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The Word of God Spread

May 12, 2024

The Word of God Spread

Passage: Acts 12:25-13:12
Service Type:


The Word of God Spread

Rodney Gehman – May 12, 2024

If you’re a guest with us today, we have been going verse by verse, chapter by chapter through the book of Acts. And so, let me try to briefly catch you all up to speed on where we’ve been recently, in order to set the scene for what we’re reading today. [ 002-1 ] Two weeks ago, we lost the first of Jesus’ 12 apostles. James is attacked, captured, and beheaded by King Herod’s men, and when that turned out to make the religious leaders at the Temple pretty happy, he went ahead and found the leader of the 12, named Peter, and arrested him as well. Threw him in prison. Cut the head of the snake, we got him. This should shut everything down. 

But we watched as Peter received a “get out of jail free” card, courtesy of an angel of the Lord, and when Herod finds out Peter is gone, he kills his guards and leaves town. 

We also read at the end of chapter 11 that there is a famine happening at the time, and two cities who need food work come up with a plan to get some from Herod, and finally they arrange a meeting with him where they pretend to really like his speech, they puff up his ego, they tell him his speech was otherworldly, that it was divine, almost like it wasn’t even human. And Herod soaks it all in, hook, line and sinker, and then in a shocking turn of events, an angel of the Lord strikes him on the side, and instead of a midnight escape, he suffers 5 days of excruciating agony from internal worms before he finally dies. 

And Luke, the traveling doctor who wrote the book of Acts, finishes out this section with this in [ 002-2 ] verse 24, But the word of God spread and multiplied. 

I think it’s crucial that Luke, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, starts that sentence with the conjunction, “but.” It’s a word used to introduce a contrast. 

The church is attacked, BUT the word of God continues to multiply; James is dead, BUT the word of God continues to spread. Herod tries to kill Peter and shut down the church, but instead he dies, Peter goes free, and the word of God continues to spread. There is political upheaval in the region as a king suddenly dies, BUT the word of God continues to spread and multiply. There’s a famine in the land, BUT the word of God continues to spread and multiply. 

Does that give anyone hope today? It should! What the Holy Spirit wants us to know, through the book of Acts, is that nothing is going to stop the advance of the word of God. Nothing!  And that truth is going to come in very handy as we head into the second half of the book of Acts. As you heard in the scripture today, they will face hostile demonic opposition, later on Paul will be shipwrecked, beaten and left for dead, abandoned by his peers, in heated arguments with fellow church leaders, bitten by a poisonous snake – I mean there are 100 chances in the second half of Acts for the church to die out, and it just keeps spreading. 

But here’s the question I keep coming back to ever since we started the book of Acts. This isn’t the first time we’ve read those words, “And the word of God continued to spread” and it won’t be the last. But my question always is, How does the word of God continue to spread and multiply? There’s no TV, no printing press, no social media. How does the word of God spread? Very simply: The gospel spreads when people who have been transformed by Jesus open their mouths and talk about it. It’s not more complicated than that. The gospel spreads by Word of mouth. After all, how does the book of Acts begin? [ 003 ] Acts 1:8 – You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses… 

The Gospel spreads by word of mouth as Jesus people bear witness, as they speak the truth, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah. That is the way God has chosen to grow the church here in Acts. It’s the way the church of Jerusalem grew under Peter and James’ leadership, and it’s the way the church will continue to grow as the focus now switches to Barnabas and Saul, with Saul becoming the main character from here on out. 

If you remember, Saul was a persecutor of the church. He drug men and women out of their homes and into prison, simply for belonging to the group of Jesus followers known as “The Way.” He was a religious legalist to a T, which means he was zealous for God’s law but not God’s heart. So he attacked the church, until the crucified and risen Jesus himself appeared to him on his way to another city to arrest more Jesus people. The bright light of the glory of Jesus was intense, brighter than the sun at noon, and Saul could not see for 3 days and had to be led around by the hand. 

The last we saw him was at the end of chapter 11, where he and Barnabas took relief supplies from the newly exploding church of Antioch, to the church of Judea that was experiencing the famine. And in verse 25 of chapter 12, they dropped off the supplies and returned to Jerusalem with another new character named John, or John mark. 

So that leads us to chapter 13 [ 004 ] .

13:1 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.

What’s unique in this verse is the diversity that exists in the church at this point. First of all, there are unique roles and gifts. Prophets and teachers. The idea here is that some of the gospel is shared spontaneously, trusting the Lord to show truth in the moment, that’s the prophetic gifting, and then there’s the more formal, intentional, organized, thought out kind of gospel presentation that is the role of teaching. We’re not really told which of these 5 men are which – who is a prophet and who is a teacher. It doesn’t really matter. The point is that they work together for the gospel to be proclaimed formally and informally. 

And then, there is the diversity of people – Barnabas is a Jewish man, one of the first converts to Christianity; The Latin word “niger” means black, so it’s possible Simeon is African; Lucius is from Cyrene where Barnabas is from, Manaen was a boyhood friend of Herod - all three of them Gentile, and then Saul of course was not only Jewish, but a Pharisee before he converted to following Jesus. But the point is, God is gifting people regardless of who they are or what their background is. God is giving gifts to the church without ethnic distinctions.

2 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.” 

I remember a pastor in North Carolina named JD Greear saying that the hardest day of his life is when they have Sending Sunday at his church. They line up the people who are leaving to plant a church or those who are moving away for missions, and he said every time it just makes me want to go weak in the knees and just cry. Those are my friends, some of the most faithful people we have, the hardest workers, the most committed, and now they are all leaving at the same time. 

I imagine the church in Antioch feels a little the same way. Someone suggests Barnabas and Saul should head out on mission, and everyone is like, ugh. Barnabas and Saul have been around for a while, teaching, preaching, encouraging – I mean who wants the encourager-guy to leave? No one. We love that guy! But they sense that they have heard the Holy Spirit, and in the beginning of verse 3 [ 006 ] they fast and pray again – probably looking for confirmation. To make doubly sure they have heard correctly . 

3 Then … laid hands on them, they sent them off. There are different reasons in scripture for people laying hands on someone – sometimes it’s specifically part of praying for healing, sometimes it’s imparting some gift to them, or praying for them to receive the Holy Spirit’s filling – and sometimes it’s to commission someone for a specific role, like it is here. [ 007 ] Acts 14:26 gives us a little more clarity to what is happening here. 

It says, they were “commended to the grace of God for the work” ahead of them. That word “commended” literally means “to hand over.” So the church of Antioch is praying over Barnabas and Saul, literally “handing them over to the grace of God.” It’s a prayer of blessing, protection and deliverance from evil, a prayer of covering and commitment – but it’s also a prayer of trusting God to do through them the work that he is calling them to. 

Maybe you’re like, hold up – how did they know it was the Holy Spirit speaking to them? How did the Holy Spirit speak? Did someone hear an audible voice, or what? 

Look at the text. [ 008-1 ] 

  1. It started with worship. What is worship? It’s talking about and rejoicing in the greatness of God, either through song or reading the word or prayer or acts of service or giving – it’s giving worth and honor to the Triune God. It all starts with a right view of who God is, and as they were praising God for who he is. Hearing from the Holy Spirit begins with an attitude of seeking, and listening, and worship. 
  2. [ 008-2 ] The Holy Spirit spoke in community. In 1 Thessalonians we’re told to test what we think we are hearing from the Spirit, and one way to do that is to run it by other believers. No one is a lone ranger in the kingdom of God. Notice it says “they” were worshiping. It’s possible more than one person had the same thought there, or at least agreed to it, yeah, I think too that would be a good idea. And as the rest of the group heard the suggestion, and what did they do next? 
  3. [ 008-3 ] Prayer and fasting – this time for confirmation as a group all thinking the same direction. You’re never 100% sure what you’re hearing is the Lord, but if a) it lines up with God’s character and his word (He said go into all the world; He’s commissioned Saul to the Gentiles already), b) you run it by community and they are willing to pray about it, and c) you’ve all prayed and fasted a little more and it still seems like the thing we’re all agreeing on…
  4. [ 008-4 ] They acted in confident faith, believing that the Holy Spirit had been speaking. That’s the conclusion in verse 4: 

[ 009 ] 4 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. 

I think this is beautiful, and speaks to discipleship. You might think of discipleship as one-on-one, sit down over coffee and talk, and that’s definitely part of it. Jesus definitely talked to his disciples, and I’m sure there were a lot of one on one discussions. But what you see Jesus doing is bringing people with him along the way in the ordinary stuff of life wherever he went in order to teach them, not just what he was saying, but what he was doing. 

I have a good friend named Dan, and many years ago, Dan had some people in his life that he was working with – some young singles in his community group – and every now and then, I don’t know how often they actually did this, but when Dan and his wife would get into an disagreement at home, they would realize the opportunity, call up all a few of the people in their community group, and have their argument in front of them to model for them how a husband and wife can disagree and work things out calmly and with honor and dignity. That’s also discipleship. And a little crazy. When I’m in a disagreement with my wife Jodi, I rarely think, “now who else could I get involved in this? I don’t think there are enough people here.” 

Anyway – here in verse 5, discipleship is happening. Barnabas has Saul under his wing, and now they both have John Mark along with them as they head out on mission. Lets do this together, learning from each other, growing together, and trusting the Lord to lead us all. 

[ 010 ] 6 When they had traveled the whole island as far as Paphos (which is about 90 miles, a couple days' journey), they came across a sorcerer, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. [ 011-1 ] 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man (Sergius Paulus) summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. [ 011-2 ]8 But Elymas the sorcerer (that is the meaning of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

Sergius Paulus is a Gentile, a Roman governor in the area, and he has with him a guy who is wise. He is a Jewish sorcerer. A “magi.” Somewhere along the way, faith in Yahweh wasn’t enough, and he has added future-telling through witchcraft, astrology, and black magic. And you might think that sounds messed up, but some Christians even today do this by reading daily horoscopes, doing palm reading, tarot cards, etc. It’s living by faith in something other than Yahweh, and by definition is idolatry. 

For that reason, in a stark contrast with the prophets who prayed over Barnabas, Saul and John just a few verses ago, this is a false prophet. He apparently is able to predict weather or the outcome of events or certain very helpful things, because the only reason a civic authority would keep someone like this around is if they found them beneficial in some way. The power this guy had was real and needed to be opposed.

So, Elymas is working hard, under the inspiration of demons, to oppose the message of Jesus and keep Sergius from believing in Jesus. And maybe it’s after a moment like this that Saul jots something down to remember that made it into his letter to the Ephesians much later in his life: 

[ 012 ] Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. 13 For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand

Sure it was Elymas who was standing in front of Saul here in Paphos, but behind and in and under Elymas is what Ephesians 6:12 would say is a dark ruler, an authority, a dark non-human, spiritual power that is opposed to everything that God is. 

Because of that, Paul writes, take up the full armor of God – salvation, righteousness, faith, truth, and readiness. Pick up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and pray like crazy. If you make any sort of attempt to spread the word of God, you are going to face evil and you’re going to have to resist. 

But Elymas isn’t the only one working with a higher spiritual power… 

[ 013 ] 9 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.

Does that sound familiar? This is the mirror of what happened to Paul himself, right? He too found himself struck by blindness and not able to see for a time. He too needed to be led around by the hand. The powerful Elymas is suddenly made weak, disarmed, humiliated, because he ran into Something more powerful than all of his black magic. Colossians 2 says that’s because of the cross. That at the cross, Jesus eliminated the record of sin that stood against you, and took it away by nailing it to the cross. [ 014 ] And as he did, Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them! 

The power of Jesus at work in Paul completely humiliated the power at work in Elymans, and for Sergius the proconsul, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back [ 015 ] . 12 Then, when he saw what happened, the proconsul believed, because he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

How did this chapter begin? And the word of God continued to spread and multiply. An apostle’s death couldn’t stop it, a deranged and blood-thirsty king couldn’t stop it, and now a demon-possessed wise man couldn’t stop it. And what keeps the gospel progressing forward? Four things I see in this passage: [ 016-1 ]

  1. Corporate Worship. They were worshiping together. Fasting together. Intentionally seeking the Lord. Praying together. Fasting again. Working together, leaning on each other’s gifts, seeking wisdom from each other
  2. [ 016-2 ]Faith in Action They prayed, fasted, prayed some more, then at some point they agreed together that this is the Holy Spirit speaking, so let’s go! They made major changes in their lives, made travel arrangements, and started walking. The gospel progresses when the people of God put faith into action. 
  3. [ 016-3 ]Discipleship. The gospel spreads when we put our arm around someone and say follow me. Let’s do this together. Maybe it’s in a formal setting, like inviting someone to come to church with you, maybe it’s just, hey want to grab a coffee or go for a walk or have play dates with the kids or whatever. The gospel is always one generation away from dead, so it’s important that we have others in our homes, in our lives, training them formally or informally what it looks like to follow Jesus.  
  4. [ 016-4 ]The gospel will continue to spread when we go Ready for Spiritual Warfare. If you’re going to live for Jesus, you should expect opposition. Our enemy the devil has no interest whatsoever in seeing the word of God expand and multiply. He’d prefer the opposite. So expect that you will face opposition. Maybe it’ll be in the form of demonic activity like Elymas – or maybe it’ll just be in the area of subtle temptations in our own hearts. But Paul says put on the armor. You don’t tell someone to put on their helmet if you’re not expecting a battle. It’s not peace time, it’s war time. I started praying this with and for my kids before School every day for the past couple of weeks: Lord, as we walk out this door today, we walk into a battle. We need your armor, your strength, and your Spirit. Deliver us from evil today, because yours in the kingdom the power and the glory forever, Amen. 

So today, we’re going to end by putting into practice what we’re reading. We have a family that’s been attending River City for two years or so, and for the past couple months they have been assisting a group that is starting a new church in Washington Iowa. I’m sure a lot of prayer has gone into this team and the decision to be part of what these guys believe God is doing in Washington, and so today, we have the opportunity to send them out and bless them in the work of this new church. So, Ryan and Shanon and girls, you can come on up front. 

  1. Give us the elevator pitch - in what ways have you sensed God leading you in this to this point? 
  2. What is your role in the new church? 
  3. How can we pray for you today?