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Battlefield Soul

Date: Mar. 23, 2014

Author: Bob Henkins

Acts 13:1-12

Key Verse: Acts 13:12

“When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. 

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan” Tom Hanks character was given the task to go across enemy lines to save the last Ryan boy after two others had been killed in battle. Throughout the move Hanks and his men fight many battles as the search the countryside for private Ryan. Finally he finds the soldier but they are being heavily attacked by German soldiers. In the battle, Tom Hank’s character is mortally wounded and as he lays dying he doesn’t want to give up the fight even though they are out gunned. He wants to complete his mission and save private Ryan and I remember this scene as Hanks is sitting against a wall and all he has left is his pistol and he keeps shoots as a German tank is coming up on him. Eventually he runs out of ammo and at the last moment American fighter planes swoop in and take out the advancing army. It’s a heart moving scene as one fellow soldier is willing to give his life in order to save his brother. In today’s passage we come across a battle as well. But this one is different. This is not a battle against flesh and blood, although that exists, this is a spiritual battle, the battle for a man’s soul. Let’s see what happens.

The first time we saw the Antioch church in chapter 11, it was just starting out. Barnabas had come to check it out and confirmed that indeed the spirit of God was there and working among the Gentiles. He left and brought back Saul and they stayed there and taught the Bible. Over the course of time, the Antioch church matured and now it was going to reproduce. This is what healthy churches do, they are planted, grow and reproduce. Take a look at verse 1. “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.” Even though Antioch was a young church, it was full of spirit. They had teachers and prophets. They say that every prophet was a teacher, but not every teacher is a prophet. And look at the diversity of their group. Barnabas was from Cyprus, Simeon had a nick name Niger, which meant black. This leads us to believe that he was from Africa. (kind of a rude nick name – wouldn’t fly today) Then there was Lucius who was from Cyrene, North Africa. And also Manaen, who had high political contacts for he had been raised with Herod the tetrarch, otherwise known as Herod Antipas. He is the same guy that was responsible for beheading John the Baptist and treating Jesus badly during his trial. This is not the same Herod that was in last week’s passage, this is another one. (There are so many Herods, they are like cockroaches ) They say that Manaen was actually Herod’s step brother. What’s interesting to me, is to see how two brothers can grow up under nearly the same circumstances and yet end up so different. One becomes a disciple and the other becomes godless. What Jesus said was true, people will be divided, one will believe and another will not. (Lk 12:49-53) And lastly there is Saul who was from Jerusalem. He almost gets lost in the mention. However he will not remain last for long for in this chapter we see a change in him. Not only is the Antioch church growing but Saul is growing too.

Even though these men were from different backgrounds, they worked together as one unit serving the work of God. Usually people like to stick with their own kind, they are more comfortable that way. But here they are, and they’re working well too. This is the grace of God. I believe the reason that they were so united was because they were focused on the word of God. As Bible teachers, they had to be. How could they teach if they weren’t? And when they had a Biblical foundation, they were humble and could work well together. Our church is similar to Antioch, if you just look around, we see many people from different backgrounds and yet we are all here as one body. I only hope and pray that God may bless us to work as well together as the Antioch church did.

Another reason I think that they could work so well together was that they sincerely worshipped God. Take a look at verses 2-3. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” It is clear that the Antioch church worshipped God. They made it a point to come together and exalt God and pour out their love for Him. Sometimes we forget that the primary reason we get together is to worship God. If you come on Sunday and don’t have the desire to worship and praise God, or if you lack passion and feel like you have to come, then there is something wrong. And if that’s the case, then I pray for your heart to be revived because worshipping God must be our primary motive.

Another reason they were united is because they sincerely sought God will and direction. As they worshipped God they were also fasting. This shows that they were seeking God’s will and direction for their lives and ministry. Fasting intensifies prayer. When regular activities, like eating are suspended, this shows God that you’re serious about prayer. And the amazing thing is that God answered their prayer on the spot. He sent the Holy Spirit to them with a message, to set aside Barnabas and Saul for his special purpose. They became like an elite spiritual Seal Team set aside for God’s special operations.

Have you ever wondered, “How come God doesn’t give me direction like he did to Barnabas and Saul?” Sometimes I wonder about that. But maybe God doesn’t answer because he knows that we would not be willing to do what he commands. For if we have God’s word in the Bible, and we’re not following it, what’s the point in giving further direction? Are we suddenly going to start to obey that? We start with obeying what God tells us in the Bible and then he will inspire and instruct us after that. I believe the reason we see God’s spirit here with Barnabas and Saul is because they were willing to obey God’s direction when he gave it to them. We can see it. As soon as they stopped their prayer, Barn and Saul were set off on their way. I think that through the study of God’s word, their hearts were ready to obey God’s commands. On the other hand some of us are stubbornly refusing to obey God even in the simplest commands. We can’t be stiff necked people if we want to hear God’s voice. We must be willing to obey God and that has to start with what we learn in his word. We must be people of integrity and even when no one else is watching us, we still do what is right in God’s sight.

At this point a question naturally arises, how does a person become equipped for God’s work? If you want to be successful in carrying out anything, you have to be equipped and prepared. When the Navy sends out the Seal Teams, you can bet your life that they have been well trained beforehand because if they weren’t they might not return. It’s the same with doing God’s work. We have to be trained first otherwise we can’t be effective. Saul tells us how he was equipped to do God’s work, he said, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching,  rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3) The secret to Saul’s training was Bible study. This equipped and prepared his mind and heart to face any situation. Once the Seal Teams finish their training and have been prepared, they wait for their orders from their commander. For Barnabas and Saul, Bible study was their basic training and prayer, fasting and worship was their commander’s direction.

I can imagine the conversation between Barnabas and Saul after this prayer session went something like this.

Barnabas: “Saul, God set us apart and called us to go.”                     

Saul: “Go where?”

Barnabas: “I don’t know he wasn’t specific. I think it’s to the Gentiles.”

Saul: “Ok, where?”

Barnabas: “Good question, I don’t’ know. Again he wasn’t specific.”

Saul: “I’m ready whenever you are.”

Barnabas: “I know, let’s head to Cyprus, I have family there that needs to hear about Jesus.”

Take a look at verses 4-5. “The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.” Barnabas and Saul picked up a helper on their way. His name was John (he was also called Mark) Most likely he came with Barnabas from Jerusalem. If you remember earlier in our study of Acts, the early church met in the house of John’s mother. They landed on the eastern side of Cyprus and worked their way westward. And wherever they went, they proclaimed the word of God. This is good, but there was a problem. The text tells us that they were again sticking to the Jewish synagogues when they have been called to the Gentiles. So again the Holy Spirit intervenes and leads them to the Gentile proconsul. (v7) This is where things start to get interesting.

Take a look at verses 6-7. “They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus,who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.” Barnabas and Saul were summoned to the proconsul. The proconsul was appointed by the Roman Senate, so this guy had connections that went way up, maybe even to the emperor. Even though Barnabas and Saul were rookie missionaries, not really knowing what they were doing, we can see God’s leading all along the way. This should give us comfort, when we are willing to follow God, even though we might not be sure of all the details, God is there to help us. But that doesn’t mean everything goes smooth and easy. Because were we find the work of God, Satan is there trying to stop it and lurking in the background is Satan’s little helper a sorcerer by the name of Bar-Jesus, which had the meaning “son of the savior,” kind of an ironic name, right? It was more of a strategic name designed to lead people astray. During that period, people knew that the Jews were the ones who were entrusted with the word of God, and since Bar-Jesus was a Jew, people were more opt to believe him in spiritual matters. They didn’t have the internet back then, so they couldn’t just Google it to find out what was going on. They didn’t even have Bibles at that time, so Bar-Jesus, false prophet & sorcerer, could say whatever he wanted and thus people could become easy pickings for him. Bar-Jesus had latched on to Sergius Paulus and became his personal attendant.

The battlefield has been set. The opposing armies take their positions. And as Barnabas and Saul make their move Bar-Jesus counter attacks, take a look at verse 8. “But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.” Elymas felt threatened and he should be. He was prepared to do whatever he could in order to keep Sergius Paulus from believing in the real Jesus, the Son of God. At first, we are tempted to think that this is a battle of personalities, or a battle between men, but it’s not, it goes MUCH bigger than that. Whether you know it or not, there is a spiritual war going on, between good and evil, light and dark, God and the devil, Satan. And we happen to be in the middle of it. God is all powerful, and Satan knows that he cannot stand against God. Even though he knows this, still he doesn’t give up and does whatever he can to attack God. But since he is powerless against Almighty God, the only way he can hurt God is to attack God’s children. If Satan can drive a wedge between God and his children, and turn them against their Heavenly Father, that makes God’s heart ache, just as it would any parent. Imagine if you’re child said to you, “I hate you,” how much would that hurt? So you and I, and all God’s children, are stuck in the middle of this huge spiritual war, where the only casualties are those who fall under Satan’s influence. It is “Battlefield Soul,” the battle for each person’s soul and it has eternal consequences. This is why it is SO important that every person be prepared, because if you’re not, you’re dead.

Now as Barnabas and Saul square off against Bar-Jesus, it could be a scary time for them because here they are, on the enemies home base, where no one really knows them and Bar-Jesus has influence over the proconsul. But take a look at what happens in 9-12. “Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.” Suddenly Saul steps forward. All this time he was in the background, Barnabas was the leader. Barnabas was a man of encouragement and so important to God’s work. Without someone like him, it couldn’t be done, or at least it would be severely hindered. But what was needed at this time was someone stronger, a warrior, someone who could lead the charge, and not be afraid of the enemy. God has given each of us different gifts to be used in carrying out his mission. Just as an army is not made up of just foot soldiers, there are para-troopers, scouts re-con, artillery, tanks, its not just one kind, they need all kinds to get the job done. It’s the same in God’s army. And what was needed now, was a fearless warrior, like Saul. And notice his name change here. From this point on Saul will be known as Paul. There is a maturing that takes place, Saul is growing into the kind of man God created him to be. And we see a transition within the leadership as Paul assumes command because it is a spiritual war and not really the place for an encourager, but a fighter.

Paul stands up to Elymas and he looks him straight in the eye and attacks him with the spirit of God. There is no fear in Paul. There is no mistaking his intension. He is not sneaking around, he brings it out in the open and challenges Satan to a battle. This is not something you want to do unless you are full of the Holy Spirit, someone tries to do it later on in the book of Acts and they end up naked and bleeding. That’s not the case with Paul here. He is on fire with the spirit of God and he is not backing down. Why? Because of his heart for God’s children. He sees people as Jesus saw them, as sheep without a shepherd. He has love and compassion for them and he does not want to see them lost to Satan’s deception. He is not condemning but compassionate. Sometimes we have to be a soldier, sometimes we have to be a shepherd, whatever the situation needs, but we must always have the spirit of God.

Since we are in this battle for souls, God wants to raise up people who are not afraid to stand on his side, willing to fight the battle. The proconsul had spiritual desire. It was small, like a young plant, fragile, and it needed to be protected because Satan’s agent was there trying to crush it. Paul had to come to his defense. Satan wants to distract us anyway he can, on the other hand God is calling on us to rescue the perishing. To God, one person is so important. Who knows the plan God has for each of us. We may think that one person doesn’t mean much but who remembers the name of the person that introduced Billy Graham to Jesus? Or D. L. Moody, George Whitfield, Hudson Taylor, the list goes on and on. They were just one person and yet they impacted the world. We must have a heart for everyone we meet. Who knows how our influence will impact them. I pray that God may make you a successful commander in the battle for souls.

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