One of Charles Wesley’s hymns emphasizes the role of the Spirit: “Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire, let us thine influence prove.” A later stanza continues: “Come, Holy Ghost (for moved by thee the prophets wrote and spoke), unlock the truth, thyself the key, unseal the sacred book.”
Like Wesley’s hymn, today’s reading emphasizes the work of the Spirit in the early church and its mission to the world. The scene opens in Antioch, where the believers gathered in worship and fasting. In response, the Holy Spirit spoke, calling Saul and Barnabas to be set apart for a special work. The community responded in continued prayer and fasting, and sent them off.
Led again “by the Holy Spirit” (v. 4), they headed for Cyprus and embarked on an island tour, ending in Paphos. There they met Elymas, a sorcerer who tried to prevent the conversion of the proconsul. Saul, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 9), boldly rebuked the sorcerer, declaring him a “child of the devil” (v. 14) in contrast to his name Bar-Jesus, which literally means “child of salvation.” In response to the remarkable power of the Spirit in Saul, the proconsul came to faith. He was the first Gentile convert without any connection to a synagogue.
Finally, Saul and Barnabas traveled north to Asia Minor and the region of Galatia. As before, they went first to the Jewish synagogues and proclaimed the message that “what God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus” (vv. 32–33). Notice that emphasis on resurrection (repeated four separate times). Christ’s death on the cross is meaningless if there is no resurrection. Only through Christ’s death and resurrection is there forgiveness of sin and deliverance from its power. That Spirit-inspired message is the heart of the gospel.