Acts 13:4-12 (ESV)
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and 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? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
So, what exactly did Bar-Jesus do wrong? The proconsul, Sergius Paulus, had summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Bar-Jesus was with the proconsul, and opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
This means that as Paul and Barnabas presented the gospel, Bar-Jesus made counter-arguments. We don’t know whether he argued against the deity of Christ, or against the resurrection, or what. But whatever Paul and Barnabas said, he opposed it.
Do not underestimate how serious a sin this is. He’s being an agent of the enemy. So Paul really lets him have it – but in a remarkably merciful way. Bar-Jesus’s blindness is only temporary; it may even have been designed to teach him to see. It definitely taught the proconsul to see, as he was instantly converted.
Bar-Jesus isn’t mentioned anywhere else in scripture, so we can’t say for sure if he ended up seeing the light, but Paul’s punishment gave him a fair shot at it. And notice how similar this is to what happened on the road to Damascus. Surely Paul was aware of that when he struck Bar-Jesus blind. Thus, whether or not Bar-Jesus was eventually converted, that seems to have been Paul’s goal.
Paul never forgot that he was once an agent of the enemy too.
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Matthew 5:43-44
What an intimidating challenge the command, “Love your enemies,” is. We don’t have all the tools Paul had, so we can’t use things like temporary blindness to give them a clue.
But we do have the main tool – the one mentioned in Matthew 5:44. We can pray for them. So, do pray for your enemies. And pray for the enemies of Christ. Specifically, pray for the people who are persecuting Christians around the world – seriously.
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