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 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!