How to Think About Adversity the Right Way

Acts 13:1-12     |    Sermon Resources     |    7 June 2020


We enter a new section of Acts this week.  While the first twelve chapters dealt with the beginnings of the church and was centered primarily in Jerusalem, Luke will spend the rest of his time in Acts telling the story of Paul’s missionary activity throughout the entire Roman empire.

Chapter 13 marks the beginning of this missionary activity and what we call Paul’s missionary “journeys” and we see right from the beginning a pattern that will be repeated over and over in the chapters that lie ahead.  It is a pattern of adversity and opposition which often led to suffering.  We know what Paul thought about this pattern as he frequently reflected on it in the various letters he wrote (which of course now comprise much of the New Testament).  To cite one example of many we could use, consider his words to the Corinthians:

8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Cor 4:8-10)

What we see here, and through out Acts as well, is that the Holy Spirit is particularly at work in those hard times.  In the dark times.  In times of pain.  In times of adversity.  We would very much like for God to steer us around those things.  Our story today reminds us that not only does God prevail over the hard times, but he actually uses those hard times to accomplish his good purposes.

Paul’s First Missionary Journey



#1 Paul’s missionary journey was deliberate.

From the church in Antioch (v.1) Paul and Barnabas are singled out and set apart (v.2) for a special work to which they had been called by the Holy Spirit (v.2).  This marks the first time in Acts that a church deliberately commissioned and sent out missionaries.  Remember earlier, persecution was the catalyst that drove mission as the believers scattered from Jerusalem.   But this was an intentional, Spirit-led decision by a church to obey the Great Commission by deliberately sending Paul and Barnabas out.

The church in Antioch follows Jesus’ model of sending disciples out in pairs.  It’s possible that Paul and Barnabas had known each other for a while as both had connections to the church in Jerusalem.  Barnabas once sold a field to help build up the church (c.f. Acts 4:36-37) and Paul was at work attempting to tear down the church.  He was responsible for the imprisonment, and very likely the deaths, of many believers in Jerusalem (c.f. Acts 8:3).  Some of have suggested that it’s possible Barnabas knew some of those believers whom Paul had murdered.  And now they are missionary partners!

Recall as well, that Paul and Barnabas had worked hand-in-hand for an entire year with the church in Antioch (c.f. Acts 11:26).  Can you imagine, then, how difficult this must have been for the church to see their founding leaders be sent away?  These were very likely two of the most beloved men in the church.  But mission mattered more than their own comfort.  This was certainly no “in-grown” church.


#2 Paul’s missionary journey was opposed.

Luke tells us for a second time in this short passage that they were sent out by the Holy Spirit (v.4).  Their first stop was Seleucia on their way ultimately to the island of Cyprus (v.4).

Once on the island they began their work by entering the synagogues of the Jews where they proclaimed the word of God (v.5).  This is a pattern Paul will repeat in city after city – going first to the Jewish synagogues.

They soon extend their ministry beyond the Jews having gained an audience with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence (v.7).  Here is a Roman leader who must have heard about Paul and Barnabas and therefore summoned them before him so that he might hear the word of God (v.7).  What an opportunity for the gospel!  The early church was not just sharing the gospel in the back alleyways of the Roman empire, but in the very centers of power.

But there is a problem.  There was a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus (v.6) who had the ear of the proconsul as well.  This was a man with a Jewish background, but as Luke tells us, he is a false prophet and the practitioner of forbidden magic (c.f. Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 19:31).  His name is Bar-Jesus, or son of Joshua.  Joshua is a Hebrew name which means “the Lord saves,” and so roughly translated his name is “son of salvation.”  But he is no son of salvation at all!

He actively opposed Paul and Barnabas seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith (v.8).  This was bad news for the apostles.  They finally have an audience with a man who actually wants to hear the word of God but they are opposed.

Luke does not tell us exactly what Bar-Jesus, or Elymas (v.8) as he is also called, does to oppose them.  But what kind of opposition do we face today from those who seek to oppose the gospel? I imagine it could have taken the form of personal attacks against Paul and Barnabas.  Perhaps a twisting of their words.  Here are some narrow-minded men who believe they only have found the only path of salvation!  That man, Paul, over there can’t be trusted at all – he’s a murderer!

Paul and Barnabas could have easily dropped their pursuit of the proconsul and gone where they had greater receptivity.  They could have begun to question their calling.  If the Holy Spirit has sent us to Cyprus, why are we facing such adversity?  What a burden Paul and Barnabas carried!


#3 Paul’s missionary journey prevailed.

For the third time now, Luke tells us that Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit (v.9) which is an important detail because Paul will need it for what comes next.  Paul looked intently (v.9) at Bar-Jesus and rebuked him harshly – “You son of the devil,  you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” (v.10).   Bar-Jesus is no “son of salvation,” he is a “son of the devil!” Paul then told him he would be blind and unable to see the sun for a time (v.11).

As the false prophet was losing his sight, the proconsul was gaining his. When he saw all that occurred, he believed (v.12).  Sergius Paulus becomes the first Gentile convert in Acts who had no obvious connection with the Jewish faith.  The eunuch had worshipped in Jerusalem (c.f. Acts 8:27), Cornelius was a God-fearer (c.f. Acts 10:2), but the only connection proconsul had with the Jewish faith was a crooked son of the devil, a false prophet.  He is the first completely Gentile convert to the faith.

And here’s the punchline we shouldn’t miss.  Not only did Paul and Barnabas prevail over adversity, but God used that very adversity for good.  This story ends the way it does not in spite of the opposition that was endured because of it.  This is a good reminder for us!

We all seem to want a carefree life devoid of any kind of adversity.  If we could call the shots, we’d steer clear of any kind of painful experience.  But here’s the amazing thing about the sovereignty of God—not only does God’s will prevail against adversity, he actually uses that very adversity for his good purposes.

Joseph’s enslavement in Egypt was evil, but God used that very thing for good. Jonah’s disobedience was bad, but God used his disobedience to do a good thing in the life of the sailors on his ship. The prodigal son returned only after a famine swept the land.  The famine was bad, but God used it for good.  The ultimate example is the example of the cross.  Through an evil act done by wicked men, God brought salvation for all who put their faith in him.

So in the midst of our difficult trials, we can rest!  We can experience real peace, even in the storms of life, knowing that Jesus is able not only to calm the wind and the waves but even to use them for his glory and our good.


Discussion Questions

  1. Even after the Holy Spirit spoke to reveal his will (v.2), the church continued to fast and pray (v.3).  What do we learn from this?  Why is this significant?
  2. Barnabas and Saul had been with the church in Antioch when it was first planted.  What do we learn about the priorities of the church that they would be willing to send off two of their most beloved leaders?
  3. Have you ever had to make a similar sacrifice?  Leaving what is comfortable and familiar to go where God was calling you?
  4. What do you think was motivating Bar-Jesus’ opposition to Paul and Barnabas?
  5. Consider a time when you experienced adversity or opposition from someone.  Share details only if appropriate.  How do you tend to think about adversity?  Is it something: (1) to be avoided at all cost?;  (2) that has the power to crush you?; (3) that God is able to use for his good purposes?
  6. Why is it important to have the right mindset about adversity?
  7. Name some examples from the Bible where God actually used adversity to accomplish his good purposes.

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