Bible Lesson 5: Acts 8-9:30

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.

Acts: Week 4, Day 6

Acts 8:1–9: 30.

15. To demonstrate humble faith to God like the Ethiopian Eunuch.  To immediately answer when God calls me despite my worries and fears like Ananias.  To not become paralyzed lamenting my sins but instead be called into a changed life like Saul.

Acts: Week 4, Day 5

Acts 9:19b–30 with Galatians 1:11–24.

Saul is converted and begins his unorthodox path – not consulting with the Apostles or established church, he instead goes to Arabia and Damascus, before spending a 2 week “visit’ to Jerusalem.

13. (Challenge) a.  Galatians 1:17–20. Arabia for 3 years then back to Damascus

b. Another interesting question.  So here is the argument of that day against christianity – “it is just “group-think”. ” You have a core of really influential people, Peter and the Apostles, who get on a roll and everyone falls in line with their teaching.  But, out of left field, now we have Paul.  He is clearly not sitting at the feet of “the Way” learning from them.  Instead, he was a man, deeply steeped in the jewish law, who realized he was blind but now sees.  His revelation is from Jesus, not man.

14.Lasted 15 days, visited Peter, saw no other apostles, only James, the brother of Jesus. The christians feared him, but Barnabas spoke up for him and his teaching.  He was received and commissioned back into his home land.

Conclusion:  A few points on Saul and Arabia.  The unanswered question of Question 13a is what did Saul do in Arabia for up to 3 years.  And the answer is, we don’t know.  Some think he went to spend time alone with God.  Some think he followed a path like Moses and Isaiah.  Some think he studied under locals in the area much like Moses did under his father-in-law.  This last point is contradicted by Paul’s accounts that he received the truth of the gospel from direct revelation and not from man.

But here is what I think is really neat about this period of time: I don’t think Paul knew, either.  Stay with me for a minute on this, it is really important.  In Acts 9, Acts 22, Acts 26 and Galations 1 we see that Paul is filled with the Holy Spirit and God is directly telling him what to do and where to go and Paul is being fully obedient.  So why did Paul go to Arabia.  If you believe what is written, it is clearly because God wanted him to go there.  Why?  We don’t know and I’m not sure Paul ever knew (at least not while on this earth).  I think if he knew, if there was some revelation that occurred, he would have told about it – but he didn’t.

But isn’t this how it sometimes is in our lives?  We pray, we listen, we obey and we end up in a place asking, “what am I doing here, God?”  and we simply don’t get an answer or at least not right away.  Maybe it is for us to spend some quiet time.  Maybe it is because other things need to line up.  Maybe it is because we need to be there because of or for someone else.  Maybe it is simply to teach us to trust in God and be patient for His timing.  I don’t know.  We don’t know.

But, the important thing is that God knows and He is in control, even when we don’t have a clue why we are where we are or what He is preparing for us to do.  So what do we do when it happens.  Here is what I’m learning:

  1. It isn’t just me – this same thing happens to people like the Apostle Paul
  2. God has a plan – I don’t need to come up with a “better plan” and try to pray Him into following it
  3. I do, however, need to keep praying and keep myself filled with the holy spirit so I don’t miss whatever my next calling is (miss, probably isn’t the right word, God will get me there, regardless, but maybe if I’m paying close enough attention He can do it without resorting to the 2×4 whack it often takes)
  4. I need to find ways to make the most of the time I am spending waiting.  Joseph worked doing odds and ends jobs. Moses learned a trade (tending sheep).  The Apostles did a bible study on Psalms and prayed and organized.  But in all cases, they stayed close to God and found people filled with the spirit and with wisdom to have fellowship with while waiting.
  5. Trusting in God’s timing and being patient are some of the hardest things to do in our spiritual walk

Acts: Week 4, Day 4

Read Acts 9:1–19a; 22:1–16; 26:9–19.

Intro: Saul/Paul is “blinded by the light” and get’s revved up better than and 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe ever could – (OK, I can’t be the only one singing that song as I read these verses).  The good Ananias is called on to open Saul’s eyes which he does with a giant step of faith.

9.a. around me, seen by companions; brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions

b. not understood by companions; spoke in aramaic

c. of Nazareth, told all that you have been assigned; hard for you to kick against the goads, appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness, rescue you from your people and sending to Gentiles to turn them from darkness.

d. Not disobedient, went and preached

10. a. (Challenge) Rom 2:17-29: This is Paul preaching to the Jews about being blind (sounds like he is preaching to his old self) Prov 13:9 The light of righteousness shines brightly, the lamp of wickedness is snuffed out; Psalm 119:105 Word is lamp to my feet and light to path; Acts 13:47-49 Paul and Barnabas explain that they have been called to be a “light for the gentiles”  – To have fellowship with those in darkness and bring them to the light, you sometimes have to realize that you were also blind at one point.

b.Time – since doing this study on a daily basis, something that I was never good at before, the time I spend studying the word is so precious to me that I am jealous and protective of it.

11. This is a hard question, persecute is such a strong word.  But, to be honest, I had not spoken or thought highly of those in “the Way” as Paul put it, who came across as “holy than thou”.  I would have thought of a group of people praying at a restaurant as “being showy” rather than being true to their faith.  I thought of people with WWJD symbols and fish on their cars as being self promoting instead of humble servants.  But this study has opened my eyes to be BOLD in my faith and praise and honor those doing the same.

12. I love this guy!  It is probably a generational thing that some of you reading wont’ get this next line, but I can’t read this story and not hear the words, “what you talkin’ about, Willis?” ringing loud and clear from Ananias.  Here is man of deep faith.  When God calls, he immediately answers.  In the beginning it reminds you so much of all the old testament patriarchs who answered: Here I am (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Esau, Jacob,  Eli and Isaiah), but, after hearing God’s command it turns into a comedy routine.  Can’t you just hear the voice of Bill Cosby… ” ummmm, God?  you, like, know about this Saul guy, right?   You know he’s been sent here to find people like me and stone us?  I even heard that he took the extra step to get papers, making it official.  So, you want me to do what again?  Maybe you got the wrong number…. Maybe you were trying to call another Ananias – it is a pretty common name this year.  And, by the way, I heard about the other Ananias… you don’t have something against people with this name, right?”  To which God, in God’s gentle way replies, “Go.”  Ya know, when you get a one word sentence from the almighty, it should probably light a fire under you!  And, in this case it does.  He not only goes, but he calls Saul a brother and lays hands on him, restores his sight through the H/S and baptizes him.  At which point, Saul changes uniforms and starts playing for the other team.  And, while the scriptures do not specifically say it, I have a feeling that Ananias was rejoicing way more than the Ethiopian Eunuch ever did!

Main observation:

In all this talk about blinding light and 3 days of darkness and the conversion of Saul – do not miss the faith of Ananias.  In his, and every other christian of the days, “humble opinion”, God was calling him, in a vision, into a suicide mission.  And what does he do?  He goes.  No grumbling.  No negotiating.  No whining.  I am truly humbled by the faith of this man.  Let’s be clear – Simon=face of a angel – Saul helped stone to death.  Ananias – no angel that anyone professes… and God is calling him to go stand in the presence of Saul and tell him about the power of the Holy Spirit.  You can’t read this story and not put yourself in the shoes of this man. How would you have responded?  What would you have done?  Oh, to have the faith that he demonstrated.  God willing!!!!

Acts: Week 4, Day 2

Acts 8:1–8 and John 4:6–42.

With Saul leading persecution of christians, the fellowship scatters as ordained in Acts 1:8 to all of Judea and Samaria, spreading the good news of Jesus as they go.  Phillip reaps the harvest sown by Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, performing great signs and wonders and bringing joy to the city.

3. a. People were scattered to all of Judea and Samaria preaching the word wherever they went

b. Assyria relo’d people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, Sepharvaim, and Jewish priests: Taught how to worship the Lord, they did, but also worshipped other god’s and followed other traditions.

4. He was were Jesus met with the Samaritan woman at the well: John 4:39-42 many believed because of woman and Jesus

5. (Challenge) a. John 4:9 For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.; Micah 1:5 What is Jacob’s transgression? Is it not Samaria? What is Judah’s high place? Is it not Jerusalem?

b. Pray for them, witness to them, look beyond the weeds and see the crops that God has planted.

 

Conclusion:  That last line stuck with me – how often I am blinded by the weeds and completely miss what Christ has planted on the inside of peoples hearts.

Acts: Week 3, Day 6

Acts 3–7.

17. The messages I got from this week’s lesson are to:

  1. Pursue with all my heart, soul, mind and resources to belong to God. I am not to chase after belonging to any other group or organization, even “the church” unless my first commitment is to God
  2. Recognize that because I can, doesn’t mean that I should, even in the work of the church
  3. Look to align myself with others who are filled with the holy spirit and with wisdom, without regard for any other skillset they may or may not have
  4. To speak boldly, wisely and without shame of the gospel.  Regardless of audience or potential repercussion.
  5. To turn my eyes to heaven more often, with the delight of knowing, whether I’m given the physical clarity of vision to see Him, that Jesus is there, at the right hand of God, my Father.
  6. Through all adversity, no matter how severe, the appropriate response to my enemies, especially when they are clearly God’s enemies, is to:
       – speak the truth to them
       – pray for them

Acts: Week 3, Day 5

Acts 7

Stephen at the Sanhedrin.  He sets them up, nodding along as he happily retells the old testament stories that they are so familiar with.  Then, he knocks them down.  You know, any sentence that starts with, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!  Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute?”  I think he missed the Dale Carnegie course, but then again they had already chosen their sides and Stephen chose the wiser of the friends to win with.

13. a. Acts 7:1–38: Stephen professes the old testament story, from God first appearing to Abraham up to Moses receiving the law of the 10 commandments at Mount Sinai.  Moses points to “the prophet”.

b. Acts 7:39–50 He discusses the disobedience of God’s chosen people, beginning with the golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  He then turns to the house of God from the tabernacle to the time of David and the building of the temple by Solomon.  Which, while blessed by God, He (God) also was clear to explain that He is not contained within the walls of the temple, but is much bigger.

c. Acts 7:51–53 – Let’s just call this: the smack down to end all smack downs.  Stephen just spent 49 verses lulling his audience, the high priest and court, into a their comfort zone, then, like Hansome Harley Race of the days gone by, he comes flying off the top rope with a pile driver right to some un-named ‘zoid muscle area.  Smack down central!

14. a They indicated he had spoken words of blashemy against Moses and against God.  Blasphemy means, by definition, to speak disrepectful (unpiously) of God.  Stephen demonstrates to the Sanhedrin that he clearly knows the facts of Moses and of God and He provides the greatest respect and piety to them.  However, he holds nothing back in pointing out his disrepect and disdain for the Church leaders, yo momma (ok, in this case, yo daddy) and all of the ways they have dishonored God, the law, Moses and the prophets. 

b. Stephen’s comments to the Sanhedrin are founded in scripture.  With an angelic voice, for 49 verses there is nothing they disagree with or would argue with.  Then, he pulls back the covers and shows how they are failing to live by what they claim to believe.  In contrast, the Sanhedrin doesn’t even quabble.  While Stephen patiently replied with a discussion that was analytical, collected and concise.  Their response is emotional, animalistic and banal.  He lays out in 49 verses the teaching of the old testament.  In contrast they:

  • Are furious
  • Gnash their teeth at him
  • Cover their ears
  • Yell at the top of they voices
  • Rush him
  • Drag him out of the city
  • Stone him.

So mature!

15. The heavens are opened to Stephen’s view and he observes Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father

16. a. I think he felt it, but not in the way you and I would feel someone throwing stones at us.  In other words, I don’t think he was numb or unaware.  He was fully aware and prayed for those throwing the stones.  Did he feel pain?  I’m not sure he cared.

b. Saul

c. Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Conclusion:

I have known and admired Stephen for being the first martyr of the faith.  But as I read the scriptures today I realized that, while that is important, it is minimized by the way this man lived.  Here is what we know.  He was filled by the spirit and with wisdom.  He served the body of believers jobfully.  He was, without question, not ashamed of the gospel.  He spoke with boldness, authority and knowledge. He did not pull any punches in calling evil by its name and in praising God my his name.  He stood, with 2 feet on this earth and looked up into the heavens and saw the face of Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  Give me a life lived like that and you are more than welcomed to throw stones at me. 

Post script.

I fortunately started my bible study early today, and had a chance to review what I wrote before posting.  Maybe I’m not at a faith level to pray for stoning, yet, and maybe I got a bit carried away.  But I hope you understand my sentiment.  Who among us wouldn’t die to have the faith and life that Stephen had? Can I, on even my best day, say that others look at me, my friends, not to mention my enemies, and see the face of an angel?

Acts: Week 3, Day 4

 Acts 6.

The Apostles are pulled into administrative matters but wisely realize that, while they can do every task, it doesn’t mean that they should.  Importantly, they do not try to see who they can sucker or guilt into these other jobs, but instead look for people who are “filled by the spirit and wisdom”.  These deacons were chosen by the gathered believers, blessed and hands were laid on them in ordination of their role.  We find that they not only served, but also spoke boldly and wisely, as anyone filled with the spirit will do.  But soon, one, Stephen, catches the attention of non-believers and he is brought to the ever more frustrated and escalating Sanhedrin where the truth is spoken in a condeming and condescending way.  With the final line: “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” we have the foreboding sense that something bad is coming.

11. a. There was an administrative issue over the widows of Hebraic Jews being fed before the widows of Grecian Jews.

b. 6:2 – not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God and 6:4 – give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word

c. Had the assembled believers select 7 deacons who were filled with the spirit and wisdom.  These men were blessed and hands were laid on them for their ministry

d. Different people are called into different ministries in the church, but that does not mean some are below or subordinate to others, they are just different.  AND, the different ministries have the same prereqs – filled with the spirit and wisdom.  Also, regardless of “church job” we are all called to spread the gospel message.

12. Filled with the spirit and wisdom.  (Acts 6:3) Chosen by the group of believers (Acts 6:5) Ordained by the church (Acts 6:6)

Conclusion:

I was looking for the next questions in this chapter.  The fact that we are all called to be bold in teaching about Jesus who is the Christ, whether we are called to a job of prayer and ministry or one of waiting tables.  That with the spirit the count diminishes in importance (Stephen wasn’t one of the 12, but was clearly apostolic, a Greek word meaning: a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.)  The line of Luke at the end of this chapter about how “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”  To some of us, in the face of an angel we see God’s goodness and love, something to be cherished.  But to unbelievers note that they do not see something else – they only see it with different eyes.  He still looks like an angel, but that vision does not invoke love and mercy as we will soon see (sorry, but with this kind of a cliff hanger – you can’t help but turn the page).  That last part gives me the chills every time I read it!

Acts: Week 3, Day 3

Acts 5

Acts 5 contains 2 distinct stories both that point to how powerless non-believers are to stop the will of God and the spreading of His Holy Name.  In the first we learn of Ananias and Sapphira, the first church vandals, who attempt to sully the early church from within.  Then we learn about the the high priest, his associates and all of the Sanhedrin.  In Chapter 4, they locked up 2 apostles over night and used threats to attempt to get them to be quiet.  In Chapter 5 they escalate to locking up everyone and flog them.  The chapter closes with an unintended endorsement of the church from a member of the sanhedrin.  He points out that all man made initiatives have come and gone and will come and go.  If this is man-made, let’s not worry about it.  The only way it could last is if it is from God.  The Apostles rejoice for being flogged and “never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” (Don’t you hate it when you are right, Mr. Sanhedrinman?)

8. a. Acts 5:3 “that you have lied to the Holy Spirit”, Acts 5:9, “how could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord”

b. God’s heart is in His church.  The major sin, in my eyes, of Ananias and Sapphira wasn’t that they were stingy or deceitful, proud or even hypocrites, although they were clearly all of those.  To me, what satan filled their heart to do was to attempt to join the church without joining God.  They saw all of the neat things going on in this community of believers.  They saw the joy and fellowship and thought – ‘we want us some of that’.  Did they want to devote themselves fully to God?  Clearly not, they just wanted to be part of the movement, part of the church. 

Interesting how this tactic by satan comes up over and over again, and I think most of us can see it in our churches today.  The number of people who want to be considered a christian, but don’t really want to devote any part of their life to God.  Interesting as well the rebukes the churches receive in the Book of Revelation for this very thing.  To me this is a heart breaking story, because we can almost feel the pain and sadness this caused Christ, to see His church treated this way.  Once their sin was revealed, it was also heartbreaking to Ananias and Saphira.  God didn’t strike them dead, he simply opened their eyes and it broke their heart (literally).

9. a. Acts 5:19, The Angel of the Lord

b. Acts 5:32 – “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him”

10. a. Acts 5:41 They left rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name and 5:42, Day aft day they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Christ.  They did this house to house and in the temple courts (doesn’t sound like they were hiding)

b. My experience has been minimal.  As I study more and get more involved in leadership within church and BSF, I definately see the whispers of satan trying to move tripping stones into the path.  If anything is going to go wrong with our family, it happens on Sunday morning (church) or Monday (BSF night).  But I’ve not been called to rejoice for a flogging as these great men did.

In a conversation with a BSF leader one time, she pointed out that one sure sign you are on the right path of following God’s will for your life and furthering the kingdom of God is when you face great adversity.  If you are on the wrong path, why would satan try to get in your way?

Conclusion:

There are 3 verses in this chapter that really touched my heart.  First, verses 13 and 14.  The Ananias and Sapphira story is not normally seen as an uplifting story, but it is in the way it shows God’s passion and direction for the work of His church.  I see it in this blog that I write.  While I started it for me, the stats show that now hundreds of people are reading it each day.  However, what really lights my heart is the comment from an individual who saw a deeper revelation of God by sharing this avenue of fellowship with me.  I don’t think God’s design for His church is simply for us to fill up the seats and build ever bigger churches of people who want to belong to something.  I think He wants the people who believe in Him. This shines out to me in Acts 5:13-14.  The healthy fear of God puts a damper on the “tag-alongs”, but more and more men and women believed in the Lord!

The other verse is 5:17.  In previous chapters there has been much talk about the Apostles and believers being filled with the Holy Spirit and all of the power and strength and joy that created in them.  In 5:17 it says “Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.”  I think this really highlights that we are all filled with something.  My pastor once put it in a sermon, “all men are born with a God-Sized hole in their hearts”.  During our life we try to fill it up, either with the gift of the Holy Spirit that satisfies because it fits perfectly, or with other stuff (such as jealousy) which doesn’t really fit and leaves us unsatisfied and unhappy because the hole is still there.  Remember John 10:10b from yesterday?  Christ wants us to have fullness.