himself both to the Jews and proselytes, and then "reasoned out of the Scriptures." Referring to the history of the people, he sketched it from God's first choice of them, through their fortunes in Egypt and the wilderness, down to the time of David. He then came out with the statement, "Of this man's seed hath God raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus." He then referred to the ministry of John; the fulfilment of prophecy in the rejection and death of Jesus; and the fact that God had raised Him from the dead. After further "reasoning out of the Scriptures," he came to the grand Christian proclamation: — "Be it known unto you" (ver. 38). This was not the end of his speech, but it was the end of his argument; and the Jews who had listened up to this time rose up, were offended, and made for the door. Seeing them pressing out, Paul added the warning "Beware" (ye who are moving away) "lest that come upon you" (vers. 40, 41). They went their way, but the Gentiles were left, and after Paul had spoken to them, the congregation dispersed. Some of the Gentiles, glad to learn what they had heard, with some of the Jews, accompanied Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them as they went along, and persuaded them to "continue in the grace of God." What a week it would be that followed! And the next Sabbath "almost the whole city came together." There were many of them who never would have gone under ordinary circumstances, and the Jews were offended. "Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold" (ver. 46). When they turned to the Gentiles, every man and woman amongst them who had anything like religious earnestness in them in seeking after eternal life, "glorified the word of the Lord, and believed."
Parallel VersesKJV: As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.