Acts 9 – By the Spirit We Are Grace-full
What did you learn about the Holy Spirit?
- The Holy Spirit brings comfort (9:31).
What did you learn about the Spirit-filled community?
- We are sent to share the Holy Spirit with those who sometimes we least expect (9:13, 17).
- They receive, with wonder, those who have done complete 180’s by the power of the Holy Spirit (9:19-22, 27-30).
Notes from Pastor Mark
My wife is not very fun to watch murder mysteries with. She ALWAYS figures out who the bad guy is…and she does so right at the start of the story! Eight minutes in, some obscure character makes and appearance…and she says, “He did it!” And she is almost always right!
Luke would have made a great mystery writer because he introduces his most important hero in a most unlikely way. His name was Saul and he was a Jew’s Jew. We know because he later tells us so in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 3.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh (that is, human accomplishment), I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
Paul’s Jewish credentials were impeccable. He was a man on the rise; who knows, maybe even a Jewish High Priest in the making. So when he got wind that a group of heretics were preaching about a rabbi from Nazareth (that Podunk town in Galilee), spreading lies that this man Jesus had been raised from the dead and was, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah, Saul began to sense the stirrings of a righteous mission: to stomp out this affront to pure Jewish faith.
His resolve must have been strengthened when he witnessed the mob-murder of Stephen. (Remember??? He was there, in Acts 7, holding the robes of the rock-throwers so that they’d be able to really fling the deadly missiles, unencumbered by their loose clothing!) Chapter 8 starts oddly with this verse 1: “And Saul approved of his execution.” If you were reading this book for the first time, you might be surprised because after this spotlight appearance in Stephen’s murder, Saul disappears as suddenly as he appeared.
Until chapter 9: “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way (that is, Christ-followers…the one who said, “I AM the Way…), men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Why did Saul hate Christians so? We don’t know…but he was ruthless. And when he asked for “permission” to harass them clear up into Syria, the religious leaders were only too happy to accommodate him.
Of course, it is on that road to Damascus that Paul meets the risen Christ. He is struck down and blinded by the very Jesus whose followers he was trying to destroy. Notice Jesus’ poignant question to Saul: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.” (Attend to this-Jesus considers the abuse of his people to be abuse of himself. In the incarnation, he entered into human suffering. Even in his glorification to heaven, he CONTINUES to share in our suffering, especially of his persecuted followers.) And in that moment, the man who was hell-bent on strangling the Christian Church in its cradle, becomes its greatest champion…ever!
Where will you find a greater example of the merciful, initiating grace of God than here? Why is it that God chooses to use Saul? Why is it that God chooses to SAVE Saul when what he deserved was to be struck down on that road and left there? Here we see illustrated the uniquely Christian doctrine of grace. Only we offer it. Every other world religion says, “Behave, do good, obey the rules and maybe I will reward you. Maybe.” Only in Jesus do we see a God who reaches out to his abusers… who extends a permanently nail-marked hand in an incredible invitation of love, forgiveness, acceptance… grace.
The one who would destroy Christians became its greatest evangelist… by the invitation of Jesus. What kind of God does that?