The Book of Acts (Chapter 13:1-12) (Part 23)
Several years had passed from the time Saul had been saved on the Damascus Road until we find him down in Antioch ministering in the local assembly. He had been involved in ministry but had not as yet commenced his primary work for the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus had been training His servant to prepare him for his life’s work. No matter who we are the Lord Jesus has a plan for our lives and has given us a call and the gifting needed. Some will know this straight away but for most believers it will be a gradual revelation. Paul knew from the time he was saved that he had been called to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) However, it was quite a few years between the initial call and the fulfilment of that call. God trains some under someone else like Timothy was mentored by Paul but at other times the Lord Jesus will train a person in the wilderness.
Rejection and wilderness
For every believer who would effectively serve the Lord Jesus there will most assuredly be a time of rejection and wilderness to prepare them for what God has for them. For example, when you look at Moses, Joseph, David and Paul they were all trained in “the school of hard knocks” and had to deal with rejection and the wilderness experience before they were empowered to do what God had ultimately called then to do. The man or woman God uses will receive training from the Lord Jesus according to the avenue of service and ministry to which God has called them. The bigger the task, the more responsibility and accountability is required and the training and preparation time more protracted. God is never in a hurry. He has foreknowledge of all things and knows how they will turn out in the end and it is the same for our calling and ministry. Sometimes it takes longer with some than it does with others because in some the flesh is very strong and needs to be dealt with thoroughly.
God prepares one called for an extraordinary ministry through the ordinary. For example after he left Egypt Moses tended sheep for 40 years in the desert. This was preparation for leading Israel out of Egypt through the wilderness for 40 years. In dealing with sheep he needed to learn patience and perseverance and get to know his sheep personally. God could not get his sanctifying work done in 39 years. His timing is always perfect. Sometimes we may think we are ready but the Lord says not yet. We must never despise the day of small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). Remember that “big doors swing on little hinges.” A transition in ministry was about to occur. The Gospel was about to go forth into the Gentile world. Saul by this time was also called Paul (Vs 9) and he would be the one to spearhead the gospel message into the Gentile world. The focus would now move from Peter to Paul. And so we read…
(Vs.1-2) “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Paul had been saved some years ago now and had been in ministry within the local assembly in Antioch for some time. He was down there with other prophets and teachers exercising a regular ministry. It was abundantly apparent that he was called, gifted and anointed but as yet had not been sent out on his life’s work for the Lord Jesus. He undoubtedly had been faithfully ministering the word working alongside others. This was the New Testament pattern. You often had more than one preacher in the worship services.
Paul wrote about this later in his letter to the Corinthians. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:29-33).
When a local assembly is in tune with the will and purposes of the Word of God and open to the gifts of the Spirit practiced Biblically they will hear from the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus said this would be so when He spoke about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He said; “However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and He will declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me by taking from what is Mine and disclosing it to you” (John 16:13-14). In fact every believer should be regularly lead and guided by the Holy Spirit. As Paul later wrote; “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
The blessed Holy Spirit will never lead us into doctrinal error but always what is in line with the Word of God. He is the Spirit of truth, not error. These prophets and teachers were ministering before the LORD and fasting so their senses were fine tuned to hear from the Holy Spirit. When He did speak He chose Paul and Barnabas to be a team ministry. Leadership in the local assembly is always plural and not a one man show. Furthermore, those chosen are still accountable to the fellowship from which they had been sent out. Later Paul would report back to the Antioch Assembly to give an account of his missionary work.
Notice also that Paul and Barnabas did not call themselves. It did not matter how gifted they were it had to be the timing of the Holy Spirit. So much time and energy can be wasted on ministry and service that is not done at the direction of the Holy Spirit. One may be called and gifted and even know the field of service they have to work in but until they are thrust out by the Holy Spirit they should stay in the local fellowship ministering before the Lord. Sometimes it is not that those called are not ready but that the people in the mission field they are going to are not ready. God’s timing is always perfect.
The art of waiting on the Lord Jesus to hear from the Holy Spirit is sadly lacking in many ministers, pastors, prophets, teachers, evangelists and elders today. The Last Century Church will be a Spirit led Church but not a structured one. There will be discipline and order of course but freedom in the Body of Messiah to build itself up in love as each member does its part. The gifts of the Spirit will be in abundance. It will not be a one man show.
Furthermore it will not be mega churches but for the most part house fellowships. What we see in the institutionalised Church today will not be the final status of the faithful Body of Messiah in the local assembly. So while they ministered, fasted and prayed and worshipped before the Lord Jesus the blessed Holy Spirit gave theme clear instructions. Because their spiritual senses were finely tuned to hear from the Lord Jesus they could hear Him speak through His Holy Spirit to them. It may have taken time to hear from Him but in the end it saved time!
(Vs.3) “Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
The assembly leaders had already fasted and prayed but even after they had heard directly from the Holy Spirit they prayed and fasted again. They were very conscious of the fact that they needed to be obedient to the Holy Spirit in this matter. After they had fasted and prayed they sent them out with the full blessing and backing of the whole local assembly.
(Vs.4-5) “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper.”
Even though Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the local assembly Luke records again the fact that they were sent out by the Holy Spirit. He was in control. He knew what needed to be said and done and how to do it. Would that more Bible College graduates going to the mission field knew the voice of the Holy Spirit in this matter of their calling and field of ministry. We can know our calling and the area we are to serve the Lord Jesus but until the Holy Spirit thrusts us out we must wait upon the LORD and continue to worship Him and serve Him where we are. Once the inward assurance, the confirmation of the Word, the circumstances and the mind of the whole local assembly line up it is a very good indication that the time has come to go. Prayer and fasting will sharpen the senses to better discern the will of the Spirit.
Sadly there are those who missed the timing and have had their ministry forestalled in some way. Notice they went first to the synagogues. As Paul later wrote; “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). He understood from the outset that the salvation of the Jews had a priority although the time came when after many rejections by the Jewish leaders Paul concentrated on preaching to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6).
(Vs.6-7) “When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.”
Satan will always oppose what God is doing. Any believer walking in the will of God will be opposed by Satan. Paul understood this when he later wrote to the Thessalonian believers; “For we wanted to come to you — indeed I, Paul, tried again and again — but Satan obstructed us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Paul was very aware of Satan’s scheming. He also wrote; “For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11b).
When men are moving in the power of the Holy Spirit there will be a confrontation with the occult. This man Bar-Jesus was a false prophet but also a magician (an enchanter) he did deeds of power by a demonic spirit. He was a man with a false anointing. He had integrated himself with a high ranking official and had enchanted him to a degree with a display of supernatural power. Being a Proconsul would mean power and prestige for Bar-Jesus.
This is the way with all false prophets in that they will curry favour with the rich and powerful to line their own pockets just like we see the faith prosperity, word of faith preachers doing today. To ingratiate themselves more with the rich and powerful they offer all kinds of counterfeit signs, miracles and wonders and bogus healings.
Now Proconsul Sergius Paulus was a man of intelligence. He most probably went along with this bar-Jesus fellow but in his deep mind sensed “a con job!” When you look at these false mammon loving, power hungry preachers of covetousness the only ones they really fool are naive Christians who want their ears tickled. If they tried their prosperity faith heresy on people in the world they would not be taken in by these shysters. The Proconsul was not stupid or gullible. Most probably he had seen it all before. Never the less it would seem that Bar-Jesus had some hold over the mind of Sergius. After all, the Proconsul, being an unsaved man, was probably to a degree under a demonic influence through this Bar-Jesus.
Having said this Sergius sensed that Paul had something to offer and wanted to hear him out. He had heard about Paul and Barnabas had been preaching the word of God and he wanted to hear for it for himself. We are told, “…he sought to hear the word of God.” He had a spiritual hunger, even though he did not know what it was he had, but wanted to hear the Word of God for himself. Obviously the signs and wonders performance of Bar-Jesus were not convincing him.
(Vs.8) “But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.”
When a person is exposed to the Word of God given in the power of the Holy Spirit Satan will not take it lying down. He will always do “a knee-jerk reaction.” He will always aim at destroying faith because he knows that once genuine faith is exercised towards God that he will lose his grip on that persons mind and heart. The Proconsul had faith to a degree but it had been high jacked by Satan using his servant Elymas. When Elymas saw Paul and Barnabas standing before the Proconsul he started to earnestly badger Segius not to believe in the Word of God or to listen to what these men were saying. This is the reaction of all false prophets and teachers when they see their power, prestige and money going down the drain. Elymas was fervently trying to persuade Sergius not to listen to Paul and Barnabus. How did Paul handle this?
(Vs.9-10) “But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, and said, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?
Unless we are constantly filled with the Spirit we will not have power to resist the wiles and the power of Satan. In our own strength and ability we cannot handle the devil or any of his demons from hell. We are not wrestling with flesh and blood but spiritual powers and principalities of wickedness in high places. Of course we must be initially filled or Baptised with the Holy Spirit if we are to serve effectively as soldiers in God’s army. Without the mighty Baptism with the Holy Spirit we are like soldiers going into battle without weapons or armour. Once we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit we must make sure we are constantly filled with the Spirit moment by moment.
Now there will be circumstances where a special infilling of spiritual power is required. Undoubtedly Paul and Barnabas lived and walked in the power and presence of the blessed Holy Spirit but in certain situations where the occult was involved they needed an extra empowering to handle the devil’s power. Whenever a new opportunity for ministry and service arises we must make sure we are filled with the Holy Spirit. As we are in the very last days the occult is increasingly spreading through the nations and it is going to take Spirit empowered believers to combat and to defeat these demonic enemy forces arrayed against the Body of Messiah.
Once again we must always keep in mind that Satan is not worried about the unsaved because they belong to him already, the ones he is worried stiff about is you and me as believers and more so if we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and power! In these last days the situation Paul encountered will become common place as Satan is already infesting the Body of Messiah with false teachers and prophets especially the hyper faith money preachers with their covetous doctrine from the pit of hell itself!
Not only was Paul filled with the power of God but also had discernment to see into the motives behind Elymas. As Paul looked intently at him he saw the man’s heart. When the power of the occult is present it must be dealt with first so that the preaching of the gospel can go forth. In this case before Paul preached he dealt with the demonic spirit as well as the man under its influence and power. Elymas was full of all deceit and fraud just like the money preachers today and others who are in it for what they can get out of it.
More so bar-Jesus was a son of the devil and under his spell and an enemy of all righteousness. He was a man who was given over to twisting the truth about the need for righteous living. When you look at the faith prosperity money preachers today they have little or no emphasis on sin and are preaching “a feel-good, crossless Christianity.” Most of it is preaching financial gain as a means to godliness! Where there is an overemphasis on power, money, prominence, signs, miracles and wonders you have occult activity. Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light and his servants can masquerade as servant of righteousness when in fact they are preaching anything but that.
Without being filled with the Spirit and having discernment in these days we are at the mercy of satanic deception. In these last days satanic deception is rampant throughout the Body of Messiah. In many cases even the very elect are being deceived. Like Elymas all false prophets and teachers unceasingly make crooked the straight ways of the Lord! The day will come when the restraining power of the Holy Spirit will be removed for a brief season from Satan and the Antichrist will immerge. In that day occult power will be prevalent within and without the professing Christian Church.
The last days, apostate Church, will be a supernatural Church empowered by the spirit of Antichrist. The final battle for the faithful Body of Messiah will not be primarily in the arena of doctrine but in the arena of spiritual power! When we see Jannes and Jambres, the magicians of Egypt counterfeiting the miracles of Moses and Aaron we have a picture of the last days contest between the power of God and the power of Satan. In the case of Jannes and Jambres they were able to duplicate the miracles of Moses and Aaron up to a point but in the end they could not match God’s power.
It will be the same in the last days. Those believers who are really filled with the power of God will win the day in the end! Paul was to later write about these practitioners of the occult that would arise in the last days. “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also” (2 Timothy 3:8-9).
God will expose false prophets and teachers in these last days to those who have ears to hear from the Holy Spirit and not what itching ears want to hear. In the end there are always dire consequences for those who twist and pervert the Word of God and hinder righteousness. One by one God will take down these mammon loving mega church ministers who pervert the Word of God for material gain! Bar-Jesus was to learn a hard lesson. You cannot meddle with, twist or pervert the Word of God and get away with it!
(Vs.11-12) “Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.”
Paul later wrote to the Thessalonian believers concerning the power of the gospel. He wrote; “…our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with great conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Four things he mentioned about the gospel message to the believers at Thessalonica.
Firstly; the gospel came to them first and foremost through the Word of God because “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). The instrument the Holy Spirit uses in His convicting and converting work is the Word of God.
Secondly; when the Word of God is preached under the anointing of the Holy Spirit there will be spiritual power released against the kingdom of Satan. The way Paul “demolished spiritual strongholds” was through preaching the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we share the gospel with sinners our words will carry weight if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. The power of God would be the signs following the preaching of the Word. Genuine signs, miracles and wonders always accompany and follow after the preaching of the Word of God. The signs are never substitutes for the preaching of the Word of God. Sadly today in many churches, especially the mega-churches, people are hungering and thirsting to see signs, miracles and wonders, to see a show as it were, but how many are hungering and thirsting after righteousness?
Thirdly; the gospel message came in the Holy Spirit. It was not the message of man but from God. Paul and Barnabas were not speaking their own words but the words of the Holy Spirit. In evangelism He is the key to effective communication.
Fourthly; the gospel message came with great conviction. The Lord Jesus Himself said that when the Spirit has come, He will convict the world of sin…of sin because they do not believe in Him” (John 16:9). The first and foremost sin that the Holy Spirit convicts about is the sin of unbelief in Jesus as Saviour Lord and Messiah. He does convict about other sins but the key sin He convicts sinners about is their unbelief in Jesus. We can preach against sins and we should but just preaching about the sins of the flesh is like chopping of branches. You have to go to the root of the tree and pull it out!
All sins stem from unbelief in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. This is the root that has to be pulled up from the soil of the unregenerate human heart. Once a sinner repents and believes in Jesus as Saviour Lord and Messiah the blessed Holy Spirit pulls out the roots of unbelief in Jesus and the sinner is set free from the power of sin that once held them captive to Satan’s will.
The Proconsul believed because he saw the power of the Gospel in action. The occult power was thrown back and Satan was run off! As to Satan’s servant Elymas the spiritual darkness in his soul came to the surface and resulted in physical blindness. In the very last days the power and the purity of the gospel message will be evident again but it won’t be in the mega-churches or the denominational institutional churches but in small groups meeting in homes, offices, factories, in caves, in the forest or wherever and whenever they can. In these days the supernatural gifts of the Spirit will operate and people will be saved, healed and delivered from demonic power as they were in the early church.
The blessed Holy Spirit will raise up apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry from the rank and file of ordinary everyday people. These for the most part will not be college graduates or those with theological degrees but men and women who’s calling, spiritual gifting and skills have been honed and sharpened in the everyday circumstances, trials and tests and the daily affairs of life. Many will be labourers, farm hands, cooks, cleaners, and mechanics. Others will be office workers or even students and others from every walk of life. In these days indeed the gospel will go forth to save sinners and sanctify saints “in word, in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with great conviction.”