December 10, 2017

Adult Bible Study Online

A current connection to each week's session


Who or What Is in Control?
Acts 13:1-12

Read this article as a Word Document
Two ABS Reproducibles are available for this session here and here.

Acts 13:6-12 is a story of identity and power.

Names are important in the story. There’s Bar-Jesus (“son of Jesus”) also called Elymas (“the sorcerer”) and “Saul also called Paul,” as well as Sergius Paulus (that is, also “Paul”). It can be confusing, but all this narrative naming boils down to this question: which of these is a true “son of Jesus,” and which is actually a “son of the devil”? This is a story of identity.

It’s also a story of power. On the one hand, you’ve got Elymas cozying up to the powerful, seeking to use the powers that be (both human and supernatural) for his own ends. On the other hand, there’s Paul speaking truth to power, the truth of the gospel, the good news of One who died at the hands of the powers to free us from all evil powers (both natural and spiritual).

Even Paul participates in a display of supernatural power, speaking a temporary blindness upon Elymas. Yet notice what wins over the proconsul Paulus in the end: “When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord” (13:12, emphasis added). It was the persuasive gospel, not coercive sorcery, that brought about change. It was the strange story of a crucified king, not the sheer force of a supernatural power, that saved the day.

We have many temptations today to seek or maintain worldly power. This is especially so when our lofty plans for bringing about good in the world seem to be thwarted. We can then become frustrated and impatient, and start to look for alternative ways to accomplish those good ends. If only we had some real power on our side, imagine all the good we could do! If only we had political control, judicial authority, economic clout, cultural influence, spiritual dominance, or even just sheer physical force—imagine what we could accomplish for the kingdom!

But this is not the way of Jesus, who deliberately rejected worldly power at both the beginning and end of his career (Matthew 4:1-11; 26:36-56). It’s not the way of the gospel, the beautiful good news of a crucified and resurrected king bringing about an upside-down kingdom through patient, persistent, selfless love.

In the end, it is those who trust in and live out this “weak power” of God (1 Corinthians 1:21-25) who prove themselves to be the true “Bar-Jesus,” the sons and daughters of Jesus.

—Michael Pahl, michael.mmc@outlook.com

© 2017

Michael Pahl is a biblical scholar with a heart for the church, a pastor with a passion for biblical theology. He is lead pastor at Morden Mennonite Church in Morden, Manitoba. He blogs at michaelpahl.com and mordenmennonitechurch.com.

This article supplements Adult Bible Study, a quarterly Bible curriculum for adults. Adult Bible Study provides in-depth, challenging Bible study from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective, written by an intercultural group of pastors, teachers, professors, and leaders across Canada and the United States. Sessions include daily Bible readings, resources for additional study, and free downloadable resources.

Order the current student and teachers guides here. To begin a subscription or ask about bulk pricing, call MennoMedia at 1-800-245-7894.

MennoMedia Herald Press Job Openings Donate Contact Us Staff Directory