Thursday, November 24, 2016, 9:38 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Be Strong and Take Courage.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 9:19-31 (NIV).
Background (Summary Acts 8:1-9:19a)
When Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, Saul was there giving approval to Stephen’s death. Then, a great persecution broke out against the church. Saul was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. One day Saul was on his way to Damascus. If he found any men or women there who belonged to The Way, his goal was to take them as prisoners back to Jerusalem.
Yet, on Saul’s way to Damascus the Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road. He blinded him with a light from heaven. Then, he spoke with him, and he told him that he was to go into the city and that there he would be told what to do. So, Saul did what the Lord told him. Then, the Lord sent Ananias, a disciple of Jesus Christ, to Saul to restore his sight (physically and spiritually), and that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit. Ananias was concerned about going to Saul, though, because of what he knew of him, but the Lord told him to “Go!” He said that Saul was God’s chosen instrument to carry his name to the people of Israel, to the Gentiles and to kings. The Lord said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Jesus is the Messiah (vv. 19b-22)
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach 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?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
When Saul was a persecutor of Christians, it was because he truly believed they were in the wrong, but not just wrong, but that they were blasphemous against his God, as was their Lord Jesus Christ. He saw Jesus’ followers as a threat to the Jewish faith. I am convinced he was deeply concerned that they were spreading lies and that those lies might lead some Jews astray from their sincere faith in Almighty God. Saul was a devout Jew, and zealous for his God and for his faith, and he was doing what he thought was right in order to protect his faith from being infiltrated by liars and deceivers.
But, Jesus got his attention, and he changed his heart. And, he put him on a different course. Although Saul had been an instrument of hatred and of destruction to the saints of God, he was now an instrument of righteousness and of salvation to Jew and to Gentile alike. Whereas he had previously attacked those who trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and as Savior of their lives, now he was preaching Jesus Christ crucified, risen from the dead, and as our Savior (our deliverer) from sin. Once he believed that Jesus’ claims as to who he was were blasphemous, yet now he unashamedly proclaimed Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and the promised Messiah of the Jews.
We read in Acts 26:16-18 concerning Saul’s calling of God (of Jesus), which also describes for us the essence of the gospel of our salvation:
“Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
This is exactly what Jesus did with Saul (later called Paul). Not only was he a servant and witness of the gospel, but he had his own eyes (physically and spiritually) turned from darkness (sin, deception) to light (truth, righteousness). His life was turned from the power of Satan to God, and he received forgiveness of his sins and a place among those who are sanctified (made holy, purified) by faith in Jesus Christ. So, he didn’t just preach it, but he personally experienced it. So, he could testify not only with his lips, but with his lifestyle. Those who had known him could see the drastic change which had taken place in his life, which was of the Spirit of God.
They were Afraid (vv. 23-30)
After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
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 Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
When we trust in Jesus Christ to be Lord and Savior of our lives, several things may happen to us, some of which also happened to Saul. We should, if we have truly been transformed from darkness to light, face immediate opposition and even rejection, even from those closest to us, and even from those within the institutional church who claim to know Jesus, but who probably know him not. Our friends and companions, if they were comfortable with our previous way of life, probably won’t like the changes, and they may accuse us of being “hyper-religious” or of being “goody-goodies” or by whatever terminology they might find useful to describe their displeasure with the lifestyle change we have chosen for ourselves. Some of them may turn on us, too, and may even help to plot our destruction.
If we had previously been a persecutor of Christians or if we had taken a strong public stance against the Christian faith, the believers in Jesus might also be hesitant to accept us as one of their own, so we may feel rejected on both sides, and we may feel all alone, stuck somewhere in the middle. Or, if we had lived a sinful lifestyle for a very long time, and if we had faked our Christianity and had lied to people, other believers may be hesitant to believe that we have truly had a change of heart, so they may need some convincing. So, if others are slow to believe you, you should be patient with them, and allow them time. Talk is cheap if it is not followed up by actions, so they may need to see, in lifestyle, that you have truly changed.
Give them time, for we live in a time when there are many liars and deceivers who fake Christianity for evil purposes, as wolves in sheep’s clothing, in order to infiltrate the church, to spy on her freedom, and to destroy her. If you have faked your Christianity, and if you have used that as a cover-up for deception and for indulging in your own sinful pleasure, then don’t be surprised if people don’t immediately embrace you. Again, be patient with them. Trust yourself to the Lord, do what he tells you to do, rest in him, and let your lifestyle be what reveals to others that your faith is now genuine and not fake, and that you are no longer using your “faith” as a means to trick, manipulate and use others for your own advantage.
And, if you are the one who has been on the receiving end of such treatment from those who are against Christ and who are persecuting you for your faith, or from those who have faked their Christianity for evil purposes, but who really are wolves in sheep’s clothing, out to destroy the church, don’t be afraid. Trust your life into God’s hands, fear no human or what he may do to you, and keep on keeping on in your faith and in sharing the gospel of salvation so that many may be saved before Jesus returns for his bride. God has allowed this in your life for a purpose, and he will bring good out of it. He is absolutely sovereign over all things, and he is in total control. So, just keep trusting him, and keep being who he made you to be.
And, then, if one of these wolves in sheep’s clothing, or one of these persecutors of Christians who are taking human lives should actually have a heart change, and they should turn to genuine faith in Jesus Christ, don’t fear them, but do be wise and discerning, and pray, and ask the Lord to show you if their faith is genuine, for again, there are many liars and deceivers who will try to trick believers into accepting them as one of them in order to infiltrate our ranks to spy on our freedom in Christ, but in order to destroy us. They serve as spies to report back whatever they see and hear. So, be wise, be discerning, but don’t be afraid. Trust God in all things, and let him lead you into all truth.
The Fear of the Lord (v. 31)
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
I don’t believe that is where we are now in history. The church in America has enjoyed a time of relative peace from persecution for some time now, but that is all changing. So, don’t be easily persuaded or fooled by those who call themselves Christians, or by those who say they are Jesus’ followers, for there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing who are out to destroy the church. Their message is one of unity, but not unity with Christ and with his teachings, at least not with the bulk of his teachings. Their message is one of unity with people of all religions and all walks of life. They preach (speak messages of) the importance of the people of the world removing all which divides us as the people of the world. Well, the gospel divides. And, they call for us to all have a shared purpose and common objectives (resolve), and to speak as one voice with one heart.
So, don’t be fooled by them, but also do not fear them. Instead, walk in the fear (honor, value, reverence, respect) of the Lord. Obey all that he tells us, and follow him wherever he leads you. Don’t ever compromise your faith!
Be Strong and Take Courage / Don Moen
Be strong and take courage
Do not fear or be dismayed
For the Lord will go before you
And His light will show the way…
Why don’t you give him all of your fears?
Why don’t you let him wipe all of your tears?
He knows, He’s been through pain before
And He knows all that you’ve been looking for