08 Life and Ministry of Apostle Paul
8th of series “Life and Ministry of Paul” – Sunday, January 27, 2019
Gary Miller, Pastor, Christ Community Church, Weatherford, Oklahoma
Some of you may recall a few years ago the island nation of Cyprus in the northeastern Mediterranean Sea received some international attention because of a serious banking crisis that was going on there that affected a lot of people. In fact, I could put up some other photographs that I have seen of people standing in line outside of banks. It was a terrible situation – major predicaments on the part of individuals there. People would have been saying, “I’m glad I don’t live in Cyprus now.”
It was over 19½ centuries earlier when Cyprus also became a center of attention when there were several men who had been called by God, who travelled to that island nation with the sole purpose of presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ to people who were in need there, the Word of God to inhabitants of that little country. Among them was a man whose name was Saul. He had been a zealot religiously speaking. He had devotedly held to his tradition of his Jewish background and training to the point that he came to where he was ready to set out and completely stamp out the belief that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and also that He was the promised Messiah of the Jewish people. Not only that, but he even made calculated efforts so that he could persecute some of those people, even gave approval to the deaths of some of them who held tightly and fast to their faith.
But his life had been turned around. Over ten years before this he had met the living Christ on a road that was right outside of Damascus. A time came when an old friend by the name of Barnabas thought of him when he had gone, been sent by the church in Jerusalem to go up to the city of Antioch about 300 miles away where God was doing an amazing work. And he knew that he couldn’t do all that was needed by himself and so he thought of his friend, Saul, and he went over to a nearby city where Saul had gone last and he found him and he brought him back. And together they ministered there for a year. They taught many who came to believe in Jesus Christ, as it tells us in the 11th chapter of Acts.
And then one day there was a gathering of believers in that city, particularly those who were identified as leaders, and during that gathering the Spirit of God just came down in a way that is not given to us specifically, specifically described, and He spoke and He called out these two men, Barnabas and Saul, although He did not completely spell out to them specifically what He was calling them to, just saying “I’m calling you to the work that I’ve given you to do.” He didn’t tell them where. He didn’t tell them how to do it, and so on.
Soon after that they made plans to depart. And this morning that’s where we were going to pick up the account as given to us in the 13th chapter of the book of Acts. And I invite you to give your attention there for the time we have this morning beginning at verses 4 and 5.
Acts 13:4-5 (New International Version)
4The two of them (that’s Barnabas and Saul), sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.
So let’s try to get the picture here. You have these three men – you’ve got Saul and Barnabas and then you have a younger fellow by the name of John who was also known as Mark who came along with them to serve kind of in an internship role. We should plot out the course a little bit in terms of geography. Way up in the upper right you see the city of Antioch. It’s in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s located about 10 to 15 miles inland from the seacoast. That’s where God had been doing this amazing work as described in the 11th chapter. That’s where they are when the Spirit of God comes upon them and speaks. And sometime afterwards they ended up going down to the coastal city of Seleucia. And it’s from there that they got onboard a ship and they set sail to the west, Cyprus being the next stop. The distance between Seleucia and the eastern edge of Cyprus would have been about 130 miles or so. It would have been a several-day voyage at the very least and maybe more than that, especially in those primitive times.
Now Cyprus was the place, by the way, were Barnabas had come from. It tells us that in Acts chapter 4 and verse 36 when he is first introduced – he was a Cypriot; he came from the island of Cyprus. And it was also on the island of Cyprus that there had been a few back in chapter 11 who had evidently become believers in Jesus – the gospel had somehow gotten to Cyprus – and they came to Antioch to tell the good news about Christ to some of those people there. So Christianity has already spread to a small degree to this island. And yet there was an intentional decision on the part of Barnabas and Saul that that’s where they should go.
Now in that first century time Cyprus would have been what some people today would call a tourist’s paradise because it had a good climate and also there was a lot of natural resources. But even though there are all of those things, those positives, that does not diminish at all the great spiritual needs of people that were there. And so we are told that they landed first at Salamis. As you see on screen, that is on the eastern edge of the island. Their starting point for proclaiming the Word of God was to go to Jewish synagogues that were located there. That tells us that there had already formed an established community of Jews in the city, and there were enough of them to warrant more than one of these gathering places that were called the synagogue. You’ll notice that the plural “synagogues” is used there.
Now this would be a pattern of the apostle’s ministry because as he traveled throughout the empire as you see in the following chapters in the book of Acts, you will see that that’s where he would often begin when he came into a city or community. He would see if there was a synagogue that was there. It would be the logical place to begin. After all there would have been at least some Jews who would have been acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures and there would maybe even been a few of them who had an anticipation of the Messiah who would come and who did indeed come, even though many of them did not realize that.
Paul doing this was in accord with something that he wrote about later in the opening chapter of the book of Romans when he said or spoke about how he was “not ashamed of the gospel because” the gospel “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”, and notice the sequence there, “first for the Jews and then for the Gentiles” (Romans 1:16). And so that’s a principal, that’s a pattern that Paul would usually follow as he went into what was to him uncharted territory – he would seek out Jews that were there and then from there he would go to Gentiles.
Nothing is mentioned as atowhat kind of response there may have been in the city of Salamis. That was different, by the way, than what I was mentioning a moment ago in Acts chapter 11 where it tells us in Antioch there were many people who responded, there were many who believed, many who turned to the Lord and were brought to Him. Now whether there was silence about this in this passage about Salamis, whether that meant that there was nobody that came to Christ or maybe very few, that in no way suggests that Barnabas and Saul had failed. Rather, they been faithful, they had carried out the mission that God had given to them, had wanted of them, which is the same mission that God calls each of us to – to be light to a dark world and to share the light as God gives us opportunities in the message of Jesus Christ, and we leave the results to Him. We’re not necessarily called to stack up a bunch of numbers or converts. That will be God’s job. Our job is to be faithful and to be the light bearers.
How long they stayed in Salamis, we’re not given any indication about, but knowing that there were other places on the island where people needed to be reached with the gospel message we learn this beginning at verse 6 where it says, “They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos.” Now I don’t want to draw more from that statement than might be intended, but when it says that “they traveled through the whole island,” that could well mean more than just going the straight shot across and getting to the next destination that we’re going to come upon in a just a few moments on the other side of the island. Rather it could mean that they either went along the coast – that also would have been a short distance. Or it might mean that they kind of made the rounds, so to speak, they went from place to place throughout the island, even going in some of the more remote areas, and there are some areas like that geographically speaking on the island of Cyprus even today – taking some of the off-routes, the rugged terrain, going into the interior of Cyprus. Remember again, Barnabas was from this island. He probably as a kid had known a lot of the places and had explored and so forth. He would have been familiar with some of these locations. And as they went along, they ministered to people whom they encountered and shared Christ with them as they had opportunity.
That, by the way, seemed to be their ongoing strategy. Just as the Spirit of God had set them apart and then sent them out, they also continued to rely on the Spirit who already knew about men and women in places all over the island who needed to hear the message, whom He had already been working on and preparing with some even ready to respond. And we’re about to see one of those in just a few moments. Again, we can only speculate as to how long it took for them to take the journey across the island to reach the capital city of Paphos on the western shore – I would say a minimum of several weeks, maybe even several months.
But when they come to the other side, it’s here that an unusual incident occurred. In fact, it is the only actual episode about their ministry other than what we just saw – that they taught and preached to proclaim the word of God in Salamis. But here we have a specific incident that took place.
Let’s read about it beginning in the middle of verse 6.
Acts 13:6-12 (New International Version)
6They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10"You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun."
Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about (you can almost envision this going on), seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
Here in Paphos, as I said, the capital city on the west side of the island, Saul and Barnabas and John Mark met two individuals who are identified by name, both of whom were in a state of unbelief spiritually. That means that neither one of them were Christians. They were each pagans. One guy’s name was Sergius Paulus. He was the proconsul of the island. That meant that he was the highest or the leading government official but under the direction and subjection of Rome. He’s in essence the “top dog”, we might say today. Luke, the inspired author of Acts, described him in a highly complementary way. He said Sergius Paulus was “intelligent”, which I take to mean that he was a man with much understanding. Now what’s interesting is that these three – Barnabas and Saul and Mark, John Mark – didn’t try to make their way into this guy’s presence. Rather it was he who made the first move. He sent for them, and he was evidently impressed with what he had been hearing about these men who were crossing the island and he wanted to hear the Word of God. Isn’t that interesting – he wanted to hear the Word of God. Now here’s a remarkable example of the active ongoing work of the Holy Spirit who it appears had stirred a desire in this man’s heart, maybe even for some time. And as we shall see in just a moment, what or actually who he had been consulting for help was leaving him dry and empty on the inside. It would have been interesting if we could have backtracked a little bit into this guy’s life to see what had been going on in the weeks and even months prior to this moment, to understand some of the struggles that he was experiencing, his uncertainty about life in general, wondering if there were answers to questions that were swirling in his mind. And then somehow word gets to him, “Hey, there are several guys that are going about from different communities across the island and they’re preaching a message.” Maybe this could provide some spiritual reality to what he had been seeking. What an opportunity God had dropped right there in front of Saul and Barnabas to tell this ungodly head of Cyprus about the living Jesus, which could ultimately have a potentially widespread impact throughout the countryside.
By the way, this is a good reminder for us, all of us to stay alert, to stay active, to be asking God from time to time, “God, you know individuals, you know I will be meeting with even before I have met together with them. I ask you to make me alert to opportunities. Put opportunities before me to come in contact with people who need the Lord, whom you have been preparing for maybe the precise moment when they might be ready to hear and even receive Him.” And you know, one of the interesting things is I kind of think that God would probably be interested in answering that kind of a request more than what we would realize. And this is what was happening to Barnabas and Saul and to John Mark.
Now no sooner did they say, “Yeah, we’d be ready, glad to tell you about the Word of God”, then suddenly they were met with some opposition. The opposition came actually from just one man. He’s the second individual in this account that we read. His name is Jewish – “bar Jesus”, “bar” means “son of”. Now whether that was a name that he was actually born with or whether it’s one that he took upon himself wanting to operate in kind of a deceptive way to make it sound like he had some connections with Jesus or the Savior, we don’t know. He’s also identified by another name, Elymas, which means “sorcerer”. He was a magician. That lets us know something of what he stood for, the alleged trickery that he tried to promote and in which he was engaged. And apparently he had come to have a degree of controlling influence over the proconsul. The proconsul had apparently had him at his right hand, right side so that he could seek advice from him in situations. And as a result, when he starts seeing the situation setting up here in which Barnabas and Saul are beginning to share the truth, he has a fear inside that that’s all going to get threatened and that maybe his master is going to be swayed by what is told him. And so he tries to butt in. He tries to keep Sergius Paulus from believing their message.
Now if you try to envision what’s going on here, this is quickly building to be a nose-to-nose confrontation, which by the way can sometimes be part of the cost of standing for Christ and following Him. And so for Barnabas and Saul the battle was about to begin. In fact, really the battle was now on. And it’s at this point that Saul takes the lead. And it’s the first time in this account that he is identified by his other name, his Roman name, which is Paul. And from here on in the account of the book of Acts that’s what he’s called – Paul. Earlier he had been referred to as Saul. Now it’s Paul. And he locked eyes on this wizard, and he stared him down without flinching. And then he held back nothing, calling him a “child of the devil,” by the way, in contrast to his fraudulent identity of one he claimed, that he was some kind of follower of Jesus Christ. That’s quite an opposite label, isn’t it? And then he charged him of being an enemy of everything that is right and being full of all kinds of deceit and trickery.
Now when you look at those lines, those are pretty stern and fiery words, aren’t they? And if you want to be downright honest, they don’t sound very Christian at first either, do they? We might wonder if the old fleshly nature of Saul had kicked in for just a moment, and he was showing it through momentarily. I look back in some instances in which I’ve encountered some individuals who maybe were not like this, but maybe were difficult. But I can’t recall that I’ve ever gone so far as to say, “You’re a son of the devil. You are doing evil works. You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery.” I may have felt like it on another occasion or two, but I don’t know that if I ever would have had the courage to do so. And yet that’s what Paul did here.
But let’s not miss how Luke clearly prefaced these words. He stated that Paul was “filled with the Holy Spirit” – “Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Can you be filled with the Holy Spirit and call someone a son of the devil and being evil? But yet it was through the Holy Spirit, it’s making clear that Paul was able to see what the true state of the heart of this dark soul was, the spiritual enemy that he had become. And it was the Spirit’s prevailing work that empowered Paul to directly expose this deceiver for who he really was. Furthermore, because Paul had been declaring the straight teaching about Jesus, his question, “Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” let it be made known that that was precisely what Elymas had been doing. He had been promoting deviations from the truth, and thus he was misleading the proconsul.
By the way, we all know that in recent years, in recent decades there have been tragically many such false teachers. And there are teachers that are doing the same thing today – they are perverting the right ways of the Lord and misleading people into errant belief and doctrine.
But Paul wasn’t through. What he said next is reminiscent of a situation that occurred some years previously, when you might remember in Acts chapter 5 the apostle Peter, who was a central figure when he exposed the husband and wife by the names of Ananias and Saphirra for their trying to show themselves in a fraudulent way to be very generous, by saying, “Look, we sold this land,” and making it sound like they sold all the land when they kept back some of it for their own. There was nothing wrong with them keeping back some of it, but the wrong was that they sold it with the idea that they had given everything and they held nothing back for themselves. And it was within just a matter of moments that each one of them in separate situations died right on the spot. Now Elymas didn’t die, but he did become blind, just as Paul had experienced himself outside of Damascus as given in the 9th chapter of Acts. The blindness reflected something about it Elymas’ inner spiritual heart just as it had with Paul. Paul probably was hoping that he would be spiritually restored, just as God had done with him personally and then also restored physically.
Keep in mind that when Paul did this, this demonstration of God’s power was something that we see was reserved only for key individuals, particularly apostles in the early phase of the New Testament church. In fact, Paul would later write near the end of 2nd Corinthians that there are certain signs of an apostle (2 Cor. 12:12) of which he was one. And here Paul was demonstrating on a rare occasion now and then that kind of a sign. It’s noteworthy also that from this point on how Paul’s role seems to change just a little bit. The leadership of the two shifts now more to him. Earlier it has been “Barnabas and Saul”. From this point on it will become “Paul and Barnabas”. And perhaps that is an indicator of the fact that his apostleship is beginning to be demonstrated – that the apostleship that God had called him to is showing up.
Well, Sergius Paulus – remember, he’s the proconsul – he’s standing there watching all this and within seconds he’s becoming buggy-eyed, “I can’t believe that this guy is really saying this to Elymas here.” And within a short time it tells us that he believed, having been amazed at the teaching about the Lord. That’s something that should not be overlooked. Yes, this miraculous work of God that God brought on the sidekick of his, it stunned him. But what impressed him even more was the power of the teaching about the Lord, the remarkable truth that he heard about Jesus Christ, that Jesus was the son of God who became man and that He was ready to live out His life in anyone who would receive Him, even this proconsul.
It’s interesting that a little 100 years ago there was a British archaeologist by the name of Sir William Ramsey. He was a guy that started out not being a believer, and as he searched for the truth he came to the knowledge of the truth and wrote several books. I have one of them on the book of Galatians. He did a lot of geographical and archaeological work. And about a hundred years ago in a nearby region he unearthed an inscription that bore the name of Sergius Paulus, and it confirmed that he indeed had become a Christian, and not only that but he had also influenced his daughter to come to faith as well. Can you see how important this was for the leading of the Spirit to direct these men from place to place and to this individual?
Now I wish the story hadn’t ended there with regard to Elymas. Nothing more is said. He is left in blindness. We don’t know whether what happened to Paul earlier happening to him also – that his eyes were opened and that his heart became open. We’d like to believe that maybe that was the case, maybe even because of the proconsul of how he came to believe in the Lord. And then how much time went by after this episode in Paphos, we’re not told.
But at some point Paul and his companions left Cyprus and they sailed to Perga. If you look at this on a map, you’ll see that it is a voyage of probably a little under 200 miles from the western edge of Cyprus to the southern coast of what is called Asia Minor, or Turkey today. The strip in the area along the coast was known as Pamphylia, and Perga was just inland a few miles from this coast.
It was without any explanation Luke also adds that this is where John left them to return to Jerusalem. In Colossians chapter 4 John is referred to as a cousin to Barnabas, so there’s some family connection there. Now later on were going to see near the end of chapter 15 of Acts where his name comes back up again, and I’ll leave the rest of the story for that occasion, except to say for the moment that it was then that Paul recalled how John also called Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and he had not continued with them in the work. That’s how Paul viewed what was going on here – he deserted them. But no reason is given as to why John Mark left them. And that has led to all kinds of speculations. There’s a list that is almost a mile long, as we would say – he was homesick, or he went limp in his dedication, or the prospect of what lie ahead may have seemed too much for him, or maybe his lack of maturity being a younger man was starting to show up. That’s just a few of the possibilities. Apparently no further details were deemed necessary in the record of the book of Acts. But whatever happened, and maybe he did flicker for a time, we might say, but his light didn’t go out completely. And his leaving did not disqualify him from further service and usefulness to the Lord. Keep in mind that we have one of the books of the New Testament that was recorded by him, the third gospel, the gospel of Mark.
From the time of the early church all the way to the present day there have been and will continue to be instances in which individuals will choose to move on and take another course. Sometimes their reasons may be valid and understandable. At other times it may create some wonderment for others that they may have known, maybe a little discouragement, and possibly even a bit of hurt. But whenever that may occur, that should never deter God’s people, His church, from continuing to move forward. That certainly was not the case in this situation for Paul and Barnabas knew and understood their mission. They were also well aware that there were lots of people in these cities that you see there beyond on the coast who still needed to be reached, just as they had experienced when they had been at Cyprus.
And so in the opening words of verse 14, from Perga they went into the city in Antioch. That was about another 100 miles inland. It was located actually in a mountain range, and Pisidian Antioch is different from the other Antioch that was where they had been called from. And it was at about an elevation of 3500 feet. By the way, notice something here – Paul is doing a lot of walking, isn’t he? And then he’s also doing some climbing in the mountain ranges. And in those days when you reached about age mid-40s, you were kind of over the hump already. You would be like ready in our day to draw Social Security. And if you made it into the 50s you’d be fortunate. This guy is an active guy. I say he’s structured quite well and he’s got a good physical capacity.
It would be in Pisidian Antioch that they would find a ready audience. God did some amazing things that ultimately led to the Word of God spreading throughout the whole region as we read near the end of the chapter in verse 49. But just like what they had already experienced, opposition also raised its ugly head against them and they would be forced to leave and to move on.
And when we come back to this account next time, we’re going to look at some of the key moments, not in detail fashion, but some of the events of Paul’s ministry on this next leg of his journey together with his close co-worker Barnabas.
But before we conclude this morning, the further that we get into life and ministry of Paul the clearer the picture of what is coming through in the life of this great servant whom God used. Once he viewed Jesus in a despised way in the earlier years of his young adult life. That all changed when he met and he experienced the living Christ, and from that point on Christ came to mean everything to him. I think we’re seeing that already in these early stages.
Furthermore, the Word of God, the Scriptures, also had an entirely different take from what he thought he knew about the Old Testament in his pre-conversion years. Over time he was learning and would continue to learn what it meant to “let the Word of God dwell richly” in him personally, a phrase that he would use when he wrote to a church in the city of Colossae (Colossians 3:15), which by the way was not all that far away from Pisidian Antioch, in which he would encourage them as a body of believers to do the same thing. So strongly did he believe that it was this Word, the Word of Christ and the Word about Christ that would meet the needs of people, that it became the full foundation of his ministry of reaching people. We’ve already seen that just in this account this morning. Three times – they proclaimed the Word of God in Salamis, it was the Word of God that the proconsul wanted to hear, and it was the Word of God that brought amazement to him. And if you read on through the rest of chapter 13 and also through chapter 14 you will see more instances in which there is an emphasis upon the Word of God. Paul’s ministry was saturated with the Word of God. He was convinced that that was what people needed, and he was confident that the Word of God that was and is living and powerful in and of itself was capable of penetrating people’s hearts and changing lives. That’s just as true today as it was in that time of the middle part of the first century. We who know Christ, who claim to be Christians and servants of God, if we ever think differently, we’ll be kidding ourselves. If we try to rely more on methods and attention-getting programming and entertainment – which there may not be anything wrong in and of those things themselves – but if those get put ahead of what it means to put forth the Word of God, it’s the Word of God that will impact people’s lives. Remember, Sergius Paulus was amazed at the teaching of the word of God. That’s what got through to him. That’s how God spoke to him.
And then one more thing, Paul was continuing to learn what it meant to be filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled or to be dominated by the Spirit of God, for the Spirit of God to empower us to live the life of Jesus through us, the glorious risen living life of Jesus in our lives. How greatly that’s needed. Later in some of his letters he would write about what it meant to be led by the Spirit in Romans chapter 8. In Galatians chapter 5 he would speak about what it means to live or to walk by the Spirit, that is, a moment-by-moment dependence on the Spirit of God to empower him for the work and for the opportunities and challenges that were before him. These were the truths that Paul was learning. And these are the same truths that each of us need to be continuing to be in the process of learning too. I need them. We all need them. And so my challenge is that as we see Paul learning these truths, God will use him as a model of his life and ministry to learn the same truths as well – to be in love with Jesus, to where Jesus means everything, to have a desire to know God’s Word, to let it dwell richly within us, and to experience more and more of what it means to let the Spirit of God work through us. I need that every day and you do too. Let’s ask Him right now as we conclude.
Heavenly Father, thank You so much again for the great way that You have shown Your message through this servant of Yours, whom You gave a lot of pages in Your Word about and then called him to write a number of those letters in the New Testament. But Lord, even more we’re thankful for the Christ, Your Son, who changed Paul’s life, who made Paul become what he became. And we pray that You would continue to do that with us, whatever phase of life we’re in, whatever experiences that we’re going through, whatever needs or challenges or perhaps the struggles that we may be facing, that we might learn to live by the same Spirit as Paul learned to live by. I pray that for each of us here this morning. Perhaps there are some of us who need that extra boost, that additional strengthening right now. And I pray that You would work that work within us. May it all be for Your glory, dear God, and we pray this in Your Son, Jesus, His name, Amen.