The Holy Spirit is the personal Spirit of the Father and the Son. He is not an impersonal force. He leads the Church in fierce and zealous obedience. He is God’s fiery love and fellowship, and the center of His power is in the Word.
The Text: “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul…” (Acts 13:1-13)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Luke records five men who were prophets and teachers in Antioch, and as they ministered to the Lord, the Holy Spirit made it clear that Barnabas and Saul needed to be sent out to preach (Acts 13:1-2). The Holy Spirit sent them first to Seleucia and Cyprus, through the prayers and laying on of hands of the church in Antioch (Acts 13:3-4). They took John Mark with them, and they preached in the synagogues until they came to Paphos where they encountered a Jewish sorcerer named Bar-jesus, the attendant of the Roman proconsul (Acts 13:5-6). As they preached to Sergius Paulus, the sorcerer (also called Elymas) argued against them, until Paul, full of the Holy Spirit, rebuked him and cursed him with blindness (Acts 13:7-11). And the proconsul believed, being particularly astonished by the teaching of the Lord, and they continued their ministry into Pamphylia, although John Mark returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:12-13).
THE LEADING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
While the Bible teaches that there was a unique ministry of prophets during the times of the writing of Scripture and the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20, Heb. 1:1-2), this does not mean that the Holy Spirit no longer speaks to God’s people. The Holy Spirit still speaks, primarily and centrally in His Word, but also through the ministry of the saints and providential needs and opportunities. Even here, while there may have been a more supernatural word from the Lord, the commissioning of the church is described as the Holy Spirit sending Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:3-4).
As we saw last week, God’s ministers are active in this world, and likewise, the Bible is clear that there are evil spirits and powers in the world. Satan is probably a fallen seraph (since he appears as a serpent/dragon), but Ezekiel 28 seems to be alluding to him as a fallen angel of Tyre and there he is called a cherub. It may be that there is more overlap between seraphim and cherubim than we realize, or it may be that the fallen angel in Ezekiel 28 is not Satan.
Regardless, beginning in the Garden, we know that there are demonic beings in the world. The Egyptian magicians apparently tapped into some dark powers, and the Israelites were forbidden all sorcery and necromancy. While idols really are lifeless blocks of wood and metal, without hands and eyes, the Bible indicates that sometimes demonic powers gave some plausibility to the superstitions (e.g. Dan. 10:13). It’s striking that when Jesus came into the world, He regularly faced demons. In fact, in Israel, if you wanted to find a demon, synagogues were a good place to look (Mk. 1:39). So we should assume that Bar-jesus/Elymas probably had some true connection to dark powers. And while the resurrection of Jesus has fundamentally changed the gravity of the world (we have no reason to fear demons if we are in Christ, Js. 4:7), we should not be surprised if there is a growing demonic presence in lands where Christ is rejected.
HARSH WORDS FOR FALSE TEACHERS
Paul’s rebuke of Elymas strikes many modern evangelical ears as harsh, or else, many simply assume that since he was an apostle he could say things that we cannot. But that’s simply not true. The Bible teaches that “open rebuke is better than secret love” (Prov. 27:5) and “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools” (Eccl. 7:5). Paul instructs Timothy not to ordinarily rebuke an elder, but if there are two or three witnesses, rebuke him in front of the whole church (1 Tim. 5:1, 20). This is a particular calling of ministers: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:2, cf. Tit. 1:13, 2:15). Sharp correction of those in defiant sin or teaching false doctrine is love (Heb. 12:5, Rev. 3:19).
Calvin: “Such was the vehemency of holy zeal and of the Spirit in the prophets, which if dainty and soft men judge troublesome and raging, they consider not how dear and precious God’s truth is to him.”
This world belongs to Jesus Christ (not to Satan or demons). Lewis says somewhere that Satan probably most enjoys the extremes: those who completely ignore dark spiritual forces and those who are completely infatuated with them. We need not see demonic powers behind every bush or terrible policy decision. But neither may we be ignorant or naïve about the possibility. But regardless, we must have no fear. The Holy Spirit of Christ in us terrifies the demons. But the way to remain fearless and full of the Spirit is to be full of the Word. Stay in the Word, listen to the Word, apply the Word. And that really is the astonishing thing to unbelievers.
Remember the distinction between refugees from the world and apostles of the world. Apostles of the world need to be rebuked and held at arm’s length. Refugees from the world should be welcomed, while offering lots of teaching. Refugees and apostles might initially look or sound the same, but the difference is real humility and obedience to the Word. And that Word is Christ crucified for sinners and raised to grant repentance to all men.