Sunday Morning Sermon — Acts 13:4-12 The Challenge and Triumph of Missions

27 Nov


Acts 13:4-12

The Challenge and Triumph of Being On Mission with God

Last week we looked carefully at the wonderful church in Antioch; a church with godly leadership, a church with a heart of worship, a church that lived by prayer and fasting, a church that relied on the power of the Holy Spirit and a church that existed for others, not for their own comforts. It was a profile of a church on mission. We don’t want to be a maintenance church, we want to be a mission church. We don’t want to maintain the status quo and live for our comfort, we want to live for God’s glory and to bring blessing to others by sharing with them the gospel and our lives. And the truth is, as we follow the pattern given to us in the church at Antioch, we will see God send us out, He will use us in His work. As the well-known pastor John MacArthur says, “Spiritual men with a spiritual ministry will eventually have spiritual mission.”

But there are certain realities of being on mission with God with which we must be aware, or else we will become discouraged and lose heart. And we see some of those realities in the passage we are going to look at today. There are great difficulties in fulfilling God’s mission and great joys and we must have a godly perspective on both if we are to go forward in faithfulness and be that church on mission rather than a church in maintenance.

So let’s observe the realities of a missions lifestyle we see here in Acts 13:4-12:

Reality #1: People on Mission are Led by the Spirit (13:4).

Acts 13:4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus.

Barnabus and Saul left the church in Antioch and traveled about 15 miles by foot to the port city of Seleucia, where they sailed about 60 miles to the island of Cyprus. Barnabus was from Cyprus and there had already been Christian preaching there.

We talked last week about the leadership of the Holy Spirit, because we saw His hand in the first three verses of this chapter as well. But I just want to highlight it again, there is no mission apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. If we try to fulfill God’s mission without the blessing and empowering and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we’re doomed. And one of the reasons for this is what we are going to see later in this passage, that we will face real spiritual opposition when we seek to follow Jesus. No permanent or effective ministry takes place apart from the Spirit’s presence and blessing. And this work of the Spirit in Acts is intimately connected to prayer. So as we cry out to God, He meets us with His presence and with the power of His Spirit. And I just wanted to highlight that again as we come to this passage. It’s like a sandwich. Verse 2 speaks of the Holy Spirit’s leading and verse four speaks of the Holy Spirit’s leading and in between in verse 3 Barnabus and Paul obey the Spirit’s call. So yes, we’ve got to obey, but the Spirit surrounds and empowers our obedience. People on mission are led by the Spirit.

Are you led by the Spirit? We have an advantage Barnabus and Saul didn’t fully enjoy. We have the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God in its fullness. We can go every day to the Word and be led by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will lead us in our day to day lives as we walk with Him and respond to the truths He brings to our minds. It is a beautiful thing to walk in the Spirit. It is His calling for us. How can we know we are walking in the Spirit? I think about Galatians 5 . . .  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  So that is the issue. Not whether I had a shiver run up my leg when the choir sang. The issue is what is the fruit of my life? This is the sign of whether I am walking in the Spirit or the flesh. People on mission walk in the Spirit. So if you are not walking in the Spirit, repent. Turn away from the fruitless works of darkness. Walk, by prayer and the Word, in the Spirit and watch Him begin to produce His fruit in your life and use you in His service. And watch what happens to us as a church when we get serious about walking in the Spirit and living holy lives. God will greatly use hearts that are yielded to Him.





The second reality is a very quick one but critically important . . .

Reality #2: People on Mission Don’t Go it Alone (13:5).

When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.

Just a quick note here. Barnabus and Saul arrive on the east side of Cyprus and land at the city of Salamis, which had been the capital when Cyprus was controlled by the Greeks. It was still an important city and there were many Jews there, as the verse tells us there were synagogues there (more than one). And as they proclaimed the word, connecting the truth of God from the Old Testament to the coming of Jesus, they had John with them as an assistant. This John is John Mark, who was with them in Antioch and left with them on their journey.

I am just astounded, over and over as we look at the book of Acts, how ministry is almost always done in teams. Earlier it was the 12 apostles in Jerusalem, later it was Peter and John, then the deacons chosen in chapter 6, then Paul and Barnabus. And we will find at the end of chapter 15 that a dispute will cause Paul and Barnabus to part ways, but even then, do you know what happens? Barnabus joins with John Mark and Paul joins with Silas. It’s just amazing. Jesus had His twelve disciples and He sent them out two by two. And yet, when we look at the church in our day, we so often look at pastors on their own trying to do all the work of the church. Almost 70% of pastors in one survey say they feel alone and that they have no real friends. Is it any wonder that so many pastors fail morally or face burnout. As believers, we are made to function as a body, each part functioning in concert with the others. So let’s join hands in this great work of the kingdom. We need each other.

One of the biggest reasons we need each other is reality #3 . . .

Reality #3: People on Mission Face Spiritual Opposition (13:6, 8).

When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus.

We’re going to skip verse 7 just to show the opposition Barnabus and Saul faced. Look down at verse 8. We’ll come back to verse 7 in a minute.

But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

We live in a strange world today. On the one hand, there are many people who insist that there is no such thing as the supernatural. All we have is what can be seen and the material universe is all there is, so these people are skeptical of anything that claims to be supernatural. On the other hand, there are people who believe in horoscopes and fortune cookies and all sorts of strange, cultish stuff and their belief in the supernatural is very cloudy and emotion driven and superstitious. There is a spiritual world, there are angels and demons. There is a real Satan. And Satan will try to deceive people by trying to convince them to either overestimate his power or to deny His existence.

This magician Elymas was connected to the Roman governor in verse 7 Sergius Paulus. He probably had influence with the governor and saw, with the arrival of Saul and Barnabus, the possibility that he would lose influence with Sergius Paulus. So he opposed Saul and Barnabus because they threatened the status quo.

I see this as a consistent theme in the Bible, opposition comes to those who threaten the status quo with the Word of God. This opposition came to the Old Testament prophets, it came to Jesus in His ministry, it came to Stephen when he preached against the sins of the people of Jerusalem and it came to many others in Acts. Paul would very personally experience this opposition over and over in his ministry.

I feel comfortable even in saying that there is no advance for the gospel without opposition. The reason is because the gospel doesn’t conform to culture, it transforms it. And the gospel doesn’t bow down to false gods, it destroys them. The gospel is at odds with culture and with the spiritual forces arrayed against it. So when you bring the gospel into a sinful place, you can expect opposition. And it really doesn’t matter if the sin has a religious face, like the Jewish sorcerer Elymas or the Pharisees or any number of religious hypocrites today or if the sin is very bold and out front and shameless, opposition will come to the truth of the gospel. One brother shared with me recently about how he wanted to pray in a meeting of his neighborhood association but the leader did not want him to pray in Jesus’ name. Most people don’t mind a generic prayer to God, but many people are afraid of the name of Jesus.

It is normal to face opposition when you are living faithfully before God. We need to get that. I think we have bought the advertisers, and sometimes the preacher’s, lie that life should be smooth and easy if we do the right thing. But the Bible says it is through many hardships that we enter the kingdom of God.

As pastor Kent Hughes has said, “A major battle is inevitable. Spiritual warfare is not a fantasy of over-imaginative theologians or novelists. It happens today as it happened to Paul, Barnabus and John Mark then – a bare-knuckle, heart-thumping confrontation.”

But we need to realize that when we are on mission spiritual opposition is not all we are facing. On the positive side . . .

Reality #4: People on Mission Face Spiritual Opportunity (13:7).

He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

Like the Ethiopian eunuch (ch. 8) and the centurion Cornelius (ch. 10), the Gentile proconsul Sergius Paulus was seeking after God and was drawn to the God of the Jews, the true and living God. He was sure to be led astray by the Jewish heretic Elymas, but God, in His sovereignty, brought this seeker at just the right time two men who preached the truth, Saul and Barnabus. And in this sovereignty of God Sergius Paulus desired to hear them. He called them and wanted to hear their message.

So we need to understand that when we are on mission we will face opposition, there will also be tremendous opportunities. God will give us chances to come into contact with people in whose hearts He is working. He will often put us in just the right place at the right time. And we can be confident because of His sovereign grace in drawing people to Himself and because of His great promise that people from all over the world will be His, that when we speak the Word God may just draw someone we are speaking to to Himself. This rock-solid trust in God’s working is what gave Paul confidence later in his ministry. When Paul was in Corinth having faced much opposition there, in Acts 18:10 we read, And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” How did God have many people in that city since it was largely unevangelized? I believe what God is telling Paul is not that there are many who are there who are already believers but that there are many who will believe when they hear the message of the gospel through Paul. That’s why He tells Paul to go on speaking. Many will come to the Lord through the ministry of Paul because God will use Paul’s preaching to draw them. God bought them through the blood of His Son. He will not lose them, He will save them through the ministry of Paul. So don’t lose heart. This is the one thing we can do that can not fail. But in our fear it is the one thing we most expect to fail, sharing the gospel. But God gives great spiritual opportunity if we are faithful to share Him.

These first realities may be challenging to us, but they are not very controversial. But the fifth reality is very controversial in our day.

Reality #5: People on Mission Must Speak Truth To a Non-Christian Culture        (13:9-11).

But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?

The name Bar-Jesus, which was Elymas’ other name, means “son of Jesus.” This doesn’t mean he was named after Jesus Christ, the name Jesus was very common in the ancient world. The name Jesus means “God is salvation,” but Paul told him  that he was not a son of salvation but was in fact a son of the devil.  

Paul’s words remind us of the kinds of things the Old Testament prophets said. Paul is speaking bold truth to Elymas and he is doing it through the filling of the Holy Spirit. We think of angels as blond little girls with puffy wings and we think of the Holy Spirit as a beautiful dove but reality is nothing like a Precious Moments figurine. Sometimes, when the Spirit works, He calls us to speak directly against our non-Christian culture. This is especially the case when the progress of the gospel is at stake. Ajith Fernando says, “Ours is an age of tolerance, where pluralism mandates that since there is no absolute truth, different ideologies are equals in the universe of faiths. We cannot pronounce one wrong and the other right. But let us remember that the church remains under a normative revelation. It therefore has a commitment to “contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). This task gains a high level of urgency when it views its mandate as being to “snatch others from the fire and save them” (Jude 23). If the gospel is indeed the only way to salvation, then our task becomes urgent – as urgent as it was to Paul when he said, “I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Co. 9:16).

Influenced by our culture, many view evangelism as merely the exchanging of ideas among people of different ideologies. Instead, we should see the gospel we preach as holding the key to eternal salvation. If a father sees a man trying to peddle heroin to his little son, he will not seek to enter a discussion with the man on the merits and demerits of heroin or politely request him to stop doing that. He will take urgent and decisive action. If a mother sees her daughter about to accept an attractive piece of candy into which has been injected the deadly poison cyanide, she will not simply share her views on the subject. She will take urgent action. If a hotel employee discovers a fire in a room, realizes that the fire alarm has not gone off and knows that hundreds of occupants might be killed, she does not go calmly on her way, not wanting to disturb the sleeping people. She will take urgent action. If such drastic action is taken for temporal problems, how about a problem that has dire consequences for all eternity? One who loves humanity will not calmly stand by when he or she sees the eternal salvation of a person for whom Christ died jeopardized through the deception of a false teacher.”

And so Paul not only speaks with the Spirit-filled courage of a prophet, he also pronounces a curse on Elymas just like a great prophet of old would.

11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.

This judgment is very similar to what Paul faced when he was blinded on the Damascus Road and had to be led away by the hand. Now what Jesus did to Paul he will now do through Paul. This temporary blindness on Elymas was the first recorded miracle of Paul and it is fitting that Paul’s first miracle would be a key element in the conversion of the Gentile Sergius Paulus, since Paul’s ministry calling was to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

And this brings us to the last reality of those who are on mission with God . . .

Reality #6: God Honors a Faithful Stand for His Truth (13:12).

12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

Sergius Paulus, the Roman leader of the isle of Cyprus, becomes a believer in Jesus. God honored Paul’s faithful stand for the truth. It is a powerful contrast to note that when Elymas’ eyes were closed physically it led to Sergius Paulus’ eyes being opened spiritually.

God uses miracles. Sometimes he uses our response to persecution. Sometimes he uses our acts of love. But all of these things are things God can use to open hearts to the message. It is the truth of the gospel that saves, but this truth all through the book of Acts is accompanied by God’s powerful working. It should be the same for us. As we are walking in the Spirit, we should expect God to work supernaturally to glorify His name and show hardened hearts how good His gospel really is. Notice in verse 12 that Sergius is ultimately astonished, not at the miracle but at the teaching of the Lord. God’s Word was where the real power was and it was to the message that Sergius Paulus ultimately responded.


This morning, we’ve looked at some of the realities of being on mission with God. Some of these realities are encouraging, others are sobering. In the end, the Christian life and Christian mission are both costly. Kent Hughes says, “There is a cost to sincere service for Christ. Never share your faith and you will never look like a fool. Never stand for righteousness on a social issue and you will never be rejected. Never walk out of a theatre because a movie or play is offensive and you will never be called a prig. Never practice consistent honesty in business and you will not lose the trade of a not-so-honest associate. Never reach out to the needy and you will never be taken advantage of. Never give your heart and it will never be broken. Never go to Cyprus and you will not be subjected to a dizzy, heart-convulsing confrontation with Satan. Seriously follow Christ and you will experience a gamut of sorrows almost completely unknown to the unbeliever. But of course you will also know the joy of adventure with the Lord of the universe and spiritual victory as you live a life of allegiance to Him.” It is always easier in the short-term to live as a church in maintenance than as a church on mission. The same is true for us as individual Christians. But the end is miserable. The rubble of a life wasted on self. The wreckage of broken relationships and strife and bitterness. The recognition that I spent my life laying up treasures on earth without having a heart that was rich toward God. Let this not be your story. Let your story instead be that of Paul, where he says in 2 Corinthians 6 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. This is the beauty and power of a life that is hidden with Christ. This is our calling. A costly mission with a great reward.

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