Acts 13:4-12/"The Preservation of the Lord"
Good morning beloved. I hope everyone had a great thanksgiving, giving praise and thanks to our God for all things. Its always an honor to gather with the saints on the Lord’s day. And I’m thrilled to be able to proclaim the excellencies of our God with my brothers and sisters in Christ this morning.
We’re in Acts 13:4-12 today as we move on in our “Acts of God” series. And just a reminder to what we’ve been studying in the book of Acts: this is not about the “Acts of the Apostles” but about the “Acts of the Holy Spirit, using the Apostles to spread the precious Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ”.
Please turn to Acts 13 with me in your Bibles. As you do so, I want to share with you a story about how a beloved hymn (that we just sang!) came about.
David Mathis recorded the following in an article for Desiring God: “Robert Harkness (1880–1961) was a gifted Australian pianist who traveled the world in his twenties with the famous evangelist R.A. Torrey. One night, at an evangelistic rally in Canada, Harkness met a young man, recently converted, who feared he might not be able to “hold out.” Harkness longed for the young man, and countless others impacted by the revival meetings, to have confidence deep in their souls that their finishing the race, and keeping the faith, did not fall finally to themselves. He wanted this young man and others to know that God finishes what he starts.
After the unsettling conversation with the Canadian convert, Harkness wondered how he might help other Christians celebrate the power of God’s sustaining hand in our perseverance and have this sweet truth bore deep into our souls. The answer was obvious for a musician like Harkness: a song. He mentioned the need in a letter to London hymnwriter (and friend of Charles Spurgeon) Ada Habershon (1861–1918) — the need for songs to encourage “definite assurance of success in the Christian life.” Inspired, she wrote seven. One she called “When I Fear My Faith Will Fail.” (which of course was later titled “He Will Hold Me Fast”) Harkness then wrote the original tune.
A century later, across the pond, an American worship pastor in Washington, D.C., Matt Merker, took out Habershon’s words, given to him by a congregant, during a trying season. He found fresh comfort and hope in the lyrics, put new music to the old hymn, and added a third verse. He shared the song with his wife and then senior pastor, Mark Dever, who thought the church should try singing it. ‘The church quickly owned the song and began singing it with joy (and really loud voices!),’ Merker says. Word soon spread, and churches far and wide now sing Habershon’s old hymn with Merker’s new tune. Says Merker, ‘It reinvigorates us to know that God is in control and he will preserve us to the end.’”
Though the articulation of this hymn was accomplished in efforts to encourage those already professing belief, I pray that we’ll behold in the text this morning the unbelievable, expansive, and mind boggling truth of the Lord’s preservation in our lives.
I’m not suggesting that Christ holds unbelievers fast, that’s not true. If you don’t believe in and follow Jesus, you’re not His sheep and not in His hand.
However, what I want to attempt to get us all to grasp in some way this morning, myself included, is the pervasive, sovereign hand of God in ALL things, even before we even believed in God Himself, let alone His sovereignty!
I want us to get at least a glimpse of how He was articulating the way for our salvation, to come to know Christ and believe in His Gospel, to be held fast in His hands, for much longer than we realize.
Now, I just want to be as abundantly clear as I possibly can be upfront. Much, if not all, of this sermon is directed toward believers in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for their salvation (as all of our sermons in the church should be).
I don’t want their to be any confusion about the statements I’m making. As we reflect upon Acts 13:4-12 this morning, and we see how Barnabas and Paul are sent out by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel in Salamis and Paphos, and then we read about how the Lord preserved the straight path to Himself, to salvation for Sergius Paulus, and as we reflect on how He did the same for us, if you’re not a believer in the room today, you can’t relate to that.
Even if you just think you are, if you don’t believe in Christ alone and in His finished work on the cross for your salvation, you’re not saved. This is out of love, for to love someone is to tell them the truth, but if you’ve never repented (turned away) from your sins and believed in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for your salvation, you don’t truly know God and you stand condemned before Him this morning.
And much of what I’m preaching about won’t apply to you. But here’s the thing, it can! In this exact moment, the invitation is wide open for you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! Today is the day of salvation, please run to Him right now! Let me or others know if you have questions, please.
Back to our focus on the sovereign hand of God, hopefully we know Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Amen!
But hopefully we ALSO know Ephesians 1:11 “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,”. God has been at work in all things, even in our own lives, for SO MUCH longer than we could ever begin to comprehend. Since before time itself!
He has no beginning or end. He is, has been, and evermore will be! Psalm 90:2 “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
My prayer this morning is that, in the Scripture in Acts that we work through, we’ll behold God preserving His straight path to salvation (Himself!) through His Son, so that we, as His children, can rest in His hands and be held fast by Him.
And perhaps, along the way, we’ll recognize by His grace that He’s been at work, piecing our stories together for much, much longer than we even realize.
We pick up with Barnabas and Saul (who will be called Paul from here on out after today) returning to the church in Antioch after their journey to Jerusalem to bring the church there relief during the impending famine.
Last week we covered how the church, while worshiping and fasting, were led by the Holy Spirit to set Barnabas and Saul apart for the work that he called them to. So they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
13:4-5: Luke, the author here, specifically states that the Holy Spirit sends out Barnabas and Saul on their missionary journey. This was not a man made mission, but God-ordained. We’ll get back to that point later, but its incredibly important to understand that the Holy Spirit was the driving force behind their mission.
They proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues, perhaps because of Saul’s background as a Jew. Luke notes that John was there to assist them. This is the same John, whose other name is Mark, found in Acts 12:12.
He was Barnabas’ cousin, the writer of the Gospel of Mark, and is well known for how he desserts Paul and Barnabas later in this chapter.
Barnabas and Saul give us the model of missions today! Proclaiming the word of God! If we go and serve food and paint houses and assist people in physical duties, that’s of course not a bad thing. I’m sure there are places such as the Ft. Myers area that needs this type of help.
But beloved, we must not mistake service trips for missions trips. Missions, according to George W. Peters, is “the sending forth of authorized persons beyond the borders of the New Testament church and her immediate gospel influence to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in gospel-destitute areas, to win converts from other faiths or non-faiths to Jesus Christ, and to establish functioning, multiplying, local congregations who will bear the fruit of Christianity in that community and to that country.”
This is what we see modeled for us in the book of Acts!
13:6-8: Barnabas and Saul are lead by the Holy Spirit through the island of Cyprus and they end up in Paphos, which is the complete other side of the island opposite from where they arrived in Salamis. Were not told of any results coming forth from the journey thus far, but its certain that Barnabas and Saul are faithfully proclaiming the Gospel as they travel.
In Paphos, they come upon a Jewish false prophet and magician named Bar-Jesus (which literally means “son of Jesus”, this was possibly his fathers name). The name “Jesus” was fairly common in biblical times. But of course, our savior was given this name on purpose.
Kevin DeYoung states that “In Greek, it is Iēsous; in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, Yesu. Both are derived from the Hebrew, in which the name is Yeshua or Joshua. Joshua is made up of two parts: Ya, which is short for Yahweh, and hoshea, which means “salvation.” Hence, Mary and Joseph gave their little baby the name Jesus — “Yahweh saves.””
This false prophet/magician was with the proconsul Sergius Paulus. Sergius Paulus was a chief officer or governor, a higher up in Roman government, and Luke includes that he was a pretty smart dude. The magician, Bar-Jesus, being “with” the proconsul in verse 7 essentially means he was working for the proconsul.
We’re not told how exactly the proconsul Sergius Paulus heard about Barnabas and Saul’s ministry, but it should be assumed that he at least overheard what was going on in their ministry and what they were teaching on the island. He was a higher up Roman government official, essentially the governor of the province, so he knew what was happening in his territory.
And as a result he wanted to hear the word of God that they were proclaiming. Do you see whats happening here? God the Holy Spirit lead the church at Antioch to set apart Saul and Barnabas for the work He had for them. The Holy Spirit then sends them out and one of their first opportunities is going to be to preach the Gospel to a Roman government official! This is HUGE!
Barnabas and Saul are, in the words of John Piper, NOBODIES to the Roman government! But God is the one, in their first missionary journey, to orchestrate an appointment with the governor of Cyprus to get him the Gospel. This is the sovereign hand of God at work!
They did however, have to deal with Elymas (the Greek name for Bar-Jesus, meaning magician) opposing them and wanting to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Perhaps this is due to Elymas knowing that if Sergius Paulus believes in this word being preached, he’ll be out of a job.
13:9-11- We see as we move on to verse 9 two things. 1) Saul’s name didn’t change to Paul. Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Roman or Gentile name. Luke switches to his Gentile name here for the first time, and for the rest of his account in Acts, presumably due to Paul’s assignment from the Lord to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles: Acts 9:15 “But the Lord said to him (Ananias), “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.””
2) We see the beginning of Paul’s response to Elymas. It’s incredibly important that we notice what Luke says prior to recording what Paul says to the Jewish false-prophet. Luke notes that Paul was “filled with the Holy Spirit”. He wasn’t just set apart by the Holy Spirit, or sent out by Him, but in fact Paul had the Holy Spirit with him! Paul was LEAD by the Holy Spirit to speak what he does to Elymas.
Paul looks intently at Elymas (I imagine him just epicly staring Elymas down) and says the following: Acts 13:10 “‘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?’” Harsh words here, but certainly fitting!
Verse 11 is perhaps just as shocking: Acts 13:11 “‘And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.’ Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him (Elymas), and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.”
How could the Lord lead Paul in such words and actions? David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 29 clues us in here: 1 Chronicles 29:11 “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.”
Greatness and power and glory and victory and exaltation as head above all belongs to GOD, not Elymas. The Holy Spirit moved through Paul here to show that no powers of darkness, no false prophet would overcome the power and plan of the Lord!
Elymas was in fact a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, and made crooked the straight paths of the Lord. How so? Why is this true? Back in verse 8 reveals our answer: Acts 13:8 “But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them (Barnabas and Paul), seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.”
How do you make crooked the straight paths of the Lord? You attempt to stand in the way of someone coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah 55:10-11 ““For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
God’s word, His Gospel that He sent forth through Barnabas and Paul was NEVER going to return void. God was ensuring His purposes would be fulfilled.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The blindness brought upon Elymas (for a time, the Scripture seems to suggest this wasn’t permanent blindness) was a physical illustration of his inward, spiritual blindness.
13:12- READ 13:12!
Notice the wording here, the proconsul believed when he saw what happened with the magician that was working for him. But the proconsul was ASTONISHED at the teaching of the Lord!
Just like we’ve seen previously in the book of Acts, it was not the miracles, signs, wonders, or mind blowing acts that saved anyone. It was only the Lord penetrating hearts with the Gospel. Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
The culmination of all the events we’ve just read about is the proconsul Sergius Paulus coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! Let us see the beautiful account that’s just taken place before us. God saved Paul several chapters ago, gets him plugged into the church at Antioch by Barnabas, used him and Barnabas to deliver relief supplies to the church in Jerusalem, sets them both apart for the work He’s called them too, and then sends them out on their first missionary journey.
This is the mission of God at work. God saved, set apart, and sent. All according to His sovereign hand. The powers of darkness at work in the false prophet Elymas were no match for our God. The Lord squashed Elymas’ plan to prevent Sergius Paulus from coming to faith.
John 11:40-44 “Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.””
What the Lord commands to live, MUST live! Who can stop the Lord Almighty? God appointed for the Roman proconsul to live, and made it happen. Just like when God called you to live, if you are saved in the room, He made it happen. Perhaps He’s commanding someone in here to live right now, to believe in Him, in His Gospel. If you hear the voice of the Shepherd, repent and run to Him!
John Piper recalls what has occured here with the proconsul this way: “God took the very effort of Elymas to make crooked the path of God and hinder the faith of Sergius Paulus, and he not only overcame it, he took it in his hand, laid it in the path and made Sergius Paulus step on it, and used it to bring the governor to faith.”
God preserved His truth and sent it forth, even in the face of false teaching and darkness. God preserved the proconsul for the day of salvation! And the Lord held Him fast for the rest of His life.