20130519-102300.jpg

• Jewish Advantage To the Jew first, and also to the Greek. Everyone who believes is welcome to God, but the Gospel of the first century was offered initially to the physical descendants of Abraham. It was only fitting after all for those, “who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh…” (Rom 4:4-5) to have the first opportunity to obey the Gospel. Paul and Barnabas were guided by this principle as they went from city to city as messengers of that good news. Upon arriving in Pisidian Antioch, “on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.” (Ac 13:14) Though they would prove difficult, the Jews were prepared for the coming of the Christ, as they possessed the prerequisite knowledge to understand His significance. The Jew, for instance, could place Jesus’ death in the OT context of vicarious sacrifice, whereas the Gentile would be working with a flawed frame of religious reference or none at all. The “advantage” of the Jew in that sense is great indeed. (Rom 3:1-2) When Paul and his companions arrived in Antioch, they looked to gather the low-hanging fruit first and take the Gospel to those who should receive it.

• Everywhere a Synagogue The custom of the synagogue was an advantageous development for the Jewish faith and especially helpful for the early church. It seems the practice of assembling together each Sabbath sprang out of the necessity Babylonian captivity produced.
Weekly, the congregants would unite for the reading of the Law and the prophets and in time it became the hub of Jewish society including even charitable welfare. This served to keep the people from idol worship and retained their adhesion as a cultural and religious identity while deported. It also meant that in nearly every city the Gospel would reach, a synagogue was already there prepared to hear it. “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Ac 15:21)

• Modern Moses The weekly reading of Moses had substance, but the ministry of death is a tutor to lead us to Christ. The Law lacks life and power; the Gospel is the message of both. “for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Rom 1:16) In similar fashion, modern day synagogues abound. A 2010 Gallup pole suggests that just over 43% of americans “frequently” attend a religious meeting of some kind. When we consider what fraction of that ≈ 120 million represent churches based on the Bible, who acknowledge Gospel obedience in baptism, and recognize the Holy Spirit’s power to change the inner man, we may say with Jesus that the fields are indeed white for harvest. “Brethren,” said the synagogue official, “if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it” (Ac 13:15)

Next Week: Line of Heroes
Mark Miller

• Partners in Spreading the Word The names of those responsible for starting the congregation in Antioch are not known to us. These Church planters were not professionals, they were not apostles, nor were they sent out by the saints of Jerusalem, they simply took the Word of Christ with them as they tried to outrun the persecution centered in Judea. Most importantly, “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” (Ac 11:21) Christians would do well to remember Jesus said, “…Upon this rock, I will build My Church.” (Mt 16:18) Ultimately the Church is not grown by meals or marketing, but by Jesus Himself working through the spoken Word. Thus, the involvement of the Holy Spirit cannot be overstated in regards to the spread of the Gospel to those near or “…far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” (Ac 2:39)

• Barnabas’ Encouragement Despite the persecution, Barnabas remained in Jerusalem. The “Son of Encouragement” – so called by the Apostles – Barnabas had been pivotal in the acceptance of Saul of Tarsus when the newly-converted Saul returned to Jerusalem. Initially the believers there were reluctant to embrace the man who had arrested, and in some cases killed, their brothers in the faith. Barnabas stepped forward, and vouched for Saul, bringing him to the apostles. The Church in Antioch already had large numbers when the Jerusalem saints heard of it. They responded to its need by sending Barnabas. “For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith…” (Ac 11:24) His resolute encouragement in concert with the grace of God resulted in considerable numbers being brought to the Lord. Barnabas was a good man by any measure, not the least of which was his willingness to be used by God. When the Church needed him somewhere else, Barnabas was ready to go. His example reminds us that God did not promise to leave us comfortably at home, but uses us for His glory whenever and wherever He chooses.

• Teamwork Those considerable numbers needed considerable instruction. In fact, even Barnabas could not keep up with the needs of the Antioch congregation. He needed a partner, someone who could be trusted and knew the Scriptures well. The right man for the job was living in Tarsus, and Barnabas went there to find Saul. “and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Ac 11:26) Note that God had established another strong body of believers, and one that would be a necessary check on Jerusalem in later years. Also worthy of our consideration is that Antioch was independent enough to take the name “Christian” first. We follow the Antioch example in claiming the name “Christian” and should also in pursuing the goal of the Church to teach and encourage all who receive the grace of God.

Next Week: Jerusalem Mission
Mark Miller

• Meanwhile… The Scriptues – and specifically and book of Acts – are limited in their focus. Without what little help we receive from tradition, there would be no mention of the paths most apostles took from the Church in Jerusalem. To follow each of the Lord’s witnesses would be dauting, and in His wisdom the Holy Spirit thought it best to direct our attention to only two. The first twelve chapters of Acts focus mainly on Peter. However, at Stephen’s death in chapter seven we are introduced to Saul of Tarsus. Gradually, over the next few chapters the Word of God shifts to record Saul’s conversion, trail to Tarsus, Antioch, his missionary journeys, and imprisonment. But the Bible records only one account at a time. Like a comic book with multiple story lines, the Scripture also uses a “meanwhile” device to switch from one thread to another. We find it in Acts 11:19. “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.” The persecution alluded to here is first recorded in Ac 8:1, “…And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” After recording the inclusion of the Gentiles in chapters 10 & 11, the Holy Spirit rewinds the tape to Stephen’s death and plays it again, but now His attention turns to Antioch and the partnership of Saul and Barnabas. therefore, Ac 11:19 – Ac 12 and onward record events that took place before Ac 10. Some may object claiming, “Luke’s style is chronological (Lk 1:3) and such “rewinding” is inconsistent.” Quite right. Luke continues to record events in consecutive order, but must pause one narrative in order to further another. This may seem insignificant, but is crucial to make sense of Ac 13, and we will revisit it then.

• Jews Only? The persecution spearheaded by Saul was a necessary part of the Lord’s plan, and it accomplished several things. First, by displacing a large portion of the Christian population, (They were all scattered) the Word of Jesus was scattered also. Everywhere they went the disciples took the message of Christ with them and obeyed the Great Commission to make disciples. Secondly, it served to remove them from Jerusalem – a providential exodus in light of the city’s promised destruction. Fleeing Jerusalem, many Jews sought safe haven in the places from which they had come, and made their way back to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, “speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.” (Ac 11:19) Why to Jews alone? This seems odd in light of Peter’s visit to Cornelius unless we remember that the persecution and subsequent scattering happened before the inclusion of the Gentiles. But when they reached Antioch, some of them “began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.” (Ac 11:20 Thus, someone will say, “See the Greeks were included also, so this “rewinding” business is all rot.” Before we rush to judgment let us consider that “Helenists” (Ἑλληνιστάς) is the word here translated “Greeks” and means, “Greek speaking Jew” as rendered in Ac 6:1 & 9:29. The Lord had a definite plan to include the Genitles and He was working that plan even before Peter made his fateful trip to Caesarea. When He was finished no one could scarce deny that salvation was indeed open to all who would call upon Him, both Jew and Greek.

Next Week: Antioch
Mark Miller

• What Befell Them Peter never expected what God was about to do at the house of Cornelius. The apostle to the Jews had been given a strange assignment indeed, but upon arriving in Caesarea he found the Gentile’s house ready to receive the gospel message. Peter provided exactly that, and the Lord provided something else. “ While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.” (Ac 10:44) It is important to note what befell them. The Scriptures are not as modern man perceives art and literature around him – open to the interpretation of the beholder. The Bible, on the other hand, is much more precise. That precision serves us well in Cornelius’ house because sparse details are available here. To determine how, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those” we must call other Scripture to our aid. Peter supplies this important clue in vs47. “Surely no one can refuse the water fort hese to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” Nearly identical language is used when Peter returned to Jerusalem to defend his actions before a Jewish church that was uncomfortable with God’s Gentile invitation. He said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as he did upon us at the beginning” (Ac 11:15) Peter was emphatic that what happened to the Gentiles was just what had happened to them at the beginning. That event is recorded in greater detail in Ac 2, and yields the following relevant information.
Three signs accompanied the Holy Spirit’s arrival: the sound of rushing wind, flames of fire upon the apostle’s heads, and the ability to speak in other intelligible languages. It signalled then that God had opened salvation to the Jews. In Acts 10 the same three signs occurred to signify the door was opened farther to include Gentiles also.

• Lasting Covenant Peter’s companions were amazed. One of the strongest proofs that Jesus’ twelve disciples were not colluding cronies was their lack of control over the early church. Had they been simply trying to please their constituents, the Gospel would never have reached the Gentiles. Indeed, it was nearly impossible even with divine intervention. Salvation had always been accessible to Gentiles, if they were willing to become Jews first. This was a radical departure, and Peter and his companions were just along for the ride. While encouraging the Galatian churches, the Spirit thought it appropriate for Paul to include this phrase. “even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.” (Gal 3:15) His point was that His promise to Abraham remained regardless of the Law that came through Moses. In like manner, the covenant of the New Testament cannot be edited. Some have claimed that Peter’s Acts 2 instruction to be immersed for the forgiveness of sin and to receive the indwelling Holy Spirit was specific to Jews only, and that Gentiles are not subject to the same requirements. However, baptism cannot be “set aside” nor does Peter attempt to do so. “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…” (Ac 10:47-48) Two things appear immediately. Baptism in Jesus’ name takes place in the medium of water, and second, Baptism was not and is not for Jews only. The Lord continues to guide and direct His Church and like Peter, we must be ready ambassadors of the Gospel, neither setting things aside nor adding conditions to it.

Next Week: Church Politics
Mark Miller

• Peaceful Preacher The message of Christ was sent first to the Jews. After all, theirs were the oracles of God and the covenants of promise. As Peter said, “The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) (Ac 10:36) Thus the preaching of peace was conveyed through Jesus Christ. Though Jesus did preach and teach during His lifetime, to say that Jesus’ message was confined to the three years of His earthly ministry would be to misunderstand the Scriptures. Paul speaks of Jews and Gentiles respectively when quoting Isaiah 57, “And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near” (Eph 2:17) There were many times when Jesus entered a synagogue or taught by the sea of Galilee to the Jews, but the Gentiles were not invited. Then when, we ask, did the Lord preach peace to the nations? The inspired answer follows, “that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” (Ac 26:23) The raised up prophet about whom Moses spoke, had preached peace from the Day of Pentecost to the Jews and was about to speak again – to the house of Cornelius.

• Confirming Testimony Peter’s first objective when preaching to anyone is the same as ours – to establish Jesus as Lord. To do this the apostle appealed first to John. “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Ac 10:38) The beginning of Jesus’ claim to both King and Christ began at the Jordan river with His cousin John. Immediately upon Jesus immersion, two signs descended from heaven; the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove rested on Him and a voice sounded “This is My beloved Son.” This marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and witnessing it was a requirement for all of Jesus’ apostles. (Ac 1:22) Next, Peter reminded his Gentile audience of the wonders and signs Jesus performed while in flesh. These too were for the purpose of confirming His divine origin. (Ac 2:22) The greatest sign of all was the resurrection, which Peter confirmed with his own testimony as an apostle. “… to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.” (Ac 10:41)

• Power of God Jesus final instructions to the twelve (then eleven), concerned the preaching of the gospel, including the baptism, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. However, He added one thing more. “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.” (Ac 10:43) Peter said he was under orders to announce Jesus as the judge of every man. As such, it is only through His name/authority that forgiveness of sins may be requested. The Gospel is simple, yet powerful. To the Jew it is a stumbling block, and Gentiles find it foolish. However, to those who are being saved it is the power of God. Preach the Gospel.

Next Week: Three Signs
Mark Miller

• Taboo Territory It was a preacher’s dream. Upon entering the house of Cornelius in Caesarea, Peter, “found many people assembled.” The family and friends of the Roman centurion had been waiting there for Peter to arrive and speak God’s Word to them. Excitement ran high, though it was taboo for a Jewish Christian to enter the home of a Gentile. Peter had been a law-keeper all his life. You will recall when the heavenly voice instructed Peter to arise, kill and eat, that Jewish etiquette objected. “But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” (Ac 10:14) The statutes given through Moses had succeeded in separating the Jews culturally from the rest of the world, and Peter knew them well. By Jesus’ day that separation included even entering the house of a Gentile. (Note the Jew’s unwillingness to enter Pilate’s praetorium in Jn 18:28) Peter also would have been reluctant to enter Cornelius’ house had it not been for God’s specific prodding. He said to the many gathered there, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” (Ac 10:28)

• Righteous Judgment What a revelation! That no man by birth is unholy or unclean was a difficult concept for the Jews. Their boundaries – some written commandments, others cultural traditions – seemed to suggest just the opposite. How could the Gentile, so foreign from the Jew, be acceptable to God? Peter’s lesson ought not to fall on deaf ears, for the Scripture would make a modern application. (Jn 7:24) The Jews had badly misjudged Jesus. His divine origin was veiled to them for they saw only what their eyes could see. Likewise, if we view men only as they appear to our eyes we may also misjudge them. James warned his readers of personal favoritism based on financial status. A poor man in dirty clothes is just as welcome to God as a rich man in fine clothes and sporting a gold ring. He scolds, “have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” (Jms 2:4) We must be sure to offer to all the same opportunity for the Gospel. “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

• Fear Him Cornelius recounted his story for Peter and the benefit of those gathered there and yielded the floor to his guest. “…Now then, we are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” (Ac 10:33) Not only the Gentiles present but Peter also learned something that day. “…I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Ac 10:34-35) Though God concerned Himself with taking a nation for His own possession, He never forgot the Gentiles. Throughout the Old Testament Law provisions were included for the foreigner that sojourned among the Jews. Even then, if a Gentile feared God and did what was right, that alien was welcome to Him. God be with us as we look for men and women of every nation, background, and socioeconomic strata who fear Him and do what is right.

Next Week: Anointed and Appointed Mark Miller

• Thinking Ahead With the certainty of Royal Canadian mounted police, the emissaries from Cornelius got their man. Just as the angel had promised, they found Simon called Peter in Joppa at the house of the tanner. After hearing their tale, the chief apostle extended hospitality to the three for the night and agreed to accompany them the following day back to Caesarea. In what would prove to be an important detail later, some other brethren (Jews) from Joppa went along with Peter and the servants also. God’s ways are truly higher than our own. Like us, Peter’s attention was focused on where he was and the circumstances that surrounded him – here and now. On the other hand, God sees, plans, and prepares for the future. Just as Jesus in the flesh was constantly preparing the disciples for what would follow, Jesus in glory continues to anticipate and train His disciples for the next horizon as only He can. Peter and his Jewish brethren were about to see what the prophets gazed at through distant years. “…And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations” (Is 42:6)

• Friends and Family If Peter had doubted the sincerity of his assuming host, his fears were immediately put to rest upon entering the house of Cornelius. Not only was the centurion himself waiting for his divinely appointed guest, but he also, “had called together his relatives and close friends.” (Ac 10:24) In fact, when Peter entered he found many people assembled before God to hear all that the Lord had commanded him (vs 27,33). How a man reacts to the gospel reveals much about him. Cornelius was a man of some importance and could easily have waited to see if such a man as Simon Peter existed numberswiki.com

and the tanner’s house or whether he was willing to come to Caesarea. What a fool he would have seemed to his friends and family if the promised man from Joppa turned out to be nothing more than fiction. Cornelius had put himself on the line in trusting God’s message.
Such a gathering tells us something more about this man. In three days time, Cornelius was able to call many people together to hear the Word of God. That is to say, Cornelius’ circle of influence included such folks as wanted to hear God’s message, and based on their trust in him, were willing to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to be in his house when Peter arrived.

• Just a Man Certainly a servant met most of Cornelius’ guests. This time “When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him.” (Ac 10:25) Cornelius was comparatively unconcerned how he might appear to his neighbors, next to his gratitude over Peter’s arrival. This man of authority knelt before Peter. Peter naturally “raised him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am just a man.” (Ac 10:26) As a man it was inappropriate for Peter to receive what is reserved for God alone, but Peter’s words speak to something deeper. In refusing Cornelius’ worship, Peter places himself on equal footing with this Gentile saying, “I too am just a man.” Just a man, neither Jew nor Gentile, soldier or civilian – just a man. Peter had understood the meaning of the vision that so perplexed him earlier. “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.” (Ac 10:28)

Next Week: Without Partiality
Mark Miller

• Comfort and Encouragement Unable to cope with the message of Christ expounded by the former persecutor of the Church, the Jews ran Saul out of town. Afterward, the early Church in Palestine “enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” (Ac 9:31) Having dealt with the fear of the Lord in last week’s discussion, our focus turns today to “the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” There are likely as many interpretations for the term as there are denominations. Our aim here is to learn from the Scriptures to define and describe one of the key components for the continual increase of the Church. What the New American Standard renders equally as “comfort” or “encouragement” was known to the Hellenized of the first century as “paraklēsei.” It is just as often translated as “exhortation, admonition, or encouragement.” Paraklesei is the comfort/encouragement given – it is the message of one who stands with you to aid and exhort. A related term, Parakletos, is the one who provides it – the counselor.

• Jesus the Comforter The nation of Israel had long awaited such a counselor. One man in particular-righteous Simeon-had been “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk2:25) when He was divinely directed to the temple. Upon seeing the infant Jesus, Simeon was satisfied. Jesus promised a parakletos to the disciples in His absence. He called the coming comforter the “Spirit of truth” and equal to Himself, saying “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.” (Jn 16:7, 14:16-18) What a blessing to the still-timid twelve! After Jesus’ departure they would not be alone, but rather still guided by the their rabbi. He said again to the disciples at the time of His ascension, “… and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20) His Spirit continues to comfort and encourage every child of God, in the knowledge that Jesus has walked this way before, and continues to go with us. “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Hbs 2:18)

• Comfort one Another Such comfort is ours in abundance through Christ. Consider Paul’s’ plea for deference among the Philippians. “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion” (Php 2:1) Three terms here describe that comfort in Spirit which belongs to us. II Cor 7:4- 7 adds, “I am filled with comfort. I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.” (vs 4) What strengthened Paul in the face of such affliction? Certainly, the Lord’s promise and presence were paramount. However, that comfort whose source is Christ, grows with every believer who is joined in Spirit and together endures the same hardship. Notice that the two previous passages emphasize the shared burden and the unity of believers that result. What a comfort to know that Christ is working in our brethren who undergo with us the same sufferings! “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus” (Rom 15:5) Christians require the comfort of Christ, as an advocate with the Father, and a constant companion in every trial and triumph. As Christians we have the ability to multiply that comfort when we rejoice and weep with those who do. (Rom 12:15) May the God of all comfort, “comfort us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (II Cor 1:4) and cause the increase that the early Church experienced.

Next Week: Comfort of the Holy Spirit Mark Miller

• Reprieve from Persecution The Jews were reeling from a blow they could not have anticipated. Saul of Tarsus – heir apparent to the highest echelons of Jewish influence – had converted to Christianity. The Jews had responded with a plot on his life which made it necessary for Saul to return to Tarsus. The winds that carried him there had come out of the persecution effort and left those sails limp. As a result, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” (Ac 9:31)
During that peaceful interlude, the Scripture tells us that two things propelled the Church forward. They are: the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and we will consider them in that order. The Greek “phobos” can be used to denote reverence or respect, but is much more often employed as in Mt 14:26 to describe fear and/or terror. The Christian experience includes both.

• Love vs Fear John encourages his readers that, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (I Jn 4:18) On the other hand, to fall into the hand of the living God is terrifying. (Hbs 10:31) Our relationship with God is therefore similar to that of fire. When we observe
certain principles and practices, we can live quite comfortably with fire. Even now, a woodstove downstairs warms my house. However, if I should become complacent or careless the same fire that warms the house could burn it down. Likewise, when we treat the Lord as Lord, our relationship is without fear. To do otherwise invites catastrophe. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28) Christians do not live in daily dread of random condemnation, but would do well to remember whom to fear.

• Fearless Foolish The preaching of today’s denominations is so bold – even fearless. The self-proclaimed pulpit pontiffs have absolved many of their sins, claiming laziness is not theft, sodomy is an alternate lifestyle, and that the sinner’s prayer – not baptism – now saves you. Their brash assertions continually contradict the Word of God and they do so without so much as a twinge of fear. “and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties,” (II Pt 2:10) True fear of the Lord causes a different kind of preaching entirely, for the Jerusalem church continued to increase through the efforts of men like Peter who “… was traveling through all those parts, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda.” (Ac 9:32) Paul also worked hard at preaching being conscious of the day of judgment. “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men…” (II Cor 5:11)

Next Week: Comfort of the Holy Spirit Mark Miller

• Changed Man When Saul returned to Jerusalem after a three-year hiatus he was not as he had left it. On his departure, Saul was a young man determined to go to Damascus and apprehend any Christians there for trial in Jerusalem. He left as a voting member of the Sanhedrin Council, a respected teacher of the Law, and a Pharisee of Pharisees carrying letters of authority from the chief priests themselves. His return was far different. Saul came back to the center of the Jewish world as an outcast. His Damascus conversion and subsequent receipt of the Gospel from Jesus Himself, had made him an outspoken proponent of the Christian faith. To silence him, the Jews of Damascus had attempted to have him murdered. He escaped, but his life and career in Judaism were over. The Christians also had their reservations about Saul, and were unwilling to meet with him. “When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (Ac 9:26) Saul had gone from Jerusalem with the world before him; when he returned, it was behind him. “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14)

• Murderous Objectors At first no one would have him, but through Barnabas, the Jerusalem brethren eventually accepted Saul. However, those who were his friends and associates in the Jewish world rejected his message about Jesus. Their response to his powerful demonstration and bold assertion that Jesus is the Christ was the same as that in Damascus. “And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death.” (Ac 9:29) The tables had turned and the persecutor had become the persecuted. The brethren arranged for Saul’s escape, first to Caesarea on the sea coast and then to his home town, Tarsus in Cilicia where he stayed for some time. The Lord was far from finished with Saul, but an important lesson had to be learned before he could be of greater use. In the meantime, the Church throughout Judea and the surrounding regions enjoyed peace.

• Humble Saul There are no shortcuts in Christianity. Saul could not transfer his success in Judaism into the Church and maintain his rank. Today’s Christians also must be willing to accept that their station outside of Christ does not afford them similar standing within. Too often men believe their business acumen, financial contributions, social postition, or education earns them a place of prominence in the Church. It does nothing of the sort. Jesus is clear. “and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Mt 20:27) The path to leadership is always sacrifice.
Jesus is the foremost example. “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him…” (Php 2:8-9) And to us He says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (I Pt 5:6) Saul would spend the next several years in Tarsus, working from the ground up, proving to men and himself what kind of man he was. He would have to be Saul of Tarsus before he could be Paul the apostle.

Next Week: Travel and Preach
Mark Miller

• Mover and Shaker Saul had returned. After three years in Arabia, he who was formerly the most zealous of the Pharisees, returned to Damascus with a changed focus and even greater gusto. Saul had been privileged to receive the Gospel message from Jesus directly by revelation and wasted no time in making it known. “and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’” (Ac 9:20) The Jews of Damascus could scarcely believe their ears. They knew of Saul’s fierce persecution of Christians in Jerusalem and beyond and were amazed at his altered course. Soon it was more than his conversion that left them speechless. “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” (Ac 9:22) Saul’s command of the Jewish Scriptures and traditions made him a formidable adversary in debate, and this Pharisee of Pharisees had certainly been trained to speak publicly. He knew their arguments better than they and he was only getting stronger.

• Fact or Fiction Sadly, a commonality between religion and politics here becomes apparent. In American culture we talk much, but say little. Platitudes and euphemisms – sound bites – flood the air. Baseless, they are difficult to confirm or deny, and the hearers’ attention span has expired before the rebuttal begins. Opinions are cheap, because everyone already owns one or more. When those casually held beliefs are asked to bear the load of evidence and reason, they are exposed and crumble beneath the weight. The preaching of Saul was not so easily discounted, for the arguments he proposed were built on fact. Using the Old Testament in conjunction with the facts about Jesus, he was proving that this Jesus is the Christ. For our gospel to be just as persuasive, facts – not false confidence – must form the foundation. Demonstrating first that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, next the identity of Jesus as the Son of God, and then how the Gospel may be obeyed, provide the rational basis of proof that persuades the man or woman of truth.

• Grace upon Grace Such a display was too much for the Jews of Damascus, and they made plans to answer Saul’s position – by murder. “And when many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him” (Ac 9:23) Watching the city gates day and night, they waited for their opportunity to silence the voice raised against them. A basket lowered Saul from the wall, and he escaped to Jerusalem. Saul had passed an important test. He proved that he was willing to risk his life for the sake of the Gospel. That would be important upon his arrival in Judea. Even so, the disciples in Jerusalem were understandably skeptical of Saul’s conversion and would not associate with him. A man named Barnabas vouched for Saul, citing his work in Damascus, and introduced him to the Church. What a testament to the grace of God that Saul (who had murdered many of their brothers and sisters in Christ) would be offered fellowship with them.

Next Week: Baskets to Barnabas
Mark Miller

• Vacation Plans Saul was a man of action and wasted no time, “And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened…” (Ac 9:18-19) After Saul’s conversion in immersion, his storyline is broken. Acts records that for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, but in his letter to the Galatian churches, Paul adds something more to our knowledge of his course. To the Galatians he wrote, “… I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas…” (Gal 1:16-18) Why? What was so important in Arabia that it demanded Saul’s immediate attention? Why not stay in Damascus with Ananias and the disciples or return to his home in Jerusalem or even Tarsus? Three verses earlier we find the reason. Speaking about the gospel Paul wrote,
“for I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Gal 1:12) Unlike most men Paul learned the gospel message directly from the Lord through revelation (since Jesus had already ascended to glory). Note his confidence then, in the face of competing gospels in verses 6-9.

• Reconciling Acts Initially upon his conversion, Saul stayed for several days in Damascus, and then departed for Arabia where he spent three years and received the Gospel by revelation. This direct instruction in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus was necessary if Paul was in fact to be an apostle of Christ and meet the same criteria as the other chosen witnesses – namely that they had first- hand knowledge of Jesus from His baptism by John until his ascension. (Ac 1:21-22) Since Acts mentions nothing about Saul’s trip to Arabia, where does it fit? We know it preceded his return to Jerusalem (Ac 9:26) and somewhere after vs 19. Also note that in these verses a subtle clue is found. Verse 19 describes Saul’s stay in Damascus as covering several days, but vs 26 says, “when many days had elapsed”. The reason for the change is that they refer to two occasions.

• Been With Jesus Paul’s Arabian journey had a profound effect on the Jew of Jews and should be interjected into the Acts timeline between vss 19 and 20. Note his zeal and purpose upon his return to Damascus, and that he followed the pattern of evangelism in the synagogues initially cut by Jesus. “immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’” (Ac 19:20) The Jews of Damascus were amazed, they could not believe that Saul of Tarsus who destroyed those who called on Jesus name, had become a Christian himself. “Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” (Ac 9:22) In this too, Saul mirrored his apostolic brethren who confronted the Jerusalem Jews with wisdom not their own, and when the Jews saw it, “…they began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.” (Ac 1:13) If we are to be effective in the proclamation that Jesus is the Christ, the same must be said of us.

Next Week: Barnabas
Mark Miller

  • Visually Challenged No one is so blind as him who will not see. This was true of a young man from Tarsus who had been blind a long time though he did not know it. Saul had grown to be the most zealous within the strictest sect of the Pharisaic tradition. Advancing beyond his contemporaries, he pursued Christians with fanatic zeal even to those locales beyond Jerusalem. As he was journeying to Damascus, a light from heaven flashed around him, blinding the young man. A voice spoke, and he saw. The Scriptures often use the term “seeing” as a metaphor of believing. In their case, seeing is believing. Consider Isaiah, who foretold the coming of the Christ, Who would be unrecognized. “To whom” asked the prophet, “has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Is 53:1) Though many saw Jesus of Nazareth, few recognized the Messiah as such. His Nazareth neighbors asked, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary…” (Mk 6:3) Though the Hope of Israel was standing before them, they could not see Him. Their vision was clouded by memories of a boy whose mother, brothers and sisters they knew.
  • Believe / Behold Saul was blind because he did not see the truth about Jesus. Indeed, “For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.’” (Jn 12:39-40) They neither believed nor beheld either the Son or the Father Who sent Him and therefore remained in darkness. Saul had begun the journey just that way, but seeing the Righteous One and hearing from His mouth opened his eyes. In a moment, he recognized Jesus as the Christ, and covering his eyes, something like scales appeared. Saul had always been blind to the identity of Christ. After his encounter on the Damascus road he saw Jesus as Lord, but his physical sight was taken from him, and he became aware of his state. He required someone to lead him by the hand. Enter Ananias.
  • Greater Sight The courageous Ananias arrived at the house of Judas on Straight street and laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, receive your sight!” (Ac 22:13) With his sight restored, Saul was free to choose his course without compulsion. He “…regained his sight, and he arose and was baptized, and he took food and was strengthened.” (Ac 9:18)
    A greater sight was his. “but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (II Cor 3:16) Biblical turning takes place in immersion (Ac 3:19) in which the veil of the fleshly man is removed, and replaced with the freedom to see Christ and be transformed into His image. There is no greater sight. The progression of Saul is markedly similar to that of every man. Initially, ignorance toward Jesus makes men unknowingly blind, but when they glimpse in the Scriptures the true Lord of Lords, they become acutely aware of their blindness. In the end, each must choose – through immersion – to come face to face with the Jesus Who is, or remain dull in heart and ears with eyes that are closed.
  • Next Week: Three Lost Years Mark Miller

  • Visions Saul was ready. As soon as he understood to whom the heavenly voice belonged, the Pharisee from Tarsus was prepared to do His will. Jesus (formerly of Nazareth and now raised to glory) had enlightened Saul on his way to Damascus and commanding his full attention, instructed the persecutor to “get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Ac 9:6) Saul remained blind, and neither ate nor drank, but prayed. The repentant Saul was waiting as instructed. Three days later, the Lord spoke again – this time to a man named Ananias. By vision, the devout man was told to arise and seek out the very Saul who had come to the city to persecute Christians there. In the meantime, Saul also had been given a vision. God told Ananias that Saul, “…has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” (Ac 9:12) In this way, both men would know the other.
  • By Design The Lord constantly works with us to effect our maturity and development. He could have told Saul how to become a Christian on the Damascus road, though he likely already knew due to his knowledge of The Way, but the Lord commanded him to wait and hear it from Ananias. The interval of three days was also by God’s design, testing Saul’s repentance. The role of Ananias accomplished several objectives of the Lord. Saul was going to hear the gospel through the foolishness of the message preached – distinguishing the message from the messenger. And of course, we must consider Ananias, whose faith was challenged to go and meet the Jerusalem jailer. The Lord could have explained to Ananias, that Saul was repentant and ready to listen to the Word of Christ, but He chose not to. Ananias would have to trust the Lord, act in faith and leave the consequences to Him.
  • Seeing the Heart Saul’s reputation wasn’t the only thing that preceded him to Damascus. When Ananias confirmed God’s instructions, he said, “and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon Thy name.” (Ac 9:14) Apparently, this information was so secretive, Ananias figured even God hadn’t yet heard. Apparently, Christians in Damascus were aware of Saul’s coming in advance, including the letters he had from the chief priests in Jerusalem. Ananias’ objections were duly noted, but the Lord remained unchanged. What a lesson to us not to make judgments about those around us. Saul would have been voted “least likely to become a Christian” every time, yet the Lord sees not as man sees. The Lord sees the heart. The judgment forbidden by the Scriptures is that which views another as unworthy to hear the Gospel. We do not possess the sight into the heart of man nor the wisdom to know the plan of God. A chosen instrument of the Almighty’s sat blind at the street called Straight, waiting for a man with faith to be bold enough to present him with the Gospel. Who is waiting for you?
  • Next Week: Receive Your Sight
    Mark Miller

  • Whom you are Persecuting The last thing Saul expected was exactly what he heard. “…Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Ac 9:4) Saul had lived with a clean conscience before God and was puzzled to hear the indictment. “Who are you Lord?” he answered. The voice spoke again, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (Ac 9:4-6) Jesus anticipated men like Saul and warned His disciples,“They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.” (Jn 16:2) Far from pleasing the Lord, it was the Lord that Saul was persecuting.
  • Genuine Jesus Saul had long believed in Jesus of Nazareth.That is to say He believed that Jesus lived and died, and certainly was aware of the claims of His resurrection. What he did not believe, was that Jesus’ life had been lived without sin, that His death was the atoning sacrifice for which the Old Covenant had been waiting, or that His triumph over sin and death gave Him claim to heaven’s throne. In short, Saul did not believe that Jesus is Lord.
    Being thus deceived, the tenacious Saul reasoned, “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (Ac 26:9) After all, it was for heaven’s sake that he was on his way to Damascus in the first place, intending to arrest both men and women on charges of blasphemy for punishment in Jerusalem. Jesus was not who Saul expected. Therefore, when the genuine Savior appeared to him on the Damascus road, he did not recognize the Lord. Many, like Saul, have a preconception of Jesus that is inaccurate. Pieced together from Christmas cards, college courses, opinions, and agenda, it blankets the public perception so that the real Jesus is seldom seen. True to Saul’s example, some even persecute the authentic Christ through His children. No doubt, if the King of Kings were to confront the average church goer, their response would be similar to Saul’s, “Who are you Lord?” Our culture expects a jesus that panders to their pleasures, and indulges immorality if only they make it to church when it’s not too much trouble and toss a pittance in the plate. The real Jesus is described in Revelation 1:13-16. “And when I saw Him” said John, “I fell at His feet as a dead man…” (vs 17)
  • See the Light Everyone must meet the Jesus who is. When Saul saw the Righteous One, he fell to the ground, and after learning to Whom he was speaking, the believing and repentant Saul asked, “What shall I do Lord?” (Ac 22:10) The Scriptures contrast the perishing with those who have seen Jesus this way, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (II Cor 4:3-4) When an individual grasps or believes who Jesus is – Lord of Lords and King of Kings, the Alpha and Omega, Creator, Redeemer and Judge, he too falls to the ground asking, “What shall I do Lord?”
  • Next Week: Ananias Mark Miller

    Page 1 of 3