International Sunday School Lesson for December 10, 2017
To learn to discern between those who teach us to serve and those who teach us to seek power and indulgence
Acts 13:1-12 (CEB)
1The church at Antioch included prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon (nicknamed Niger), Lucius from Cyrene, Manaen (a childhood friend of Herod the ruler), and Saul. 2 As they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul to the work I have called them to undertake.” 3 After they fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on these two and sent them off. 4 After the Holy Spirit sent them on their way, they went down to Seleucia. From there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 In Salamis they proclaimed God’s word in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their assistant. 6 They traveled throughout the island until they arrived at Paphos. There they found a certain man named Bar-Jesus, a Jew who was a false prophet and practiced sorcery. 7 He kept company with the governor of that province, an intelligent man named Sergius Paulus. The governor sent for Barnabas and Saul since he wanted to hear God’s word. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that’s what people understood his name meant) opposed them, trying to steer the governor away from the faith.
9 Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Saul, also known as Paul, glared at Bar-Jesus and 10 said, “You are a deceiver and trickster! You devil! You attack anything that is right! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord into crooked paths? 11 Listen! The Lord’s power is set against you. You will be blind for a while, unable even to see the daylight.” At once, Bar-Jesus’ eyes were darkened, and he began to grope about for someone to lead him around by the hand. 12 When the governor saw what had taken place, he came to believe, for he was astonished by the teaching about the Lord.
When the governor saw what had taken place, he came to believe, for he was astonished by the teaching about the Lord. (Acts 13:12)
This is our second lesson on “faith” and there always seems to be some confusion between gifts of the spirit and fruits of the spirit. Today’s lesson involves two gifts of the spirit. The gift of faith, and the gift of discernment. Just a reminder the fruits of the spirit as listed in Galatians are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Note that love, joy and peace, along with hope are what we celebrate during advent.
After the martyrdom of Stephen, many early believers scattered from Jerusalem. One of the places where these early believers ended up was in Antioch in Syria. Some of you may be told that the Antioch of our lesson is in Pisidia, now modern Turkey, but for me there is very clear evidence that the Antioch in today’s lesson is the one located in Syria.
When studying the Book of Acts, remember it is more about the acts of the Holy Spirit than it is the Acts of the Apostles. The Antioch church was blessed with several good leaders, and these were not just peasants, and fishermen, but men of means. They were also dedicated to spreading the good news about Jesus to both Jew and Gentile.
As our lesson begins Barnabas was sent to witness what was going on in Antioch. After witnessing the enthusiasm, Barnabas went to Tarsus to get Saul, who had been in Arabia for about three years before returning to his home in Tarsus. Barnabas knew Saul as a great teacher and well trained, and the church in Antioch was growing so fast Barnabas needed help.
As our group sets out on this journey, they head toward the island of Cyprus. Cyprus was home of Barnabas and it made sense to begin there. After landing in Salamis, they journeyed by land to Paphos on the westward side of Cyprus.
As they encountered a sorcerer named Bar-Jesus that was trying to block them from seeing Sergius Paulus, the deputy of the Island, and whether by coincidence or plan, Saul has a name change to Paul.
As Paul confronts this sorcerer and false prophet, we notice another change. Not only is Saul now Paul but the order changes from Barnabas and Saul to Paul and Barnabas.
Most importantly Sergius Paulus becomes a believer, after witnessing what happened when Paul through the Holy Spirit caused the sorcerer to go blind, temporarily.
Today we are constantly faced with false teachers and mystics and we must rely on the Holy Spirit to help discern the real from the fake. Remembering that the Holy Spirit will never go against scripture or the teachings of Jesus. It is by our faith and discernment that we can separate the real from the fake.
My hymn for this week, in honor of Advent is “Come thou Long Expected Jesus.