Astonished at the Teaching of the Lord
So Paul and Barnabas begin their ministry, “being sent out by the Holy Spirit,” a very important detail. For how shall we go unless the Holy Spirit send us (Romans 10:15)? They also take John Mark along with them. We think of these as constituting the first mission team to trek along the Mediterranean world, although other unnamed believers may have done so before them, perhaps those scattered after Stephen’s martyrdom. They set sail from Seleucia to the island of Cyprus, first preaching in the synagogues of Salamis and then traveling to the other side of the island to Paphos where the Roman seat of government was located. (A map of the first-century Mediterranean world would be very helpful for you throughout the rest of Acts.) We stated before that it was Paul’s custom to preach first in the synagogues of the Jews seeking to prove to them from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. From there he would set out for the Gentiles.
In this case, the Gentile who responded positively to Paul’s witness was the very Roman proconsul who ruled the island, Sergius Paulus, “a man of intelligence,” Luke adds, indicating that the Gospel is not for fools. But someone else opposed Paul’s relationship with the proconsul out of jealousy, that is, a Jewish magician (of all things, given the Law’s strenuous prohibition against such spiritual treachery, see Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Upon tiring of this man’s chicanery, Paul, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” mind you, says to him, “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?” Please note that the Spirit brings judgment as well as blessing. And for his wickedness, he is struck blind for a time, Paul himself knowing that blindness to the eyes can bring sight to the soul.
The verse I wish to capitalize on is “then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” I note that he was astonished at the teaching when he beheld the miracle. In other words, the miracle is equated with the teaching of the Lord, not the preaching of Paul, though I’m sure that is not excluded. And even more important, the miracle was a solemn act of judgment upon a wicked man, for when the wicked are judged accordingly, the righteous learn wisdom and the fear of the Lord. Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, took this lesson to heart, and believed. The judgments of the Lord, though severe, are meant to bring us to faith and repentance. Some waste them on arguments against faith in God; they are the fools among us.