The History of the Promise; Acts 13:13-25

Main Point: Knowing our history helps us trust God.

We all have a story. When we bring our history and submit it to God’s story, we learn to trust God. Part of growing as Christian is learning to interpret our story within the overarching story of God. We must move from trying to make God fit into our little lives to living our little lives in light of God’s great work of redemption. God’s plan is so much bigger and better than our wants.

In Acts 13:13-41, Paul and Barnabas explain God’s story by focusing on God’s providence and promise. These missionaries want the people to know God’s story, know their place in God’s story, and find salvation according to the promise. This preacher wants you to know God’s story, know your place in God’s story, and find salvation according to the promise. Let’s go after Jesus!

Acts 13:13-41

Looking at the Jewish people, we need to remember that

I. The synagogue was center (14-15)

The synagogue was a big deal to a Jewish community because the synagogue was the place for God’s people to assemble every Sabbath day. The primary purpose of the synagogue was to provide space for God’s people to gather on the Sabbath to pray, hear God’s Word read, and hear a sermon explaining what was read. Every Sabbath, the people of God rehearsed God’s faithfulness, prayed for His guidance, and longed for his redemptive work to be done.

The very word, “synagogue” means assembly. The Jewish people would assemble each week to pray and hear God’s Word. It appears that most synagogues started out in homes (see “Synagogue” in The Dictionary of the Later New Testament, pages 1141-1146).

In addition to its primary purpose of providing space for the Sabbath gathering, depending on the resources of the community, the synagogue could also function as a school, a type of courthouse, and a civic center. Philo was a Jewish man living in Alexandria, Egypt, from 40BC-20AD and he describes synagogues as “schools of prudence, courage, temperance, justice, piety, holiness and every virtue.” Philo also “assumes that a reverent, communal reading of the Torah with exposition on the Sabbath is their principal purpose” (DLNT, 1141). This reality means

  • The synagogue was an important piece of the church’s missionary strategy

Look at verse 14, and we’ll see this repeated throughout the Book of Acts, “they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down” (14:1; 17:1; 18:4; 19:8). The synagogue was the place Jewish people gathered to pray and hear the Word of God. There would be no better place to start sharing the good news that God’s promised One has come. Verse 15, “After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.’” Maybe Paul, a Pharisee from Jerusalem, looked the part. Possibly, Paul and Barnabas arrived before the Sabbath and connected with the Jewish community. However it happened, the rulers of the synagogue recognized Paul and Barnabas as educated Jewish men and so gave them the opportunity to speak.

And Paul took the opportunity. He stood up, got everyone’s attention and started his sermon. Here’s a short summary of the message. We need to 

II. Understand and rest in God’s providence (16-22)

Paul’s endgame is to announce the good news that the promised son of David has come. The Father has been steering all things toward Jesus. Jesus, the Savior, was crucified and raised for the forgiveness of sins. All those weighed down by guilt can come to Jesus and be freed. That’s where we are going; we are going to the glory and power of the resurrected Savior. The way we get there is by tracing the work of God. The Jews know their history, but they haven’t connected the providence of God and the promise of God to the resurrected Jesus. Let’s go along with Paul and review the history of the people of God. First,

  • God chose the patriarchs

Middle of verse 16, “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers.”

Notice the subject and the verb; God chose. This is a reference to the covenant with Abraham passed on to Isaac, and Israel. God will be your God and make the offspring of Abraham like the sand of the sea and the stars of the sky. There will be land, offspring, and blessing for the people of Israel. God does the choosing. We move from the Patriarchs to Egypt

  • God increased the people during slavery

Verse 17, “The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt.”  

Notice the subject and the verb; God made. God caused his people, while slaves, to grow in both number and power. It rattles my idol of ease to know that God planned to send his people into slavery for 400 years in order to make them great. This is no defense of slavery; it is a biblical understanding of God’s purposes in our suffering and trails. We are to count it all joy when we face trials of various kinds knowing that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2). Remember your history; our people faced trials and God increased their number and their strength.

I don’t know what the election results will be, or when we will have them. I do know God is in control and God is not limited to working with only free people. History is full of examples of God working through a persecuted and even enslaved people; so set your hope in God. And we learn to set our hope in God by knowing our history and how others have trusted God. We move from Egypt to the Exodus

  • God led the people out

The end of verse 17, “and with uplifted arm he led them out of it.”

Notice the subject and the verb; God led. It was not the strength of the slave that won the victory. It was God’s strong arm that brought down Pharaoh and led out his people. Do you see there is not even a reference to Moses here? Moses was an instrument in the Redeemer’s hand. Moses did not do it; God led the people out of Egypt and

  • God put up with the people

Verse 18, “And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness.” One Greek letter, adding it or taking it away, is the difference between God bore them, in the sense of carried them along, and God put up with them, in the sense of endured their constant sinning. I think Deuteronomy 1:31 is definitive, “in the wilderness…the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.”

Notice the subject and the verb; God carried. God carried you in times of complaining and in times of sin. God carried you the way a father carries his son. A faithful father will provide for and tend to the needs of his son. A faithful father will endure the immaturity, weakness, and sinfulness of his son while leading him to maturity, strength, and holiness. God carried his people through the wilderness and

  • God conquered the land for the people

Verse 19, “And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance.”

Notice the subject and the verbs; God destroyed and God gave. There is much here we could discuss about war and conquest and death. If you want to dig deeper here, please let me know. For now, we must remember Deuteronomy 9:5, God says, “Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

God brings salvation through judgment. God judged the sins of these people. God kept his promises to those people. The Father who carries is the judge who punishes. God conquered the land for the people and

  • God gave the people judges and prophets

Verse 20, “All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet.”

Notice the subject and the verb; God gave. Judges like Jephthah, Samson, and Deborah were raised up by God to rescue his oppressed people. God has always loved, disciplined, and purified his people. Samuel was the pivotal character who God used to transition the people from judges to a king. After the judges,

  • God gave and removed Saul

Verse 21, “Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.”

Notice the subject and the verb; God gave. In an act of judgment, for rejecting God their king, the people are given a nearly worthless king named Saul. Be warned, God gave them just what they wanted and what they wanted ruined them. After 40 years of Saul,

  • God raised up David

Verse 22, “And when he had removed Saul, he raised up David, to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’”

Notice the subject and the verb; God raised up David to be their king. Just as Paul and Barnabas’s disagreement gives us encouragement in our disagreements, so also David’s sin and God’s final word gives us encouragement in our struggle against sin. David was an adulterer, a murderer, and a liar and God gloriously forgave all his sin. This statement about David has more to say about God’s grace than it says about David. Because of God’s grace, David was a man after God’s heart who did all of God’s will. You and I, stained with so much sin, can be washed, sanctified, and justified through faith in Jesus Christ. You are not done because of your sin; you have a future because of God’s grace. God’s grace in Christ is bigger than the sin in you. Depend on grace.

Looking at verses 16-22, what is Paul doing in this sermon? Paul is rehearsing the history of the Jews so that they will remember God’s providence (God did all these things) and so that they will trust God’s promise of forgiveness through the better Son of David. Here we must

III. Rejoice, Jesus is the promised King (23-25)

Remember, Paul is not telling a bedtime story to calm the kids down. Paul is rehearsing God’s faithfulness so that the people will trust Christ the promised King. The goal of this sermon is the people being filled with joy and the promised Holy Spirit because of Jesus (13:52). So, know this

  • God has given us the promised Savior

Look at verse 23, “Of [David’s] offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.”

Let’s tie this history together. Jesus is the offspring or seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16). Jesus is the son of God, the better Israel, who went down into Egypt and was called out by God (Mt 2:15). As a boy, Jesus increased; he grew and became strong, filled with wisdom (Lk 2:40). As a man, Jesus wandered in the wilderness and was tempted, but unlike the people, he did not sin (Lk 4:1-13). Like the people, Jesus went through the Jordan River; he was baptized and given the power of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus did not enter the land to conquer the Romans; Jesus entered his ministry to conquer the devil, sin, and death. Jesus is the better judge, the better prophet, and the better king.

And yes, there are explicit promises like 2 Samuel 7:12-13, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” And Psalm 89:29, “I will establish his offspring for ever and his throne as the days of heaven.” Ezekiel 34:23, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.” You can also go to Isaiah 9-11; Jeremiah 23:5 and 33:14-22. God’s promise is to raise up a Son of David, a Savior, Jesus.

Every step of God’s providence points his people away from themselves and away from their heroes to Christ who is the fulfillment of every promise. Jesus is better! These men and women in a synagogue far from Jerusalem need to know that Jesus is nothing new. Jesus is the One promised for thousands of years, even the lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. Jesus is the promised Savior.

I think it is good and right to consider Jesus our Savior. We need to pause here because I fear we often do not go far enough with the glorious truth of Jesus, our Savior. We are like madmen who got all cleaned up and dressed up but never go to the party. When it comes to Jesus, do not pull up short, but press in to life and joy.

Think about these different questions: What did Jesus save us from and what did Jesus save us for? Jesus saved us from our sin, God’s wrath, and an eternal hell. Jesus saved us for life with God both now and for eternity. Jesus saved us from our sin, God’s wrath, and eternal hell precisely and deliberately so that we can know and delight in and rest in the care of the Father right now. Jesus saved you so that you can know God and have joy and have life. Stopping at “Jesus saved us from our sin” is painfully insufficient. The promised Savior has come to deliver all of God’s promises and bring us to God.

Yes, wonderfully yes, we trust Jesus to deliver us from the judgment and hell we deserve because of our rebellion. But Yes, wonderfully more-so yes, we trust Jesus to save us from sin so that we can right now do life under the loving care of God. Jesus brings us into God’s story.

So, if your salvation story ends with being saved from hell, friend you are missing out. You got all cleaned up and dressed up but never went to the party. Life with God right now is the party. Church, let us be known for trusting Jesus for life with God. Jesus is our Savior precisely so that we can have life with God.

And then there’s John the Baptist and our final question

  • Who do you think you are?

Verse 24, “Before Jesus’ coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.”

John was getting God’s people ready for God’s promised King. John was getting the people ready for life with the Son of God through the forgiveness of sins.

Verse 25, “And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.”

John had a pretty important job; he was kind-of a big deal. John was sent by God to get the people of God ready for the promised Son of God. But look at how John viewed himself. In John’s day, a Hebrew slave was not to stoop to the shameful level of untying the master’s shoes. Untying the master’s sandals was below even a Hebrew slave. A Gentile slave would be called upon to do such a demeaning job. John, who was so important and such a big deal understood that Jesus was infinitely more important and more majestic and more glorious than John. John was not even qualified to perform the lowliest of slave’s tasks for this wonderful King. How majestic is His name!

Now consider, how important do you think the president of the United States is to you and your neighbors compared to Jesus? Our next president is so small and insignificant that he is not worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus’ feet. Our nation needs Jesus.

How important do you think the elders are to this church compared to Jesus? Our elders are so small and insignificant that we are not worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus’ feet. Our church needs Jesus.

How important do you think you are to your family compared to Jesus? You are so small and significant compared to King Jesus that you are not worthy to untie the sandals from Jesus’ feet.

Nothing but Jesus can deliver salvation from sin, wrath, and hell. Nothing but Jesus can bring life and joy to our nation, our church, and our families. When Paul preached in that synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, the people had been waiting for almost two-thousand years for the promised One. Now, as I preach to this church in Mambrino we have had the blessing of our Savior for almost two thousand years.

Are you enjoying the promised blessing of life with God through Jesus? Has he set you free from sin and guilt? Has he given you his righteousness, joy, and life? Are you trusting Jesus for forgiveness and are you trusting Jesus for life and joy? Are you asking for the Holy Spirit to fill and guide each day? That’s what we want for you today. Today, where you are and whoever you are, if you will repent of your sins and put your trust in Jesus Christ then he will forgive you and give you life.

Discuss Acts 13:13-25

  1. In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  2. How can you discipline yourself to think about how a decision fits into God’s story and plan BEFORE you make the decision?
  3. Explain God’s story and your specific place in God’s story. Be more specific than “God’s plan for humanity…”. Being with “God’s plan for me is…”
  4. What can you and your family do to make the assembly, the church, more central to your life?
  5. What can you encourage the elders to do to make the assembly, the church, a greater benefit and help to your life with God?
  6. In our culture and city, what is a good place to gather neighbors or meet neighbors in order to explain the gospel?
  7. In what ways does knowing the history of God’s work through his people help you trust him more? What specific event encourages you the most?
  8. How does the history of God’s people point to Jesus?
  9. Why is stopping the gospel at “Jesus saved us from our sin” painfully insufficient?
  10. How can you decrease and Jesus increase in your home and work?

Thinking about the Election

These two articles about the election help me and my conscience as I go to the voting both. I commend them both to you.

I also wish someone with influence would get both men in a room together to talk about their disagreements and model Christian unity for a confused church.

John Piper- Policies, Persons, and Paths to Ruin

Albert Mohler- Christians, Conscience, and the Looming 2020 Election

10/29 Update

Here is a follow-up piece from Wayne Grudem that is also worth the time to read for its clarity and charity.

A Respectful Response to My Friend John Piper about Voting for Trump

When Christians Disagree; Acts 13:13 and 15:36-41

Main Point: This side of glory, Christians will disagree.

I am going to say some obvious things today that I need to hear and I need to take to heart. Maybe you’re like me and will find some benefit from these truths. First, relationships are hard. Friendship is hard because being a friend is costly. Marriage is hard because loving and serving your spouse is costly. Family is hard because doing life with parents and children and siblings and cousins and grandparents and uncles and aunts and in-laws is costly. Being a neighbor is hard and being the church is hard because loving, serving, and building up others is costly. Pursuing the peace of Christ will cost us everything. No two people agree about everything; to be very glum, to be in a relationship is to be in a disagreement. Relationships are hard because relationships are full of disagreements.

We’re looking today at Acts 13 and Acts 15, the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas about John Mark. We need to know what to do when Christians disagree because this side of glory, Christians will disagree. Before we get to Acts 13 I want to set the stage with 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

I. Who is John Mark?

  • John Mark is a young Christian helping Barnabas and Paul

We first met John Mark back in Acts 12 when Peter was miraculously released from prison. When Peter came to his senses he went straight to the house of Mary and Mary is the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). So, John Mark lives in Jerusalem and his family is a part of the church. Mark was likely an eyewitness of Jesus’ ministry and possibly the young man who ran from the garden the night Jesus was arrested (Mark 14:51). So how does John Mark get to Antioch? Barnabas and Paul had just delivered a relief offering to Jerusalem. John Mark goes along when Barnabas and Paul return to Antioch.

When Barnabas and Paul leave Antioch, John Mark goes with them. We looked last week at Acts 13:5 which says, “and they had John to assist them.” John is a young Christian helping Barnabas and Paul preach the gospel, make disciples, and plant churches. John Mark is there as they preach their way across the Island of Cyprus. He sees Elymas judged and Sergius Paulus converted.

We pick up now with Acts 13:13, “Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem.”

  • John Mark bailed on the mission

There is a great deal left unsaid in this verse, so we need to tread carefully. For the sake of the story, it would have been enough for Luke to write, “But John returned to Jerusalem.” The word translated “left them,” and the controversy that followed in Acts 15, shows that something major happened; there is something wrong.

Flip over to Acts 15:38, speaking about John Mark, “Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work.” John Mark left the mission. John Mark withdrew from the mission. John Mark quit on the mission.

While John Mark did not fall away from Christ or reject the gospel, John Mark did fall away from the work. We don’t know why John Mark left them. Christians have offered a great number of explanations from he couldn’t hack it, to he got malaria in the lowlands, to he resented cousin Barnabas being replaced by Paul as the leader. Whatever the reason, the team needed John Mark, and he quit on them. That’s Acts 13:13. Now,

II. What happened in Acts 15?

Read Acts 15:36-41

After an important theological debate was settled in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch with the teaching. The church is pumped. Barsabbas and Silas also came from Jerusalem. They were prophets who strengthened and encouraged the church in Antioch. After this, Paul wants to return to the places he and Barnabas had preached to check on the churches there. Barnabas agrees that this is a good plan but then,

  • Two Christians disagreed

What happened was, Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, but Paul did not think it was wise to take a quitter on the trip. Look again at verse 39, “And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.”

One Bible dictionary defines the disagreement as a severe argument based on intense difference of opinion (L-N 33.451). This was no small disagreement like the guy really wants to get Chinese and the girl really wants Italian. This is more on the level of the husband says “No matter what, we’re moving to Kansas City” and the wife says “Over my dead body!” Paul and Barnabas were provoked, irritated, and spurred on to anger with one another.

Let’s pause here. Aren’t you glad the Holy Spirit made sure these stories were recorded in the Bible? We get the idea sometimes that the New Testament church was perfect and the 21st century church is having a hard time. The church has always had a hard time! Read Galatians, Ephesians, and 1 Corinthians; Christians disagree. It’s sad but true that sometimes Christians fight. Unity is hard won but easily lost.

The good news is their mothers came in and made them hold hands until they learned to get along. That’s not what happened. Look at what happened

  • Two Christians parted ways

Acts 15:39, “there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”

Now be careful. We can’t say that silence is condemnation. We can’t say that Barnabas was wrong and Paul was right because the church sided with Paul and Barnabas disappeared. Philip disappeared in Acts 8. Peter disappeared in Acts 12. Has the church rejected Barnabas, Philip, and Peter? No, Luke is Paul’s companion and now he is telling Paul’s story. So, don’t condemn Barnabas too quickly and don’t excuse John Mark too quickly.

Listen to John Calvin’s advice, “surely the offence of John Mark was greater than it is commonly taken for. He slid not back, indeed, from the faith of Christ, yet did he forsake his calling, and was a revolt [an apostate] from the same; therefore, it was a matter that might have given evil example, if he had been straightway received again into the calling from which he slid back” (88). John Mark did a bad thing by abandoning the mission. What should they do? So they put John Mark quickly in a place of leadership? How do you know if he has repented and if it is true repentance?

What a terribly difficult situation to be in and what an awful solution; Paul and Barnabas split. Think of all the years and all the sacrifice and all the gains and all the joys and all the sorrows that Barnabas and Paul had experienced together. And now they part ways. This disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was very painful. So,What happened to John Mark?

III. What happened to John Mark?

  • John Mark went with Barnabas (Acts 15:39)

The emphasis is not on “he went” but he went “with Barnabas”. Remember, Barnabas is a nickname meaning Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36). Barnabas was known to bring comfort while sending you in the right direction. After Paul’s conversion, when no one would trust him or let him in, it was Barnabas who stepped up to the plate for Paul (Acts 9:27).

What did the Son of Encouragement say to John Mark when they first reunited after John Mark bailed on them? What did the Son of Encouragement say to John Mark when they sat on that boat, after the split, headed to Cyprus?

I don’t know but I picture Barnabas saying, “I once heard a wise man say, ‘Jesus’ grace is sufficient for you and Jesus’ power is made perfect in your weakness.’ So, John Mark listen. God’s grace is sufficient for you. You can be forgiven. You can be restored. But not if you refuse to be weak. Jesus’ all sufficient grace is for the weak and the sick.”

Maybe that’s you today. Maybe you can relate to John Mark because you ran off. Maybe you ran off on your family or you ran off on the mission or maybe even you ran off on the faith. Listen to encouragement. Listen to truth. Jesus’ grace is sufficient for our mistakes, our failures, and our sins. Boast in your weakness and cry out to Jesus to make you strong. The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 and comes after the one that wanders away. Jesus went after John Mark. If you feel your weakness today, I hope you also feel Jesus’ pursuit. That John Mark went with Barnabas is a good thing. And there’s more

  • John Mark went with Peter (1 Peter 5:13)

Quickly now, 1 Peter 5:13, Peter writes, “She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.” John Mark goes from Barnabas to Peter and from Peter to writing one of the Gospels. The quitter who bailed on the mission is the guy who wrote one of the Gospels. John Mark is wonderful proof of the great grace of our God. And there’s more

  • John Mark went with Paul (2 Tim 4:11; Col 4:10; Phlm 24)

Remember back in Acts 15 Paul is fighting mad and refuses to take John Mark along for the work. Listen now to the changes that are evidence of God’s grace.

Paul writes to the Colossian church, “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him.” The Mark who should not be allowed on board is now the Mark who should be welcomed in.

To Philemon Paul writes, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.” The Mark who Paul would not work with is now listed among Paul’s fellow workers.

And the grand finale of God’s amazing grace, 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul writes “Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” Welcome him. He’s a fellow worker. He is very useful to me.

What happened? I know, at the least, John Mark didn’t stay a quitter, but he was restored by God’s grace and by the discipling of a man named Son of Encouragement. Maybe Paul should have taken John Mark back in Acts 15. Maybe Paul did the right thing at the time; I don’t know. I know in the end Paul didn’t hold a grudge. Paul didn’t give in to the root of bitterness. John Mark grew. Because of God’s grace, there was restoration and reconciliation. Now,

IV. What can we learn from all of this?

  • First, being the church is hard

Guys, the church is a relationship like marriage not a relationship like hiring a contractor to build you a gazebo. Think deeply with me, our marriage relationships will dissolve at death, but our church relationship will continue into eternity. Our relationship to one another is a big deal and doing life together is hard. It’s hard living with me because I am a fool and a sinner and it’s hard living with you because you are a fool and a sinner.

An easy church is either a church that is empty or a church in which you don’t care about anyone. Neither of these is biblical. A church is a people who covenant together to see one another safely through to glory. A church is a people who covenant to preach the gospel, make disciples, and plant churches together. Being a biblical New Testament church is hard; we are going to disagree. Looking at Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark remember

  • God works all things, even disagreements, for good

We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).

John Stott is right. God’s providence is no excuse for quarreling, but God’s providence is a comfort in times of disagreements (253). The mission work doubled. It looks like God used the confrontation to rattle John Mark and bring him to a place of strong dependence on God’s grace. Paul was definitely against enabling John Mark! And as we read, in the end, John Mark becomes very useful to Paul. There can be restoration after the most bitter of disagreements.

So, lean into God’s grace. Maybe you are the Paul who needs to confront. Maybe you are the Barnabas who needs to encourage. Maybe you’re the John Mark who needs to hear some hard things. In the end, God works all things, even disagreements for good. And finally, what do we learn?

  • Be a peacemaker

Our Savior is crystal clear, “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9). What peace did Jesus pursue and how did he pursue it? The peace Jesus wants for us is peace with God and he pursued peace with God through the humiliation and sacrifice of himself. You were at odds with God, disagreeing with his ways and refusing to worship him, but Christ bore your sin, taught you the truth, and led you to worship. Jesus is our reconciliation with God.

So listen, in every disagreement, God does not want to validate us, exonerate us, or prove us right. In every disagreement, God wants us to trust the power of Christ and follow the example of Christ so that we advance the peace of Christ. Trust that the resurrected Christ will give you the love and strength to do and say what will turn your opponent to Christ. Speak like Christ. Trust the resurrected Christ to give you the joy and strength to endure the humiliation and sacrifice so often required for God’s peace to be made known. Sacrifice like Christ. Being a peacemaker means denying yourself, picking up your cross, and following Jesus. Being a peacemaker means enduring humiliation and shame so that the holiness of Christ, the grace of Christ, and the peace of Christ are made known in the darkness. Being a peacemaker means being a child of God. Let’s be Christians; let’s enjoy and advance peace with God through Jesus Christ.

Discuss Acts 13:13

  1. In what ways did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  2. What do you think about this statement, “To be in a relationship is to be in a disagreement; no two people agree about everything”?
  3. What are some good reasons to quit a ministry, a mission, or a church?
  4. What are common but bad reasons people are tempted to quit a ministry, a mission, or a church?
  5. Think of the last time you were provoked, irritated, or angry with another Christian. If you could go back to do that situation again, what would you do differently?
  6. How have people comforted and encouraged you when you messed up? How do you want to comfort and encourage others?
  7. How is John Mark an example of God’s grace? What did God use John Mark the quitter to do?
  8. Since being together as a church is hard, does that mean we should quit and look for another church that is easier?
  9. Are you more like Paul who confronts, Barnabas who encourages, or John Mark who needs to be confronted and encouraged?
  10. How does the gospel of God’s grace give us strength in difficulty relationships?

The Gospel Advances; Acts 13:4-12

Main Point: The Spirit advances the gospel through Christians

Are y’all ready for Acts 13? Acts 13:4-12 is full of some crazy stuff. In these verses we see a magician, spiritual warfare, curses, and a conversion. It would be such a waste to think these things have nothing to do with our lives today. Instead, this passage teaches us that the Spirit of God advances the gospel through Christians. Acts 13 calls us to put on the armor of God and wrestle against error and for the salvation of souls. We need to learn to be missionaries by studying these missionaries. We need to learn to be wrestlers by studying these wrestlers. Let’s get into the fight. Read Acts 13:1-12

First, let’s unpack our

I. Missionary Principles (4-5)

  • You are not your own

Look at Acts 13:2 and 4. Who is calling the shots for these Christians? The Holy Spirit is leading his people to accomplish his will. The Holy Spirit who gifts each individual Christian for the building up of the church is the Holy Spirit who calls out and sends out individuals to build up other churches. The leaders are not in charge, the church is not in charge, the Holy Spirit is the boss.

The ruling desire at work in Antioch and I pray at work in Mambrino is the desire to follow the Spirit and make much of Christ. Because we are Christians, we follow the Spirit and Christ is on our lips. In the realm of relationships, following the Spirit and making much of Christ means evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. In the realm of our bodies, how to follow the Spirit and make much of Christ is clarified in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Listen, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Biblical evangelism and biblical sexuality call us to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Jesus. Following Jesus entails seeing his glory so that we say no to the worldly things we want, give up the lives we would have, and endure the hatred of the world.

To put this in stark terms, you are not your own means you are owned by another. You were bought. Being bought means you were a slave of sin and self but Jesus paid for your release with the cost of his own life. Being bought means you belong to God, you are a child of God, gifted with the Holy Spirit to live for the glory and honor of Christ. You are not your own means you go where God says go and you do what God says do because God is good and trustworthy.

You are not your own may mean crucifying our way of doing family so we can become foster families for children in need. You are not your own may mean crucifying our way of spending money on ourselves so we can support more gospel work in closed countries. You are not your own may mean crucifying our way of doing church so we can plant other churches.

Christian, do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? You are not your own. You were bought with a great price. Honor God with your body. For the missionary, for the disciple, this means

  • Proclaim the Word of God

Paul and Barnabas left Antioch, went down to Seleucia on the Mediterranean coast, and sailed to Cyprus. Cyprus is an Island in the Mediterranean Sea. Cyprus is the Island where Barnabas was raised (Acts 4:36). Look at verse 5 with me, “When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.” Look over at verse 7, “Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.” Acts 13:16-41 is a summary of one of Paul’s messages. Acts 13:44, “the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” Acts 14:1, “Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed.” 14:7, “they continued to preach the gospel.” Acts 14:21, “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” This is no sight-seeing tour. This is a gospel-advancing disciple-making mission.

For us, this means talking about Jesus at school, at work, and in our neighborhoods. People don’t get saved because we do good works. People get saved because they hear the gospel, repent, and believe. Good works have a role to play, we will see that more in a minute. The point is that the gospel is a message that advances through words. Our second missionary principle is proclaim the word. Here is our last missionary principle and then we wrestle.

  • Don’t go alone

Who does the Holy Spirit set apart and send out? The Spirit sent out Paul and Barnabas. Who did Paul and Barnabas take with them? Verse 5, they took John Mark with them to help; nowadays we call these guys interns. Up to this point in the book of Acts we have been following Peter. Even Peter gives us the example of not going alone. Peter always has some brothers with him. When Barnabas first gets to Antioch, he sees the need and goes to get Paul to help. The individual worker, like Philip in Acts 8, is rare.

Why is the common approach to missions a team approach? One answer is making disciples and planting churches is hard, lonely, often persecuted work. Having someone there to help preach, help cook meals, and help treat the wounds you can’t reach is a great help. Also, the principle of making disciples leads us to not go alone. How will the next generation of missionaries learn to be missionaries? They will learn by going with the older generation of missionaries. The command to make disciples leads us to not go alone when we go out to advance the gospel; teach others to do what you are doing.

Those are our missionary principles: remember you are not your own, proclaim the word of God, and don’t go alone. Now let’s learn how to wrestle by digging into this power encounter between Paul and Elymas.

II. A Power Encounter (6-12)

Here’s what we need to understand

  • Evangelism is spiritual warfare

Evangelism is wrestling against error and blindness with the gospel message for the conversion of souls.

Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark are preaching their way across the Island of Cyprus. When they get to the capital, which is Paphos, they come across a magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. Verse 8 tells us his other name is Elymas the magician. So, first this guy is a magi like Simon back in Acts 8. Remember Simon the magician wanted to pay Peter so Simon could have the power to give the Holy Spirit when he laid his hands on others. Like Simon the magician, Elymas the magician, is likely a fortune teller and star reader who Sergius Paulus keeps around to help him figure out what to do next. In my study, it came up that these magicians were often very intelligent and engaging in pseudo-science (Polhill, 293). These were the people with special metals, rocks, and magnets or their own secret knowledge of herbs and oils who could heal you or hurt your enemies for a price.

In addition to being a magician or sorcerer, Elymas was a Jewish false prophet. Being a Jew meant Elymas could claim ancient and powerful access to the God who throws down pharaohs and parts the sea. But just as Luke makes it clear Paul is acting by the Spirit, so also Luke makes it clear that Elymas is a Jewish false prophet. His name, Bar-Jesus, means son of Jesus or son of salvation. Get this: his name is Son of Salvation, he can read the stars, he can heal you, he can hurt your enemies, and he’s a Jew. This guy is the total package.

Elymas Bar-Jesus is with Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This word intelligent means he is able to understand, evaluate, and put stuff together. Though he has been duped by Elymas, Sergius Paulus is no fool.

Continuing in verse 7, “Sergius Paulus is the guy who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.” Maybe Paulus has an interest in theology. Maybe Paulus has a guilty conscience. Either way, he wants to hear the word of God.

Look now at verse 8, “But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” Evangelism is spiritual warfare. Barnabas and Saul are proclaiming the truth so that Paulus can repent, believe, and be saved. Elymas is opposing them, seeking to discredit them, seeking to invalidate their claims, and seeking to turn Paulus away from the faith. This is 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 in real time:

 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and ever lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”

The stronghold we wage war against in our schools, at work, and in our neighborhoods is spiritual blindness. Our neighbors cannot see the glory of Jesus and our neighbors do not want to see the glory of Jesus. Satan has blinded them (2 Cor 4:4) and they love the darkness (John 3:19). How will they change? We must wage war.

But how? How do we wage war? Do we fight with guns, swords, and fists? Convert or die! No, we fight with words. We fight with words in prayer to God to open eyes and make the word we share powerful to save. We fight with words seeking to explain the gospel and reveal the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We fight with words as we challenge error and defend the truth.

Listen, our neighbors are not going to rest in Christ Jesus because we rake their leaves or bring them a meal. Our neighbors are going to be saved when alongside our good works comes a clear and winsome explanation of the gospel. Our neighbors are going to be saved when we call them to repent, believe, and worship Jesus. Evangelism is spiritual warfare so we must

  • Fight against what opposes the gospel

Keep the image in your head. Paul and Barnabas preach the gospel while Elymas opposes the gospel. Now verse 9, “But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘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.” Again, there is a lot happening here.

We see the shift in Saul’s name to Paul. This is because of a shift from a Jewish situation where Saul was a common name to a Roman situation where Paul was a common name. As a Jew, a Hebrew of Hebrews, he used his Jewish name and as a Roman citizen he used his Roman name. He used whatever name was most appropriate for his situation. Paul’s name is minor, but the Holy Spirit is major.

Paul is filled by the Holy Spirit to perform the prophetic task of proclaiming God’s judgment. The Spirit empowers Paul to do the work. The Spirit empowers Paul to call Elymas what he truly is. Elymas is not a son of Jesus; Elymas is a son of the devil seeking to spread lies. Elymas is an enemy of all righteousness seeking to keep Paulus in sinful darkness. Elymas is full of deceit and villainy exploiting Paulus for money and position with tricks and lies. Elymas is making crooked the straight paths of the Lord.

Barnabas and Paul had laid down a straight and clear path to Jesus; Elymas was messing all this up. I can imagine Elymas telling Sergius Paulus, “You don’t want that. You don’t need Jesus. What they are saying isn’t true. The resurrection didn’t happen. You don’t need to repent. Stick with me. I’ll take care of you.”

Verse 11, here comes the prophetic judgment, “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, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.”

Paul is acting as a Spirit-filled prophet; Paul is temporarily filled with the Spirit to perform this miraculous act. The Spirit of the Lord judged Elymas. It’s a temporary blindness similar to Saul’s blindness on the road to Damascus. Just as Saul hated and opposed the advance of the gospel so also Elymas hates and opposes the advance of the gospel. Just as Saul was blinded for a time, so now Elymas is blind for a time. The difference between the two is there is no record of Elymas repenting and being baptized. Unlike Simon Magus who pleaded with Peter for prayer to escape judgment, Elymas starts looking for help to endure judgment.

What should we do with this? Should we start calling down curses and passing out blindness? You should if you are a prophet and the Holy Spirit fills you with power and insight to perform such a miraculous judgment. Seeing that the office of prophet no longer exists I’m neither expecting nor commanding us to fight against what opposes the gospel by calling down curses and passing out blindness.

Instead, I am calling us to wrestle. I am calling us to wage war according to the Spirit. This is a call to take up the weapons of our warfare which are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. This is a call to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.

Let me ask it this way: why do people sin the sins they sin? Why do people believe the lies they believe? Why do people love the darkness and hate the light? There are several answers here, but we need to consider that people sin their sins, believe the lies, and hate the darkness because we won’t wrestle against the evil that enslaves them. We don’t wrestle with physical power, political power, or financial power. We don’t wrestle like Donald Trump or Joe Biden. We wrestle with prayer and we wrestle with sound doctrine.

Think of that neighbor, that coworker, or that family member that you have been fighting. What if we took out everything but your prayers and your correction of error with sound doctrine? Imagine a church that comes together to fight against error with prayer. Imagine a church that comes together to learn how to fight error with beautiful powerful truth. Church, we must not fight one another. Oh, but how much do we love to fight one another? How much do we love to complain about our rights and our honor? Let’s fight against the error and evil that opposes the gospel. Let’s fight with prayer and sound doctrine.

To state it positively, we are called to fight for the salvation of souls

  • Fight for conversions

Look at Acts 13:12, “Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at Elymas’s blindness.” Wait, that’s not what it says. Look at verse 12, “Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.”

The glorious gospel astonished Sergius Paulus. This man heard about the glory and splendor of God. This man heard about the reality and danger of his sin. This man heard the invitation to come know the holy God through faith in the crucified and resurrection Jesus. Sergius Paulus was astonished at the teaching and he was convinced by the miracle.

What are the people around you hearing from you? What are the people around you seeing in you? When you are gaming, what do people hear from you? When you are in the halls at school and around the lunch table, what are people hearing and seeing from you? Are you wrestling for the world like the world? Or are you wrestling against error and for the joyous salvation of others?

Husbands, what would our wives say we wrestle for and against? Dads, what would our children say we wrestle for and against? I fear my wife and my children would say I wrestle for my own comfort and the things of the world. I go to work to wrestle for money. I do ministry wrestling for my reputation. Vanity of vanities and a chasing after the wind.

Acts 13:4-12, Ephesians 6:10-20; and 2 Corinthians 10:1-6 prove to us the danger of evil and sin; we must fight with prayer and sound doctrine. Acts, Ephesians, and 2 Corinthians call out to us to seek the salvation of our neighbors by fighting in prayer and with clear explanations of all that Jesus is and has done.

Here now is how I think you could respond. First, if you are like Sergius Paulus, caught up in sin and darkness, today is the day to repent and believe. The righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus will give you a clean conscience and access to God. Change your thinking about Jesus, rest in Jesus, and worship Jesus. Jesus will take you in. Second, if you are a Christian you must remember whose you are. You were bought with the price of Jesus. Honor him with your body and go where the Spirit leads you; remember you are not your own. Third, confess the sin of fighting the wrong battles. Let us confess our pride and our selfishness that have led us to bite and devour one another. Fourth, let’s think and pray about the error and the evil that is blinding our children and our neighbors. Remember, we were once blind like them, but someone came to us with the powerful gospel of Christ. Holy Spirit show us all that opposes the gospel so that we can oppose it with the gospel. And finally, let’s spend time praying for the salvation of souls. Who is it that is trapped in sin? Maybe it is a child, maybe it is a parent, maybe it is a neighbor, maybe it is a coworker, or maybe it is you. Let’s devote ourselves right now to fighting-prayer and may the Holy Spirit fill us with love and boldness to go tear down strongholds and set captives free. Let’s start praying and let’s persevere in prayer.