Aim: The good news spreads through witnessing and obedience despite persecution
Last week we left Acts with the death of Stephen and the joy he experienced, even while being murdered, in seeing heaven opened up and Jesus at God’s right hand.
I want to start this week with a different picture. Imagine you are sitting on a beach with some of your friends. The waves are lapping by your toes. The sun is shining but not too hot with a nice umbrella to shade you. After sitting for a while you go to get up and find that you have sunk down into the sand. There are only two forces that might help you – either a pull or a push. In our lesson this week we get to see examples of both. Saul’s persecution pushes the believers to move on to Judea and Samaria. Philip pulls Samarians into a true faith. Peter pushes Simon the Sorcerer to confront his sin. Jesus pushes Saul, then sends Ananias to extend a hand to lift him up, with a gentle push to Ananias thrown in first.
Division 1: Acts 8:1-40: Saul’s persecution spreads witnesses to “all of Judea and Samaria”
Principle: God fills a humble heart
Illustration: Discuss the differences in Simon the Sorcerer and the Ethopian Eunuch. The power that each had, the authority and influence and then how they each approached the teaching of Philip. Focus on accepting the gift with a humble heart.
Principle: Is pride and self reliance keeping you from fully experiencing God’s gift? (SS tried to buy it)
What in your life is “smoke and mirrors” that you don’t want to reveal to others? (SS’s whole profession was a sham)
Do you “go the distance” for your faith and take time along the journey to stop and study and learn? (EE traveled 1500 miles – reading Isaiah)
Are you putting off devoting yourself to God because you might appear a bit dirty in the process? (EE didn’t have an issue jumping into water along the side of the road)
Division 2: Acts 9:1-9: Saul “sees the light” on Damascus Road
Principle: God calls us to do His work
Illustration: Read things clearly. Saul was not an evil person. He was someone who was zealous about trying to do right in God’s eyes. If he believed or was taught that it was pleasing to God to go a mile, he wanted to go two. But Saul had been blinded to the truth about God by the very teachers that he thought were teaching him about God. Jesus had called these teachers a bunch of snakes who speak only evil. That doesn’t make what Saul was doing, right, but it does help us understand what is going on. Jesus asks Saul a question. Did Jesus not know the answer? Of course He did. He is God. He knows everything. One thing you will find in scripture is that when God asks us a question it is for us to stop and think, rather than to give Him an answer. Saul had been blinded by his teachers and his understanding. Jesus showed him just how blind he was so that Saul could re-open his heart to the true teaching of the spirit.
Application: Do you test all teaching against the word of the Lord or, if someone is an authority, do you just accept what they say?
What truth about Jesus might you be blind to?
Division 3: Acts 9:10-30: Ananias and Barnabas help Saul’s ministry by listening to God over their own fears
Principle: Fear may say stop, but God says go. Wise men go.
Illustration: I’m sticking with the story of Ananias and the fear he had and set aside to follow God. God sent him to see Saul. Picture this. There is men and his associates who, with the authority of the police and courts, are dragging people out of their houses, beating them, even killing them. Your name is on their list. God comes to you and says I want you to go to this guy, he is expecting you. What would you say? (I’ll talk a little bit more and read what Ananias said). Then look at Barnabas. You rarely see someone with more faith in God’s power than the Apostles, but here is this guy, when everyone else can’t see how Saul could possibly have changed, who believes that God can do any miracle, even this one.
Application: What is fear stopping you from doing that God is calling you to?
How many times does God need to tell you to Go?
How big do you believe God is and what he is capable of?
Closing: I want to bring some focus on “the supporting cast” in these stories this week. We spend so much time on the key players, such as Saul, that sometimes we completely miss the others. Did you notice the people that were with Saul on the Damascas road? They were part of this same “persecution party.” God didn’t call them by name, but did you notice what they did. They supported a missionary. They helped lead a blind brother. They stayed with him even when he wouldn’t eat for 3 days. Do you think Saul lowered himself in a basket down the side of the city walls at night?
While the bible is full of the names we know. The only way that they survive is by the quiet support of other believers (some of those others only coming to belief at the very same time). I think we need to model more of our lives on these quiet supporters. They don’t require a direct message from God, but when they see a brother with a need, they are filled with the spirit to help. God bless the quiet supporters of the faith.