Monday, June 12, 2017

Acts 13:4- 12 : ”The True Gospel and a False Prophet”

Last  time  we began with Acts 13 and saw there in its introduction (vv. 1-3), a multicultural Church led by a multicultural leadership sending a multicultural team to evangelize a multi- cultural world.

Acts 13 introduces us to the first missionary journey which ends in Acts 14:28, when Paul and Barnabas  return to  Antioch in  Syria. It is the missionary effort of the early church  that   literally  results  in  an explosion of churches  planted in  the then known  world.

This reminds  us  of the life and times of John Calvin and his pastoral ministry in Geneva, Switzerland, in the middle of the 1500’s. The young Protestant movement was always at risk of being threatened and persecuted by the Roman Catholic church, and those kings and countries which supported that church. In Switzerland, John Calvin, who was actually a Frenchman, was safe, but he had a great interest and passion for the progress of the  gospel in  his fatherland. The Protestant Reformation spread rapidly through Europe and France. Much of we know of that time  is found  in the archives of Geneva. There are hundreds of letters to and from Calvin and  also from others to the underground church in France and whilst  in 1555 there were  only five underground churches in France yet  only  four years later in  1559, there are reportedly over 100 underground churches in France.  Seven years later, in 1562, there is mention being made of over 2,150 underground churches in France! 
This is typical of the history of  the great revivals. Truly, the Holy Spirit can do more in  5 minutes than we can do in  50 years! 

And so we see   Paul and Barnabas sent out from Antioch in Syria, with prayer and fasting, (v.3) and even more significantly, we see them “being sent out by the Holy Spirit” (v.4). Can they go wrong, being led by the Holy Spirit?  What we shall learn is that they cannot go wrong. God’s purpose  for the salvation of all His elect people in the world  will not ultimately be resisted. They will go in the power and assurance of God, and they will accomplish the purpose for which they have been sent out, but   we shall also learn that this does not mean that there will be no trouble and no resistance on the way. God’s  archenemy,  that fallen angel called Satan  will do whatever  he can to hinder the progress of the gospel.  In fact, we shall see it now here, in this text, as  Paul, Barnabas and John Mark engage upon  the first  leg  on this  journey – on the island of Cyprus.

As  we  move  forward  with this story we  have then  seen  that  there   are four important ingredients  in  getting  this mission on the map :  fasting and prayer,  the Holy Spirit’s calling, the laying on of hands by the church of the missionaries and the Holy  Spirit  sending them  and filling them for the purpose.

We cannot overstate the historical importance of this moment in Antioch with reference to the history of the world. From now on  the  whole world will be evangelized. 
Before this  call from the Holy Spirit there was no organized missionary activity to Asia Minor, Greece, or the Roman empire  or Spain. 
Before this Paul had not written any of his letters which were all the result of his missionary journeys.  In fact, 13 out of the 29 books of the New Testament were the result of the three missionary journeys described in the book of Acts.  

So, the church at Antioch was called by the Holy Spirit to the breaking of new ground. The church needed wisdom and insight from God regarding this new venture , and fasting with prayer  was  employed  for this purpose.  
What is  the purpose  of fasting? While much can be said, and whilst  reference can be made  on a key text in  Isaiah 58 on the nature  of true fasting and false fasting, we want to confine our comments to  this : 
In essence fasting with prayer is saying to God, “We want your blessing and counsel in this matter more than this food. Please hear our prayers. We will not give up until we have an answer from you.” Fasting has to do with desperation for God’s will to be done.  There are many ways to fast. Some may be partial, like Daniels’ fast when he only chose to eat vegetables.  Other fasts are complete fasts, like Moses’ fast and Jesus’  40 day fast.  In this case the whole congregation fasted (not sure exactly how) for the purpose of this missionary outreach.

At any rate, this  prompting of the Holy Spirit  together with  the  prayer and fasting of the church put Christianity  on a map, making it very soon the  dominant faith  of the Roman empire and of Europe, and of North Africa and territories in Asia. Today the Christian faith is found in virtually every country of the world. For instance, in 1900, there were approximately 10 million Christians in Africa. By 2000, there were 360 million. By 2025, conservative estimates see that number rising to 633 million. Those same estimates put the number of Christians in Latin America in 2025 at 640 million and in Asia at 460 million.[1] World missions was born in a worship meeting , accompanied  by  prayer and fasting, and it changed  the course of world history.

The first missionary journey   is primarily  focused on three  places:
(i)                 Cyprus  (13:4-12)
(ii)               Antioch in Pisidia (13:13- 52]  in south Galatia
(iii)             Iconium and Lystra  (14:1-23)

We begin in Cyprus.

Why Cyprus?  Well, Barnabas was  from there [4:36], and Cyprus would be the first  major island and country  and convenient stop over on  the way to the Roman empire and   away from the mainland where  the Christian faith had  found its beginnings.
And so, from Seleucia, about 20 kilometres from Antioch in Syria  they sail to Salamis in Cyprus. There they preached the gospel in the synagogue of the Jews (13:5).  In passing it is mentioned that John Mark assisted (Gr. hyperetes) them. They made their way (presumably preaching) through the island from east to west to Paphos (about 120 kilometers). It is here, Luke reports,  that  the first opposition appears.

The opposition is in the form of a man called  Bar-Jesus, (lit. ‘son of Jesus’  or ‘son of salvation’),  or as Luke calls alternatively  him, “Elymas”, meaning  sorcerer or  magician (v.8) Do not let his name,  Bar Jesus, fool you. He is no saviour at all.  He is in fact an anti- Christ. He is anti- gospel. In fact, he's the very opposite of what the Lord Jesus and His gospel stands for.

We find him in the company of an influential politician, the Roman pro- consul Sergius Paulus, who is   said to be a man of intelligence.  Sergius summoned Paul and his colleagues  to hear the Word of God,  and this  Jewish  false prophet Bar Jesus,  alias  Elymas the sorcerer  knew that from his twisted perspective (and from Paul’s perspective,  ‘a son of the devil’ ) trouble was looming, and therefore  he sought to  actively turn Sergius  away from the faith.  The devils in Jesus’ day always knew  that  the truth which He spoke  would undo the lies and darkness  which  they   represented  [ e.g. Mark 1:21-28;29-34;3:11 ; 5:1-20 etc.]

And so we read that Saul, who now becomes Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit  (v.9  cf.  v.4)  challenges this Elymas, and he  calls him what he is, “ you son of the devil, you enemy of righteousness, full of deceit and villainy”“ will you not stop making crooked the straight  paths of the Lord ?” …  this is a reference to Isaiah 40:3, about making a straight path for the  good news  which the anticipated Messiah would bring.  This prophecy is associated  with  the  coming of John the Baptist.  John came to prepare the straight paths for Jesus, whose forerunner he had become. Here also are Paul and his team making a straight path for  Sergius  to hear  about the straight and narrow way in Christ, and this false prophet  tries  to turn Sergius Paulus away from that  straight path to follow his  crooked path.

So, here is the gospel and there is  the  opposition. Here is the power of God,   the Holy Spirit  working through Paul and  his team,  and there is the magic   power of the devil through Elymas.  Who will win? 
The answer is easy. God wins, because God wanted Sergius Paulus  to believe and be  saved!  God wins because He is the sovereign of the Universe, and not the devil.  God wins  because  He has all the nations in His purpose. This man from Cyprus among  many others from Cyprus , must  be  a part of the nations  that will worship  at the footstool of the throne of their Creator! [Rev.5:9; 7:9] . Elymas like every devil and son of the devil must bow the knee to Jesus, as in this case  the Sovereign Lord strikes him  with a judicial blindness… “immediately mist and darkness fell upon him…”  and he was helpless .

Sergius Paulus,  the  Roman pro- consul  in Cyprus, who  by the preaching of the gospel was sought out by God, not only sees this which is happening to  Elymas, BUT  he  is also astonished at the  teaching of the Lord (v. 12),  AND HE BELIEVED!  He  embraced the truth as it is in Jesus.  What a wonderful blessing  and encouragement that must have been to Barnabas and Saul at the beginning of the first  missionary journey. 
Make no mistake! They are going to need this  encouragement and reminder  of the  wonderful sovereignty of God and of the Holy Spirit who has sent them, who goes before them and who continues  to lead them on this journey.  There   will be some  severe trials along the way  to come.  They need  to have a  strong assurance and reminder  that God is with them…

In Conclusion  :  A few  things to think about ...

      1.      The importance of having a calling for a fruitful missionary  work. This  needs  to  be  rooted in the inward call of the Holy Spirit, and it ought to  be accompanied by the united praying and fasting of the church, which also recognizes such a call by the laying on of hands.

     2.      The importance of   the church praying for and supporting such a work. May I remind you  the church members  that at the most basic and fundamental level,  you need to be  involved in the ministry of prayer,  as we consider the missionary  expansion of God in this world and in our generation.   Paul  in his epistles  always asked for the church’s help in prayer . Surely we cannot do less.  From a human perspective  then I would fear to send anyone into the mission field without  the help of a praying church.

3.     Remember that  we cannot keep  the best and most  gifted people  for ourselves.  The tendency is always there to keep   those gifted  people like Saul and  Barnabas for ourselves. I don't want Barnabas and Saul  to leave my church!  But the worshiping church at Antioch said, ‘We will and must  send the best we have into the mission field  for the glory of God and for the sake of His ever expanding kingdom.’

4. Remember  that  though the Gospel of God will always triumph, it will also  always  be resisted   by Satan, as long as  this  age will last . 

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