Christianity Faces the Pagan World
February 12th, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
CHRISTIANITY FACES THE PAGAN WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-12-78 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing this hour with the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor preaching through the Book of Acts; in chapter 13 now; the message entitled Christianity Faces the Pagan World. The thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts records the first missionary journey, and the reading of the text is this:
So they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit—
Barnabas and Saul—
departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus—
this was the home of Barnabas—
And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews . . .
And when they had gone through the island to the other side they came unto Paphos—
the capital of the Roman province of Cyprus—
and they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-Joshua—Bar-Jesus:
Who was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, who was a prudent man—
who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.
But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith.
Then Saul, (who is also called Paul,) filled with the Holy Spirit, set his eyes on him,
And said, O full of all subtilty and mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert he right ways of the Lord?
And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season.
And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he was going about seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the teaching, the doctrine of the Lord.
[Acts 13:4-12 ]
So Barnabas and Saul, called by the Holy Spirit and consecrated by the church in Antioch with the laying on of hands, leave on the first missionary journey [Acts 13:2-3]. And they make the journey from Antioch west to where the Orontes River pours into the Mediterranean—about sixteen miles [Acts 13:4]. And from that port city of Seleucia, they sailed away to Cyprus. And when they come to Salamis, which is on the eastern side of the island, they preached the word of God in the synagogues [Acts 13:5]. Do you notice the plural? When they came to Salamis, they preached the word of God in the “synagogues” [Acts 13:5].
There were many, many thousands of Jews in Cyprus and in Salamis. About 116 AD, some sixty years or more beyond this date, they rebelled; and in the awful and tragic conflict that ensued, there were two hundred forty thousand Greeks who were slain. One Jewish soldier is the most awesome spectacle in military warfare I know in human history. In 66 AD, the little country of Judea and Galilee rebelled against Rome. And it took the Roman Empire four years to quell that rebellion. So it is here. I would hate to be on the other side of a Jewish army.
This in Cyprus, preaching the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; isn’t it a tragedy the trouble that has afflicted that island? Just a few years ago there was an awesome confrontation between Greek and Turk. And the war that went on and they divided the island. And Greece and Turkey are still bitter enemies, which is a weakness for NATO and for us in this American hope for peace and deliverance from war against Russia. In Cyprus, they are preaching the gospel of the Son of God. And so having preached the word in Salamis [Acts 13:5], they cross the island to the capital city of Paphos [Acts 13:6]. And this is one of the most interesting deliverance of the messages of the Lord to be found in all Christian history.
First of all, we are going to look at what the critics for years and centuries have pointed out as a certain error in the Bible—a sure and certain mistake. They say, “This cannot be the inerrant, infallible Word of God, for it is full of mistakes, and there is one of them.” And with great scholarly pride and assurance, they say, “Look what Luke has written there in the Word of God. This man named Sergius Paulus, who is the governor of the Roman province, is called an anthupatos, translated here ‘deputy’” [Acts 13:7]. What we would say is he is a proconsul. And that’s not so, the Bible critic says, for Cyprus was not a senatorial province. It was an imperial province and as such was ruled by the Roman Caesar, by the Roman legions, and the governor is always called a hēgemōn In Greek; he is a procurator, like Pilate and Felix and Festus. Because of Judea being volative, it was ruled by the Roman army, under the Roman Caesar. So they point to that. “This is a mistake because Cyprus was an imperial province under the Roman Caesar, and Sergius Paulus was not a proconsul. He was a procurator.” Ah! and with how many times, and through how many centuries, did they hammer that as being a mistake in the Bible.
Well, well, well, well, well! All of these omniscient ones who find the Bible full of mistakes and full of errors—just give it time. So days passed. Now, it is true that Strabo, the great Greek historian and geographer, said that Augustus Caesar divided the Roman Empire, of which he was the real founder, into two classes of provinces. He assigned to the senate those provinces that were quiet and at peace, with whom Rome had no trouble. And the senate appointed a governor over the senatorial provinces who was called a proconsul, an anthupatos. But the volative provinces of the empire, Augustus Caesar kept for himself because they were ruled by the army. And whoever controlled the army controlled the empire.
So Augustus Caesar divided the provinces that were volative, rebellious, troublesome—like Judea. He kept those for himself, and they were imperial provinces ruled over by a hēgemōn, the word in Greek, a “procurator.” So Strabo says that when Augustus Caesar divided up the provinces of the empire, he kept Cyprus for himself. Therefore, it was an imperial province. It was under the Roman Caesar, and it was ruled by a procurator, a hēgemōn, and not by a proconsul, as though it were a senatorial province, as Luke writes here in describing Sergius Paulus [Acts 13:7].
Now, Luke did not do this adventitiously because three times there in the seventh verse, in the eighth verse, and in the twelfth verse he refers Sergius Paulus as an anthupatos, as a proconsul, as an appointee of the Roman Senate [Acts 13:7, 8, 12]. “So there is a mistake in the Word of God. It is not infallible. It is not inerrant. There is an error and a mistake!” So they basked in their superiority for centuries. And then the days go by, and the years come by, and in recent years somebody found a lost book of Dio Cassius, the great Greek historian. And in that volume discovered, written by Dio Cassius, he says that five years after Caesar Augustus divided the Roman Empire into those two classes of provinces that Augustus relinquished to the senate the province of Cyprus in exchange for another province that he wanted. And thereafter, Cyprus was a senatorial province ruled by proconsuls—an anthupatos—just as Luke writes here in the Book [Luke 13:7].
And as though that were not enough, recently, and I have been there looking at all of those diggings, I have seen Paphos here, dug out. Recently they found a lot of coins, and those coins confirm that during all of these years Cyprus was under a proconsul, an anthupatos. And then, as though that were not enough, in recent years those archaeologists have dug up two inscriptions in which they named the proconsuls of the Roman province of Cyprus, and they name this man right here, Sergius Paulus, as a proconsul of the Roman province of Cyprus.
Did you know these archaeologists have been digging in the mounds and in the tells and in the ruins of the ancient Levant for hundreds and hundreds of years? And did you know there has never yet been a spade of archaeological dirt turned but that confirms the Word of God? That to me is a modern miracle. There are thousands of mistakes these pseudo-critics have said they have found in the Bible. But as the days pass, and the centuries pass, and we dig up those archaeological ruins, every time an artifact, an inscription or a hieroglyphic, an ostracon, every time anything is discovered, it always confutes the critic. If I were he, I would be ashamed. They are never ashamed. They are blatant liars, and they love their misrepresentations.
Every time a spade of dirt is turned, it confirms the truth of the Word of God and places them in humiliating shame. You see, God says this Book is theopneustos—God-breathed—inspired by the Holy Spirit and as such it is infallible and inerrant, the God-revealed truth of the mind of the Lord [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. Sure makes me glad, because I would hate to be preaching up here and telling you what God says, and then these critics come along and say that is not so, and the critic is right. Wouldn’t that be terrible? But with great assurance; my feet may tremble, but the rock on which I stand is never moved—the enduring Word of the living God [Psalm 119:89].
So on this first missionary journey [Acts 13:2-3], we meet these Gentile people, who are governing the Roman province of Cyprus. First here is Sergius Paulus. And right there is one of the most magnificent Greek adjectives that you could ever use to describe a man. Here in the text it says the deputy, the anthupatos, the proconsul of the province, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man [Acts 13:7]; fine, nothing wrong with that; a prudent man; a sunetos man.
Now, the verbal form of that word is suniēmi which really means, actually means, literally means “to put together”—to put together; suniēmi. And the adjectival form of the verb is sunetos. That is, here is a man who is able in his mind to put things together. You could translate it literally “intelligence.” He is an intelligent man. He makes for understanding. He sees a situation, and he’s able to put it together; a sunetos man [Acts 13:7].
That is the finest Greek adjective that I know. And it applies here to Sergius Paulus. And as such he called for Barnabas and Saul to hear from them the word of God [Acts 13:7]. Any intelligent man is like that. Does God say something? What does He say? And his heart is open. It is not closed. And he lets God speak to him by the Holy Spirit and by the Word. So this man, Sergius Paulus, listens to the word of God. And he is the first Roman aristocrat to become a convert to the Christian faith. It says here, “he believed” [Acts 13:12]. That is, he became a Christian.
Then there is a parenthesis there that I think is not adventitious. It is purposely said: “Then Saul, (who is called Paul)” [Acts 13:9]. After this moment, he’s never called Saul again. He is always called, by Luke and all of the apostles and all of the disciples, he is called Paul. Well, why should it have been right there? That little parenthesis, “Then Saul,” parenthesis, “(who is also called Paul),” parenthesis, “filled with the Holy Spirit” [Acts 13:9]: why should it be right there? Well, this is just my thinking now. I would suppose being a Roman citizen [Acts 22:28]; Paul had both names from the beginning. Saul his Jewish name: Paul, “little, small,” Paul his Roman name. Paul is Roman, “Paulus” is Roman. So I suppose he had both names from the beginning. But maybe he didn’t. Maybe he took that name Paulus from that first illustrious convert that God had given him; and maybe, since God sent him to Rome, he used that Roman name as a brother in the faith with Sergius Paulus and as God’s emissary to the Roman Empire. I don’t know. It is just interesting that when Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of the Roman province of Cyprus, and an aristocrat before the Roman Senate—that this man gave his name thereafter to the great mighty preacher of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, God’s missionary, the apostle Paul.
Now, there is in the court at Paphos, where Sergius Paulus reigns as governor, deputy, proconsul, anthupatos—there is a certain sorcerer, sorcerer [Acts 13:6]. Well, the Greek word is magos, and it actually means an “astrologer”; a magos, an astrologer. There was an astrologer there, and Luke says that in Arabic, or in Aramaic, his name is Elymas, meaning “the wise one”—just the same thing: magos, “a wise one,” an astrologer; “Elymas,” same word translated. Luke writes here in—the same name in Arabic or in Aramaic. And this man, Luke calls a false prophet [Acts 13:6, 8]. He is an impostor of the first order. And this man has control over the mind and will and actions and decisions of Sergius Paulus [Acts 13:8]. Now, you would say immediately, “How could such a thing be? This man Sergius Paulus is called sunetos—the best Greek adjective in the vocabulary. He’s intelligent. He’s a man of learning and understanding and discernment. And yet he’s under the influence of this astrologer—this, translated “sorcerer”—this magos. How could such a thing be?”
Well, when you go back in Roman history and read of those people two thousand or more years ago, it would be very apparent. For the first time, the Roman Empire opened the floodgates of Eastern culture and civilization. And the Western world and the Roman mind was simply overwhelmed by the mysticism that poured out of the East. They were enthralled with it. They were overwhelmed by it. They were astonished with it. Consequently, throughout the Western world of the Roman Empire, you find these magi, “magicians” in English, you find these astrologers and these false prophets, as Luke calls them, you find them everywhere!
Look, the great Roman general and conqueror Marius, and Pompey, and Crassus, and Caesar, all of them—before they went on a great military campaign, first consulted the astrologers! One of the satiric poems of Juvenal, the great Latin poet, he paints for us a picture of the emperor Tiberius Caesar. And I quote from him. Quote: “Sitting on his rock Capri surrounded by a flock of Chaldeans,” astrologers; these false impostors pouring out of the East, deigning to know the mind of the future, and all wisdom wrapped up in their words of advice and admonition.
“Well,” you say, “what dupes back there two thousand years ago.” Oh, oh, two thousand years ago? There is not an issue of the [Morning] News in Dallas; there is not an issue of the Times Herald in Dallas that would dare come off of a press without its astrological column! And when you go to the editors and say, “What do you mean publishing this blatant superstition in the daily newspapers?” And the editors say, from one side of the continent to the other, “We couldn’t sell them without those astrological prognostications.”
We are a nation of sheer, unadulterated idiots! The most successful businessman I ever knew in my life, one day when I was visiting with him, he revealed to me that before he made any decision he consulted a medium, a female astrologer, to tell him what to do. When I came to this church—and I don’t have time to recount it—I fell into the hands of necromancers, people who interpret for you what the dead are telling us, and mediums and spiritualists. Ah!
So Sergius Paulus, this intelligent Roman aristocrat, is under the guiding hand of a sorcerer, a necromancer, a magician, an astrologer, a male witch. So when Paul delivers to this Sergius Paulus the message of the true and living God, immediately he falls into confrontation with this astrologer [Acts 13:8-11].
Now that is a lesson for us of the first proportions. That’s Satan, that’s demon possession and that’s the way Satan works in the world. He’s not against religion. He’s not against the expression of religious faith. He’s for religion. He builds it up. He makes it powerful in the earth, Satan does. The only thing Satan does is, he perverts it, and he uses it, and he misuses it, just like this Elymas, the sorcerer, magician, astrologer here, opposing the word of God.
So through the world’s false religions are the greatest antithetical, dia—opposite that Christianity ever has. Over there in the nineteenth chapter of the book of this same Acts—and we will get to it after a while—the whole city, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, the whole city is in an uproar. And why are they in uproar? All of the citizens are out shouting, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians! Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” [Acts 19:28]; false religions.
Or take again, in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul is in the greatest intellectual center the world has ever known. And I don’t think there will ever be another like it. He was in Athens. That’s the home of the greatest philosophers who have ever lived. That’s the home of the greatest painters, and architects, and poets, and dramatists that have ever lived. I don’t think we will ever exceed the marvel of the culture, and literature, and architecture, and poetry, and philosophy of those ancient Athenians. Paul is there. And as he walks through the city, they take him up to the court of their Areopagites. Take him up to the court, the supreme court of Athens, and they sat him there. And he addresses the supreme court of the Athenians, in the greatest intellectual center the world has ever known, and he begins his address saying, “Ye men of Athens, as I passed by, I see that you are deisidaimonesteroi, deisidaimonesteroi, translated in the King James Version, “very superstitious.” Goodness, no! That would have been an insult to that intelligent audience—deisidaimonesteroi. “I see that in all things, you are very religious,” very reverent. “For as I passed by, I saw an altar with this inscription on it”; agnōstō theō, to the God we do not know, “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” [Acts 17:22-23].
This the most intelligent community the world has ever seen. And it is the most reverent. And it is the most religious. That’s Satan using faith and religion for perversion, for his own purposes; same way in America. America as a nation falls down and worships hedonism—pleasure and entertainment; falls down and worships humanism—the capability of man; falls down and worships mammon—materialism, secularism. You will never pass beyond it. Somewhere, somehow in every human life there is something beyond yourself you’re giving yourself to. That’s religion. And that’s Satan. And he confronts the Christian faith always with a perverted faith and a perverted devotion.
And he did so here with Sergius Paulus, there that false prophet, that astrologer standing at his hand to resist the true word of God [Acts 13:7-8]. So Saul looks at him, and you look at what he says. Saul, filled with the Holy Spirit, set his eyes on that astrologer, that magician, that necromancer, that sorcerer, and he says: “O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” [Acts 13:9-10].
Oh, what language! Man, you don’t expect that from a preacher. A preacher is supposed to be sugar and spice and everything nice. You don’t expect that from a man of God. You see, we have fallen into that kind of a trap because Satan has deceived us, and we always are preaching a half-Christ. We are preaching a half-truth. We preach Christ’s love, Christ’s grace, Christ’s pity, Christ’s compassion, which is true on that side. Christ is the author of grace, and mercy, and salvation [John 1:14]. But He is also the great Judge of all the earth! [2 Timothy 4:1]. And someday, the entire world will stand before Him! And you look how that day is. The sixth chapter of the Revelation closes, “And they cried for the rocks and the mountains to fall on them, and to hide them from Him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” [Revelation 6:16]. What a juxtaposition of words! “Wrath of the Lamb”; a lamb is a quiet, docile, soft, pure, little, innocent creature. The wrath of the Lamb! Oh, what words!
Or take again in the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews and in the twelfth chapter: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31]. “…for our God is a consuming fire” [Hebrews 12:29]. When a man trifles with God, he trifles with his destiny and with his soul. He shall someday stand before Christ, who is Judge of all of the earth and your Judge [Hebrews 12:23].
So this man Saul stands here before Sergius Paulus and that Elymas, that magos—that sorcerer, that necromancer, that spiritualist, that astrologer—doing everything that he can to oppose the word of the living God [Acts 13:8]. How many times do you find that in the Bible, where the man of God is opposed by the legate of state? It is an Elijah standing before Ahab [1 Kings 18]. It is an Amos standing before Amaziah [Amos 7:10-17]. It is a John the Baptist standing before a Herodias [Mark 6:17-29]. It is a John Chrysostom standing before the empress Eudoxia. It is a Savonarola standing before Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. It is a John Knox standing before Bloody Mary, Queen of Scots. It is a Martin Niemöller standing before Adolf Hitler. The man of God, standing in the presence of these who are possessed with evil—but he is to stand. That is the calling of the prophet, and the apostle, and the preacher of the grace of the Son of God.
Now I must close. Were it not for the power of the Holy Spirit, Christianity would have been swallowed up by paganism and heathenism years and years ago. But in the power of the Holy Spirit, this man Sergius Paulus was able to see through the cheapness, and the misconceptions, and the deceptions of the astrologer, and came to a living faith in Jesus, the Son of God [Acts 13:12]. That is the Holy Spirit, who opens a man’s heart to the truth [Ephesians 1:17-18].
I don’t think I was any more moved than I was when a man described to me a great throng in his city that had gathered in the municipal auditorium. They were having there presentations of the religions of the world, and that night was the confrontation between the Buddhist and the Christian. The Buddhist priest stood up, suave, gifted, and learned, he presented the Buddhist religion; one of meditation, one of quiet and introspection. Right out there where I live, just beyond there is a great big house taken over by these gurus, by all of those Orientals who believe in that kind of soul salvation. And they have got a big sign out there. All you have to do is go over there and enter. Pay them a certain amount, and they lead you in to Nirvana. So this Buddhist priest, and with suave language and learned perorations, he described the salvation found in the Buddhist religion.
Somehow, for some reason nobody could explain, the preacher who represented Christ, presented the Christian religion, did so awkwardly and with stumbling steps. And when he described how God came down in to human form, it didn’t sound believable. And when he described how it was God who died on the cross, it seemed fantastic. And the whole thing fell to the ground. And they had a rebuttal, a brief one from each one. And when the Christian preacher sat down, having made a poor, weak and anemic presentation, the Buddhist priest stood up in rebuttal and decimated him, pulverized him, made him sound ridiculous, that a man could believe such things as is revealed in the Christian religion.
And when he got through, this man describing it to me said, when that Buddhist priest got through, somehow, some way, and nobody knew, and nobody understood, way back up there in the topmost balcony of that vast auditorium, a man stood up. And he began to sing this song:
All hail the power of Jesus’ name
Let angels prostrate fall
Bring forth the royal diadem
And crown Him Lord of all.
And another one over here and one over there stood up and joined in the second stanza:
Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race
Ye ransomed from the fall.
Hail Him who saves you by His grace.
And crown Him Lord of all.
And by that time, the whole vast throng stood up and joined in the third stanza:
Let every kindred, every tribe
On this terrestrial ball
To Him all majesty ascribe
And crown Him Lord of all.
[“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” Edward Perronet, 1780]
And the fellow said to me, that Buddhist priest tucked down his head and in humiliation snuck away. “It is not by power, and it is not by might, but it is by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6]. That is, it’s not by learning, and it’s not by argument. It’s by the convicting, saving, regenerating power of the Spirit of God that a man comes to know the living Lord [Titus 3:5].
So Sergius Paulus, a sunetos, an intelligent man [Acts 13:7], listening to the word of God, turned from his astrology, and his sorcery, and turned from all of the blandishments of the aristocratic Roman Senate and became a humble, devout follower of the Lamb—the first aristocratic convert in the Roman Empire [Acts 13:12]. Oh, bless the name of heaven, that we also have an opportunity to enter such a redeemed company! I can’t convince you, nor would I try. I cannot convert you. It is not in human hands. It is the Spirit of God that does it [John 16:6-15]. The Lord speaks [John 10:27-30]. It is the Holy Spirit that woos when we listen to the voice of God. Here we are, brethren in the faith, enrolled in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12], loving one another, and loving Him.
And that is our appeal to your heart this morning. If the Lord’s Spirit has spoken, would you answer with your life. “Here I am, pastor, I am on the way.” In the balcony round, a family, a couple, or just you; in the press of people on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front: “Here I am, preacher. I have decided for God, and I am coming.” Bring your family, just the two of you, or just one somebody you: “I am coming, preacher, today, this moment. I am on the way. Here I am.” Do it now. Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.
FACES THE PAGAN WORLD
A. First missionary
journey, 45 AD
B. To Cyprus, home of
Barnabas, an island that has known tragic troubles
C. To Paphos, capital
of the province
II. The credibility of Luke
A. Here a classic
instance of the attack on the Bible – use of antupatos
discoveries validate Luke’s writing
2. The miracle of
III. The people involved
A. Sergius Paulus
1. Finest Greek adjective
used to describe him – intelligent
3. First pagan
convert of stature in the Roman province(Acts
a. A meaning for
parenthesis in Acts 13:9
B. Bar-Jesus (son of Joshua)
1. Called in
Greek magos, “astrologer” – false prophet(Acts
2. His influence
upon Sergius Paulus
a. Whole Roman Empire
open to these astrologers
b. After 2,000 years,
we have the same astrologers
IV. The confrontation
not opposed to religion, he just perverts it and uses it(Acts 13:6, 17:22-23, 19:28, 2 Timothy 3:8)
bold preaching of Paul in the power of the Holy Spirit
We fallen into trap of preaching a “half-Christ” (Revelation
6:16, Hebrews 10:31, 12:29)
Man of God opposed by legate of the state often found in Bible
2. Conversion of
a. Truth of the Lord
confirmed by the Holy Spirit
b. Debate – Buddhist vs.