Grades 3-6 for Sunday School:
The Apostle Paul: Part 3
The First Missionaries
Author’s Notes: Last week we left Saul back in his home town of Tarsus. He was creating a great deal of unrest in Jerusalem, as he went around boldly preaching about Jesus Christ. So the disciples thought it best to send him home, for a little while. In today’s lesson, we’re going to find God’s plan for Saul really going into motion, as his friend, Barnabas, is asked to take on some new ministries, and chooses Saul to be his partner. Together, they would become God’s first missionaries.
Does anyone know what a missionary is? A missionary is someone who is sent out to share the good news about Jesus Christ with others. Many missionaries are sent by their own churches to go to a place they believe God has called them to minister to.
Have any of you ever met a missionary? If so, do you remember where they were called to minister? Sometimes God calls missionaries to share His Word with people in their same country. Other times, God calls them far away, to other countries around the world.
What do missionaries do? There are many things missionaries are often asked to do on the mission field. And many times it depends on their location. Let’s make a list of things missionaries do:
There are many more things that missionaries do each day. And today we’re going to be learning about what the very first missionary team did, as their home church sent them out to minister in other cities and countries. We’re going to find that Paul and Barnabas were faithful to preach the Word of God, and the good news about Jesus. Along the way, they will have many triumphs, as well as great disappointments. But Paul and Barnabas were determined to be faithful in preaching God’s word, and following His leading, no matter what happened to them.
Today’s memory verse was written by Paul, encouraging his friend, Timothy, to be faithful in sharing God’s Word whether it’s well accepted, or not. And it encourages us to do the same.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season;” 2 Timothy 4:2a
(The word “instant” means diligent.)
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for the apostle Paul – the example he is to us, and for the Words he’s given us to read, from You. Help us, today, to be attentive to the lesson we’ll be learning from his life. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: The First Missionaries ( Acts 11&13 )
In our first lesson about Saul, Jesus revealed Himself to Saul, on the road to Damascus, in such an incredible way, that Saul immediately changed his persecuting ways, and went around, instead, telling people how Jesus really was the only true way to Heaven. When he returned to Jerusalem, he didn’t get a very warm reception. First, the disciples didn’t believe Saul had really changed. Then, when Barnabas persuaded them that it was true, the Jewish leaders grew upset with him, and his message, enough to want to kill him! So the disciples recommended that he head back to his hometown of Tarsus, so things might settle down a little.
But after a little time passed, the church in Antioch had some new jobs for Barnabas to do. And Barnabas decided that he could use a partner. Would anyone like to guess who Barnabas went looking for? Yes, Barnabas headed to Tarsus, to find his friend, Saul. And together, Saul and Barnabas would begin ministering as missionaries for the Lord.
Saul and Barnabas’ first ministry together came as a result of the persecution and scattering of believers, following the death of Stephen.
19Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.
Do you remember who had been present at, and consented to, the stoning of Stephen? Yes, Saul had stood by, approving of the stoning. That was just before his conversion in Damascus. And now we see that the Lord had used Stephen’s stoning to spread His word.
20And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the LORD Jesus.
Who does this verse say the men of Cyprus and Cyrene spoke to? They spoke to the Greeks. Up until now, the message about Jesus had been preached mostly to the Jews. But this was the start of something new. The Gospel was going out to the Gentiles. And help was needed.
21And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord.
22Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
23Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.
24For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.
Who was sent from his church in Jerusalem, to help the new believers in Antioch? Barnabas was sent. But he must have felt like it was more than he could or should do by himself, because Barnabas went to find some more help.
25Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:
26And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
So Saul and Barnabas worked as a team at the church in Antioch for a year. They fellowshipped with the believers and taught many people. But then, God had another mission in mind for them.
27And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
28And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
29Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea:
What did the prophet, Agabus, say was going to happen? There was going to be a dearth, or famine, throughout the world. And what did the disciples plan to do? They wanted to send relief (possibly food or money) to the Christians in Judea. This would require two things: the Christians in Antioch would need to give, and someone would need to deliver whatever relief supplies that were being sent. And who better to deliver such a gift than the new missions team – Saul and Barnabas.
30Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
Now we’ve seen this new missionary team going to another town to help support a new church. And they’re delivering relief supplies to yet another town. Once Saul and Barnabas had proved themselves faithful in those ministries, God was ready to move them on to the foreign mission field.
1Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
2As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
Whose idea was it for Barnabas and Saul to become missionaries? God’s! What were Barnabas and Saul doing before the Holy Spirit called them? They were ministering in the church. No matter what God may have planned for our future, it’s important not to just be sitting around, waiting for God’s call on our life. We should be actively doing what we know we should be doing, and being faithful in that; so that when God does reveal what He wants us to do, we have experience at being faithful, and we’re ready follow His next step for us.
For you that are still young, God may or may not call you to be missionaries. But what does He want you to be doing right now? If you are a Christian, God expects you to be living a faithful life of service for Him right where you are, whether at home, or school, or work, or play. God is looking for faithful servants no matter where we are.
And there is always the possibility that He will call you to be a missionary, even while you’re still young. So it’s important to have a relationship with God that is in good standing. That way you’ll recognize His voice when He does call you. And of course that’s not true just for missionaries. God may call you to be a doctor, or teacher, or pastor, or dad or mom. Whatever He calls you to do, you need to be ready to answer, “Yes!” And that means spending time every day with Him, praying and reading His Word so you’ll recognize His voice when He calls you.
Saul and Barnabas were ready and willing when the Holy Spirit called, and the church at Antioch responded.
3And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
4So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.
5And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.
This is the first we hear that Saul and Barnabas had another person along with them. What was his name? John. We’ll hear a little more about John later in this lesson. And then again in a few weeks. But for now, we just see that he is along on the journey to minister to Saul and Barnabas.
When the missionary group arrived at Salamis, where did they go to preach God’s Word? They went to the Jewish synagogue. That’s just what Saul had done in Damascus, when he was first saved. And then again in Jerusalem. He always carried God’s message to the Jews, first.
The group continued moving through the island of Cyprus, until they reached the other side – the city of Paphos. And it was there that Saul and Barnabas met the first great opposition to their ministry.
6And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus:
7Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.
The deputy must have heard Saul and Barnabas preaching, or heard from someone else that they were, because he sent a message to them, that he wanted them to tell him about the word of God. What a great opportunity for the missionaries, to be able to share the gospel with this important man. But there was someone who did not want the message of Jesus being spread, especially not to the deputy.
8But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.
What did the sorcerer try to do? He tried to turn Sergius Paulus away from the missionaries (Saul and Barnabas) and the message they were bringing. Why would he do such a thing? Saul had some thoughts on the matter, given to him by the Lord.
9Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him.
10And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?
Who did Saul, or Paul (as he would be referred to from this point on), say was influencing the ideas of this sorcerer? Paul called him a “child of the devil!” Those are some pretty harsh words. But this sorcerer was trying to keep the deputy from seeing the truth about Jesus. And God did not take that lightly.
11And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.
What happened to the sorcerer? God blinded him for standing against Paul and Barnabas, and trying to turn the deputy away from the truth of the Gospel. What do you think the deputy’s reaction will be to what happened to the sorcerer? Do you think he’ll be afraid of Paul, or his God?
12Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.
The deputy chose to believe the message Paul and Barnabas brought to him. He was not turned away by the sorcerer’s words. And he was not scared away by the power of God. In fact, it sounds like the blinding of the sorcerer may have just driven him to look more closely at the doctrine that Paul and Barnabas were sharing. And it resulted in his salvation. What a great encouragement that must have been for these new missionaries, to see the power of God at work to defend them, as well as to save souls.
It was then time for the missionaries to move on.
13Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.
What does our passage say happened when the group landed in Perga? John left them, to go back home. We are not told why he left. Perhaps he was homesick. Or maybe he found all the traveling was harder than he had expected. But whatever the reason, John’s departure was a tough blow for the team.
We don’t know how big a group Paul and Barnabas were traveling with. In fact, it may have just been the three of them up until that point. And what a great disappointment this must have been for Paul and Barnabas – to lose the help of this young man who had come along to minister to them. We’ll see just how disappointed they were, especially Paul, in a later lesson.
But for now, there was nothing left for Paul and Barnabas to do but to continue following God’s leading, without John. They were not going to let John’s desertion keep them from fulfilling God’s call. And they knew that God was not finished with them, yet.
And that’s something missionaries today face on a regular basis. Disappointments and trials face them nearly every day, as they try to minister where the Lord has sent them. Every day, Satan is doing all he can to try to keep the message of Jesus Christ from reaching those who have not heard. That’s why it’s so important for us to be praying, on a regular basis, for the missionaries our church has sent out. Missionaries will tell you that even more than money, they need the prayer support of faithful Christians who will help them fight through disappointments like Paul and Barnabas faced.
Would you be willing to be a faithful prayer partner with one of your church’s missionaries, or to a missionary you might know personally? What a great encouragement you would be to them, if you were willing to take that challenge! If you are willing, but don’t know of any missionaries, ask an adult in your church if they could tell you of someone. Your church might even have prayer cards from missionaries who have visited. An even greater encouragement might be if you could write to them, to tell them you’re making that commitment.
And here’s another challenge as we end today’s lesson. Have you ever felt like God might be calling you to be a missionary? Just because you’re not grown up yet doesn’t mean God can’t start working in your heart, asking you to someday be a missionary for Him. Many missionaries would tell you that they first felt called to be a missionary when they were young…just like you.
And whether God calls you to be a missionary, or not, you can still do many of the things that missionaries do right in your own home town. That includes sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with those around you. You don’t need to be called to be a missionary to do that. You just need to love the Lord, and love others enough to want to lead them to Jesus.
It’s not always easy to do. Sometimes people will want to hear about Jesus. But sometimes they won’t. They may even threaten to harm you if you continue to tell them that they need Jesus. But remember what our memory verse said. We need to be ready to share the Gospel of Jesus all the time: when it’s easy, and when it’s not so easy. When things seem to be going well, and when there are disappointments.
You can ask God to bring someone your way, even this week, that you can share the good news of Jesus with, just like Paul and Barnabas did on their missionary journey. Ask Him to give you the courage and desire to speak up for Him, and He will!
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of the apostle Paul. Please give each of us the courage to speak up to others about our love for You, and about what Jesus has done for us. Help us to be always ready to share, and not discouraged by disappointments that might come. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Activity: (Review Questions)
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. A young man named John went with Saul and Barnabas to Cyprus. (true)
2. In Paphos, Saul and Barnabas met with opposition from a silver smith. (false – opposition from a sorcerer)
3. The deputy was turned away from the Lord by the sorcerer. (false – the deputy believed in Jesus)
4. God blinded the sorcerer who tried to stop the deputy from believing. (true)
5. John went back home to Jerusalem when they landed in Pamphylia. (true)
Would You Be a Missionary!
What if God should call you
To share His word today
With someone that you know,
Or one He brings your way?
Do you think you’d be willing,
And ready, just like Paul,
To share the gospel message
If you should hear God’s call?
Lisa DeVinney,October 10, 2021