The Apostle Paul: Peace and Silence.

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31)

As he was prone to do throughout the Book of Acts, the author Luke summarized the condition of the church. As previously noted in Acts 9:28-30, Saul preached in Jerusalem and encountered strong opposition from the Hellenistic Jews who were responsible for the death of Stephen (Acts 6-7). What they did to Stephen, the Hellenists now wanted to do to Saul. They wanted to kill him. They wanted him dead because of his conversion to Christ.

The Jerusalem church discovered the Hellenists intentions. Therefore, they secretly brought Saul to Caesarea and then sent him home to Tarsus. This was for his own protection. It would also provide Saul some much needed peace and rest following his dramatic conversion (Acts 9:1-1-9) and the resulting hatred toward him by the Jews in Damascus and Jerusalem.

It was during this time that the church in Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace and was growing in their faith. The peace came from not only Saul’s conversion but also from a new and stricter Roman governor, Marcellus (36-37 AD), who had succeeded Pontius Pilate.

The church was not only at peace and growing in their faith, but was also living in the fear and reverence of the Lord. This was accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s comfort.

While this time of tranquility was enjoyable, it would not last. The Book of Acts chronicles not only the growth of the church, but also the growth of the persecution against the church. Soon there would be more martyrs (Acts 12:1-3) and imprisonments (Acts 12:4-5). Yet, the Gospel could not be killed or imprisoned: then or now.

Take comfort today in the peace and rest God provides, even in the most trying of circumstances.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

The Apostle Paul: Initial Fellowship, Increasing Hostility.

28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus” (Acts 9:28–30)

“What was the root of Paul’s deep love for the churches? It grew out of his profound understanding of God’s love for him. Paul was so deeply aware of Christ’s love for him that in a sense he was forced to live for Christ and to love as Christ loved. He loved the Corinthians and the Galatians because Christ loved him. So we see again that character grows out of one’s theology. Because Paul’s theology was firmly rooted in the love of Christ, his character reflected it, and he could love others as Christ loved him.” – Jerry Bridges

We do not witness any bitterness by Saul when the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem initially rejected him due to their fear of him. Following Barnabas’ validation of Saul’s sincere conversion to Christ, the future apostle to the Gentiles went in and out among the disciples and apostles in Jerusalem.

We must also take note that Saul was not just looking for Christian fellowship, as important as that was and is for the church. He also began preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. In other words, Saul continued to preach the Gospel in Jerusalem, as he had in Damascus.

It was during this time that Saul began disputing with the Hellenists. Hellenists were Jews who adopted certain aspects of Greek culture. These were the opponents who disputed with Stephen in Acts 6 -7. It was when they executed Stephen that we first learned of a young man named Saul of Tarsus. Saul’s former colleagues against Christianity became his fierce foes. As they succeeded in killing Stephen for his preaching of the Gospel, so they intended to kill Saul for the same reason.

However, when Saul’s brothers in Christ learned of this plot by the Hellenists, they brought him to Caesarea and sent him off, presumably by ship, to Tarsus. It was at this time that Saul disappeared from public ministry for several years. Exactly what he was doing during this time we will examine in the days to come.

It is certain that Saul/Paul loved his fellow believers in Christ, and they him. It is equally certain that he had many enemies who sought to silence the Gospel by silencing him. However, neither Saul, nor the Gospel, could, or can, be silenced: then or now.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Apostle Paul: Barnabas.

“But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27).

Pastor Burk Parsons writes, “He (Paul) was a man who didn’t feel the need to pound his chest and defend himself as the great apostle Paul; rather, he buffeted his body to gain an invisible crown so that he could present it to the Lord (1 Cor. 9:26). He was a man willing to be considered a fool for Christ (1 Cor. 1:27), and he was a man who wanted to be identified, first and foremost, as one graciously called to be an apostle who was a bondservant of Christ. Just as he boldly proclaimed the doctrine of justification by faith alone because of the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, so he lived and breathed the simple phrase that he wrote on nearly every page of every epistle: “in Christ.” Paul was a real man, and one of the greatest men of all time, not because he lived for his own greatness and glory but because he lived humbly before the face of God, coram Deo, for the glory of God.”

Barnabas, who was also known as Joseph, was one of the early converts to Christianity in Jerusalem. Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement, probably earned his new name through his effective preaching and teaching. It may also have been earned by his encouragement to those who were initially rejected by the early church. Such an individual was Saul.

A native of Cyprus, Barnabas was a Jew of the Diaspora. His priestly family background gave him a special interest in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36). He probably came to live in the Holy City. It is possible that he may even have become acquainted with Jesus in Jerusalem, but his conversion to Christianity probably resulted from the apostles’ preaching soon after the resurrection of Christ.

Barnabas first appeared as a property owner named Joseph in the book of Acts. He sold a field and gave the money to the Christian community (Acts 4:36–37). When persecution of Hellenistic Christians broke out in Jerusalem, Barnabas remained in the city though others of similar background fled (8:1–8; 11:19–22). His good reputation in Jerusalem may have influenced the apostles to select him as Paul’s companion for missionary work. Luke, the writer of Acts said of Barnabas, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (11:24).

Barnabas’ displayed his goodness, fullness of the Holy Spirit and his faith in bringing Saul to the apostles in Jerusalem. Barnabas knew of Saul’s experience encountering the Lord Jesus on the Damascus Road. He shared the truth of Saul’s conversion to the apostles. He also relayed to them how Saul boldly preached the Gospel while in Damascus.

Barnabas affirmed the validity of Saul’s conversion. He did so when no one else would. What an encouragement that must have been for Saul.

Who do you know who is a son or daughter of encouragement to those who are within the church and who could easily fall through the cracks? Encourage these encouragers today by letting them know how much you appreciated their ministry.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Apostle Paul: Skepticism by the Disciples.

 “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).

Pastor Burk Parsons writes, “The apostle Paul was indeed a man of strength, bravery, boldness, and confidence, and he was a man who cared deeply about the world, about others, and about all things religious. He was a man who very much concerned himself with servant-hood, humility, prayer, faith, and love. He was a man of such spiritual fortitude that he understood that he was strongest in Christ when he was weakest in himself (2 Cor. 12:10). He was a man who knew that his only confidence was in Christ, not in his own natural abilities (Phil. 3:3). He was a man who cared so much for the people of God that he was willing to suffer the persecutions of men rather than be at home with Christ (Phil. 1:21).”

When I first was converted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I became a member of not only the church of the living God, but also a local church. It was in this local congregation that I began to grow in the Lord, worship God in spirit and in truth, minister to and be ministered by fellow believers, learn how to share the Gospel, and fellowship with people who would become lifelong and dear friends.

I was not rejected, but accepted. I was not shunned but embraced. I was not rebuked but gently instructed and nurtured. Was I rough around the edges? Certainly! Did I have a lot to learn regarding personal holiness? Absolutely! However, I became part of the family of God, represented by a local congregation and its pastor.

It strikes me as troubling that while Saul was accepted by the saints in Damascus, such was not the case with the church in Jerusalem. Much like Ananias, who initially balked at God’s directive to minister to Saul, the disciples in Jerusalem did not readily receive Saul into their fellowship. The reason was because they were afraid of him. The reason they were afraid of him was because they did not believe he was truly converted. They did not believe he was truly a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Apparently, the disciples’ negative reaction towards Saul was widespread. It would take more than just a personal testimony to convince the believers in Jerusalem that the one time persecutor of the faithful was now a member of the faithful. Skepticism remained high and acceptance was seemingly very low, it not non-existent for Saul.

However, we shall soon see that there was one man who was willing to step out in faith, and perhaps also out of his comfort zone, in order to take a chance on Saul. The man’s name was Barnabas.

I trust that you also found acceptance, along with the sweet communion of becoming a part of an evangelical church, when you were converted by the Gospel. I also trust that acceptance and sweet communion remains to this day.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Apostle Paul: Saul Escapes from Damascus

23 “When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket” (Acts 9:23–25 (ESV)

Pastor Burk Parsons writes, “What does it mean to be a real man? According to the standards of our society, a real man is big and strong, bold and brave, confident and competitive. Through the voices of the moguls of media and the movies, young men are taught that a real man is a true stoic — someone who doesn’t show his emotions; he is apathetic about the cares of the world, apathetic to the problems of others, and, especially, apathetic to all things religious. Just about every popular television program, commercial, and cartoon portrays men as infantile, aloof, and ignorant, and if our Hollywood-inoculated culture is accurate in its assessment, then it is certainly appropriate to conclude that any man who would read an article such as this, or for that matter any man who would write an article such as this, is not a real man. Furthermore, if a man is a “man’s man,” he certainly isn’t the type of person who concerns himself with sappy, spiritual things, such as servant-hood, humility, prayer, faith, and love.”

Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, was indeed such a man of servanthood, humility, prayer, faith and love. However, these characteristics were not displayed in a cultural vacuum, but rather in the experiences of real life.

It was not long after his conversion that Saul, who had been the primary persecutor of Christians in the early church, became the object of the same persecution. The Jews in Damascus, incapable of refuting him, plotted to kill him. They consistently watched the city gates for the opportunity to seize Saul. Day and night the Jews waited for the moment when they could destroy the former destroyer.

Saul became aware of the plot and with the help of his own disciples, he escaped through an opening in the city wall by being lowered down in a basket suitable for hay, straw, or bales of wood. One scholar writes that, “Houses were sometimes built into city walls; Saul’s escape method had biblical precedent (Josh 2:15; 1 Sam 19:12). That he had gained disciples there indicates that he had worked like a Christian rabbi, or teacher, and that he had the requisite training to present himself as such (cf. 22:3).”

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul explained, 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands” (2 Corinthians 11:30-33).

Dr. John MacArthur writes that, “Paul related his humiliating escape from Damascus (cf. Acts 9:23–25) as the crowning example of the weakness and infirmity in which he boasted (2 Cor. 11:30). The Acts narrative names the hostile Jews as those who sought Paul’s life, whereas Paul here mentioned the governor under the Nabatean Arab king Aretas (9 B.C.–A.D. 40) as the one who sought him. Evidently the Jews stirred up the secular authorities against him, as they were later to do repeatedly in Acts (cf. Acts 13:50; 14:2; 17:13).”

What opportunities have you had to display strength, bravery, boldness and confidence for the sake of the Gospel? What about servant-hood, humility, prayer, faith, and love? When have you displayed those characteristics while in midst of persecution: whether verbal, cultural, or even physical?

Jesus said to His disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Take heart, beloved. Be strengthened in your faith even in the midst of tribulation.

Soli deo Gloria!          

The Apostle Paul: Saul Begins to Preach Jesus.

20 “And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 9:20–22)

Following his brief convalescence, Saul immediately began proclaiming, announcing or preaching Jesus as Savior and Lord saying, “He is the Son of God.” The content of Saul’s message was that Jesus Christ is God.

The reaction by all who heard Saul was astonishment. They were beside themselves. They were dumbfounded. This continuous amazement was overwhelming because the people knew that Saul was the man who “made havoc” and tried to destroy the church. They also knew that he had originally come to Damascus for the very purpose of arresting believers and bringing them before the chief priests in Jerusalem for trial and punishment.

However, Saul became increasingly more capable in reasoning from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ, the anointed One from God the Father. At the same time he was becoming more proficient in this endeavor, he was also baffling the Jews who lived in Damascus by biblically proving Jesus was the Christ.

Dr. R.C. Sproul writes that, “His expertise in the Scriptures now subdued and redirected by Jesus’ sovereign Spirit, Saul becomes an unanswerable advocate of Jesus ‘ messianic identity as Stephen (whose martyrdom had pleased Saul) was before him (Acts 6:10).

Dr. John Walvoord explains that, “Saul used his theological training to good advantage in pressing home the truth that the Lord Jesus is the Messiah. He had gone to Damascus to persecute the church; he ended up preaching Jesus. What a contrast! What grace! No wonder the Damascus Jews were baffled, bewildered, and confused.”

Saul was becoming God’s instrument for noble purposes. Are you?

Soli deo Gloria!

 

The Apostle Paul: Ananias’ and Saul’s Obedience.

17 “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.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus” (Acts 9:17-19).

Whatever misgivings Ananias may have had regarding the Lord’s directive for him to go the Judas’ house and minister to Saul of Tarsus, they gave way to obedience. Ananias departed from where he was when the Lord visited him and entered Judas’ house on Straight Street in Damascus (Acts 9:10-11). It was there that Ananias laid his hands on Saul, fulfilling the vision the Lord had given Saul regarding how and when he would regain his eyesight (Acts 9:12).

At that precise moment, Ananias said to Saul, “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.” Take notice of five truths Ananias affirmed in his statement.

First, Ananias called Saul his brother. This is an obvious reference to Saul and Ananias being brothers in Christ. This affirms the truth that Saul was already converted.

Second, Ananias affirmed that the person Saul encountered on the Damascus Road was none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. This Jesus who appeared to Saul was the same Jesus who directed Ananias to come to Saul.

Third, Ananias affirmed that Jesus Christ was God. He did so by using the Greek term Lord. This title means master, ruler, and sovereign one.

Fourth, Ananias affirmed that Saul would receive his sight. This demonstrated the Lord’s sovereignty over the circumstances of life. Luke would go on to say that something like a thin layer of skin fell from Saul’s eyes and he regained his eyesight (Acts 9:18).

Fifth, Ananias affirmed that Saul would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit clearly followed Saul’s conversion (cf. 4:8, 31; Eph. 5:18).

Paul recalled that Ananias also said, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:14-16).

Saul immediately followed the Lord in Believer’s Baptism. Following this, he began for the first time in several days to begin eating. This increased his physical strength. Saul would remain for some time with Jesus’ disciples in Damascus.

There have been few conversions as striking as Saul’s. True conversion, however, need not be theatrical to be authentic. Think back upon your conversion. Thank God for justifying you by grace alone, through faith alone, and in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.  Consider how or if you have suffered for Him in His service.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Apostle Paul: A Chosen Instrument.

13”But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 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. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:13–16)

Max Lucado, from his book On the Anvil, writes, “Ah to be your instrument O God, like Paul to the Gentiles, like Phillip to the eunuch, like Jesus to the world, to be your instrument. To be like a scalpel in the gentle hands of a surgeon, healing and mending. To be like the plow in the weathered hands of the farmer, sowing and tendng. To be like a scythe in the sweeping hands of the reaper, gathering and using. To be an instrument for noble purposes. To be honed and tuned, in sync with your will, to be sensitive to your touch. This my God is my prayer, draw me from the fire, form me on your anvil, shape me with your hands, let me be your tool.”

I have always appreciated that prayer from Pastor Lucado. It places the emphasis on serving and ministry squarely where it belongs. Believers are God’s instruments, and not the other way around. Believers are never called to use God for their own purpose and glory. God calls believers so He can use them, for His purpose and for His glory.  

Such was the case with not only Ananias, but also with Saul of Tarsus. God told Ananias that Saul would be, “15…a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

Dr. John MacArthur writes, “There was perfect continuity between Paul’s salvation and his service; God chose him to convey his grace to all people (Gal. 1:1; cf. 1 Tim. 2:72 Tim. 1:11). Paul used this same word four times (Rom. 9:21, 232 Cor. 4:72 Tim. 2:21). Paul began his ministry preaching to Jews (Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1, 10; 18:4; 19:8), but his primary calling was to Gentiles (Rom. 11:13; 15:16). God also called him to minister to kings such as Agrippa (Acts 25:23–26:32) and likely Caesar (cf. 25:10–122 Tim. 4:16–17).”

When God calls a sinner unto salvation in Christ, He has a purpose and plan for that individual. They will become God’s servant. He will give them a mission to fulfill. What is your mission? What does God have you doing for His glory? How is God using you as His instrument for noble purposes?

Soli deo Gloria!

The Apostle Paul: Anxious Ananias.

13”But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 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. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:13–16)

Have you ever said to the LORD, “Lord, I will go where you want me to go and I will do what you want me to do?” Perhaps you have. I know I have; many times and in many situations.

Perhaps Ananias made that promise also, but we do not know for sure that he did. What we do know about him we have previously examined from Acts 22:12 which says, “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well-spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.” It’s not too much of a stretch to presume that if Ananias was a devout man according to the Law of God, then he would be more than willing to go and to do whatever God wanted of him.

However, Ananias was not too enthusiastic about ministering to Saul of Tarsus, and with good reason. Ananias said to the Lord: “13Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name” (Acts 9:13-14). Ananias was more than a little concerned and worried about what the Lord wanted him to do and where Jesus wanted him to go.

Yet the Lord had a ready response. He always does. Jesus said to Ananias, “15Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

The word “go” (Πορεύου; poreuou) is a present middle imperative verb. This means that Jesus gave Ananias a personal command that he was personally expected to obey. There would be no negotiations or compromises. What Jesus wanted from Ananias was obedience, plain and simple. This, as we shall soon see, is what Jesus would want from Saul. This is what Jesus wants from believers today.

Are there any areas of your life in which you struggle being obedient unto the Lord? I’m sure you do. I know that I do. Every believer struggles to some extent with obedience and correspondingly with disobedience before God, which is sin.

Pray that God will give you a willing heart to be obedient to Jesus. May your commitment to obedience be evident in being willing, ready and able to go where the Lord wants you to go and to do what the Lord wants you to do.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Apostle Paul: Saul and Ananias.

10 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.” 11 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, 12 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.” (Acts 9:10–12)

It amazes me that the LORD can take people from various backgrounds in life and unite them in Christ. It also amazes me that God can take mortal enemies and make them more than friends, but brothers in Christ. Such was the case with Saul and Ananias.

Ananias was one of Jesus’ disciples who lived in Damascus. Ironically, Ananias could have become one of Saul’s targets of persecution for following the Lord Jesus. Instead, he became the first believer to minister to Saul.

The Lord Jesus appeared to Ananias in a vision. A vision, in this context, was a supernatural sight from God. Like Saul on the Damascus Road, Ananias immediately knew it was the Lord Jesus who appeared to him. Ananias responded, “Here I am, Lord.”  

Jesus answered and said, ““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, 12 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.”

Years later, the Apostle Paul would say that Ananias was, “a devout man according to the law, well-spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, (in Damascus)” (Acts 22:12). Ananias was God-fearing and reverent according to the Word of God. He also had a good reputation with the Jews who lived in Damascus.

God gave Ananias the responsibility and privilege of laying hands upon Saul in order for this new convert to receive back his physical eyesight. What was Ananias’ initial response to this directive from Jesus? We’ll examine the answer to this question when next we meet.

Soli deo Gloria!