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(Acts 13:1–12) Wrestling Rasputins

(Acts 13:1–12) Wrestling Rasputins

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 13:1–12

One of Satan's strategies is to dilute the Gospel just enough so that it loses its transforming power. Sharing about God's love and neglecting to discuss God's wrath dilutes the gospel.

CLICK HERE to access all of the messages in this series.



That’s not the last time a holy man has exherted power over political empires.  Today, robed men claiming to be advising the will of God are exhorting Yeltsin to sign legislation which will disallow any religious organization to stay on Russian soil that has been established any time in the last 15 years.  The Russian Orthodox church is simply trying to stamp out the truth – these holy men whisper to Yeltsin what will only increase his future guilt and doom.

Rasputin wasn’t the first one either to use pseudo-spirituality to influence.

In fact, on the very first missionary journey of the Apostle paul, a holy man with great influence attempted to stand in the way – in a rare display of immediate judgement, God turns the tables: the holy man is exhiled in disgrace and the political leader comes to faith in Christ – in fact, history records that for two generations, this famous political family will spawn a godly heritage.

I want you to turn in your Bibles to the Book of Acts, and study with me the drama of this incredible encounter.

13:1 Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the  tetrarch, and Saul.

Now stop a moment – before we get to the missionary’s challenge I want to look briefly at this missionary church.

Two  offices are functioning in this effective model ekklesia – the office prophet which will remain until the church finishes its formation stage, thus serving as a funnel of God’s revelation to the church; and the office of teacher; those who are already expounding and explaining the revealed will of God through the revelation of Jesus’ own words and works.

There are five men listed among the leadership:

-Barnabas – we’ve already looked closely at this incredible man of grace and humility.

-Saul finishes the list – he will in this passage be called for the first time Paul – Paul was his Roman surname, Saul his Jewish name.  As Saul enters the ministry more and more to the Gentile peoples, he will become known, only as Paulos or Paul.

In between these men that we have already been introduced to in the Book of Acts are three other men. 

-Simeon who was called Niger.  The construction of this list indicates that Simeon was also from Cyrene – a city along the North African coast.  He was called by this name “Niger” – the Latin word simply means black skinned.  It’s the word from which we get our word Negro.  Simeon was a black North African believer – furthermore, many believe this Simeon was the same man who carried the cross beam of Christ to Golgotha.   Mark’s gospel tells us that the Simeon who carried Christ’s cross-beam was the father of Alexander and Rufus.  Later in Romans 16, Paul mentions that the mother of Rufus was also his mother, an idiom that she took care of Paul while he was in Antioch.  In other words, Paul probably stayed in the  home of this Simeon – a man converted by virtue of his own eyewitness account of the crucifixion.  A conversion that led him to the point of leadership in the church of Antioch.

-The next name mentioned is Lucius of Cyrene – perhaps a longtime friend of Simeon’s who perhaps came to faith by means of Simeon’s own testimony.

-Finally, the name Manaen appears in the list.  Then the interesting phrase “who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch.”

This is not referring to Herod Agrippa whom we studied in chapter 12.  This Herod was Herod Antipas – the one guilty of beheading John the Baptist – also the same Herod before whom Jesus Christ stood while on trial.

Manaen was reared with this Herod.   His relationship to Herod was described as “syntrophos” – a word that referred to someone being nursed by the same woman as a baby.   It could be translated “foster brother”.  It was a term given to boys who were the same age as royal princes and who were raised with them at court.  They were schoolmates.  As boys, Herod Antipas and Manaen went to class together, played together, studied together, laughed together; heard the same lectures, recited the same poetry. 

When they grew up, Manaen would become a believer in Christ; Herod would scoff at Christ before sending him back to Pilate. 

By the grace of God, Herod’s foster brother became a minister of Gospel; Herod became a murderer of a gospel messenger.

Look at the leadership of this church!  A Jew from Cyprus; a black man from Africa; a Gentile, an aristocrat and a converted Rabbi – wow!

The church at Antioch became an example of unity in the face of diversity.

The church in Antioch proves that prejudice is not fundamentally a problem of color – it is fundamentally a problem of character . 

Convert the character and you eliminate the hatred.

This church would become a microcosm of what God was going to do with the gospel – it would go to every tongue, tribe and nation.

 2 And while they were ministering (that’s a key word you ought to underline – we’ll come back to it in a second)  to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

The word ministering is often translated in the New Testament as “worship”.  It’s a greek word leitourgew which gives us our word “liturgy”.

It was often used in the OT Septuagint for the work of priests ministering in the temple, going about their duties.

In the New Testament, the word is used in reference to believers praying. 

We tend to think of praying before we go out and serve the Lord - have you ever thought about the fact that praying is Christian service – praying is ministry.

Further, in Philippians 3:3 we read the word translated “worship” – Paul reminds the believers that they “worship” in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus.  In other words, every activity of the believer is to be seen in the context of bringing glory to Christ.

Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God! 

You don’t just worship one hour – you worship all week. 

You don’t experience one hour of liturgy but a lifetime of liturgy.

Do you realize how that elevates and sanctifies life – when you hammer a nail – you are glorifying God by doing it to the best of your God-given abilities.  Whether you’re changing a diaper or fixing an automobile or typing a paper or studying for an exam or examining a patient – it can all be liturgy – worship unto God.

The life controlled by the  Spirit of God is a life of worship.

Now notice the incredible response of their collective worship. 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.

Wait a second – sent them away?!

Imagine, releasing their best leadership – Barnabas and Saul – in one move they sent away nearly half of their pastoral staff – now don’t get any ideas.

What you have here is for the first time a local church is led to see the need for a witness beyond them to the larger world and then a willingness to send some from within their body to carry our the task.

Any church that wants to stand alongside of Antioch better get ready to invest some of their finest members.

I pulled from our web page the reports of our own teenagers who are serving on the island of St. Lucia.  The first team is back, the second Team is well under way.


4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And 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 And when they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they found a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence.

This Roman  politician was no intellectual child – he was simply caught up in the spirit of his day – wealthy families often employed their own private wizards who claimed to be able to read the future and assist their benefactors. 

Romans put great stock in powers of divination – charlatans like Bar-Jesus were smooth and knowledgeable – practicing a combination of pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-science slash mysticism.

History tells us that the family of Pauli was a well known family, producing many official statesman throughout the empire over a long period of time.

And here, close at his side is first century Rasputin.  The text tells us that he was a magician – a diviner.  This apostate Jew had evidently rejected the OT scriptures because they forbade any kind of sorcery.  He evidently was powerful because he had become an advisor to Sergius.

Notice vs. 7b.  This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the magician (for thus his name is translated) was opposing them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 

The tense of the verb indicates he was constantly trying to Sergius’ attention and mind away from the gospel.  He knew his livelihood depended on Saul and Barnabas failing to reach Sergius and Elymas was pulling every trick he could out of his magicians bag to divert Sergius’ attention.

9 But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the

Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze upon 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?

How’s that for tact and tolerance? 

Reminds you of the Lord who dressed down the holy men of his day – the Pharisees – he told them they were vipers and whitewashed grave stones – they looked clean and good but they were in reality filled with dead men’s bones.

The church today needs a shot in the arm of doctrinal courage.  Paul didn’t dialogue with Elumas – he called him a fraud.  He didn’t try to seek some middle ground of compromise so that they could work together in cleaning up the immorality of Paphos  - he called him a Son of Satan.

We are living in a church age (I’m not talking about the world, I’m talking about evangelicalism) where doctrinal compromise has become a virtue and truth has become offensive.

In our own evangelical community, dialogue and pseudo-fellowship with false systems of doctrine has replaced the bold exposure of doctrinal error and religious deceit.

Don’t talk about things that divide – don’t bring up controversial issues – don’t offend anyone

I’m going to save any more discussion on this point until we reach chapter 16 of Acts – and then I plan to offend as many people as possible with the truth.

Paul, with this one statement reveals three things:

He exposes the motive, the man and the ministry of Elymas.

Paul says of the man  in verse 10, “You Elymas are in fact full of deceit and fraud.’  Deceit can be translated “bait”.  It comes from the context of a fisherman who baits his hook, thereby seeking to deceive the fish into thinking dinner is ready – but instead hooking the fish.  Elymas was baiting Sergius with good things but ultimately leading him to spiritual ruin.

Fraud can be translated, “False pretenses”.  In other words, you have an outward religious appearance, but you have evil ambitions.

Saul then exposes the man Elymas really is – v. you who are full of deceit and fraud, you son of the devil

Paul is probably surrounded by dignitaries and other sorcerers – now if you go back to verse 6 you discover that Paul is actually making a pun of Elymas’ given name.  Notice “A Jewish false prophet whose name was Bar-Jesus”  Bar means son of – Jesus or Yeshua means Savior.

In other words, Elymas, you claim to be the enlightened son of the Savior.  Really, you are in fact, the son of Satan.  Paul goes on to say in verse 10, that he was also the enemy of all unrighteousness – that is he was the enemy, in fact, of God.

I imagine the entire audience gasped with Paul’s indictment – I can see Elymas’ eyes narrow with hatred.  Paul isn’t finished – he exposes the true ministry of Elymas – v.  10b.  will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?

Taking truth and twisting it – taking clear scripture and convoluting it, manipulating it to make it say something it does not say.

11 “And 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.

            The implication is no one would lead him by the hand – so he stumbled about trying to find someone who would help him – no one wanted to – he was exposed as an evil, ambitious man who had deceived Sergius’ entire household. 

We never read of Elymas again.

12 Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being

amazed at the teaching of the Lord.

Don’t miss this – Sergius was impressed by the miracle, but he was amazed by the teaching.

And he believed – that word means to have faith, to be persuaded, to rely upon, to trust.

The spell of Rasputin was broken – this time – and an entire family of royal standing became followers of Christ.


Will we dare to be like the church at Antioch?

Then we need three things:

We need open eyes looking toward the harvest fields of the world.

This coming March, Lord willing I will be traveling to India – preaching in the massive city of Delhi – why would I travel there?  Because I need open eyes to how God is working worldwide.  I need that global flame fanned in my own heart – it infects my preaching and teaching – you and I both need reminding that our God was the first missionary sending agency – He, the Father sent His own Son into our world to seek and to save those who were lost.

We need to have eyes for the world.  Antioch sent the first missionaries – we become like them when we send our own!!!!

Second: we need strong hands firmly gripping Biblical truth.

We need to know the word!

Let me read you this rather funny incident.


Go back to verse 12 and read, “Sergius was amazed at the teaching of the


The word “teaching” comes from the Greek word - Didakn – it means an established and formulated doctrine.

It is the body of truth that God has revealed through the Lord Jesus and then later the apostles and finally, the completed canon of scripture.

We are responsible, the Apostle Peter declared to be the pillar and ground of the truth – to communicate that body truth to faithful men who will teach others also.

I’ve had at least 100 people come up to me over the years and say, “this is the first church I’ve ever come to where I expect to learn something new from the Bible.”

We have forgotten that our purpose is not only to make disciples but to teach them a body of truth.

Pastor Scott of our Children’s Ministries along with Pastor Brian are working on a scope and sequence that will take a child from first grade through 12th grade and comprehensively teach them Biblical truth.

I talked with Scott yesterday and he reminded me of some of the things children will learn if their parents want them to sign up for a new program:

            PASTOR SCOTT

Study to show thyself approved unto God, workmen that need never be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15)

Finally, we need courageous hearts to expose the Father of lies and worship the Father of truth.

This past week, 173 Protestant churches closed their doors and went out of business.

Divisiveness; immorality; bankruptcy; loss of vision and purpose; collapse of doctrinal distinctives; empty pews; disillusioned leaders.

Are we running out of harvest?  If the Protestant evangelical church in America simply kept up with the population in America, today, we should have some 200,000 more churches – we don’t.  In fact, this year we have 9,000 less than last year.  173 every week turn out the lights and walk away.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re engaged in a battle over the truth – one of the strategies of the enemy is to dilute the message so that it has no clarion call, no distinction or power; no reformation of the individual or high view of God.

But for those who like Paul and Barnabas, are willing to speak the truth, you won’t see churches folding, you will see churches flourishing.

May it be for us – by the faithful grace of God and submissive believers that make up this church, may we face every day as a new opportunity to worship our Lord.

Pray about modulars!

Wrestling Rasputins (Acts 2)

Let me read you some comments I’ve edited from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica – I always knew one day I’d use this incredibly expensive set of books we paid 30 dollars a month on for ten years.

By the way, If I were to ask you what was responsible for the downfall of a 1,000 year old Russian monarchy, the murders of Csar Nicholas II, his wife and children, the rise of Lenin and the Boltshevik revolution – if I were to ask you what was the one fundamental cause that sparked it all, you would probably never even imagine the answer would be the work of one man.  One demonically empowered holy man named Grigory Yefimovich.

Let me read:

While Grigory was still in his teens he gained a reputation for being able to predict the future as well as his immoral lifestyle.   The local villagers gave him the nickname Rasputin which means, debauchery.  When he was 22 he made a spiritual pilgrimage to Mt. Athos in Greece.  There he came under the influence of a heretical religious sect known as the Flagelents.  They believed sinning was necessary to salvation – the more you sinned the more secure your salvation.  Two years later, Rasputin reappeared in his Russian village as a mysterious holy man – with a penchant for immorality and an unusual ability to cure the sick. 

He eventually wandered into the capital city of St. Petersburg where society was in the midst of delving into mysticism and the occult.  They warmly received theis unkempt peasant holy man with strange eyes and unusual healing talents.    Eventually, Rasputin gained an audience with the imperial family – Csar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra – they were struggling with the incurable condition of their son.  The boy suffered from hemophilia.  When Rasputin demonstrated an ability to ease the boys suffering, he was welcomed into the fmaily circle as a close and trusted frined – Aleandra came to revere him as a holy man sent by God to save her son, and her husbands throne.

Under the spell of his influence chief advisor however, capable men were exhiled and corrupt men put in their place. Even after Alexandra was confronted with Rasputin’s scandals in and out of court, she refused to believe any of it – he was a holy man with power to help her son.

Finally, as a result of Rasputin’s control over the palace, the war effort abroad failed.  At home, the people had already begun to plan their revolution against the Csar. 

A group of cabinet members and royalty also conspired to assinate Rasputin – On the night of December 30th just 80 years ago, Rasputin was invited to what he thought was a royal party – instead he drank poisoned wine.  When he didn’t die, one frantic guest then shot him.  Rasputin was able to run out into the courtyard where he was shot again and then thrown in to the river  - where he finally died by drowning.  The damage to Russian soceity at large had already been done.

Just three months later, Csar Nicholas abdicated his throne.  Not satisfied with that – members of the revolution brutally murdered Csar Nicholas, Alexandra and their children.

What was behind it all?  A holy man with evil ambitions.

One historian wrote, If there had been no Rasputin, there would never have been a Lenin – no Lenin and there would never have been the propogation of atheistic communism through the empire of the Soviet Union. 


A New England high school teacher was teaching a class – “The Bible as Literature.”  Only seniors in the top 10% of the class could enroll in the class.  A pre-test was given to evaluate the students biblical knowledge.  Bizarre answers were turned in.  One student defined the Epistles as  “the wives of the Apostles.”  Chuck Swindoll was so humored by this answer that he shared it during one of his sermons at his former chruch in Fullerton.  To is embarrassment, one of his church members approached him after the service and  asked, “Listen, if the Epistles weren’t the wives of the Apostles, whose wives were they?”

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