Their initial international missionary journey took Saul and Barnabas first to the Roman-ruled Island of Cyprus, Barnabas’s boyhood home (Acts 4:36). Though Luke uses only nine verses to record the expedition across Cyprus, two significant events are mentioned: the devil was defeated, and the governor was converted.
The voyage across the eastern Mediterranean Sea from northern Syria to Cyprus was about a hundred miles. Arriving at Salamis, the easternmost seaport on the Island, the missionary team “proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues” (Acts 13:5). Details are absent, but I imagine that many believed the Gospel and First Baptist Church of Salamis was established. Maybe it was Presbyterian.
Traveling westward about ninety miles the team preached their way to Paphos, the capital city, where they were invited into the company of the proconsul, the country’s highest-ranking Roman official (Acts 13:7). “Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man… summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:7). Apparently, he had heard reports of the evangelists’ activities and wanted to hear their message.
“A Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (Acts 13:6), a.k.a. “Elymas the sorcerer” (Acts 13:8), was present for their meeting. I suppose, though it’s not clearly stated in the passage, that Elymas was a regular attendant and spiritual advisor to the governor.
As Saul and Barnabas shared the Good News, the evil magician, using his wicked wiles, “opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith” (Acts 13:8). Imagine it. “God became a man?” He chuckled derisively. “The King crucified? Resurrected? By grace though faith?” Elymas, with a clinched jaw and glaring eyes, planted doubt with every statement made by the missionaries.
Saul, “filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at Elymas and said, ‘You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery, you son of the devil and enemy of all that is right. Won’t you ever stop perverting the straight paths of the Lord? Now, look, the Lord’s hand is against you. You are going to be blind, and will not see the sun for a time’ ” (Acts 13:9-11). Pow! From twenty-twenty to blind in the snap of a finger! A thick blanket of blindness fell over the sorcerer. Elymas was blinded, and the devil was muzzled.
Notice, you “will not see the sun for a time.” Did Saul’s prayer and God’s judgment leave the door cracked open with hope? If Elymas repented, would his vision return? Knowing that his own blindness had been for a short season (Acts 9:17-18), did Saul make this request of the Lord? Was God’s judgment an invitation to repent?
Sergius Paulus, the most powerful and influential man on the island, “astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:12) and witnessing the spiritual battle’s decisive conclusion, immediately “believed” (Acts 13:12). How could he possibly not believe? The demonstration of God’s power over the spiritual forces of evil was clear and convincing.
A few years later, the Apostle, with quill-in-hand, wrote to the church at Ephesus. “Be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand” (Ephesians 6:10–13).