And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant. Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord. (Acts 13:5-12)
You Don’t Mess With Paul
The age of miracles must have been one of the most amazing times to be a part of. Witnessing all manner of sickness being healed, lame given the blessing of walking, blind are made to see and then there is the whole raising people from the dead thing. Wow. What a rush to see the power of God working among the people. But then you realize this is not so much about the miracle you witness but the words you hear.
Some men come into town and preach a strange message of a crucified savior and you are not sure what to make of the whole thing. Growing up as an idol worshipper it just seems like another weird group of folk trying to get people to follow them. As you listen the inflammation you suffer from begins to flare up and you wince in pain. The man from out of town comes up, puts his hand on your shoulder and the pain disappears. Okay this is just amazing. It is then you understand the meaning of the words about Jesus of Nazareth and you are a believer.
There is another story that does not turn out so good for one man. You have made a lot of money fooling the proconsul of the area with your magic and conjuring. A bunch of men come to town and your boss likes to hear what they have to say. He is an intelligent man and you know your job is on the line. Having called for these men you know you have to do a lot of things quick to keep your job. Time and time again you tell your boss what worthless men these are and he should not believe them. You insist these men are charlatans (ironic) and he should dismiss them immediately. In fact you have done a good job of fouling up what these two men have tried to say. And then it happens. Yep – you cannot believe what happens.
As you argue and try your hardest to keep your job all of sudden one of those men stand up with eyes blazing calls you a ‘son of the devil’ and immediately you can’t see. Blackness falls on you. What just happened? Ouch. You run into the wall. People scatter to get out of your way. You grope and try to find your way but you can’t see anything but darkness. Words fail you. You cry out. No one comes to your rescue. Your boss does not throw the foreigners out but rather ask them what to do to be saved. Your world has just been turned upside down in blackness.
I find it interesting Luke calls Sergius Paulus an “intelligent man.” But the real worth of Sergius’ wisdom comes because he sees the power of the gospel manifested in the power of the miracle he witnessed. The word of salvation must be true if men have that kind of power. He becomes a believer. I have to wonder what became of Elymas? What did he think when he got his sight back? Did he also become a believer? It is just as possible he did not because miracles did not convince everyone there was one true God. This is one great story. You do not mess with the apostle Paul because he could call you a son of the devil and then ….
It is not really a question of what a man is made to believe but of what he must believe; what he cannot help believing. (G. K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion, 1926)