Bible Lesson 6: Acts 9:31 – 12:25

Aim: Jew or Gentile, there is only one way: Jesus

Last week we saw the conversion of Saul, and what a turn around that was – from persecutor to preacher.  He saw the light.  We also heard that Saul was being given a mission, to help spread the good news about Jesus to the Gentiles – people that weren’t Jewish.  Now this caused quite a stir because the Jews were God’s chosen people, so was this going to be OK? Should they be invited, too?

So, as we begin to think about our lesson this week, picture this:  William and Kate (Prince/Princess) are coming to your town and throwing a huge party that lasts a really long time.  However, tickets to the event cost $1 bizzillion (a really, really big number).  Is there any way you can buy a ticket?  Is there anyway that anyone can pay that kind of price?  Probably not even the queen.  But, wait, they just announced that they are going to give away free tickets with only 3 requirements:

  1. You have to accept the gift of the ticket.  You can’t ignore it, or throw it away, or sell it, or anything like that.
  2. You have to come in through the front door only, the door that is opened by the host to let in his guests.  No trying to sneak in the back.
  3. While not a requirement, it is strongly suggested that you act grateful for this amazing gift.

That is how things are with God.  When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, He paid the price for all of our tickets.  And God wants everyone of us to accept that ticket and join the party.  But he gets very frustrated when someone shows up with a fake ticket that they tried to make on their own.  Or they try to sneak in some backdoor.

There is only one way into this party.  It doesn’t matter who you are, who your parents were or how much you work to make your own ticket.

Division 1: Acts 9:31-10:48

In chapter 9 we have 2 amazing stories of healing and prayer.  The power of the Holy Spirit is overflowing and as Peter travels outside of Jerusalem he is partaking in and witness the power of the Holy Spirit, not only in changed bodies, but in changed hearts and souls.  The first is the story of Aeneas, so crippled that he had stayed in bed for 8 years.  Then, with one blessing from God, he gets up and walks.  Are you saying, we’ve seen that before – ok, how about Dead Dorcas?  Her friends pray and talk about the gifts she has made and… back from the dead.

But in Acts 10, we get into the really interesting story of Peter and Cornelius.  Peter was a Jew.  Jesus came to the Jews.  And when you are a Jew you live as a Jew.  This isn’t a club, it is a way of life, every moment of every day.  You mess up one thing, touch a dead animal by accident, brush against someone with a skin disease, and you can be living outside of the city for days or weeks.

I’m going to talk about the blanket and food restrictions.  This meeting with Cornelius, in his house, eating and just how big of a deal that was.  But the whole time God was working on Peter, from the inside out, to help him see God’s love for all.

Principle: God welcomes all who believe

Illustration: Picture the gates of heaven.  In your mind, do you see a sign next to the door that says, Girls only, no boys allowed?  Or boys only?  Or only people with black hair allowed?  Of course not.  There is a big welcome mat saying all believers enter here.

Applications: Do you understand that God is bigger than skin tone, eye color, nationality or any other difference in humans?

Do you welcome into your church family people that don’t look, act or sound like you?  Do you call them brother and sister?

What “rules” are you expecting people to jump through because that is how you did it when you were a new believer?

Division 2: Acts 11

The jewish born christians are troubled by this new understanding that Peter has received and they have no issue speaking up about it.  Peter goes to Jerusalem, right to the heart of the discussion and lays out the facts.  In one verse (18) they understand, “so, then, that’s how it is.”  God said it, done deal.  Meanwhile, Antioch becomes a hotbed of God’s spirit, Barnabas is dispatched, joined by Saul and the new church gets its legs.

Principle: God’s word unites believers

Illustration:  Have you ever used the words, “Mom said” or “Dad says” or “the coach said to”?  When you are in a family or on a team, it is important to know who is in charge and calling the plays.  There is nothing wrong when you see someone heading a different direction to stop them and ask questions.  But when the direction comes from God, it is best to get on board.

Application: When you have an issue, do you go to the source or chitchat rumor about it?

When you understand that a direction is spelled out in the bible, do you accept it or still want to argue?

Division 3: Acts 12

King Herod (Agrippa), seeks to build his political cachet by imprisoning some of the heathen christians.  When that goes well, he murders James.  Seeing how well that is received he imprison Peter, with plans to kill him as well.

(retell story of the Peter in jail, shackled, 2 guards, sound asleep, freed by H/S, Rhoda, the church praying)

Finally, King Herod get eaten by worms and dies – yuck!

Principle: God sets us free of earthly confines

Illustration: (I’m sticking with Peter and this story)

Application:  If someone wanted to jail the christians, would they know you were one?

What are you losing sleep over?

Do you believe it when God answers your prayers?

What are you shackled to that God needs to set you free from?  Past sins?  Current guilt?  Worry? Fear? Secrets?

Conclusion: In all that is happening, don’t miss the skill movement of the master’s hand in everything that is happening.  I was reading an article on grand masters at chess.  It pointed out that if you take any chess game, at any point in the game, and for less 2 seconds show the board to a master.  They can go to another board and place every piece in place, where a non-chess player is doing good to get 3-4 pieces.  God not only knows this board that we live on, He created it, and He is the Master of All.

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!!!!