Sermon title:

The Sorcerer vs. the Apostle

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, February 28, 2021

 

 

Some of us are old enough to remember

military conflict on the island of Cyprus

during the mid-1970’s.

 

It was a series of battles between Greeks and Turks

on that Mediterranean island,

and a Turkish invasion.

 

Gerald Ford was President of the United States

and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

was involved in the Cyprus maneuvering.

 

But I’d like to talk this morning

about a different battle on Cyprus

that occurred almost 2,000 years earlier.

 

You could call it the battle between

“the Sorcerer and the Apostle”

the Sorcerer versus the Apostle.

 

It was a fight between invisible evil forces

in the spirit realm,

and divine heavenly forces.

 

To the naked eye, there were just 2 men

facing off against each other—

Elymas the Sorcerer,

and Paul the Apostle of Christ.

 

But the real conflict was a spiritual one,

with heavenly forces arrayed against each other

in the invisible heavenly realms.

 

The Apostle Paul knew what he was up against,

because he later wrote a letter to the Ephesian church,

reminding us what all Christians are up against.

 

At Ephesians 6:12 he wrote that

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

 

But, to the naked eye,

in the incident we’re about to look at,

Paul was facing off against another man, a Sorcerer,

who was the visible human agent of those

powers of this world’s darkness,

those “spiritual forces of evil

in the heavenly realms.”

 

How did this conflict between Paul and the Sorcerer

come to occur?

 

To find out, we’ll trace Paul’s steps

that took him to the island of Cyprus 2,000 years ago.

 

The Apostles in Jerusalem sent Barnabas north

to the city of Antioch, to preach the Gospel there

among Greek-speaking people.             

 

And Barnabas went to Tarsus to fetch Paul,

and bring Paul back with him to Antioch

to help him in that work.

 

Some time later, the church in Antioch

sent the two of them to Jerusalem,

carrying financial aid to help the Jerusalem church

prepare for a coming food shortage.

 

Paul was still going by his Hebrew name Saul,

when we read about their return to Antioch

at Acts 12:25.

25 When Barnabas and Saul had fulfilled their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, bringing with them John, also called Mark.

 

Mark was a cousin of Barnabas,

who would later write the Gospel of Mark.

 

But, at this point, he was still a young man.

 

The older men taking the lead in the Antioch church

are named in the next verse.

1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch), and Saul. 2 While 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.” 3 And after they had fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

 

So, out of the 5 teaching elders in the Antioch church,

the Holy Spirit chose 2 of them—Saul and Barnabas

to go off to a new mission field.

 

They were being sent to the pagan island of Cyprus

in the eastern Mediterranean,

which required that they first go south

to the seaport city of Seleucia

and board a ship there to Cyprus.

 

The next Verse says,

4 So Barnabas and Saul, sent forth by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. And John was with them as their helper.

 

So, before preaching to the pagan Gentiles,

they first shared the Gospel of Christ with fellow Jews

in the Jewish communities on the island.

 

But word of what they were preaching

somehow reached the pagan Roman governor—

a “proconsul,” so likely a military governor—

and he was interested

in hearing more about it, firsthand.

 

He took the unusual step of inviting

Saul and Barnabas to come preach to him.

 

We read,

6 They traveled through the whole island as far as Paphos, where they found a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, a man of intelligence, summoned Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God.

 

This Roman proconsul was not only intelligent,

but also inclined toward righteousness,

a seeker of truth, as evident by his desire

to hear the word of God

that Barnabas and Saul were preaching.

 

Up until this point in time, Sergius Paulus

had been trying to fill his spiritual need

by listening to this

Jewish sorcerer and false prophet

named Bar-Jesus. 

 

The governor employed this sorcerer

as one of his personal attendants,

so he could listen to him.

 

But when the proconsul heard the Gospel message

from Barnabas and Saul

he began to believe.

That’s when the battle began—

a spiritual battle between the forces of darkness

and the truth of the Gospel.

 

The sorcerer said and did everything he could to prevent

that Roman proconsul from becoming a Christian.

 

The account goes on to say,

8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.

 

It was not just a personal thing,

pitting a sorcerer against an Apostle.

 

Sorcery derives its power from Satan the devil

and his evil demons,

whereas Saul and Barnabas were serving

as emissaries of Christ.

 

It was a battle for the soul of Sergius Paulus.

 

Would Satan hold onto his soul,

or would Christ free that Roman governor

from Satan’s power?

 

And, since the man was governor over that territory,

the battle had wider implications.

 

The outcome would affect the lives

of people who lived under his jurisdiction.

 

The visible part of the battle took place here in this world.

 

Spoken words flew back and forth

as Paul and Barnabas preached the Gospel

and the sorcerer raised arguments against them.

 

But this battle had a much larger invisible component

in the invisible heavens and the world of spirits.

 

Sorcerers and witches—which are essentially the same—

sorcerers and witches derive their power

from Satan the devil and his demons,

and all of that power was in play in this battle.

 

But the Holy Spirit of Almighty God

was the power behind Paul and Barnabas.

 

And that immeasurable power of God

broke through into this world

in what happened next,

to decide the battle.

 

Verse 9 says,

9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked directly at Elymas 10 and said, “O child of the devil and enemy of all righteousness, you are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery! Will you never stop perverting the straight ways of the Lord? 11 Now look, the hand of the Lord is against you, and for a time you will be blind and unable to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.

 

What a powerful divine intervention!

 

This was not Paul resorting to violence against his opposer.

 

It was Almighty God showing His power

to uphold the Gospel of Christ.

With the satanic obstacle removed,

proconsul Sergius Paulus became a Christian.

 

And the sorcerer who served the devil

was left groping about in the darkness.

 

This episode is a powerful reminder

of what the word “Almighty” means.

 

No power in heaven or earth can stand up against

the Almighty power of God.

 

But it’s also a reminder

of the invisible spiritual forces at play

in the world we live in, even today.

 

The same Holy Spirit is at work in the lives

of all who belong to Christ today.

 

And the same evil, demonic forces are still at work

in sorcery and witchcraft today.

 

Their influence is seldom seen in a direct face-off

like the Sorcerer versus the Apostle Paul,

but, rather, in more subtle ways.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice came out years ago

as a children’s cartoon.

 

When a curtain is pulled back, the Wizard of Oz

turns out to be a harmless old man.

 

But that story of the Wizard in the Emerald City

also features supposed

‘Good’ witches vs ‘Bad’ witches.

 

It promotes the idea that there ARE good witches—

contradicting the Bible

where God condemns ALL witchcraft.

At Exodus 22:18 God told the Israelites,

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”

according to the King James Bible.

 

The New King James Version translates that verse,

“You shall not permit a sorceress to live.”

 

Practicing witchcraft or sorcery

merited the death penalty

it was such a serious offense.

 

There are no ‘good’ witches, no ‘good’ sorcerers.

 

But the false teaching that there are ‘good’ witches

is conveyed in popular TV shows like

 

Bewitched

Sabrina, the Teenage Witch

and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

 

The Harry Potter books and movies

likewise teach kids

that there are good sorcerers and bad sorcerers,

whereas the Bible condemns ALL sorcerers.

 

God’s law through Moses to the nation of Israel

said at Deuteronomy 18:10,

10Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord;

 

Why are these things detestable to the Lord?

 

Why are witchcraft, sorcery and their associated practices

so strongly condemned in the Old & New Testaments?

 

Because they bring people into association

with enemies of God.

 

We cannot share with Satan the devil and his demons,

and share also in Christ.

 

At 1 Corinthians 10:20-21, the Apostle Paul

wrote,

“The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”

 

Taking part in witchcraft and sorcery

amounts to eating and drinking at the table of demons.

 

We cannot be in communion with Christ,

partaking of the cup and the bread at the communion table,

if we also participate with demons.

 

We need to avoid anything that would expose us

to the influence of demons.

 

And that means avoiding horoscopes, fortune tellers,

signs of the Zodiac, Ouija boards,

Reiki massage, Transcendental Meditation,

practice of magic and Yoga,

Tarot cards,  palm reading,

and a whole list of other practices

associated with witchcraft,

sorcery and demonic worship.

 

Curiosity may lead someone to look up their Zodiac sign—

Gemini, Sagittarius, or whatever—

just to see what it says about YOU.

 

Well, whatever it says is straight from

the mouth of demons.

 

They make it sound attractive,  

but their sole purpose is to draw you in,

to lead you to share their fate in the Lake of Fire.

 

Matthew 25:41 tells us that, when Christ returns,

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

 

The devil and his demon angels are headed for

punishment in the eternal fire.

 

And those who follow them,

those who partake in spiritistic practices,

go there with them.

 

Revelation 21:8 says,

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

 

Note that it names sorcerers, in particular,

as headed for that lake of fire.

 

A Facebook post may promise you happiness

if you share an image of the Buddha

with your friends.

 

That image of Buddha is a false idol—

a part of the pagan worship that is

tied in with the demons.

 

As we just read in Revelation

idolaters are headed for the lake of fire.

 

Should I be saying these things to a Christian church

full of believers in Christ?

 

Yes, these warnings NEED to be spoken to Christians.

 

That’s why Paul wrote to the Corinthian church

and warned them,

"You cannot drink the cup of the Lord

and the cup of demons too;

you cannot have a part in

both the Lord’s table

and the table of demons.”

 

Paul wrote that to Christians.

— to a Christian church.

-----------------------------

 

But what if your Yoga class is very dear to you?

 

What if some form of Eastern Meditation

 helps you cope with life?

 

Both of these are elements of Hinduism and Buddhism—

elements of pagan worship

that is directed to demons, not to the true God.

 

Hindu missionaries Swami Vivekananda  and 

Paramahansa Yogananda came to the U.S.

and made Hindu meditation popular here.

But Maharishi Mahesh Yogi  had the most success

because he called it “Transcendental Meditation”

and claimed it was “not religious.”

 

Those who popularized Yoga in this country

similarly claimed that it was “not religious.”

 

But the old Yoga.com website (now out of business)

featured an article titled "The Ultimate Goal of Yoga"

and it says very plainly, quote,

 "in all schools of yoga,

the goal of the practitioner

is the attainment of perfect tranquility

and spiritual insight

while meditating on Brahman

(the Hindu concept of divinity)." 

 

So, even if the local Yoga teacher chooses to hide it,

the Yoga.com web site admits

that Yoga is religious.  

Its goal is spiritual insight

through the Hindu concept of divinity.

 

But both Eastern Meditation and Yoga use “mantras”—

a Hindu word for praying to Hindu deities,

which are demons according to the Apostle Paul.

 

Instructors may tell new students of Meditation or Yoga

that their Mantra is just a meaningless sound,

to help them clear their mind.

 

But that is not true.   

 

Mantras are prayers to Hindu gods.

 

For example, the popular “Ganesh” Mantra

is a Sanskrit-language prayer

to an elephant-headed Hindu ‘god’

begins with the words that mean,

“O Ganesha, god with a curved trunk...”

 

If the practice of Yoga or Eastern Meditation

has been a cherished part of your life

that you find difficult to give up for Christ,

think of Jesus’ words at

Matthew 18:8, where he said,

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.

 

If Yoga has been as precious to you

as your hand or your foot,

ask the Lord, and he will help you

throw away that demonic activity

that is so offensive to God.

 

There is an invisible battle going on,

with the demonic forces of darkness

waging war against the Gospel of Christ.

 

It’s just like when the sorcerer Elymas

contradicted the teaching of the Apostle Paul.

 

Every form of sorcery, witchcraft, magic &

pagan worshipis a tool of Satan the devil,

designed to lead people away from Christ.

 

Dabbling in these thingscan be very dangerous.

 

The Bible actually foretold that churched people

would be lured away by these things.

 

1 Timothy 4:1 says,

“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits

and things taught by demons.”

 

People turn to such things,

hoping to gain some advantage.

 

They turn to divining rods, hoping to find water.

They turn to fortune tellers, hoping to know their future.

They turn to Hindu meditation and Yoga,

hoping to find relaxation and escape stress.

 

But instead,

they put themselves in great danger.

 

As we read earlier, 1 Corinthians 10:20-21, says

“The sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too;

you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”

 

But if we steer clear of pagan demonic practices,

we have nothing to fear from them.

 

We belong to Jesus, and our Lord Jesus

is infinitely more powerful

than Satan and all his demons put together.

 

We can see that clearly in the battle that took place—

“the Sorcerer versus the Apostle”

when the Apostle Paul

confronted the sorcerer Elymas--

and the Gospel of Christ came off victorious.

 

We, too, come off victorious, when we trust in God

and reject demonic distractions.

James 4:7 says,

“Place yourselves under God's authority. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you.”