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Gospel Advancement

Continuing in Chapter 13

Written by Mike Biolsi on .


Let’s start back at the beginning of the chapter, with the first 3 verses:

‌Acts 13:1–3 (CSB) 
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As 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.” Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.

‌Gospel Advancement

‌After praying, the CHURCH laid hands on (commissioned) Barnabas and Saul and sent them out. We have here the first missionary commissioning by a church outside of Jerusalem. Take note of the details:

  1. ‌FIRST, it was the CHURCH sending out the leaders. How cool is that.
  2. ‌SECOND, it is the disciple that is named before the Apostle.
  3. ‌THIRD, it was 2 of their TOP leaders that were sent.

‌I just love how the kingdom economy works. It was most likely one of the prophets mentioned in verse 1 that relayed the message that Barnabas and Saul were to leave. It was the church that was meeting when a member of that assembly shared the message of the Holy Spirit with the body, who then prayed and send out the leaders.

‌The advancement of the gospel is an entire church commission.

‌What a beautiful picture of the church body NOT being caught up in titles, positions, and authority - except to allow God to lead and direct! Imagine that - a people group that listens to God as its ultimate leader. That is what Yahweh wanted for Israel, and they demanded a king. Now, the church is functioning as Israel was meant to function - under the headship of God. This is a beautiful return to the ideal God had in the first place and is a powerful reminder to all of us that God is the one who leads his church!

‌Saul and Barnabas were 2 of 5 leaders mentioned in the church. Not only is there is great precedent for having plurality of leadership, but also of sending out leaders in pairs to do new works, whether missionary or planting/establishing churches.

‌MANY churches, denominations and para-church organizations use this as a model for planting new churches or sending out missionaries to new locations. Taking leaders from one church, praying over them and sending them out in pairs (or more).

‌However, making a model of the activity is not enough, is it? Without the direction of the Holy Spirit and kingdom work would lack the power and authority it needs to succeed.

IF I were to use this as a model, I think it would need to look like this:

‌Sincerely seek God in service, obedience and sacrifice

‌Listen to what the Holy Spirit tells you to do

‌Involve the whole church in the process

‌Send your best, give you best, invest your best in the kingdom

Acts 13 is a Chapter of FIRSTS

Acts 13:4–5 (CSB)
So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 Arriving in Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. They also had John as their assistant.


We mentioned that these events usher in a new chapter in the life and direction of the kingdom of God and the Gospel. One of the indicators of this is all of the “firsts” that take place in this chapter.

FIRST (and ONLY time) we have a direct command from the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit said...”. In other passages we read that so-and-so was filled with the spirit and said this and that. This time, Luke phrased things differently.

It is the FIRST missionary journey from any place but Jerusalem.

‌It is the FIRST mission trip with the Gentiles in FOCUS.

Thirteen years prior to this trip, Saul was confronted by Jesus and told how much he would suffer for the kingdom:

Acts 9:15–16 (CSB)
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to take my name to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

‌Notice the order of where Saul will go? Gentiles first? It is interesting that Saul DOES go to the nations, but he also makes sure he stops in the Synagogues first. After that he goes to the Gentiles.

‌13 years later Saul had not STARTED that mission. He had not yet suffered for the name of Jesus. This is the beginning of the suffering and ministry of Saul to the Gentiles. It comes with a name change from Hebrew name to Latin or Greek name -> Paul.

It is the FIRST time Saul is called PAUL and is how he will be called going forward. [vs 9]

Saul’s name change takes place HERE, not at his conversion.


Most scholars place the conversion of Saul at 33 AD and the trip to Cyprus at around 46 AD. That is 13 years after his conversion! Saul would have been his Hebrew name. Paul would be his Latin or Greek name. “Also called” is a fun use of the term… it means it was another name for Saul, but it could also be a fun play on his name being the same as Paulus! No deep spiritual implications there, just fun facts. Perhaps the biggest significance is that it is when Saul begins his mission to the Gentiles that he takes on the Gentile form of his name.

It is the FIRST time that Saul is mentioned BEFORE Barnabas (11:30, 12:25, 13:1, 13:2, 13:7 -> 13:13 “Paul and his companions” , 13:43 “devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas”, 13:46,50,51 “Paul and Barnabas”. This seems to signify an shift in leadership after this encounter.

As Barnabas and Saul travel the island, they face some opposition. Are you surprised by this?

Gospel Opposition

Barnabas and Saul immediately draw the attention of the governor of the region and also immediately garnered opposition by a false prophet. ⭐

‌Acts 13:6–8 (CSB)
When they had traveled the whole island as far as Paphos, they came across a sorcerer, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (that is the meaning of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

‌Those in the Acts bible study have heard over and over from Dr Chris (from WOL) how the “Doors of Opportunity swing on Hinges of Opposition”. We should not be surprised that Barnabas and Saul faced opposition. ⭐

Acts 13:8 (CSB)
But Elymas the sorcerer (that is the meaning of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

‌There is a deep seeded truth to this verse. It is not a paranoia. It is a reality that whenever gospel work is taking place there is the possibility of opposition! The church in Jerusalem saw it, Saul experienced it in Damascus and Jerusalem, and the Gentile regions are no different. You and I can expect nothing less.

Elymas opposed Barnabas and Saul and tried to steer the proconsul away from the faith.

‌It is the goal of the enemy to turn people away from obedience to God.

‌This is what the serpent did to Eve in the garden. This is what Satan tried to do with Job. This is what the Satan attempted to do with Jesus when tempting after his 40 day fast in the wilderness. This is what Jesus prayed would NOT happen to the disciples, and especially Peter:

Luke 22:31–32 (CSB)
“Simon, Simon, look out. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

‌Is it any wonder that it is Peter who then penned these words:

‌1 Peter 5:8 (CSB)
Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.

‌The good news of forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus is going to the Gentiles as God promised. That good news was and always will be opposed by an adversary that does not want people to come to faith in Jesus nor to STAY STRONG in their faith. He will do whatever he can to push people away from God:

  • ‌Financial hardship‌
  • Medical conditions
  • Trauma or tragedy
  • ‌Abuse
  • ‌Marital unfaithfulness
  • ‌Addictions
  • ‌Arrogance or anger

‌We do not know the specifics of what Elymas said, but we understand that he was trying to disprove or discredit the good news about Jesus that Paul was trying to share with Sergius Paulus.

‌Saul - who is NOW called Paul at this encounter - Says that Elymas was

  • ‌Full of deceit and trickery
  • The enemy of all that is right (or just)
  • Making God’s straight path crooked (perverted)

Those that are against Yahweh, those that oppose Jesus, or in today’s understanding, those that demonize Christians and the God we serve do not know or understand God. As a result, they promote what they believe to be truth, which is often full of deceit. Some will form an agenda to be enemies of the Cross.

‌According to the organization, Christian Hegemony, the only goal of Christian institutions is to be in power and to exploit those that are not Christians:

This website is part of a larger project to help people recognize, analyze, and resist all forms of Christian hegemony, which we define as: the everyday, pervasive, deep-seated, and institutionalized dominance of Christian institutions, Christian values, Christian leaders, and Christians as a group. Christian dominance is a complex and shifting system that benefits all Christians, those raised Christian and those passing as Christian. However, the concentration of power and wealth accumulates to a predominantly Christian power elite. All others experience exploitation and constant vulnerability to violence.

‌That is a growing “social theology” in the United States. It is somewhat ironic that in moderns day US, the majority of the documented violence has come from the “anti-Christian” camp…

Organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation seek to blame social ills on people who believe in God. In addition they paint Christians as ignorant, and seek to find legals ways to keep us from sharing our faith. Here are a few excerpts about what they think of you and me:

“Tens of millions of Americans have turned away from supernatural religion for an obvious reason, in my view: They see that it’s untrue. Intelligent, educated, modern people perceive that magical dogmas are a bunch of hooey — just fairy tales with no factual reality. Gods and devils, heavens and hells, angels and demons, miracles and messiahs, prophecies and divine visitations, visions and other such stuff, are fiction… Better-educated Americans are smarter than they were in the 1960s. They can detect nonsense more easily. Further, researchers find that doubters have higher IQ than believers do. As the West grows more intelligent, the brightest reject supernatural claims.”

‌In other words, the fact that you choose to accept the Bible as true and Jesus as Savior demonstrates that you are of a low IQ, naive and dim. Here is another article about the way they view you and me:

‌“You expect me to believe Jesus was born of a virgin impregnated by a ghost? [LONG paragraph of biblical examples] … Why do you expect me to swallow the fables of Christianity? If you believe these stories, then you are the one with the problem, not me. These myths violate natural law, contradict science, and fail to correspond with reality or logic. If you can't see that, then you can't separate truth from fantasy. It doesn't matter how many people accept the delusions inflicted by "holy" men; a widely-held lie is still a lie. If you are so gullible, then you are like the child who believes the older brother who says there is a monster in the hallway. But there is nothing to be afraid of; go turn on the light and look for yourself.

‌If Christianity were simply untrue I would not be too concerned. Santa is untrue, but it is a harmless myth which people outgrow. But Christianity, besides being false, is also abhorrent. It amazes me that you claim to love the god of the bible, a hateful, arrogant, sexist, cruel being who can't tolerate criticism. I would not want to live in the same neighborhood with such a creature!

‌We are not just stupid for believing that which does not make physical sense, we are unable to separate truth from fantasy and are gullible. The faith you and I have is abhorrent, and God is hateful, arrogant, sexist, and cruel.

‌This actually comes from one of their “nontracts” - a series of “tracts” that you can order in print to hand out to people to refute the claims of Christianity. This is the type of trickery and deceit that we see Paul calling Elymas out for - twisted God’s ways to push people away from Jesus.

‌Not only do these tracts berate and belittle Christians, they demean God. Here are a few lines from their “nontract” against the 10 Commandments:

‌“…The ten commandments... epitomize the childishness, the vindictiveness, the sexism, the inflexibility and the inadequacies of the bible as a book of morals… In essence, the first four commandments all scream that "the lord thy god" has an uneasy vanity, and like most dictators, must resort to threats, rather than intellectual persuasion, to promote a point of view. If there were an omnipotent god, can you imagine him or her being concerned if some poor little insignificant creature puttered around and made a graven image? Do you think that any god, possessing the modicum of good will you could expect to find in any neighbor, would want to punish children even "unto the third and fourth generation" because their fathers could not believe? How can anyone not perceive the pettiness, bluster, bombast and psychotic insecurity behind the first four commandments?”

‌They go on to further explain why the commands not to steal, lie, commit adultery and covet are not really good as absolutes. Their other “nontracts” try to explain why Jesus is a horrible example for kids and why God cannot be trusted - all while “quoting scripture”.

‌I would call this “making the straight paths of the Lord crooked”.

‌People who are against God will use whatever means they can to try to discredit the Bible and the gospel in order to seek to turn people away from the faith.

‌While the writers are FFRF attack the intelligence of Jesus followers, take a look at what Luke (an educated medical man of his day) had to say about Sergius Paulus: ⭐

‌Acts 13:6–8 (CSB)
When they had traveled the whole island as far as Paphos, they came across a sorcerer, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (that is the meaning of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

‌Paulus was a political leader, a proconsul which might also be considered like the governor of the region. He was a ruler of a Roman province under the oversight of the Roman Senate.

‌Not only was he a strong political leaders, he was “an intelligent man”. This word is used only 4 times in the NT and it refers to worldly intelligence - whether logic, science, math, language, people. He was SMART. This is actually the ONLY person that this word is used about.

‌He wanted to hear the Word of God. That is the difference between Sergius Paulus and many others. Sergius’ intelligence caused him to WANT to know about the message of Barnabas & Saul to see if it was true and worth considering. True intelligence does not shut down faith as ignorance.

‌Personally, I believe that the end of all learning is faith and that no learning happens apart from faith. At some point in your science you will come to the end of what is known and you will have to act on faith. Faith and science are not at odds, and faith and intelligence go hand in hand.

‌Elymas knows his future was threatened IF Paulus accepted the good news about Jesus, so he went into protective mode. Do what you can, say whatever it takes, to try to discredit the messenger or the message so that someone will not believe it. ⭐

‌Acts 13:9–11 (CSB)
But Saul—also called Paul—filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at Elymas 10 and said, “You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery, you son of the devil and enemy of all that is right. Won’t you ever stop perverting the straight paths of the Lord? 11 Now, look, the Lord’s hand is against you. You are going to be blind, and will not see the sun for a time.” Immediately a mist and darkness fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.

‌Saul, under the power of the Holy Spirit, makes a pronouncement against Elymas. The “Lord’s hand will be against you”.

‌What a key phrase! This is not a power struggle between Paul and Elymas to see who is the best. This is about the fact that Elymas was rejecting Jesus JUST LIKE SAUL DID!

‌Saul invokes on Elymas the same punishment that was placed upon him -> temporary blindness. And he had to be led by the hand. Hopefully you are seeing the poetic circumstances here!

‌We do not know WHEN Elymas regained his sight, nor if he eventually believed in Jesus because of the events that took place. We are left to wonder and hope that the purpose of these events were to help another man who was blind to finally see Jesus.


‌No matter what the opposition does or says, not matter how bad someone hurts or oppresses us, our hope should be that in some way God will work through the situation to draw men, women and children to himself. ⭐

‌Acts 13:12 (CSB)
Then, when he saw what happened, the proconsul believed, because he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

‌He was not astonished at the miracles. He did not seem intimidated of threatened by Elymas being blinded. He was “astonished at the teaching of Jesus”. YES, an educated politician was astonished by the teachings of Jesus to the point to believing in Jesus.

‌The word “astonished” shows up 13 times in the NT - everyone of them refers directly to Jesus!

‌We have an Astonishing Savior! A God that is not like the gods of this world and of man’s imagination. HE is not a god of power trips and insecurity, nor a narcissistic or cruel god. He is the ONLY God that was willing to sacrifice for his creation, rather than sacrificing his creation. The humility of God coming to earth as a human, and a baby, to walk among us is astounding. The love and compassion of Jesus to love and heal amidst such anger and hatred is astounding. The ability and willingness of Jesus to forgive the people who put him on the cross - including you and me - is astounding!

‌To those of us that have accepted that, the gospel is joy and life. To those who reject and oppose it, the gospel seems foolish - as we read earlier. Paul will confront this situation with these words:

1 Corinthians 1:18–25 (CSB)
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is the power of God to us who are being saved. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the intelligence of the intelligent. 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? 21 For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of what is preached. 22 For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. 24 Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, 25 because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

‌No matter the opposition, no matter the criticism, the gospel is good news and we have the privilege of joining God in his mission of taking the message of the cross to the nations. Don’t stop sharing because you face opposition - expect it. However, do not expect that everyone will oppose the message! To some it will seem foolish. Others, we pray, we be astounded at the love of Jesus and power of God and be drawn to Him.

Gospel Advancement