Acts 13 marks a new beginning in the book of Acts. From here forward, the narrative is primarily about the Apostle Paul, his three missionary journeys, his subsequent arrest in Jerusalem and his trials in courts after that. [You can hear an edited version of our Acts 13 class here.]
Believe it or not, I read a few days ago a Christian web site that questioned whether Paul was really an apostle of God or not. Can you believe that?! Primarily they didn’t like how Paul moved the early church so much towards the gospel of grace, rather than the Mosaic Law, and that the church was less observant of Jewish rituals and traditions as a result of Paul’s teaching and influence. Can you imagine Christians in this day and age thinking, believing and teaching that? Sadly, it’s not highly unusual here.
But the book of Acts only gets better, once we enter this stage of where Paul and his companions begin to go even further “into all the world” (Mark 16:15). The chapter starts out at a good place: hearing from God. Verse 2 says “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, ‘Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.’” (Acts 13:2) One of the first things you can see is how the early church was set up, with prophets, fasting, counseling together and really being led of the Lord and the Holy Ghost. And at that point it was still “Barnabas and Saul” but before long it was “Paul and Barnabas”.
They started out by sailing to the island that Barnabas was from, Cyprus. A lesson that many missionaries have drawn from this chapter is who they first aimed to reach: the governor of the island, Sergius Paulus. They went to the top first.
But when they met him, they found out that the devil had already got there first. A sorcerer, the Bible says, a Jewish false prophet, Elymas, was already Sergius Paulus’s guide and councilor. And Elymus “withstood them, seeking to turn the deputy away from the faith.” (Acts 13:8)
Oh my gosh! The devil is attacking them! What did Paul do? Did he choke up with fear, turn tail and run? Let’s read it. “Then Paul, filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, and said, ‘O full of all subtlety and all mischief, you child of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a season.’ And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand.” (Acts 13: 9-11)
Don’t you just love the Bible?! No political correctness there, no namby-pamby beating around the bush and politely asking the devil if he would be so kind as to move along now. Just plain, outright spiritual warfare, in the extreme.
In this case Paul recognized by the Spirit that this Elymas was nothing but an evil “sorcerer” as the Bible calls him and the only solution was to rebuke the devil and the man who was inhabited by the devil.
The results? “Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.” (Acts 13:12) The governor saw the raw power of God, exposing the darkness of Elymas and confirming that Paul and Barnabas were the true apostles of God.
But this isn’t even the best part of the chapter. From Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas sailed north to what is today the Mediterranean coast of modern Turkey. Have you ever heard of the book of Galatians? Well, this is where Paul and Barnabas first preached the gospel to the people of Galatia.
They ended up going into the synagogue on the Sabbath and were invited to speak. As was often the custom of those days, Paul rehearsed the history of Israel to them, similar in many ways to what Stephen did in Acts 7. And when Paul got to the place of David in their history, he told them “Of this man’s seed has God according to His promise, raised unto Israel a Savior.” (Acts 13:23)
It’s just a clear and simple example of witnessing and trying to reach people for Jesus , the Jews in this case, through means and things that they could relate to and understand. Later, when Paul was talking to the Greeks in Athens, his method was totally different
In Acts 13, he told them, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, to you is this word of Salvation sent” (Acts 13:26) and went on to tell them how the Jewish rulers at Jerusalem, “because they knew Him not” (Acts 13:27) had killed their own Savoir.
In our live class, we talked about how Paul witnessed to this people and the similarity and difference we have with what he did. In Acts 13, Paul was not witnessing to Greek philosophers, he was witnessing to solid believers in the God of the Jews. He was reasoning with them, he was sharing the Word with them and in many ways he was showing a great deal of respect to them.
And our class developed into a very good and rousing discussion on witnessing, how to witness to believers in God, whether they be Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox or whatever. Find the points you agree on first. There’s much that we can see in this chapter that can be a lesson to us as to how to witness even in our times. I hope the live class audio [here] will be a blessing to you and that you too will be finding avenues and open doors to witness your faith and to share the gospel and love of God with others, God bless you!