When the Going Gets Rough
Acts 13:5-13 Studies
When you became a Christian did you think all the hard times would be over? Maybe you thought the Christian life would be like a big amusement park, where worries would be checked at the door and everything would be clean and happy. Or maybe you thought there would never be any more temptation or difficulty. But by now you probably have realized that the truth is that life often gets more difficult after we become Christians! We feel a new tension between living in the world but not being of it. And the more we come to know of God and His word, the more the we discover about ourselves that makes us uncomfortable. The frail balloon of idealism doesn’t last long among the thorns of reality.
And yet, the Christian life, even in those kinds of realities, isn’t an unpleasant thing at all – in fact just the opposite – if we understand how God wants us to navigate through those kinds of difficulties. A fairly new Christian by the name of Saul of Tarsus (later called by his Greek name, “Paul”) as he is presented to us in the next few chapters of the book of Acts, as that kind of navigator. And the purpose of those chapters is to show us the kinds of bumps and jolts that can come in the road of the Christian life – and the kinds of victories that God can give in those situations.
Chapters 13 through 21 of the book of Acts are going to cover what Bible scholars have come to call “the missionary journeys of Paul.” And they are called that because in those chapters Paul and various companions covered the extent of the world of their day preaching the gospel, just as Jesus had commissioned His disciples to do. In our last study, we began looking at the way it all began. By way of review, remember that the chapter falls into three parts:
- The Separation to the Ministry – verses 1 through 4,
- The Specifics of the Ministry – verses 5 through 41
III. The Sequel to the Ministry – verses 42 through 52
In our last study, we looked at the first 4 verses, which showed us how it all started. No one had ever been on a missionary trip like this before. There were no books or diaries about how missionaries operate. There were no courses in “cross cultural” ministries in the seminaries. Like the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, they could only imagine what lay ahead of them. They probably dreamed of people and churches blooming in every town they went to. They Certainly had reason to be optimistic on the basis of what had happened up to this point. They had been personally called out from a dynamic church by the Holy Spirit in verses 1 and 2, and they had been commended to that ministry by the leaders and the people of the church in Antioch in verses 3 and 4. And so verse 4 records that they set sail for Cypress.
So in this study we take up with verses 5 through 41, which give the specifics of the ministry. The first person with whom they dealt was a Roman official described in verses 5 through 12. But before we see the details of his conversion, his surroundings are described first in verses 5 and 6a
And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant. (6) Now when they had gone through the island to Patmos . . . .”
Cyprus had somewhat the position in the Roman world that Hawaii has in ours – a beautiful place to visit – or minister! And remember that Barnabas was originally from Cyprus, so he would have known the area well. They began in verse 5 with a practice that was to become Paul’s “trademark” – they preached the word of God in the synagogue of the Jews.” But the first hint of anything less than ideal is tucked away in the first line of verse 6 – “when they had gone through the island . . .” between the lines we can almost read “no converts.” And even perhaps a little discouragement. But there is an indication of the reason for that in the last part of verse 6. There we find the philosophical surroundings of this Roman official.
. . . they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew who was with the proconsul, a Jew whose name was bar-Jesus (2) who was with the proconsul, Sergius, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. Down through the centuries Cyprus had been ruled by Egypt, Phoenicia, Assyria, Persia, Greece and Rome. And all of those nations had Pagan religious systems. By the time Paul and Barnabas got there the worship centered around occult magic and a female deity by the name of Aphrodite. So, this was the philosophy with which this Roman official was surrounded. But those surroundings were complicated even further by the presence of a sinister enemy described in verses 8 through 11. First his desire is described in verse 8
But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
Roman officials, no matter how intelligent, were often superstitious, and apparently Sergius Paulus was no exception. And apparently Elymas was somehow profiting from this weakness, which was why he was so opposed to Paul’s message. But then his denunciation is given in verses 9 through 11
Then Paul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?” (11) Now indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you and you will be blind, not seeing the sun for a time. “And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
Notice that “Saul’s name is changed to “Paul” in verse 9 – and Saul is never mentioned again. And then notice that as he gave this stern rebuke to Elymas he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” This shows that the Holy Spirit does not always act “sweetly” – notice the descriptive names of verse 10 And yet everything Paul said was the truth. Sometimes the truth is harsh – and when it is there is no other way to give it! A better term might be “righteous indignation.” The blinding of Elymas in verse 11 was another of the confirmations given throughout this era of history that God’s power was behind Paul (and other believers). But of course, the most important aspect of this whole passage is the salvation of the Roman official in verse 12
Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
The miracle may have amazed him, but it was “the teaching of the Lord” that astonished him and caused him to believe. The Proconsul’s salvation no doubt raised the missionaries’ drooping spirits and gave them encouragement for the ministry ahead. And their experience teaches us that evangelism is not always an easy ministry. God doesn’t shield us from the normal affairs of life as we go about trying to witness for Him.
Remember that this middle section of the chapter has to do with “the specifics of the ministry” of Paul and Barnabas on that second missionary journey. Now we have seen the ministry to the Roman official in verses 5 through 12. So now in verses 13 through 41 we are going to see that they also had ministry to the rulers of the synagogue. That ministry begins with a description of the way in which they developed their contact with the rulers in verses 13 through 15 But that contact actually has a sad prelude in verse 13
Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia;and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.
Luke records this incident with stark brevity. But from his words we can piece together why John Mark may have left them. First notice that Luke refers to “Paul and his companions.” Before this it had been Barnabas and Saul (see 12:25 and 13:2). Apparently after his confrontation with Elymas, Paul had taken the lead on the team. And this may not have set well with Mark, who was Barnabas’ nephew. Also, the new area they came to, Pamphylia, was well know for disease and danger. So all of this may have added up to unbearable stress for Mark. The lackluster response in the first part of the ministry in Cyprus, coupled with the demonic power demonstrated in Paphos were bad enough, but when sudden change of leadership were added to that, perhaps it was more than he could stand.
Can you imagine the disappointment, shame and guilt that must have surrounded Mark in this time of failure? But, as in so many other cases in scripture, the story doesn’t end with this failure – In chapter 15 Barnabas accepts him for another missionary journey (although Paul initially disagreed.) And later even Paul agreed that he had been restored, because he wrote to Timothy in second Timothy 4:10 and 11 “pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” And in closing his letter to the Colossians, he wrote “if Mark comes to you receive him,” further indicating his restoration.
This story prepares us for tough times in two ways: First, it teaches us that there is no accomplishment without determination. Whenever you are tempted before the job is done, remember that if you don’t persevere you won’t see God’s purposes fulfilled for this part of your life. And second, it reminds us that there is no burden too heavy for Christ to carry. No matter how determined you may be, the circumstances in your life may at some point overwhelm you, just as they did Mark. When those times come, don’t quit. Rather, give your burden over to the one who also was faced far more difficult circumstances; the Lord Jesus. He bore the cross, He can certainly bear your burden as well. And that is exactly what He has told us to do.
Psalm 55:22 says, “cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you, He will never allow the righteous to be moved. And I Peter 5:7 says, “casting all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.
The purpose of these lessons is to help you to understand that Romans 3:23 says that all of us, including you, have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And Romans 6:23 says that the result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ. And Acts 16:32 says “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, our purpose is to help you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and perhaps bring others to Him also. If I can be of help to you in understanding any of this information I can be reached
At Living BibleStudies.org