Paul in Paphos (Acts 13:4-12) | Jared Betts

Recalling the Work

Our study in Acts continues with us looking at the start of Saul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. We ended last week by considering the chief purpose of the work to which the Spirit of God called them. We want to recall this, but before we do, let me just briefly point out that the beginning of Acts chapter 13 provides us with a wonderful opportunity to consider the personhood of God the Spirit.

The Christian faith rightly acknowledges that there is only One true and living God, who is One in essence and eternally exists in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You may recall this from the beginning of our study in Acts chapter 1 when we focused specifically on the Holy Spirit that personhood is not measured by physical features such as flesh and bone. It is determined by several factors:

  1. Cognition and Intellect, which means that a person is one who possess the facility to know and to understand.
  2. Volition and Will, which means that a person is one who possesses the ability to determine or act decisively.
  3. Emotion and Affection, which means that a person is one who has the capacity to experience sentiment.

Not only are these elements clearly manifested among both the Father and the Son, but they are also seen with the Spirit.

What this means is that the Holy Spirit is not a feeling, emotion, experience, or a power that one taps into and manipulates. He is neither the chill that runs down your spin, nor the hair that stands up on the back of your neck. He is a Person who is cognizant and intellectual, and who possesses emotion and affection, and who possesses the ability to determine and to act decisively. This is all seen in within His dealings among the church at Antioch when He says to those that were ministering to Christ:

“Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”            

This screams cognizance and volition, and the beginning of verse 4 just serves to further reinforce it:

So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit…”

Clearly this is a being who not only possesses the facilities to know and understand, but also the ability to determine and act decisively. He had planned a work to be done and determined who to utilize in order to accomplish it.

            What was the work the Spirit called Barnabas and Saul to? He commissioned them for the purpose of beginning to plant churches among the outermost that would worship God in spirit and in truth by the proclamation of the gospel. As we recall, the purpose of missions is not merely so people can taste of the goodness of God, but that the God of all goodness will be adored and worshipped for who He is and what He has graciously done for His people in His only Son, Jesus Christ.

The gospel message declares to fallen humanity that the sinless Son of God became a Man so that the sinful sons of men might become the sons of God; that He was rich, yet for our sake became poor so that we through His poverty might become rich; that God made Him, who knew no sin, to became sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him to the praise of the glory of His grace. As Paul says, He did this:

“in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Jesus Christ.”

Again, The Great Commission is a command to make Christ worshippers. Such people can only be made by the power of the Spirit applying the gospels message to the hearts and minds of those whom He has made alive through His regenerating work. The purpose of missions is so that people might come to affirm the glorious nature of the Living God and worship Him rightly and live for the praise of His glory in light of His gospel.


Preaching in the Synagogue

As we can see in our text, after the Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul for this purpose, Luke tells us that they went down to Seleucia, which was a city of Syria located about 16 miles from Antioch near the mouth of the Orontes river where it served as a seaport in the Mediterranean Sea. It was from there they sailed about 60 miles to one of the largest islands of the Mediterranean known as Cyprus. Some believe they would have started here because it was Barnabas’ native land, as well John Mark,who they also had with them as their helper.

Luke tells us in verse 5 thatwhen they reached Salamis, which was a city located on the southeast coast of Cyprus they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. This is going to be common practice among Paul and his companions on their missionary journeys. As Paul says in Romans 1:16

“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.”

Whenever they arrive in a new area, if there is a Jewish Synagogue established, they will go and preach the gospel there before anywhere else. Synagogues were established around the time of the Babylonian exile for the purpose of providing a place for people to assemble and offer prayer as well as to listen to the Scriptures being read and expounded upon.

            Obviously, this is a perfect place to begin. You have a group of people to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh. Not only this, but you have the Scripture which revolves around Him being read and expounded upon whenever they are together. Remember Jesus’ words in regard to His relation to the Scripture to the two men on the road to Emmaus distraught over His death and unaware of His resurrection:

“O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”[1] 

Luke continues by saying:

27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”[2]

            Saul undoubtedly did here what he did in Damascus after his conversion. Acts 9:20 says:

“Immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”

Acts 9:22 states:

“But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.”

He took the Scriptures they were very familiar with and he gave the sense of it so that they would see Jesus in them, and turn from themselves and trust in Him.


The Truth Opposed and Received

Luke’s narrative continues in verses 6-7 saying:

When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence.

Our attention is now focused on two people. The first, a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, which means Son of Joshua, and more specifically, and ironically, Son of Salvation. The second, a proconsul or governor, a man of intelligence, which literally means that he was mentally put together. He was sagacious. In other words, he was one who showed great discernment and judgment; however, if it were not for the Spirit’s testimony of him in the Scripture, one could seriously question his prudence given his association with a magician named Bar-Jesus. It was apparently common practice for people in authority to have a magician or sorcerer accompany them given their supposed powers to interpret dreams and foretell events.

With the gospel sweeping through the region he governed, he most likely wanted to further investigate the legitimacy of the message. As Luke says in the latter part of verse 7:

“This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

Luke goes on to say, however:

But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

This man was a false prophet because he fought against the truth of God.

We are reminded here that while we reside in this fallen world marred with sin, truth will always be opposed. This is seen with: Satan in the garden, The world with Noah, Jannes and Jambres with Moses, The Sanhedrin with Christ, Festus with Paul. Truly, the world is filled with those who stand against the truth, especially as it relates to the character, nature, and will of God as is revealed in His Word and gospel.

Yes, God, through His gospel, brings life and joy, but God through His gospel also elicits rage. Call to remembrance Paul’s words to the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17:

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.”

To those who are being saved we are a beautiful smell but to the nostrils of the non-believer we are a foul odor.

Luke says, but Saul, who was also known as Paul, which was his Roman name, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, and said:

“You who are full of all deceit and fraud (This is to say, “You are a cleverly devised snare on which the unsuspecting fall”), you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?11 Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.”

Where are then told that:

“Immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand.”

Do not miss what God did here through the hands of Paul. God caused Elymus’ physical state to reflect his spiritual reality, which was one of utter blindness though he had the appearance of sight.

Acts 13:12 says:

12 Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.”

Notice that it was not the miracle in and of itself that wrought belief in the heart of Sergius. He was amazed at the teaching of the Lord. It was the gospel. The miracle merely served to validate its message.

The Scripture teaches us in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. The context of Paul’s words in that portion reveals that all men refers to all types of individuals. In other words, God desires that men and women from every different walk of life, social status, and occupation come to a saving knowledge of Him. He did not merely give Himself for those who are poor, but those who are rich as well. He did not only die and rise again for the have nots, but the haves also. We see this here with a man of intelligence, a proconsul, Sergius Paulus. Truly, as Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30:

28 Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Jesus said in John’s gospel:

35 I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst… 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”[3]

Truly, as Paul teaches in Romans 10:12-13:

12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”


Elymus or Sergius?

Let us end by asking ourselves, of which of these men are we likened to? Are you Elymus or are you Sergius? Have you embraced the truth, or do you stand opposed to it?

Realize that indifference to the truth is opposition to the truth. Apathy towards God is hostility towards God. Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” If you have not denied yourself, and picked up your cross, and followed after Christ in faith, know that you stand against Him. If you stand Christ, you will be eternally ruined. Do not be like Elymus. Do not be opposed to the way, the truth, and the life. Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.

Know that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of the one, true, living and holy God, and the penalty for our sin is eternal death under His just wrath. Since God is holy and just, He will never allow sin to go unpunished. To do so would not be just, and for God to pervert justice is for Him to cease to be God, because He is good, and He always does that which is right. The right, just, and fair thing for God to do with all people, is to give them what they deserve, damnation. He does not owe us mercy, which is when what you deserve is withheld from you. He does not owe us grace, which is when you are given that which you do not deserve. To think God owes you manifestations of His love is not only a failure to understand yourself, but a failure to understand God. To suggest that God needs to show mercy or grace is to destroy both. What makes mercy, mercy, and grace, grace, is that God is not compelled to give either. God does not need to forgive anyone. If God needs to show you mercy, it is no longer mercy. If God needs to show you grace, it is no longer grace, it is justice. It is you receiving what you are owed. Again, He does not owe us mercy. He does not owe us grace. He owes us wrath.

At this point a question naturally arises to the forefront of every reasoning mind, which is this: How can God forgive sin without corrupting justice, and simultaneously punish it without crushing the guilty party? How can God justify the wicked without being an abomination to Himself? How can He truly save people without contradicting His character and nature? How can God satisfy His justice and make sinners right before Him? The glorious message of the gospel is the only thing that sufficiently answers these questions.

The message of the gospel teaches us that out of His love for the world and a desire to receive glory for His grace by saving men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, that the Father gave His only Son to appease the penalty for our sin and to shed His precious blood to atone for it. When we did not love Him, He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation of our sins. The Father demonstrated His love in that while we are yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Man deserves death and damnation, so God the Son, infinite and eternal, willing humbled Himself by becoming one. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The infinite took on that which was finite, and the eternal clothed Himself in the temporal. God condescended and took on the limitations of His creation so that He might render Himself as an offering for their sin. God the Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin making Him truly God and truly Man, yet without sin.

As a Man He lived a perfect and righteous life according to the Law of God. He was truly innocent and did not deserve to die yet He willingly went to the cross to bear our sin on His body upon it. Isaiah says that “the Lord caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him”, so that He would be pierced through for our transgression and crushed by God for our iniquity, and it pleased the Lord to do so because it is how He can be both just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Christ first satisfied in His person the righteousness according to the Law, and He then satisfied upon His person the justice due our sin. Upon the cross He was forsaken by the Father and drank the full cup of His wrath for the sin of His people. He suffered and died in the stead of sinners, and was raised back to life on the third day never to die again proving that He is who He declared Himself to be and that there is true life and forgiveness in Him. There is one God, and one mediator between Him and man, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.

If you do not know Christ, do not neglect so great a salvation. Let today be the day of it. Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Him. There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. Be like Sergius Paulus. Repent and believe in Christ, the only hope in life and death.

We who have believed, let us remember that the Christian life is one of combat. We are called to contend for the faith. We are told that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places, and our weapon of warfare is the truth of the Scripture. We engage the lies of this world with the truth of God. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.”

May we, therefore, let the word of Christ richly dwell within us with all understanding and engage this world shrouded in lies so that people might be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.


[1] Luke 24:25-26

[2] Luke 24:27

[3] John 6:35-40

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