Text: Acts 13:1-12
Reading: Acts 11: 19-30
Sermon: The proconsul and the sorcerer
The Holy Spirit goes his own sovereign way in building a church.
1. In discipling.
2. In discipline.
Because of the persecution after Stephen’s death, many fled to Antioch. It was the third leading city in the empire after Rome and Alexandria. The Christians spoke to both Jews and Greeks as they travelled. The apostles, however, stayed in Jerusalem. It was essential that they stay to hold down the fort. Just as they’d sent to Samaria after Philip’s preaching, so they sent Barnabas to Antioch. Barnabas soon realized that Antioch needed Saul of Tarsus. After his conversion, Saul probably spent 8 or 9 years in Tarsus before Barnabas took him to Antioch.
The Holy Spirit goes his sovereign way in discipling and discipline. There were prophets and teachers in Antioch, and Barnabas was one of them. Barnabas means ‘son of encouragement’—he had a gift of encouragement. Others included Simeon called Niger, from Africa. Lucius was from Cyrene, Lybia. Manaen was essentially a ‘step-brother’ of Herod the tetrarch, the one who had put John the Baptist to death. He was a Jewish fellow who grew up with Herod, but the Lord claimed him for the kingdom of God. Saul was the fifth one, the greatest persecutor who became the greatest preacher and evangelist.
Obviously the Holy Spirit can disciple whomever he wants, even unlikely converts. The Holy Spirit wanted Barnabas and Saul for his work. They, together with John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin, travelled to Cyprus, Barnabas’s home. We’re not told what happened as a result of their work in Salamis, but we are told about Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who had Bar-Jesus or Elymas on staff.
This sorcerer tried to oppose the gospel, but he was unsuccessful. The Holy Spirit wanted to turn Sergius Paulus into a disciple and he succeeded. The Lord is sovereign and calls each of us in our own way. Perhaps some of us are not disciples yet, but the Holy Spirit will bring in his own, some willingly and some kicking and screaming. Even if someone is trying to stand between you and the Lord, the Holy Spirit will overcome that person.
Bar-Jesus claimed to be connected with the Jesus people, with salvation. He was likely an astrologer on Sergius Paulus’s staff. As Barnabas and Saul spoke to Sergius Paulus, Bar-Jesus tried to oppose them in fear for his job. It was the forces of hell vs. those of heaven. Then Saul, also called Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the point at which Paul was called to the leading position in the church. He did not thrust himself forward, but the Holy Spirit filled him and enabled him to serve.
Paul called Bar-Jesus a child of the devil. He wasn’t just mistaken, he was purposefully opposing the truth. Therefore he received the covenant threat—at midday you will grope and be struck with blindness and confusion (Deuteronomy 28:29). The Holy Spirit’s discipline will come down on those who knowingly try to oppose God. When it comes to matters of truth being compromised, the church must tell the truth boldly.
But note this: Paul told the sorcerer he would be blind for a time. He was given the chance to repent. The blindness was temporary. God is gracious and wants all to repent and be saved. Therefore the window of grace is always open to those who repent from their sins.
Ensure that you are a disciple, following Jesus.
Sermon by Pastor George on July 29, 2012. Notes, errors, and omissions by NPS.