Week 14, Acts 9:1 31 Hook

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1 Week 14, Acts 9:1 31 Hook Main point: When we encounter God, our lives are changed dramatically for His purposes. Historic Event: How did people beat the heat before air conditioning? In 1880, New York s Madison Square Theater used four tons of ice a day. It would be blown by an eight-foot fan to push cool air through ducts toward the audience. But in the 1920s the air conditioner hit the public and changed things forever. It was introduced first to movie theaters, becoming as big of an attraction as the films themselves; in fact, summer blockbusters trace their origin back to the introduction of the air conditioner. When air conditioners became more affordable for residential clients in the latter half of the 20 th century, the proportion of Americans in the Sun Belt (the portion of the country below the 36 th parallel) grew from 28 percent to 40 percent. The air conditioner changed the way business was conducted, entertainment was consumed, and homes were chosen. 1 What other appliances or inventions would you consider game changers? 1 1

2 When you think of game changers in the Bible, who comes to mind? Transition: Today we will witness the conversion of Paul, one of the most significant game changers in the Bible. 2

3 Week 14, Acts 9:1 31 Book Main point: When we encounter God, our lives are changed dramatically for His purposes. Text Summary: Acts 9:1 31 In this week s passage, Saul, the great persecutor of the early church, encounters God in a miraculous way that reverses the course of his life. Saul s calling and transformation, all the way down to his new name, is a great surprise to everyone around him, both Christian and Jew, which produces dramatic results. In this account, we see how God breaks into our lives in unexpected ways to accomplish His purposes for our good and His glory. Acts 9:1 19 [Read] Sub-Point: God prepares unexpected people for surprising missions. Verses 1 9 In an earlier study, we read of a young man named Saul who witnessed the killing of Stephen and then embarked on a personal vendetta of persecution against the early church (Acts 7:58; 8:1 3). In verses 1 2, we see that Saul is still at it, relentlessly seeking out Jewish believers all the way to Syria so he can bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. Luke describes him as breathing out murderous threats. 2 In verse 3, Saul is traveling to Damascus when he suddenly encounters a brilliant light flashing like lightning. Stunned, Saul falls to the ground. In a dramatic moment that recalls many of Israel s encounters with God, an unseen voice speaks to Saul in a direct and knowing manner (v. 4). 3 The voice belongs to the risen Jesus, the very person Saul has dedicated his life to protesting. Jesus reveals himself as the object of Saul s persecution (v. 5). It was not just the church members whose lives he was ravaging, but Saul was directing his hatred and violence at Jesus Himself. The voice then sends Saul on his way to Damascus but reverses the purpose of his visit, telling him to expect further instructions when he arrives (v. 6). In verses 7 9, we see that this experience leaves Saul rattled and his companions speechless. Saul is physically affected as well, suffering from loss of sight and appetite for three days after the encounter. Saul s hateful mission is now under divine control. Q: What was your experience like the first time you encountered Jesus? Verses Luke s narrative moves to God s divine intervention in the life of a Christian 2 The Greek literally says breathing threatening and slaughter, used by Luke to convey the oft-seen response to the Gospel of a progression from anger to violence to murder (Peterson, 301). 3 For example, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8-13); Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:1-9); Samuel in the temple (1 Sam. 3:1-21); Mary at her home (Luke 1:26-38). 3

4 named Ananias (v. 10). 4 God comes to him in a vision and calls him by name, just as He did with Saul. 5 In verses 11 12, Luke records God s plan for Ananias to meet Saul. Just as when God set the stage for Jesus birth with repeated acts of divine intervention, the Bible allows us to glimpse all that is going on behind the scenes during this series of events. 6 Not all of us may experience God in the same dramatic way that Saul and Ananias did, but His power to orchestrate the events of our lives to bring us to salvation is no different today than it was then. Q: How have you seen God work in surprising or miraculous ways in your life? Verses Ananias is shocked at the mission God has given him. All the surrounding regions are familiar with Saul and his mission to tear down the Church (vv ). 7 In one sense, Ananias hesitation is validated by the potential danger he may encounter by meeting with Saul. But God s ways are higher than Ananias ways and He clearly has a plan regarding this infamous enemy of Christianity. God restates His command in verses 15 16, sending Ananias with a direct order ( Go! ) and a gracious revelation of His surprising purpose. Saul, who has shown nothing but rejection of Christ, is destined to become one of His most effective Gospel witnesses across the Mediterranean and Asia Minor. Saul is being called to a holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9). Q: Looking back, how can you see God s hand at work in the events of your life? Q: Whom is God leading you to minister to but you feel reluctant because of that person s reputation or the obstacles in the way of reaching him or her? Verses 17 19a Ananias obeys the Lord s instructions and delivers His message to Saul (v. 17). As he prays over him, Saul immediately regains his sight. Luke describes the effect in verse 18 as something like scales [falling] from his eyes. Right away, Saul gets up and is baptized, a profession of faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ. He begins to eat again, on the road to recovery from the encounter and subsequent shock (v. 19a). This supernatural event and Saul s response confirm God s surprising declaration that He has called and saved him for a purpose. 4 Marshall writes, Meanwhile the Lord was preparing for the next stage in his calling (180). 5 It is worth considering that God called Saul by name twice. In Hebrew scripture, this double naming was a sign of affection, revealing the endearment of the subject to the speaker. Saul, hateful persecutor of Jesus, is nevertheless drawn to him with affection. God s intervention in our lives is always an act of grace, but with Saul, God s display of love is especially astonishing. 6 See Luke s account of Jesus birth narrative in chapter 1 of his gospel. 7 Marshall explains, The effect of the comment is to throw into relief the wonder of his conversion and point to the contrast between his previous way of life and the new calling on which he was about to enter (181). 4

5 Acts 9:20 31 [Read] Sub-Point: God brings unexpected results out of our surprise encounters with Him. Verses 19b 22 We learn that Saul undergoes mentoring and training from the other Christians in the city, quickly progressing to preaching the Gospel in the local synagogues as a fulfillment of his divine commission (v. 19b). 8 Luke records Saul s adamant declaration that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 20). To anyone who knew Saul the persecutor, this kind of evangelism comes as a complete surprise. Everyone in attendance begins talking among themselves, questioning whether this really is the same person who had inflicted such terrible persecution against the Christians (v. 21). They are astonished at the great reversal that has occurred. Saul continues to be unstoppable in the mission that God has called him to, growing more effective in his preaching Jesus from the Hebrew Scriptures (v. 22). Saul, renamed Paul, will later describe himself as having been a zealous scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures with impressive credentials, studying with the top rabbinical teachers of his time. 9 God takes all his knowledge and transforms Saul s training into supernatural wisdom that pours out page after page in his Spirit-breathed epistles to churches and church leaders included in the New Testament today. Isn t it amazing to see how God was building toward His plan all along? Saul thought he was plotting his own career and his own mission against the Church, but God had greater, surprising plans to make Saul an anointed minister of the Gospel. Q: What has God taken from your past and transformed to help build His Church today? Q: Is there anyone unexpected whom you have seen God transform to become a fervent minister of the Gospel? Verses The Jews disbelief quickly turns to plots of violence against Saul (vv ). This mirrors the common response of crowds and religious leaders who rejected Jesus preaching. By this time, Saul has gathered his own disciples, who come to his aid with a daring late-night rescue mission (v. 25). Saul eventually returns to Jerusalem, where he tries to join in fellowship with the other Christians in the city. In verse 26, Luke records their reasonable response of doubt and fear, suspicious that their former persecutor has actually had a change in heart. 10 It is not just the Jews who have a hard time believing the spiritual reversal in Saul s life. The early church also has trouble understanding how God could call someone so hateful and violent and use him as a witness for the Gospel. But in verse 27, one disciple, Barnabas, steps out in faith 8 Marshall, Acts 22:3; Phil. 3: As Marshall explains, they suspected him of being a fifth-columnist (184). 5

6 and confirms Saul s new mission. 11 Saul joins the missionary efforts of the Jerusalem church, preaching unashamedly in public and debating the Greek-speaking Jews (vv ). We see in verse 29 that the Jews have the same response to Saul as they did to the other apostles (Acts 5) and Stephen (Acts 6 7). His former ties to the Jewish religious society count as nothing now that Saul is living for Christ. Saul will go on to write in one of his epistles that he count[s] everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (Philippians 3:8). The work God began in Saul s heart has already begun to overflow into his life as he forsakes his old agenda and takes up God s mission instead. In verse 30, Paul leaves for Tarsus with the help of the other believers. Q: When you became a Christian, how did the people in your life respond? Q: What personal goals, habits, or desires did you sacrifice to follow Christ? Q: How has God surprisingly re-directed your life to send you on His mission? Verse 31 Luke concludes this portion of Acts with the discerning observation that, in all the regions where persecution scattered the Christians, God s people are now growing in number. Jesus commission for the disciples to be His Gospel witnesses to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:19) is now being fulfilled through the most surprising sequence of events. God took Stephen s murder, Saul s violence, an unexpected encounter with Ananias, and the faith of Barnabas to accomplish His plan and extend His offer of salvation to the world. Consider the number of people who knew of Saul s hatred and were surprised by his salvation. They were a ready audience, prepared to witness the incredible display of God s glory in the transformation of Saul s heart. Luke specifically ends by mentioning the presence of the Holy Spirit, confirming once again the promise Jesus gave in Acts 1:8. 11 Barnabas, the encourager, whom we encountered earlier as a model of willing generosity in Acts 4:

7 Week 14, Acts 9:1 31 Took Main point: When we encounter God, our lives are changed dramatically for His purposes. Current Event: The iconic McDonald s arches immediately inform the consumer as to the dining experience he can expect. The arches are incredibly well known. A survey by Sponsorship Research International found that more people are able to identify the symbol of the Golden Arches than could identify the Christian Cross. 12 How do product labels help consumers? How do labels placed on people hurt believers? Lesson Conclusion: In this passage, Luke has recorded the surprising work of God to intervene in our lives and accomplish His plans. No man can predict whom Christ will call and transform to be on mission for His Church. Likewise, no man can predict the results that come when sinful people encounter a glorious and powerful God. The power of the Gospel often takes the most unexpected people and gives their lives new direction, reversing the destructive path of sin they were on and sending them in a new direction to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. Is this you? Have you encountered the risen Christ yet? Has God transformed your life in surprising ways? How is He calling you to a new purpose to help build His kingdom on earth? Challenges Find your Saul This passage proves that God is always at work bringing people to Himself. Whom has God put in your life who is resistant or hateful toward Christianity? Is there anyone you re tempted to discount? How can you pray for wisdom to speak God s truth and eyes to see that person as Jesus does? What evidence do you see that God is stirring something in his or her heart already? With Saul, God broke into what seemed to be the hardest of hearts. Do you have faith that He continues to do this today? Recount your life Write down all the ways God has worked in your life in the past. Use these memories to fuel your faith that God is still at work today to accomplish His purposes in your life. Tell your story God s work in your life is not just for your own benefit. He desires to use you as a testimony of His power and forgiveness. Have you shared your experience of coming to faith in Jesus? Write down and rehearse a short, five-minute version of the events leading up to

8 your salvation so that you are ready whenever God gives you the opportunity. Like Saul, the surprising reversal of your own life will be used to grab the attention of the people around you and share the work Christ has done in you. 8

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