Because the Jews were determined that Jesus’ own words would not take place, “chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir…order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first”” (Matthew 27:63-64). I am certain that Saul knew about this order, and perhaps believed the resurrection was a lie.
The next seven years of training as a devoted Pharisee must have sealed the death of Jesus in Saul’s mind so there was no possible way for him to think that Jesus was alive. All the rumors about His resurrection had to be false. When the moment came “as he approached Damascus…suddenly a light from heaven shone around him” (Acts 9:3). This was no ordinary experience. Plus, the light was from a source outside any human experience. Saul was forced by the power of this experience to pay attention to what was happening.
Then “he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (9:4). With all his ‘higher education,’ he had never been taught how to handle a moment like this. He realized that what was taking place had an authority that could only come from the Lord. We do not know whether Saul was there in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified, and recognized His voice, but there was something in the voice that spoke to him that commanded complete submission.
The man that was put to death in Jerusalem was very much alive! In the same way that Saul was required to respond to Jesus on that day, you and I must respond to His challenging voice today. What is the LORD exposing to your heart right now that demands your submission.
When it comes to personal missions and telling others about Jesus, I know of no more powerful witness to the transformation God can do than your own life. I was just reading this morning of a man in a Muslim country who came across a New Testament Bible. Beginning to read Matthew’s Gospel, he came to chapter 5 and immediately saw that the attitudes Jesus taught were not those of Islam. He started living by these principles. His family saw a remarkable difference in his life and asked why. This led to the whole family accepting Jesus as their Savior. The story is still growing.
Though Paul was “still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:22–24). Persecutor to preacher!
Both of these examples should deeply challenge our thinking. The Church in Saul’s day did not have an ‘evangelism program’ aimed at persecutors or any other group. They learned though, to be open to the Holy Spirit and His directions. As mentioned a few days ago, Ananias had his spiritual eyes opened to see how God was working in a different way than before.
Notice the effect of Saul’s conversion on those who heard about it. Persons who previously limited the way God could work in conversion, “glorified God because of me.” This was the same mind-changing process that Peter had to go through when Gentiles started coming into the Church.
Have we built walls in our minds and hearts that limit how God can work to reach the world? Would you ask God to reveal a person or people group that needs to hear the gospel through you.
We continue from yesterday’s blog on Ananias. After making his argument to the Lord about Saul, Ananias gets further instructions on what to do because his heart was open to the Lord.
“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name” (Acts 9:15–16).
There is a very important lesson for us to learn in this. Usually God does not give more details and important information about our mission until we are willing to obey! God’s sovereign choice of Saul and his assignment came with a very high price – SUFFERING! This was all part of God’s plan, but Ananias did not see this until he submitted to the Lord. Notice the next surprise.
“So, Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit”” (9:17).
Ananias is fully ‘on board’ with God’s plan for Saul. He also acknowledges a relationship with Saul, a notorious persecutor, that is totally new; “Brother Saul.” Are you ready to be used by God in some extraordinary situation that reveals the power and glory of God? It will require a humble, servant’s heart and mind, and a trust in God’s sovereign choosing
As we examine Saul’s/Paul’s life, questions flow out of his experience that immediately challenge our own reactions and motives in relating to other people. Put yourself in the sandals of Ananias in Acts 9. It is obvious that he knew Saul and the persecution this man had brought against the Early Church. Take a moment and read these few verses.
“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name”” (Acts 9:10–14).
Before we criticize Ananias for being judgmental or prejudiced, let’s look at his good qualities.
· He is a man near enough to the Lord that he knows when the Lord is speaking to him and is responsive when the Lord speaks to him. Are you?
· Ananias is very protective of the Church. So should we be, but in the right way.
Notice though that Ananias is basing his reaction on the news reports (gossip) about Saul. How often do we react in the same way rather than listening to the Lord’s request and obediently reaching out to those in whom God is working? The catch to this question is that we will never see where God is working until we follow His instructions. Tomorrow we will see what happened.
Many Christians struggle with the idea that God is absolutely sovereign and has foreknowledge of what He is going to do. I am afraid theologians have debated questions like this far too much and taken the awe and wonder out of our faith in the grace of God and work of Christ.
For Paul, this was a fact of his conversion. I am sure that in the days and weeks after his Damascus road experience, he smiled as his mind compared what he had been in Judaism with the revelation God had given him about salvation by grace alone. Paul says it this way in Galatians 1:15; “But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.”
The logical question might be; if God knew he was going to do this, why wait until Saul committed crimes against the name of Jesus before transforming his life? If God had taken that path, we would have missed the depth of humility we see in this apostle and his expressions of gratitude for what God did in His life. Paul’s clear understanding of the pure gospel might not have been so vivid had he not gone through the “Pharisee” experience. He learned grace in all its purity.
There is not one believer that has not received the grace, mercy, love and sovereign will of God that brought them from darkness to light, from being dead in sin to new life in Christ. That has all been in the will of God; when and how it should happen. As Paul did, let’s rejoice and worship Him for such glorious plans. It will cause us to live for that plan with renewed energy and devotion.
As we continue to examine the details of the Apostle Paul, one striking fact about his life was the degree of education he received. Because of his background and education, he was not afraid to stand before rulers and kings. As Paul acts as his own attorney before King Agrippa, he recalls his Jewish status before being converted by the Son of God;
“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time…that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:4–5). This alone showed the intense dedication he had to reach the pinnacle of religious status among the Jews.
Add to that Paul’s comments in Galatians and Philippians: “And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (1:14). “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4–6). As we would say, he was at the top of his class.
That all changed! His zeal was no longer for another degree or the next religious achievement. His zeal became focused on His Savior, His gospel and His Church. His title changed from Pharisee to servant. “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1). What change in status has God brought in your life?
This is one of those transformations you most likely will never read or hear about in daily news. You may have read about his success in putting Christians in prison and how he stood in approval as his fellow Pharisees stone a man full of faith and the Spirit (Acts 8:1; 9:2, 21). It is so typical in every generation that bad news has more market value than good news. What was the good news?
When Saul is confronted by the Lord Jesus on the Damascus road, blinded by “a light from heaven,” converted and led by the hand into the city so that Ananias could “lay his hands on him… so that [Saul] may regain [his] sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” There is not one news report on this. But for us, this is a supreme example of what can happen every day.
I have been challenged in working with some that others consider impossible, or for them, a waste of time. As I watch God change the heart, open ears to the Word of God, I often think back to Saul. Even Ananias doubted that God could transform this renowned Pharisee. Yes, Saul became a saint by the power of the blood of Jesus, useful in preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth, planting churches and building up the body of Christ, and much more!
There is someone you know or a person God has put in your path, and you have ignored them because you think they are beyond the reach of God’s grace. Go and stand in front of a mirror and look at the person you see. Were it not for God’s boundless grace, you would be that other person. Get on your knees and pray for every person that comes to mind that you think is too bad and beyond the grace of God. He wants to first change your heart so you partner with Him in His work.
With this blog, I am turning a corner to focus our attention on the Apostle Paul. As I study his life and letters, they continually amaze me with the mere volume of truth they unfold, particularly the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This does not mean for a moment that any of the other writers of any sixty-six books of the Bible have any less value or meaning. Yet, his life alone was extraordinary!
Even though Paul “opposed [Peter] to his face, because he stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11), Peter speaks so generously of Paul as “our beloved brother Paul” (2 Peter 3:15). This is the kind of friendship that is built on truth and not just human likes and mutual interests. What is of even more interest is that these two men came from entirely different life-styles. Peter, a fisherman by trade (Luke 5:1-2); Paul was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers” (Acts 22:3). Even with such differences, they are bound together in Christ.
In these two men we see a model of working through the details of life until they discovered a common bond in the gospel through the working of the Spirit in them. We often find affinity with others based on personalities that work well together, or having the same interests or pursuits in life, or even the same status in our cultures. None of that mattered to Paul. He would associate with a well-to-do merchant in Philippi (Lydia) or a jailkeeper (Acts 16).
As we examine the life of this dear servant, we must let the facts of his life challenge our own. There is no question that his first passion expressed itself in wanting to harm the early Christians, until he met Jesus face to face; then his passion drove him to the point of being willing to die for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I look at his love for Jesus, it makes me want to be more like him!
Throughout human history there has always been the attempt to make an organization, society or association of individuals that has a bond or unity that is greater than all their problems and things that divide them. One of the first efforts to produce this unity was the Tower of Babel. They had “one language and the same words” all over the world at that time.
From this favorable status they made a decision: “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth”” (Genesis 11:4). It met with God’s judgment because it was another effort to be God in their circumstances and replace Him with themselves.
How much different is the building that God builds? Jesus said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). In building His Church, He has placed certain characteristics in it that make it different and superior than any man-made organization.
“God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:24–26). This principle is that we put the weakest and least members above ourselves in love and service. There cannot be any favoritism in this, because God had paid the same price for each to place us together in the Body of Christ – His precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).
How is this principle working out in your life and church? (See Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3-4).
That sounds like a crazy statement, but read the words of David; “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). A few verses later in this Psalm he says “in faithfulness You have afflicted me” (119:75).
What did David mean by these statements? It is a natural tendency to have our thoughts and attention elsewhere when life is “normal” and we are free to do what we want. When the pressure of suffering and pain hit us and we are limited in what we can do, we tend to ask questions about our condition. God wants us to gain from trials; He is faithful in bringing them at the right time.
Albert Barnes wrote: “God knows what is best for us, and the way in which He leads us, mysterious though it seems to be now, will yet be seen to have been full of goodness and mercy.”
What increases our ability to learn in these difficult circumstances that hurt? I think Paul said it best, and he speaks from experience that is far deeper than mine; “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). It is a comfort to realize that even Paul saw this as a process of learning. Just when I think that a lesson in suffering has been learned, God brings along another one with more to understand and gain from another experience of pain. Will you join me in learning from the hand of a loving Father?
Link To Our Old Blog: