Today we are continuing in Part 9 of our 12 parts series A.D. Easter Was Just the Beginning. If you remember last week we saw the dramatic conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Well, this morning we will continue in Acts chapter 9 at verse 22 with this amazing story of Saul who became known as Paul. Now ultimately the focal point of the story is Jesus Christ because Saul had become so enamored, so connected to Jesus Christ, that all of his testimony was Jesus Christ. So chapter 9 of the book of Acts is really his testimony of what Jesus has done in him and for him. And really it’s an encouragement, because we love to hear about somebody who overcame adversity, was able to do better, and come out on top of their circumstances. So today were going look at the testimony of Saul, and we are going to pick up where we left off last week at verse 22, in Acts chapter 9.
22 “Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:22-31). NIV
When God saved me in my 30s, I was very hard-working, self-righteous, independent, and very rebellious. I was the highest authority and everything was about me, meeting my needs, and satisfy the unquenchable desires within me. Now some of you might ask, “So what is changed?” But you know for all of us it’s a process and Jesus is still working on me.
How about you? What were you like before you met Jesus?
Now we’ve been looking at Saul and Acts chapter 19 tells us that he was very religious, exceedingly devout, and he was virtually unstoppable because he believed he was on a mission from God. And you know we’ve seen his sincerity, but he was sincerely wrong, because he was going in the wrong direction, fighting for the wrong cause, and on the wrong mission. I mean, Saul was literally like one of those guys leading a terrorist group that was out to assault and execute Christians. He was that kind of guy and because of him the churches were emptied and the Christians scattered. But he was changed…
He was changed because Jesus came down from heaven and had a personal confrontation with Saul. Saul encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ and his view of Jesus changed, his view of Christians changed, and his view of the church changed. We read this in Acts chapter 9 at verse 21, “All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on his name?” So Saul went from killing preachers to preaching, hating Jesus to loving Jesus, and the church is like, “Who are you? Who in the world is this guy?”
Verse 22 tells us, “Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.”
So Saul hates Jesus because Jesus said he was God, he hates Christians because they worship Jesus as God, and then he meets Jesus himself and begins to preach that Jesus is the Christ. Now for Saul to proclaim Jesus as the Christ was a 180° turn. You see, the Christ was the Anointed One, the Messiah, and longing of God’s people. The anticipation of the Messiah and the fulfillment of each ancient prophecy in Jesus Christ was unprecedented, unparalleled, and unequaled in human history. So Saul had rejected such a preposterous idea that Jesus, the man from Nazareth, this carpenter’s son could be the fulfillment of centuries and centuries of prophecy. Yet on that fateful day, in a supernatural, miraculous way, Jesus Christ encountered Saul and radically changed his perspective.
I wonder how many of you have had a similar experience. Who you thought Jesus was, is just a shadow of the glory that’s revealed in him? You know, maybe you thought that Jesus was a good man, a teacher with great wisdom, and a good example for us all? When suddenly you realized that he’s the God man; and your understanding of Jesus was completely expanded as you understood him to be Lord, God, Savior, and Christ. Every thought and every dream that you once had of Divinity was suddenly transformed as you came to know Jesus as the Son of God and the Christ.
Or maybe you’re not quite there, maybe you’re somewhere in the process, and your view of Jesus hasn’t changed. But if you want to become a Christian… if you want to have your sins forgiven and have peace with God; your understanding of Jesus has to change. Who you think Jesus is has to change, because He is either the Son of God, the Christ, or he is a blasphemer and a lunatic. I pray that today you will see him as the Son of God, Lord, and Christ. Saul’s perspective of Jesus was radically changed; previously he would’ve said that Jesus was a “blasphemer” and now he says, “My Lord.”
Verse 23 tells us, “After many days had gone by…” And most commentators believe that there is a time gap here, a gap explained by Paul’s testimony in Galatians 1:15-18; “When God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.”
Here’s what I believe he’s saying, “After being called to preach to the Gentiles, I went immediately into Arabia...” He goes out like Moses and the prophets, he goes out like John the Baptist, he goes out like Jesus into the wilderness; into the desert, barren, wasteland, out to the middle of nowhere to prepare for the ministry that God had called him to. Or in other words, he had grown more and more powerful, but God called him to be alone with Jesus for the purpose of revelation. You see I believe it’s reasonable to assume that Paul knew a lot of the Scriptures. He was a well-educated man and knew the Old Testament but he didn’t know Jesus. So this time in the desert was a time for prayer, a time for talking to the Lord, and most importantly for listening to the Lord. It was a time for instruction, study, and reflection. It was a time for Saul to process, consider, and repent. It was a time for worship and quiet time alone with Jesus.
He was not running from those who would try to kill him. He’s running… He’s escaping to get some time alone with Jesus. And even today, Jesus is very much alive and very glad to meet with you through the person, the presence, and the power of the Holy Spirit. And so for us to enjoy his presence often requires that we go to that place of quietness or solitude. The Bible tells us that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to get alone with the Father (Luke 5:16). He was very purposeful and in the same way we too have to break away from our routine; maybe turning off our phones so that we can run to Jesus and get some alone time with him. In these last days, I believe these are crucial, significant times for Bible reading, prayer, repenting, and whatever else it may be. We want to be a people who are ready and I assure you Jesus is very glad to meet with you.
So Saul says, “For many days I was alone with Jesus before I started my ministry.” When he returned to Damascus, he began to proclaim the Christ that he once persecuted, declaring fearlessly that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. We see that now just as before, he was just as zealous for the things of God after he met Jesus as he was before. But his passion for God was now ignited, supercharged, by the power of the Holy Spirit through his new personal revelation of Christ. His testimony was powerful, his witness was great, and “After many days had gone by…” it says that the Jews sought to silence him. This dramatic change was a source of wonder to the Jews, but they would not have this. So this man who had once been the great persecutor of the church would now discover what it’s like to be the hunted. And this was just the beginning of the great things he would suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 9:16). But, he was fearless…
Shortly after his return to Damascus, “The Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan.” Listen to how he describes it in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33, “In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.” How humiliating that must’ve been for Saul, to be smuggled out in the middle of the night, it was certainly not something you’d want to boast about. But the reality was that he climbed into a laundry basket in the middle of the night and was quietly lowered down from a window in the wall and ran for his life.
You see, there are those moments in life when fearlessly obeying the Lord is humiliating. And throughout his life, the apostle was hated, hunted, and plotted against by both Jews and Gentiles. In Paul’s own words in 2 Corinthians 11:26 he says, “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.” Yet he was fearless in Jesus.
No matter what opposition he faced, the persecution he experienced, and even when imprisoned in Rome, Saul (Paul) counted it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ, and so should we. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us, "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). We to will face opposition. So the question, your take-home thought for today is, “Will you be fearless in Jesus?” Will you be like Saul? He wrote this to the church in Corinth, “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16).
And now Saul is going to suffer for the name of Jesus. He was a guy who had been making other Christians suffer and now he himself was going to suffer. Acts 9 at verse 26 tells us, “When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). So now the guys he used to hang with want to kill him, the Christians he used to hunt are scared of him, and everywhere he turns he’s rejected. You know it’s like when you became a Christian and suddenly your old friends don’t want to hang with you anymore. Some of your family looks at you like you got three heads or when you walk into the room everybody gets quiet and so here is Saul (Paul) being rejected too. But he’s in good company isn’t he? You see, Jesus had friends that he hung with for three years and as he’s about to be arrested, preparing to go to the cross, they go to the garden to pray. He asks them to pray for him and they fall sleep, Judas betrays him, Peter denies him, Thomas doubts him, and these were his closest of friends, his inner circle.
You know there are going to be times when we we’re going to feel like that, but like Saul we need to be fearless. He had already been alone for three years, he runs to the church, to the Christians, and he’s rejected and he’s still alone. But honestly, it’s an opportunity for Saul (and us) to learn more about the One who suffered for us. Jesus has been rejected, he’s been despised and hated. He knew what it was like to have people that he really loved let him down. And so Saul doesn’t give up on Christianity, he doesn’t say he’s done with church, and he doesn’t say I’m through with Jesus. Though he’s hurt, rejected, and alone, he fearlessly runs to Jesus and clings to him until Jesus people embrace him also.
So we find that the church was fearful, restrained, and cautious to embrace Saul of Tarsus. It took a man named Barnabas in verse 27 to have the guts to be the mediator and to encourage both Saul and the church to be reconciled. And Barnabas was willing to take a tremendous risk for Saul; he was willing to risk loving him even though he could have been betrayed, he was willing to risk loving him even though he could be hurt, and even though he could have been let down. That was the risk that Barnabas is willing to take for Saul.
And honestly it’s those of you like Barnabas, who have the gift of encouragement, that have a special ministry in the church of loving others first so that they may be welcomed into the family of God, and so that strained and damaged relationships can be reconciled. You are a gift to the church, a help to the cause of Christ, and like Barnabas you can be used significantly to reconcile relationships so that the gospel could change lives of people who otherwise may not find a place in the church. And so what we see happening here in the church… it says this in verse 31: “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”
Now previously in Acts chapter 2, the church had enjoyed some time of peace immediately following Pentecost. You know, when thousands were being saved, it was in amazing time, and then all of a sudden there was opposition. The name of Jesus is renounced, there are arrests, the murder of Stephen, and the church scatters. People are fleeing, there’s great turmoil, and the church is in the middle of a spiritual storm, a whirlwind of resistance. And now once again, there is a time of peace and verse 31 gives us a snapshot of how all of this is affecting the church.
Number one it says, that the church was strengthened, it was built up, and growing in godliness. Really this is telling us what the Holy Spirit did in and through them. So the church is being built up and there are a lot of new believers. And maybe that’s where we find ourselves today. And the question is, “How do we need to grow in godliness? How can we be built up, having a greater love and affection for Christ’s Church and his people?” I believe the answer that is found in prayer or through prayer together as the church.
Because number two it says the “church was encouraged by the Holy Spirit.” And this is so important, because they had gone through some hard times. People have been leaving, suffering, and even dying. Yet Jesus promised, to send “the counselor”, or the “Helper” as it’s translated in the ESV (John 16:7). And that is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Living God who is always present with us, never leaving us nor forsaking us (Hebrews 13:5). He is the arms of the Father wrapped around the children of God; He is encouraging us and helping us along the way. And the Holy Spirit is a comfort to the church and that’s important, because things just may not get better, but by God’s grace we can.
Third it says that the church grew in numbers, it multiplied, and more people met Jesus. So more and more people are learning about Jesus, they’re being strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit; because ultimately God wants us to be on mission so that more people would meet Jesus; he wants us to reflect more and more of the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
And lastly, the fourth thing that verse 31 says is that they lived in “the fear of the Lord.” Now I looked up the places in the Bible where it says do not be afraid or do not fear and what God often said following that was, “For I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). Like when I comfort my children when they’re startled in their sleep by thunder and they cry out. I come to them, hold them, and tell them, “Don’t be afraid, your Dad is here, I’m right here with you.” You see that’s our Father God, and he says, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you” (Isaiah 41:10).
And what the fear of the Lord does is this; the fear of the Lord displaces all other fears. If the fear of the Lord is in the center of your life, you’ll respond to your circumstances with wisdom. That’s why the Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). “It adds length to life” (Proverbs 10:27). “It’s a fountain of life” (Proverbs 14:27). “The fear of the Lord is the key” (Isaiah 33:6).
So the fear of the Lord displaces other fears as the Bible says, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). And the fear of the Lord asks, “What did God say? What does God want? What is the right thing to do? What would bring glory to the Lord?” You see, fear causes us to make decisions to get the outcome we desire. But the fear of the Lord changes the outcome we desire. Then our desire becomes, “What glorifies God?” You see God and God alone is to be feared. He alone is the one to receive glory. For the church and each of us individually the center of our motivation is to be His glory.
And so as we close, we’re going to respond to God, we’re going to sing for the glory of His Name, because Jesus is alive. He’s glorious, he’s worthy, he’s good, and he is the Son of God, the Christ. So as we close, we are going to sing and celebrate who Jesus is and what he’s done. We do that individually in our hearts and we do that corporately together as the church. All of our voices coming together to give glory to Jesus, because he is the Son of God and the Christ. Then we’re going to pray and honestly, I woke up today with a sense of great enthusiasm and excitement because I believe that there are people here that Jesus is going to talk to. There are people here that need to be strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit. God is going to encourage you today and he is going to use us to grow the church, to evangelize, and to serve.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
June 15, 2015