So, as I’ve mentioned several times in the last few weeks, our church is studying the Book of Acts together on Sunday mornings. And, for us, studying together means that someone leads our time of study but everyone is expected to take part. Everyone knows what we’re studying this Sunday, and everyone knows that they will have opportunities to share what they’ve learned through their own study.
This coming Sunday, we’ll be studying Acts 9, and I’ve asked to lead our study. I love this section of Acts (Acts 6-9), where we see how God is using a broader cross section of the church to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
In fact, it was back in Chapter 8 that God used Philip and others who were not among The Twelve to take the gospel out of Jerusalem:
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles… Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:1-4 ESV)
It’s exciting to see how God is bringing out Jesus’ proclamation to his followers as Luke recorded at the beginning of this book: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)
Plus, we can now see that Jesus do not mean for this to apply only to the Twelve or even only to those who heard his words. No, in Acts 8 we see that all those who were scattered (out of Jerusalem and into Judea and Samaria – similar to Jesus’ words) went about “proclaiming the word”, i.e. being a witness of Jesus Christ.
Then, we turn to Chapter 9, and God shows just how far he will go to continue the spread of the good news. Jesus Christ personally appears to someone to begin that leg of his mission. But, he doesn’t appear to just anyone. He doesn’t appear to one the Twelve again. He doesn’t appear to one of the people who were currently following him again.
No, Jesus appears to the man who had made it his mission to destroy the church of God. This is the man that God had chosen. Amazing. Incredible. Unbelievable.
Seriously… did God just do that? Did he really just choose the person who was persecuting the church and give him the mission to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth (at least, to the extent of the Roman empire)? Yes. He did.
And, if we read through Acts 9, we can tell that I’m not the only one who found in unbelievable.
When God told Ananias to God to Saul/Paul, the disciple responds with amazement… disbelief:
But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13-14 ESV)
But, of course, God convinced Ananias to go to Saul/Paul, and afterwards Saul immediately began to proclaim the gospel (which could lead to an entirely different blog post). So, what did the people think when they heard Saul proclaiming the gospel? They were also amazed:
And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” (Acts 9:21 ESV)
What’s even more amazing is that these are unbelievers who recognized the change in Saul. They were surprised at what Saul was saying and doing now, compared to what they knew about him.
And, what about the Twelve and the other disciples in Jerusalem? Surely they would not be surprised to see God work in such an amazing way, right? Nope. They were just as surprised as everyone else, and Barnabas had to speak up in Saul’s behalf so that the church in Jerusalem would accept him:
And when he [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:26-27 ESV)
What an amazing thing God did when Jesus himself appeared to Saul/Paul – the persecutor of the church! Not only did God accept Saul as his child (what grace!), but he also gave Saul the mission of proclaiming the gospel and building up the very church he had tried to destroy! (what amazing grace!)
Do we still expect God to work like this today?