Tag Archives: Saul

THE BOOK OF ACTS – SAUL’S SIDE-KICK

SAUL’S SIDE-KICK

“Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. He found him and brought him back to Antioch. They were there a whole year, meeting with the church and teaching a lot of people. It was in Antioch that the disciples were for the first time called Christians.” Acts 11:25-26 (The Message).

Luke shines the light on the two main characters of his story, Peter and Saul. Up to this point, Peter was in the limelight, with Saul making brief appearances as a kind of introduction. Peter’s function and influence were in and around Jerusalem and in widening circles around Israel. He was the natural leader of the new movement, together with James and John until James’ untimely death at the hands of Herod.

Saul appeared briefly in Jerusalem before and after his conversion but he was essentially an out-of-Jerusalem Jew. His hometown was Tarsus in Asia Minor to which he was smartly returned when his fiery preaching stirred up trouble in Judea. He disappeared off the scene for a while until Barnabas, realising his worth as a teacher, fetched him from Tarsus and brought him to Antioch to ground the new non-Jewish believes in the Scriptures.

What a Bible School that must have been! As a rabbi, Saul was well-versed in the Scriptures and, with the Holy Spirit as his teacher; he was able to anchor the new converts in the accurate understanding of the Messianic prophecies and of Jesus as their fulfilment.

Saul himself was being enlightened as he taught, honing his understanding of the life and ministry of Jesus as the Messiah, qualifying him to be a skilful exponent of the good news. All these factors were preparing him for what lay ahead, pioneer missionary, author of many of the writings which would later be gathered together into the sacred volume of the Book, and martyr for Jesus.

Although Barnabas was initially the leader, his major role was to be Saul’s side-kick in the missionary enterprise. Without the support of Barnabas, Saul might never have been recognised as the significant and prominent figure he was to become in the history of the early church.

God has room for every kind of person and every gift in the growth of His kingdom on earth. No one is greater than anyone else regardless of whether he is in the limelight or not. We all fit together in an amazing mosaic of divine purpose. Our reward lies, not in the visibility of what we are doing, but in the effectiveness of our obedience to our calling. Had Barnabas not been who he was and done what he did, Saul might never have been in the right place at the right time to become who he was to the church.

Like Jonathan in the Old Testament, who was willing to play second fiddle to David, knowing that David would take his place as king of Israel, God needs people who are not bent on making a name for themselves but are there to stand by and support another chosen by God for leadership. These are the truly great people of the kingdom without whom God’s purposes will not be fulfilled. What an important role they play!

It takes wisdom and humility to promote and support someone else. Your name may never appear in the history books but it will be written on the palm of God’s hand.

“Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15; 58 (NIV).

THE BOOK OF ACTS – SAUL MOVES TO CENTRE STAGE

CHAPTER 9

SAUL MOVES TO CENTRE STAGE

“All this time Saul was breathing down the necks of the Master’s disciples, out for the kill. He went to the Chief Priest and got arrest warrants to take to the meeting places in Damascus so that if he found anyone there belonging to the Way, whether men or women, he could arrest them and bring them to Jerusalem.

“He set off. When he got to the outskirts of Damascus, he was suddenly dazed by a blinding flash of light. As he fell to the ground, he heard a voice, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?’

“He said, ‘Who are you, Master?’

“‘I am Jesus, the One you are hunting down. I want you to get up and enter the city. In the city you’ll be told what to do next.'” Acts 9:1-6 (The Message).

Poor Saul! He had no chance against Jesus. All his intentions to do as much damage to the church as he could, went up in a puff of smoke when he came face to face with his opponent.

Saul’s passage into the kingdom was a stormy one. Unlike the other apostles, he was not given an opportunity to spend time with the Master, size Him up and reach his own conclusion about Him. Only a once-off, terrifying encounter with the glorified Lord would be enough to change his mind and his direction for the rest of his life.

Saul was a religious fanatic, a Pharisee and a rabbi trained under the best rabbis of his day. He was of the same persuasion as those who crucified Jesus and stoned Stephen. He was not the sort of material for a humble and obedient disciple in that state of mind. When Jesus chose His disciples to understudy Him and to continue His mission, He studiously avoided the religious types because they were the ones most difficult to convince.

But Jesus needed Saul. He had the qualities of a great champion. His superior mind and knowledge of the Scriptures had great potential for being a leader, even of those who lived with and followed Him. Only a personal meeting would convince the man that He was the Son of God.

Jesus waited until Saul had reached his destination.

By this time, Saul had built up such a head of steam that he was ready to take on every person who dared admit to being part of this new “Way”. A blinding flash of light, a voice like thunder, and Saul finally got the message! Jesus was in charge, not Saul. He thought he had enough authority and power to stamp out what offended him in the name of God, but he had taken on more than he had bargained for. He had pitted his puny strength against the Lord of glory and lost! It was time to lay down his arms.

Jesus always deals with people as unique individuals. He knows just what stands between us and Him and how to expose the core of our hearts. For the rich young ruler it was his money, for Peter it was his self-sufficiency and for Saul it was his religion.

What is in the centre of your being that takes the place of Jesus? He wants nothing less than all of you. From a self-righteous, over-zealous religious bigot, in one blinding flash of revelation, Saul became Paul, the love-slave of Jesus.

“But whatever was for my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own…” Philippians 3:-9a (NIV).

THE BOOK OF ACTS – ENTER SAUL

ENTER SAUL

“And Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail. Forced to leave home, the believers all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God’s action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city!” Acts 8:3-8 (The Message).

Enter Saul, a young man made of the stuff God needed but, unfortunately, fighting for the wrong side at this point. But, from God’s perspective, he was already a marked man. God let him run with his hate campaign a little longer while He set the stage for Saul’s transfer from darkness to light.

From his perspective, Saul was fighting for God. On hindsight, he described himself as a Pharisee of the Pharisees, with an unquenchable zeal for God. He was willing to go as far as murder to protect what he considered to be the truth about God. He was the one-man audience that was applauding the crazy mob that killed Stephen. But Jesus was right there, biding His time for the moment,   His waiting for the perfect occasion for personal encounter with Saul.

In the meantime, the battle continued to rage between light and darkness. The more the agents of the dark realm of religious fanaticism struck at the children of light, the more the message spread and the church grew. Persecution had not driven the church underground — it had spread the fire beyond the confines of Jerusalem into the neighbouring half-breed nation of Samaritans.

The Jews despised the Samaritans because they were the result of intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles. When Assyria conquered Samaria in 722 BC, they carried off some of the people of Israel into captivity and repopulated the area with people displaced from other conquered nations.

But the old hatred was swallowed up by a new love. Such was the transformation of these Jewish believers that they willingly shared the Message of Jesus with the very people they had previously hated and avoided so that a whole Samaritan city was affected.

Philip, another of the men chosen to distribute food parcels to the suffering widows in Jerusalem surfaced as a powerful witness to this new Way. Like Stephen, he was at the centre of the action, with miracles of healing and deliverance going on apace. He had to flee from Jerusalem with the other believers to escape Saul’s murderous assault on the church but, instead of disappearing, he was at the headwaters of a flood of missionary activity.

The phenomenal spread of “The Way”, as it was called, must have driven Saul into frenzy. Far from curbing the growth of the church, he contributed to its spread. These people could not be silenced or stopped. Like yeast in dough, they infiltrated every corner of society and brought an unstoppable joy to the city!

What is it that has dampened the activity of God so effectively that we see little of the early power and growth of the church today? As I have moved slowly through Acts, one thing is becoming clearer. Every problem that surfaced in the church threatened their unity and every solution restored unity.

What if church leaders today recognised their responsibility to foster and protect unity? What if humility and submission became the priority of every leader and every member in the local church? What if pastors and preachers became more serious about their function than their title? What if they focussed less on being “bosses “and more on being servant-leaders?

What if “Christians” became true followers of Jesus? Would we see the power of God at work again now as it was then?

Blinded and Blind!

BLINDED AND BLIND!

“As I arrived on the outskirts of Damascus about noon, a blinding light blazed out of the skies and I fell to the ground, dazed. I heard a voice, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?’
“Who are you, Master?’ I asked.
“He said, ‘I am Jesus, the Nazarene, the One you’re hunting down.’ My companions saw the light but they didn’t hear the conversation.
‘Then I said, ‘What do I do now, Master?’
“He said, ‘Get to your feet and enter Damascus. There you’ll be told everything that’s been set out for you to do.’ And so we entered Damascus, but nothing like the entrance we had planned — I was blind as a bat and my companions had to lead me by the hand.” Acts 22:6-11a (The Message).

Blinded and blind! Paul’s vivid encounter with the alive and living Jesus outside Damascus was forever engraved in his memory and coloured his understanding of the ways of the God. Was he writing about himself when he penned the words, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”? 2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV).

En route to Damascus, it was a spiritually blind Saul who was bent on wiping out the people who were following Jesus in a new way of living. Then a blinding light shone in his eyes, blinding him so that he had to be led by the hand into the city. Blind on the outside, it was the first time he had really “seen” the light. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NIV).

Jesus claimed the title, “Light of the World”. On the first day of creation, God declared, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. What was this light, since the heavenly bodies were only created on the fourth day? John gives us the answer. “Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it…The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” John 1:3-5; 9 (NIV).

Before He made the physical lights, God assigned the earth to Jesus to be the light of understanding and truth in a world controlled by the prince of darkness. His presence dominates the Old Testament but His people were blind to Him. He tried to alert the religious leaders of His day to this truth in His encounters with them but they persistently rejected His claims because they were too blind to recognise Him.

“‘Your father, Abraham, rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’
“‘You are not yet fifty years old,’ the Jews said to Him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’
“‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!” John 8:57-58 (NIV).

That sent His opponents over the edge! They refused to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus.

This kind of blindness is a choice. “‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly, that what he had done has been done through God.'” John 3:19-21 (NIV).

“But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7 (NIV).

Called And Commissioned

CALLED AND COMMISSIONED

“Meanwhile the ministry of God’s word grew by leaps and bounds.

“Barnabas and Saul, once they had delivered the relief offering to the church in Jerusalem, went back to Antioch. This time they took John with them, the one they called Mark.” Acts 12:24-25 (The Message).

Barnabas and Saul — up to this point Saul was still the learner. Barnabas had been the teacher and initiator and Saul the follower. His apprenticeship would soon to come an end and he would become the strong leader of the missionary enterprise that would take the gospel into the heart of the Roman Empire – the very household of Caesar.

Barnabas and Saul fulfilled their commission to take help to the church in Jerusalem. They quickly returned to Syrian Antioch which was fast becoming the new centre of the church, away from Jewish persecution and far more open-minded than the Jerusalem church which was still Jewish at heart.

Another character enters the story — John Mark, a relative of Barnabas. His name has already popped up in Luke’s record, as though he was known to his reader. Who was John Mark? Traditionally he was the unknown youth who fled naked into the dark during Jesus’ arrest. His mother’s home was a gathering place for the church in Jerusalem, where they prayed when Peter was in prison at the hands of Herod.

He was also traditionally the author of the second gospel, having at some stage either accompanied Peter or laid his hands on a copy of Peter’s memoirs which he used as a base for his gospel story. He had a chequered career as a companion of Barnabas and Saul for a short while on their first missionary journey, and a quitter who was the cause of a serious rift between Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Mark were later reconciled and he became a valuable asset to Paul in his ministry.

“The congregation at Antioch was blessed with a number of prophet-preachers and teachers: Barnabas, Simon nicknamed Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manean, an advisor to the ruler Herod, and Saul.

“One day, as they were worshipping God — they were also fasting as they waited for guidance — the Holy Spirit spoke.’Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do.’

“So they commissioned them. In that circle of intensity and obedience, of fasting and praying, they laid hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 13: 1-3 (The Message).

Is there a clue, in these three opening verses of chapter 13, to the success of the church which is largely missing today? It would seem that this group of leaders, incidentally, made up of an interesting cross-section of black and white, were aware that they must embark on another phase of outreach and growth. Barnabas and Saul had spent time instructing the new believers and it was time to move on. Who would go and who would stay?

What did this group of leaders do? Did they call a church meeting and take a vote? Did they meet in a huddle and draw straws? They worshipped, fasted and prayed and kept doing that until the Holy Spirit spoke to them. He had his men and it was up to them to find out who they were.

It was this intimate fellowship and co-operation with the Holy Spirit that gave Paul and his companions the courage and confidence to do what they did in spite of opposition and persecution. The did not quit because they knew they were called, ordained and accompanied by the Holy Spirit on a divine commission that could not fail.