God’s Acts of Providence (42)

paul_de_tarse

Saint Paul by Bernardo Daddi, 1333

Becoming the Apostle Paul (9)

On Cyprus, Saul Becomes the Apostle Paul

Acts 13:4-12

4So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleu’cia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5When they arrived at Sal’amis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them.

This is the beginning of a pattern that will ultimately be captured in words that burn brightly in the pages of Scripture.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

6When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. 7He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8But El’ymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) withstood them, seeking to turn away the proconsul from the faith.

Almost immediately they meet opportunity and resistance.  The opportunity is astonishing.  The proconsul, Sergius Paulus[1] was a high Roman official, and showing favorable interest in Christ’s Gospel!  But whispering in his ear is the voice of opposition.

You can easily imagine the words: “A crucified criminal as a savior?”  “What will the Emperor think if you call a man that his court condemned to death a king?”  “Why don’t you just play it safe and ignore these fool preachers?”

And yet, with apparently everything to lose and nothing to gain Sergius insisted on a hearing.  What soul’s longing could overcome so much?  Perhaps he had seen and participated in much that led his conscience to condemn him.  Perhaps life had become a living hell of falsehoods, cruelty and hopelessness.  Perhaps he was a man drowning and saw the hand of a possible savior reaching down from heaven to pull him out of a living death.

When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them.   Romans 2:14,15

Do you doubt that the Roman Empire could bring a man of conscience to such a point?  The fact is established beyond any doubt that there were thousands uncountable at that point and who gladly grasped the Savior’s hand when He extended it to them.

9But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.”

Here, finally, the Great Apostle Paul is born.  He is born filled with the Holy Spirit, fearlessly confronting an enemy of Christ, at the point of conversion of a Gentile into Christ’s Body.  In due course we will consider for what we call him great.  For now it is enough to rejoice in the moment.

Jesus Christ has lifted up His instrument in the form of this weak, suffering, flawed man.  And by Christ’s power this weakness will be transformed into strength that will humble empires, suffering into joy and sympathy that will redeem countless lives, and flaws into schools of sanctification that will draw human values beyond anything then imaginable!

Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

It was not the blinding of Elymas that converted the proconsul, but rather the amazing teaching about the Lord.  We who take Christianity for granted lose sight of what a revelation it must have been when first preached in the utter darkness of the first century A.D.

As is always the case it is the Holy Spirit that makes the ultimate difference, for it filled Paul with the power required to master the situation.  I believe that the Spirit’s presence should not be assumed to be limited to Paul, but rather as a presence in the room, blowing into this person and that as God’s loving, just will so determined.

For:

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man–though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation.  (Romans 5:6-11)

Amen.


[1] Sergius Paulus was a proconsul of Cyprus (1st century AD). He appears in Acts (13:6-13), where Paul overcame the attempts of Bar-Jesus or Elymas and converted Sergius to Christianity.

A boundary stone of Claudius mentioning Sergius was discovered at Rome in 1887. It records the appointment (AD 47) of the curators of the banks and the channel of the river Tiber, one of whom was Sergius. Since Paul’s journey to Cyprus is usually dated to the first half of the 40s (and some scholars would date his visit even earlier), it is thought Sergius first served his three years as proconsul at Cyprus, then returned to Rome, where he was appointed curator. As he is not greeted in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, it is possible he died before it was written. Some medieval legends identified him with Paul of Narbonne.

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