URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 14th September 2022

Wednesday 14 September 2022 
Acts 13: 1-12

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 
While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’  Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. 
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 also to assist them.  When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they met a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. 
He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God.  But the magician Elymas (for that is the translation of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.  But Saul, also known as 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 listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun.’ Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he went about groping for someone to lead him by the hand.  When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.


So many characters make just a fleeting appearance in Luke’s story. If only we knew more about them!

Manaean, part of the church leadership at Antioch, has a link with the court of Prince Herod. More than just a member of the court, the word suggests he may have been brought up as the ruler’s foster brother. Luke often draws attention to such significant figures, perhaps hoping to persuade his readers that Christianity is a respectable religion. But we see that it’s not Manaean, but two other local leaders, who are set apart for the new missionary enterprise. It’s the Holy Spirit who makes the big decisions.

Sergius Paulus is a yet bigger name to reckon with. A boundary stone excavated in Rome suggests that he had a significant career in flood prevention work there before his time in Cyprus. Luke tells us that he was an intelligent man – referring to sound judgment more than intellectual capacity. It seems that the proconsul is the most distinguished convert yet to be won for the new faith. But what has won him over? Not, it seems, Paul’s “my power is stronger than his power” demonstration, but his astonishment “at the teaching about the Lord.”

And then there’s the poor magician himself, groping around in the dark, condemned for deceit and villainy and all kinds of devilment. Not the type to keep company with the likes of Manaean or Sergius Paulus. But the ancient world was full of soothsayers and magicians, just as our world is home to all kinds of people who reckon themselves to be “spiritual” but have no links with church or any organised religion. Might we find better ways than Paul’s of persuading them that Jesus is the light of life?

I wonder if the light ever dawned for Elymas.


Loving God
you call us by name
and give each of us a part to play
in the great story of your mission to the world.
Keep us faithful to you
and all that you ask of us.



Today’s writer

The Rev’d John Durell, retired minister, member of Waddington Street URC, Durham



New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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