SESSION 17 — “Being the Church,” a Bible study of the Book of Acts

I am excited to offer you a video Bible study of the Book of Acts, and I invite you to watch the video of “Being the Church” on Youtube OR Vimeo . . . for Vimeo, see the link in the Blogroll in the right column on my blog screen. Just as with my sermons, I’ll post notes to accompany each Bible study video.

Review of the study thus far:

— Jesus’ briefing on the Holy Spirit in John 14-17

— The promise for which they were to wait

— Fulfilled in Acts 2

— Peter’s sermon, boldly speaking their sin and Christ’s resurrection, and 3,000 come to Christ

— The beggar born lame is healed, Peter speaks again of Christ’s resurrection and their sin, and 5,000 come to Christ

— Peter, John and the beggar are brought before the Sanhedrin

— Do not speak this name or do anything in this name

— Should we obey God or you? You be the judge!

—We cannot stop speaking of what we have seen and heard

— The bond-servants of the Lord ask for greater boldness to speak,

and God answers their prayer!

— Contrast between Barnabas, who gives all, and Ananias and Sapphira, who lie about their offering, and the consequences.

— The apostles are arrested. The angel who frees them delivers this message: Go! Stand! Speak all the words of this Life! And they did, and were arrested again!

— Sanhedrin cut to the quick, Gamaliel’s advice to let them be, for if it is of God, they may find themselves fighting against God! The Apostles, flogged and released, rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer as Jesus did.

— Spirit-filled believers are required for even the most menial tasks in the church. Filled with the Spirit, full of God’s wisdom, full of faith, full of grace and power! Stephen persecuted for what he speaks and does. As his accusers gaze intently at him, they see his face like the face of an angel — he is radiant!

— Stephen boldly speaks of Israel’s history and how they continually reject and repudiate their God and His servants. He is stoned to death, but as he is dying, he asks the Lord not to hold this sin against those who are stoning him. We see the first mention of Saul, whose Roman name is Paul.

— Saul begins his efforts to destroy the church, causing most of the believers to be scattered. The Apostles remain in Jerusalem. Simon the magician tries to buy the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and is publicly rebuked by Peter, who is able to discern Simon’s heart, by the power of the Holy Spirit who has filled him.

— We see two works of the Spirit that we have not seen before in the Book of Acts: 1) hearing directly from the Spirit, and 2) being snatched away from Point A to Point B. The Spirit speaks to the Spirit-filled Philip, who has worked in many gifts, giving him a special and very specific assignment to go to a place where the Lord has a eunuch on his way back home from Jerusalem. Salvation, baptism and the Spirit are in God’s plan, and then Philip is snatched away to Azotus.

Now, Session 17 — Acts 9:1-30

Verse 1 — We first met Saul (whose Roman name is Paul) in Acts 7:59, holding the robes of those who stoned Stephen, and met him again in Acts 8:1, when he became a major player in persecution of the church in Jerusalem.

Now we see Saul, still breathing threats and murder against disciples/followers of the Lord, followers of the Way (John 14:6). Why murder? Because he rounded them up and jailed them, to await execution by the Romans.

Verse 2 — Saul asked for letters (from the high priest) to the synagogues in Damascus, to give him authority to round up more believers and bring them bound to Jerusalem. He is determined to arrest those he sees as blasphemers because of their belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He thought he was doing God a favor!

John 16:2 Jesus said, “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.”

Paul described himself in 1Timothy 1:13-14, as follows:

Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor, yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace (the Greek charis, the divine influence on the heart and the reflection in the life) of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

Verses 3-6 — But the Lord had a different plan for Saul! As he approached Damascus, he saw a light that flashed from heaven, and he fell to the ground. Then he heard a voice, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? Saul cried, Who are you, Lord?

Jesus said, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. How was he persecuting Jesus?  By persecuting His church!

Jesus gave Saul specific instructions: Go, enter the city (of Damascus), and it will be told you what you must do.

Verses 7-9 — The men traveling with Saul were speechless, hearing Jesus’ voice, but seeing no one. And Saul found himself blinded. He got up, but couldn’t see even though he knew his eyes were open.

Jesus had opened his eyes to see that he was opposing God! As a result, he went to the place the Lord directed him to go, and fasted and prayed, a sign of repentance. He neither ate nor drank for three days, and during that time, was unable to see.

We learn more details of Paul’s Damascus Road experience in Acts 22:6-11. There, Paul testified before the Jews, saying that those with him saw the light, but did not understand (hear with comprehension) the voice of the One who was speaking to Paul.  And Paul said to the Lord, What shall I do? Then Jesus instructed him to go into Damascus, and he would be told what has been appointed for him to do! The men who were with him had to lead him by the hand, into Damascus, because his eyes had been blinded.

In Acts 26:14 and forward, more details are given by Paul. He testified before King Agrippa that Jesus spoke to him further, that he would be a minister and a witness to the things he had seen, but  that Jesus would also appear to him again, and he would be a witness to that, as well.

Jesus said He would rescue Paul from the Jewish people who would come against him, and from the Gentiles, to whom Jesus was sending him. And He will do the same for you, no matter who opposes you! He is your vindicator —

Isaiah 54:17 “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;

And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.

This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,

And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord.

What was the assignment Jesus gave Paul? To open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified (set apart) by faith in Jesus (see Acts 26:18).

I tell you that there are two choices for every human being — to remain under Satan’s dominion (power), or to believe in Jesus Christ, be forgiven, become children of God, and be set free from slavery to sin!

Which will you choose?

I tell you, God will forgive you, and He will use you according to His plan, when you surrender to Jesus as Paul did! Jesus used a murderer of Christians to spread the Gospel throughout the known world — he will use you!

Verse 10 — Now, like Philip, the Lord was about to give Ananias, a disciple at Damascus, a special assignment, a divine appointment. In this case, Jesus appeared to Ananias in a vision.

Ah, it is possible to receive a vision from God, and hear specific instructions from Him, and receive special assignments from Him! You don’t have to be an apostle, but simply a Spirit-filled follower like Ananias and Philip!

When Ananias saw Jesus, he said, “Here I am, Lord.” That is how we respond when God calls us to work His works, if we are filled with His Spirit. It is just as it was with young Samuel in 1Samuel 3:10 — Speak, for your servant is listening!

Verses 11-12 — Just as with Philip, the Lord gave Ananias specific instructions. Get up, go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas, for a man from Tarsus named Saul is praying there. And Saul has seen, in a vision, a man named Ananias lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.

Verses 13-14 — Ananias knew Saul’s reputation, so he said, Lord, I have heard about this man, he has done much harm to your saints (holy ones) in Jerusalem. And here he has authority form the chief priest to bind all who call on Your name.

Verses 15-16 — But of course, Jesus already knew all of that! So He commanded Ananias to go, telling him that Saul was a chosen instrument of His, to bear His name as he stands before the Gentiles, and kings, and the sons of Israel!

He told Ananias He would show Saul how much he must suffer for His name’s sake. Go and read 2Corinthians 11:23-27, for Paul’s description of his suffering. But know that he rejoiced in it — he spoke of it to show that indeed, he belonged to Jesus Christ. The Lord had chosen Paul to bear His name, to tell the world of Him, of His reputation and character, and for Paul himself to have that character in himself.

Verse 17 — So Ananias went, and entered the house, and laid his hands on Saul, and said, “Brother Saul!” Brother! You are one of us!

Ananias continued, “The Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may:

— regain your sight AND

—  be filled with the Holy Spirit

Verses 18-19a — Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight!

Oh, his sight was greatly expanded! He had been filled with the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands!

And he got up and was baptized in water, and took food (remember he was three days without food or drink), and was strengthened.

Here is what Paul, the Spirit-filled evangelist and missionary, said to the church at Galatia —

Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

That is what happened to Paul when Ananias laid hands on him for him to be filled with the Holy Spirit!

Are you able to say this with Paul? Can you say:

Philippians 3:7   But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ . . .

If you can say these things, Hallelujah! If you can’t, then ask your Father in heaven for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13), and die to all you are so Jesus Christ can live in and through you! That is what God must do in you in order for you to be the church!

Verses 19b-21 — Paul was several days with the disciples who were at Damascus.

And He immediately began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God!” Those who heard him were amazed, because Saul was the one who had come to Damascus to bind believers and bring them before the chief priests!

Verse 22 — But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus, by proving that this Jesus was the Christ.

How? Remember that Saul was a Pharisee, taught by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), excelling in every way (Philippians 3:4-6). He knew the Old Testament (Tenakh) thoroughly, and now, filled with the Spirit’s wisdom, he was able to show them the passages that pointed to Jesus as the Christ!

Verses 23-25 — Persecution from the Jews ensued. A plot to kill him was hatched, but he got wind of it. The Jews watched the gates day and night, to try to catch him. But his disciples (ones who believed what he taught and came to faith in Christ) put him in a large basket and lowered him down on the other side of the wall of the city, through a hole in the wall.

Verses 26-27 — When he came to Jerusalem and tried to associate with the disciples, they were afraid and didn’t believe he was really a disciple of Jesus.

But Barnabas, whom we met in Acts 4:36, seized him and brought him to the apostles. He explained how Saul had seen a vision of the Lord on the road to Damascus, and how Jesus had talked with him, and how in Damascus, Saul had boldly spoken out, in the name of Jesus, as His representative and ambassador.

Verses 28-30 — So He was welcomed, and able to move freely around Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.

He spoke to the Hellenistic Jews (remember, these are Jews who spoke Greek instead of Hebrew, and followed Greek culture), and they hatched a plot to kill him. But the brethren learned of it, and brought Saul to Caesarea and sent him to Tarsus, his hometown.

Paul’s trials and persecutions were just beginning, but we will see the Lord was with him, working God’s works through him, and continually encouraging him. And Paul was used greatly by the Lord. His Spirit-inspired letters comprise 1/3 of the New Testament!

Beloved, if you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you are witnesses that the Lord is with you, too. Though you be persecuted and imprisoned, He is at your side, urging you on! Hallelujah!