Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Saul the Murderer Meets the Jesus he Persecutes - Acts 9 - The Kingdom of God is Bigger than Us part 4

(Click here to read Acts 9)

Just as the Gospel of Luke recorded the exciting expansion of Jesus' ministry from his hometown of Galilee to the cultural centre of Jerusalem City, Luke's follow-up, Acts continues the story of this expansion through his followers from Jerusalem City to the heart of the Roman Empire. Acts 6-12 tells the story of the first steps of this early community toward an inclusive and universal message and practice.

(please see the introduction to Acts 6-12)

Acts 9:13-16 (ESV)

13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Philip, one of the original Jesus Followers from Jerusalem, was witness to the power of the Holy Spirit to welcome anyone into God's Kingdom, no matter who they are. The Samaritans, long rejected by Philip's family and neighbours, quickly receive the news of God's Kingdom with joy. Philip is led by the Holy Spirit to a high ranking citizen of Ethiopia who receives Jesus through his witness. The evidence of God's providence is on every part of the man's step of faith and baptism.

Philip's traveling witness had begun because of the tragic loss of his friend and comrade, Stephen, who had been stoned for his bold faith and message that God's Kingdom was wider than their ethnic, cultural, an religious boundaries. The persecution of Philip and his brothers and sisters that followed had scattered them across the surrounding regions.

Saul had been complicit in Stephen's murder and was one of the infamous agents of persecution among the Jesus Follower communities. As the story of Kingdom growth continues to question and challenge every prejudice and personal boundary the Jesus People may erect, it is Saul himself to which its gates now open.

The Jesus People have now welcomed Jews, Hellenists, Samaritans, and foreigners into their fellowship. Is the Kingdom large enough to welcome an enemy and a murderer?

Saul was traveling to Damascus on a mission of hate and violence when he was called miraculously by Jesus to change his ways. Outside of any human action, Saul is moved by the voice of Jesus himself after he is literally blinded by a light on the road. Acts 9:2 says that he was going to Damascus to persecute followers of "the Way", the name now given to the early Jesus Community. "The Way" is subtly compared to Saul being "on his way" to Damascus in verse 3. Indeed, there could hardly be a way more contrary to the non-violent, just, and generous Kingdom life that Jesus preached than the way Saul currently lived. Yet, Jesus had always called and enabled the least likely for his purposes. In Kingdom justice Saul was just as likely a candidate for Grace and Freedom as anyone.

Saul enters Damascus blind. Just as God led Philip and the Ethiopian in chapter 8, Saul and Ananias are led to one another. Ananias shares the story of Jesus with Saul. Saul receives the Kingdom, and his physical sight along with it. The filling o the Holy Spirit is evident in Saul's life as he immediately begins to boldly preach Jesus in Damascus.

No one would have been more aware of the consequences of publicly declaring Jesus than Saul. But Saul doesn't let up wherever he goes. He shares the freedom o the Kingdom of God with the same zeal he once persecuted its citizens.

Saul quickly finds himself before the authorities for his heresy. He answers boldly, but soon has to escape for his life from those he has angered by his preaching. Returning to Jerusalem, the believers are first hesitant to receive this unlikely convert. Barnabas, who later is called "The Encourager" and becomes one of Saul's closest allies, helps open the doors for Saul to be accepted into the community of people he'd once sought to have killed.

Saul must have quickly become a target of persecution in the early church. He isn't able to stay in Jerusalem long before his very life is in danger. By this time, his brothers and sisters who were once his enemies helped him escape and settle in Tarsus.

Chapter 9 ends with two stories of miracles by Peter in Jesus' name. A paralyzed man is made able to walk, and a woman is raised to life. The Kingdom of God continues to be demonstrated with the life of the community, the declaration of the Good News of the Kingdom's arrival, and miracles performed in Jesus' name.

Every boundary to the gospel is transcended by the power of Jesus' name and the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no power or sin or circumstance so terrible that it can keep someone form the freedom offered by Jesus. With every challenge the new community faces, opportunities for the further spread of the Good News is the result.

If Saul, the ultimate murderer and enemy of the Way could join them, anyone could. In fact, it is through the testimony of this unlikely man that the Jesus People will experience the most challenging and radical growth yet.

The most unlikely convert will bring the message of freedom and justice and love and peace and generosity to the most unlikely people - the powerful pagan citizens of the oppressive and violent empire of Rome.

For the early believers, Saul was only the beginning of the challenge to follow Jesus' command to love their enemies.

Acts 9:31 (ESV)
 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.


Acts 6-12 series intro 
Part 3 - Acts 8 - The Gospel to Samaritans
Part 5 - Acts 10 - The Gospel to Gentiles

v4 – Jesus takes persecution of his church as persecution of himself.
v15 – God’s explicit calling for Saul (Paul) before Saul even comes to believe.
v18 – Saul (Paul believes)
v20 – He wasted no time switching teams. His life was immediately and radically changed.
v22 – “proving” probably through their scripture.
v25 – He was now the hunted one. He had put himself in danger. This did not stop him.
v27 – Barnabas is the first disciple to get (Saul) Paul’s back
v31 – always growing
V34 – A similar story to the first of a healing, again with Peter.
v40 – First recorded miraculous resurrection in the church

(Click here to read Acts 9)

No comments:

Post a Comment