Published by Stanley Pouw in 2023 · 19 March 2023
The book of Acts is a missionary book about the spreading of the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth. But in Acts 13, we reach a milestone in the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Satan is working today, as he did then. We see it not only in our culture, but in other cultures around the globe. Satan is always antagonizing the ministry of Jesus Christ.
Satan is at work in the world in many ways. And when anyone sets out to accomplish the work of God, he can be expected to face the opposition of the enemy. Now, with that in mind, let’s look at the satanic resistance to a Spirit-filled mission in Acts 13. Acts 13 is a critical chapter in the flow of God’s expanding of His Kingdom. It has been about 25 years since Pentecost.
The church has grown and developed. It has reached Judea and Samaria, and there has been a concentrated effort in those early years. But now it is time to move into the Gentile world, to begin to establish that final element of our Lord’s commission, and that is to preach the gospel to all the world. And by this time, an effective base of operations has been planted by the church at Antioch.
This key church is in Antioch, the first real beachhead in a pagan world. A church involved in worshiping God and glorifying His name, learning His Word, and walking in the power and energy of the Spirit of God. This church had a very strong doctrinal basis; strong foundation in the truth of God. It had many gifted men and women who were highly trained and capable.
And now it is ready to send them out. And so Antioch becomes for us, a blueprint, a model, a pattern, and an example. Now, let me give you the basic key, the Holy Spirit. This was a Spirit-filled church, a Spirit-empowered church, a church that knew the meaning of Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto Me.”
A Spirit-filled church is defined as a church in which the people walk in obedience to the will of God as expressed in the Word of God. Colossians 3 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Now, there are several things you should note as we look at a Spirit-filled church moving out into the world. Number one: it is characterized by spiritual men and spiritual women.
Verse 1, “Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” Any church that’s effective has to have leadership. People do not rise above their leaders. God builds strong spiritual men, because that makes everything happen.
And the church has always been after men who were full of faith, full of wisdom, full of the Word of God, and full of the Holy Spirit. In Titus 1, and 1 Timothy 3, the Apostle Paul says, “Here are the kind of men that I demand to be leaders in my church,” and he gives us very high standards. He is to be blameless, a one-woman man. And it isn’t just that he’s only to have had one wife, not someone divorced.
The idea is that he is to be a man totally committed to and in love with his wife. That’s a present intense spiritual qualification. It is important what you think of her. You must be temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, given to hospitality, skilled in teaching. Not given to wine, not violent, not greedy of possessions or money. Patient, not a fighter, and not covetous of someone else.
A person who rules well over his own house, has his children in subjection with all seriousness. He is not to be a recent convert. He must have a good report of the people on the outside, and it goes on, and Titus 1 repeats many of the same things. And so there is a premium put on spiritual men; if a church is to be a church that’s going to affect the world, it has to be led by spiritual men.
But there are many churches, across this nation and around the world that do not have spiritual men in leadership. They do not have men who teach the Word of God, who live according to the Word of God, and who are filled with the Holy Spirit. And that is a tragic thing. And there’s a good insight into the distinction between the gift of preaching, and the gift of teaching.
Paul names them for us: Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul. Now, we know about Barnabas. He was a Levite from Cyprus, tremendous Old Testament knowledge. Acts 11 tells us he was full of the Holy Spirit. A Spirit-filled Jew, with a pure Christian character. He was highly respected, and highly loved, a warm-hearted man, a capable teacher, and a comforter; that’s what his name means.
And then we meet Simeon, called Niger which means black. There was certainly no race distinction there. This man was a Gentile. And then there was Lucius, who was a Gentile also from Africa. And then Manaen who was brought up with Herod, in the family of Agrippa. And then it says Saul, destined to be the key to pagan world evangelization. Five spiritual men, five godly preachers and teachers.
Verse 2, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” The duty of a leader in a church is to minister to the Lord. That means to serve the Lord, and to fast and pray. The Lord is served by the teaching of His Word, and spending their time in prayer. This church was set apart to be used by God.
The word “minister” basically means to serve in a priestly manner. It is used in 1 Peter 2:5, with the idea of offering priestly service to God. What do you give God? I don’t sacrifice a lamb or a turtledove or a goat, or a ram, or anything else. My sacrifice to God is my service rendered, and every sermon I preach is as if I were bringing an offering into the very sanctuary of God.
Every sermon I preach, every hour I study, every moment I spend in prayer, is what I offer God, is an act of loving service and worship for Him. Now, that’s the heart and soul of what ministry is about. Oh, sure there are other things you have to do, like write letters, and work on projects. But I never lose sight of the priority. In verse 2, everything they did was a spiritual sacrifice offered to Christ.
These men ministered to the Lord, rather than just to the people. When all you’re concerned about is ministering to the people, you tend to compromise. But as long as you’re offering everything to God, there’s no place for compromise. And so, like the Macedonians, they first gave themselves to the Lord, and everything flowed out of that. They fasted, as a way to express intensity.
Fasting is a way to express devotion, vigilance, and passion. It’s not that you’re going to become spiritual because you don’t eat. It is when you are so passionately consumed in the cause in your heart that you have no desire for food. Fasting can be, partial or total, as the Lord directs. Then comes a third element in this wonderful section, and that is a spiritual mission.
Spiritual men with a spiritual ministry are called on a spiritual mission. The Spirit moves in and speaks. The prophets’ ministry before the completion of the New Testament was to speak a direct word from the Holy Spirit to the life of the church. The apostles gave the doctrine; the prophets spoke the practical aspects and the application. So one of these five, was a prophet who spoke for God.
Saul and Barnabas were send to the mission field by the Holy Spirit. Verse 3, “Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.” That is a sign of affirmation, confirmation and identification. It’s like saying, “We stand with you. We’re in solidarity with you and your cause. We stand behind you with prayer and support, and we sent you out.”
Verse 4-5, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John Mark as their helper.” Salamis was the principle trade city, a large city with a great population of Jews. There were several synagogues in that city.
Now, we come to the crisis, they run into spiritual militants. Verse 6, “Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus.” That name means “son of salvation.” Now Paphos was the seat of Roman government. It was also the center for the worship of Venus, the goddess of love and sex.
The city was a sin pit where people wallowed in moral filth. Verse 7, “who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.” Somehow, when Barnabas and Saul went to Paphos, they got an interview with the governor, the Roman proconsul, that’s what it means, “the deputy of the country.”
He was the governor; he was what Pilate would’ve been over in Palestine. And they wanted to meet this guy just for whatever intentions they had in presenting the gospel. They received an audience with him, and they found alongside of him this sorcerer, who was basically one who contacted demons. In its positive connotation, it has to do with someone who consulted the stars.
In its negative sense, it was someone who was superstitious, who consulted the stars as an astrologer, and there’s a big difference. One is a science, and one is a false religion. And so here was a satanic man, who was a false prophet. Verse 8, “But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. He immediately begins to oppose them.
Whenever you set out to reach a soul for Jesus Christ, you’re “wrestling not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers.” Here is Satan’s emissary, a self-styled false prophet who had attached himself to the leader of the country, and now was trying to prevent him from coming to know the truth of Christ. It’s indicative also that Sergius Paulus dabbled in the occult.
And at the great moment when the gospel is to be presented to this needy man, Sergius Paulus, the demon activates this Elymas, and he does everything he can to stop the process. 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “That in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” Why someone seems to be interested in the faith, and suddenly falls away?
It may have been this invasion by “seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.” Look, at 2 Timothy 3:8, when Moses came to speak the truth, “Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses.” And so there are others, he says, “so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.” And verse 13 says, “Evil men and seducers shall become worse and worse.”
We’re in a battle with the demons, the imposters, the magicians, the sorcerers, the occultists; demonic opposition to the gospel. You have the outside attack from Elymas, and you have the inside attack from John Mark. The church in its mission is very often devastated internally as much as it’s devastated externally. Dissension, division, an unwillingness to go. Here John Mark just bails out.
What made him leave Paul and Barnabas? Well, fear of the danger. They were going to have to cross the Taurus Mountains. The caves in those mountains were occupied by robbers, and no doubt Paul referred to them when he talked about “the perils of robbers,” in his letter to the Corinthians. When he thought about the drudgery of the journey, the tremendous price he had to pay, and he just quit.
Verse 9-10, “Then Saul (also called Paul), filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?” How do you deal with the devil? Head on, people. What is an occultist? He is full of deceit and wickedness and you’re son of Satan.
Verse 11, “And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.” God struck him blind on the spot. That’s spiritual mastery, and you know when you get into the spiritual battle, you know you’re on the winning side.
But the battle wasn’t really with Elymas, the battle was for the soul of Sergius Paulus. Verse 12, “Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” There are souls all over this world that God would reach. There are 35 tribes in Papua that have never heard the message of Jesus Christ. I think about Europe. And, yes, there are wars out there.
And they must face the fact that, immediately upon the call to a spiritual mission, they’re going to run into the militants of Satan to thwart that effort. But if they are faithful, and if they call on the resource and the power of God, they will know the spiritual mastery that God gave to these men that day. For our God has not changed. The key behind everything is that we should be controlled by the Holy Spirit. Let us pray.