The year is approximately 45 A.D., and the frontiers of the mighty Roman Empire, guarded by its invincible Roman Legions, stretches across the civilized World from Britain to Persia. Rome, the so-called "Eternal City," the seat of all authority, the home of the Caesars, rules supreme!
Fifteen years earlier, a radical but seemingly insignificant carpenter named Jesus of Nazareth--a man who had claimed to be the Son of God--had started a religious revolution in the far-flung Roman province of Palestine. But His movement almost ended, so it seemed, when He was arrested and put to death in typical Roman fashion: Crucifixion. The incident was soon forgotten, and Imperial Rome, in all its splendor and decadent glory, continued on in its unchallenged rule of the World!
These thoughts passed through the mind of Sergius Paulus as he stood deep in thought on the terrace of his magnificent villa, looking out across the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. He was sad and troubled. But why should he be, he wondered. He had everything a man could want. He was the Roman proconsular-Governor of the island of Cyprus. At his word men lived or died. He had a spacious, beautiful villa and every comfort, every luxury and material pleasure that he could desire. But still he was not satisfied. Something was missing.
Sergius was an intelligent and well-read man, and for him, the Roman gods and religious ceremonies were empty and meaningless superstitions. In his search for spiritual truth, he had begun listening to a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. This man called himself "Elymas," which means "the magician", and though his ideas were sometimes strange, Sergius had to admit that he seemed to have some kind of spiritual power. But still, the Governor had no peace. "What really is the Truth?" he wondered.
And now, just the other day, he had heard that some members of a controversial religious group had been traveling across Cyprus, preaching their doctrine of Love, and had arrived in Paphros! His servants told him they were preaching how men could have a miraculous spiritual rebirth, and, at once interested in hearing more, Sergius had sent an invitation for these strangers to have an audience in his court.
Now, the next day, his thoughts were suddenly interrupted by an attendant who said, "Sir, the men have arrived for their appointment." Sergius left the terrace and went down into his villa to meet them. Three Jews, who introduced themselves as Barnabus, his nephew John-Mark, and Paul of Tarsus, greeted him. Sergius warmly saluted his close friend and advisor, Elymas the magician, who had also just arrived.
After spreading a banquet of food and dry Cyprus wine before them, they began to talk. Sergius was delighted to find out that not only was Paul a Roman citizen, but that Barnabus was a native of Cyprus! Then Sergius said, "I've heard much about your religion, and have read that you have suffered quite a bit of persecution in Palestine. King Herod, just a little over a year ago, killed one of your leaders, and threw others in prison, did he not? I heard all kinds of evil reports about you at that time, but I wasn't sure what to believe.
"When I heard that Herod died shortly afterwards--eaten of worms--I began to wonder if it was perhaps your God judging him. But still, if you people are right, why are you so hated and persecuted? Everywhere your sect is spoken against!"
Paul answered, "At one time I myself hated Christians so much that I instigated a nation-wide persecution against them! I broke into their houses and had both men and women thrown into prison. I not only tried to force them to blaspheme the name of Christ and deny their faith, but I even had them put to death!"
"Amazing!" Sergius exclaimed. "And now you have become the very ringleader of this sect of...of...What do you call yourselves?" Elymas sarcastically remarked, "They're called 'the Sect of the Nazarenes'!"
"That's what our enemies call us," Barnabus answered. "We prefer to be known as 'Christians'."
As Paul went on to describe how he had been miraculously converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus, Elymas began to see how intently Sergius was listening to their words. Realizing that if his friend the Governor were converted to Christianity, that he would no longer listen to his advice, Elymas became filled with a jealous rage! Angrily, Elymas interrupted and began to contradict Paul and Barnabus and began to throw out all the accusations and bad publicity that he had heard about their movement.
Sergius Paulus was confused. He was interested in the doctrines of Love of these Christians, yet Elymas had been his close associate and adviser for a long time! who was he to believe?
But when Paul saw that Elymas was trying to turn the Governor from the faith, he was filled with righteous anger; the Holy Spirit came upon him with great power and authority, and he rebuked the magician, saying, "You child of the Devil and enemy of righteousness! Will you never cease trying to pervert the ways of truth? The Lord's hand is upon you, and you shall be blind!"
Immediately Elymas cried out that a dark mist had fallen upon him, and he stumbled about frantically, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Finally a Roman guard led him out. Sergius was so astonished by this miracle that he totally forgot about all the lies that Elymas had been spouting, and was convinced that Paul and Barnabus had been telling him the Truth!--And that day, the Roman Governor asked Jesus Christ to come into his life and make him a new man.
He did not throw off his royal robes and join Paul and Barnabus, traveling with them in their missionary journeys, but he determined to do what he could: He would use his power and authority as Governor to help the spread of Christianity in the island of Cyprus, and protect the little groups of Christian believers that Paul and Barnabus had already started all across the island, from Salamis to Paphros.
Though Paul, Barnabus and John Mark left Cyprus afterwards to continue preaching the Gospel in other regions, Barnabus and John Mark soon returned to Cyprus and were overjoyed to see that, under the favor and protection of Sergius Paulus, the Christian Governor, Christianity was prospering.
(Bible References: Acts 4:36,37; 11:26; 12:1-4,21-23; 13:1-13; 15:39b; 22:4-5,27-28; 24:5; 26:9-12; 28:22; Colossians 4:10.)
(1) As so many men who have been "successful" in life have found, neither power nor riches nor material comforts and pleasures are truly satisfying. Only knowing God and His Love and His Plan for their life ever gave them happiness and peace.
(2) Sergius Paulus was so hungry for the Truth, that he didn't care if these men belonged to a much-hated and persecuted sect called "Christians." He knew that they were sincere and that the words they spoke were the Truth that he had been searching for for so long, and that was all that mattered.
(3) Although he knew about the persecution against them in neighboring lands and had heard many evil rumors and lies against them, he was wise enough to know that he couldn't believe everything he heard, and wanted to hear the Truth first-hand from Paul, Barnabus and John-Mark.
(4) As with so many people who turn to Christianity, he was confused and surprised to see that his close friends and associates were very strongly against his new-found faith. Jesus Himself promised that this would happen, however, in Matthew 10:36, saying, "And a man's foes shall be they of his own household."
(5) Sergius Paulus had to choose between being influenced by his old familiar counselor and friend, or listening to the voice of God's men, and undoubtedly it was not an easy choice at first.
(6) As Governor in charge of the Roman province of Cyprus, he could not just drop all of his responsibilities, but he did do what he could do: He undoubtedly witnessed to his friends, plus he used his authority and power to protect the Christian groups on Cyprus, and as a result, Cyprus became one of the World's first Christian nations!