Here’s a free download. Print it and keep it close as a reminder of where our love belongs.
Use it as a bookmark!
Here’s a free download. Print it and keep it close as a reminder of where our love belongs.
Use it as a bookmark!
Continuing with our study in the Book of Acts, the tables take an abrupt turn when Saul, whom God later renamed Paul, becomes the persecuted instead of the persecutor.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on his name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
Can you imagine the mighty Saul being lowered in a basket escaping from the very same men that just days before he was leading?? These verses paint quite a picture. The very same people that he was coming to persecute were now his lifeline out of the city. When Saul leaves Damascus, he returns to Jerusalem and tries to join the disciples. They were rightfully weary and refused to meet with him. Entering the scene is Barnabas, whose name means “Encourager”. Barnabas also plays a key role in bringing Christianity to the world. He has a unique talent of providing encouragement and comfort to people.
When he (Saul) came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in fear of the Lord.
Lots of things are going on in these verses in Scripture. One thing that is not spoken in words but is known to be true is that Saul spent three years in the Arabian desert and communed with God. These three years are believed to have happened sometime in between these verses. Paul had to commune with God one-on-one because the mission God assigned him may very well have been the single most important assignment in all of history. Paul is the number one reason we have Christianity today. God wants us to know that Paul received his message directly from Him and not indirectly from others. After this three year period is when Paul visits Jerusalem and tries to meet with the disciples who walked with Jesus during his early ministry (which was also 3 years, coincidence?). This is where Barnabas plays a significant role. If it had not been for this great encourager, the disciples probably would not have agreed to meet with Paul. However, Barnabas was willing to risk his life by speaking up for Paul and convincing the disciples to meet with him. Scripture tells us that Paul stayed with the disciples and traveled around openly in Jerusalem. Notice also that we’re told that Paul speaks “boldly” in the name of the Lord while getting around Jerusalem. We need to follow Paul’s lead and speak boldly about Jesus.
Once again, Paul has to flee for his life; and, once again, he needs the help of his fellow Christian brothers to help him escape. This seems to be a theme and is also another great lesson for us (see a trend here – the Bible is our life’s handbook with lessons about every single situation we can possibly get into). We cannot do it alone. We need others surrounding us, supporting us, encouraging us and defending us to so that we too can be strong and successful in doing our part to spread Christianity.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
I feel so very blessed to have been chosen by Jesus to be a disciple. I do not want to take this responsibility lightly and hope that you don’t either. Together we can make a difference.
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
I love this passage from Acts. What an experience for both men – Saul and Ananias. First, what faith Ananias displayed in going to the house where Saul was. Saul’s reputation preceded him to Damascus. All the Jesus-loving citizens in Damascus knew to watch out for him as he was a treacherous man on a mission. I recently read a great comparison of this situation in a book titled “Paul – A Man of Grace and Grit” by Dr. Charles R. Swindoll. By the way, if you get an opportunity to read this book, I highly recommend it. It is a great read from start to finish! Now getting back to the comparison that Dr. Swindoll makes with Ananias, he paints the picture in 1940, you are Jewish and you live in Vienna, Austria when the Nazis invade your beloved city. Imagine being awakened in the night by the Lord telling you to go to a specific house on a specific street to touch a specific man named Adolf Hitler. You have heard what a terrible monster Adolf Hitler is and that he despises and kills Jewish people. However, the Lord himself is requesting that you are the only one who can go and lay hands on Hitler to save your people. What an amazing, eye-opening analogy this is. I never quite put myself in Ananias’ shoes before reading this excerpt from Dr. Swindoll’s book. What amazing faith Ananias displayed in following the Lord’s request. Imagine where we would be if he did not follow that request. This disciple named Ananias is only mentioned in this chapter of Acts but what an amazing legacy he left all of us. And it was simple faith. Nothing more. Faith is defined in the Book of Hebrews.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6
Another thing I’d like to point out from the scripture above in Acts is that Saul became completely dependent on others in the “flash of a light.” The take-away I got from these verses is that our lives can change in the “flash of a light” and we can find ourselves in Saul’s shoes, so to speak. I gave my life to Jesus completely and feel compelled to spread the good news that Paul also felt compelled to spread. Another fact that Dr. Swindoll points out in his book is that Paul would have journeyed approximately 13,400 miles in his various missionary trips! And this is a conservative estimate and it does not include trips that Paul eludes to in the Bible but does not expand upon. Imagine the faith that he had in Jesus Christ. He knew that this life’s mission was to spread the Word, even if (and especially if) that included suffering for the cause, so that we could have the forever-after Jesus promises for all of us. If you have a passion for Christ, how can you not want to spread this good news?
I’d like to close this lesson with the following verse:
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:15-16
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:1-6
When Saul of Taurus took that fateful trip to Damascus to round up Jesus-loving, believing Jews, I’m certain he would have laughed in your face if you told him he would soon, very soon, be one of the most zealous, Jesus-loving, believing Jews!
Saul needed a tidal wave to hit him full force before he would change his opinion about the Messiah. Jesus was that tidal wave. When studying the Bible, it is important to know the men and women who God chose as His instruments. Saul, later known as Paul, plays a very important role in bringing the message to the non-Jewish world. The Bible tells us implicitly that God never changes. He is the same today as he was when Paul was alive.
I the Lord do not change… Malachi 3:6
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
God did not change. He merely changed his program. His chosen people of Israel denied His one and only Son that He sent to be their King. They not only denied Him but they played an important role in His death. God’s whole purpose for choosing the nation of Israel as His people was for Israel then to take His word to the farthest reaches of the earth and share with all mankind. However, we know that didn’t happen because they rejected Jesus. Therefore, God shifted the program and introduced Paul as the person who would take His Word to the farthest reaches of the earth. And that is exactly what Paul did as he became the world’s greatest missionary. God chose people who had baggage in their lives to be his instruments. And boy did Paul have baggage. Paul is introduced to us first in Acts Chapter 7 when Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power (Acts 6:6), is stoned to death.
When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. Acts 7:54-60; 8:1
Why do you suppose that God used someone like Saul to become the greatest missionary ever? God had to use someone exactly like Saul to give us hope that even the worst sinners could be saved by grace.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:15-16
In these two verses, Paul pretty much sums up the number one reason that God chose him to bring us the Gospel. Not once, but twice, Paul mentions that he is the worst of all sinners! He cheered and held the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death. He was a maniac on a mission to imprison all the Jews who believed in Jesus. If God could use someone like this in such a great way, how can people not see that any sin is forgivable (and forgettable in God’s eyes)? So many people think that they have too much of a sordid past for God to ever love them. How wrong and sad for these people. It is our personal assignment to share the power of GRACE so that others can have the beautiful gift that comes from knowing Jesus.
I’m going to close this lesson with one of my favorite verses:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I sat in church this morning listening to the sermon. It was as if our pastor wrote it with me in mind. His instruction was for us to listen when God tugs at our heartstrings. I’ve known for a while now that God has a purpose for my life – I just wasn’t sure what. As a matter of fact, God has a purpose for all of our lives. However, very few of us tune in to hear the Message. This was God’s instruction for Jeremiah when God called him as a boy to be a prophet.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah 1:5
Paul tells us:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. Romans 8:28-30
In the past year, God has impressed upon my heart that I should become a teacher of His Word. I don’t feel qualified to be a teacher; but, Jeremiah didn’t feel qualified to be a prophet either! Moses didn’t feel qualified to lead His people. If these great men didn’t feel qualified but they stepped up and did what God asked; I can certainly step up to the challenge as well. I am starting my first teachings with my posts.
We must not be afraid of the Bible. This is the wonderful legacy that God has protected and made available to you and me. It is our “how to” guide for life. You need to know that every word in the Bible is put exactly where God placed it.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 4:16-17
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:20-21
In Jesus’ own words when He was praying to the Father for His disciples:
For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. John 17:8
These are just a few verses where we are told that all Scripture is God-inspired. How powerful this knowledge is when you read the Bible. To know that we are reading God’s instructions for our lives makes me feel very humble.
I hope that you visit often so that we can learn lessons of grace together.
Dear Lord, please continue to touch my heart and the hearts of all your earthly disciples. Thank you for giving me the longing to learn your Word. Please continue to use me to do Your will. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen