The Book of Acts (Chapter 9:19b -31) (Part 17)
Rabbi Saul of Tarsus had an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ that had transformed his life. He had been filled with the Spirit of God and was compelled by the Spirit to preach the good news about the Lord Jesus to the Jewish people. He had been going to Damascus to preach against the people of the way and instead found himself preaching the good news about Jesus to the Jews of that city. His testimony was clear about the Lord Jesus that “He is the Son of God!” His testimony and preaching rocked the city and startled many and as far as the religious leaders were concerned what Saul said “went down like a lead balloon!” They did a “knee-jerk” reaction at what he was now preaching. And so we read…
(Vs. 19b-20) “Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
When the Lord Jesus healed the man who had been blind from birth the first person he saw was the Lord Jesus Christ. Whenever the Lord Jesus opened the eyes of the blind the first person they saw was Him. The apostle Peter had this revelation through the Holy Spirit and said to the Lord Jesus; “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God!” Jesus said to Peter; “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but My Father in heaven.” Having a revelation that Jesus is God’s Son is not something that comes through the five physical sense gates, it is not “of the flesh” but something imparted to the spirit and soul supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. Real spiritual sight is like that. Physical blindness in the Bible represents the spiritual blindness of the mind and heart to the Lord Jesus.
When a man or woman is really saved and spiritually regenerated by the Holy Spirit the first one they see by faith is the Lord Jesus. They come to know by the revelation of the Spirit that He is the Son of God and the Messiah. As the apostle John writes in his first letter; “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). With man this is impossible without the illumination of the Holy Spirit as Saul, who later became Paul, wrote; “But the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to understand them, because spiritually they are discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Saul went straight down to the local synagogues in Damascus preaching and even proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God! The first thing the Holy Spirit does in His convicting and regenerating work is to show men and women their sin and need of repentance and then show them Jesus for who He really is.
The religious leaders and the Greeks would have no problem with saying that the Word was God and with God but when it came to saying that the Word became flesh they had a problem. Unless we have a revelation that Jesus is the Son of God we will never believe no matter how much people try to convert us. Unless the Holy Spirit imparts revelation to us we will not believe. In His convicting and converting work the blessed Holy Spirit gives us enough light to see the truth and to repent and turn to the Lord Jesus in faith but the Holy Spirit will not to the repenting for us! While all things are foreknown to the LORD the choice is still given. In the case of Saul he had been under conviction for some time because he had been “kicking against the goads” (spurs) D.L. Moody used to say that the Holy Spirit was “the Hound of Heaven.”
(Vs.21) “All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?”
We can preach the good news of Jesus to men but there is nothing like a personal experience with the LORD. Yes Paul was reasoning with his brethren in the flesh from the scriptures that Jesus is the Son of God and everyone was amazed that such a crusader for Judaism could suddenly have a complete turn-around. When a man or woman is truly spiritually regenerated and subsequently filled with the Holy Spirit it will be clearly noticed by others. Here was a man called Saul who was now preaching a message that he had once preached against. He obviously had a reputation among Jewish religious circles and was known for his zeal for God and his knowledge of the scriptures but also known as a violent man where people of the way were concerned.
Now Saul received resistance from the religious leaders who were embarrassed by this man. They had endorsed his ministry and now he was preaching a message diametrically opposite from the one he used to preach. They were very angry and jealous. One of their own had turned “traitor” in their eyes and they wanted to do something about it. Isn’t this just like Satan’s servants. In a very real sense the synagogues in Damascus were in reality “Synagogues of Satan” because they rejected the Lord Jesus as their Lord, saviour and Messiah.
(Vs.22) “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.”
When a man or woman is filled with the Holy Spirit they will have God’s power and wisdom at their disposal and those opposing them will eventually be confounded because they are arguing against the wisdom and power of God. Saul was up against some theological heavyweights but they could not beat him. Like Stephen before had done Saul was now empowered with the Same Holy Spirit that Stephen had been empowered with. As John Wesley said; “God buries His workers but continues His work.” He did not argue with these religious leaders but reasoned with them from the scriptures. He was using the Word of God to point them to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit was at work. Now Satan did not like this at all so he started to manipulate the wicked Jewish leaders to get rid of Saul.
(Vs.23-25) “When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket.”
A man may have a call and gifting for a task that has been allotted to him from the LORD but needs time to perfect him for that ministry. Some are trained by the LORD by sitting under the ministry of another person, while others may go to Bible School or be trained in the secular world first just like Moses was. Others God takes years to train and prepare them for their life’s work. Now Saul had been trained theologically but knew nothing about the real ministry of the Holy Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit or the teaching about the Lord Jesus. God would train him personally in the desert of Arabia where he would receive spiritual tuition one on one from the Lord Jesus.
He had sincerely attempted to preach and to minister in Damascus and his effectiveness and gifting were without question, however, he had still had a lot to learn about his ministry and calling. There was a plot by the Jewish religious leaders to kill Saul and after he found out about this the disciples helped him to escape through a hole in the wall. At this point he went into the desert to be personally trained and tutored by the Lord Jesus Himself.
He spoke about this later in his ministry. “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days (Galatians 1:15-18).
He also told the Galatian believers that his gospel came directly from the Lord Jesus Christ. He wrote: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). How long he was in Arabia we are not told. It was most probably during this time that he was caught up to the third heaven and saw things he was not at liberty to disclose. He wrote; “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of it I do not know, but God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or out of it I do not know, but God knows-was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” (2 Corinthians 2:2-4).
So after his time in Arabia and then another three years in Damascus he finally came to Jerusalem. He was now ready for his life’s work and ministry. In the desert God had purged away from Saul all self- confidence and self-reliance upon the flesh. He was later to write; “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).
(Vs.26) “When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.”
There is a saying; “Once bitten, twice shy.” The disciples at Jerusalem had already experienced the savage persecution at the hands of Saul years before when he had been overtly active in his misguided and unenlightened zeal for God. They did not want to know him and could not believe that he had really changed. Was he just pretending to be one of them but secretly plotting to have them arrested? It would seem that no one wanted to see him as they were afraid of him and not believing he had been changed. There was however a courageous disciple named Barnabas, who was later to become Saul’s missionary partner, befriended Saul. Barnabas’ name meant “son of encouragement.” He brought Saul to the apostles in Jerusalem. And so we read…
(Vs.27-28) “But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.”
Saul’s zeal for the Lord Jesus remained unabated as he moved around Jerusalem preaching boldly to all who would listen. He had already received his commission from the Lord Jesus to be an apostle. Although he had not been with the disciples from the beginning when they had first been disciples of John the Baptist and then later Jesus’ disciples, Saul had equal authority and standing with the other apostles. His call to be an apostle was being confirmed with the power of the Holy Spirit even to the point where his life was in danger once again. Apostles are always targeted by Satan. He always goes for the leaders. In a war the opposition always try to take out the officers first to cause disarray among the troops. Satan knew that this man had tremendous potential to devastate his kingdom and had to stop it happening. Of course Satan can never outwit the LORD.
Years later Saul would say about Satan; “…so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). Knowing the enemy and his tactics is really beneficial to a believer especially when engaged in ministry. Saul went “straight for the jugular” as it were when dealing with his fellow Jewish leaders. As it has been said; “It takes a Jew to argue with a Jew.” Undoubtedly Saul knew how to deal with his colleagues and he pulled no punches with them. You cannot pull the punches when dealing with the devil! He is a very ”tough nut” to crack just like his followers who are into religion big time.
(Vs. 29) “And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death.”
Spiritual blindness is one thing but wilful spiritual blindness is something else. These leaders did not want to hear or to assimilate into their thinking what Saul was preaching and teaching. They had already made up their minds. These “blind guides leading the blind” were servants of Satan and were taking a whole lot of their Jewish brethren with them to hell. However, once again their plans were foiled and Satan outwitted yet again. In the Last Days this kind of resistance from the religious hierarchy of Institutionalised Christendom will become very conspicuous. Once again Saul was delivered out of the hands of his enemies.
(Vs.30-31) “But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.”
There are times when the faithful Church will have relief from persecution. The Lord Jesus always says to Satan; “So far and no more.” While persecution to a greater or lesser degree is the lot of Jesus’ faithful followers in this life there will be times of being built up in our most holy faith, walking in the fear (reverence) of the LORD and in the comfort supplied by the Holy Spirit followed by numerical growth. This should be the normal experience of the local fellowship. Seasons of persecution are permitted by the LORD to purify and to refine the Body of Christ.
However, even in times of persecution “the LORD sits enthroned above the flood!” And “when the enemy shall come in, like a flood the Spirit of the LORD will raise up a battle standard against him.” Persecution of one sort or another has been the pattern in Church history. However, when we see the freedom from persecution in the western democracies it is an anomaly. At no time in history has there ever been a period of peace and rest as it were like we have had over the last 300+ years.
Historically at most times and in most places the faithful Church has been persecuted. Today it has started in earnest with the Eastern Church in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Eretria, Northern Nigeria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and in every Muslim country, not to mention what is happening to faithful believers in countries like North Korea and China where the underground Church is flourishing.
Since the early 1700’s John Wesley saw a revival sweep through Great Britain and he was followed by many preachers in England in the 19th century who continued to carry the torch of the gospel. In America you had George Whitfield and others that followed him also carrying the torch of the gospel to the American people. Europe of course had its preachers as well. However, today with the rise of Islam and the laws being made by governments in the west to restrict the preaching of the gospel as well as the rising apostasy things are rapidly changing as the Coming of our Lord Jesus gets closer. We have had a long period of rest in the western Churches and the LORD has used this time to allow the gospel to go out to the nations from the western democracies but things are changing. In Russia Putin has now outlawed the preaching of the gospel outside of the home and forbidden Bible believing Christians to try to convert the unsaved. Of course the Russian Orthodox Church is allowed to function but it is spiritually bankrupt as all religion is.
The Institutionalised system of Christendom is finished. The time is coming when the institutional Church will join hands with secular government and together persecute the faithful Church. It will be an ecumenical and interfaith affair and will have all kinds of supernatural but counterfeit signs, miracles and wonders and false prophets in plentiful supply. In fact a time is coming just before the Lord Jesus comes back when “the power of the Holy people will be shattered” by the Antichrist’s beast empire according to the prophet Daniel. The rest and comfort in the Holy Spirit we have had in the Church in the west is eroding away under the onslaught of lawlessness. As our Lord Jesus also said, “Because of the increase of lawlessness the love (agape) of most will grow cold.” No one likes persecution of course but it is inevitable and coming to the western Church. It is only a matter of time and there is not that much of it left.
We need to be thankful for the rest, the comfort and the peace we have enjoyed in the Holy Spirit and always seek to walk in the fear of the LORD but also be aware that things are not what they were. One thing to always keep in mind our comfort zones may be crushed and our lives disrupted through persecution but that the blessed Holy Spirit will never leave us or forsake us but is always at hand to empower and enable us to persevere in Christ until He comes back to rescue us from the coming wrath and from this present evil age!