Coney Hill Baptist Church

Demonstrating God’s Love Together

Confronting Power

Acts 13:4-12

The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper.

They travelled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 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. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 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.
 

Intro:

And so the journey begins. Called by God, commissioned by the Church, Paul and Barnabas said their farewells and set off for the port.  

Cyprus was their first stop and straightaway they put into practice the strategy that they would follow pretty much everywhere they went.

 

Spirit & Word ...

With the Spirit as their guide and the Word as their manifesto they constantly had their ears open to God’s speaking.  This wasn’t a journey of their own inclination, they were servants of His

 

Strategy & Service...

That didn’t mean though that they did nothing. On the contrary they gave the very best of themselves, to share what it was they had received.

They started, as they always did, at the Synagogue, the principle of ‘To the Jews first...’ was a well established one and was effective not only in theory, fitting in with their sense of history and theology of the whole story of God coming through the Jewish people, but also in practise, as it gave them a platform, a foothold and a starting point, from which they moved outwards, to everybody. 

That’s why v.9 is significant, it’s the first time Saul is called Paul. I think most people imagine his change of name was a transition made at his conversion. But no, it happens here, as a deliberate act to open doors to the message among a non-Jewish audience. 

Throughout the NT, Paul often talks about how he would become ‘all things to all men’ or how he was concerned never to be a ‘stumbling block’ to the message. For Paul, it was never about him.

 

Cultural Power...

The next part of this strategy is to engage with significant people, not exclusively, he was always concerned to speak with all people, everywhere, but was not shy to seek a hearing with the opinion formers, the powerful.

Sergius Paulus was certainly that in Cyprus, the pro-consul, Rome’s No.1 man, he was someone who mattered.  To be in his presence then was a mark of confidence that this message was of real consequence.

But it didn’t stop there, the only thing we’re really told about Sergius was that he was ‘intelligent’, and so they engaged with him, sharing God’s word, thoughtfully.  Paul was never afraid to put his message up for scrutiny, he didn’t rely on oratory or the trappings of religion to bolster the essential truth of what he claimed. 

Today, perhaps more than ever, we need a renewed confidence in the intellectual coherence of our faith, so that we are not cowed by the prospect of intelligent debate.

It still didn’t stop there though.  Sergius’ story doesn’t take up the most verses in this account but he is the focus.  At the end he ‘believed’ yes because he had been persuaded but also because he had been ‘amazed’.   The power demonstrated in the encounter with Elymas emphasised to Sergius that though this message made sense, it wasn’t just another piece of interesting information to take on board, it was challenging, immediate, demanding of a response.

 

Spiritual Power...

The more obvious story in this passage though is an encounter with another sort of power.     

Paul & Barnabas would become used to spiritual opposition, obvious and more subtle.  The sorcerer here, was an attendant of the pro-consul, a false-prophet, as well as some sort of spirit-guide, fortune teller.  In a whole number of ways he represented everything that Paul’s message of God’s accessibility to all opposed.  On top of this his own status and position was threatened, so he was angry, opposed them and try to turn them away. 

In response Paul, ‘filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas ..’  Facing spiritual opposition Paul brought Holy Spirit dependence, as with everything he was an agent of the kingdom, he didn’t rationalise away Elymas’ claim, he faced them down.

And that’s the second point, he was bold and straightforward in his telling of the truth, confident in his Lord, he unmasked Elymas, and all his agendas, clinically and, literally, left him stumbling.  Blindness of course, throughout the NT is a sign of an inability to perceive the full reality of God, it’s why there are so many healings of that type, Paul himself was blinded for a while after his conversion, Elymas, and perhaps more particularly Sergius, was made to ‘see’ the truth of Paul’s message and the falsity of their own way, in the most powerful way imaginable.

 

Conc...

.So, this first trip, to an Island familiar to us, Cities that still exist where we may have visited, sets the scene.  This journey will be a journey of encounters, with people of all sorts, it will be a journey of conflict – personally and ideologically.  But it will be a journey where the power of God confronts the powers of the world around ... of intellect, of authority, of alternative spirituality, powers still very much evident today, and overcomes them.