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!!!!