Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “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? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable 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. (verses 9-11)
This is the first recorded evidence of signs and wonders in Paul’s ministry. Interestingly, it’s prompted by opposition. Interestingly, too, it directly parallels Paul’s own experience.
Remember the Damascus Road. Paul (then known as Saul) had been filled with intense hostility to the gospel of Jesus. Striding purposefully down that road to his goal (arresting Jesus’ followers), he’d been stopped in his tracks by the direct intervention of the risen Lord Jesus himself, who confronted Paul, striking him blind.
It’s exactly what happens to Elymas, the Sorcerer. He’s been pressing forward to actively oppose the gospel, seeking “to turn the proconsul from the faith” (verse 8). But Paul, in the name of Jesus, intervenes. Looking him straight in the eye, he pronounces judgement: “Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind” (verse 11).
Elymas is plunged into darkness. He gropes about seeking someone “to lead him by the hand” (verse 11). Ironic. It’s the very same verb used of Paul himself four chapters earlier. Struck blind and helpless on that Damascus Road, his companions “led him by the hand” into Damascus (Acts 9:8).
What must this experience have been like for Paul? It couldn’t help but reinforce, right at the start of his missionary journeys, the deadly seriousness of gospel-opposition. He himself had been stopped in his tracks by the Lord. So, too, had Elymas. I’m sure it also reminded him of grace. His own sight had been restored, along with new life and direction. Might the same be true for Elymas?
There is one other point of intrigue in this story. It has to do with the names. The proconsul, who ends up believing “the teaching about the Lord” (verse 12), is named Sergius Paulus. Perhaps it’s only coincidence, but it’s intriguing he shares Paul’s own name, highlighted by the fact this is the first time we’re informed Saul is now called by this alternate name. Wonderfully, the proconsul not only shares his name, but now also the same experience of the Lord’s grace.
The other name that leaps off the page is that of the sorcerer. When he’s first introduced he is pointedly identified by the name “Bar-Jesus” (verse 6), literally meaning “son of Jesus.” Such a name almost strikes me as sacrilegious. This man vigorously opposed the gospel. Rather than embracing his name, he went out of his way to actively turn the proconsul against Jesus. Yet Luke, writing this account, deliberately records this name when he could have simply chosen to identify him throughout as “Elymas.” Does he mean for us to catch a rumour of hope? Might this man, too, become truly identified with Jesus himself?
Certainly it happened for Paul. It’s happened for each of us who have believed and received. Did it happen for “Bar-Jesus”, too? In the grace of our Lord, the doorway was open. Eternity will tell.
Lord Jesus, praise you for the power of the gospel, bringing life to all you have called. Thank you for Paul’s experience of grace. Thank you for the proconsul’s. Thank you for my own.
Thank you, too, that your grace reaches out to the most unlikely – like Saul, on that road so long ago. Give me faith to trust you for those who seem far-off now. Intervene with your power. For the sake of your own name. Amen.
Intercede: Pause to pray, by name, for those in your own circle who seem far-off from faith. Commit them to the intervening grace of Jesus. Pray for the lifting of blindness.