Acts 13:6-12: Paul and Elymas the Magician

6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able 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 amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

The Story
Paul and Barnabas were leaders in the church in Antioch when the Holy Spirit told the community to send them on mission. They head to Cyprus with John Mark, where Barnabas has roots and begin preaching directly to the centers of power. They speak first to the Jewish leaders and then to the Roman governor of the area.

They encounter a vizier of sorts named Bar-Jesus (son of Joshua) or Elymas the sorcerer. I guess he gets two names, just like John Mark (sometimes called John or Mark separately), Saul/Paul, and Barnabas/Joseph (Acts 4)—lots of people with two names in Luke, like reading Russian literature.

Oddly enough, Elymas is Jewish. Jewish magicians were considered powerful and highly sought after in the Roman political world, which is also odd because practicing magic was forbidden by Scripture. So, what we have here is a Diaspora Jew (not living in Israel) who’s apparently using his understanding of his religion to manipulate the local government, with possible, actual magic thrown into the mix.

Paul tries to share the gospel with the government and is opposed by this man, either because he doesn’t believe Paul’s message, or because he perceives a threat to his power, or maybe, the demonic powers inside of him perceive a threat. It’s also worth noting that one of the most inviting truths of the new message is access to God for all, which would be a threat to an adviser with mystical power.

Paul, much like Moses before him, defeats the false vizier in show of power, making him blind. Sergio Paulus, to his credit, responds more favorably than Moses did and becomes a believer. It’s a common theme in Scripture for true faith to defeat manipulative faith. May it be so in our time.

I highlight this story for a few reasons. First is that Barnabas and Paul begin their journey with intense opposition. They are undeterred. They expect it. For me though, when I sense resistance to what I think God wants, it makes me consider giving up. Sometimes resistance can mean we’re doing the wrong thing, especially if the resistance comes from godly people. However, sometimes resistance can mean we’re pushing against powers that need to be brought down. Keep going. Don’t compromise.

Paul and Barnabas’ mission lead them directly into seats of power and conflict. They’re in a place where they can face death at a whim. God doesn’t care about the geopolitical situation or power imbalance when he wants to move. Let’s follow him wherever he leads.

The life in Christ is not a safe, sit-in-the-stands journey. We’re called to follow wherever he leads. It might mean missions, reaching out to the poor, helping relationships, families, and communities overcome conflict, preaching to your boss, adopting children, or talking to governors while you battle magicians. Who knows? But seek him and find out.

I mentioned this in my sermon last week, but this is the first time Luke calls Saul, Paul. This isn’t because God changed his name like Abraham, Jacob, or Peter (though the Father and Son like giving people nicknames like everyone else in the Bible). It’s because Paul is a Greek name, and Paul doesn’t want his name to be barrier to those he shares the gospel with (also, Saulos apparently is a Greek word with a negative connotation). He’s all out. Let’s be all out.
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