There Are Times When Experiencing God's Presence Can Be Scary, But It's For Our Own Good
My ongoing Biblical studies for 09/10/22 on the Social Gospel Blog
Saul’s Dramatic Conversion Terrifies the Early Church
(Acts chapter 9, verses 17-31)
This posting is taken from my Christian nonfiction book, “The Social Gospel Teaching Series Vol. 2: The Book of Acts”, which you can order from this link
Check out my videos at https://www.youtube.com/c/RevPaulBern
Last week as we performed our analysis of part 1 of Acts chapter 9, Saul of Tarsus, an agent of the guard at the Temple at Jerusalem and a member of the Sanhedrin, together with his contingent of officers, had found themselves stopped on the road to Damascus by none other than the risen Spirit of the Lord. Saul had been knocked off his horse and struck blind as a result of his Divine encounter to the point where he had to be led into Damascus. And so now we find him bedridden and deeply troubled over what had happened to him. The rest of the officers who accompanied Saul must have been in a state of confusion, to say the least, at the loss of their leader. As we move on to part 2 today, Ananias has now arrived on the scene by the Lord's command to restore Saul's sight. So let's get going at verse 17 where we left off last week.
Part One of This Week’s Study Verses
“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so you can see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' Immediately, something like scales fell from Paul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. 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 one who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this 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.'” (Acts 9, verses 17-22)
God Bless Ananias. We Need More Like Him Today Than Ever Before
It's a good thing Ananias was an obedient soldier, or Saul would have been blind for the rest of his life. There was probably nothing special about Ananias. He had little or no money or higher education and probably came from a fairly humble background. But this is the type of person that God can use for His glory. God has no use to those who hold themselves in high esteem, or who flaunt their great wealth, or who hold positions of alleged 'royalty' here on earth. “Truthfully I say to you”, Jesus said to the Twelve regarding the rich, “they have their reward in full.” They couldn't wait for our Lord's return, or until the next life which is everlasting. They want it all now, meaning immediately, as if the Lord has done them a disservice by making them wait for the reward which awaits them. These kinds of people, the materialistic, vain and selfish, are the ones who give negative people and the evil forces of darkness their power.
Notice the very first thing Saul did? He “got up and was baptized”, before he even ate or drank anything. If any of us had just spent the previous three days being struck blind by God, I'm very certain we would want to show our appreciation with an immediate baptism just as much as Saul did. Saul was a man who already had a heart for God. But he was going about serving God the wrong way. Now that the Lord had Saul's undivided attention, he eagerly sought to make amends. “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 one who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call upon this name?'” When you stop and think about it, Saul must have mustered up a lot of internal fortitude to get up there in front of crowds of believers whom he had been persecuting only days before. You might say Saul had some credibility issues, especially at first.
But he pressed on: “Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” I want to be clear right here that Saul's power that the apostle Luke was writing about was not his own. His becoming “more powerful” was due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within him, which he received shortly after his baptism after his sight had been restored. Normally, being a Christ follower is a life-long process. I've been a Christian for over 30 years, and I can personally testify that this is so. But Saul was up and actively preaching in a matter of days, primarily because he had been coached by none other than Ananias, Judas of Straight Street in ancient Damascus, and an entire church full of believers to fill him in on matters of the faith which he was not yet familiar. And now let's move on to part 2 of today's lesson.
Part Two of This Week’s Study Verses
“After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept a 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. When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing he was really 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.” (Acts 9, verses 23-28)
Those of you who have been following this study series right from the start will remember that Jesus called the Temple ruling council, the Sanhedrin, “a brood of vipers”. Jesus called them 'a family of snakes' right up in their faces (also see Matt. 23: 33). It was no wonder – first they killed Jesus, only to have him rise again. Then they killed the early church leader Steven, and now they plotted to kill Saul. But these are the very kinds of things that occur when people speak truth to power. In much the same way, the Roman Empire murdered all the saints that came after him, and this continues up to this very day with the American Empire. But God protects those he designates, and Saul was certainly no exception: “But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” One of the qualities of an authentic Christian is determination. Saul's escape from Damascus is a good example of this.
Barnabas Intercedes on Saul’s Behalf
“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing he was really a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.” So now we can see Saul's initial rejection by the early Church, but that only lasted until he met the Twelve. “He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how …. he had preached fearlessly..... So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.” The disciples did what they believed should be done, and that was to mistrust Saul at first based on what they knew about him. It wasn't until Barnabas – himself a man of distinction in the early Church who was ultimately martyred – brought Saul to the apostles that he began to preach in earnest. Saul knew better than to try and launch an evangelical crusade – Jewish style, if you try to imagine that – on his own. He could have easily gotten himself killed, and I'm certain he was keenly aware of that. And now let's conclude today's study with part 3.
Part Three of This Week’s Study Verses
“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 Caesaria 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 the fear of the Lord.” (Acts 9, verses 29-31)
There Is a Cost to Christianity
First the Jews in Damascus plotted to kill Saul, then the Grecian Jews at Jerusalem tried to do the same. Saul's conversion had clearly made his life a lot more complicated, and far more hazardous as well. In a world full of worldly people whose minds are set on worldly things, any person who sets their minds on the things that matter to God always does so at the expense of worldly things. Often this also means it's done at the expense of our worldly friends, business associates and even family members.
Saul Was Too Hot to Handle at First For the Early Church
In Saul's case, his conversion was so controversial the apostles assigned a team of disciples and guards to escort him to Caesaria, so he could obtain transport back to his home town. Saul was too hot to handle, even for the twelve apostles. Yet once Saul was gone everything cooled down for a substantial period of time, and the growth of the early Church increased by the thousands. And next week when we come back for the third and final part of Acts chapter 9, we will find out what the apostle Peter was doing while all this was going on. So, God willing, I hope to see you all back here next week, and don't forget to tell someone about this website/blog. Thanks very much. Enjoy your day.
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