To Be Blinded In Order To See

To Be Blinded In Order To See.

Acts 13: 4 – 12.

In obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the leadership of the Syrian Antioch church commissioned Paul and Barnabas for their first itinerant missionary service. Soon after, they set sail across the Mediterranean to their initial port of call, the eastern Cypriot city of Salamis. It was a cultural and commercial entrepot and had a very large Jewish community. Barnabas was on home ground (Acts 13:1-4; Acts 4:36), and John Mark, who joined them, was his cousin (Col 4:10). The team began sharing the gospel with the Jews in the town’s synagogues, and they probably worked their way towards the southwestern part of the island to Paphos, the political centre of Cyprus. And it was here that one of the strangest events took place when they encountered a Jewish magician called Bar-Jesus (or Elymas) (Acts 13:6).

The Sorcerer Elymas struck blind by St. Paul before the Roman governor Sergius Paulus, detail from the Brussels Tapestries, replica of Raphael’s Vatican series of the Acts of the Apostles, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, Italy.

The whole episode occurred within the confines of Sergius Paulus’ palace, as he was interested to hear what the missioners had to say about the gospel. Why would an intelligent Roman governor associate with Bar-Jesus? (Acts 13:7). Given the background of other-worldly spiritual encounters in Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:9-13; Acts 8:17-24; Acts 16:16-18), it would seem that Bar-Jesus’ patronage with the proconsul was deep and yet not abnormal within the political and religious power centres in the region. His plain speaking during the encounter implied that he was also influential. It was in his interest, therefore, to keep Sergius Paulus and local Cypriots within the orbit of his dominance. Furthermore, if his sorcery’s future earnings were to be considered (c.f., Acts 8:20; Acts 16:16), then his motivation to stand in the gospel’s way was logical. He opposed Paul and Barnabas’ preaching, and attempted to divert the proconsul’s attention away from the claims of Christ (Acts 13:8). At this point, it may have suddenly dawned on Paul that Bar-Jesus was somewhat akin to his ‘doppelganger’ – a mirror image of his own blind intransigence in his earlier persecution of Christians, as what was about to transpire reflected his own novel encounter with his Lord. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul looked at his Jewish compatriot with compassionate and gracious eye contact, and spoke the truth in altruistic admonition, reproving him for his deceitful and unrighteous ways. Now comes the unusual incident, where an insight into Paul’s thoughts here would have been precious. He declared Bar-Jesus to be blinded (Acts 13:9-11), AND he became blind and had to be led away. Sergius Paulus was amazed at the reality of this power encounter and believed, but nothing further was mentioned about Bar-Jesus (Acts 13:12).

Scripture is replete with instances of God rescuing people out of darkness and bringing them into the light (Luke 1:79; John 8:12; Acts 26:18), and this remains our primary altruistic calling in this world. In another sense, whether physically or metaphorically, God will walk us through darkness (e.g., where it seems He appears to ignore our prayers and sufferings), in order to gain some clarity of His future purposes. We know it is God’s prerogative to reveal or to veil His gospel to whomever He chooses (c.f., 2 Cor 4:3-4), as He alone has the power to literally blind or to open their eyes. Was Paul thinking about his own blinding experience and how that had resulted in his own conversion? (Acts 9:1-19). Or did Paul know that God had intended to blind Bar-Jesus? Perhaps Paul was purely expressing his faith through the Holy Spirit? (c.f., Matt 18:18). It is sufficient to surmise that when faith is exercised according to His will, God will use His inestimable power in ways that serves only His goals, irrespective of our thoughts and intentions, especially if it is related to the presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ (c.f., 2 Chron 16:9a; Isaiah 55:11). Our undying responsibility is to keep fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, in the transformation of our faith in Him (Heb 12:1-2).