Acts Part Three Dive
Welcome to our last week in the Book of Acts.
Ever wondered what the church would be like if Paul didn’t have his road to Damascus encounter, if he didn’t change his thought patterns from his previous way of thinking, if he let the shame of his past stop him from entering into his future?
As you read your Bible, there will be stories and people that you directly relate to. When you do, I want you to write down what you relate to in the story and then write down the lesson that you learn from their example. For me, Paul is a great example of overcoming to be all that God has planned for your life.
the man before
So who was Saul of Tarsus before he became the incredible man of God we see in his letters, the one who founded the doctrine of the church and encouraged so many people? Let me clarify, Saul is his Hebrew name, and Paul his Roman name – it was quite common in Jesus’ culture to have many names. He starts to use Paul when he is preaching to the Gentiles. It is not the same kind of change in name as Peter’s (Matthew 16:18-19).
One would expect, when introduced to an incredible man of God like Paul, that our first encounter would include a grand entry, trumpets, holy angels–it is not. I love the fact that the people in the Bible are portrayed in their true nature, with their past opened for all to see. We see their humanity and we get to see how these lives are transformed from death to life, from disaster to victory.
Paul knew what he was talking about when he wrote:
1 Cor 1:26-27 ‘Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong’.
When we first meet Saul in the Book of Acts, he is at the stoning of a man of God, Stephen. Have a read of Acts 7:1-8:2, and we’ll have a look at it in the Message translation as well. Quick note here: for me, The Message Bible is a supplement to our reading, not our main Bible. It expands our understanding of the text.
A 7:57-8:1 ‘Yelling and hissing, the mob drowned him out. Now in full stampede, they dragged him out of town and pelted him with rocks. The ringleaders took off their coats and asked a young man name Saul to watch them. As the rocks rained down, Stephen prayed, “Master Jesus, take my life.” Then he knelt down, praying loud enough for everyone to hear, “Master, don’t blame them for this sin” – his last words. Then he died’.
Saul was right there, congratulating the killers.
a changed life, a changed reputation
So how did Saul get to be at the killing of Stephen? He grew up in Tarsus, and his parents were Pharisees. He was taught by Gamaliel and was educated in dissecting texts, debating and expounding the scriptures. Saul was training to be a Pharisee; part preacher and part lawyer, able to prosecute and defend those who broke the sacred Law. Paul confirms his past in Acts 22:1-5.
If you met Saul on the day that Stephen was killed and I told you that this man will be the foundation of the Christian Church, you would laugh and call me crazy! But God had other plans for this man, He was going to use the training and passion of Saul’s past for His glory. With his ability to study and debate, Paul became an incredible ambassador for Christ, setting the doctrine of the first century Church, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. God can use your past for His glory! Having encountered Jesus on the road to persecuting the Christians, he became the apostle of grace, a man set free by the power of God to live a life poured out for the gospel of Jesus Christ; the very man he was persecuting (‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ Acts 9:4)
In becoming the incredible man of God that we see in the New Testament, Paul had to overcome a few obstacles. Look at Acts 9:20, ‘At once, he began preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”’
This is just after Paul was saved, and people wanted to remind him of who he was. I love verse 22, ‘Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah’. Don’t let people tear you down and try and remind you of who you were before you were saved, get the yet in your life and grow more and more powerful in proclaiming Jesus.
Paul then had to overcome rejection from his new friends. On first meeting the disciples, he was rejected by them. Have a look at Chapter 9:26-27a, ‘When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabus took him and brought him to the apostles’.
Imagine this, Paul wants to meet with the disciples, but they are terrified that this is a trick. This would have been so discouraging for Paul, but Barnabus believed Paul and encouraged him in his calling for God... Don’t let anyone reject you because of your past and doubt the transformation in your life.
We learn by reading the Word and then acting on the example that set for us. For me, Paul is a lesson: don’t let anything stop you in the middle of your transformation. We are all a work in progress, the key here is to just keep moving forward. Be all God wants you to be, free and full of grace! What lesson will you learn from the amazing examples as you read the Bible this week?