Sunday, July 26, 2015
Many years ago I was at a church where they were preaching through Acts, and I just remember feeling like I was taking a geography lesson about some ancient civilization. Whatever truth there was to be gained for me was obscured by the confusing and often boring geographical details of Paul’s missionary journeys.
So today I want to avoid focusing on all the stops of Paul’s journey and the various particulars of each city or culture, and instead I want to direct your attention to the point of Paul’s mission. The point of Paul and Barnabas’s missionary journey is the same in every city and every culture and for every person that they meet. And that is that they preached the gospel. As Spurgeon said, Paul may have changed his tone, but never his matter. The gospel is effective and powerful for every culture, every kind of person, every kind of situation.
In Romans 1:16 Paul writes later, “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.” Don’t let familiarity with that verse dull it’s meaning. Paul is saying, having learned from his own experience, that the gospel is the dynamis of God. That is the Greek word - dynamis. It’s the root word for dynamite. The gospel is powerful, able to blow up and destroy fortresses. 2Cor. 10:3-4 says, “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.” But it actually goes even further than simply the idea of power, but it really means miraculous power. It is the power to save. Salvation means to deliver by miraculous, dynamic power.
You know, many of us fall into the trap of agreeing that theologically the gospel has the power to save our souls from hell, but then think it unreasonable to that the gospel alone has enough power to defeat the power of sin. Is it able to deliver a soul from hell, but unable to deliver a body from addictions? Which is harder? To heal the body or to heal the soul? Is the gospel God’s miraculous dynamic power to save or is it only effective in the spiritual realm? I emphatically proclaim to you today by the authority of the God’s word that the gospel is miraculously powerful to save and deliver from all sin, any sin, all effects of sin, the power of sin, and the penalty of sin.
Paul said it again in another place, 1Cor. 1:18 “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Paul said that the preaching of the gospel is foolishness to those that are lost, but to those that are being saved, it is the very power of God. The power of God is immeasurable. The power of God holds the earth which weighs trillions of tons, and causes it to spin on it’s axis at 1000 mph, and then send it rocketing through it’s orbit at 67000 mph at just the proper distance from the sun. That is just the strength of one little finger of the power of God. And Paul is saying that same tremendous miraculous power is unleashed in the gospel through salvation. There is no force in the universe greater than the power of the gospel. Jesus said, things that are impossible with men are possible with God because God is a God of unimaginable, immeasurable power.
So Paul, wisely enough, as he goes from town to town, preaches the gospel. He doesn’t use the wisdom of men, he doesn’t use psychology, he doesn’t rely on entertainment, he doesn’t use technology, he simply preaches the powerful gospel of salvation to every people in every region, in every culture. No matter where he went it didn’t change. When Paul goes to Ephesus, he preaches the gospel. When he goes to see the Greek philosophers in Athens, he preaches the gospel. When he goes to Rome to see Caesar, he preaches the gospel. When he is taken before kings, he preaches the gospel. Because he knows the gospel does not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. And so we see that illustrated for us in this chapter.
Notice in vs. 1 Paul and Barnabas went first to the Jews in the synagogue at Iconium, and what did they do there? They preached the gospel. Then it says in vs. 3, in spite of the Jews stirring up bitterness towards them, they continued to preach the gospel for quite some time. Finally, persecution got so bad there that they had to flee town because they were about to be stoned to death, so in vs. 6 it says they went to the Gentiles in some nearby towns called Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe; and what did they do there? Vs. 7, “they continued to preach the gospel.” Boy, these guys were a one trick pony, weren’t they?
Then while they were in Lystra, Paul healed a lame man. We will talk more about that in a moment, but notice vs. 15 which says that Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel to them as well, which resulted in the pagan crowd first trying to worship them as gods, and then when they were finally convinced that Paul and Barnabas were not gods, they stoned Paul and left him for dead. But Paul got up and went right back into town and I suppose continued preaching the gospel right where he left off.
The next day, Paul and Barnabas left Lystra and went to a nearby town called Derbe, vs. 20. Guess what they did there? You guessed it, preached the gospel. Then after they had made disciples there, they went back to the cities that they had preached in previously and preached some more, strengthening the believers and appointing elders in the churches that were now started in those towns.
Then finally they traveled to Perga, and preached the gospel there as well. After all that preaching of the gospel to all these various regions, they went back to their home church in Antioch and reported to everyone there what God had done through them in their journey.
So preaching the gospel was the pattern to Paul’s ministry. He said later he relied not on cleverness of speech but the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But what exactly is the gospel? Literally, it is the good news. It is the good news that sinful, dying men and women who are under the penalty of death and cut off from God have had their penalty paid by Jesus Christ, who is the very God incarnate, that is God in human flesh, resulting in eternal life for those who believe. Paul says it very succinctly in 2Cor. 5:21 “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Did you get that? God made Jesus, who was sinless, to become sin on our behalf, so that we might become righteous with the righteousness of Christ. God transferred our sins upon Jesus, put Him to death for us, and transferred the righteousness of Christ upon us, that we might be reconciled to God. That we might be made sons of God. That we might be given new life, eternal life in Christ.
Now that is the doctrine of the gospel, but how is it made efficacious for us? Well, the gospel rests upon two twin pillars which are repentance and faith. Repentance and faith; they are codependent. One alone cannot suffice. They must both be present for the gospel to go from theology, to being efficacious to your salvation. Jesus declared that in his first message recorded in Mark 1:15 saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." So repent and believe, the twin pillars of our faith. Listen how Paul sums it up in vs. 15, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.”
Now look closely at what Paul is saying. He rebukes them first of all for worshipping false gods. They were actually thinking that Paul and Barnabas were the gods Mercury and Zeus and they were preparing to offer sacrifices to them. So Paul rebukes them and says no, we are also men the same as you, and we preach the gospel to you, which is that you should turn from vain idols… Now stop there for a moment. That is what repentance is, to turn. To turn away from sin. God’s law defines sin and at the very beginning of God’s law He says you shall have no other gods before Me. You shall make no graven image. But you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve. And Paul said that they needed to turn from that sin unto God. So repentance is not simply feeling sorry for whatever situation you find yourself in, or feeling emotional, but repentance is turning, 180 different direction, from following sin, to following God. Now maybe you are so caught up in your sin that you want to repent, you want to turn, but you don’t think you have the power to turn. Well, that’s typical. But thankfully the power to turn does not come from ourselves. You don’t have to sober up to come to God, or get cleaned up to come to God. You come to God asking to be changed by His power. The power to change comes from God through salvation. We simply confess our sins, our sinful nature, confess that we are trapped in it, and believe in faith that God is able to deliver us from it. That is when God applies the power of salvation. The power to deliver you. The power to forgive you. The power to save you. The power to free you. The power to heal you from the effects of sin that serve to trap you.
So the first pillar is repentance and the second is faith. Let’s finish Paul’s sentence; “that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.” Repentance is turning as we have already shown, now then faith is believing that God is powerful enough to save you, powerful enough to deliver you, that He is powerful enough to make the earth, send it’s trillions of tons spinning on it’s axis, rocket it into orbit at just the precise distance around the sun (which He also made by the way) at 67000 mph. And that the same power of God that made the earth, and the sea, and the stars and everything that is in them, can certainly, surely deliver you from not only the penalty of sin, but the power of sin. If you believe that, then you have faith. Faith is not believing that you can do it, or that you need to clean up or sober up or get your life together first. Faith is believing that God’s power is enough to save you and deliver you. Faith is believing that Christ’s sacrifice cleanses you from sin and transfers you to the kingdom of God.
Now let’s see the effect of the gospel. Someone once said that every miracle in the New Testament is a parable, designed to illustrate physically what God can do spiritually. And I certainly think that is the case in the miracle of healing the lame man here in this chapter. It is illustrative of the power of the gospel.
Let’s look at what happened in verse 8. “At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother's womb, who had never walked.” Now if you had written that sentence in English class your teacher would have probably marked your page in big red letters saying that is a redundant statement. The author Luke says that the man is lame in three different ways. Why? Well obviously, he wanted to emphasize that the man was lame.
But if you consider it more closely, you will notice Luke says that he had no strength in his feet. In other words, he was powerless. Then he says he was lame from his mother’s womb. In other words he was born that way. And then that he had never walked. He didn’t know how to walk. He had never walked. He had no experience of walking.
And I would suggest this lame man is a picture of all mankind in their fallen, sinful condition. We have no strength to walk after Christ. We are powerless to live the Christian life. We are powerless to reach God. Secondly, we were born that way. Psalm 51:5 “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” We are natural born sinners, and as such are bereft of God.
And then thirdly, we don’t know how to walk in righteousness. We have never walked in righteousness. Isaiah 64:6, “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” We don’t have experience in righteousness. 1Cor. 2:14 “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
So in every way, this lame man is a picture of the natural man who is unsaved. And then notice that Paul was preaching the gospel and this man was obviously very attentive. And Paul seeing him knew that this man had the faith to be healed. How did he know that? It was undoubtedly a prompting by the Holy Spirit as he saw this man listening and drinking in Paul’s message. He could perceive this man’s response to his message. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Our faith is not founded on our feelings, or on wishful thinking, but on the promises, the word of Christ.
And notice how Luke describes it in vs. 9: “This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well.” The Greek word for made well is the word sōzō. Guess what sōzō means? It means to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction. So it’s not just a physical healing that is presented here, but symbolically and literally I believe in the life of this man, a spiritual healing. As I said while ago, every miracle in the New Testament is a parable, designed to illustrate physically what God can do spiritually.
Then let’s look at the power of the gospel to save as illustrated in this miracle. Paul said in vs. 10 “with a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And he leaped up and began to walk.” Here is the process of salvation. The lame man typifies repentance by the fact that he knew that he was lame. He knew he was born that way. He knew he could never walk. That is a picture of repentance. He wanted to be made well. And when he heard the gospel preached he believed in Christ, and all that Christ represented. Then Paul ordered him to stand upright on his feet. So the man had the faith necessary, but at that point it was all theoretical. He needed to act on that faith. He needed to stand up in obedience to Paul’s command even though he had never stood up.
We are told to obey to the call of the gospel are we not? To confess our sins, to repent of our sins, to believe and trust in Christ and to follow Christ. The first step to following Christ is obedience and then that is demonstrated by being baptized. Baptism symbolizes repentance and faith all wrapped up in this demonstration of your inward change.
So he had repentance and faith, and then notice the powerful result of salvation. The lame man leapt up and began to walk. Notice that this man who had no strength in his feet and legs leaped up. He didn’t grab hold of a walker and start to pull himself erect. He didn’t have to go to physical therapy class for 6 weeks to get his legs strengthened. This man who had no strength in his legs suddenly had the strength to leap up. Hallelujah. I feel like leaping myself just thinking about it.
And he began to walk. From a human, scientific, commonsense perspective, that just can’t happen, can it? He has to learn to walk. He has to build his muscles, build his strength, learn to keep his balance. But actually, no he didn’t. God was able to supernaturally heal him. Give him the full power to walk as a disciple of Christ.
Folks, I don’t know about you but I take great comfort in that illustration. I don’t have to worry that I have a sinful nature. God will give me a new nature when I am saved. I don’t have to worry that I have never been righteous. God will give me the righteousness of Jesus Christ. I don’t have to worry that I don’t know how to walk, God will give me the Holy Spirit to live inside me that will teach me and help me to walk as I step out in faith.
Some of you here today are thinking, wow, that sounds terrific. Sounds like good news. I wonder if I could have that power of salvation. I’m here to tell you that the message of the gospel has not changed. It is good for kings, for peasants, for Jews and for Gentiles. It is one size fits all. It is effective for you if you will just repent and believe. It is the power of God. And that power can and will deliver you from not only the penalty of sin but the power of sin.
If you recognize yourself in this portrait of the lame man, you recognize you are a sinner from your mother’s womb and the impossibility of your spiritual condition, then I urge you to accept Christ today. Turn from your sin and believe in Christ and know the power of salvation. It is available to everyone without cost. Jesus paid the price. All that is necessary for you is to repent, believe and be willing to stand up and walk in obedience to Him. He will supply the miraculous power of salvation.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
So far in the book of Acts, we have studied the record of a couple of notable sermons, particularly the first message of Peter as well last sermon of the martyr Steven. Today, we look at the first recorded message of the Apostle Paul. As I noted last time, in this chapter, Paul transitions from being called Saul to being called Paul, and he is no longer called Saul on any longer, which indicates to me that he began his apostolic ministry at this point. This apostolic commission was attested to with signs and wonders as an attestation of the Spirit’s appointing him as an apostle, but it is interesting that Paul’s first attendant miracle is not that of healing but of cursing. He pronounced blindness on Elymas the magician as we saw earlier in this chapter.
And perhaps that illustrates the double edged nature of the gospel as Paul indicates in this sermon. That on the one hand is offered salvation for those who believe it and accept it, but on the other hand condemnation and judgment is upon those who reject the gospel. The gospel is a two edged sword, it cuts both ways. And we will see that illustrated in this sermon.
For the sake of time we will forego some of the geographical details that give the context for this sermon. But what should not be overlooked is that in vs. 13, after explaining the logistics of their trip, Luke says without fanfare or explanation that John Mark left them and returned home to Jerusalem. We are not given the answer to the question of why in this passage. And even later, in Acts 15, we are only told that Barnabas and Paul have a sharp disagreement over letting John Mark accompany them on a later mission due to the fact that Paul considered him a traitor to the cause on this first mission. And so at that point, Paul and Barnabas go their separate ways. I will add though that at the end of Paul’s ministry, he welcomed a much more mature John Mark in his company, so obviously there was reconciliation between them.
However, I think the point needs to be made that the young man John Mark is illustrative of a type of Christian that is unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary for the kingdom of God and departs from the ministry. And as such they can cause great harm to the cause of Christ. In addition to hurting their own testimony by setting aside their calling, they also can be a source of great discouragement, even to the pastors of the church themselves. I must confess I am so very often dismayed by young people falling away from the fervency of the ministry in favor of pursuing the desires of the flesh. I would to God that we had a few men who are more like Timothy, that served God from their youth and matured to be great men of God. But I’m afraid that so many today seem to fall victim to the appeal of the ungodly culture. And obviously, that sin is nothing new. It seems to have happened in the case of John Mark. And it seems to be flourishing today in our times as well. As mature Christians, we need to do all we can to try to encourage and strengthen the next generation so that they do not fall into the temptation of the world.
So skipping all the logistics, we find Paul and Barnabas in Pisidian Antioch, which is a town in Galatia rather than the Antioch of Syria you are probably more familiar with. And on the Sabbath day they go to a local synagogue and are seated most likely in the seat reserved for rabbis. Paul would have qualified for that position. And there was a certain order of service that was followed in the Sabbath meetings which is helpful for us to understand.
Notice vs. 15 says that after reading the law and the prophets. Now this wasn’t just a haphazard approach. But rather the Jews had a schedule for scripture readings that was practiced every Sabbath. The law which was read indicated the entire Pentateuch, broken down into 53 sections. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were divided up so one section was read each week so that the entire Pentateuch was read through in a year’s time. And then following that there was read a corresponding section from the Prophets. Now commentators tell us that because of this schedule they can pinpoint exactly what passages were read on that occasion, even though Luke doesn’t specify them.
But I don’t offer that as an interesting tidbit just to teach you some neat little historical fact so you can impress people at some Bible study some day. The point I want to make is that Paul preaches his message as an exposition based on the very scriptures they had just read. I believe that what we have recorded here is actually just a synopsis or outline of Paul’s message. The opening words of Paul refer to Deuteronomy 1-3 and that would have been the law section for the forty-fourth Sabbath in the year, which fell in July or August; and the corresponding passage from the prophets being Isaiah 1:1-27, from which he also preaches. He starts, as was the apostle’s tradition, from the Old Testament scriptures as the text of his sermon.
I happened to listen to a sermon by a very close friend of mine the other day who is also a pastor of a fairly good sized church. And as I listened to him, I was struck by the fact that he began his message without any Biblical context at all. He just started talking about some topical thing going on in the culture. At one point about 15 minutes into his message, he gave a vague mention of a brief verse of scripture which he did not quote or give a reference for. At the 25 minute mark, he sort of paraphrased the first part the first sentence from Genesis 1:1. And at about the 35 minute mark, I cut it off. Folks, if we should attempt to preach without the scriptures as our guide, then we foolishly rush in where angels fear to tread. Paul preached expositionally, and that should be our example in the church as well.
So when they had read the passages of scripture, they invited Paul to speak. Now this was the normal order of their service. I suppose that they started out with 45 minutes from the praise band, accompanied by an interpretive dance number, and then followed that with a skit, you know one of those pantomime kinds where no one speaks, and then they showed a video clip of their mission trip, and finally Paul got up and cracked a few jokes for 15 minutes and closed with a heartwarming story. No, I don’t think that is what the text tells us. They read the scriptures and Paul stood up and preached from the scriptures. How antiquated.
Note also that Paul, like Peter and Stephen before him, preached the gospel from the Old Testament. Today we tend to think that the Old Testament needs be done away with in favor of the New. But in fact, 2Tim. 3:16 says all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
So Paul starts out by prefacing his exposition by stating the historical context for the text. His text is mentioned in vs. 18, which says “For a period of about forty years He put up with them in the wilderness.” And the translation of the words “put up” is an unfortunate rendering. Because where Paul gets this idea is from Duet. 1:31 which was the text which was read in the law. And that text speaks of God providing for His people all during that time, nurturing them, as a man might bear his son. Listen to how the Deuteronomy text reads, Deut. 1:30 “The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place. But for all this, you did not trust the LORD your God.”
The text in Deuteronomy is talking about the rebellion of Israel, God’s chosen people and how God carried them even though they rejected the sovereign rule of God. Please understand something. The children of Israel were supposed to be a foreshadow of the church. Old Testament Israel is not one dispensation which did not work out so it was thrown away and in it’s place the church was placed and we don’t have any relevance to the Old Testament nation of Israel. On the contrary. It was a picture, a foreshadowing of the church. God dwelled in the midst of them in the Holy of Holies, just as God dwells in the hearts of His church today. So what happened to Israel serves as a lesson for us. Israel, from the very beginning rejected God’s rule, as Paul illustrates in his message.
Paul goes on to say that for about 450 years God put up with them, God nurtured them, proving Himself to them over and over, rebuking them at times, even causing many of them to die in the wilderness because of their unbelief, but being patient towards them, that they might know the good news of His promises to them. Then after that, Paul reminds them that they were given the judges up until the time of Samuel. Then came the climax to their rebellion. They asked for a king like the nations of the heathen. God was supposed to be their king. They lived in a theocracy. But after hundreds of years of God’s kindness and providence towards them, they rejected the rule of God over them and asked for a human king.
The heart of God concerning this rebellion is found in the text from the Prophets that was read before Paul’s message. It is found in Isaiah 1. I’ll read just a few of the verses there to give you a taste of what the scripture said concerning Israel’s rebellion. “Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me.
An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know,
My people do not understand. Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him. Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah. What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? Says the LORD. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies-- I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, says the LORD, Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Oh, what a contemporary warning for the church, is it not? The Lord said, I hate iniquity in your solemn assemblies. When you spread your hands in prayer, I will not listen. Wash and make yourselves clean. Remove the evil deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil and do good. That isn’t a message preached very often today is it? If you continue to rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. This idea that we can sin and get away with it is not a Biblical principle ladies and gentlemen. To rebel is as the sin of witchcraft. To call sin good, and good sin, is to rebel against the word of the Lord. It’s to lie against the truth, and it is time for judgment to begin with the house of God. I fear for the greater church today in America which is lying and subverting the truth of God’s word for a PC version dictated by the culture.
Well, Paul says that Israel continued to rebel by asking for a king, so God gave them a king, he gave them Saul. Saul was a man that people admired. He was good looking. He was tall and handsome and looked like a king. But his heart was not right with God and he rebelled against God’s word. So God removed him from power and gave the kingdom to David, a man after His own heart.
David sinned grievously in the sight of God, but David also repented with a broken and contrite heart which God did not despise. The great danger to the church is not that we sin, but that we desire to justify our sin, as Saul did in his rebellion. We want to say that what God declared as sin is not really sin.
Paul shows a contrast between the rebellion of King Saul, and the willingness to do the Lord’s will of King David. David was called a man after God’s own heart. He had faults; he committed sin; but who does not sin? He was guilty of great offences; but he also evidenced sincere, humble repentance, and consequently God forgave Him.
Then Paul uses David to introduce Jesus, saying in vs. 23, “From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” To an Israelite, they looked for the promise of the coming Messiah to be a King, the son of King David, who would restore unto Israel the former glories. But Paul shows that the Messiah is not only to be King, but a Savior, to restore man to his former glory with God before the fall.
To see Christ as King and not Savior was to miss the purpose of the Messiah and the point of salvation. And just as grave an error can be made in reverse, which is to see Christ as Savior and not King. The Jews were guilty of the first error, and the church guilty of the second. We live without regard for the fact that Christ is King over all.
Hence it is necessary in order to receive Him as Savior that there would first be a baptism of repentance. The baptism of repentance; so it is called in Matthew 3:2; repentance being a precondition to receive the mercies of God in Christ resulting in eternal life. Faith is the outcome of repentance. One cannot exist without the other. To think faith is simply believing in the existence of God or Jesus Christ is to say that the Jews who witnessed Jesus’ life were already saved. Believing in God doesn’t save you. James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!”
Believing in Christ unto salvation requires first repentance, acknowledgement that you are a sinner, without hope, lost, and being willing to give your life completely to the charge and care of God so that you might be changed. It requires a change of direction. Salvation is not adding religion to your life. It is not adding some Jesus to your life. But it is dying to your old life, and being given new life in Christ so that we might live for Him.
That is why Paul points out in his sermon that before Christ could come, John the Baptist came and preached baptism of repentance. Matt. 3:6 speaking of John the Baptist: “And [they]were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.” Lots of churches practice baptism today, don’t they? Some may sprinkle, some may dunk, we go out in the surf. But do they teach that baptism is a mark or sign of repentance? That we bury the old man in the water, and the new man is raised out of the water? That is repentance, ladies and gentlemen. It is not feeling sorry you got caught. It is not feeling emotional, or weepy when you hear that Jesus suffered on the cross for you. It is coming to the point of dying to sin. Dying to the world. Dying to your will. And being raised up in newness of life. Old things are passed away, all things become new. And by the way, how does an infant confess their sins when they are baptized? I don’t think they can. You need to be baptized as a sign that you have repented and are saved, not as a means of salvation.
Paul then gets to the heart of the gospel message, and that is it is for you who fear God. Vs. 26. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We fear God because we know that we are sinful, we know the depravity of our sin, and we know the judgment that God promises towards those who rebel against His word. The gospel is for the lost. Jesus said I came to seek and to save those that are lost. Not those that are satisfied, those that are self righteous, those that claim to be religious. But to save those that recognize that they are lost.
Then referring back to the prophets, Paul says that the rulers in Jerusalem unwittingly fulfilled those prophecies, by putting Jesus to death. Though they found no fault in Him, yet they persuaded Pilate to execute Him. But though the rulers of the Jews condemned Jesus, God proved Christ’s righteousness by raising Him from the dead. God proved not only His righteousness, but also His divinity.
So Paul quotes Psalm 2 to prove that Jesus Christ was not only the promised King and the Savior of the world, but also the very Son of God. Vs. 33, quoting Psalm 2, “YOU ARE MY SON; TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU.” And also he quotes Psalm 16:10 in which Christ is called by God “My Holy One.”
Paul uses these Psalms of David to show that it could not of been of David himself that it was written, because David was buried and his body underwent decay. But Christ who was raised from the dead so that His body did not suffer corruption. Vs. 36 "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers and underwent decay; but He whom God raised did not undergo decay.”
And I would also point out that years later Paul would write in 1Cor. 15:23 that Christ is the first fruits of those that are Christ’s. Meaning, that we that are saved will have the same benefits of Christ. As Paul said in our text, the holy and sure blessings of David. Which are spoken of again in Romans 8:11 which says, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”
The point being, that as Christ was raised, so we too will be raised to eternal life. But not only after we fall asleep in Christ, but also it has import on how we live in this present life. As Matthew Henry said, “Our complete separation from sin, is represented by our being buried with Christ. But he rose again from the dead, and saw no corruption: this was the great truth to be preached.”
The great reformation theologian John Calvin said something similar; “Because we have the truth hereof in Christ, whilst that being buried together with him we put off the old man; therefore the old figure is past.” What that means in layman’s terms is that the promise of Christ is for you as well, that promise of not seeing corruption; both the eternal corruption of the dead, and the practical corruption of the living. Salvation frees us from not only the penalty of sin, but the power of sin. Sin no longer has power over us if we have died to sin, buried it in the baptism of repentance. So that we might no longer live to sin, but live to Christ. That is the promise of salvation, that we might be freed from the corruption that is in the world. In fact, that is one of the great benefits of the church to the world; that we are the salt of the earth. We are the salt that prevents total corruption on the part of a dead and dying world. But let us remember what Jesus said about that salt in Matt. 5:13 "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.” Beware Christian, that you do not lose your saltiness. You are the light of the world. Therefore, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
The final point of Paul’s message is the great invitation to be saved. Vs. 38 "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.” Notice that Paul repeats “to you”, “to you” and says, “everyone who believes.” The good news of salvation is given to you, to everyone who will believe. It is not exclusively a Jewish religion. It is not only for the righteous. But salvation is freely given and paid for with the blood of Jesus Christ to whosoever will call upon His name.
However as I said at the beginning, the gospel of salvation is a double edged sword; it cuts both ways. It saves on one side, and condemns on the other. Because as Paul indicates, some will be scoffers, some will not believe, and they will surely perish as the former prophecy of Isaiah warned they would. The same Messiah King who came the first time as a Savior will return the second time as a Judge. And woe is he who disregards His sacrifice for sin and continues in his rebellion.
Well, that is Paul’s first sermon, what was the response on the part of the congregation? I would suggest that it was pretty typical of the gospel message as it is preached everywhere. There were some who were excited about it and asked for Paul to preach again the next week. And then after the meeting was over their were some that followed Paul and Barnabas. That means that they became disciples. You know being saved is not the end, it is the beginning. It is beginning a new life in Christ in which you walk after the Spirit. It is becoming a disciple, a follower of Christ. And that is why in vs. 43 Paul was urging them to continue in the grace of God. What does that mean, to continue in the grace of God? Well, it means to continue to follow Christ, to walk as Christ walked.
You know I was talking to a young person the other day and we got on the subject of Buddhism. And this young person was sort of complimentary about the nature of Buddhism. The proponents of that religion seemed to them to try to be nice people, they didn’t hurt animals, they didn’t believe in war, they tried to meditate and be kind and pursue peace. It sounds good, but I tried to explain that this religion had no real hope for the afterlife. The best that they could really hope for was to find some sort of transcendent state where they blocked out reality and found some sort of tranquility by eliminating all physical distractions, pain, loss, hunger, sleep or whatever. Just training themselves to block out reality. And I tried to point out the hopelessness of that existence, because all that stuff is still there when you come out of your meditation.
But then I tried to point out to this young person that if the church was keeping the commandments of Christ, then we would be the type of people that the world would admire, like they admired the Buddhists. We would not only be able to offer them hope for eternal life, but we could offer a better existence here as well. If we truly loved our enemies as Christ taught, if we forgave those who mistreated us, if we gave to them that needed, if we did onto others as we would have them do to us. If we loved one another. If we served one another. I’m not talking about replacing the gospel of salvation from sin for a social gospel of doing charitable deeds and yet neglecting their salvation. But I am saying that the response of salvation is to do works that glorify God. That we might be a light to the world. As Paul said, to continue in the grace of God. As God gave you grace, show grace. Continue in it.
Back in our text, the Jews saw a crowd coming to synagogue the next Sabbath to hear Paul and Barnabas and got jealous. So they stirred up some people and started contradicting what Paul was preaching. They were even blaspheming. I think that still happens today, people get jealous of our preaching and so that start backbiting and contradicting our teaching to keep others from coming to Christ.
Well Paul got wind of it and he never was one to mince words. Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.’”
Then he and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet in protest and left town for Iconium. See when the Israelites had to go over pagan territory outside of the nation of Israel they didn’t even want the dirt from that country to be carried on their shoes into Israel. So they would make a big deal about stopping on the border and taking off their sandals and dumping the sand out of them before going into Israel. Because they thought they were righteous and everyone else was heathen. So Paul and Barnabas turn the tables on them. As they are leaving town, they stop and shake the dust off their feet, indicating the were leaving the town of the heathen unbelievers. Jesus said in Mark 6:11, "Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them."
Well, Paul laid out the gospel pretty clearly. I cannot improve upon it. I would just remind you in closing of the choice that he laid before you. To believe in Christ as King, as Savior and as the Holy One of God and in repentance and faith receive the forgiveness of sins. Or to reject Jesus as King, as Savior and as your God and continue in self righteousness and rebellion. One way leads to life incorruptible, one way leads to death and decay. To you the gospel has been preached. To you the choice is given. I hope that you will turn from your sins and trust in Christ as your Savior today.
Sunday, July 12, 2015
Last week we looked at government’s attack upon the church as evidenced in chapter 12 when Herod imprisoned Peter. And through that study we understood that though governors and rulers of government are granted their authority from God, yet at the same time they are often used by the ruler of this world, Satan, to bring persecution upon the church of God.
Now this week we are looking at another passage which illustrates the two pronged strategy of Satan’s attack on the church. He uses external means, such as governments, to attack the church, but he also uses internal means to attack the church. And I would have to say that from my perspective, which is also supported by Scripture, the internal attack is more effective.
The internal attack against the church is more effective because it comes in disguise. 2Cor. 11:14 says that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. I just saw on the news that they are going to unveil a statue depicting Satan in Detroit before planning to move it to Arkansas where it will stand next to a monument of the 10 Commandments. And this statue features a man’s figure topped with a goat’s head. Satan is often portrayed in literature and art as a menacing figure. But in reality the Bible teaches just the opposite. It teaches that he was the most beautiful of all the angels that God created. So these depictions that we often see are dramatic interpretations at best, and find an audience among the naïve and superstitious.
Satan is real though, no doubt about that. But according to the Bible he would rather come in disguise than be seen as he really is. The Bible says he is a thief, and what he steals is the truth. He twists it and subverts it, yet all the while claiming that it is still the truth. And as such he is very effective. The Bible says that he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That means that he is a ravening wolf that wants to destroy the church, while pretending to be a shepherd.
Now in the new Gentile church they were seeing great ground being gained for Christ. And the beachhead of this new Gentile church is in the town of Antioch, which was also one of the most depraved cities in Roman Empire. But in spite of the depravity of that culture, there is a mighty work of God there. That illustrates the principle that God often works most mightily in those who seem the least unlikely.
And to that end, God had brought together in this church a group of men from various backgrounds and cultures to be the leadership of this new church. Now this was a Spirit led, Spirit filled church. And God presents this Gentile church to us as a template for our church today. And in the process of looking at how Satan attacks this church, we will also note the characteristics of a godly church that will not only withstand but triumph over those satanic attacks. As Jesus declared, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Yet we dare not take lightly Satan’s schemes. They are a very present and real danger to the church, and many have fallen away from the truth because of Satan’s deceptions. But if we follow the paradigm set forth here with the Antioch church, then we can be triumphant over Satan’s schemes.
The first thing we should notice about this church was that it was led by spiritually gifted men. Vs.1 lists these men. “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” It’ so obvious a point that it could easily be overlooked, but to be a church that triumphs over Satanic attacks, there needs to be the right kind of leadership.
Now though the text gives two titles, it is really just one position; prophets and teachers or you could say preachers and teachers. But though it describes two different styles of discourse, it is speaking of only one position. Today we would call that person a pastor. A pastor is a preacher/teacher. Don’t be misled by the word prophet that is found here. A prophet is simply one who proclaims the truth of God. In the case where we have the scriptures which are the inspired word of God, then we are prophets in the sense that we proclaim what God has said. In times past when there wasn’t the written word, then they spoke the words that they had been given by Christ when they followed Him as disciples, or they spoke the word of God which was being given to them directly through divine inspiration. Today we have the complete, inspired word of God written down for us. So there is no new revelation today being given through prophecy. There are no new scriptures being given. We proclaim and preach the written word of God which has been preserved for us in the Bible. So we need to understand that prophecy is not just future telling, but primarily forth telling. Proclaiming the truth of God.
That is job one of the pastor, by the way. If the pastor is not preaching the whole counsel of God as it has been given, in it’s completeness, rightly dividing the word of truth, then he is abrogating his most important responsibility of leadership. Ephesians 4 says that when Jesus ascended on high He gave to the church gifts and the first priority of those gifts were it’s leadership. Ephesians 4:11-13 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians says that these men are given to the church, to preach the word in order to build up the body, to equip the saints for the work of service, so that the church grows up to maturity and in unity of doctrine.
And we see that evidenced here in this church in Antioch. These spiritual leaders were engaged in ministering to the Lord, vs. 2. “While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting…” What does it mean to minister to the Lord? Well, it means to serve the Lord. The pastor’s job is to serve the Lord. To faithfully proclaim the message that God has given them to the people. And whoever serves in the church should do so as unto the Lord, don’t we? When I explain to a man and woman the responsibilities of marriage, I tell them that according to Ephesians 5 they are to serve one another as unto the Lord. When Ephesians 6 says to servants, or workers how they are to work for their employers, it says to do their work as unto the Lord. Children are told to obey their parents as unto the Lord. Whatever we do, we do it as unto the Lord. That is how we serve the Lord in all we do. And if you can’t do something as unto the Lord, then you need to stop doing what you’re doing.
You know, in the armed services when a soldier leaves his unit and goes off on his own, it is called going AWOL. Absent without leave. And you can be court martialed for that. And in the Christian life if you are not a part of a local body of believers, then you have gone AWOL as well. When you became a Christian you were joined to the body of Christ, and your duty is to be a part of that local body. There are no free agents in the Christian church. All are called to submit to the local authority of a church and take responsibility for the role you are given there. There is a dangerous practice emerging today of treating church like a smorgasbord, going here one week, and there another week, and failing to understand your responsibility to support a local, Bible teaching church.
But as a pastor, it’s important that we are focused on serving the Lord, not just serving the people. It’s easy to become focused on pleasing the people, thinking that in order to win them to the Lord we need to concoct all sorts of programs and devices to try to please people. But instead, we need to serve the Lord, preach and proclaim His word, and let God take care of the people’s response. It’s His word, it’s His church, and our job is to declare His word, rightly interpreting it, and teaching it, knowing that as teachers we will receive a greater judgment for what we teach or fail to teach.
Now not all programs are bad. There are some good programs that the church can do, but it may not be in the best interest of the pastor to do them if it deters him from the ministry of the word. For instance, in the beginning of the church in Jerusalem the needs of the widows was being neglected. Taking care of the widows was a good thing. But the apostles said pick 7 godly men full of the Spirit to do that, as for us, we must not neglect prayer and the ministry of the Word. That is our calling, our responsibility, and without it the church cannot survive the attacks on it by Satan.
The word minister is an interesting word which comes from the Greek word litourgeo. It was used to describe the duties of the priests that served the temple. The temple was the place where God met with His people in the Holy of Holies. It was the place where worshippers came to offer sacrifices and offerings.
I think it’s part of the diabolical plot of Satan that the word worship has been co-opted today to mean something different than the Bible teaches. Today in most churches, worship is merely singing, or listening to people sing, maybe raising or clapping your hands. And that’s it. But worship in the Bible is always pictured as coming to God in submission, bowing before Him, even prostrating oneself on the ground. And worship is always pictured in conjunction with a sacrifice. We’ve lost the sense of sacrifice today. We’ve lost the sense of coming to God with an offering, with our gifts, and with our sacrifice.
Yet these Old Testament worship rituals were not meant to be forgotten about in the new covenant, but were meant to be examples to us as pictures of how we are to worship. Today we don’t slaughter a lamb for our sins. But we should understand that Jesus was slaughtered for us on the cross so that His blood atoned for our sins. We need to understand the principle that a sacrifice cost something. Every sin in the old covenant required a sacrifice. So if I lied, I would bring a sacrifice to the temple. That dove, or that lamb cost me something. I had to watch it die in front of my eyes, so that I might understand the significance of my sin. I had to pay out of my pocket the cost of a lamb so that I might be redeemed from the penalty of that sin.
Now the New Testament teaches that by one sacrifice of Jesus Christ all my sins have been atoned for. But woe is me if I do not value the blood of Christ as much as the cost of a lamb. Heb. 10:29 “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
God still requires sacrifices from those who would worship Him. David said in Psalm 51:16-17 “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
And Romans 12:1 describes another kind of sacrifice that God desires. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” How do you offer your body as a sacrifice to God, how do you worship God? Vs. 2, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” We set ourselves apart from the world, and are transformed through renewing our mind as we are taught the scripture and apply them to our lives, so that we might do the will of God.
There is another aspect of their ministry, not only the preaching of the word, but the ministry of prayer. They were fasting and praying. Fasting is often misunderstood. It’s not a means of twisting God’s arm. I don’t think God cares if I eat chocolate for a month or not, or if I swear off ice cream for 40 days. But what God does care about is my heart. If the desire of my heart is to hear from God, to know the will of God, then God is pleased with that. And one way that we manifest that desire is that we shun our physical needs for the sake of our greater spiritual need. Our desire to hear from God is greater than our desire for food. Fasting is an indication the fervency of your prayers.
I asked last week, how often do you pray intensely? How many times have you prayed all night long for something or someone? How many times in the last week or month have you prayed for a solid hour? I’m not suggesting a legalistic approach to prayer or fasting. I’m just suggesting that if you want to hear from God, then you need to become someone who is willing to forsake the world and even your physical needs in order to be able to pray effectively. We need to set aside time for prayer.
Well, these pastors were in the habit of praying and fasting. They were in the habit of daily ministering to the Lord, of daily preaching and teaching in the church. And in the process of doing that, God speaks to them. We aren’t told if it was audible, or in a vision, or if He spoke to one or all of them. But somehow, Luke tells us, the Holy Spirit said to them, “set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” To set apart is to separate. Church leadership should of all people be an example of being separate unto the Lord. He’s not talking about joining a convent or going into a monastery. He is talking about separating from the world to perform a particular work of God. To be unique, set apart, for a specific task. It means to be consecrated to a holy purpose, as a chosen vessel for God’s use. Whether you are called to be a pastor or whatever position God has called you to in the church, we are to be consecrated to that responsibility, holy as unto the Lord.
And then we see that the church supported them. The church laid their hands on Barnabas and Saul to show solidarity with them. Laying on hands did not somehow elevate them to another level or confer some gift to them. But what it did was show affirmation with what the Holy Spirit had already indicated. The Holy Spirit called them and set them apart. The church simply confirmed the call of the Holy Spirit.
Listen, this is important; pastors are called by God, not by men. Not by seminaries. Not by denominational boards. God calls a man to ministry, not a church board. The worst thing possible for most churches is to convene a pastor search committee made up of the most diverse members of the congregation and give them the authority to hire a pastor. The pastor is not a hireling. He is the undershepherd of Christ and called by Him, gifted by Him, and given to the church by Him. No wonder the church en large is in such disarray today. Some poor guy was hired by a committee based on his looks, his personality and his wife’s wardrobe. I can promise you this, in most evangelical churches today the Apostle Paul would never get the call from the pastor search committee. He just wasn’t funny enough. He didn’t make people laugh. He didn’t look very cool on stage. He was a bent over old Jewish guy with a bald head and a beak nose. And on top of that he had this really sickening eye disease that caused his eyes to discharge corruption all the time. Remember what the church at Corinth said about Paul? 2Cor. 10:10 "His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible." Sounds like what they say about me. “Oh yeah, Roy preaches the word of God, but he isn’t very uplifting. I want someone who makes me feel good about myself. I want someone to make me laugh.” Well, take it up with God. God wrote His word, I just declare it.
I want to say something else about the calling. In the lineup of pastors in Antioch, Barnabas was listed first, and Saul was listed last. But when God calls two men, he calls Barnabas and Saul. Now Saul has been working with Barnabas for a while now, possibly several years. And up to this point he did nothing noteworthy. Nothing has been extraordinary about him. Considering his background, he probably was not the sort of guy that you wanted to promote to a major position in the church. After all, he used to persecute Christians. And if you really wanted to attract the best people in society to the church, then you should really consider Manaen. He was the foster brother of King Herod. Talk about connections. He had a royal upbringing. He knew people that could bankroll the church. He was educated in the finest schools. He would have been the most likely candidate.
But God called Saul. And this is the last time that he is called Saul. From now on he will be called Paul. I believe this is when Saul is elevated to the position of an Apostle by the Holy Spirit. You know after Judas killed himself, the apostles promoted Matthais to his position. Perhaps now that the Apostle James has been martyred as we saw in the last chapter, Paul has been promoted by the Spirit to take his place and to particularly be the apostle to the Gentiles. But unfortunately, we get the sense from Paul’s epistles that he is always having to defend his apostleship. The greater church at large did not seem to give him the respect that he deserved. But at least from our standpoint in history we can be assured that Paul was perhaps the greatest of all the apostles, though at the time he was considered the least. God often uses the weak things to confound the mighty.
Now a lot of what we have covered concerning the church of Antioch has focused on the leadership of the church. And leadership is important because as go the leaders, so go the church. They are to be the examples to the flock under them. Notice that the church sends Barnabas and Saul out in vs. 3, and then in vs. 4 it says the Spirit sent them out. The Holy Spirit uses people to work His will. We don’t just sit back and wait for the Spirit to do everything, but we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do what the Spirit tells us to do. That’s the way the Spirit works.
But now let’s turn our attention to the satanic attack against the church and see how the leadership responds. Barnabas and Paul start out at one end of the island of Cyprus and work their way across, going from synagogue to synagogue preaching the gospel. This is going to be the pattern for Paul as he goes on all subsequent missionary journeys. He looks for Jews first, many times going to the local synagogue where God fearing Jews would gather and there he would preach the gospel. Then from there he would branch out to the Gentiles. But his pattern according to the pattern of scripture, is that the gospel would be given to the Jews first.
So when they got to Pathos, word of their ministry had obviously spread and even the governor of the district had heard about them. In fact, he wanted to hear more about the gospel. So he invited Barnabas and Paul to come preach to him. But there was a man with the proconsul or governor called Bar-Jesus who Luke tells us was a false prophet. He was a Jew, but he practiced magic. This indicates that he claimed to be able to foretell future events by means of the stars or some other form of divination. And the text tells us that he was opposing Paul’s message to the governor, trying to turn him away from the faith. To keep him from being saved.
Now let’s notice a couple of things about this guy Bar-Jesus. That’s his Hebrew name, by the way. His Roman name was Elymas. But let’s focus on his Hebrew name, Bar-Jesus. His name means son of Jesus, or son of salvation. Now Luke tells us that he is a magician. You know, I can’t help but see a parallel here between the man called Simon Magus who was rebuked by the Apostle Peter earlier in our study of Acts and this man. Both were considered magicians. And both had a reputation in the district as a man of wisdom, a man who could do wonderful things by some magic power which we are told was satanic in origin and both opposed the apostles teaching. And what that tells me is that Satan uses the same strategies in the church over and over again. There is nothing new under the sun. Satan just repackages the same deceiving strategies for each generation and passes them off as something new when it’s the same old tricks.
Remember the verse I quoted at the beginning that said Satan disguises himself as an angel of light? Well, here he is in the person of this magician, this trickster, and yet he calls himself the son of salvation. He pretends to be an angel of light. A messenger of salvation but actually he is deceiving the people and trying to prevent this proconsul from becoming a Christian.
And here is another interesting principle. As soon as an unsaved person seeks to hear the gospel, Satan has one of his false prophets right there to try to deceive and trick them. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this worked out in the church. I’ve seen young men who couldn’t find a girl to save their life, one day start to show some interest in salvation and suddenly they are the like a contestant on the most eligible bachelor or something. They suddenly get a girlfriend. And off they go, forgetting all about the need to get right with God.
Or I’ve seen someone come under conviction by the Holy Spirit, and before they can come to a place of confession they talk to someone else who convinces them that what they really need to do is go to Catechism class. And so they spend six weeks in Catechism class and come out a better Catholic, but still unsaved. However, now they feel a lot better about themselves. They got religion.
So here is this false prophet, opposing the witness of God’s true prophets Paul and Barnabas. Trying to turn this man away from the truth. Listen, this is the greatest danger to the church. The greatest danger to the church is not the homosexual agenda. Not the liberal media. Not the abortion advocates. Not the political liberals. No, the biggest threat to the church is from within, from false prophets masquerading as angels of light, pretending to be shepherds, when in fact they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. And their purpose is to ravage the church. 1Tim. 4:1 says, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
I tell you, if I had no other witness that we were in the last days, it would be the fact that many have fallen away from the true faith, by paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons which run rampant in the church.
God gave me a verse of scripture when He called me to be a preacher of the gospel. It is found in 2Tim. 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” And so I have attempted to do that for the last 9 years. But over that time I have seen many people who claimed to be saved turn away from the gospel I preach for another gospel. And the next verse in 2Tim. 4, vs. 3 explains why that happens. It says, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” And I would not be so concerned if that was where it ended. They go their way and I go mine. But that is not the way it works. Many of them go out of their way to try to keep others from coming to the knowledge of the truth. They cause others to stumble by their rebellion and by deliberately trying to turn them away from the truth, just as Bar-Jesus did.
I wish I was as bold as Paul was in confronting that sort of thing. But then again, I’m not Paul. But what Paul teaches us is that the way to deal with false prophets is to call them out. To unmask their hypocrisy. To uncover their deceit. See the devil loves to stay in disguise. But Paul calls him out and he doesn’t mince any words.
First of all Paul fixes his eyes on him. I have to laugh at that one. I have a bad habit of locking eyes with one person sometimes when I am preaching. Especially on Wednesday nights. And it’s not because I’m trying to give them the stink eye or something. It’s usually because they are the only one in the congregation that is brave enough to look at me. Everyone else tries to hide behind a lamp or something. So the poor guy that is willing to look at me gets locked on like a laser beam and I stay on him all night. But Paul isn’t doing that. I think Paul just locks his gaze on him in order to make sure this false prophet gets the full intent of his message.
And so Paul, full of the Holy Spirit, note that. He’s not full of vitriol. He is full of the Holy Spirit. It’s the word of the Holy Spirit that condemns this man, not Paul. He says, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” I love that. Starts off by calling him a deceit and a fraud. You promise people life but only bring about death. You promise people truth and give them a lie. That is what false prophets do.
And then he says he is the son of the devil. Remember his name was son of Jesus, or son of salvation, but Paul says no, you are a son of the devil. The enemy of all righteousness. Will you not stop making crooked the straight ways of the Lord?
And then notice the curse. I don’t have the power to curse anyone. I don’t think anyone does. But God does. And so filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking by the power of the Spirit the words of God, Paul pronounces a curse upon this man. “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.”
Now as I’ve said many times recently, very often a miracle in the physical realm is a picture of a spiritual reality. This man was blinded in order to demonstrate the spiritual blindness that such false prophets cause. I believe that is what is presented here. False prophets cause spiritual blindness because they hide the light of the gospel. Satan wants to keep men in darkness. And so God blinds him that he might be seen as a leader of the blind, the blind leading the blind.
But that wasn’t the victory of the church. Damning the lost is not the triumph of the church. The triumph of the church is winning the lost. The gates of hell, the minions of the devil, cannot stop the gospel from winning the lost. We are in a war, but not against flesh and blood, but against angels, against angelic powers and principalities. But we do not war with weapons of carnal warfare. We war in the power of the Spirit, by the ministry of the word and with prayer. And in that manner we see the victory in this passage. “Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.”
That is how we triumph over Satan as a church. Winning one soul at a time. Robbing hell of it’s citizens and making them disciples of Christ. We faithfully follow godly pastors who preach the word of the Lord. Who rightly divide the word of truth and who reveal false teaching for what it is. We pray earnestly and intensely for the ministry and seek the Lord’s guidance and counsel in all that we do. And in that manner we defeat the schemes of the devil. Because greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world. When the church is set apart unto Christ, worshipping and serving Him in Spirit and in truth, then we can be confident that He will preserve and defend His church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.