- Sermon Notes
The Spiritual Battle for Hearts
March 26, 2023
Last time we saw in Acts 13 how Paul and Barnabas were being set apart by the Holy Spirit and sent to proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is so important to reiterate that they were sent out by the Holy Spirit. They did not do this on their own accord driven by their own power and will but directed and led by the Spirit.
This is a crucial principle in life; that we are to be sensitive to the leading of God in our lives. He is the one who knows the best way for our lives. When we live a life set apart for God, we can rest in the knowledge that He is on the journey with us, working all together for our good, for those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom 8:28)
We now find Paul and Barnabas going to Cyprus, where they begin to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. It seems that this was the pattern Paul followed, first proclaiming to the Jews the truth from the scriptures, and then turning to the gentiles.
When they had gone through the whole island of Paphos, they found a magician, who, by the way, was a Jew. He operated as a false prophet or, some suggest, as a spiritual counselor to the proconsul of the island, Sergius Paulus.
Sergius Paulus was an interesting man. He is described as an intelligent man who sought to hear the word of God from Paul and Barnabas. They were however opposed by the false magician, Bar-Jesus, also known as Elymas.
Sergius Paulus had a seeking heart, and the fact that he was seeking truth set the stage for the confrontation ahead.
This situation paints an important picture of the powers that are at work in the world resisting the truth. There is a battle raging for the hearts of humanity which we are actively involved in. We can look at this from two perspectives.
Just like the proconsul, there are many who are searching. Influencing them, we have those opposing the truth, like Elymas, and those declaring the truth, like Paul and Barnabas.
Many who are lost are still searching for the truth. The lies of the world are disguised as truth, trying to sway their hearts away from the truth and life of Jesus.
On a deeper level, even believers have this battle in their lives, having to stand firm and keep on battling lies that want to influence our lives.
These days, there are powers at work that want to draw us away from the truth of God and His word. From what follows we will see that there are powerful effects when the truth of God is proclaimed through the power of the Holy Spirit.
If we want to live an effective life, both personally and for the kingdom of God, we need to move in Spirit and be grounded in Truth. This truth first starts with recognizing God as the God of truth, and then accepting and trusting His truth to impact every area of our lives.
We will also see that there is power in the truth that the Holy Spirit brings forth in our lives. When we see the truth, it will lead us to a place where we stand in awe of God and what He does.
I. Seek the Truth
In verse 6 we see something interesting. Paul and Barnabas are to meet the proconsul, but the first person that is mentioned and whom they meet is Bar-Jesus, the magician. He distorts the truth.
They meet Bar-Jesus, which, by the way, means the son of Jesus. In other words, his father was also named Jesus. This is quite a conversation starter.
Paul and Barnabas are then summoned by the proconsul because he wanted to hear the word of God. Yet Elymas, the magician, was opposing them seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
In the days we live in, truth has become relative. It is much more difficult to discern the truth. One needs to be secure in the Truth, who is Jesus, discerning the ‘false prophets’ of our day.
A. Beware false prophets
- It is interesting to me that the magician they meet has the name Bar-Jesus. Nowadays, we hear many people use the name Jesus, or even more frequently, God. As a society that has a history grounded in faith and the principles of the word, it is easy to be misled by those using the name ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’.
Illus. – Just look for example at the music industry. A pop artist can launch a new song on an album using the word Jesus or God, and they can superficially get labeled by the wider population as a ‘Christian’, and easily people deem them safe to listen to. Yet the very next song can be raunchy and worldly, not aligning with the morals, values, and Christian testimony at all. This is applicable to movies, print media, internet, etc.
- This is how, in many areas, the enemy comes in under the radar to influence and seduce people.
Matthew 7:15,21, Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.
Matthew 25:23,45, Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.
- Although this scripture speaks of literal false prophets that will arise, I also believe that is applicable to the spirit of the anti-Christ that wants to seduce and lead people astray.
Philippians 3: 2,18-19, Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; … that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
- This speaks of those who say the right things religiously, but whose hearts are far from God, deceiving others.
- We need to be watchful and awake, led by the Spirit.
B. The fruit reveals the truth
- As soon as Elymas started resisting the message of Christ, his heart was revealed by his fruit.
Matthew 7: 16-17, You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.
- In those days, many leaders consulted the spiritual realm or their ‘gods’ through oracles or spiritists. Some suggest that this was Elymas’s function, and as such his job, influence, and reputation were on the line.
- As a side note, it is sad to even see this in our time. Many people still visit palm readers, spiritists, or mediums to hear about their future and what road to take. Even people in government who are professing ‘Christians’ have been known to do this.
- This is strictly forbidden in the word.
Leviticus 20:6, As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.
Isaiah 8:19, When they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?
- We should be careful whom we take spiritual counsel from. Our counsel should come from people who have wisdom grounded in and aligned with the word.
- In fact, all counsel, whether it be spiritual, or practical in business, family, marriage, or whatever area should be grounded in the principles of the word.
Proverbs 3:5-7, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
- Elymas was blind. He was like the blind leading the blind. Although he was walking in the darkness, he wanted to influence others to follow deep into the darkness with him.
- As people who want to walk in the light, we need to be watchful against this as there are forces battling to overrun our hearts.
II. Be Filled with the Holy Spirit
Paul and Barnabas set out on this journey directed and set apart by the Spirit. The moment Elymas resisted them, Paul went into action.
But we must note what the Bible doesn’t say. Paul did not try to reason or prove Elymas wrong on an intellectual level but acted differently because he was filled with the Holy Spirit.
This is crucial to our Spiritual walk. We are not to live the Christian life on an intellectual level, but out of a personal relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit who is alive in us.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5, For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
A. The Holy Spirit gives discernment
- When Elymas confronts them, Paul immediately discerns that this is a demonic, supernatural opposition. As such, he doesn’t fight it in the physical realm but immediately goes for the spiritual jugular.
- The Holy Spirit gives him discernment to see the core root of the spirit at work.
- One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of discerning of spirits. When we are prayerfully surrendered to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to discern the attack against us or the temptation on our path.
2 Corinthians 2:11, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
- In this scripture, Paul specifically focuses on forgiveness. The enemy hates us, God’s creation, and one of his ploys is to get us to destroy each other.
- However, this is not the only ploy of the enemy. He has many other schemes.
- Have you ever done something, or been involved in something that looked harmless? Until one day, it is as if scales fall from your eyes, and you ‘see’ the situation differently. Truth and revelation came, and you saw the thing for what it truly was.
Illus. – From the 1930s to the 1950s, advertising’s most powerful phrase – ‘doctors recommended’ – was connected with the world’s deadliest consumer product – cigarettes. Somewhere the light of truth came on and now people can look back and say “that was ridiculous”.
- There are times in our spiritual walk when we also get those light bulb moments and ‘see’ the truth in a situation that can set us free.
- We need to ask the Holy Spirit to show us and give us discernment on what the line of attack is.
B. The Holy Spirit gives wisdom
- After the Holy Spirit revealed the truth to Paul, he first brings the truth to light by revealing the deceit and fraud in Elymas’ heart, the source of his power, and also his strategy.
- We see that the strategy of the enemy was to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord. This is a very interesting phrase.
- In other words, it looks like the ways of the Lord, so it still looks familiar, yet skewing and perverting it so it is not what it looks like.
- As already said previously, this is the ploy of the enemy.
2 Corinthians 11:13 -15, No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
- After Paul discerns this by the power of the Holy Spirit, we see the gift of wisdom operating.
- There could have been so many ways to deal with this. Paul could have called for the ground to open up and swallow them. He could have called forth lightning to kill him, he could have called forth fire to consume him. But Paul understood God’s heart.
- In Luke 9, we read the account of Jesus going toward Jerusalem through a village of Samaritans, who did not receive him.
Luke 9:54-56, When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
- Paul knew the heart of God, and from his personal experience, he knew that sometimes someone had to become ‘blind’ to be able to ‘see’. This was not a curse resulting from Paul’s disgust and anger.
- Although this was a punishment resulting from his actions, the hand of the Lord was also moving in mercy over Elymas. We do not read about him again, but although he was now going through a difficult time, the hand of God was still on Him with the heart that he might be saved.
- We are now in a dispensation of grace where it is God’s heart that all will be saved. Jesus did not come to judge the world in this dispensation, but to save the world.
- However, there will be a time when the dispensation of grace will run out, when Jesus will come back again to judge the world.
- We need to trust God to give us the Spirit of wisdom, seeing the real source of trouble or attack, and to give us his heart to be able to operate from His love.
III. Stand in Awe of God
- This event had another purpose. The proconsul saw this and believed. It is interesting to note that the Bible calls him an intelligent man. Yet he was not so caught up in the pride of his intelligence that he was not willing to listen to Paul and Barnabas.
- For a person to be able to hear, they need to have a humble heart. A proud heart resists counsel and as such cannot be changed. This is very detrimental to their future.
- A broken and contrite heart, a searching heart, God will never show away.
- When we see the truth in the word and the move of the Spirit of God, something happens in our lives.
A. See God’s works
- When Paul was speaking to King Agrippa, we get some insight into Jesus’ calling on his life. He recounts what Jesus told him when he was blinded by a light and knocked off his horse on his way to Damascus.
Acts 26:18, To open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
- It is God’s heart that we would see his works. All through the Old Testament, it proclaims that God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it to declare His greatness, shouting to us 24/7 that there is a God.
Psalm 19:1, The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
- This reached a climax when Jesus came in the flesh to physically show the love and power of God to humanity.
- Part of coming to Christ, and then standing firm on our lifelong journey of faith is to choose to keep ‘seeing’ the works of God.
- Situations, cares, and worries can try to blind us so we do not see the work of God and what He is busy doing, but we need to arrest these thoughts and choose to see and stand in faith.
- Just like the proconsul, when we see, it stirs faith so we will believe.
B. Hear God’s truth
- The second thing needed for faith though is the word.
- It is not enough to seek the truth, but when you find it, to hear it and take hold of it.
- Verse 12 – … believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.
- We know that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. When the word of God moves over a heart that has ‘seen’, it has a great effect.
- This is why the habit of sitting under the teaching of the word is so important. If you have been following Christ for a long time, you might have by now, for example, heard many sermons on Psalm 23, John 3:16, or the Sower.
- Hearing something once isn’t necessarily enough. Truth must be repeatedly sown into the soul.
Illus. Many roads that are highways now might have started out only as a footpath….
- The word keeps us in the truth so that we are not swayed by the lies of the enemy.
- Ultimately, the proconsul became a believer when he saw the power and works of God and trusted in the message of Jesus Christ.
- We need to live a life where we continually move with our lives directed by the power of the Spirit and the truth of the word to stand firm and be effective in the battle for our hearts and the hearts of those around us.
Acts 13:4-12 NASB
4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper. 6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the magician (for so his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who was also known as Paul, [a]filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, 10 and said, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? 11 Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.” And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.