PENTECOST 2021: NR 4
Scripture: Acts 13: 1 – 12
Theme: That which invites resistance
Chapter 13 is a turning point in the book of Acts for 2 reasons: a) the Gospel message is reaching into Europe and b) the focus turns away from Peter’s ministry to Paul’s ministry.
In the first 12 chapters, the focus is mainly on the Apostle Peter and therefore on ministry mainly to the Jews, but from chapter 13 Paul’s missionary journeys come into the spotlight and therefore ministry to the nations (see Gal 2:7).
Last night we saw in chapter 11 how the Gospel message circled out to Antioch, a city in what is today known as Turkey. It was a place where pure heathenism and evil spirits ruled, but the moment when a few obedient followers of Jesus starts to preach the Word there, people came to faith, and a brand new church is established (11:21). Out of bare soil a little green plant sprouts.
You see: It is God the Holy Spirit who does it by way of two instruments: a) believers who speak and b) the Word of God.
Barnabas and Paul were there for a year to thoroughly teach the Christians (11:26).
In chapter 13 we read that there were later 5 spiritual leaders – prophets and teachers – i.e. Paul, Barnabas, Lucius, Simeon, and Manaen.
During the first phase of the church’s existence, before the NT-Scriptures were completed, the Lord gave the prophetic gift to make Godly revelations known to the churches. The prophetic gift consisted of insight into the OT, also the preaching of the Apostles, and how the two must be integrated and applied. The Bible was not yet complete.
After the Bible was completed, new revelations were no longer possible/necessary (Rev 22:18-19). The prophets however had to test each other’s words (1 Cor 14:32) and their words had to agree with the teaching of the Apostles (1 Cor 14:37). Prophet and teacher were the same gifts – the ability to teach the Word – and particularly AFTER all the Apostles had died and the NT was complete.
These 5 men in chapter 13 were such prophet-teachers. There was therefore not one leader who wielded the scepter, but a team. And they were culturally so diverse, yet one in Christ. Paul was a Roman-Jew and a saved Pharisee, Manaen was from Herod’s palace, Lucius from Northern Africa, Simeon also a black man, because he was called Niger (black). A wonderful unit, notwithstanding the differences.
It was indeed one day while they were together fasting and praying and earnestly seeking the Lord’s face, that the sparks flew when they experienced that the Holy Spirit is telling them to send Paul and Barnabas out as missionaries (13:2).
To fast means to purposely withhold yourself from certain necessities of life (or enjoyable means) – like food – to intensely devote yourself to the Lord seeking His will in specific important matters. See Ne 1:4, Dan 9:3. Setting aside (for example) food to concentrate on the spiritual. A very blessed practice. That is what these 5 leaders were doing.
We do not know how the Holy Spirit spoke to them. We do know that their focus was 100% on the Lord. They were busy fasting and praying. And it does indeed happen that, when you isolate yourself with the Word and in prayer, that you experience the guidance of the Spirit better than otherwise (according to Luke 6:12-13).
It does not help us to speculate about how the Spirit guided them, because the Bible does not say anything about that. Therefore our conjectures have no value. What we however can know with certainty is that going into isolation for quiet time with the Word and in prayer (with or without fasting), one’s ears are opened in a particular way, and that is important in today’s busy environment with its instant mentality.
And now look at this: here is a very young church, who itself was recently established through mission work, and they are already sending out their first missionaries to other unreached areas. Waves circling out.
And take note: The LORD ordered it (13:2). It was the Lord’s particular will that the young church immediately sends out missionaries. Spiritual breathing – not only breathe in but breathe out also! And not just any missionaries: their best preachers! The two men they could hardly afford to lose!
Sacrifice walks hand-in-hand with obedience. The obedient and dependent church must always pay a price. It is a different approach to mission work than the one we have, is it not?
To us, the local church is the most important, and reaching out to unreached groups of people is last in line – if we have time and money (or feel like it). If we do become involved, we do not give our best, but we give that which we think we can do without.
Can you see and hear in Acts 13 how the Spirit speaks a different language? A new church is established in Antioch and within 2 years the Spirit leads them to send out their best preachers as missionaries to other unreached areas! The heart of God beats and pumps for reaching out with the Message to people who have not yet been reached with it. Of which there are thousands in Cape Town! And I say: If THAT is how HIS heart beats, then my heart MUST beat the same way, otherwise I am out of step with His will. And that I will not dare.
And then what happened in Antioch? There is immediate obedience: the entire church again goes into a time of fasting and prayer (13:3) (which shows us how serious they were to do the will of the Lord), and they placed their hands on Paul and Barnabas and sent them out (13:3).
Placing on of hands means: “We are sending you as our representatives. We cannot go ourselves, but you are going in our place and we support you. It is as if all of us are going”.
And do not overlook verse 4: ”the Holy Spirit sent them on their way.” It is the church who is sending them and yet it is the Spirit sending them! The church is the instrument of the Spirit! That which is physically done by the church members (fasting, praying, laying on of hands) is what the Spirit is doing.
We should have had a map this evening to see the exact route followed by Paul and Barnabas on their missionary trip.
In short, they traveled from Antioch to the island of Cyprus (13:4). Cyprus is a large island in the Mediterranean sea. Imagine the map. The country Israel/Palestine is situated on the far eastern side of the Mediterranean. North of Israel is Syria and north of Syria is Turkey. Antioch is on the border between Syria and Turkey.
From there they sailed approximately 200 km west to the island Cyprus, and Salamis is the first city on the eastern side of the island. Paphos is a city on the western side. They have therefore first visited Salamis (13:5), and then traveled overland to Paphos, the capitol (13:6).
Everywhere – as they went – they proclaimed the Word, first in the Jewish synagogues (13:5) and then to the non-Jews/Gentiles.
How wonderfully sure they were of their calling: to proclaim the Word everywhere as they went. And note: as the Word spreads, the kingdom spreads! The two go together. That is the message of Acts: the advance of the Word and therefore the advance of the kingdom.
It is however in Paphos that the devil’s patience with the missionaries ran out and he by way of his assistant Bar-Jesus/Elymas, oppose the preaching (13:6).
Paphos was a nest of occultism and idolatry activities because it was the main center of the worship of Aphrodite/Venus. The goddess of love. An immoral nest.
Paphos was also the center of the Roman government on the island of Cyprus. The governor Sergius Paulus was interested in what Paul and Barnabas preached (13:7), but Elymas was employed as a sorcerer and false preacher in the palace. As a sorcerer, he was immersed in occultism – the lure of the devil. He was controlled by evil spirits. In other words, it is evil that spoke through him. Therefore he opposed Paul and Barnabas and tried to turn the governor away from the faith (13:8).
You see: Paul and Barnabas’s preaching drew opposition and aggression from evil. Where the Word is proclaimed, demons manifest in people. In Acts 13 one can see so clearly what it is that caused the enemy of souls to rise for an attack. He was already unhappy at the church that was established in Antioch – and about the earnestness of those 5 leaders – and their fasting and praying – and about their obedience to the Spirit for sending out missionaries – and about Paul and Barnabas’s preaching the Word in Cyprus. And now his patience has run out and he organizes a head-to-head confrontation – through the sorcerer. At all cost, the governor must be prevented from hearing the Word.
Is it not unbelievable how realistically the struggle in the spiritual realm is described here!? How great a thing it is when someone comes to faith – one can see it in the reaction from evil! From darkness to the light! That is from the power of Satan to God! (According to 26:18). When someone comes to faith in Christ, it is stepping from one kingdom into another! The enemy hates it! He hates the proclamation of the Word. He hates it that people listen intently. He hates faith-response. He opposes it and tries to blur people’s minds.
The Lord Jesus is a reality. The working of the Spirit is a reality. The Bible is the truth – every letter of it. People who come to faith in Christ, are truly saved. If there is someone who believes all of that, it is satan and his demons. There is a real spiritual struggle and conflict going on – 24 hours of every day.
Sometimes the resistance is open and dramatic, sometimes more subtle and secret and hidden. Read Eph 6: 10 et seq. The subtle resistance that a Christian sometimes experiences from other people, is the evil working through unbelievers.
And in addition, we find people who fully expose themselves to the influence of the devil by way of occultism – like Elymas. People who move in the terrain of evil by practicing divination, witchcraft, interprets omens, fortune-telling, consulting the dead (according to Deut 18: 9-13), are moving on dangerous terrain, and the devil will oppose the Gospel message more dramatically through such people. That was the case with Elymas, the sorcerer.
But now observe the incredible authority that the believer in Christ has over evil.
Filled with the Spirit, Paul addresses Elymas in the Name of the Lord – he is speaking to the evil spirit that has Elymas in his power. “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right. Stop standing in the way of the Lord. You are going to be blind and for a time you will not see the light of the sun!”
And immediately everything in front of Elymas is in darkness.
That is the authority that every Christian has over evil. Paul did not have special authority. All believers have it because you are IN Christ and Christ’s foot is on the head of the evil one (see Eph 2:6 and Eph 1: 21-22). However, we do not have the authority to speak to and rebuke the devil left and right, but to live a positive life in victory!
But now look at the wonderful verse 12: the proconsul (who saw what had happened) believed, for he was deeply impressed at the teaching about the Lord. Not the Lord’s authority over evil. Not the miracle that was done in front of his eyes. Not Elymas who was blindly staggering about. Not the supernatural. Not the experience. No – that which conquered the governor’s heart, was what Paul and Barnabas were preaching – the Gospel message, the teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. Is that not excellent?!
That is how we know that it was truly the Holy Spirit who was at work there because the Spirit never turns the attention to Himself and the miracles He performs, but He draws people to Christ, and for that, He uses the Word.
The Holy Spirit is never busy – while Christ and the Word are occupied over on that side – putting on a show of miracles on this site. No, He certainly did turn Elymas blind, but it was only to get him out of the way so that the governor could hear the Word concerning Christ.
If we want to pray for something, let us pray for the Holy Spirit to remove obstacles and open the spiritual eyes of people to see Jesus in the Word and become devoted to Him.
That is the greatest miracle of all, and even the devil with all his cunning cannot remain standing in the way when the Lord is drawing people to Himself in that way.
Translated by Marthie Wilson