30 Years That Changed The World
Acts for today...
Week 6: The Arrester is Arrested
Read Acts chapter 9
A story …
'What are those cows for?' asked the African chief 'Sir, they are yours’..
'What do you mean - they are mine?'
'They are yours. When I was looking after your cattle, I stole four, and now they are eight, and I am bringing them'.
'Who arrested you?'
'Jesus arrested me, sir, and here are your cows'.
There was silence and no laughter. A few days later the chief’s nephew called in to see him.
'Uncle, I hear you got eight free cows! You must be very happy’...
'Forget it! Since that man came, I can't sleep. If I want the peace he has, I'd have to return a hundred cows!'
The chief resisted the Christian Gospel for fifteen years before he finally turned to Christ - and indeed he had quite a lot to return! He died soon afterwards, and hundreds of African Christians turned out to attend his funeral.
Who arrested you?
Some Christian conversions are dramatic and sudden, others are like a slow pilgrimage. Some people, can point to the very place, the day and the hour when life in the service of Christ began. Others are vagueness itself when it comes to a date; all they can tell you is that their relationship with Christ is a reality now.
· Share with the group your own story of being ‘arrested’ by Jesus
Saul Turned Around
A persistent persecutor of God's people is stopped in his tracks. Jesus confronts Saul on the road to Damascus - a dramatic conversion results.
Saul may well have been more moved by the death of Stephen than he cares to admit (see 7:58, 8:1). But if he was he certainly is not admitting it to anyone - especially not himself! He redoubles his already fanatical harassment of the Christians (v1) by asking permission to go into Eastern Syria, to one of the major towns, in order to continue his mission (v2). The Jewish Council had no authority politically in Syria, but would have had significant influence over the Jews living in Damascus (there may have been over 20,000 at this stage of the first century). Saul is determined to bring to 'justice' all these followers of 'the Way' (cf. John 14:6) - they need not think that by running over a hundred and fifty miles away, they would escape detection!
As Saul got near to the end of his journey to Damascus, he was put in God's spotlight in no uncertain terms (v3). Light more sudden and bright than lightning, 'knocked' him to the ground and a voice enquired about why Saul was persecuting him (v4). Saul is no doubt very confused (this seems to be God's voice, but Saul is not persecuting God, but defending His honour; isn't he?!) and not a little afraid. In a state of confusion and fear he stutters out a request to know the identity of the voice (v5a). He must have been totally stunned by the reply (v5b), devastated emotionally by the implications of the words. All this time he has been opposing the work of God, doing the opposite of what he thought he was doing. For a man of Saul's intensity, all this must have been an incredible shock to the system.
The voice (Jesus) then tells Saul to go into Damascus and wait for further instructions (v6). All this time his assistants were stunned into silence; they heard vague sounds, but could not eavesdrop on the conversation between Saul and Jesus, or see anyone but Saul (v7). Saul staggers to his feet, only to discover that the light has blinded him (v8). This gives him no choice but to obey the voice, spending three days recovering from the shock and trying to work out what it all means (v9). Saul, the strong, confident persecutor has met his match.
Questions to consider …
1.‘It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere'.
What does this passage have to say about this statement? What would you say if someone said it to you?
2.Should we all have a 'Damascus Road' experience? Does con-version need to be dramatic?
3.When was the last time you took three days to think about something?! Do you think Christians should spend more time 'reflecting' than they tend to? Why?
Ananias and Saul
Saul needs help, and God provides it through a faithful disciple Ananias. Saul is a changed man: through God's power and the obedience of Ananias.
Ananias seems to have lived in Damascus for some time, although how he became a Christian we are not told. He was obviously a committed follower of Jesus whom God spoke to in a vision (9:10) with instructions about Saul (vv11,12). SauI was a broken man - spiritually turned around, emotionally stunned and physically disabled - but Ananias has only a hint of all this. He can hardly believe that God is sending him into the lion's den ... to help the lion! 'Don't you know, Lord, this is the man who has damaged your church in Jerusalem and has come here to do the same?' (vv 13,14).
The Lord did know this, and still wants Ananias to go! Saul was to be a key agent for God's kingdom. He would preach before Jews and Gentiles, even having opportunities to address their rulers (v15). But this high calling would have its cost: Saul would not have a life of ease and comfort (v16). So Ananias went. It is important to understand the courage and level of obedience of the Damascan disciple. Would he be ambushed by Saul's assistants? Once in the house of Judas (v11) how would he get out? How would his fellow Christians feel about him helping their sworn enemy? Despite all these questions (and the anxiety that went with them!) Ananias still does what Jesus tells him.
Saul is praying (v11b) and Ananias immediately affirms him as a brother in Christ (17). He has come on the instruction of Jesus to bring physical healing and spiritual release (v17b). Luke does not teIl us about what (if any) signs followed Saul's filing with the Spirit (cf. 2:4, 4:31) but it is certain the prayer of Ananias was effective. Saul's physical sight is restored (v18a) and his new spiritual sight is expressed in baptism (v18b). ('Straight street' (v11) was a prestigious road' with substantial housing - perhaps there was a pool in the courtyard). Once he starts to eat again (v19) he returns to full physical health and strength.
The order of events - Holy Spirit filling followed by baptism - is the reverse of the Samaritan experience (8:12,17). It is hard to escape the conclusion that in these early days of church life, the order of events in becoming a Christian is nowhere near as important as the reality of each component part.
Questions to consider …
1.Would you have been as obedient as Ananias? What would make you hesitate? How can we strengthen our courage?
2.Why is there so much emphasis in Acts on being filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 17)? Is there too much or too little emphasis on this today?
3.For Saul, success and suffering would go hand in hand (verses 15,16). Is this a 'rule' of the Christian life? Do you think our lack of success is because of our fear of suffering?
An Enthusiastic Convert
Saul, now physically strong and spiritually empowered, preaches passionately about Jesus. He stirs up opposition and distrust, before being accepted by the Christians.
This is a really remarkable about-face! After a few days consulting with the Christian community in Damascus (v19) Saul launches into a vigorous and enthusiastic proclamation of the gospel. In what appears to be little more than a week, he has gone from being a Christ-denying, bigoted Pharisee to announcing to the Jewish community that Jesus reaIly is the Christ. An amazing 'U-turn!' Only the power of God can explain this.
So incredible is this conversion that both the Jews (v21) and the Christians (v26) had trouble believing it! Now nobody trusts him easily. But Saul is unstoppable; his religious education and training coupled with his dramatic experience make him a formidable debater against the orthodox Jewish opposition (v22). He could show 'beyond reasonable doubt' ('proving' - v22b) that Jesus was who He said he was. The sound of the Pharisee-turned-traitor becomes too much for the Jews to' bear, so they plan to have him killed (vv23, 24). Their plot is foiled by the clever use of a basket and some rope (v25); not a very dignified method of transport for a religious leader but Saul is going to have to get used to far worse things in the future!
Luke is only giving us a summary of Saul's life at this point - not every detail. He tells us nothing about going to Arabia (Gal. 1:17) and then back to Damascus. When Luke writes his account he is not concerned to fill in all the biographical details of Saul's life - these are simply the 'recorded highlights'. It is three years before Saul arrives in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18) and even then he is treated with suspicion. Fortunately Barnabas the encourager is on hand to act as go-between. Barnabas tells them about Saul’s experience of Jesus (v27) and Saul is accepted by the Jerusalem church. He continues to preach and debate about Jesus, but his life is threatened again (v29). The Believers decide that for his own safety he ought to be out of Jerusalem; they send him home to Tarsus (v30 cf. v11).
This is followed by a period of relative calm in the relationship between the Christians and the Jews (v31a). The church uses this time to recover from persecution, God graciously continues to give encouraging signs of His presence and numerical growth results (v31).
Questions to consider …
1.Can the people you know who most hate Christianity, be converted? How should this passage affect our prayer life?
2.Barnabas brought the two sides together (v27). Why is the ministry of reconciliation so important? How can we encourage it?
3.Sometimes it's right to stay and fight (e.g. 5:40, 41), sometimes to leave the trouble-spot (v30). How can we know when to do what?
Bob Kiteley, 24/06/2013