THE MISSIONARY VERSUS THE MAGICIAN
THEME: Paul, Barnabas and John Mark evangelize the island of Cyprus. In their efforts to win the proconsul of Cyprus, they incur the opposition of a magician/false prophet. Paul calls down judgment on Elymas, and the Holy Spirit converts Sergius Paulus.
SCRIPTURE: Acts 13: 4-12.
I. The missionary team leaves Antioch, sails to Cyprus, and proclaims Christ to the inhabitants of the island.
A. The Holy Spirit led Paul and Barnabas to Cyprus to begin the first missionary journey. Cyprus had been annexed by the Roman Empire in 57 BC into the province of Cilicia (capital: Tarsus); in 27 BC became an Imperial province ruled by Caesar Augustus; in 22 BC became a Senatorial province ruled by a proconsul. The trip from Antioch to Salamis was about 60 miles and took ~ 3 days.
1. Luke is very careful to be accurate in all his political facts: only fairly recent archaeology proved him correct about the government of Cyprus. Many scholars were convinced Luke was wrong about Sergius Paulus’ title, but there have been coins and inscriptions found that prove Luke was right, as usual.
2. Barnabas was a native of Cyprus and probably had family and kin on the island somewhere.
3. They started their evangelization efforts at Salamis, the primary eastern port of Cyprus by going to the local synagogues on the Sabbath and proclaim Christ.
a. This appears to be Paul’s normal procedure every time he entered a new city: to look for Jews at a synagogue, because Gentile “God-fearers” would certainly be in attendance.
b. This gives Paul an easy bridgehead for reaching the Gentile community.
c. (Romans 1: 16) “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
B. After they preached in Salamis, they go all over the island from east to west, preaching everywhere they found anyone willing to listen until they reached Paphos, the capital of Cyprus, which was on the southwest corner, and about 150 miles from Salamis. This could have taken from 10 days to 2 months, depending on how many places they stopped to preach. There were little villages all over Cyprus that they could have visited.
II. The team meets and defeats an opponent to the Gospel, and wins an important convert to the faith.
A. As they arrive in Paphos, their reputation has preceded them, and the governor (Roman term: proconsul) Lucius Sergius Paulus wants to hear firsthand what has been preached all over his island.
The Sergius family was an old Roman Senatorial aristocratic family. Sergius Paulus was the Senate appointed proconsul for Cyprus in AD 47-48.
1. He had previously served in Rome on a board that controlled the navigation and ports of the Tiber River (flows through Rome to the Mediterranean Sea). This board would have been composed of technical experts, so Paul is clearly right on when he labels Sergius Paulus as “an intelligent man” (Greek: a man of understanding).
B. They also meet a Jewish false prophet and magician named (in Hebrew) Bar-Jesus (son of Jeshua) or, in Arabic, Elymas.
1. He was probably attached to the proconsul’s entourage as a personal adviser who claimed to know divine will. Like many Romans, Sergius Paulus was interested in knowing any divine guidance for his affairs.
2. Elymas knew that Paul and Barnabas were preaching the truth. If Sergius Paulus believes, then he will be thrown out of the palace, losing his position and lucrative salary. No wonder he opposes Paul.
C. This battle of the missionary versus the magician shapes up to be similar to Peter’s battle with Simon Magus in Acts 8: 9-24 and also parallels the episode about judgment in the Jerusalem church with Peter, Ananias, and Sapphira in Acts 5: 1-11.
1. Elymas interferes with Sergius Paulus learning the truth – of course he does, he’s a false prophet, and that’s what false prophets do: they keep us from learning truth.
(Isaiah 30: 10-11) “Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!”
2. This is why the Bible is so hard on false prophets: (1 John 4: 1) “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
(Matthew 7: 15) “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.”
3. Since Paul speaks while “filled with the Holy Spirit,” we have the classic confrontation of the true prophet against the false one. It winds up with the true prophet works to bring Sergius Paulus to the light, as the false one sits in the corner, blind and in darkness he promoted.
4. Paul delivers a strong judgment against Elymas (temporary blindness), one designed to have him reflect on where God’s power and truth reside. Darkness of mind leads to darkness of sight.
5. Although the judgment is temporary, it was more than the 3 days of Paul’s blindness on the Damascus trip. The Greek says Elymas was to be blind for a season, which we might take it literally, and say he was blind for about 90 days or so. Or we might take it somewhat figuratively, that he would be blind until “spring” broke in his life and he turned to the truth.
6. Note that his Jewish name, Bar-Jesus, means “son of Jesus,” but Paul calls him “a child of the devil”!
7. Elymas is where Paul was years ago, and the difference is obvious. Paul is now full of the truth and the Holy Spirit, whereas Elymas is full of deceit and villainy.
D. Marvelously, Sergius Paulus responds to the Gospel: He believes and is saved. There are two primary factors at work here.
1. First, and most importantly, the Gospel is at work. Sergius Paulus is amazed by it. It is drastically different than anything he has ever heard before, and with the Holy Spirit at work in his heart, he recognizes that the Gospel is truth – “amazed.”
2. Second, the preached word is backed up (or verified or validated) by the judgment on Elymas that happens instantly. Sergius Paulus understands immediately that if God can back up His Gospel like this, then his recognition of the truth is correct, and he must do something more than just see it for the truth: he must believe it, take it into his heart, and live by it.
3. We see a parallel in the people of Capernaum in their response to Jesus: (Mark 1: 22, 27) “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. . . The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.”
III. How this passage can help us in our mission to turn people to Christ.
A. First, we need to make sure we can tell others the Gospel.
1. This requires that we read and study diligently our Bibles, so that we will know the Gospel backwards and forwards.
2. We must know and be able to tell others what we’ve read and how it has affected our lives.
3. We need to be able to answer at least simple questions directly.
4. Remember, it’s not the end of the world if you have to tell someone “I don’t know the answer to that, but I know how to find out.”
5. Let people know that there is an alternative to the world’s ideas, and that alternative is Christ Jesus.
B. Secondly, our lives need to reflect the Gospel we speak about.
1. We do not have to be sinless to speak the Gospel.
2. But it must be clear to everyone that we do our best to live by the Gospel.
3. This will keep us from the sin of hypocrisy.
4. We must also flee from the sin of legalism. This sin makes us say (in so many words): “You must clean up your life first, then you’ll be able to be saved.”
5. The object is to get people to turn to Christ, so He can clean up their lives.
6. Our attitude toward others must be an attitude of service, not an attitude of judgment.
7. If we’re asked about some particular sin, let people know and see that while we struggle with sin, too, our aim is always to obey God’s Law.
8. We must understand and convey the understanding that sin is forgiven for believers, but that the results of sin for unbelievers is death.
9. Show those around you BY YOUR ACTIONS that you are living for the Lord, not just coming to the church clubhouse on Sunday morning for an hour’s socializing. Church is not a social clubhouse; it is a house of worship.
C. Resolve today to make yourself a good witness for Christ Jesus.
1. Read and Study your Bible.
2. Pray for help in your life.
3. Do the best you can to live like the Bible instructs.
4. Pray for opportunities to present the Gospel to those around you.
5. Then use those opportunities to tell others about how many wonderful things that following Jesus has brought to your life.