The Power of the Gospel
Summary: Paul and Barnabas face spiritual opposition in bringing the good news to Cypress, but they triumph through the power of the Holy Spirit and lead the local ruler, who was “astonished at the teaching” to Christ.
Last week we observed God calling Barnabas and Saul to a particular work. It was something they sensed personally, it was confirmed by the church, and the whole thing was endorsed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We also said you should have a sense of calling from God, a sense of divine direction and purpose for your life and we talked about how to discover that.
But you might have gotten the wrong impression. You you might expect that once you finally discover God’s purpose, plan, calling, or direction, you’ll have a sense of confidence, conviction, strength, fulfillment, and success – life is going to be easy.
But what if you discover it’s hard? What if the thing He has called you to is difficult, long, or tiring? You might be tempted to ask, “what’s going on?” Why isn’t fulfilling my God-given role smooth, easy, and satisfying? Afterall, this is what God said, it’s was affirmed by people who love God and love me, and supposedly God is always with me. So, why doesn’t this work, or why is it so hard?
Well, this is probably going to disappoint some of you, so brace yourself, but I feel the same way at times. And look, I know, beyond all shadow of doubt, that God called me to ministry. He called me to teach His Word and write. And I know, beyond all shadow of doubt that He called me to do that here.
All I have to do is look at the completely miraculous story of how God brought me from California, where I met my wife, to go to seminary in Virginia, and then after graduation He shut the doors so that I could not go back into the military as a chaplain full time, but instead brought me to Northern Virginia to pastor a church that eventually merged with the church my wife attended in Junior High when she lived here. So, I now stand in this pulpit, in great part, because the woman who is now my mother-in-law, brought a little girl who is now my wife, to this church when I was five years old. And that’s just the quick version.
So, yeah, I know I’m supposed to be here, doing this. But sometimes even I get discouraged, get frustrated, and ask: “God, if I’m doing Your will, if this is Your plan, why is it so hard?”
Well, this morning, we’ll talk about that. Because, we’ll discover that when Barnabas and Saul were sent out, by the church and by the Holy Spirit to the work that God had called them to, they went to the island of Cypress and experienced spiritual opposition. But we’ll also see that they triumphed in that spiritual conflict, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and eventually led the ruler of the region, who was astonished at the teaching, to Christ.
We pick it up where we left off last week, with Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark sent out to do the thing God called them to
Acts 13:4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia,
Antioch is about 20 miles inland, so they go down to the port city
and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
Which is an island about 100 miles to the west in the Mediterranean Sea.
5 And when they arrived in Salamis,
the largest city in Cypress, the center of commerce and industry on the east coast,
they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.
6 Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos,
In other words, when they had traveled across the entire island from East to West, about 90 miles, they arrived at Paphos, the center of government, and there
they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul (think of him like the governor, the highest ranking Roman official on the island), Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
So, let’s be super, super clear on this. Barnabas and Saul know this is what they have been called by God to do. And it was confirmed in a supernatural way. It wasn’t just a good idea or adventurous plan they came up with – God called them, the Holy Spirit spoke – and it was confirmed by others. This was God’s plan.
But now, they’re being opposed. This man, Bar-Jesus, withstood them. His name means son of Jesus, but Jesus was a common name at the time and he has nothing to do with Jesus the Messiah. In fact, when Paul and Barnabas show up telling people about Jesus, Bar-Jesus opposed them. He openly interfered with what they were doing, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
Friends, I just want you to see that opposition is real, and it’s one of the reasons doing what God has called you to do is hard. There is a war be fought, right now, for souls in this world. Including yours, and the soul of your spouse, your kids, your parents, and everyone else you know and love.
That war is led by a very real devil, who is active in the world. The Bible talks about him from the first pages to the last and he hasn’t been replaced by science, technology, and reason.
Jesus interacted with him in the gospels and His disciples, like Peter warned early Christians:
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith…
When you try to live the life that God has called you to, when you try to discover and fulfill your purpose, he is resisting you. So, you’re going to need to make sure you resist him through faith and trust in God.
As John reminds us:
1 John 4:4 … He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
But he is in the world, and you will have to struggle. In fact, as you seek to follow Jesus and worship God, you will have to fight against your own selfish desires for things to be easy and indulgent, you will have to fight against the attitudes and actions of people around you, and you will have to resist demonic spiritual forces that are at work in the world, actively resisting your efforts.
Those of you doing the study in Daniel see this as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego seek to follow and serve God but find themselves opposed, actively resisted, by their peers who conspire to have them put to death.
Friends, the resistance is real. And it is one of the reasons why doing what God has called you to do might not provide the sense of fulfillment, joy, and purpose you had hoped it would. It turns out that even when you’re headed the right way in life, doing the right things, things, systems, forces, and people will actually stand in your way.
Here are the plain facts – Barnabas and Saul showed up on Cypress with the message that God shows mercy to humanity through Jesus, His Son. Sergius Paulus was interested, he wanted to know more, but Elymas got involved, opposed what was happening, and tried to turn Sergius Paulus away.
And consider this – what direction was each party leading the governor toward? Barnabas and Saul were trying to lead him to Christ. They were encouraging him to have a direct, independent, personal relationship with God based on the sacrifice of His Son. And then, they were going to move along to another city, sharing the good news again. They had no real, personal, interest in Sergius, that is to say, they didn’t want anything from him, they just wanted him to have a real, direct, personal, relationship with God.
Elymas on the other hand sees these men show up and feels threatened. He’s the king’s advisor. And if the king starts heading in a new direction, serving this other God, then Elymas is going to be out of a job. How much of his interference is based on self-interest?
There’s a great picture of this in JRR Tolkein’s fictional Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Theoden is king of Rohan, a noble nation, famous for their horsemanship.
But when Grima Wormtongue becomes the king’s advisor the wizard Saruman is able to possess the king, who becomes increasingly weak and frail, easily manipulated and controlled.
When the good wizard Gandalf comes seeking the king’s help in the battle against evil, Grima is there at the king’s side and says of Gandalf:
“Láthspell I name you, Ill-news; and ill news is an ill guest they say.”
Now Tolkien’s books are full of made up languages and words used by dwarves and elves and all sorts of other beings. But this word is not.
The gospel is the Good News of the what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, it’s a compound word that comes to us from Old English. ‘Go’ is a shortened version of good, and ‘spell’ is news. So, the gospel is good news. Well, in Old English, lath is evil. So when Grima calls Gandalf Láthspell he’s calling him ‘evil news’ and encouraging the king not to listen just as we see Elymas do here with Sergius Paulus. Both men are obstructing goodness, whispering doubt into the ear of the king, just like the serpent whispered seeds of doubt to Eve in the garden.
And here is where you need to make a direct connection to the voices speaking to us today. Remember, we live, in an attention economy. Everyone wants your attention, they want your information, they want your demographics. Why? So they can sell you stuff, or sell advertisers your attention.
You get YouTube for free because advertisers pay to be seen on what you’re watching. You get Google’s search engine for free because people pay to advertise their company and products at the top of your list. You get Facebook and Instagram and TikTok and Twitch and Spotify and everything else for free because companies are paying to be able to reach you with their ads.
They give you what you want because they want to tell you what to want.
And look, I’m not saying don’t use it all, I’m just saying beware. Understand there are voices speaking into your life, and into the lives of the people you love, and into everyone else around you and some of them are subtly, or not so subtly, opposing, interrupting, or questioning the things God is trying to say, leading people away from Him. They are competing with the gospel for your affection and attention and it’s one of the things that makes doing what God has called you to do, hard.
But, you can resist and overcome that influence and opposition, through the power of God who gives you strength. Watch this:
Acts 13:9 Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? 11 And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.”
And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
Did you catch the contrast? Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit. But Elymas is full of deceit and fraud, an enemy of righteousness, perverting the straight ways of the Lord. They’re both full, but of different things.
We have spoken many times about the fact the we live on a fallen world full of disease, death, and disasters like COVID-19. We’re also surrounded by the influence of demonic forces and self-centered people. In short – life is hard. But God is good. And strong and He is giving Paul the strength to do what He has called him to do, filling him with the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the Bible, God promises to give help, strength, and comfort to people in need. He says things like:
Psalm 50:15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.
Or Jesus’ words to His disciples just hours before His arrest:
John 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Moses battled with magicians in Pharaoh’s court. The governors and satraps conspired against Daniel. Micaiah was opposed by other so-called prophets when he brought a message calling Israel to repent. Jeremiah was opposed by all the princes of Judah who God was trying to save through his message. Jesus was opposed by the Jewish and Roman leaders of the land who later opposed Peter and Paul as well. The world is full of opposition to God, and yet, His kingdom advances. The church stands triumphant when she kneels before God and trusts Him.
Life is hard, but God is good. He gives us the power, the strength, and the gifts we need to faithfully follow and serve Him. Paul did not face this opposition on his own, he was filled with the Holy Spirit.
And that is something I want to draw to your attention again, because we’ve noticed it several times in Acts. You have people that were already saved, already born-again Christians. They had already received the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit comes to us at the moment of our salvation and seals us. He will never leave us. He doesn’t leak out slowly or run away when we’re not looking like a playful dog with an open gate.
And yet, we’ve seen men and women who already had the Spirit filled with the Holy Spirit again and again in different settings. What is going on? Well, in those moments, God is not just within them, but actually coming upon them, giving supernatural gifts and power to accomplish His purposes. Imagine a cup filled with water, but you keep filling it until it overflows, and now the water is running down the sides and across the table. The water isn’t just in the cup but upon the cup. There is external evidence of the internal truth.
Christian, this is so, so, important for you to know – God doesn’t expect you to face life and all its challenges alone. Yes, He’s calling you to do things, or to stop doing things, to move forward or stop sliding back, and it’s HARD. But He’s not leaving you to do it on your own. He wants to fill you with strength and gifts. He wants to encourage and equip you. Do you trust Him? Do you ask Him? Do you seek Him? Are your hands open for Him to fill?
Can you point to anything in your life and say, that happened because God showed up? Or, the only way this is going to happen is if God shows up? How long have you been walking with the Lord? Do you know what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you face any situations where it might be helpful, even essential? Have you asked? Do you declare your dependence and need?
Now hold that thought, because I need you to see something else here before you go asking God for the power to blast the people who get in your way tomorrow. Yes, God gave Paul some incredible, rare, spiritual power and confidence here, but let me also point out, that it seems he’s also full of compassion, and love is a spiritual gift too. You see, yes,Paul seems to blind Elymas, but why that? Why blindness? Well, what happened next? Look at this (vs 11) Elymas went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Now, that should sound familiar to those of you who have been here for a few weeks.
Do you remember another man, full of power and privilege, who held an important position, and sought to turn people away from the gospel and the church? His name was Saul. But he had a radical encounter with Jesus that completely transformed his life. And a result he was blinded and
Acts 9:8… they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
And then he met Ananias who prayed for him, and he received his sight and was baptized and began preaching the gospel.
Might Paul have hoped the same thing for this man? I think so.
Yes, he was agitated by the opposition, he was a human being, just like you and me. He was full of emotions and testosterone, not AI and algorithms – he’s trying to talk to the ruler and this guy keeps getting in his way.
Put yourself in Saul’s place and you know there’s a part of you that wants to smack Elymas down. But is that what God wants or what you want?
God wants to turn sinners around. God wants to restore people that seem so far gone that no one and nothing can help them. God wants to reach the man or woman that everyone else writes off.
Which tells us this. If we’re going to handle opposition the right way, it’s going to be hard.
We’re going to face opposition in life. Intolerable neighbors. Monstrous bosses. Petty co-workers and classmates. Irritating siblings and cousins and countless others. Frustrating bureaucrats and political officials. And the conflict we experience is going to be hard enough. It’s going to be a challenge not to lose our minds and lash out in the flesh. But, by the grace of God, and by His strength, we’re actually called to take it up a notch from there and actually desire the good of that other person. To pray for them, to want their salvation, to love them.
Which brings me to say, yes, there is a spiritual power play that happens here. And we’ve never, that I know of, seen anything like this happen again where a man has the authority to blind another man, or at least to see that that is what God is going to do. But according to Paul, the one who did this, the greatest, most powerful, most desirable spiritual gift of all, is not to blind someone who gets in your way, it’s to love them – to desire the good of others, even at your own expense.
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul lists all sorts of gifts God might give us through the Holy Spirit, ways supernatural power and influence might show up in your life, and he clearly says, everyone is given some gift, for the benefit of everyone else. Everyone has a role to play on the team, they’re not all the same. But the greatest gift is something we should all possess, something we should all have, and it’s love.
In chapter 13 he writes:
1 Cor 13:1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! …
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
Christian, this is the challenge you and I face. Not to avoid, survive, or win the conflict with the people that oppose us, or make our lives hard, but to love and to hope and pray that that those people will repent and receive Christ – for their good, and not just because it would make our lives easy. Because, that’s Jesus. He endured conflict to bring us peace. And, He
2 Peter 3:9… is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
We’re not sure how things turned out with Elymas, but we know that’s exactly what happened with Sergius Paulus.
Acts 13:12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
So, as we said, Paul and Barnabas face opposition in bringing the good news to Cypress, as they do the thing God has called them to do, but they also triumph through the power of the Holy Spirit and lead the governor to Christ.
It’s the pattern we’ve seen time and time again in the book of Acts, there is external opposition and the threat of internal conflict and corruption, but the Kingdom continues to advance. The Word of God grows and multiplies. People hear the gospel, repent, and are born again. Lives are changed, souls are renewed, sins are forgiven.
We should expect to see the same pattern in the church and in our lives today. There will be external opposition and the threat of internal conflict. We should not expect life to be easy as we follow Christ and make Him known. But we should expect, ask, and seek, to be filled with Spirit, to be made sufficient for the challenges we face. We should expect that God will never leave us or forsake us, and we should expect that the Kingdom will advance. We will grow spiritually, and we will see others come to faith.
Not because we’ve earned it. Not because we deserve it. But because God desires it. Life is hard, but God is good. He is here, and He is strong.
His kingdom will come. His will, will be done. And that is why He taught us to pray in such a way that reminds us of this, and many other truths, in fact, will join me as we pray the Lord’s Prayer in closing today?
Matthew 6:9…Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory
Forever, and ever, amen.