Description / Transcription
O Lord, You spoke at creation, You spoke at the cross, You have spoken by the prophets, and in these last days You have spoken to us by Your Son, and so we ask that You would continue to speak through Your Son, by the Word which His Spirit inspired. Give us ears to hear, minds to understand, and hearts to obey. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Our text this morning comes from Acts, chapter 13. I encourage you to turn in your Bibles in the New Testament; we begin with the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and then come to the book of Acts. We’ve been going through various sections, not all of them but hitting various high spots in the book of Acts and we come this morning to Acts chapter 13, verses 1 through 12.
“Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.”
“So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. 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. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 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? 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. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.”
One of the great things about the book of Acts is that chapter after chapter it brings us back to the basics of the Christian life, the basics of church life and ministry. So we’ve seen throughout the book answers to questions like, “What should we do when we gather together on Sunday?” We know that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of bread and prayers, and to the fellowship.
We see what marked out the early church – teaching and preaching, bold prayer, evangelism, discipleship. And now in this chapter we see they were also marked by missions. It would be a shame to survey the book of Acts and not have at least one sermon about missions.
I preached, you may remember, on Acts chapter 14 during our missions week in February, “What is the Mission of Missions?” and I looked in particular, if you turn the page, at verses 21, 22, and 23 of Acts chapter 14. And I tried to make the case that we see here the mission of missions. That missionaries are sent out to accomplish these three things: Verse 21, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,” so they are preaching, they are seeking out conversions, they are doing the work of evangelism; 22, “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God,” so evangelism and discipleship. They weren’t just seeking conversions and a show of hands and then they would leave, but they wanted to strengthen them, make sure they were well-grounded in their faith. And then verse 23, “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
Evangelism, discipleship, and what do we see in verse 23? Church planting. Establishing elders to carry on the work. Evangelism, discipleship, church planting. That’s the three-legged stool of missionary work, and though missionaries may be engaged in one over the other or maybe engaged in say translating the Scriptures in order that they can receive the Word of God, we see that this is what missions is all about.
Now, I won’t re-preach that text, even though it was nine months ago and let’s be honest, I’m not sure I remember it, and you probably don’t remember it either, but we will do a different text and that’s the one I just read from Acts chapter 13.
So we want to think not just what did the church look like, but what did mission look like? This begins in Acts a new section, a missionary journey, the first intentional mission going and sending. You may recall in chapter 8 they were scattered because of the persecution, but now we have an intentional going out. What I want you to see in these verses are three characteristics of these missionaries in Acts chapter 13, three characteristics.
First, they were sent by the church. Second, they spoke the Word. And third, they safeguarded the truth.
So number one, they were sent, they were sent by the church. This is the first instance of intentional, planned overseas (they do have to go from Antioch to Cyprus, they are crossing something of the Mediterranean Sea), overseas missions carried out by representatives of a specific church begun by a deliberate decision of that church. So not scattered because of persecution, gathered together to say, “We want to send out those who will speak the Gospel to others.”
You read at the beginning of the chapter there were in Antioch prophets and teachers. Now throughout the history of the Church, people have understood that word “prophets” or “prophecy” in different ways. But I think we’re right to take it as one of the foundational elements of the Church, Ephesians 2:20 says that the Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, and it says it in that order, apostles and prophets, so I don’t think it means the Old Testament prophets, but the apostles, New Testament, and these New Testament prophets, that for a time there was this direct revelation from the Spirit. And those apostles and those prophets were the foundation of the Church, and the foundation is once for all non-repeatable. It’s a foundation; you don’t build three stories on the foundation and then say, “You know what? For the fifth story, let’s try to build another foundation.” No, you already have that.
So the prophets were of that foundational element of the church, and here they are prophets and teachers. And several of them are mentioned. We have Barnabas. We’ve heard of him already. We know of him from chapter 4 and 5. He’s a Levite. He was a rich man, a generous man, a caring man, a son of encouragement, he’s supportive, he’s a leader in the church, he’s a native of Cyprus we know from elsewhere. So it makes sense that Barnabas would be going when this first trip is going to land in Cyprus.
Then we have Simeon, who is called Niger. Now he may have also been from Cyrene, that’s the next fellow, and we’ll see why, it may be to distinguish Lucius of Cyrene and perhaps Simeon. You may think, “Might this be the one who we meet in the Gospels who’s called Simon of Cyrene and here his name is Simeon?” It’s possible. You see the footnote there with Niger in the ESV. Niger is a Latin word meaning “black” or “dark,” so he was from probably North Africa, and at that time in the ancient world much of North Africa, it was the Roman Empire and so many would have been Mediterranean or fair-skinned and some would have been black, so this is likely, since he is called “Niger,” a black man Simeon from North Africa who is one of the leaders here among the church in Antioch.
Then we have Lucius of Cyrene. Cyrene was in North Africa and it may be that if this is Simon of Cyrene, and Lucius of Cyrene is to distinguish between them, that this is, this is Simeon, who was also called Niger.
And then we have Manaen, who it says was an associate of Herod, that is the Herod the tetrarch who just died in chapter 12 because he received all the glory of man and did not give glory to God and he was immediately struck dead. Manaen is probably where Luke got his information. How did Luke, who’s writing the book of Acts, know about this incident with Herod? How does he have an inside track on some of the inner workings of the court? Well, it’s probably from this man, Manaen, who was a part of the orbit in Antioch and would have been familiar later to Luke. It’s a remarkable thing when you think of it, that a close friend of Herod the tetrarch is now a teacher, a prophet, in the fledgling Church. God is saving all sorts of people, even those who were close friends with the now-deceased Herod the tetrarch.
And then of course, at the end of verse 1, we have Saul, who is also, verse 9, called Paul. We sometimes think that at his conversion, which we skipped over earlier in chapter 9, it’s repeated three times in the book, we sometimes think that at his conversion he received a new name. He was Saul and then he got the name Paul, but here we see that he likely had two names, just like we have Simon Peter, we have Simeon who’s called Niger, we have Saul who is also called Paul. So it may not have been anything particularly bad about Saul that now he had to be Paul, but as the book goes on, Saul, as his same will fade, and he will be known as Paul.
The Church, we notice in verse 2, was gathered there worshiping, probably a special service of worshiping, praying, teaching, fasting, as they seek whom shall we send out for this missionary work. Notice that God is the one setting them apart, calling them for this work. God is the one, first of all, who is on a mission. We are sent not as avatars of Christ, to be incarnations of God, but what’s the language of Scripture? We’re sent out to be ambassadors, to be spokesmen and women, to say we have a message from the King. We’re here to work for the rights and the rule of this kingdom that should be established here on earth.
Now what is a missionary? I said in this first point that these missionaries were sent by the church. That is the very definition, at least the beginning of a definition, of a missionary. The Latin verb “mittere” is from which we get our English word “mission.” Think of the word “dismissal,” it comes from the same Latin word. When you are dismissed at the end of a class, you are what? You are sent out, you’re sent out. It’s from that Latin word “mittere” or “mission.”
And it’s related to the Greek word, it translates in the Vulgate this Greek word, “apesteilan,” which occurs 136 times in the New Testament, 97 times in the Gospels, sometimes used for Jesus having been sent by God, other times for the 12 being sent out. You can hear our English word “apostle,” that an apostle is a “sent out one.”
The apostles in the broadest sense of the term were those who had been sent out, and this “sent out-ness” is also the first thing we know relative to the term “missionary.” Yes, it’s true, you do not find the English word “missionary” in your Bible, and so to some degree we’re, we’re dealing with our own cultural definitions, but I don’t think we’re left just to our cultural definitions, for there is a root to that word, and it is “one who has been sent from one place to the next.”
In our Old Testament reading, which we read in unison, Isaiah 61, later fulfilled Jesus says at Nazareth in Luke chapter 4, where He has been sent to proclaim good news to the poor. The most important sending in missionary history, think about it, what is the most important sending in missionary history? You say, “Hmm, is it William Carey? Is it Adoniram Judson? No, no, no… It’s the Bible. No, it’s here, it’s Paul, it’s Barnabas.”
No, the most important sending in missionary history is the sending of the Son by the Father. He is the first sent out one in this Spirit-filled, apostolic, Christian mission, and as He was sent out, Luke 4, to preach good news to the poor, so these men are sent out.
Now, notice the Church at Antioch, they are sending out their very best as missionaries. Now, no offense, I know nothing about Lucius or Manaen, but we do know something about Paul and Barnabas, and I wonder if some were sort of mumbling under their breath when they were praying, “Whom shall we send?” and people are saying, “Hmm, Manaen, not Paul. That guy’s brilliant. Not Barnabas, he’s got money, he’s so nice to be around. Maybe Lucius, I’m not quite sure what he’s up to. Send him.”
Now they were prophets, they were teachers, no doubt they were accomplished men, but they send Saul and Barnabas. We must keep this in mind when we think of sending or some of you I hope are thinking of going, we’re not looking to send out folks who can’t quite cut it back home.
Missionaries are people who are awkward in their own country. No. Missionaries are people that we were happy to send to the other part of the globe. No. You don’t think this person is a little bit odd, they can’t quite cut it here, but I’m sure when they go and they don’t speak the language and they don’t know the food and they don’t know the culture and the customs, they’ll be great in India. [laughter] No.
Now they are sending them out as their very best. When we say goodbye to people, whether it’s lay people, students, staff members, children, pastors, we ought to be thinking, “Who are the people that we are already seeing doing amazing ministry here?” And that’s why missions is hard. You send out some of your very best.
And notice these brothers didn’t just get a crazy idea one day, “You know what? Let’s have an adventure. Let’s explore the world. I’ve kind of always had a wanderlust. I like to travel. I like to create slideshows of my adventures, I like to post status updates. You know what? Why I don’t I go do that and be a missionary?”
No, they didn’t just have an idea that they liked to travel and they liked to try new foods. They had already demonstrated giftedness and effectiveness, already recognized as prophets and teachers in Antioch. The Church then recognized their gifts and calling and after prayer and fasting, sent them out to reach those who did not know the Gospel. We don’t know exactly how, after fasting and prayer, the Holy Spirit said to them. We don’t have any record that it’s an audible voice. If it was a vision you’d think we would have heard of that, as you do in other parts of the book of Acts. So the Holy Spirit speaking was likely through a prophet at the church, or perhaps it was through the elders and the apostles at the church, collectively sensing the Lord’s leading to send them out. However the Holy Spirit communicated it, it was likely in what seemed to be a very ordinary way but became clear to them, “These are the two men who have the desire, have the gifts, and we are sending them out.” So the Church has a vital role in this missionary enterprise, and we must not neglect the role of affirming the right people to send out.
I have often heard from missionaries, they have told me on more than one occasion, now not thinking of our missionaries, just in thinking of missionaries in other parts of the world, just a general as you speak about this in your context, Kevin, please tell the American Church stop sending immature people, contentious people, people who don’t know their Bibles, people who aren’t bold to share their faith, to the other side of the world. I’ve heard that from lifelong missionaries, I’ve heard it from indigenous church workers, many of them will find that there are wonderful American missionaries and sometimes there are those who come over, have not fully been tested and vetted, they don’t know their Bibles, they’re not bold to share their faith, they’re perhaps fleeing broken relationships in a trail of shattered relationships in this country just to go somewhere else. You talk to almost any missionary on the field, and they will tell you the number one reason why people return from the field, and there’s all sorts of legitimate reasons you can return from the field, but the number one unwanted reason is because of conflict, because of mission teams that can’t get together. There’s nothing that happens magically with sanctification in a plane ride across the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. There’s nothing that you get, there’s first class, business class, coach, steerage, and then there’s the few seats for missionaries which get a vapor of sanctification as they go over to minister the Gospel.
No, the church here in Antioch was making sure these brothers are mature, godly, good teachers, so we must not neglect the role. It’s easy to do that, with pastors or with missionaries. Kind of always think, “Well, doesn’t the seminary do that? Or doesn’t the Presbytery do that? Or doesn’t the mission agency do that?” Well, lots of people play a part, but we must not neglect our part, to affirm the right people and to get the right people where they need to go. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in using agencies, whether it’s parachurch ministries or denominational agencies, they often have an expertise and have contacts and have the strategy and the mechanism to get people where they need to go, but we should not neglect our responsibility. We don’t just say, “Here’s our missionary, we got him as a line item in the budget, they get $5000 a year, now there’s someone else to deal with.”
And I do want to brag on Mike Miller and Connie and all of our outreach and missions teams that I do not know a church that does better at caring for their missionaries than we do, and I’m massively thankful for that.
So they were sent out.
Second, the missions were sent and second they spoke. They spoke the Word. Look at this mission to Cyprus. Sent out by the Holy Spirit, verse 4, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Antioch was 16 miles from the sea, the nearest port was there at Seleucia. It was about 60 miles by water to Cyprus, which is a large island in the Mediterranean, about 140 miles long, 60 miles wide. And they started at one major city, verse 5, that’s Salamis, and they made their way to the other major city, the seat of government, which is Paphos, verse 6.
Their reason for being on Cyprus was very simple: To proclaim the Word of God. These men, remember, were prophets and teachers. The thing that they knew how to do best was teach the Word.
Now missionary enterprise has in some ways become more complex. They were going and were able to speak the same language. They were going across cultures sort of, but it was still within the Roman Empire, it was just a 60-mile journey across the sea. So yes, in our day, you can’t often just land someplace and say “Here I am, I’m ready to preach the Gospel.” The places that have the least access to the Gospel are often the hardest to get to, and so we must be creative. We must think about learning a language, learning a culture, perhaps your visa says you’re there to teach English or you’re there to run a coffee shop and you do that well, but your heart motivation is to speak of Jesus. We have many people who support this enterprise, from airplane mechanics to people who work in HR, to all sorts of people. It takes a lot of people to mobilize this missionary effort.
But those missionaries sent out, crossing cultures, on the ground, with whatever different approaches they may take to get there and stay there, the singular task is to speak God’s Word. Proclamation is the goal.
They may be a doctor by trade and love people by administering medical care. They may be agronomists and know how to help people with crop rotation, and all of those can be done to the glory of God and for the love of Jesus. But they are there, if they are missionaries, that they might speak God’s Word.
So we see, verse 13, that Paul takes the lead, Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos, came to Perga, John left them and returned to Jerusalem, and then they go on their next part of the journey, and Paul, verse 16, stands up, motions with his hands, and begins to speak. Barnabas had many gifts, but Paul was an unusually gifted teacher and evangelist, and he will be the main spokesman on their missionary journeys.
Whatever else missionaries might do, if they are not aiming at teaching the Word of God, then they are probably not missionaries. They could be very good Christians. They can be doing all sorts of good things, praise God for Christians who go overseas work with NGOs, work to provide clean water – these are wonderful things to do for the glory of God, no apologies, many blessings. But this particular task, that the Church was sending Paul and Barnabas for, was the task of speaking the Word of God. And though we need many mobilizers to get them there in our age, the aim is for missionaries like Paul, like Barnabas, who are sent out to speak.
Now notice where they speak. They usually start by speaking to the Jews. Verse 5, when they arrived at Salamis they proclaimed the Word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.
Just turn the page to verse 14: “They went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia.” Different Antioch than they were sent from. “And on the Sabbath day then into the synagogue and sat down.”
Look over at chapter 14, verse 1: “Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that many Jews and Greeks believed.”
If you turn a few more chapters, look at chapter 17, verse 1: “When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.”
Again, look down at verse 10: “And the brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived then went into the Jewish synagogue.”
I could show you this throughout the book, that Paul’s first strategy was to go and speak to the Jews in the synagogue. Now why did he do this?
First, there was a theological reason. The Gospel would be first to the Jews, then to the Greeks. That the Jews who had been God’s chosen people would have first access to the Gospel. So there was a theological reason. Salvation is of the Jews. The Messiah is a Jew. First speak to the Jews.
But there was also a practical reason, that the Jewish synagogue, at least initially, is where Paul had an open door. Remember, he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He was trained at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the great teachers of the day. So Paul could go in and have all of the Jewish credentials, trained by the best schools and the best teachers and have the terminal Ph.D. degree and go in and they would say, “Oh, you were, you were trained at so and so? You have such a degree? Oh, why don’t you come, brother, and teach us.” And you can understand then why so often there was such controversy, because he was teaching what they were not expecting. Perhaps they had heard of him and His name had gotten out what he would say, but he would often have an open door.
It was common in synagogue worship that there might be opportunity for someone to speak. There would be a synagogue ruler who was sort of managing the affairs of the worship, but just like Jesus, stood up and read from the Isaiah scroll and spoke. So Paul, here visiting us from Tarsus, would you come an give us a word? And he would teach. It was the first place where he would have an open door.
So let us think whether in our lives doing evangelism or as a church sending out missionaries, where is that open door? Is it an opportunity you have to start a lunchtime Bible study at your business? Is there a lecture at a school? Are there students that you coach and can rightfully, in the appropriate context, speak of Christ? Perhaps in some settings it’s open air evangelism. Or maybe in some countries it’s a Muslim-Christian dialogue where the aim is not so much for dialogue, but it gets you an opportunity to speak the Gospel to a room full of Muslims. Or perhaps it’s overseas in teaching English, or medical work, or agricultural work, or maybe it’s when you write your Christmas letter in the next month, and you have an opportunity in a winsome way to speak of Christ. Or it’s something on the internet, or it’s simply hosting people in your home.
If you’ve read of any of Rosaria Butterfield’s books, and I recommend them to you, this is what she’s so good at, that the Gospel is a house key, the Gospel is welcoming people into your home, and you have them over for a meal. And what do you do as a meal? Well, hopefully you pray. And maybe you read the Bible. And whatever you do there with your children or with your spouse, you do when you have your neighbors over. It’s your home, welcome, we’re so glad you’re here, and we always finish our meal by singing a song and reading a verse from the Bible. You don’t hide that away – that’s your opportunity. That’s your open door.
So Paul was for theological reasons and practical reasons keen to start at the Jewish synagogue, and then from there often kicked out, he would go and preach to the Gentiles.
In Christian mission there must be the end goal of speaking the Word of God, however creative we are to get there and to stay there, the goal is to speak and in particular to those who have no other way of hearing. I’ve mentioned this statistic before and it’s worth repeating: If every person on the planet today who is a Christian, a Christian of the most generous definition, so this includes a lot of people who probably aren’t really born again, but we’ll, you’re a Christian, if every one of those people, who by the broadest definition goes by “Christian,” this afternoon shared the Gospel with everyone person, literally every person they personally know, and every one of those people instantly came to Christ, do you know there would still be nearly 3 billion people who are not Christians? Because not only do they not know of Jesus, not only have they not given their life to Christ, they don’t know of anyone who knows of Jesus, and they will not hear by osmosis, they will not hear unless we mobilize, unless we send, unless some of us go. And when we go, we speak.
They were sent, they spoke the Word, and then finally notice they safeguarded the truth.
They get to Paphos in verse 6 and they encounter two very different men. First, a man named Bar-Jesus, also later we hear he’s called Elymas. He’s a Jewish false prophet and a magician. When you hear “magician” don’t think the people doing card tricks on America’s Got Talent. They may have their own issues, but that’s not, those are illusionists.
I told you before when I was growing up my mom said I could be anything I wanted, there were just two professions she wouldn’t allow me to be, a boxer (that should not have gone well) or a magician. Really, Mom? There’s quite a few others that are probably a bad idea, but in her mind those were the two, don’t do it.
Well, we’re not talking illusionists, David Copperfield floating over the Grand Canyon, these are magicians, so what we might say black magic, the occult. You understand the competition for Christianity came from popular religious movements like this. He appears to have been some kind of counselor in the official entourage because later he tries to instruct and convince the proconsul not to buy what Paul and Barnabas are selling. So you have this man, Bar-Jesus, Elymas the magician.
Then you have the second man, Sergius Paulus, a Roman, a gentile, a very important magistrate. He’s called the proconsul. The proconsul was essentially a Roman governor, the head of a state, in a senatorial province. The senatorial province would be in the Roman Empire those provinces that were under greater control, and so no imperial troops were required. Judea, by contrast, was an imperial province with a significant number of troops, which is why in the Gospels you meet centurions and there’s a battalion of soldiers.
Well, he’s the proconsul of this senatorial province. He’s an important man here on the island. When Paul sees that Elymas is trying to turn the proconsul away from the faith, he gives him a blistering rebuke. Notice what he says to him in verse 10. He identifies him in three ways: One, you’re a son of the devil. Now you notice there’s a play on words here. His name was Bar-Jesus. Bar is the Aramaic word for son, like you hear in Jewish tradition a bar-mitzvah, is a son of commandment, Bar-Jesus, son, Barnabas, son of encouragement. Jesus was a very common name. So his name is son of Jesus. Well, of course, Paul is preaching a different Jesus, and so he says very deliberately, “No, no, no. You are not really Bar-Jesus, you are not a son of Jesus, you are a son of the devil.”
Second, he calls him an enemy of all righteousness. Not simply a man who has a different perspective on things, he is an enemy of all righteousness.
And third, he is full of deceit and villainy. He’s not telling the truth. He’s a false prophet. He’s looking out for his own interests, probably his own bottom line. And so he asks the question, “Will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” The Lord makes straight the crooked paths, but this man makes crooked the straight paths. Paul and Barnabas are giving him the straight path of salvation and this man comes along to confuse, to divert, to distract, to get in his way.
And so in inflicts a temporary judgment. He will be blind. We don’t know for how long, but the mist falls and now he’s led by the hand and for a time he receives this judicial blindness.
Now what do we do with a rebuke like this? Well, I want you to notice first of all that Paul did give a rebuke like this. If a pastor, missionary, teacher, never ever speaks in these hard sort of ways, then either he’s constantly in a better situation than Paul, and that’s part of it, or he may not have the Spirit-inspired guts that Paul had.
Now, notice the other thing. So Paul gave this rebuke, but notice Paul did not always give this rebuke. This was not his lead in in evangelism, “Thanks for having me here, sons of the devil.” That’s not how he started. This was a particular word for this man. Remember, you have Elymas but then you have Sergius Paulus, one strenuously objected to Christianity, the other was open to it. One is presented as a lying, ruinous man in the occult, the other as an intelligent, thoughtful, responsible man though he’s not yet a Christian. One was a clear enemy, the other a potential friend. That’s what you need to discern. The way we speak to clear enemies and the way we speak to potential friends. The proconsul was not yet a Christian, but Paul saw he’s open, he’s intelligent, so he speaks to him differently than he speaks to this avowed enemy Elymas.
So there are two mistakes we can make as Christians. One is that we always speak this way, well that would be a mistake, how to alienate friends and not influence people. But the other mistake is that we never speak this way.
Now can you imagine what a scandal this would be today? All of the Paul exclusive intolerant, all of the language hate-filled. Well, it wasn’t hate-filled. It was intolerant of sin and unrighteousness, but it had at its heart a love for the truth, a love for Jesus, and I’m sure in Paul, even a love for this man Elymas, because that’s what he was. He was at that moment doing the work of the devil.
When people sometimes just think they’re, I sometimes encounter professors who just thought it their role to kind of disturb Christians in their, their faith, just upset them. Sometimes it’d even come from professing Christian professors who just wanted to undo the sort of Sunday School religion. Well, yes, there’s a place to break down in order to build up, but to just break down and leave people, divert them, distract them, Jesus says some pretty hard things, like “you will get a millstone tied around your neck and thrown into the bottom of the sea, to lead people astray.” That’s what Elymas was doing, right at the moment when the man was interested, hungry, listening, attentive, he comes along to set him on a different trajectory, and so Paul says to that man, “You are doing the work of the devil.”
Now it will not always be that obvious. Many of us carry around one of the devil’s preferred distractions in our pockets. It’s there to divert us, to distract us, to lead us into other places and other things. But Paul here looks right into Elymas’ soul and says “you are doing the work of the devil.”
We see here by the end that Sergius Paulus, the proconsul, verse 12, believed. So it’s another instance in Acts of the Word winning out. The superiority of divine power over demonic power. And notice verse 12. You probably just read it quickly, as I did, until you really look at it and there’s a big surprise in here: “Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.”
Now wait a second, astonished yet you would think it would say he was astonished because Paul just blinded a guy, and a mist fell over a man who could see perfectly well and now he’s led by the hand. That would be astonishing. But you know what was even more astonishing to the proconsul? The teaching of the Gospel. That was even more mind-blowing, that there was salvation for sin, that there was a man Jesus who was born and lived and died and rose again and ascended into heaven and is coming again to judge the living and the dead. That was blowing his mind.
One author says he does not suggest that signs and wonders were done by all the earliest preachers of the Gospel. He does not even suggest that signs and wonders were a necessary aspect of the progress of the Word. From time to time, God in His sovereign grace may grant special supernatural powers in the form of accompanying signs, that’s true. What he goes on to say is what we have now and always have with us is the greater power, the greater miracle, which is the testimony of the Gospel.
So when we bear witness to Christ, we don’t so much want people to be amazed at what they see as they are amazed by what they hear. The miracles were corroborating evidence, they removed an obstacle, they exposed a false prophet, but that was not the point.
And notice what we have, now halfway through the book of Acts. Think of all the people, the types of people coming to Christ. You have those who are very elite, officials, high-ranking men and women of social standing. You have also those who are poor and needy. The Gospel is for outcasts, for those on the margins. The Gospel is also for those which are elite and in high positions. The Gospel is for everyone.
And if you study Church history, or the Great Awakening, you see that one of the distinguishing marks of the work of God is when He saved not just one kind of person, but He starts saving all kinds of people that don’t make sense. It’s one thing if He’s just saving all the poor people, saving all the rich people, saving all the white people, saving all the black people… When He starts saying there’s no rhyme or reason to this except God is sovereign, He likes to save a lot of people. Different education, different backgrounds, men, women, this country and other country, He’s saving all sorts of people in Acts.
Paul and Barnabas were skilled with the truth. They rightly divided the Word of God. And notice, Paul was skilled not only to preach the Gospel well, but to discern an rebuke false teaching. That’s what he did with Elymas. Theology is not less important for missionaries, it is more important for missionaries. So don’t think, “Well, if you’re going to be a pastor in the United States and you’re in the PCA, then you really gotta get all your theology. Yeah, you’re gonna go somewhere else, nah, just, Jesus loves you, died on the cross.”
No, that’s where theology is even more important, because the dangers are more insidious and the obstacles are there. You need to be even more discerning. There will be more opposition. There will be greater dangers of syncretism. All missionaries should have a deep, abiding, long-suffering love for the people to whom they are sent, and they should have a deep abiding love for the truth.
So what does this mean for us? Let me finish by giving you three quick applications.
One, let us take seriously our role in sending out missionaries. You’ve heard before the options when it comes to the Great Commission. Go, send, or disobey. So three options. Most of us probably aren’t going. I’m here, I haven’t gone. But then we must send. So let us take seriously our role. Let us pray for it. Let us be part of our understanding as our church to pray and to preach that some here would go and we would have the joy to send them out.
Second, take seriously your role in speaking the Word. Even if you are not a missionary, by that “sent out” definition, you still have a role to faithfully speak of Jesus to those who do not know Him.
And then third, take seriously our role in safeguarding the truth. There are enemies of righteousness who want to turn people away from the truth, and just as sending is important and speaking is important, so safeguarding is important.
This is another critical chapter in the book of Acts because it adds another critical element to our understanding of the Church. Do you see what not so much I’m trying to do, but what I hope God is trying to do with us, Christ Covenant? That week by week say yes, let us be known as this great teaching, preaching church. Let us be well-organized and well-run. Let us as we saw last week be a church that’s committed to earnest prayer, and now we get another one of those blocks: Let us be a great missions church, sending church, praying church, preaching church, not just here, but to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, we give thanks for Your Word, for all that You have in it, to correct, to rebuke, to challenge, to comfort, to train. We pray, Lord, that you would move in us as senders and mobilizers to give more of our time, our prayer, our resources. And would you move, even, even now in some here, perhaps it’s a retired couple saying “I’m, I’m gonna go and that’s what I’m doing with my retirement years,” or it’s a family, or it’s a young person, just 8 years old, who says “I’m gonna hide this away, talk to mom and dad, and Lord willing 20 years from now I’ll be somewhere where I can speak of Jesus to those who do not know Him.” Would You be moving in our midst, that we would go, we would send, for You have given us this great privilege to speak of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.