You call that a miracle?

Paul and Barnabas were early Christian missionaries to Cyprus. In Paphos they were called by the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, because he wanted to hear the word of God from them. One problem, though, was a fellow called Elymas (or Bar Jesus). He was a false prophet who’d gained influence with the proconsul by claiming to be a magician. We are told in Acts 13 that this Elymas opposed the missionaries and tried to turn the proconsul from receiving their message. At this point, Paul used what some might call impolite language, but he was moved by the Holy Spirit to use it. He publicly identified Elymas as one ‘full of deceit and fraud’, as a ‘son of the devil’ and as an ‘enemy of righteousness’. Paul said these things because they were true. Paul then told Elymas that the Lord had his hand on him and he would be blind for a while. What Paul said immediately happened to Elymas.

Now, the proconsul heard and saw all this and believed the message, but his belief did not result from amazement or fear inspired by the miraculous blinding of Elymas. Now, there is no doubt that the temporary silencing of the false prophet was scary. It was fit to cause sudden fear. I’m sure Elymas was terrified. But it was not this that amazed the proconsul. The Roman official was bowled over by the teaching of the Lord. Why might that be? Well, the Romans had gods for everything, and the main purpose of worship was to prevent the gods from zapping the Romans for any offence or mistake that they might have made. The Roman sacrifices were pre-emptive or reparatory attempts to ward off the anger of gods who were not into showing mercy.

The message that Paul brought, the word of the Lord, was utterly unexpected. What Sergius Paulus had expected was to be told of a new thing that Sergius Paulus had to do to appease yet another god. What Paul told him was that God had acted to fix what we had done wrong, and God’s acting was done for people like us (Romans 5:6-8), who were utterly opposed to all righteousness, sons of the devil and full of fraud and deceit (compare Ps.14 and Romans 3:9-18). In fact, Paul had told the proconsul about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, and how this doing and dying and rising of Jesus alone saves completely those who trust themselves to his mercy. This was something new; something undreamed of; unimaginable. It was not the miracle of blinding, but the miracle of grace that amazed the proconsul. It should continually amaze us too, but don’t only be amazed. Trust yourself to this Jesus.

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