Today Todd walks us through Acts 13:1–12. In this passage, the church in Antioch and Paul and Barnabas demonstrate what it means to live worshipful, missional, and prophetical lives, challenging us to do the same!
Our Opportunity for Mission in Our Historical Moment: Truth Meets Myth
God's People: Quick to Go to Others and Slow to Leave Each Other
Inspiration and Invitation to the Proclamation and Demonstration of the Gospel
The Church our Mother and its Mission
The Proper Liturgy of the Church and the Proper Way to Deal With Sorcerers
Antioch: The Kind of Church (and Men) That God Uses
Good morning to my friends across the Metroplex and folks who are diving in and catching us online. We are making our way through the book of Acts, and we are at a very pivotal moment in Acts, chapter 13. We are seeing the very first group of people who collectively do what God has always wanted people to do collectively. This is the first time in history a bunch of individuals understood, "God wants us to be a kingdom of priests." Not a kingdom with priests (that's very different) but a kingdom of priests.
There's much to learn here. This is a humbling text. We're not even halfway through the book, and this guy named Peter who you know very, very well is gone. He is never to be mentioned again except for one little verse in Acts 15:7. It makes me always mindful of the fact that even when you're somebody as significant as Peter there is just a moment for you to serve your King. Whenever I read from Acts 13 on, I'm reminded this is my day to be his man and to be faithful.
There's going to be a day when God is going to move on and Todd Wagner is going to have nothing to do with advancing the kingdom here on earth. I will receive, hopefully, from my King, "Well done, good and faithful servant, during your little opportunity," but you don't know whether it's one chapter, like Stephen, where you're here and gone and hopefully your influence continues like Stephen's does (the life of Paul was impacted by this man's faith), or whether it's for 12 chapters like Peter.
While you're here, when you come to recognize who Jesus is, you want to go, "I'm going to be his man." You're going to find out that's exactly what Paul does from chapter 13 through the rest of your New Testament. So may this be the beginning of our chapter 13, where we get after it like Paul does, where we corporately are the next gathering of people who are as faithful as Antioch was. We must pray so this can be accomplished.
Father, thanks for a chance to come and to reflect on these things that are in your Word. I thank you that you remind us of our mortality just in our observing that Peter is largely moved out now of the historical record of the advancement of your church. Thank you for the example of the church at Antioch.
I pray that we who gather now together across this city, the church at Watermark, a small part of your true and faithful church around the world, would be a church that other churches would go, "Let us be like them," people who are ministering, worshiping, serving the Lord faithfully, doing what he has always wanted his people to do.
Lord, would you use today to draw men and women to yourself who aren't clear on who you are, that the clarity of Paul's message to men at Paphos would be made clear to them, and for those of us who already know what Paul knew in Acts 13, may we be as faithful to take it to them as Paul was. Teach us now. In Jesus' name, amen.
We are looking at this church at Antioch. We spent last week our entire time looking just at the first two or three verses. We went back to Acts 11, because there were some observations we needed to make about who this church was, how they were made up of individuals who were discipling and training them. Let me just make a quick note. I'm going to read to you again the first three verses.
"Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers…" I made the observation that churches need both. I talked to you a little bit about what a prophet and a teacher are. Today, by and large, prophets are forth-tellers. They bring forth the truth of God. They speak the truth of God boldly. Prophets prior to this… We didn't have a Scripture, we didn't have a canon, which means to measure… The word means in Old English literally like a measure. We didn't have anything to measure truth by, so God would at times have men who would bring forth truth.
What we really believe the Scripture is is a collection of those 40 different men across 10 civilizations, 3 different languages, 3 different continents that God used to speak truth. Now we have it, and we'd do well to pay attention to it. We need to teach each other (you're going to see us do that today), illumine the Scripture, help us understand more about why this was preserved, why God wanted us to know these things…sometimes as an example to us, often just to reveal to us things we could not know.
He is showing that he has shown who he is in the context of human history. I've said this before. The thing that makes your Bible different is that we're not just telling you a bunch of philosophies or ideas of gifted men. This is not just insight and poetry. This is God's revealing who he is in history. There is no other holy book…none…that is the same as your Bible. You can make sense of it. Therefore, it is not nonsensical. It is historical record, and you can test it.
God said, "That's what you should do with my prophets when they say, 'This is what is going to be,' because they're speaking for me, and I am not a guy that I should lie or a son of man that I should repent. So if that guy is speaking for me, everything he says is going to come true." If it doesn't, then he said, "Get rid of them." I mean, literally get rid of them. Today you should just dismiss them out of hand and say, "I want nothing to do with you, you who say these things that God is going to do."
By the way, a lot of churches still practice the gift of prophecy, like foretelling, and so much of what goes on there is more likened to a horoscope than it is what you see in your Bible. What I mean by that is they just speak in vague generalities. I know a guy in this town who has some influence who believes the reason his ministry is of some import is because a prophetess from Kansas City came and appeared to him and said, "I believe the Lord wants you to make a great difference in the lives of businessmen in Dallas."
With that prophetic utterance, he has held sway and influence over many people, largely using it for good, but I thought to myself, "How nonsensical is that? That's what we needed a prophetess from Kansas City to come and tell us?" You find me a faithful follower of Christ in Dallas whom God does not want to use to effectively disciple men and women in this community. In fact, you show me somebody who says otherwise, and I will tell you they are not a prophet of God. They're not teaching you what the Scripture says.
The Scripture says we're all supposed to do that. Don't wait for somebody to come and give you some vague idea of what God wants you to do. What you should do is have men who will illumine God's Word and, if they need to, be a forth-teller, to not just teach you God's Word but to say, "Listen, man. If you don't do what God's Word says, it's going to cost you." You're going to find out Paul was especially gifted at that. He was a forthright speaker of truth.
It's not enough just to have somebody teach you stuff. Somebody has to push that truth to the forefront of your life where you're accountable. So these guys were there. You're going to see that. By the way, can God still reveal to men and women today things that are going to happen? Yeah. Let's just hold them to the standard, which is "You'd better be right." Not like Jeane Dixon, just firing out about 20,000 different prophecies and hoping one of them sticks, and then all of a sudden we go, "Woo! This woman has some insight."
Like Nostradamus. A bunch of vague ideas that we can later go back and go, "Maybe that's what he meant. Oh man, Nostradamus. Let's just trust in everything he says." No. God's Word was specific and clear. See also the fact that he names a guy who wasn't born yet of a nation of no account that he said, "About 150 years from now, that guy will rise up and will be my servant. This pagan king named Cyrus will deliver and do for me what I want done." Now that you ought to pay attention to, and all of the other Scriptures that are clearly prophetic in terms of foretelling.
I want to tell you one of the problems in the church in America today is there are not enough folks who are being forthright and truthful. There are a lot of ear ticklers. A guy named Charles Spurgeon said instead of a bunch of shepherds leading God's sheep in the future, the church would be made up of a bunch of clowns leading goats. That's a pretty harsh word. What he means is men will no longer bring forth the truth of God. They will say what they need to say in order to gather an audience.
You're going to find out Paul had no such problem, and neither should we. That is true in large gatherings. It ought to be true in your smaller gatherings. This was a church that was discipled, and they were made up of a very collective whole. This is a metropolitan city, and the church looked just like their city. Then we find out in verse 2, "While they were ministering…" I want to take a second and talk about that word.
That word ministering is the Greek word leitourgeo. It's where we get the English word liturgy. The English word liturgy today means a specific religious form of worship. A lot of folks are going to be in churches today on Palm Sunday and are going to go through a liturgy, which often is going to be racked with truth. In fact, I was talking to a friend of mine who wears a collar this morning, and I know what he's doing on Palm Sunday.
He is reading Isaiah 63, which is a reference to what Jesus himself did on this day and how he went and alone bloodied himself for the sake of delivering his people. It's fantastic liturgy, but too many people think all God wants them to do is sit and listen to this man go through a liturgy. This text is so necessary for the church today. The church of Antioch, you're going to find out, had a right understanding of leitourgeo.
Some of your Bibles will use the word worshiping the Lord, some will say serving the Lord, and some will say we're ministering to the Lord. Well, how do you minister to the Lord? What does God need from you? The answer is he chooses to allow you to participate with him. In classical Greek, that word leitourgeo when it would show up was used of somebody who would use private funds for the public good. That's what really liturgy is.
It's where you are going to be exposed to the truth of God's Word, and you will use your life, all of your personal resources, for the public good, and there is no greater public good than to advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ. A problem in the world today is that the church thinks liturgy is to go through a form of worship, and they don't understand that true biblical liturgy is using everything they have to advance the cause of Christ in this world.
If you want to be a truly liturgical person, if you want to do what's called high church, you will get after it. That's what Antioch was doing. They were using everything they had to pay attention to what God wanted. It says they were fasting and they heard from the Holy Spirit. Let's talk about fasting for a second, because I kind of blew through that last week. What's fasting?
Fasting is not a hunger strike. Don't think of an inmate who says, "I'm not going to eat until you improve the conditions in this prison." A lot of folks think that's what fasting is: a way that we hold God hostage, saying, "You're not a very good warden of my universe, so I'm going to not eat until you see how much I want you to change what you're apparently doing in my life."
Fasting is not a way that we manipulate and obligate God. No, fasting is something completely different. It's where we are committed to going, "Lord, we want what you want. That's all we want, even more than wanting what our flesh wants." Does your flesh want a cheeseburger sometimes? Mine does, especially when I'm in Northern India and you can't look at a cow with lust or you're in trouble. You're like, "Give me a cheeseburger." Sometimes you're like, "Gimme that."
What we want to be is a church that is so earnest that this is our time, because we don't know when we're going to be subbed out, Paul for Peter, that we want to be attentive to the Lord's work. I don't want to just attend a service; I want to tend to the Lord's business. I don't want to just go through a liturgy; I want to be leitourgeo. That means for me to do what God wants I have to know what God wants, so I'm not doing anything until I'm certain what God wants.
So what you're going to do is be somebody who just says, "I'm going to go into a time of uninterrupted focus until I am certain I have heard from the Lord. That means I'm not going to eat. I may not drink. I won't listen to my radio. I won't watch TV. I'm going to take a break from sports, whatever it is, so I can study my Bible, pray, collectively reason with God's people, and go, 'This is what God wants.'" That's fasting.
Don't think it is a hunger strike to change God's attentiveness to you. We don't fast so God will do what we want him to do. We fast so we can be certain that we are attentive to God's Word. Think of it this way. Psalm 42 says, "As the deer panteth for the water brook, so my soul longs for you." Psalm 63 says, "You alone are my God. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh yearns for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water."
"I don't think, Lord, about how much I'd love a drink. I think about how great it would be to know you intimately and to be certain I am walking according to your ways, because your ways are life to me." What I'm telling you is if you're too busy to have regular Bible intake, to meditatively reflect on Scripture, then just don't eat, because this Word is life to you and you ought to be ingesting it regularly, because that's how you stay in tune with God and can be a man or a woman who does what God wants you to do.
Sometimes you have major decisions coming up and it is good to go, "Before I go forward…" Don't wait until you're starving already to fast. Don't wait until you're in love to determine what God wants. When your flesh is already fully committed to the cheeseburger or the blond, that's not the time to seek God's instruction. So many guys do this. They just say, "Hey, God. Do you want me to marry this girl or not?"
God has already spoken to that. You go, "Really?" Yeah. God has told you who you should marry. Do you know that? It's not like there's one person out there just made for you. I don't want to blow your little romantic world, Princess Buttercup, but there is one kind of person you should marry: somebody who is wholly committed to God. If you want to marry, great. But don't get married and find out it's hard and go, "Well, Lord, it's your fault. I prayed, 'Should I marry the girl?' and I didn't get a 'No,' so now that it's hard you must have made a mistake." No.
You find somebody who trusts in the Lord with all their heart, leans not on their understanding, and in all their ways acknowledges him, and you say, "Let's covenant together to honor God with our love and mutual subjection to each other, each of us being who God made us to be in our specific roles in marriage as we love and serve each other, and let's be attentive to God's Word, and let's use everything in our lives for his glory, our love and commitment to each other, everything that comes forth from us for his glory. Let's make that our liturgy."
That's who you should marry: somebody who's down with that. Not somebody who makes your little heart go all a-flutter but somebody whose heart is fully committed to him. What you need to do is spend as much time studying about the goodness of God until you're convinced that's what you should do. Don't fast to seek something God has already spoken to you, but you'd better do everything you need to do to know what God has spoken.
That's what this church did. That's why this church got it on: because they were committed collectively to say, "We're not going to do anything… This is a 'What would Jesus have us do now?' church." They said, "Rather than get together and have a potluck, let's get together and pray and listen." What happened is the Holy Spirit said to them in effect, "Hey, listen. I want you to do what I've always wanted my church to do, which is to make disciples of the nations. That means you have to go where you're not currently going."
The reason I think God chose the church at Antioch is because they were already on mission. You're going to find out that church was already lighting up a very raucous place, a place that was given to luxurious immorality. That's what Antioch was known for, and the church was thriving. He said, "These people who are changing Antioch I'm going to use to change the world."
By the way, he said, "You take Barnabas and Saul," their best and brightest. "The guys who are the most effective in changing the world they are in…let's send them to the rest of the world." You don't send missionaries out who aren't effective in a local context. We're so careful with this word mission. Mission is not something you go to. Mission is what you live with. Life is a long-term mission trip, and every week is a short-term mission opportunity.
There may be a time when you're already faithful on mission here, teaching and making disciples, that God says, "I want you for a season to teach and make disciples over here." But why would you send someone to make disciples for a week in Cuba when they're not doing it for 51 weeks right here? No, you're going to find out the Spirit of God said, "Hey, do you see these guys who love my Word and can teach it effectively? Those are the guys I want to go somewhere else."
This is not a vacation with a purpose that Paul and Barnabas are about to go on. This is not a goodwill tour. They're not there handing out food for folks who don't need it. That's worthy, but if you want to be on mission, practice today being on mission. This week, the world is going to be aware that Christians celebrate what is the pivot point of, they think, all eternity, which is the coming of the Son.
It is said that 80 percent of all people who aren't engaged in spiritual things, if invited, will come and attend so they can learn more about this faith that has rocked the world. It is said that only 2 to 3 percent of folks who say they know this Jesus will invite them, which means 98 percent of the world is not on mission who say they know Jesus, which is to say they think what God wants them to do is go through some liturgical form of worship and not be involved in leitourgeo. Let's not make that our mistake. Let's go. Let's be like that church. You don't have to go anywhere this week to be on mission, but wake up and be on mission.
The last thing I want to say about this church is this church grew leaders. One of the problems in the church in America today (here comes a prophetic word for you) is that they go to seminaries and buy leaders. I mean that. It's like they think that because somebody pays a bunch of money, takes some classes, and gets lettered they're going to be a good leader for the church. I'm going to tell you that's not the case.
The first time I spoke at Dallas Seminary, here was the title of my message: Let Me Tell You Why I Won't Necessarily Hold it Against You if You're a Graduate of Dallas Seminary. If you're going to go somewhere and learn seminal truth (semen means seed), central truths that are the fruit of all learning and utility and helpfulness… It's good that men say, "I want to learn what the Word of God says." It's great that some men and women take some years out of their lives to go study the Word of God, but studying the Word of God does not a leader make.
What makes you a leader is you're somebody who loves God and loves others, not somebody who reads a book and can pontificate about supralapsarianism and can tell you what scholars across the ages have thought. I want to know what Christians in this age should do. Sometimes I meet seminary students who come here with all their book learning and want a job, and I go, "Well, you haven't been doing the job we're hiring for. Where are your disciples? Where are the people you've been imparting not only the gospel of God but your very life to?"
This is not against formal education. This is against us thinking because somebody has been formerly educated they are fit for leadership. Don't make that mistake. If you've been around sports for very long, you know there are guys that when you watch them undress in a locker room you go, "That is a specimen of a human," but they don't always play like that. There are guys that we say, "They look like Tarzan, but they play like Jane." That's what we used to call those guys.
I don't want to offend women, because that's an offense to Jane, frankly. Jane is ready to get after it, too often. It's what Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIII's first wife) said. When cardinals came to her who were perverting the gospel so they could do the will of the king, she said it this way, much more intellectually than a bunch of locker room guys saying, "Hey, looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane." Here's the way Shakespeare said it through Catherine of Aragon: "All hoods do not a monk make." That is very true.
One of the problems in the church in America today is they don't raise leaders who have the values of the Scripture. They buy guys who wear hoods and are lettered and have read maybe good books and good theology but have never lived it. Leaders live it. Paul said, "Imitate me as I imitate Jesus Christ. The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me," not things you have studied in seminary. He says, "Watch me. Practice these things, and the peace of God will be with you."
That's why we raise our leaders here. Some of them may have been lettered, but I couldn't care less about the lettering. I want their letter of accommodation to be their faithfulness to Jesus. That's what the church at Antioch did. You don't go buy yourself a leader. You grow them. You make disciples. How are you doing? Are you attending church? Are you one of those people who think that you are a kingdom with priests or do you go, "No, we are a kingdom of priests"?
My question for you is…What have you done to be trained this week? What formal learning and dedicated time have you set aside to seek God? Some of you may need to stop doing some of what you're doing, fast from your extracurricular activities, so you can start to go, "What does God want me to know so I can be his man?" Oh man, that's good stuff. We're still not through these first three verses, but we're going to be.
These guys, when they had fasted and prayed (what we should always do), laid their hands on them, and all they said was, "We agree these are God's men." By the way, Paul we know had already been told… He gives his testimony in Acts 26 when he's sharing his story. "God told me, 'I'm going to show you how much you must suffer for my name's sake. I'm going to send you as an apostle to the Gentiles.'"
Paul already knew that, but it's always good not just to have an individual calling but to have a corporate affirmation. When somebody says, "I think this is how God wants to use me," make sure it's not just your grandma telling you you can sing. You'd better get some Simon Cowells in your life who can go, "I'm glad you want to sing, but that may not be your gift."
What you're going to find here is Paul goes, "I think God wants to use me this way," and the church at Antioch went, "Well, it sure looks like that's how God is using you here, so why don't you go?" Individual callings should have some accompaniment of corporate affirmation. And off they go. "So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia…"
Here's what I love: that this is history. This isn't some myth. This isn't Joseph Smith under some sycamore tree in Upstate New York talking to the angel Moroni about ideas. This is history. Here's where we are. Take a peek. This is modern-day Syria, which has been in the news a little bit lately. Antioch right there. If you went 16 miles, the port city for Syria was Seleucia. That's where they went, and they said, "Bon voyage." Look where they went.
They sailed to Cyprus. They stayed first at a city called Salamis. You're going to find they make their way 100 miles farther to the west. They're going to show up at Paphos, and you're going to find out they run into Elymas, a sorcerer, and they have a little bit of a conversation that we're going to teach on today. Later, then, they go north up to what's called Asia Minor, and these are the nation states that make up that land today.
You can go there. I've been to many of these places. You can see remnants of this work…remnants and not real evidence, because the church got lost in not doing the things the church at Antioch was doing. They became liturgical and not leitourgeo, not people who were using everything they had to be the people God wants them to be. I'm going to say it again. We are not a kingdom with priests. Watermark, we are to equip the saints for the work of service.
This week there are going to be 15,000 missionaries who should go into the city and do what God wants you to do and say to people, "Come and see." Hopefully you invite them on Saturday, because Sunday is going to be crazy. "Let's go hear about who our Jesus is. Look at what he has done. Look at what he has done for you. Do you want to know? Have you ever understood? Come and see." Let's go, church.
So there it is, the nation states that these guys are moving around in. You're going to see they're going to go up north into what was Asia Minor, all through that region that is modern-day Turkey, but today we're going to go 16 miles to the port city. We're going to sail across to Cyprus, and I will tell you why we're going to Cyprus: because he is called "Barnabas the Cyprian." Isn't that interesting? In Acts 4 that's how he was introduced. In other words, Barnabas was from Cyprus.
When they were getting ready to take the gospel other places, Barnabas said, "Hey, there are a bunch of people, Jews and Gentiles, who live in Cyprus. Let's go tell them what we have come to know." Barnabas was a devout Jew, so he had gone to Jerusalem probably to celebrate the Passover. When he was there, he saw all the goings down, maybe of Palm Sunday, maybe of Good Friday, and then of Resurrection Sunday, and he became a believer in the Messiah. This man was committed to making sure he took that gospel back to those he loves.
I would just tell you the first place you ought to go when your life is changed is the place you know best…for two reasons. It should be the place you love the most and where you're known the best so this radical life change that happened in you can be most clearly seen. By the way, if your faith has no effect on your home, if people in your house don't see a better dad, a better mom, a better child, a better employee, then you have not had any real life change.
I just made the note to myself, "It's best to show grace first to those who you love most." One of the reasons you see so many high school kids who abandon the faith when they get to college is they didn't see in their daddy godliness and devotion. They saw maybe church attendance. They might have seen superficial legality, but they didn't see the love of God expressed to Mama. They didn't see a missional presence in their neighborhood. They didn't see prayer and discipleship in their home.
So they go, "That's just a cultural thing. That's just where my dad goes, but the Spirit doesn't go anywhere in men, because I don't really see it in my daddy's life." Cyprus is where he was from, and that's where he went. If you're not being effective in your home… That's the hardest place, by the way, because they see more of you, but the more they see of you, they ought to see more of Jesus in you. And they may not like it.
By the way, the very first town they go to right there in Cyprus, Salamis… In AD 57, roughly 14 years from where we are in Acts 13, Barnabas is back there. He's ministering to the same Jews he took the gospel to first. They got sick and tired of him telling them that they needed to trust in Jesus, and they killed him.
So it's not easy at home. I get it. But if you aren't somebody whose life is changed at home, your life has probably not been changed. That's what Jesus told the Gerasene demoniac who wanted to follow him everywhere he went. He goes, "No, you stay here and be a testimony to the people. You be on mission right where you are."
If you're so faithful right where you are that everybody goes, "This guy is clearly changed," believe me, they're going to go, "We have everything we can get from you. Why don't you go somewhere else and share it? We see the power of God in your life." That's who you send off missionally. You have to ask your family, "Hey, would you send me around the world to tell people about Jesus?" Some of us might get a response back, "Dad, I'd like to see this world right here impacted by your love of Jesus."
All right, here we go. They are in Salamis. "…they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews…" Why did they go to the Jews? Well, because they knew the Jews understood the Scriptures. They knew the Jews had heard of the Law and the Prophets. What Paul loved to do always was to start with those people who should have known the most about the coming Messiah. As I've said before, the most Jewish thing you can do is not become a Christian. That's just a label. The most Jewish thing you can do is trust in the Messiah. That's what Jews are looking for.
So Paul went to those who the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets could be clearly seen in this Jesus. He was going, "See Isaiah 63? That's Jesus. See Isaiah 53? That's Jesus. Do you see the law and the standard? Jesus told us that isn't even the standard. The standard is even greater than that. It's not just 'Don't murder.' It's 'Don't look at a brother with hate in your heart.' It's not just 'Don't commit adultery.' It's 'Don't look at a woman the way Wagner looked at a cow in India.' That's a problem. We're all offenders against God, because he is holy. Unless your righteousness surpasses that of your rabbi, you're not getting to heaven."
"Well, whose righteousness surpasses that of a rabbi?" Answer: "The Holy One of God who has come to give himself for you. He told you he would go where you could not go, before God, and offer his life, perfect and blameless. He'd pay a debt he did not owe, and you had a debt you could not pay. There's no longer a need for temple sacrifice, because the perfect sacrifice has come. This Jesus whom we knew was risen for you. Trust in him. He's your Messiah. Your problem isn't Rome, which occupies your state. Your problem is the Caesar of sin that dominates your heart."
They always went to the synagogues first. They should have been the people who connected the dots. Picture of Jesus right there. But because men, as they're so prone to do, were committed to what they understood and their own forms of reconciling themselves with God, they were offended by the idea that somebody needed to give them something. The idea of Jesus is foolishness to the Greek and a stumbling block to the Jew.
Religious men who think they can earn God's favor don't want to hear about the need for grace. "If my 'good enough' ain't good enough, then I don't care." You'd better check the standard, buddy. The idea if you're prone to listen to all forms of mythology that you can't really test, that there's another story out there… You're like, "That's fine, but if you think that's the only story that's true, you're nuts. We make up stories all the time."
That's why I would drag their little heinies to the historical record and say, "No, this isn't just a story. This happened." By the way, there are two reasons John Mark was with them. We see that right here in the Scripture. It says in verse 5, "…they also had John as their helper." Why was John their helper? Because this is what godly men always do. They take younger men along who they can disciple.
We know John Mark was Barnabas' nephew, and he said, "Come on, young man. I'm going to teach you, because it's not going to be long before these folks are done with me and want to dismiss me, and we're going to need other leaders." Here's the other reason John Mark was helpful. John Mark we know grew up in Jerusalem. They ran to John Mark's house when the persecution elevated, it says in the book of Acts. Historical record.
John Mark was there. That means he for sure saw this Jesus when he came and flipped the tables and the crucifixion and Palm Sunday and his teaching. This guy was a first-person witness. He wasn't a storyteller. John Mark said, "Let me tell you what I saw." By the way, word of Jesus had already spread that he was a man of some import. You're going to find out how I know that in just a moment. So they brought him along to develop him and as one who had seen these things.
Verse 6: "When they had gone through the whole island…" We're about 100 miles into our new mission. They come as far as Paphos and find a magician, a sorcerer, who is Jewish. It's a violation of Jewish law to be in sorcery. "…a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus…" Bar means son of. Barnabas means son of encouragement. Bar-Jesus means "I'm a son of Jesus." In other words, just like this Jesus you've heard something about…
You see how I said you already see that Jesus was this man of some import whose legend had gone out that he was a great teacher? This guy said, "Hey, I am a son of him. I am some way related to him. I'm a Jew, I'm a sorcerer and magician, and I follow Jesus." That is called a contradiction. You can't be a Jew who has rejected, as Jews had done at that time, Jesus as the Messiah who says, "I'm a follower of Jesus," who adopts sorcery.
One of the things you see even today is the world will take every kind of inconsistency from its leaders, but sometimes you just look at those leaders and you hear some of the things they say and you go, "That doesn't even make sense. Don't you see how that contradicts this reality?" The one reality that nobody will really be allowed to be involved in their inconsistency is the idea of Jesus.
This guy (Elymas is his name) was a man of great contradiction, but there was one thing that offended him, and that was the idea that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He said, "I'm not going to put that in my mix." The world comes against that claim, but watch how followers of Christ respond. This guy was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. Cyprus was largely a peaceful area. There was no Roman garrison there. A proconsul is somebody the senate of Rome has appointed as a governor.
A procurator is what Pilate was. He was a guy named by Caesar, kind of a presidential appointment. "You're leading in that area." A proconsul the senate would put in an area. This was a guy of some nobility, Sergius Paulus. He goes, "Hey, there's a guy coming into my region who is saying something that's trying to influence my people." Now listen. He had already been influenced himself by Elymas. False teachers always try and associate themselves with power.
But Sergius Paulus is a man of some intellect, and he says, "I want to hear from Paul and Barnabas. I've heard from you, Elymas. What do these guys have to say?" Well, this is what we find out. "But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing [Paul and Barnabas] …" I guess so. You're going to find out he doesn't oppose them on the basis of fact. He opposes them for the same reason men always oppose the claims of Jesus. It is because it threatens their state. It threatens their desire to be able to run their offense. I mean this.
I'll talk to guys sometimes, and I'll say to them, "Hey, let's talk about who this Jesus is," and they go, "Oh, Jesus smeezus. Look. I mean, how do I know the Bible is the inspired Word of God? By the way, if God is good and God is powerful, how come there's so much evil in the world? If he was good, he wouldn't allow evil. If he was God, he could stop it. There's still evil; therefore, your God of good sovereignness is not really around. By the way, that good sovereign God killed a bunch of women and children in the Old Testament, has people do that. He's basically doing what you say ISIS shouldn't do today." Blah, blah, blah.
I just want to go, "Just keep going, man. How many other questions do you have? Those are all really good questions, but let me ask you a question. If I can give you a reasonable response to all of those… Because the Bible says you should love the Lord your God with not just your heart, soul, and strength but with your mind. You don't need to commit intellectual suicide to trust in Jesus. I'm happy to answer all of those questions for you, but let me ask you a question.
If I answer every one of your questions, once you're done telling me what they all are, are you ready to get on your knees and repent, to acknowledge you're a sinner and that Jesus is King and to forsake your flesh and follow him all of your days and to take up your cross and be his man? Are you ready to move out from your girlfriend? Are you ready to make him your Lord? If not, let's just be honest what you're doing. You're just throwing up all kinds of red herrings and rabbit trails so you don't have to deal with what you know is a reality."
The reason men reject who Jesus is… It's not an intellectual problem; it is a function of their will. That was his problem. "You're interrupting my offense. My flesh here is getting it on. I have favor. I have influence. I can do what I want to do, and you guys are now telling people that I'm a sorcerer. I don't want you around." The Bible doesn't say that men suppress the truth in their enlightenment. The Bible says men suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
If you're here and you have intellectual reasons that you cannot embrace Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried, raised on the third day, let's talk. Every Monday night, you're welcome to come. We're not trying to convince anybody of anything, but we'll answer your questions. We'll show you this is a reasonable faith. We'll show you that you are not contradicting anything…science, history, archaeology…when you accept these claims as true, and we're going to tell you it's going to change your future. So let's go.
If you just want to argue, we're not going to play that game, but if you have genuine questions… I tell guys all the time, "I don't want to pander to your foolishness, but I will honor your integrity." We're not going to be argumentative and waste our time on that, but if you want to study, let's go. Let's see what's there. Look at what Paul says. "But Elymas the magician…was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith." Singular.
"But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit…" This is important. Luke puts that in there, because he's saying, "This is what the Spirit of God wanted him to say." Look at how Paul communicates. "…fixed his gaze on him, and said, 'You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil…'" You're not Bar-Jesus; you're Bar-Lucifer. "…you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?" That, my friends, is what you would call clarity. In a moment I'll give you an application that goes with it.
"'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." Because he was as lost now in reality as he was lost in his philosophy a moment ago, and God was exposing that. He was authenticating the message with something.
"Then the proconsul [Sergius Paulus] believed when he saw what had happened…" I guess so. "…being amazed at the teaching of the Lord." The teaching of the Lord, accompanied with the miraculous transformation of the power of God always is what changes Sergius Pauluses. Let me just work my way backward through this text with some application.
That is what changes people. When they see miraculous life change combined with the truth of the gospel, that changes people. When you go out, are you evidence of the power of God because you are so radically transformed and changed? It doesn't mean you're perfect. Yesterday I was with a bunch of 13-year-old kids, and in a moment I didn't respond exactly like I should, so I looked like every other dad they'd ever seen, except for one thing.
Right after that moment, I said, "Hey, guys, come here. What you just saw in that little flash right there was not who I am. It's who I am apart from Jesus. You don't see that in Mr. Wagner very often, do you? That right there was not God. That was me. You need to know my life has changed. That would have defined me before, but that doesn't define me. That was wrong. It wasn't of Christ. Will you forgive me for that?"
You don't have to be perfect, folks, but when you see your life move the wrong direction, you have to own up to that and just say, "The miraculous change is that I'm no longer a prideful man who wants to justify everything he does." A hypocrite is not somebody who never sins. A hypocrite is who when he sins goes, "That wasn't sin." People who know God acknowledge sin.
I don't just give those 13-year-olds my life change; I tell them why my life has changed. Do you want to see people change? You tell them who you love, how you're loved by God, and why you love him, and you let the power of God change you. If you wonder why the Sergius Pauluses in your life aren't changing, you can start right there.
Secondly, Paul is not exactly open to the idea that there are a bunch of different roads to heaven. Different ideologies are not equals in a pantheon of faiths. No. There is truth. By the way, there are a lot of sorcerers today who represent themselves as pastors, sons of Jesus, who are just as persuasive and attached to people in power as Elymas was then, who are not teaching this Book correctly, and you need to open your mouth against them and call it what it is.
When you talk to people, you're not just exchanging ideas. You are sharing the words of eternal life, and you ought to be committed to it. When you talk to people, you're not just holding the gospel; you're holding the keys to the kingdom. So when you go, you have to realize, "I have to be clear." Here's a note. Sometimes harsh words are required in evangelistic settings. Let me just say this. Words of extreme clarity.
Even when I use the word harsh… Harsh tone may not be necessary, but what I would call harsh words sometimes might be, because you are fighting for people's souls. You have to say some things that are like, "Whoa! That's pretty clarifying right there." Is this clear? Is there any confusion what Paul thinks when he says, "Elymas, you are full of deceit and fraud. You're a son of the Devil. You're an enemy of righteousness, and you never cease to make crooked the straight ways of God." That is called clarity.
Let me ask you this. Matthew 18:6, Jesus talking to the Pharisees. He's saying to them, "Woe to you. It would be better for you if a millstone was tied around your neck and you were fired in the sea than for you to oppose the faith of God." Is that harsh? I'd say it's very clear. Sometimes some of us are looking to be so winsome that our speech, what we say is seasoned with salt, is just completely confusing. Do people understand what you believe?
Why are you on mission to change the world with the one truth that can change the world if you're not convinced there's one truth? But that one truth will be offensive. The salt of your truth will affect the wound of other people's error, and they will not like it. They may nail you to a tree when you're 33 years old, but that doesn't change the truth. Guys, this is big-time important stuff. Easter isn't just some holiday for us to have extended brunches with family. It is the pivot point in human history.
Paul and Barnabas say, "We're going to go and get the word out," which brings me to my next point that I want to make sure we don't miss. If you listen to the Lord and live prayerfully (that's what the church at Antioch did), you will be involved missionally. Let me say it another way. If you were not on mission this week, it's because you did not live prayerfully and you didn't listen to the Lord.
I don't know what else you did, but if you can't look back over the last seven days and go, "I was for Jesus. The Sergius Pauluses in my life, the Elymases…they ran into a prophet of God who didn't have harsh tones but had what could appear to be harsh words, because he loves me and he's fighting for the truth of the gospel…"
Is this not an amazing book we're studying? Do you see some application for us? Have I said some things not just to teach you what was there but to bring forth some prophetic application? Churches that just go through liturgies and aren't called to respond are ineffective churches. People whose lives aren't changed who talk about the gospel are ineffective missionaries. People who think there's just a tournament of narratives and you can pick which one you want and you'll make your way are not paying attention. Let's go.
Father, I pray that we would be a modern-day church of Antioch, that you would raise up leaders here and that leaders here would be faithful and clear and bold with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We thank you for the opportunity we have this week to serve you and to honor you and to take your message to the Sergius Pauluses of our world, to the Cypruses we are from. May our families see our life change.
Thank you, Lord, that we don't have to be perfect, that we can practice the ministry of "Will you forgive me? What I just did was sorry and not of Jesus. That was me not being filled with the Spirit." Lord, thank you that you want us to be continually, intimately acquainted with you in all your ways, men and women marked by the Spirit who have all the hooding of study and yet are still your kingdom of priests. So would you use us? We give you our lives. We give you our trust. Would you use us as we live lives of worshiping and ministry and service? In Jesus' name, amen.