Straightening a Crooked Snake

Carrying out the work to which they were called and for which they were commissioned, Barnabas and Saul set out from Antioch to the port city of Seleucia, and from there, they sail to Barnabas’ homeland, the island of Cyprus. As soon as they land in Salamis, they head straight to the synagogues and start to preach. This becomes the pattern for future ministry – to the Jew first, then also to the Greek, as Paul notes in Romans 1:16.

After Barnabas and Saul take the gospel all over the island, they are summoned to present their teaching to Sergius Paulus, the proconsul. While they are preaching the gospel to him, the Jewish false prophet Elymas tries to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, stares intently at Elymas and blasts him with a divine curse. Paul says “You son of the devil.” Not, as his Jewish name indicated, a son of Joshua. “You enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy.” He was not motivated by an earnest desire for the truth, but was lying in order to protect his position. “Will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” Elymas was making it hard to find God, blocking the path to salvation by adding a bunch of twists and turns.

Carrying out the judgment against such false prophets that Micah had prophesied in Micah 3:5-11, Paul pronounces a curse against Elymas that renders him blind and helpless. He experiences physically what he had been doing to so many others spiritually. But, offering a slight hint of hope, we need to remember that in Paul’s case, his blindness resulted in repentance and restored sight. He promises Elymas that his sightlessness will be temporary, and it is likely that Paul hoped that Elymas’ blindness would end with the scales falling from his eyes.

In response to Paul and Barnabas’ preaching and power, Sergius Paulus believed the gospel, being astonished at the authoritative teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s actions here in Paphos come like a thunderbolt, shaking us awake to remind us that Jesus is not in charge of the ministry of being nice. He is about the Father’s business of overthrowing the devil and bringing salvation to the world.

So what can we learn from this? Three things: first, expect opposition. Satan hates the spread of the gospel, and we have seen him try to block or silence the Word of the Lord time and again. So as we seek to grow as a congregation in our ability to proclaim the Word of God to our city, we should not be surprised if deceivers stand up against us. Even on a personal level, we should expect difficulties when sharing the gospel. All too often it takes very little to derail a spiritual conversation, but if we expect something to go wrong, we can be prepared to overcome it so that the gospel can be heard.

Second, rebuke deceivers. When false teachers who claim to be from God (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc.) are diverting people from the straight path to Jesus, you should not invite them in for a dialogue or listen politely to their words. You should be filled with zeal by the Holy Spirit to rebuke them in the name of Jesus Christ. This is the Spirit-filled reaction to false teachers, and you have the authority to speak this way because you are a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Third, remember that mission is messy. Evangelism is more than just a polite walk through a brightly colored tract. It also involves bringing curses against sons of the devil who hate the gospel. Missionaries and evangelists are to be warriors and dragon-slayers! This means that if we as a church become effective in evangelism, then people will complain about how rude and combative our evangelists and apologists are. And if we forget the lesson of this passage, we might be tempted to agree!

But if we remember that mission is messy, if we expect opposition and rebuke deceptive snakes in the power of the Holy Spirit, then the result will be that many will believe the gospel, and be astonished at the teaching of the Lord Jesus. That is our mission. May God give us the strength to carry it out.

Posted on Thursday, August 07, 2014 by CJ Bowen