The Speaking Spirit

Posted: October 21, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 10:1-23, “The Speaking Spirit”

An old TV commercial series from the 70’s-80’s used to advertise an investment/stock trading firm named EF Hutton. The scene would normally have a couple of people talking in a crowded room with no one paying attention to them, but when one of the men said the name of the company, everyone else would stop what they were doing & get close to eavesdrop, with the tagline: “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.” The commercial may have been a bit overdramatic regarding a stock brokerage, but it made a good point: some voices carry more weight than others, and they need to be carefully heard.

If that’s true among men, how much more is it true with our God? No one’s voice carries more weight than that of the Creator of heaven and earth, and when He speaks we need to listen! The commands God gives are to be followed, and the teaching He gives is to be believed. God didn’t give us the Bible just so we could have nice decorated books in our homes; He gave it so that it would be read, believed, and obeyed, that we could be equipped to glorify God.

Question: can God speak in other ways beyond the Bible? Yes…He is God, is He not? He has done so in the past, and our God does not change. God will never contradict what He has already said in the Bible (because God cannot contradict Himself), but He can & does speak to His people today. Most often it’s through a still small voice, His leading during our times of prayer; other times it is more dramatic, such as through visions or other miraculous gifts. This is the plain teaching of Scripture, and exactly what is on display at the beginning of Acts 10 with Cornelius and Peter. God the Holy Spirit spoke to them, and they had the responsibility to hear His voice and obey.

Contextually, the gospel had been spreading throughout Judea and Samaria. Just as Jesus said it would (Acts 1:8), it had begun in Jerusalem, but due to the persecution of the saints, Christians took the gospel with them as they sought safer places of refuge. As it went to the greater regions of Judea and Samaria, the apostle Peter was a witness to both. He (along with John) had been called to help Philip in Samaria to pray for & witness the Samaritan’s baptism of the Holy Spirit, and Peter continued travelling around Judea ministering to the saints where he found them. Most recently, he had gone northwest from Jerusalem to the Mediterranean cost performing incredible miracles of healing, following in the footsteps of Jesus. Just like Jesus taught of the kingdom, so did Peter. Just like Jesus healed the lame and raised the dead, so did Peter. All glory and honor went to Jesus; Peter was just a servant being obedient to the opportunities given him by the Lord. (And Peter would continue in this same vein!)

As Acts 9 closed, it ended with Peter in the coastal city of Joppa, at the home of Simon the tanner (a leather worker). Peter remained with Simon “many days,” during which time the Lord was certainly preparing him for what was next to come. Just as tanners like Simon dealt with unclean animals, Simon Peter was about to deal with people he normally considered unclean. The key point for Peter to learn: once these people met Jesus, they would no longer be unclean. Jesus changes everything!

But before Peter could witness the transformation of others, his own heart required a bit of transformation of its own. God graciously did this work through a vision given to Peter – but Peter didn’t receive the only vision. Far away in Caesarea, another man received a vision as well. Both men were to have the Spirit speak to them, reminding them of the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Two men – two visions – one gospel, one glorious God of grace! Praise God that God the Holy Spirit spoke to each of them, giving them the chance to know and experience His grace.

The Spirit still speaks. Are you listening?

Acts 10:1–23

  • Cornelius’ Vision (1-8): God sees

1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.

  1. From Chapter 9, the scene changed from Joppa to Caesarea, approximately 35 miles north-northeast. There, the reader is introduced to a Roman soldier named Cornelius. He was a “centurion” (interestingly, a position always shown in a positive light in the New Testament), which meant that he was a commander of 100 men. (centurion ~ century ~ 100) The particular unit he served was “the Italian Regiment,” surely a name that would have been known to Luke’s readers, which some scholars have linked to a group of freedmen skilled in archery known to be in the area. The unit’s name matters less than its size – it was a Roman “cohort,” or a group of around 600 men. All of this is mentioned by Luke to demonstrate that Cornelius was a Roman of considerable authority and influence. He was known by Roman, Greek, and Jew alike – quite the contrast to the Galilean fisherman staying at the home of Simon the tanner.
  2. Cornelius was a powerful Roman, but he was a “good” Roman. Unlike other military leaders who abused their authority, Cornelius was as “devout” as a Gentile could get. Although scholars debate what kind of label best fits Cornelius, he was at least some type of “God fearer.” He was not a full-fledged proselyte, meaning that he had not formally converted from Roman paganism to Judaism, but it is unclear if he ever went to the Jerusalem temple or to the synagogue in Caesarea. Whatever the details, this much is clear: he “feared” the one true God. Cornelius worshipped God – he revered God – he respected God. Cornelius recognized God’s truth, power, and authority, seeing Him as the Almighty Creator worthy of worship and obedience simply because of who God is. People obey police officers not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because they fear receiving traffic tickets and jailtime. Likewise, we fear God – not in a “run and hide, horror-movie” kind of fear, but in a righteous God-is-holy kind of fear. God is worthy of our obedience & worship…He is worthy of our fear. (And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom! Prov 9:10)
  3. How was Cornelius’ devotion and fear of God seen? Through his faith and his actions. He “gave alms generously…and prayed to God always.” He prayed & he gave. His was not a Sunday-morning-only faith where Cornelius walked into church (so to speak), put on his “church face,” spoke all the right words, fit in with the other church crowd, and then went back home to live the other 99% of his time as a pagan; Cornelius’ faith was true. It was pure – it was consistent. Cornelius’ prayers were habitual, embodying what Paul later wrote to the Thessalonians as “praying without ceasing,” (1 Ths 5:17). Cornelius’ giving was generous, going beyond the mere appearance of dropping a “fiver” in the offering plate or (on the other extreme) giving to the causes that would allow his name to be written on the side of a building (or pew). He gave alms to the people who needed it the most. As a centurion, he was likely wealthy – he used his wealth and his authority to comfort the people who had none.
  4. Bottom line: Cornelius was a deeply and sincerely faithful guy! He may have been a Roman Gentile, but his faith was deeper than many of the Jews around him. He loved the Lord God in his heart, and he loved his neighbor as himself. The only thing missing (crucially!) was the knowledge of Jesus. Although Cornelius was a religious man, he was still lost. He may have been “good” in the eyes of his neighbors, but he was still sinful in the eyes of God. God loved him, and would soon remedy this, but the fact remains that it needed to be remedied! Cornelius’ religion, as sincere as it was, did not save him. Religion doesn’t save anyone.
    1. The most common heresy today is that religion saves. The type of religion doesn’t matter; only a person’s heart & intentions. People think, “I’m a good person. I give gifts to the poor, I pray the best I can, I try to be kind to others and not harm them. I even believe in God (or at least some kind of god). Surely God will see my heart and let me into heaven!” Beloved, that is a false gospel…it’s heresy straight from the pit of hell. Religion does not and cannot save. “Religion” implies actions, and actions are important (just like they were with Cornelius), but our actions cannot save. Our good deeds cannot erase all of the bad deeds we’ve already done. Our good thoughts cannot undo our moments of hatred and envy. Our prayers cannot erase all our previous sinful pride and rebellion. All of our sin must be answered, and it can only be answered through punishment (death). Herein is the good news: Jesus took our punishment! When Jesus died on the cross, He died for all your bad deeds, your bad thoughts, your sinful pride, rebellion, and more. Jesus died for it all, satisfying the wrath of God that was due toward you & me. Now He offers salvation…receive it!
  5. All of this was yet to be revealed to Cornelius. At the moment, all he knew is that he worshipped and feared the true God, and he tried to serve God the best way he knew how. Thankfully, God knew what Cornelius didn’t, and God reached out to Cornelius in grace.

3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” …

  1. At 3:00pm, Cornelius was apparently praying (like other Jews of the day), and that’s when he had a vision, and saw an angel. The NKJV rather sanitizes the account, making it seem as if Cornelius casually looked up at the angel and then gradually grew afraid…that’s not likely the case. The ESV translates it: “he stared at him in terror”…likely far more accurate! The word for “observed” refers to intent staring, to fix one’s eyes upon something. Imagine being in Cornelius’ place: there you are, in your daily afternoon prayers – perhaps on your knees in your home. Suddenly, a presence fills the room, your eyes get wider & wider until you realize you are looking at a heavenly angel, direct from the glorious throne room of God. That you would be “afraid” is a vast understatement! It’s one thing to fear God in devoted worship; it is something else to gaze directly upon His glory. Those who did, declared woe upon themselves knowing that no one is able to see God and live (Exo 33:20). It can be dialed back a touch when viewing an angel of God, but only by the smallest amount. The Biblical record shows that people who see angels routinely feared for their lives, and Cornelius was no different. He was emphatically afraid, and responded to the angel in the most respectful terms: “What is it, lord?” Although the word used for “lord” can (and often does) refer to Almighty God as the ultimate Lord of lords, it can also be used for “sir,” or a title of great honor and respect. Considering that Cornelius feared the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it is unlikely he would have addressed the angel as the Lord God (unless he believed he spoke to the ancient Angel of the Lord) – this was most likely the simple, yet respectful, “sir.” “What do you need, sir? I am here, and listening.”
  2. In all of Cornelius’ fear, don’t miss the best part: the angel knew his name. Cornelius was praying when he not only saw the angel, but heard the angel – and the angel addressed him by name. So what? So if an angel of God knew his name, GOD knew his name! Remember Cornelius was a Gentile. A devout, sincerely religious Gentile perhaps, but a Gentile nonetheless. Cornelius was outside the covenant of God, and due to his sins, he was a rebellious enemy against God (even though Cornelius was doing his human best to live differently). Cornelius had no right to be known by God, no expectation to be known by God, but God knew God knew his name – and God knew far more.

… So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.”

  1. God not only knew Cornelius’ name; God knew Cornelius. God knew his actions and his heart. Although Cornelius’ devout religious acts did not purchase him any salvation or heavenly favor, God was still well aware of them. God knew the prayers of this devout Gentile – God saw every generous gift given by this Roman centurion. He knew that Cornelius was a man that feared God and was seeking God. That was not something God wanted to punish; it was something God wanted to reward. Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Cornelius feared the true God, but he did not yet know God in truth because he did not yet know of Jesus. That wasn’t his fault; it was just the fact. But again, that was something God could remedy. God knew that Cornelius had a heart of faith, and that Cornelius was seeking to know God in truth. To that, God would not turn away!
    1. Jesus doesn’t turn away those to run to Him in faith! Unlike Cornelius, you cannot say you have never heard of Jesus. Even if you had been ignorant of Jesus to this point in your life, already this day you’ve sung of Him, prayed to Him, heard His word, and heard His gospel. You’ve forever lost any excuse of ignorance of Christ. But the good news is that you can turn to Him today! When you go to Jesus in true faith, you don’t have to guess whether or not He will choose to save you; if you go to Him in faith, He will save, because He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him! He rewarded the Roman Gentile Cornelius; He will reward you, too.
  2. God knew Cornelius, and God had a plan for Cornelius. God didn’t tell Cornelius the whole plan at first; He gave Cornelius a single task to help him get started in faith. The centurion was to send some of his servants to Joppa and ask for Peter. And since they didn’t know where Peter would be in the large city, God even gave the angel an address to pass on to Cornelius. Ultimately, the plan of God was to allow Cornelius to hear of Jesus, but God wanted him to hear it from Peter (and God wanted Peter to see it done). But God didn’t share any of that just yet…He just gave Cornelius the very beginning step. And this was a step of faith! Remember that Joppa was roughly 35 miles south of Caesarea. That’s a long way to send his servants on a blind mission to pick up some stranger, to bring him back home for some unknown message simply on the word of an angel.
    1. God might call us to some unusual things – things that don’t make a lot of sense in the moment. What do you do? Obey! Trust that God knows what He’s doing, and knows why He commands what He’s commanding. What you don’t understand now might be very clear later. But you’ll never know unless you step out in faith. Consider for a moment what would have happened if Cornelius had done the “sensible” thing and ignored the vision. He could have written it off to an overactive imagination – an overzealous time of prayer – perhaps a dream, or some sort of illness. After all, sending servants off to go track down some stranger in a city 35 miles away was foolish. What would other people think of him as a leader, if he commissioned his servants to do something like that? Many people today might have had a similar reaction (perhaps many of us!). If that had been Cornelius, he would have missed out on the gospel – perhaps missing his only opportunity to be saved. How tragic it would have been for Cornelius to have done the “sensible” thing! Of course, the only real course of action that makes any ‘sense’ is to obey the word of God! What God calls you to do, do! Don’t hold back…step out in faith, and trust the Living God whom you serve!

7 And when the angel who spoke to him had departed, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier from among those who waited on him continually. 8 So when he had explained all these things to them, he sent them to Joppa.

  1. Cornelius didn’t hesitate. He responded with full, immediate obedience. He told them what had happened to him, setting it forth in great detail, holding back nothing. (Even the most incredible parts!) With those instructions, he sent off his servants to find this Simon Peter and to hear what Peter had to say.
  2. BTW: Note that Cornelius’ faith had influenced those who were with him. In verse 2, Luke wrote that Cornelius “feared God with all his household,” and that apparently included more than the members of his family, but also those who served under his command. His own worship of God inspired those who were with him to worship God as well. Would we all have a contagious faith!

That’s the account of one vision in Judea, but it wasn’t the only vision that was to be had that week. Just as God reached out to a yet-unsaved Gentile through supernatural means, so would He reach out to saved believer in Christ through similar methods. 

  • Peter’s Vision (9-23): God saves

9 The next day, as they went on their journey and drew near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. 10 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance

  1. The following day, Peter also prayed, this time at noon. Typically, Jews prayed twice per day (morning & evening), but it wasn’t unusual for some Jews to pray three times per day (Daniel 6:10). Interestingly, the vision to Peter did not occur at the same time as Cornelius, or even at the very next “scheduled” time of prayer (morning). Instead, God waited until noon…which was exactly the right (God doesn’t work according to our schedule; He works according to His own!)
  2. Noontime prayer, Peter was ready for lunch, probably smelled the food being prepared, and it sent him into a “” Be careful not to get the wrong idea. This wasn’t an occult practice or other demonic experience. This wasn’t drug-induced or a physical hallucination. This was an astonishing vision! (ἔκστασις ~ “ecstasy”). (NIDNTT) “The behavior of a person who is no longer controlled by his normal reason. ἔκστασις means basically that a person has been brought out of his normal routine and outlook by the experience of a power or experience outside him.” This isn’t to say that Peter was temporarily insane; just that what happened to him didn’t normally happen to him. Trances were not everyday occurrences to Peter. Just because he was an apostle didn’t mean he experience daily miracles (other than the miracle of being saved). But in this particular case, it was like he was outside himself. Paul later had a similar experience of which he wrote to the Corinthians in which he saw heaven, but whether he was in the body or out of the body, he did not know (2 Cor 12:2). As with Peter, this wasn’t normative. They can happen, but they don’t often happen.
    1. Be careful of TV preachers and others who claim all kinds of these kinds of experiences for themselves. Paul was reluctant to write of his vision at all (2 Cor 12:1), and we wouldn’t have known of Peter’s vision apart from the fact that it was necessary to tell how God took the gospel to the Gentiles. People who boast in these experiences are really boasting of themselves…which indicates that what they claim to have experienced wasn’t likely of God.
  3. Peter did have a true vision. What was it he saw? 

11 and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”

  1. Peter saw a massive sheet lowered from heaven full of non-kosher animals. As a practicing Jew, Peter followed the dietary rules of the Hebrews, laid out in Leviticus 11 (among other passages). There, God gave Moses and the Hebrews very specific guidelines on what animals could be eaten, and which ones were considered unclean. Although sometimes the distinction was based on health reasons (such as the restriction on pork, as undercooked pork can be dangerous), other times it appears to be purely random. Typically, the mammals allowed to be eaten were naturally herbivores, whereas the carnivores were considered unclean. For all the variation in the list of animals, observant Jews knew them well because violating the command meant that they themselves would be considered unclean, and they would have to be purified before they would be allowed to worship.
  2. With that in mind, Peter was commanded by “a voice” (presumably God, based on verse 15) to “rise…kill and eat.” Whatever was included in the sheet, the Jewish Christian Peter was directly commanded to touch these unclean animals, shed their blood, and consume them as food. He was told to go from kosher to Cajun in an instant: eat the pork, the shellfish, and whatever else was included in the sheet (unclean birds, bugs, and beasts). It’s no wonder Peter reacted in shock the way he did! 

14 But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” 15 And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” 16 This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again.

  1. Again, at first glance, Peter’s objection is reasonable. All his life he had been told that certain foods were abominations, strictly forbidden for the children of Israel. The command in Scripture was clear: God was holy, so His people were to be holy – they were to be consecrated unto God, not defiling themselves with unclean foods (Lev 11:44). In his objection, Peter truly believed he was being faithful unto God. How could he think of defiling himself in such a way?
  2. Upon further reflection, think about what Peter was doing: he was arguing with God! The Lord had given him a direct command, and Peter said “no.” Of course, it wasn’t the first time! Moments after declaring by faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Mt 16:16), Peter attempted to chastise Jesus for prophesying of the cross (Mt 16:22). On the night of the Last Supper, when Jesus got ready to wash the disciples’ feet, Peter flat out denied Jesus the opportunity until Jesus said that unless Peter allowed it, Peter would have no part with him (Jn 13:8). That same night, Peter argued with Jesus again regarding the prophecy of Peter’s denial (Lk 22:33). Peter had a sad habit of arguing with the Lord!
    1. Peter isn’t the only one. We, too, have the same sad habit! How often does God command us something in His word, and we say “no”? How many times have we shut our hearts to the leading of the Holy Spirit? That’s just as much an argument with God as Peter’s. How arrogant we can be, to think that we know better than the Lord of all Creation!
  3. Peter should have said “yes” to the Lord, but it brings up an important question: Had God changed His mind? In Peter’s vision, was God contradicting what God had already proclaimed through Moses in Leviticus 11? God had not changed His mind, nor was He contradicting His written word. To be sure, the issue of ritual purity had already been addressed by Jesus when addressing some objections from the Pharisees of their complaints that Jesus’ disciples didn’t wash their hands in the same manner as other Jewish traditions. To them, Jesus replied that it wasn’t what went into a person’s mouth that defiled him, but what came out of it: Matthew 15:18–20, “(18) But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. (19) For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (20) These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” True uncleanness is uncleanness of the heart; not the diet. What is in a person’s heart can be far more defiling than what’s on his plate. Even so, Peter’s vision was not God changing the guidelines for the covenant nation of Israel, nor was it a contradiction with anything that God inspired to be written as Scripture. How so? Because no matter what was in the sheet lowered from heaven, it was lowered from heaven, given to him by God: God had made it clean. It may have been originally been impure and an abomination, but with the grace and word of God, God cleansed it. Everything in that sheet was fundamentally changed, due to the grace of God. If Peter had picked up one of those animals in the wilderness apart from God, it would have remained impure, but when those animals came from the Lord, they were totally pure. God cleansed them.
    1. God can make anything (anyone) clean! Our background doesn’t matter – our family histories are irrelevant – no matter how sinful, how evil, how perverted and impure we were in our past, God can cleanse us all! The grace of God, extended through Jesus Christ, purifies us totally, completely, from the inside-out. Through Christ we become new creations – through Christ, we are born-again – through Christ, we are clean! To Israel, God invited them to receive of His grace: Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” That same invitation is for us! Have you been cleansed? Have you been transformed? God can do it! He does it every single day, to the praise of His glory!
    2. Consider it, too, as a born-again believer in Jesus. Have you called what God has cleansed, unclean? Have you doubted the work of Jesus in your own life, thinking there was no way He could have cleansed you? You know you have no hope without Jesus, you surrendered your life to Him, but you also messed up…bad. You think you sinned so terribly that there’s no way Jesus could still save you. Beloved, Jesus cleanses! Anyone who is in Jesus is new; it doesn’t mean that everyone is perfect. Christians still struggle & fall, but one fall into sin doesn’t mean a loss of salvation. It doesn’t mean that Jesus hasn’t cleansed us from death. To be sure, a habitual lifestyle of sin is a flashing red siren and warning that someone’s profession of faith may very well be false, and that person is in need of true repentance and surrender to Christ – it’s crucially important for that person to examine his/her own faith very carefully. But if we are in Christ, then we are cleansed by Christ. We are forgiven – not just for our sins of the past, but of the present & the future. Jesus’ death at the cross paid for all of our sins for all of our lives. Yes, our fellowship with God will be broken from time to time (which is restored by confession and repentance, 1 Jn 1:9), but our ultimate cleansing from death will not be undone.
    3. As for Peter, the vision was preparation for what was soon to follow: Gentiles would receive the gospel of Jesus, and they too would be cleansed by Christ. Although Peter didn’t yet know it, the danger for him would be continue calling unclean what God had cleansed. The danger remains for us today. Sometimes it seems that there is a fine line between judging heresy and judging fellow believers, between essential and non-essential doctrine. We can come to different conclusions about certain Scriptures without judging one another as unsaved heretics. There’s a big leap between the two! It doesn’t mean that everyone’s own opinion is right (it’s not!), but when it comes to non-essential doctrine (gifts, end-times, predestination, freewill, etc.) it doesn’t mean that they are unsaved & thus uncleansed.
  4. The vision was repeated two more times as confirmation and for emphasis. Sadly, it also meant that Peter argued with the Lord two additional times as well. It’s tough to blame Peter…sometimes it takes all of us a while to get it!

17 Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. 18 And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there.

  1. Cornelius’ men arrived while Peter was still on the rooftop. The men had followed Cornelius’ instructions to the letter, asking for the house of Simon the tanner by the sea, and once arriving, asking for Simon, surnamed Peter. They had left the day before, spent the night on the road, and arrived at the house just past noon the next day, right as Peter’s vision was concluding & while he thought the whole thing through. Suddenly, it’s clear why God waited until that moment to give Peter the vision! God’s timing is wonderful! 

19 While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. 20 Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.”

  1. Peter didn’t hear the men arrive, even though he was only a few feet (yards?) away from them on the flat rooftop as they asked for him by name. He was too caught up in his consideration of the vision.
  2. That’s when the Holy Spirit spoke to him, getting Peter’s attention, and giving personal, comforting instruction to him. We can imagine how it might have been somewhat unsettling for Peter to have three Romans show up (one being a solider), asking for Peter by name – especially having found him far from anywhere that Peter would have normally been found. After all, it’s not as if Peter made a call from a cell phone & had the Roman version of the NSA track his location. Anyone asking for Peter by name at the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa would have been unusual; the fact that it was three Romans was even more so. The words of the Holy Spirit would have been especially welcome & comforting to Peter! He could proceed, being assured that all of this was from God, and God’s plan was in motion.
    1. Keep in mind that the Spirit is not recorded here as promising Peter that he wouldn’t be arrested or face any sort of trial. Peter’s simply told that God the Holy Spirit had sent the men. This was God’s plan; it wasn’t necessarily a promise of ease. Thankfully, it would turn out easy for Peter this time, but that wasn’t a guarantee. Even so, it was still a comfort. The assurance is that something is according to the will of God. That alone, is enough!
  3. Again, don’t miss the fact that the Holy Spirit spoke. This was something seen in Philip’s previous encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29). Although many well-meaning Bible teachers claim that the Holy Spirit never speaks or calls attention to Himself, that’s plainly not the Biblical record. Although the Holy Spirit does primarily testify of Christ, He is not silent. The Holy Spirit is the 3rd Person of the Trinity, just as much God as the Father and the Son. Should the Spirit wish to speak, the Spirit is fully capable of doing so and has every right to do so. (We need to beware putting limits upon God that the Scripture does not!)

21 Then Peter went down to the men who had been sent to him from Cornelius, and said, “Yes, I am he whom you seek. For what reason have you come?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you.” 23 Then he invited them in and lodged them. On the next day Peter went away with them, and some brethren from Joppa accompanied him.

  1. Peter had known to go downstairs and greet the men – he even knew he was supposed to go and travel with the men, yet he still asked the reason for their arrival. Why? Simple: Peter knew he was supposed to go; he didn’t know the reason why he was supposed to go. It’s not that he was unwilling; he was rightly curious. His willingness to go was demonstrated by his arrival downstairs at the door.
    1. Don’t use your questions as an excuse for disobedience!
  2. The men told him their story, and it was easy to be believed in light of everything the Holy Spirit had already revealed. Peter invited them in, invited them to supper, and invited them to stay the night. Generous hospitality?
  3. It had taken the men nearly two days to arrive, so by the time they got done eating it was too late to begin the journey. They started up the next day, Peter taking several other Christians from Joppa with him. They would serve as other witnesses…something which was greatly needed, considering what awaited them in Caesarea. What they were about to see would rock the Jerusalem church as they witnessed a new phase opening in the Great Commission!
  4. Bottom line: like Cornelius, Peter was fully obedient. In his vision, Peter argued with the Lord, but when given the chance outside his vision, Peter acted. What the Holy Spirit commanded him to do, he did. The opportunity God opened to him, he followed. Like Cornelius, Peter also received only a small portion of information of what lay ahead. There was a massive hint of it within Peter’s vision, but he could not have truly known what to expect until he saw it with his own eyes. In order for him to understand, Peter had to take a step of faith. He had seen a vision from God, heard the command from the Holy Spirit, but that wasn’t enough. Now he needed to follow through in obedience…and he did.


Two men of two vastly different backgrounds were given two visions – both from the same God, both leading to the same end: the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Cornelius had a vision confirming God saw him, and Peter had a vision confirming that God can save anyone. The Spirit spoke to both of them, leading them step-by-step towards the fulfillment of His plan for them. They each listened to the Spirit, and they obeyed His voice and command.

Listen to the Spirit! But do more than listen, obey! We dare not be hearers only; we need to follow through on what the Lord gives us to do. That means we trust Him. We step out in faith on the tasks and opportunities He gives us, and we follow them through to the next step. We might not understand everything all at once, but we faithfully follow the Lord Jesus who understands all. It’s His plan, and He can be trusted!


The Plagues Begin

Posted: October 18, 2018 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 7-8, “The Plagues Begin”

Parents are familiar with giving out multiple chances. Our kids disobey (or don’t listen), and we give them several opportunities to get right, with escalating potential consequences. “I’m going to count to three! 1…2…” Kids usually push their luck. It’d be so much better if they just listened the first time, but they never learn.

It’s not limited to children! That’s something many adults rarely grow past. We want to do things our own way, every time – don’t tell me different, and don’t make me obey someone else. That includes our families, our bosses, and even our God. We want to be our own self-rulers, and don’t easily obey God when He first instructs us…no matter how much easier it would be on us if we did. Praise God that He is merciful! He so often gives us multiple chance to do what’s right…although it usually means experiencing some pretty tough consequences along the way.

In a nutshell, that describes much of what we see between Moses, Pharaoh, and the Lord God as Pharaoh refuses to free the Hebrews from Egypt. Moses had been sent into Egypt by God, commissioned on Mt. Sinai as God revealed His holy name and His perfect plan for Hebrew freedom. God had heard the cries of His people, and the time had come for the covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be fulfilled. Although God knew Pharaoh would not easily release the children of Israel, God still sent Moses as His representative, empowered to work miraculous signs and speak in the name of the Living God.

Because of Moses’ hesitancy, God allowed his brother Aaron to help, and together they went to the Hebrews, performed the signs God originally gave Moses, and the nation was excited to see what would come next. Sadly, they were sorely disappointed. Although God had been clear to Moses about Pharaoh’s resistance, the Hebrew people expected immediate results. What they received was immediate hardship. Moses and Aaron met with Pharaoh, the first time bringing only the word of God, and Pharaoh did not listen (just as God foretold). Not only was Pharaoh unwilling to hear the command of YHWH for His people to be released, Pharaoh became indignant at having to answer a God he refused to recognize. In response, he punished the Hebrews, demanding that they continue to maintain their quota of brick-making, but denying them the materials needed to make the bricks. The Hebrews were greatly upset, and Moses had to be reassured by God that this was indeed part of His plan (and it was!).

At this point, the plagues begin – a series of nine total supernatural judgments that eventually leads to the night of Passover and Pharaoh’s final defeat. Chapters 7-8 start with hard, but relatively minor judgments, and things only continue to escalate as Pharaoh continues to harden his heart. God would give many chances, but Pharaoh would refuse them all.

Before we begin, all of this begs the question: Why did God send so many plagues upon Egypt? Surely God could have freed the Hebrews with one mighty blow. It’s not as if God had to work His way to a gradual defeat of Pharaoh; He could have done it in an instant. Especially considering that God had always known of Pharaoh’s stubbornness, why give Pharaoh so many opportunities to resist God?

Three suggested answers (among other possibilities):

  1. God was merciful to Pharaoh. Though God knew the man’s stubbornness, God still gave him the opportunity to humble himself and repent. By the time it was all over, there was no way that Pharaoh could claim that God hadn’t been fair with him. Pharaoh had just as much opportunity as anyone to humble himself in faith; he tragically chose not to do it.
  2. God was merciful to the Egyptians. The more God acted, the more Egyptians there were who came to know & fear YHWH as God. So many in fact, that a great multitude left Egypt along with the Hebrews, following them all the way to Mt. Sinai and the Promised Land. The many judgments of God on Egypt were also many merciful outreaches to (Just like God acts towards many people today!)
  3. God was merciful to the Hebrews. Although the children of Israel believed in the Lord God (mostly!), they were fickle. This was already demonstrated in their initial response to Moses. When Moses first arrived, they thanked God & worshipped; after Pharaoh punished them, they cursed Moses and demanded God’s judgment upon him. All the various plagues went a long way to establish them in their faith. God gave them repeated opportunities to see Him in action, and for them to be grounded in their faith. And it wasn’t only the general population – it was Moses, too! The more Moses saw God work, the more Moses himself grew in his faith and maturity. Not that any of them were perfectly mature in their faith, but they certainly weren’t the same leaving Egypt as when Moses first arrived.

The bottom line: God had His own reasons for the many plagues, and they all led to His glory!

Our God is all-powerful, and ever-merciful. There’s nothing He cannot do, and He is great in His compassions and outreach toward us. See the Lord for who He is! Worship and obey Him the first time, as soon as you get the opportunity!

Exodus 7

  • God prepares His people (7:1-7)

1 So the LORD said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of his land.

  1. Recall the end of Exodus 6 – the final few verses (28-30) lead directly into Chapter 7. God had been reassuring Moses of His plan for deliverance, when there was a brief break to give some family background to Moses and Aaron. Verses 28-30 picked up where things left off, even repeating some of the information that had come before. Although God commanded Moses to speak to Pharaoh as God’s own spokesman, Moses wondered why Pharaoh (or anyone) would listen to him, seeing as he had “uncircumcised lips.” Moses believed he had failed in his initial encounter, and even his own people were rejecting him at this point. On what authority would Moses be able to speak with the king of Egypt? The answer? Upon God’s authority! God had commissioned Moses for this task, and God was about to tell Moses exactly how he was to do it.
  2. Unlike Moses, God saw the 1st visit as a success! Moses had done everything God commanded him, and Pharaoh had responded exactly the way God knew that he would. God didn’t blame Moses for Pharaoh’s outburst – why would He? Pharaoh’s sin belonged to Pharaoh; not Moses. Moses had been faithful, and that’s all God asked of him.
    1. It’s no different with us. We cannot control the words or actions of anyone else; we can only control our own. If we are in Christ, belonging to Him by faith, as long as we’re faithful to God, we can trust God is not angry nor disappointed with us.
  3. There was another difference between the way Moses and God viewed that first meeting. Moses believed it to be the end; God knew it was just the beginning. God sent Moses and Aaron to speak once, and that was what He continued to send them to do. The brothers were to return to Pharaoh and speak the things God commanded. No matter what Pharaoh did in response, they were to be conduits of the commands and words of God. Moses and Aaron were messengers, and God wanted them to continue to give the message.
    1. That is evangelism! We are messengers, and we are not to become weary with the message. The world needs to hear of the good news of Jesus, in order that they can repent and place their faith in Him. Thus we don’t shy away. We continue to speak all that God has commanded us.

3 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.

  1. God hardens. Although it’s sometimes difficult for us to conceive of God sovereignly hardening the heart of someone, that is exactly what the Scripture declares God did with Pharaoh. That’s not an act for us to judge; it is simply one to hear and believe. As Almighty God, God has the right to do what He wants with His creation. This is the point Paul makes to the Romans. [ROMANS 9:14-21] If God wants to show mercy to someone, it is His right to do so. After all, none of us deserve any mercy whatsoever…any act of mercy is a wonderful gift. Yet if we can affirm that, then surely the opposite is true as well: God has the right to harden whomever He wishes, without any accusation against Him. We are His creation (His clay) and as the Potter, God can do what He wants. If He does it, it is just, because the very definition of justice is God Himself.
    1. That said, we cannot use God’s hardening of Pharaoh as an example of the lack of freewill, simply because that is not what the Bible demonstrates. Although God clearly claims to harden Pharaoh’s heart, during the first several plagues the Bible specifically shows Pharaoh’s heart being hardened by itself or by Pharaoh personally. Pharaoh chose to have a stubborn, hardened heart towards God. God chose to confirm what had already been done.
    2. The key is not to become obsessed over whom God might harden, or worry if God has hardened our hearts beyond hope. (If He had, you wouldn’t be worried about it!) The key is to concentrate on God’s mercy! God chose to extend mercy to people who didn’t deserve it…even to Pharaoh! Pharaoh’s heart may have been hard (either through Pharaoh or the Lord God), but Pharaoh’s words were never forced. At any point, Pharaoh could have submitted himself into the hands of God; he simply didn’t. At any point, God could have smote Pharaoh to death (and would have been justified in doing so!); God didn’t. Instead, God chose to extend chance after merciful chance. Pharaoh’s downfall was entirely his own fault. 
  2. God works. Not only would God harden the heart of Pharaoh, but God would “multiply” His miracles all around the land of Egypt. Moses would instruct Aaron, Aaron would speak the words and raise the staff, but it was God who would do the work. The success of the mission did not depend on Moses nor Aaron; it depended upon God…which guaranteed success!
    1. Again, this is so important to remember in terms of evangelism. We share the word, but God brings conversion. We plant the seed, but God causes the growth. Beware that you don’t take responsibility for that which belongs to God. We neither need the pressure, nor should we ever receive the glory.
  3. God judges. All of the signs and wonders were ultimately judgments upon Pharaoh and the land of Egypt. For 400 years, the Hebrews had been oppressed and enslaved, and God had not been blind. There was judgment due to sin, and Moses and Aaron would declare the judgment to come. But again, they would only declare it; God would bring it.
    1. Judgment of sin is a necessary part of the message of the gospel. It needs to be declared, but it ought to be declared with love and compassion. After all, apart from Jesus we are just as much deserving of God’s judgment as anyone else!
  4. God frees. He promised (stated as a matter of fact, without question of whether it would happen) to bring out His people. Note: the Hebrews were God’s army. God did not need an army to fight Pharaoh, but the Hebrews were an army nevertheless. They just needed to learn how to walk in obedience and faithfulness (go through basic training!) – something that they would learn during their time in the wilderness.
  5. Again, don’t miss the main point: Moses & Aaron were responsible to speak; God did everything else. God did all the work…He always does!

5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.”

  1. The result of all of this work? Even the Egyptians will know YHWH! There would be many who came to faith, and many who did not…but none among them could deny the fact that YHWH existed and that He is the Living God! The plagues, as terrible as they were, were God’s merciful outreach to a pagan nation so that they might be saved. They dare not waste their opportunity!
    1. As a nonbeliever, did you ever consider the possibility when you were in the midst of trials and tragedies, that it was your opportunity to know the mercies of God? For all the people who get angry at God and turn away from Him in the hospital, there are others who reach out in faith. Sometimes the harshest events in our lives are exactly what is required to drive us to our knees. If that’s what causes you to look to Jesus, then praise God for the trial! 
    2. It isn’t just the nonbeliever. Believers, too, have our faith strengthened in trial. Paul could affirm in his own life that it was when he was at his weakest that he knew the strength of Christ (2 Cor 12:10). That’s when he knew that Jesus’ grace was sufficient for him. 

6 Then Moses and Aaron did so; just as the LORD commanded them, so they did. 7 And Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three years old when they spoke to Pharaoh.

  1. Brief update/summary. Brothers were 80/83 years old. At that age, many of us are well-past retirement. For Moses & Aaron, they were just getting started! (Don’t let retirement mean the end of productivity; let it be a new start to productive ministry unto God!)
  • God’s initial warning (7:8-13)

8 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 9 “When Pharaoh speaks to you, saying, ‘Show a miracle for yourselves,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and cast it before Pharaoh, and let it become a serpent.’ ” 10 So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the LORD commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent.

  1. God knew Pharaoh would want proof. (Even if Pharaoh would ignore the proof for which he asked!) Moses was hesitant because of his “uncircumcised lips,” but God wasn’t sending him in without help. God was with Moses, and would empower Moses to say & do what needed to be done. (God is with us, too!)
  2. God started with a place of familiarity. This was the first sign He gave to Moses on Mount Sinai, originally intended for the children of Israel. (Exo 4:3) Moses had already performed the sign in front of the Hebrews, and they believed (Exo 4:31), at least initially. God shows great mercy and compassion upon Moses in how Moses was introduced to this role. 
  3. One minor difference: Aaron performed the sign; not Moses. Interestingly, the word translated “serpent” is different here, than it was on Mt. Sinai. It may have been a different type of serpent, or it may have just been a different word used for variety. Either way, the overall miracle was the same: a wooden stick supernaturally transformed into a snake. No doubt, that got Pharaoh’s attention!

11 But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. 12 For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.

  1. Did Pharaoh’s men actually work magic? Scholars differ. Some believe this to be a form of trickery or illusion (perhaps a distraction behind some flash-flames produced by the sorcerers), which is certainly possible…it’s just not the clear implication of the text. The natural reading is that the Egyptians wise men and sorcerers performed some kind of supernatural act. And this would indeed be possible, if they were demonically empowered. Jesus spoke about deceptive signs & wonders being done in the end-times (Mt 24:24), and Paul wrote of signs and lying wonders (2 Ths 2:9). It’s quite possible Egypt’s sorcerers did the same thing, empowered by the same demons that hate God and His people.
  2. Whatever it was they did, it was no match for God. Pharaoh’s sorcerers were defeated when “Aaron’s rod swallowed up” the rods of the sorcerers. We can imagine how their smugness turned to queasiness when they saw what they believed was their answer get eaten up by Aaron’s rod. And it wasn’t just one; it was many – all the rods were devoured. (That’s one hungry staff-snake!)
  3. Even so, the sign fell on deaf ears/blinded eyes.

13 And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

  1. Hard hearts don’t heed God. Again, Pharaoh still had a choice, but it became far more difficult. His stubbornness had already begun to set, and it would lead to his downfall.

From this point, the plagues begin – each following a general pattern. There is a warning (on the 1st & 2nd of each series), the supernatural plague, sometimes an acknowledgement of defeat, the relief of the plague, and the continued hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Some scholars see parallels between each of the plagues and the various false gods/goddesses of Egypt. Although it can be difficult to see a one-to-one pattern, there can be little doubt that at least some of the false gods are shown as powerless in light of the true God. The major downfall of a false god is that of Pharaoh himself! The deified Pharaoh is demonstrated as totally impotent compared with YHWH. There simply is no contest.

  • Plague #1: Blood (7:14-25)

14 So the LORD said to Moses: “Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, when he goes out to the water, and you shall stand by the river’s bank to meet him; and the rod which was turned to a serpent you shall take in your hand. 16 And you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has sent me to you, saying, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness”; but indeed, until now you would not hear!

  1. God knew what was in Pharaoh’s heart – it was still hard & stubborn. Pharaoh still refused to relent, but it didn’t slow God in the slightest. He still had a plan. Moses & the others would have to trust God as He led them though the time.
  2. God’s identification was full: He is “YHWH God of the Hebrews.” There would be no mistaking who was acting.
  3. God’s command was clear. His people were to be free to worship. Nothing is said about the length of time and extent of freedom, but nothing more needed to be said at this point. If Pharaoh was refusing to do this much, he would refuse anything else.

17 Thus says the LORD: “By this you shall know that I am the LORD. Behold, I will strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood. 18 And the fish that are in the river shall die, the river shall stink, and the Egyptians will loathe to drink the water of the river.” ’ ”

  1. God first struck the most important item within Egypt: the river. This was the life of the nation, the means by which their crops flourished or wilted. The Nile was represented by several gods in the Egyptian pantheon, sometimes worshipped itself. The fact that Pharaoh went down to the river in the morning may even indicate a religious ritual that Moses interrupted. But this river would turn from blessing to blood. The very heart of Egypt would be struck by Almighty God.
  2. Even this was a warning! Until Aaron raised his rod, Pharaoh could have repented. 

19 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your rod and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their streams, over their rivers, over their ponds, and over all their pools of water, that they may become blood. And there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in buckets of wood and pitchers of stone.’ ” 20 And Moses and Aaron did so, just as the LORD commanded. So he lifted up the rod and struck the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants. And all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. 21 The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.

  1. All water everywhere was affected. Even water outside of the river stored up in wood and stone was turned to blood. Question: Was this natural or supernatural? Was it real blood or (as some suggest) red algae that made it appear as blood? Technically, as long as it was recognized to have supernaturally come by the command of God, either are possible interpretations of the text. However, there’s little reason to imagine naturalistic explanations for this & the other following miracles. The whole of Christianity is based on a miracle (the resurrection), so supernatural explanations ought not to be discarded. Besides, if the water in the buckets and pitchers also turned red, that’s difficult to explain from algae or red clay flowing in the Nile. More importantly, there’s no reason to read the text any other way than literal. Water will turn to blood during the Great Tribulation (Rev 8:8,16:3-4), so there’s no reason to assume that it did not do so in Egypt.
  2. Whatever it was (real blood!), the water became toxic. It wasn’t just in one place, but all “throughout the land of Egypt.” This was something the whole nation saw. Remember that God was testifying of Himself to the entire land of Egypt, and this began from the first plague onward.
  3. Note verse 20: “And Moses and Aaron did so, just as the LORD commanded.” This is something that will be seen throughout the account of the plagues, just as it was seen in verse 10 with the rod turning to a serpent. Moses and Aaron were consistently faithful to God’s commands. Although Moses’ walk with the Lord started off on a shaky footing, hesitant to obey and be used by the Lord (and having been unfaithful to the covenant sign of circumcision), all that changed. Moses & his older brother developed a pattern of habitual obedience unto the Lord. 

22 Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said. 23 And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this.

  1. More duplication, although the text doesn’t describe exactly what the magicians did. Whatever it was, it was unhelpful. They may have imitated the act of turning water to blood, but they couldn’t reverse what it was Aaron had done by the Lord, nor bring any relief to the people. The magicians of Egypt were totally ineffective.
  2. Amazingly, Pharaoh didn’t care! (Beware apathy, especially towards the things of God!)

24 So all the Egyptians dug all around the river for water to drink, because they could not drink the water of the river. 25 And seven days passed after the LORD had struck the river.

  1. Although no one was initially injured by the plague, this was still awful upon the land. 7 days without their normal drinking water is a long time! They had to dig wells and find natural springs for drinking water. No doubt the people were fatigued, thirsty, and ready to admit defeat. Too bad their king was not.

Exodus 8

  • Plague #2: Frogs (8:1-15)

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 2 But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all your territory with frogs. 3 So the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into your house, into your bedroom, on your bed, into the houses of your servants, on your people, into your ovens, and into your kneading bowls. 4 And the frogs shall come up on you, on your people, and on all your servants.” ’ ”

  1. The command is repeated, and the cycle of the plagues continue. This time, it was to be frogs, and those frogs were to be everywhere. With the river turning to blood, the effects couldn’t be avoided, but at least people could stop looking at the river or in their buckets. This time, the plague would follow them into their houses, disturbing everything they did. No moment of peace would come while the frogs were present.
  2. Note the progression: in the first plague, the river was attacked; in the second plague, the attack was from the river. God is chipping away at all the security of Egypt, showing His almighty power through these gradual steps. 

5 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up on the land of Egypt.’ ” 6 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. 7 And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs on the land of Egypt.

  1. Aaron obeyed, and the frogs came. Again the magicians duplicated the sign (in some form of imitation), but they were unable to bring relief. What good was their miracle (or illusion) if it only brought more frogs? For that matter, who’s to say that the magicians did not simply redirect the frogs that were already brought by God? The Egyptian magicians were losing their credibility by the day.
    1. Whatever Satan does, it’s (at best) a pale imitation of God. The devil is powerful, but he isn’t all The devil is a limited created being; only God is limitless and the Creator!

8 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, “Entreat the LORD that He may take away the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go, that they may sacrifice to the LORD.” 9 And Moses said to Pharaoh, “Accept the honor of saying when I shall intercede for you, for your servants, and for your people, to destroy the frogs from you and your houses, that they may remain in the river only.”

  1. Although Pharaoh was apathetic with the water turning to blood, and basically ignored the sign of the staff, the plague of the frogs was something he could not avoid. This became Pharaoh’s 1st request for mercy (there would be others to follow). Initially, he promised freedom. No limits are mentioned, and judging from his later actions it might indicate he had no intent on following through with his promise in the first place.
  2. Whatever were Pharaoh’s intentions, God knew what they were – and Moses knew that God knew. Moses agreed to intercede. He tried to Pharaoh not to take it for granted. It was a great honor to have the request of a pagan rebellious king taken to the Almighty God.
    1. It is an honor to have an intercessor & mediator! The Spirit intercedes for us in prayer (Rom 8:27) – Jesus intercedes for us (Heb 7:25) – Jesus is our one Mediator (1 Tim 2:4). We don’t have just any intercessor; we have God as our intercessor! 

10 So he said, “Tomorrow.” And he said, “Let it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. 11 And the frogs shall depart from you, from your houses, from your servants, and from your people. They shall remain in the river only.”

  1. Pharaoh’s response is so interesting: “” Why wait?! Even if it was late in the day, why not plead for the frogs to be removed immediately? Why suffer one more night in bed with the wretched things crawling all over you? It’s impossible to know what motivated Pharaoh to say what he did, but it’s sadly indicative of what too many people do with God. They feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, they understand the truth of the gospel, they know their need to repent…they just aren’t quite ready. So it becomes “tomorrow,” “next time,” “later,” and it rarely comes. When is the best time to respond to Jesus? At the moment you understand He needs a response! Not tomorrow; immediately!
    1. Again, this is just as much for the believer as the unbeliever. The unbeliever needs to immediately respond to the gospel; the believer needs to immediately respond in obedience. Has Jesus called you to pray? Then pray! Are you led to share His gospel? Share it! Has He convicted you of a sin? Then repent! Don’t wait on these things – don’t push it off for a “better” time. There is no better time. Take the time He has given you, and respond in the moment!
  2. BTW: Both the arrival of the frogs and their removal were testimonies unto God. The frogs came in at a specific command, and they were removed at a specific command. It was plain that this was no natural phenomenon; the frogs were the amphibious army of God!

12 Then Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh. And Moses cried out to the LORD concerning the frogs which He had brought against Pharaoh. 13 So the LORD did according to the word of Moses. And the frogs died out of the houses, out of the courtyards, and out of the fields. 14 They gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank.

  1. Moses prayed, and God answered. Everything went according to how God said it would go. Moses was speaking according to God’s word & will, and God was working according to His word & will.
  2. The frogs were removed, but there was still a massive reminder left behind! (We can experience mercy and still endure consequences!)

15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not heed them, as the LORD had said.

  1. Once again, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. Notice that this was specifically Pharaoh’s doing: “he hardened his heart.” Was it God’s will? Yes, but it did not override Pharaoh’s freewill.
  • Plague #3: Lice (8:16-19)

16 So the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your rod, and strike the dust of the land, so that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.’ ” 17 And they did so. For Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod and struck the dust of the earth, and it became lice on man and beast. All the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.

  1. Notice this time Moses is not told by God to go to Pharaoh, but rather directly to Aaron for the third plague. Of the nine plagues leading up to Passover, the cycle is always: two with warnings, one without. All were judgments of God upon Egypt, but the third in each cycle is a direct judgment for Pharaoh’s continued disobedience.
  2. This time it was lice/gnats, as if the dust of the Sahara came to life. As with the frogs, the lice/gnats would have followed the Egyptians everywhere they went, with no escape. 

18 Now the magicians so worked with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not. So there were lice on man and beast. 19 Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had said.

  1. Finally, the magicians encountered a sign they could not imitate. From this point forward, the sorcerers acknowledge their own weakness. Yet even though the magicians recognized the work of God, Pharaoh did not. Stubbornness of heart made him refuse to admit defeat. It would take the harshest of blows to his personal family before he saw the obvious, and by then it was too late. 
  • Plague #4: Swarms of flies (8:20-32)

20 And the LORD said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh as he comes out to the water. Then say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 21 Or else, if you will not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies on you and your servants, on your people and into your houses. The houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground on which they stand.

  1. Repeated command, as the warnings begin again.
  2. Literally, the term is just “swarms” – the flies are implied. These were noxious, biting insects of some sort. Where as the gnats/lice were a terrible nuisance, the swarms of flies were painful. Imagine swarms of mosquitoes or deerflies – insects that won’t leave you alone, but constantly attack. Again, there is a progression in the plagues. What was once dramatic and terrifying but only annoying, is now personally harmful. People felt the effects of this plague. (And no doubt, Pharaoh heard about it from his subjects!)

22 And in that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which My people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, in order that you may know that I am the LORD in the midst of the land. 23 I will make a difference between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall be.” ’ ” 24 And the LORD did so. Thick swarms of flies came into the house of Pharaoh, into his servants’ houses, and into all the land of Egypt. The land was corrupted because of the swarms of flies.

  1. For the first time, there was to be a difference between the Hebrews and the Egyptians. Guess what? There had always been a difference between the Hebrews & Egyptians! Even while the Hebrews had to deal with the blood, the frogs, and the gnats, they were still His covenant people. God was still acting on their behalf. God had a special relationship with them that the Egyptians did not enjoy, because they were not in covenant with God. Now that covenant difference was demonstrated as the Hebrews witnessed the plague of swarms, but did not personally experience it.
    1. Is there a difference between us and the world? Yes! Although we endure the trials that come with living in this world, we still have a special relationship with God through Jesus Christ!
  2. How many flies were there? There was no escaping the swarms! Imagine not being able to walk through your home without staring through a cloud of insects. Imagine trying to sleep at night with these biting insects gnawing at you the whole time. The Egyptians had no mosquito netting, nor any protection from the swarms. It would have been utterly miserable. Once again, Pharaoh asked Moses for help.

25 Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God in the land.” 26 And Moses said, “It is not right to do so, for we would be sacrificing the abomination of the Egyptians to the LORD our God. If we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, then will they not stone us? 27 We will go three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He will command us.”

  1. Pharaoh granted limited permission to leave. The Hebrews could sacrifice to the Lord, but they had to do so within the confines of Egypt. It didn’t necessarily have to be Goshen, but it did need to be in the realm of Pharaoh.
  2. It sounds like progress, but Moses refused. Why? It “would be sacrificing the abomination of the Egyptians.” Other translations say “abominable to the Egyptians” (ESV, NASB). Apparently the blood sacrifices of bulls and goats were considered taboo among the Egyptians (perhaps because they considered sheep and shepherds unclean), and Moses refused on the basis that the Egyptians themselves would reject this compromise. 
  3. Ultimately Pharaoh’s compromise was wrong because it wasn’t according to God’s command. Originally, God had commanded Pharaoh to let the people go, “that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.” (Exo 5:1). God was not negotiating with Pharaoh & this was not an item up for discussion. God wanted His people in the wilderness for worship, so that’s where they were to go.
    1. We don’t have the right to invent how we want to worship. The Bible gives us much freedom in how we worship, but we approach God on His terms; not ours. That means we approach Him through Jesus (the one Mediator, the Way the Truth and the Life), we worship Him in spirit and truth, and we always use the Scripture as our standard in order to maintain decency and order.

28 So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go, that you may sacrifice to the LORD your God in the wilderness; only you shall not go very far away. Intercede for me.” 29 Then Moses said, “Indeed I am going out from you, and I will entreat the LORD, that the swarms of flies may depart tomorrow from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people. But let Pharaoh not deal deceitfully anymore in not letting the people go to sacrifice to the LORD.”

  1. Pharaoh granted a bit more freedom, but not much. It was still limited. They could to go the wilderness, but they needed to stay within reach.
  2. This time, Moses agreed, but warned Pharaoh against further lying.

30 So Moses went out from Pharaoh and entreated the LORD. 31 And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; He removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his servants, and from his people. Not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.

  1. Another intercession
  2. Another act of mercy
  3. Another hardening of the heart.


The cycle of plagues had begun, and it would only continue and escalate. Moses would warn, the judgment would come, the judgment would be removed, and Pharaoh’s heart would not change. No matter how many times he had the opportunity to humble himself before the Holy God, he refused.

Don’t blind yourself to the mercies of God! Don’t harden your heart against Him. Heart-hardening is just as much a danger for the nonbeliever as it is the Christian. After all, it was to the Jews that the Psalmist appealed that they would come worship & bow down, not hardening their hearts as did their ancestors in the day of rebellion (Ps 95:8). It was to the Hebrew Christians that the author of Hebrews quoted the same passage, pleading with them to hold fast to the gospel (Heb 3:6-7). We too, can harden ourselves to the merciful outreach of God – we can plug our ears to the calling of the Spirit – we can shut ourselves off from the truth of His word. Don’t do it! The more you harden your heart, the easier it becomes.

What’s the answer to hardening? Humbling. You can either humble yourself, or you can have God do it through His judgment and discipline. Far better the former than the latter! God gives us multiple opportunities to respond in repentance and humility, but at some point, He will act.

Footsteps of the Master

Posted: October 14, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 9:32-43, “Footsteps of the Master”


WWJD?  It was all the rage for a while, with Christians wearing wristbands, with the intent of constantly reminding to ask oneself, “What would Jesus do?”  The question came from Charles Sheldon’s classic In His Steps, in which a pastor of a small town challenges his congregation to ask themselves that very question before they made any significant decision.  Everything was to be evaluated in light of Jesus, to see if it matched up with His character and His word.  (That said, the revival of the phrase in the early 2000’s lost a lot of its impact.  It became a fad & fashion trend, rather than a heart-felt question.  Even then, many times the better question is “What would Jesus have us to do?” considering that Jesus did certain things that we will never duplicate, such as dying on the cross as the perfect substitution and sacrifice for mankind.)


Whatever one thinks of the fad, there’s an element of the idea that it totally valid.  When Jesus called the twelve to be His disciples, what did He say to them?  “Follow Me.”  When Paul appealed to the Corinthians in their disobedience, what did he write to them? “Follow me as I follow Christ,” (1 Cor 11:1).  At a certain point, we do need to ask “What would Jesus do?” – we need to follow in the footsteps of our Master if we are to live the life He desires for us.


We get a sense of this in Jesus’ own ministry, as He trained His disciples and sent them out on a short-term mission trip around Judea. Luke 9:1–2, “(1) Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. (2) He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” What does that sound like?  Like the ministry of Jesus!  This was what Jesus did all around Galilee & Judea, and He empowered His disciples to do the same.  None of that stopped with Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension…it continued!  When Jesus gave the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations, part of that included teaching people “to observe all things that I have commanded you,” (Mt 28:20).  Thus, the disciples (and all of us) were still to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, doing what He did, teaching what He taught.


We see all of that play out in the book of Acts with the apostles of the early church, particularly with Peter.  Although Peter gets a lot of flack for being impetuous and seemingly a bit foolhardy in the gospels (which he wasn’t – at least not more than any of us, but that’s another story!), the book of Acts shows Peter as nothing less than a shining example of what it looks like to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.  If we were to sum up the work of Peter in the book of Acts, we could say it like this: Peter did what Jesus did.  That’s exactly what we see in this transitional point in the book.


Because this is a transition within the book of Acts, we need to get a bit of review and overview.  Remember that Luke gave his readers a broad outline of the book when he quoted some of Jesus’ last words to the disciples prior to His ascension: Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In Chapters 1-7, we saw the apostles (and church) as witnesses to Jerusalem.  There was the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost where Peter preached the gospel and 3000 people were saved.  There was the constant devotion of the church to doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer, and people were daily added to the church.  There was the healing of the paralyzed man at the Jerusalem temple, which led to another preaching opportunity for Peter & John (as well as opposition from the Jewish leadership).  Things continued along these lines until Stephen became the first Christian martyred to death, and Saul began his work of persecution in earnest.  It was then that the gospel began to spread to all Judea and Samaria, with Philip (as a specific example) first preaching the gospel to the Samaritans in Acts 8. Luke followed Philip’s ministry for just a bit, and then narrated Saul’s conversion to the faith as he came face to face with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and quickly had his own first beginnings in Christian evangelism and ministry.


Thus far, evangelism had been mostly contained to those of Jewish faith & background.  There have been a few hints at some other ethnicities (Philip among Samaria & with the Ethiopian eunuch), but it has primarily been to the Jews, in the areas that Jesus had described.  The gospel is about to break open a whole new mission field in Chapter 10!  But before we get there, Luke describes how it came about.  For that, he has to transition back to Peter and his mission activity around Judea and Samaria.  The last time we saw Peter, he had gone to Samaria at Philip’s request, prayed that they would receive the Holy Spirit (which they did), and chastised Simon the sorcerer who had tried to bribe his way into the ministry.  After that, Peter and John returned to Jerusalem, while preaching the gospel through the rest of the Samaritan villages on their way back home. (Acts 8:25)


What happened after that?  That’s what Luke takes up next.  Peter stayed active in ministry, following in the footsteps of Jesus.  He worked miracles, and one miracle led to another.  One witness led to another.  And THAT witness led to the expansion of the Great Commission.  When Christians are active, Jesus is known!


Christian: Do what Peter did.  What did Peter do?  Peter did what Jesus did.  He served in the opportunities God gave him, and as he did, Jesus was known.  Don’t get complacent; get active!  Do what Jesus did so that Jesus can be known!


Acts 9:32–43

  • Healing Aeneas / Legs to the Lame (32-35)

32 Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. 33 There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed.

  1. As to when all of these took place, we really don’t have much of an idea. Luke simply writes, “Now it came to pass,” which is about as general a description as it can get.  If we were to judge things chronologically by what Luke had just written about Saul, then it would have been some time after the three years following Saul’s conversion outside of Damascus.  Remember Saul was converted, spent some time getting discipled and preaching, went to Arabia for several years, came back to Damascus, had to escape Damascus, went to Jerusalem, and had to escape Jerusalem and get sent back to Tarsus.  (Saul did a lot of escaping!)  That said, we don’t know if Luke’s narrative picks up from that point, or if he looks back to an earlier period of time, perhaps while Saul is still in Arabia.  Luke’s goal isn’t to pinpoint this to a particular month and year; it’s to show the continued spread of the gospel and the obedience of the apostles in their ministry.
  2. And Peter was being obedient! Although he had returned to Jerusalem from Samaria, Peter started up again and traveled outside of Jerusalem.  Lydda is modern day Lod, approx. 23-25 miles northwest of Jerusalem.  It was a major city then (as today) – a natural place for Peter to go in order to preach the gospel.
  3. There, Peter found the “” Apparently the gospel had already come to Lydda (how, we don’t know), and Peter spent some time ministering to them – most likely in doctrinal teaching. 
    1. The term “saints” is interesting. Earlier in Acts, Ananias of Damascus referred to Christians as saints (9:13).  Luke uses the same term here.  Saints = ἅγιος = “holy one / holy.”  In Rev 4:8, when the angelic creatures surround God’s throne proclaiming His praises, they declare: “Ἅγιος ἅγιος ἅγιος”; “Holy, holy, holy.”  God is utterly holy, pure, & righteous, completely set apart from anything else.  Guess what?  By His grace, God makes us what He is.  We who were defiled & profane have been made holy.  We have been set apart for God’s use and God’s glory by God’s grace in Jesus.  You aren’t a saint because you are a good person, deserving of the title – you aren’t a saint because some church council voted and decided to give you the title after your death; you’re a saint because Jesus made you a saint!  You have been made holy by the grace of God…nothing less will do!
  4. How did Peter discover/find Aeneas? We don’t know.  Perhaps Peter just happened upon him – maybe Peter was led directly by the Holy Spirit.  Whether directly or indirectly, this was no-doubt a God-ordained encounter.  Aeneas was in a bad situation.  He wasn’t born lame (unlike the man at the temple gate in Acts 3), but although his exact illness is unknown, it must have been bad for him to have been bedridden for eight whole years.  By this point, he was basically hopeless.  He had likely given up any thought of ever walking again.  Can you imagine it?  Those with chronic illnesses have an idea what it was like.  One day, things aren’t feeling so right, and it progresses & progresses until your life has completely changed.  Doctors offer little help – perhaps a prescription to mask the pain or a surgery with small results, but that’s it.  After a while, “change” isn’t even on your mind – it’s not a possibility.  That’s where Aeneas was.  At this point, we don’t know if Aeneas was a Christian or if he knew Peter – all we know is that when Peter found the saints in Lydda, he also found Aeneas.  What we do know is that for the first time in eight years, Aeneas’ life was about to be radically changed.  And it would have nothing to do with Peter, and everything to do with Jesus


34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.” Then he arose immediately.

  1. Peter met Aeneas, and Peter healed Aeneas in the name of Jesus Christ. Again, so many of the details are missing.  We don’t read of the Holy Spirit speaking to Peter the way the Spirit did to Philip (Acts 8:29), or of Jesus instructing Peter what to do the way Jesus instructed Ananias (Acts 9:11).  All we read is Peter seeing a need, and taking the initiative by taking a step of faith – just as what happened when he and John saw the other paralyzed man in the temple gate in Jerusalem (Acts 3:6).  God had blessed Peter with a ministry of healings, to the point that people brought out their sick to him hoping that even his shadow might fall on them (Acts 5:15).  Peter had seen Jesus do all kinds of work in the past, and Peter knew Jesus could do it again, so he stepped out in faith.  God gave him an opportunity, and he seized it with both hands.
    1. Too often, we let our opportunities pass us by. We think, “Oh, wouldn’t that be great if the Lord decided to act!” but we don’t take the next step of obedience under the possibility that God might use us while He acts.  Take a step of faith, and see what God does.  It’s not about us making a name for ourselves (if that’s our motivation, we can be sure God won’t use us at all!); it’s about Jesus being known.  It might not be a supernatural miracle, but it can still be a powerful act.  It could be prayer when it’s most needed – food to someone who’s hungry – yardwork to a neighbor who can’t do it – or simply (most importantly!) the gospel to someone right in front of us.  We don’t need to wait for someone else to come along & do it; we can step out in faith and act.  When God gives you opportunities, take them!
  2. Again, Peter healed Aeneas in the name of Jesus Christ (or Jesus the Christ, depending on your translation). What does this tell us?  Peter didn’t heal Aeneas; Jesus did.  Peter did not even claim to have the ability to heal; that power belongs solely to Christ Jesus.  (When Jesus empowers us through the Spirit to heal, He does so at His will & His pleasure.  There is no example in the New Testament of anyone (other than Jesus) who had the permanent gift of healing, because no one who healed is recorded doing it all their life.  There’s too much danger for ego and pride to develop.)  But the point? Jesus, the one crucified yet risen from the dead, healed Aeneas.
    1. Notice that Peter specifically used Christ as a title, which it is. Often, people think of it as one of Jesus’ names, but it’s a title meaning “Anointed One.” It refers to the Messiah King of all Israel: the Son of God who is equal with God who has all the power of God and who will return in the glory of God to rule over the kingdom of God.  Today, people use “Christ” as a curse word; it’s anything but!  That Jesus is the Christ is one of the most glorious truths we can imagine.  All power/authority in heaven and earth resides in Jesus because Jesus is the Christ!
    2. He has power to heal, He has power to forgive, and He has power to save. Trust Jesus as the Christ, and trust Him to save you!
  3. Notice that Jesus did it at that very moment. It’s not that Jesus had healed Aeneas back at the cross, and Peter just declared it at the time. The word is in the present tense “Jesus the Christ heals you,” or “is healing you,” (although Jesus’ healing does not take time).  Why is that important?  Jesus could currently heal because Jesus is currently alive.  His presence in heaven does not hinder His power on earth.  We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Too often we pray to Jesus or think of Jesus as if He’s dead. Not so!  Jesus may be in heaven, but He is fully alive!  There is nothing He cannot do.  When Jesus declared from the cross “It is finished,” He referred to the work of sacrifice (propitiation & expiation = satisfying the wrath of God, and wiping out the judgment of sin); it’s not as if Jesus now has nothing to do.  It’s not as if Jesus sat down at the right hand of God and has been twiddling His thumbs for 2000 years!  Jesus is alive, He’s active, and He’s powerful!  Jesus works in this present day, interceding for us to God, preparing an eternal home for us to be with Him, preparing to come back in power and glory, and much more.  And yes, Jesus currently heals people today.  How & when is up to Him, but He can do it!
  4. How long did it all take? No time at all.  Aeneas’ healing was immediate.  Eight years of infirmity were gone in an instant.  All the muscular atrophy was healed and his full strength was restored.  Aeneas was able, at that very moment to stand up, bend over, and pick up his mat to go home.  What other people had done for him for nearly a decade, he was immediately able to do for himself.
    1. BTW – What was the only thing that would have stopped Aeneas from doing this? If he refused to rise.  Of course his healing was not dependent on his faith – according to Peter, that had presently been granted by Jesus.  Yet Aeneas could have acted according to his former paralysis, despite his received healing.
    2. Do we walk in the grace & power that Jesus has promised and given? Do we believe Him at His word?
  5. Thinking upon this healing, did Peter make this up?   Again, Peter had been used by the Lord many times in the past to heal.  But most importantly, Peter had learned it earlier. This was what Jesus had done many times in His own ministry, which Peter had seen firsthand.  John 5 tells of another man who had become sick and lame in his feet – not for 8 years, but for 38 years.  Although he desired healing, he had lost all hope of it…and that’s when he met Jesus. John 5:7–9, “(7) The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” (8) Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” (9) And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.” And that was just one of many!  Jesus was known for His healing abilities, and people came from all over the region to see Him.  For three years, Peter witnessed this & learned. Peter wasn’t inventing something new on the spot; he was walking in the footsteps of his Master & Lord.  What had Jesus done?  That’s what Peter was determined to do.  Peter was a servant of Christ the King, an ambassador of Messiah Jesus, thus Peter wanted to represent Jesus at every opportunity & that meant doing what Jesus had called and equipped him to do.
    1. Walk in the footsteps of your Master! We haven’t seen as much as Peter, but we see all we need to see in the pages of Scripture.  Do what Jesus did, in Jesus’ name, as Jesus leads & as Jesus equips.


35 So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

  1. The miracle became a powerful witness to whole region. Lydda was the primary city in the plain of Sharon.  People from all around came to faith in Christ because of what had happened in Lydda.  And why wouldn’t they? Miracles are powerful things, and there is a Person behind that power.  When a person’s life is changed, and that individual can point to Jesus, then it tells other people that Jesus can change their lives too.
    1. This still happens today! Guess what? Conversions are miracles, and they are just as powerful!  Your transformed life can be used to help people turn to the Lord in faith.  All you need to do is simply give Jesus the credit.
  2. Notice how the people around Lydd and Sharon came to faith: they “turned to the Lord.” The word speaks of how the people changed their minds about Jesus, and changed their direction.  This is the essence of repentance!  We often think of repentance as sorrow & contrition (and there is an element of that!), but a person can be sorry about his/her sin without doing anything about it.  You can walk around feeling guilty and sorrow that you’ve rebelled against God without actually surrendering your life to God with a desire to change.  Paul writes about the difference between worldly sorrow and godly sorrow.  The sorrow of the world leads only to death, but godly sorrow produces repentance (2 Cor 7:10).  When a person comes to faith in Christ, it’s not because they were merely sorry; it’s because they repented.  They changed their mind regarding their sin.  They turned away from their own selfish desires & turned to the Lord Jesus in faith, putting all of their hope & trust in Jesus to forgive and to save.  That’s what the people of Lydda & Sharon did.


  • Healing Tabitha / Life to the Dead (36-43)

36 At Joppa there was a certain disciple named Tabitha, which is translated Dorcas. This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did. 37 But it happened in those days that she became sick and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room.

  1. The scene changes from Lydda to Joppa. Joppa is modern-day Tel Aviv-Jofa, around 10 miles west from Lydda (Lod).  It’s on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and was the launching point for Jonah on his ill-fated attempted trip to Tarshish (Spain).  Like Lydda, there was a group of Christians there, and they had a close-knit community.
  2. Among them was Tabitha/Dorcas (Aramaic/Greek for “gazelle”). Like many of her day, she had two names (Simon Peter, Saul/Paul); she was probably called “Dorcas” day-to-day by her neighbors. The Aramaic version of her name becomes important to Peter regarding her healing.  Like Aeneas, along the line she had contracted some sort of illness, but unlike Aeneas, hers ended in her death.  We’re told nothing of her disease or of her age.  Some unknown sickness killed her, and her body was treated according to Jewish custom – it was washed, laid in a room for people to grieve, and waited for her burial.
  3. Although we don’t know much of the details of her illness, we are told of her character. This woman had a wonderful reputation.  Dorcas was a good woman who did “good works and charitable deeds.”  It’s true that no one (and nothing) is truly good but God (Mt 19:17), but none of this speaks of any merit-based salvation.  This is just common terminology for her kindness to widows and her general character.  She was just a kind woman that everyone loved, and that everyone would greatly miss.
  4. We know one other thing about Dorcas: her faith. She was made good in the sight of God, because Luke tells us she was a “” She had faith in the Lord Jesus, even way off in Joppa. As it had in Lydda, the gospel had gone also to Joppa.  There, Dorcas and others were saved, and they made an impact on the people around them.


38 And since Lydda was near Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent two men to him, imploring him not to delay in coming to them.

  1. Although Joppa was 10 miles away, remember that the news of Aeneas’ healing had spread to the whole region of Sharon, so it’s not surprising that the Christians of Joppa heard about it. (In the grand scheme of things, 10 miles isn’t all that far – easily travelled in a day.)  With Dorcas dead and Peter so close, the Christians decided to send for him, urging him to come and help.
  2. Question: If Dorcas was dead, what was the urgency? Simple: She was dead.  Although Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave, they wanted Peter to do something for Dorcas before she was buried.  The sooner Peter got there, the better.  Culturally speaking, three days would pass before someone was considered fully-dead (which was the reason Jonah’s time in the great fish was three days, and his release was like a resurrection – also prefiguring Jesus’ time in the grave). With Dorcas dead and 10 miles to travel between towns, no time could be wasted.
  3. Note: This means that the Joppa disciples had faith that Peter would be able to raise Dorcas from the dead. Why else would they call for an apostle/prophet after someone had died?  Sure, Peter could minister to the Christian community and comfort them in grief, but there wouldn’t be such the dire urgency.  They knew Peter could offer some sort of miracle in the situation, and they didn’t waste time.  That raises a couple of questions.
    1. Question #1: Was their faith in Jesus, or falsely placed in Peter? Likely Jesus.  It’s clear that they were born-again believers (disciples), so even without perfect theology, it’s doubtful that they would get this wrong.  If they had, surely Peter would have addressed it before doing anything.
    2. Question #2: Why didn’t they try to heal Dorcas or raise her from the dead? We don’t know that they didn’t.  Maybe they had prayed for Dorcas during her sickness to no avail, and thought Peter would be better equipped by the Lord to help. There are many times we pray, and it seems that God doesn’t answer our prayers (at least, not in the way we hoped).  It doesn’t mean we’re “lesser” Christians, any more than it meant those at Joppa were somehow deficient.  They just needed extra help.  We’re all part of the body of Christ, and we all need one another.  If there’s something you can’t see done in prayer, ask another believer to pray with you.  If you need help in a spiritual struggle, have someone come alongside you.  That’s part of what it means to be in a church: the called-out ones, put together by Christ Jesus.  We bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).


39 Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them.

  1. Peter went and found the widows “weeping” (crying, bewailing). Although it was not uncommon in the culture to hire professional mourners for the dead, this doesn’t seem to have been the case.  These were women personally impacted by Dorcas.  They were widows, which meant they were among the poorest of the poor in their city.  Apparently Dorcas had made clothes for them to help provide for them.  As they grieved, they showed Peter all that Dorcas had done, and they were brokenhearted for how much they would miss her.
  2. Genuine grief is natural with death, even if we do not grieve as the rest of the world. We don’t sorrow as those who have no hope (1 Ths 4:13).  When our loved one is in Christ, and we are in Christ, we will be reunited in heaven as we all join together in our worship of God.  Even so, we still grieve, and weeping is natural.  Even Jesus wept at a funeral, and He was about to raise Lazarus out of the grave!
  3. So put it all together: Peter was in the middle of a ministry journey, already being used by Jesus to work miracles. He was urgently called to Joppa for a specific miracle with the death of the beloved Dorcas.  Peter knows what the people expect him to do, and the time had come.  What happens next is absolutely key. 


40 But Peter put them all out, and knelt down and prayed. And turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up.

  1. What happened? Peter did what Jesus did.  Peter had witnessed Jesus do this exact thing in His own ministry, and Peter followed in Jesus’ footsteps. Mark 5:38–42, “(38) Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. (39) When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.” (40) And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. (41) Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” (42) Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement.”  Originally, when Jesus had arrived in this town, the leader of the synagogue (Jairus) had rushed to come to Him, because his daughter was sick.  Jesus and the disciples went with Jairus, but was delayed along the way when a chronically ill woman with a hemorrhage was healed when she reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment.  While Jesus comforted her, some of Jairus’ friends arrived with the sad news that his daughter had died.  Jesus encouraged Jairus to continue to have faith, went on to the house, and proceeded to heal the girl.  All three of the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) contain the story, and each tell it a bit differently.  Mark gives the Aramaic words Jesus spoke (remember this!), and Luke gives the detail that Jesus took only Peter, James, and John with Him into the room with the girl (Lk 8:51).  Peter was a firsthand witness to this miracle, had seen exactly what Jesus did, and knew the time had come for him to do the same thing.  Peter wasn’t being presumptuous; he was simply acting as a disciple of his Master, walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
  2. Specifically, what happened?
    1. Peter got alone. Like Jesus, he put everyone outside the room.  This wasn’t a time for commotion or drama – it wasn’t a time to call attention to himself to show others how “holy” he was.  (It certainly wasn’t a time to pass the plate and ask for a faith offering!)  Peter was trusting Jesus would work in this situation, just as Jesus had worked with Aeneas, and Peter needed to be alone with Jesus in order to avoid the distraction and hype.
    2. Peter prayed. There’s no word in the Synoptic gospels of Jesus praying in Jairus’ house, although Jesus was known for His habit of prayer.  But it makes sense that Peter prayed.  After all, he wasn’t doing this under his own authority or initiative; the only way Peter would be able to do something is if God worked through Peter.  Thus, he bathed it in prayer.
    3. Peter followed the word of God. Although the New Testament is written in Greek, more often than not the Jews of the day spoke in Aramaic.  Mark was the only gospel writer that recorded Jesus’ Aramaic words in the moment: “Talitha cumi,” which meant “Little girl, arise.” What was it that Peter spoke in Aramaic? “Tabitha cumi.” One letter difference…appropriate for the moment.  Peter remembered what Jesus did, he remembered what Jesus said, and Peter did the same thing.
  3. What do we do when faced with an opportunity given us by the Lord? Do what Peter did, by doing what Jesus did.  Do it humbly, without hype – do it in prayer – do it according to God’s word.  Remember it’s not our ministry; it’s Jesus’ ministry.  We do it His way, according to His example, for His glory.


41 Then he gave her his hand and lifted her up; and when he had called the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord.

  1. Peter gave her back to her church family and friends, and they no doubt rejoiced and had a party. How could they not?  A miracle had been done by Jesus, and Jesus was to be praised!
  2. Jesus was also to be believed. As in Lydda, the miracle that took place in Joppa was another powerful witness of Jesus Christ.  Although we don’t know what Peter said when he presented Dorcas back to the others, Jesus obviously received all the glory.  After all, people didn’t believe upon Peter; they “believed on the Lord.”  They had known it was Jesus who acted, and they believed on Him through faith.
    1. This is the entire point of miracles! It’s never about the guy on TV waving around his coat, demanding money.  It’s not even like the well-meaning Christians who mistakenly believe in the power of “faith” to heal.  Faith doesn’t heal; Jesus heals.  The faith we have is in Him & His power; not our own.  Thus when we see miracles occur, the reason God gives them is so people can turn to Jesus in repentance and faith.  It’s not about miracles – it’s not about the men and women God uses to work miracles; it’s all about Jesus.
    2. What miracle has taken place in your life for which you’ve not given credit to Jesus? Whatever it is, you missed its purpose.  Many people become people of prayer in ER’s & ICU rooms.  People will beg Jesus for help when they get arrested.  They’ll become men & women of faith when stranded on the side of the road.  How often does Jesus get the credit when Jesus gives the rescue?  How long does faith last, after the prayer is answered?  For many people, they have faith enough for the moment, but not faith enough for beyond.  Which means they don’t have the right kind of faith: saving  Miracles are meant to take us to the Master, the Lord Jesus.  They proclaim His name and His glory, and we need to recognize them for what they are!
  3. Luke wraps up the account in verse 43…


43 So it was that he stayed many days in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.

  1. Tanners work with animal carcasses, skinning the animals and making leather products. Considering that any Jew who touched a dead unclean animal was considered temporarily unclean (Lev 5:2), tanners who were Jewish were in a constant state of impurity.  So put it together what happened in Joppa: Simon Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner.  This was a big step for Peter! Already Peter’s heart was softened toward those who might otherwise be excluded from the congregation of Israel.  This sets the stage for Chapter 10.
  2. How long did Peter stay? “Many days.”  We don’t know.  Could have been a few days, a few weeks, or a few months.  However long it was, it was long as it needed to be for Cornelius to receive his vision and to send for Peter!



As Chapter 9 concludes, Peter doesn’t know what Jesus has in store for him, but he made himself fully available to follow Jesus wherever He led.  Peter had stepped out in faith to travel the countryside preaching the gospel (just as Jesus did, and as Jesus had called him to do).  Peter stepped out in faith to heal the paralyzed Aeneas (just as Jesus did, and as Jesus had equipped him to do).  Peter stepped out in faith yet again to pray that Dorcas/Tabitha would be raised from the dead (just as Jesus did, and as Jesus led him to do).  Peter walked as Jesus walked, modeling the ministry of his Master, trusting that Jesus would lead him…and Jesus did!


And in the process, the gospel expanded and exploded across the region.  Of course it would – it couldn’t be otherwise!  When people see Jesus working, people come to faith in Jesus’ person.  When they see the result of Jesus transforming lives, they want their lives to be transformed, too.  How will they see that sort of transformation?  When they see you living as one who has been transformed!  When they see Jesus’ work in you, it opens the door for you to tell of Jesus’ gospel, and for them to be saved.


Christian: Step out in faith!  Don’t get complacent, expecting God to simply bring everything your way.  Get active, using the opportunities God has given you.  You have an example, not only in the apostles of the early church, but in Christ Jesus Himself.  Go serve others as Jesus leads and equips you to serve, giving credit to Jesus, and pointing to His salvation.  That’s following in the footsteps of our Master, and that’s something that every single born-again believer can do.


For others, the first step in following Jesus is to actually follow Him.  To date, you haven’t.  You’ve lived your life for yourself, doing the things you wanted to do, being the ruler of your own world.  Newsflash: you’re not a ruler; you’re in rebellion.  Almighty God is the ruler, having created you & given you life & breath.  Every good gift you have has been given you by God, and (like all of us at some point), you rebelled against Him with lies, anger, lusts, pride, blasphemy, and more.  But the good news is this: God offers you forgiveness through Jesus!  Today, you have the opportunity to turn to Christ in repentance and faith…do it!


Our Battle Strategy

Posted: October 13, 2018 in Romans, Uncategorized

Men’s Conference 2018: War Games

Romans 8:5-13, “Our Battle Strategy”

When it comes to war, strategy matters. Running headlong into a battle without a plan might appear to be brave, but is often a suicide mission. Military officers know this, and spend long hours planning their strategies before ever committing a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman to battle. Popular Mechanics writing of the Allied invasion of France during WWII for D-Day (codenamed “Operation Overlord”), says of the Allied plan: “It embraced the air, ground and sea forces of this nation and our allies. It hurdled problems of supply and transport, of pre-invasion training, of production and improvement of weapons, of photo-reconnaissance and mapping on a scale that makes the battle plans of Napoleon look like a game of checkers. More than 125,000,000 maps alone, just to mention one item, were used in perfecting the master invasion plan.” In response to the event itself, Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “Everything proceeded according to plan. And what a plan!” (

Plans and strategies are not only needed on French beaches and Afghani deserts; they are needed is our spiritual war as well.

We’ve already heard about the reality of spiritual battle, and we’ve taken a look at our God-given weapons and defensive armor. Soon, we’ll talk of the certain victory we have in Jesus. What do we do in the meantime? We fight…but we need to know how to fight. We need to know how to use what the Lord has given, so that we can glorify Him until He comes to take us home.

There are many types of battles we can face in spiritual war. There is demonic oppression that comes against us through various principalities, powers, and rulers of darkness. There is the devilish attack that causes us to doubt our salvation, against which we hold on to our helmet of salvation and shield of faith. Of course there is the forward battle we face as we take the gospel into all the world, with the truth of Jesus going against the lies of the world. Some of this, we’ve already looked at a bit, trusting Jesus to equip us for those times through the Holy Spirit.

But there’s another type of spiritual battle that hits us all on a regular basis: the battle against our flesh. And this is perhaps, most difficult. After all, it’s one thing to gear ourselves up to fight an external enemy; it’s another when the enemy is us. James acknowledged this in his own epistle: James 1:12–14, “(12) Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (13) Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. (14) But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” Where do those battles of temptation arise? Certainly not from God! But we can’t even blame the devil. At the core of our temptations are our own desires…we’ve got to do battle with ourselves. How do we do it? How do we fight this kind of spiritual warfare?

Paul knew what it was like to struggle in warfare. Given his ministry as an apostle, how could he not? Sometimes he battled against the false teachers who followed him from place to place – other times he battled the churches he personally planted, urging them not to depart from the gospel and pure doctrine (re: 2 Cor 10:1-6). That being said, Paul also knew what it was like to struggle in his own personal spiritual battles. He wrote about it to the Romans, sounding not so much like “St. Paul the holy apostle to the Gentiles,” but just “Paul” – a Christian just like the rest of us. [Romans 7:15-24]

It was a terrible struggle – and it is something to which we can all relate. Thankfully, Paul knew his victory was in Jesus (which we’ll see in the next session), but he also knew there were some practical things he could do in the meantime. As a born-again Christian freed from the law and freed from sin, Paul didn’t have to give himself over to sin. He didn’t have to resign himself to temptation, thinking “Well this is just the way I am…” No, Paul knew what to do. He had a strategy to deal with his spiritual battle. He realized he was at war, and he was determined to fight it as one.

Gentlemen, we are at war! War can be terrible & harsh, but sometimes it’s necessary. Without the Allied powers in the 1940’s, Nazi Germany would have conquered Europe and countless more people would have died (even beyond the 6+ million Jews of the Holocaust). Wars have stopped tyranny, freed slaves, and saved countless lives in the long run. When evil runs rampant, someone has to stand in the way, and sometimes it means war. That’s no less true in the lives of Christians. Though we belong to Christ, evil wants to run rampant within us, working out its way through our sinful flesh. What can we do? We declare total war, and fight!

How do we do it? What is our strategy? Look at Paul’s strategy in Romans 8: (1) Live according to the Spirit, (2) be empowered by the Spirit, and (3) kill the flesh.

Since what Paul has to say on this is a bit of an aside in his overall teaching in Romans, we need to be careful to set the context. Paul had been contrasting the law of God with the righteousness of God found in faith, and it begged the question of if the law was bad and sinful. The answer: no! The law is good, just, and holy, making us aware of God’s holiness and the sinfulness of our sin. That said, we still struggle with sin (as we read in Romans 7). We may desire to serve the law of God, but we so often serve the law of sin. That’s where the good news of Jesus comes in! We are not condemned in Jesus because Jesus was condemned on our behalf when He took on flesh, dying in our place at the cross. Now, the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled for those who have received Jesus as Lord by faith.

From this point, the question becomes how to live. Unbelievers have no choice except to live outside of Christ, according to their flesh & sin; born-again believers are freed to live by the Spirit for the glory of God. This where Paul takes his aside. After all, Christians don’t always act like Christians. Sometimes Christians live as we used to be: carnal, fleshly people. That’s the war. That’s where our battle against temptation and sin takes place, and that’s where we need to have our battle plan: (1) live according to the Spirit, (2) be empowered by the Spirit, and (3) kill the flesh.

Romans 8:5–13

  • Strategy #1: Live according to the Spirit (5-8)

5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

  1. First things first: What does Paul mean by “the flesh”? It can mean literal flesh (skin, muscle, tissue) – it can refer to one’s entire physical body (as in Rom 8:3 when God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh) – or it can refer to our sinful nature, our fallen natural human condition (and by extension, sometimes the world). Here, it’s the reference to the fallen nature. Those who are fallen set their minds on fallen things; those who are spiritual set their minds on spiritual things. The basic contrast is between the unbeliever and the born-again believer, between the non-Christian and the Christian.
    1. That said, don’t get the idea that as a born-again Christian you have nothing to see in this passage about how to live. Again, Christians don’t always act like Christians. That’s all part of our internal spiritual war. There is a battle that rages within us over the choice to live for Christ or to live for ourselves, between holiness and selfishness. What Paul has to say about the nonbeliever can easily apply to the Christian who chooses to live in rebellion.
  2. Paul describes two kinds of ways to be/to live: (1) according to the flesh, (2) according to the Spirit. The way you live is shown by what you set your mind upon. What is it that you think upon? What is it that you consider – that you desire? The things to which you are disposed are great indicators for the way that you live. Someone who spends all day thinking about their next hit/high, or considering how they can cover up their tracks from sin is someone who obviously doesn’t have a righteous fear of God. That’s a person consumed with himself, setting his mind on the things of the flesh. And of course, that’s exactly how we would expect a nonbeliever to act. If a guy hasn’t surrendered his life to Christ, why would he spend any time thinking on Christ? What does he care if he pleases God? Nonbelievers act like nonbelievers – that shouldn’t be a surprise. (The surprise is when born-again believers act like nonbelievers! That’s when something is terribly wrong!) On the other side of things, believing Christians who have been born of the Holy Spirit set their mind on spiritual things. We make our decisions considering what would be pleasing to God. We set our mind on the plans and desires that God has for us.
    1. Does that mean a true born-again Christian never falls and fails? No! Again, look back to Romans 7…Paul certainly struggled with failure, and we do too. The key is to look at one’s predisposition and habit. Do you grieve over sin? When you’ve made the choice to rebel, has your conscience been struck? Good! Praise God! That’s a sign of the Holy Spirit within you, disciplining you, bringing you to a point of repentance. (And because of the grace of Jesus, we have the free invitation to repent, confess, and be cleansed! 1 Jn 1:9)
  3. What’s the result of these two ways of living? Carnal/fleshly thinking is deathly thinking; spiritual thinking is life & peaceful thinking. Again, this makes complete sense in terms of nonbelievers & born-again believers. Nonbelievers think upon the flesh, act according to the flesh, and inherit the destiny of the flesh: death. Believers in Jesus, on the other hand, think upon spiritual thing because we’ve been born of the Holy Spirit, act according to the new desires given us by God the Spirit, and inherit the destiny of those who have been born and sealed by the Spirit: life. We have life and peace because we have been transformed, made new by the Holy Spirit because of the work of Jesus Christ.
    1. But put that in terms of Christians walking as non-Christians – when we spend seasons in sin. During the times that we give in to fleshly desires, thinking on them & acting upon them, we’re walking in death. How tragic & ironic! That men born of the Holy Spirit, guaranteed eternal life, would be walking around as if we were dead corpses headed for decay! Who among us would go to a graveyard, dig up a casket, and wear a dead man’s clothes? Yet that’s exactly what we do when we walk in sin, thinking upon the temptations that come our way, and giving into them. It ought to be abhorrent to us! That’s why this is a war!

7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.

  1. Paul even uses war-like terms to describe the struggle. The “carnal mind” (literally, “fleshly mind,” – the same root word is used for “flesh” as for “carnal”) is an enemy of God. It is hostile against God. When used as a noun, the word for “enmity” sometimes refers to enemy nations facing one another in war, or even personal opponents who truly hate one another. This is the relationship between the flesh and the Spirit, between the carnal mind & God. There is no middle ground between them, with no possible reconciliation. The flesh cannot be anything other than a hostile enemy of God. God will not compromise His holiness, and the flesh seeks only its own pleasures and lusts. The only way for a fleshly (carnal) person to be reconciled to God is to have his flesh die.
    1. BTW – This is exactly what happens when we put our faith in Christ. Our very baptism symbolizes how we were buried with Jesus in death and raised to new life in His resurrection. (Rom 6:3-4)
  2. What does this tell us? We need to recognize the war! We need to recognize the battle lines & figure out what side you’re on. Do you serve the flesh, or do you serve Jesus? We’ve got to settle it in our mind, and make the choice, for we cannot have it both ways. Referring to money, Jesus said that a man cannot serve two masters (Mt 6:24) – if that’s true of money, it’s certainly true of sin & temptation. The Christian who tries to straddle the fence will find himself completely torn. The war will rage in his heart, with absolutely no resolution. He will walk in constant guilt, weighed down by grief. See it for what it is! It’s a war, and we’ve got to pick the winning side!

8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

  1. Just to drive it home, Paul makes it clear. Fleshly people are enemies of God; they do not, nor cannot please Him. It’s one or the other. Galatians 5:16–17, “(16) I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. (17) For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” There’s the positive & the negative. The positive: walk in the Spirit & you simply won’t engage in lustful, fleshly sin. The negative: if you’re fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, it means you aren’t walking in the Spirit. These things are polar-opposites of each other, never existing at the same time. – Did you ever play with magnets as a kid? I used to love to put opposing poles next to each other and “push” the magnets around without them ever touching. – That’s the way it is with the Spirit and the flesh. They won’t ever touch because they’re polar-opposites.
  2. Keep in mind, Paul doesn’t say that it’s difficult or challenging to please God while living according to the flesh; he says that it’s impossible. They “cannot please God.” The Greek is extremely clear on this point: this is simply not possible. Again, it means we need to recognize our battle, and make a clear choice on which side we stake our claim. We can either live according to the flesh, or live according to the Spirit, but we cannot do both.
    1. Again, in Paul’s context, “those who are in the flesh” are unbelievers (which Paul makes clear in a moment). And with that in mind, it makes perfect sense that unbelievers cannot please God because they still have their sin in the way. At that point, they are still in a state of rebellion against God, having rejected Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. So of course they cannot please God, because they don’t belong to God. (Although that can change at any time! If that’s you, you can repent of your sins and surrender your life to Jesus as your Lord & Savior!)
    2. But none of that takes away from the fact that believers can (and do!) act like nonbelievers. We can go through times where we give into sin and temptation, and we temporarily act according to the flesh. When we do, we do not please God!
    3. BTW – For a true born-again Christian, this sort of rebellion is a temporary state. We stumble and fall into sin from time to time; we don’t swim around in it, never leaving it. If you do, you’ve got some difficult questions to ask yourself. (2 Cor 13:5)

Paul has set the stage between believers and nonbelievers (and believers acting like nonbelievers). He goes on to make the point that believers don’t have to act like nonbelievers…

  • Strategy #2: Be equipped in the spirit by the Spirit (9-11)

9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

  1. The “if” here is not a questionable-maybe-perhaps-if. It’s a surety. If the Holy Spirit is in you, you are not in the flesh. This gets back to the overall context and contrast between believers and non-believers. There is an aspect of walking in the flesh that is a choice (as we’ll see in verse 12), but there’s another aspect of it that is simply one’s identity. A man without the Spirit of God is, by definition, “in the flesh.” But a man who has the Holy Spirit is most certainly of the Spirit, having been indwelled by the 3rd Person of the Trinity. That person might sometimes act according to the flesh, but is no longer of the flesh.
    1. And that is good news, indeed! There is hope for the Christian! We are not who we used to be; we are new creations in Christ!
  2. BTW – There is wonderful theology here, although we don’t have the time to dig deeply into it. (1) The indwelling of the Spirit – something that takes place with every Christian at the moment of his salvation… (2) The equality of God the Father & Christ. Paul uses “the Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of Christ” interchangeably… Jesus is fully divine, no less God than God the Father.
    1. Put it together, and we see that we belong to the Living God, Who actually indwells our very body! Talk about being different than what we were before…we couldn’t be any more different!

10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

  1. What’s the logical follow-up to having the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ) indwelling us? It means we have life! Sin kills the body, because the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). All sin leads to death…there’s simply no other option. But when we are in Christ (when we believe upon Jesus as Lord for forgiveness and salvation), then our death is wrapped up in Jesus’ death. Jesus died on the cross, substituting Himself in our place, so our death died with Him. Remember what Jesus told Martha at the funeral of her brother Lazarus: John 11:25–26, “(25) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. (26) And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”” If we can say “Yes, I believe!” then we can know we have life. Christ is in us – Christ is risen – thus, we have life.
  2. What does this mean for the idea of our spiritual war against temptation? If we have life, we have freedom! We don’t live in death; we live in life because we have been given the Spirit through the righteous work of Jesus. So now we are free. [Romans 6:20-22] When we were without Christ, we had no choice not to sin. How could we? We were of the flesh, did the things of the flesh, desired the things of the flesh, and had the destiny of the flesh. We did not desire the things of the Spirit because we were not yet made alive by the Spirit. It’s not that we lacked freewill; it’s that we lacked choices. We had the freewill to sin as much or as little as we desired in the day, but some kind of sin was the only choice we had. Sinners sin – that’s just who they are (who we were) and what they do.
  3. Put in terms of spiritual war. Sinners don’t fight against their flesh, because at that point there is no fight. That’s just what they do, and what’s available to them. Christians fight against our flesh, because for the first time we have the choice to fight. This is why it grieves us when we sin – this is why it’s a struggle & battle for us when faced with temptation. This is why sometimes it feels like life was easier when we were in our sin, because we weren’t faced with the choice of right or wrong. We may have known what we were doing was wrong – we just didn’t care. But now we do. (Or at least born-again believers do. If you don’t care, that’s a red warning flag that your faith in Christ isn’t what you think it to be!)
  4. That said, Paul’s point here isn’t one of powerless in our struggle against sin; it’s the fact that we have been empowered & equipped. Christ is in us – we’ve been indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Because we have, we don’t have to live in the deeds of the flesh – we can live according to the Spirit and in righteousness! Verse 11…

11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

  1. Once again, this if isn’t a “maybe, perhaps,” but a “yes, absolutely!” Because the Holy Spirit is in us, we have the wonderful assurance of God for eternal, resurrected life! We will struggle from time to time with temptation, and there will be seasons in which we feel as complete failures regarding sin – but those things do not define us. Jesus does! His Spirit is within us – we have been born of the Holy Spirit, transformed by the Holy Spirit, set free by the Holy Spirit, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  2. How much power is available through the Spirit to the Christian? It was enough to raise Jesus from the dead in three days! Infinite power is available to believers. God’s hand has not been shortened – there are no limits on what He can do, apart from contradicting His own character and nature.
  3. Friends, that’s power! No Christian has any excuse to feel “powerless.” Have you ever felt powerless in the fight against sin – as if you didn’t have a choice? (1) You do have a choice, and (2) You aren’t powerless! — The question is whether you’ve accessed that power. If you are born-again (you’ve repented of your sins & placed all your faith & trust in the Lord Jesus for eternal life), then Scripture is clear that you have the Spirit. That’s much of Paul’s point here in Romans 8. So it’s not so much a question of whether you have the Spirit, but whether you are continually filled with the Spirit, being empowered by Him. IOW, the Spirit automatically indwells all believers, but the Spirit is also available to repeatedly empower all believers. (Eph 5:18)

Paul gave a lot of theology; now he gets practical. Regarding spiritual warfare, he’s said we need to make the choice to live according to the Spirit (instead of the flesh), and that we are to be empowered and equipped by the Holy Spirit to actually live in the way God has called us to live. Now what do we do? Verse 12…

  • Strategy #3: Kill the flesh (12-13)

12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

  1. Contextually, Paul has written much about the natural division between unbelievers & believers, those living according to their fallen flesh & those living according to the new life of the Spirit within us. (We’ve seen application to spiritual war, but the original context is one of spiritual reality.) Now, Paul intentionally makes the switch to the choice we make as believers. Notice he’s addressing the “brethren,” the believers in the Roman church. He, along with those brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus had choices to make about the way they (and we) live. And, they have good reason to make it: they owed God a great debt. “We are debtors.” NASB “We are under obligation.” We owe God our holiness and purity. It’s not that we have to somehow earn our salvation through our good works and holy living (that’s impossible!); it’s that because our salvation has already been purchased for us through the work of Jesus Christ, now we are obliged to Him. It’s like what Paul will later write in his letter, that since Jesus gave His body for us as a sacrifice, that we would give ourselves back to Him as living sacrifices, as our reasonable (logical) service/worship (Rom 12:1). What else would we do? Our eternal lives exist due to God’s mercy, grace, and love toward us in Christ Jesus – this is the right We owe Him – not in a burdensome way, but in joyous gratitude.
  2. There are two levels to this. First: Unbelievers die, believers live. This goes back to that initial contrast that we’ve seen throughout the passage. Those who live according to the flesh because they belong to the flesh, and act out according to the flesh, will die according to the flesh. They do not have access to the life that is freely available in Christ Jesus. And the opposite is true as well: those who live according to the Spirit, evidenced partly by our transformed lives as the deeds of the flesh are put to death, will live. Our life is wrapped up in Jesus’ resurrected life, and because His Spirit (the Holy Spirit) is within us, we will live, too.
  3. The second level deals with the issue of the believer’s choice. When we choose to live according to the flesh (even though we no longer have to do so), we live as though we are still doomed for death. (This is when we’re walking around in old grave clothes, acting like the old man, even though we have been made new.) But when we choose to live according to the Spirit, then the things that die are the sinful deeds of the body. Remember what we saw in Galatians 5:17: when we walk in the Spirit, we will not/shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. When we make the conscious choice to walk according to the Spirit, being consistently empowered by the Spirit, then we walk in life; it is our sinful deeds & desires that die.
  4. The lesson? Kill the flesh! Paul wrote earlier that we ought to reckon ourselves dead to sin, but alive in God to Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:11). We consider ourselves dead to the person we were, and we also kill off whatever desires and deeds that remain. Once we’ve recognized the battle lines and been empowered for the fight, we fight! Let those deeds die – kill them off – declare war upon them.

“Sounds great. How do we do it?” Total war. The idea of “total war” sounds harsh, when taken from a human point of view. It’s no quarter, no prisoners. It’s war-unrestricted – no limits on targets, weaponry used, or tactics involved – it is total commitment to the utter defeat of one’s enemies, no matter the cost. Again, from a human standpoint it’s brutal & ought to be avoided whenever possible. From a spiritual standpoint, it’s an absolute necessity. Total war is to take no prisoners and to seek destruction of one’s enemies…can we have any less when tackling our flesh? Can there be any compromise with sin, or mercy upon our flesh? No.

The Bible gives us some pictures of what this sort of warfare looks like. In the book of Joshua, the children of Israel were supposed to engage in this type of warfare during the conquest of the Promised Land. It’s not that they were supposed to be cruel; it’s that they were supposed to act as God’s instrument of judgment upon the Canaanites, Amorites, etc., in response to centuries of sin. So God called Joshua to war. One of the great battles came in the 10th chapter when the Israelites faced down a confederacy of five armies. God fought on behalf of Israel, causing great hailstones to fall from the sky & causing the sun to stand still, allowing the battle to continue until the armies were totally defeated. The 5 kings ran & hid, but they were trapped by Israel, and brought out by Joshua for execution. [JOSHUA 10:22-27] No mercy. Why? Because it was total war.

The follow-up was just as thorough. Joshua went on to the various city survivors.

  • 10:28, He let none remain
  • 10:30, He let none remain
  • 10:33, He left him none remaining
  • 10:35, he utterly destroyed
  • 10:36, utterly destroyed
  • 10:39, He left none remaining
  • 10:40, …As the Lord God of Israel commanded!

All of this war and destruction was according to the command of the Lord. Why? Because God knew what would happen if/when the Israelites failed. The surviving Canaanites and Amorites would cause the Hebrews to fall into idolatry and other sin. And that’s exactly what happened! Although Joshua was faithful to his duty, the rest of the people were not. That’s why God declared to Israel that because of their disobedience that He would “not drive them out before you, but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” (Judges 2:3) God had called them to war, but they were too lazy to fight…and they paid the price.

We see it again in 1 Samuel 15 when King Saul was disobedient to the command of the Lord to utterly destroy the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:3). Although Saul defeated the Amalekites in battle, he left King Agag alive, and took some of the plunder for himself and his people. That’s not what God had commanded him to do, and he lost the kingdom because of it (it was later given to David). Because of Saul’s disobedience, a remnant of the Amalekites remained, which later forms the basis for the crisis in the book of Esther. What should have happened? Saul should have taken no prisoners, and waged total war against God’s enemies. The prophet Samuel was forced to pick up the slack and do what Saul refused to do. 1 Samuel 15:32–33, “(32) Then Samuel said, “Bring Agag king of the Amalekites here to me.” So Agag came to him cautiously. And Agag said, “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” (33) But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hacked Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.” Total war! Brutal, bloody…but effective.

What’s the point? We need to kill the flesh! It’s total war, taking no prisoners, leaving no way back.

Too often, we leave ourselves little crumb-trails back to our pet sin. We say that we’re done, but we’re really not. Total warfare requires that we burn the bridges, salt the earth, do whatever needs to be done to rid ourselves of temptation. Consider how Jesus said to deal with it during the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:29–30, “(29) If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (30) And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” Extreme? Yes. Exaggeration? Yes, for emphasis. But the idea is clear: do what it takes not to sin. Declare total war upon it!


We are in a spiritual war, and our enemy wants us walking around defeated. The devil would like nothing more than for Christian men to be racked with guilt, burdened by their sin, and unable to bring themselves to proclaim the gospel because of our rank hypocrisy. And beyond the devil, there’s the simple reality that we still have to deal with our fleshly nature every single day. There’s always a temptation to laziness, lustfulness, pride, addictions…anything that takes us back to the men we used to be.

Don’t give into it – fight it, declare war upon it! Once we are assured that we belong to Jesus Christ through repentance and faith, now we can implement our battle strategy:

  1. Live according to the Spirit, purposefully setting your mind upon the things of God. Recognize the battle lines around you, and be prepared for war.
  2. Be empowered by the Spirit.
  3. Kill the flesh, doing away with the deeds of death.

Who Failed?

Posted: October 11, 2018 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 5-6, “Who Failed?

At what point is failure, actually failure? To read business and motivational books, failure is a necessary step on the way to success. If you never fail, you never learn – you never change – you never try something different or put extra effort into something that drives a person to succeed. Sounds great in terms of a motivational poster to hang on the wall, but not so much when it comes to medical function. Throw around the terms “heart failure,” or “kidney failure,” and these are not desired nor necessary at all! Not all “failure” is considered equal.

Yet when we think of failure, we typically think of falling short of the goal. We have a plan for ourselves, don’t reach it, and declare it failed. But even then, that’s not always the case. In a race, the person who starts off first doesn’t necessarily end first. Marathons are known for leaders falling off after 20-21 miles, when someone makes a move and surges out in front. It doesn’t matter what time you crossed at 5K or 13.1 miles; it matters what you cross at 26.2. You have to know what you’re racing before you can determine failure…you might be calling the final far too soon.

Christians experience a similar problem when it comes to our own struggles against sin, and against spiritual attacks. We experience a few bumps in the road, and think ourselves as having failed, when we’ve really only gotten started. That’s what happened with Moses and Aaron at the first encounter with Pharaoh. Things didn’t go the way they expected, and they believed they came up short. The Hebrew people certainly believed that Moses had failed! But he hadn’t failed at all – he had been faithful with what God had called him to do. The Hebrews were looking for a 5K; God was working a marathon. God had a plan at work that would not fail, and it didn’t matter that the Hebrews didn’t understand it or believe it, God’s word and promise was still true.

Remember what brought Moses to this point. The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, having been oppressed for the last several generations with things getting worse as their numbers grew in size. The Pharaoh (likely Thutmose III) persecuted the Hebrews, ordering that all their male newborn children be destroyed, and the Hebrew people cried out to God for deliverance. God answered with the birth of Moses. Moses was miraculously saved from death, brought up in the house of Pharaoh’s daughter. Once an adult, Moses attempted to act on behalf of the Hebrews, but did so outside of the timing & calling of God & actually did fail, and was forced to flee as a fugitive to Midian.

Time passed (40 years!), and Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro when God miraculously appeared in a burning bush, calling Moses to be His mouthpiece and deliverer. God spoke to Moses His name (YHWH), and affirmed that the time had come for Him to keep the covenant that He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From the start, God knew that the new Pharaoh (Amenhotep II) would not let the people go, so God would strike Egypt with His signs and wonders until the point that Pharaoh finally accepted defeat (Exo 3:19-20).

Despite God’s assurances, Moses hesitated. He didn’t know why Pharaoh would listen to this castaway shepherd with difficulty speaking. God gave Moses signs, and ultimately had to chastise him for his disobedience – but was also gracious to him, providing Aaron to speak on his behalf. Finally, Moses was obedient. He left for Egypt (and had to be disciplined along the way for his lack of faithfulness to the covenant), met Aaron, and demonstrated his God-given signs to the Hebrews. At that point, their reaction was good: Exodus 4:31, “So the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped.”

It wouldn’t stay that way! The Hebrews’ initial faith would turn to doubt and disbelief when Moses experienced (what they believed was) his first defeat at the hands of Pharaoh. But God had not failed! (Nor had Moses.) This was only the first step on a long road that led to their redemption. God knew what would happen, even when the people didn’t understand or believe.

Christian: trust the plans and word of God! He does not fail! He sees what we cannot, and He knows where our roads will lead. Trust Him to take you there.

Exodus 5 – Failure with Pharaoh?

  • The first meeting (1-9)

1 Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’ ” 2 And Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.”

  1. The first command of God to Pharaoh, delivered by Moses, spoken by Aaron. Moses and Aaron did exactly what they were supposed to do, themselves faithful to God’s command. Right off the bat, we can know they were not failures, because they were faithful to God.
    1. This is important to keep in mind regarding evangelism. Often Christians think they’ve failed when someone rejects the gospel. Not so! God didn’t call us to convert anyone (that isn’t in our power!); He called us to witness to them. When you testify of Jesus, you’ve been faithful. The only failure is when we fail to speak His name!
  2. What did God say? (1) His name. (2) His claim to His people. (3) His command for His people to be free to worship. He was identified clearly to Pharaoh as YHWH, the God known to & worshipped by the nation of Israel. He was clear that Israel was His people – the Hebrews belonged to YHWH; not Pharaoh. Finally, it was made known that His people were to worship Him in holy faithfulness. The Hebrews did not serve the gods of Egypt; they served YHWH alone. It was a short message to be delivered, but it told Pharaoh everything he needed to know.
    1. Likewise, we know the name of our God: Jesus. We know we have been made His people, a royal priesthood of God. And we know that we are to worship and serve Him alone. We fear the Triune God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), and none other!
  3. Pharaoh’s response: refusal. Remember that the Egyptians believed their kings to be divine, and the kings were all too happy to agree with the false religion. And as a “god,” Pharaoh did not know this other God, and refused to give YHWH His request. Egyptians were polytheists, but this YHWH was not recognized within their religion, so the “god” Pharaoh didn’t care what the Hebrew God commanded.

3 So they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please, let us go three days’ journey into the desert and sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest He fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”

  1. Moses and Aaron tried again, appealing to what they hoped would be Pharaoh’s better nature – his compassion. If the Hebrews were not allowed to go, there would be dire consequences. Surely Pharaoh would not want his servants to experience disease or death, right? Wrong – Pharaoh didn’t care (as we’ll see in a moment).
  2. There was an implied threat as well: if God fell upon the Hebrews “with pestilence or with the sword,” then it meant God would fall upon Egypt with those things. After all, where were the Hebrews? In Egypt. Who was responsible for keeping the Hebrews in Egypt? It wasn’t so much that the Hebrews were in danger of pestilence and violence; the Egyptians were. This was a bit of a preview of the plagues. Soon, all kinds of disease would fall on Egypt, and when fiery hailstones fell from the sky and the Angel of the LORD slew the firstborn of Egypt, it no doubt seemed as if the “sword” had come to them. This was Pharaoh’s chance to be free of this future – he was clearly warned of the judgment soon to come.
    1. So are we! When we preach the gospel, we preach the bad news along with the good news. The wonderful news of forgiveness and eternal life doesn’t make sense without the bad news of judgment and death. After all, we need to know why we need forgiveness if we’re ever to seek it in the first place. Our sin has left us condemned, facing the eternal judgment of God when sinners are cast into hell. It’s terribly bad news! But the good news is that we can be forgiven, rescued, and redeemed from that fate! We can be reconciled with God, and made His children…all through faith in Jesus Christ. Good news indeed! (And knowing the bad news makes the good news even better!)
  3. Question: Was this all deception on the part of Moses & Aaron (and thus, God)? The ultimate plan was not for Israel to travel three days into the wilderness, hold a feast unto the Lord, and then head back home to Goshen in Egypt; it was for total & utter freedom – to proceed back to the land of Canaan which was their centuries’ old promise from God. Yet the implication from Moses & Aaron seems to be otherwise, as if they were asking for a temporary leave-of-absence. Answer: No, this was not deception; it was an opportunity for Pharaoh to respond to the righteous command of God. God may have known how Pharaoh would reject Him, but that didn’t mean God would refuse to give Pharaoh an opportunity for mercy. Pharaoh had a choice, and he made it to his own destruction. 

4 Then the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people from their work? Get back to your labor.” 5 And Pharaoh said, “Look, the people of the land are many now, and you make them rest from their labor!”

  1. If Moses and Aaron appealed to Pharaoh’s compassion, there was none to be found. Pharaoh soon tired of this conversation with the Hebrew prophets, and he accused them of inciting their people to laziness.
  2. As if just to prove that Pharaoh had no fear of YHWH or regard for Him, Pharaoh decided to pronounce a punishment upon the people…

6 So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their officers, saying, 7 “You shall no longer give the people straw to make brick as before. Let them go and gather straw for themselves. 8 And you shall lay on them the quota of bricks which they made before. You shall not reduce it. For they are idle; therefore they cry out, saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ 9 Let more work be laid on the men, that they may labor in it, and let them not regard false words.”

  1. Extra burden! No supplies (straw) given for their task of brick-making. They had already been builders in the land of Egypt (having built two cities – Exo 1:11), but lately they had been forced to make their own bricks, combining clay & straw for their materials. Now the straw would be removed from them, and they would be forced to find it on their own. Brick making is laborious enough, still used today as basic enslavement. In Pakistan, people make an average of $3 per day per person making bricks, so it’s not uncommon for young children to be working alongside their parents just struggling to make enough per day in order to eat. ( It’s hard work, crouched on the ground all day long, slapping clay mud into molds, setting it aside to dry before taking it to a kiln for firing. When workers have to take a loan from their employer for medical expenses, it can easily force them into basic lifetime slavery for repayment.
  2. With that in mind, put yourself in the place of an ancient Hebrew slave. Things had already been bad enough. It just got drastically worse! How would you react? Who would you blame? Who should you blame? God hadn’t done this to them, nor had Moses made Pharaoh act this way. This was all Pharaoh’s fault.
    1. We need to stop blaming God for the acts of the enemy!
  3. Why did Pharaoh do it? He wanted to take away hope that was found in “false words.” To the ears of Pharaoh, any idea of freedom (be it freedom of worship or freedom from slavery) was deception and fraudulent. His punishment was meant to push this hope as far away from the Hebrews as possible. He wanted them discouraged because he didn’t want them looking to Moses or to the God Moses preached.
    1. Don’t let the enemy steal your hope! 
  • Pharaoh’s further oppression (10-19)

10 And the taskmasters of the people and their officers went out and spoke to the people, saying, “Thus says Pharaoh: ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go, get yourselves straw where you can find it; yet none of your work will be reduced.’ ” 12 So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw.

  1. Order relayed by the taskmasters. The Hebrews had to gather what they could find. Apparently they had little to no access to the Egyptian fields, but now had “to gather stubble instead of straw.” They were forced to gather up the chaff that was leftover from the Egyptian grain. So not only were they not given straw, they had to gather up far more chaff in a much more labor-intensive way to compensate for the lack of straw. Their job wasn’t made simply inconvenient; it was made virtually impossible.

13 And the taskmasters forced them to hurry, saying, “Fulfill your work, your daily quota, as when there was straw.” 14 Also the officers of the children of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and today, as before?”

  1. The Hebrews experienced harassment and beatings for their reduced output. Obviously this wasn’t their fault; the Egyptians were purposefully antagonistic toward them. They wanted to make it as hard upon the Hebrews as possible.
    1. The enemy will often try to antagonize us. 

15 Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, “Why are you dealing thus with your servants? 16 There is no straw given to your servants, and they say to us, ‘Make brick!’ And indeed your servants are beaten, but the fault is in your own people.”

  1. Hebrew representatives appealed to Pharaoh. What Pharaoh had commanded of them was unreasonable and illogical. Why should they be punished for failing to complete an impossible task?

17 But he said, “You are idle! Idle! Therefore you say, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the LORD.’ 18 Therefore go now and work; for no straw shall be given you, yet you shall deliver the quota of bricks.” 19 And the officers of the children of Israel saw that they were in trouble after it was said, “You shall not reduce any bricks from your daily quota.”

  1. Pharaoh passed the buck to Moses, quoting Moses’ and Aaron’s own words back to them. He implied that if Moses and Aaron had come to him, wasting his time with this request to leave, that none of this would have happened. The Hebrews (he said) had stopped their labor in order to listen to the words of Moses, so if they had time to listen to this prophet then they had time to go gather their own straw.
  2. It was a blatant lie, even when he quoted Moses correctly. Moses said the words, but it was Pharaoh who rejected God and oppressed the Hebrews.
    1. The enemy will lie about the word of God.
  • Complaints (20-23)

20 Then, as they came out from Pharaoh, they met Moses and Aaron who stood there to meet them. 21 And they said to them, “Let the LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

  1. The Hebrew officers/representatives took their leave of Pharaoh, and apparently Moses and Aaron were waiting for them at the door (or at least at their homes). Sadly, even though the Hebrews knew they were mistreated by Pharaoh, they still bought into the lie of Pharaoh, and they blamed Moses. They believed Moses had instigated Pharaoh to be cruel, so they took the blame off of the person it should have been on, and placed it right on Moses & Aaron who had spoken on their behalf. Earlier (chapter 4), they were amazed by the signs of God, and believed that Moses had been sent by God, thanking God that He had heard their prayers. All that previous faith went out the window as they blamed Moses as a rabble-rouser.
  2. Interestingly, the Hebrews wanted God to serve as a judge in this instance; they didn’t want or trust God’s plan. They were all to happy to see Moses struck down for their troubles by divine judgment, but they weren’t willing to trust the divine will. It goes to show that they didn’t really trust God at all.
    1. How quickly we lose faith! Like Peter walking on water, we believe for a moment, but then we see the raging sea instead of our loving Savior, and we forget. We sink into despair, confusion, and anger. The Hebrews saw their troubles and believed they were on their own, when it was really just the beginning. They need to hold on to hope – hold on to the God of their Fathers, the great I AM who promised them deliverance. If they would just look to Him, then they would find the strength to endure the rage of Pharaoh. 

22 So Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? 23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all.”

  1. Moses took the complaints of the people back to God, with some complaints of his own. Did Moses lose faith? Not really. Moses certainly forgot what it was God had told him. Back on Mount Sinai, God made it clear that Moses’ word to Pharaoh would be rejected, and that it would take a mighty work of God to bring the people out from Egypt. Exodus 3:18b–20, “(18b) … and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt; and you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us; and now, please, let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ (19) But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand. (20) So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go.” Verses 18-19 ought to sound very familiar, because it was exactly what had happened in Chapter 5! But notice that God was sure of this, and had already told Moses what would need to happen as a result. If Moses had simply remembered and trusted God’s word, Moses wouldn’t have had a complaint (and may have been able to answer the Hebrew officials).
    1. Don’t forget God’s word! He has already told us much of what to expect in life. We can expect trials & tribulation – we can expect persecution – we can expect spiritual attacks and difficulties. Don’t let those things surprise you; let them drive you to the Lord!
  2. Even so, Moses prayed. He may have forgotten what God had told him, but he hadn’t forgotten his relationship with the Lord. The people complained to Moses, but Moses took his complaint to God. The people could have prayed – they could have told Moses & Aaron what happened, and all gotten on their knees together. Instead, they worshipped God in Chapter 4, and all but ignored God in Chapter 5. Again, they wanted God to judge Moses in punishment, but they didn’t appeal to God for help. Moses did. (Don’t stop praying!)
  3. Notice how Moses prayed. He was saying “You did this…You said that…these are Your people.” Moses put it all back onto the Lord, which (although it was spokes from confusion) it was exactly where it should have been. It was God’s plan, so it was God’s problem. (Which meant it was no problem at all!) Moses could take these things to the Lord, because it was God who would work them out for His glory.
    1. It’s not your will that needs to be done; it’s God’s will. Pray for it to be done, and surrender everything else into His hands.

Exodus 6 – God never fails!

  • God’s promises and plan (1-8)

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong hand he will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.”

  1. God had given Pharaoh a chance, but God already knew Pharaoh’s heart. He knew what Pharaoh would do in stubborn refusal. God also knew what Pharaoh would later be forced to do when faced with the judgment of God! Pharaoh’s hard heart would be broken as he stumbled across the Rock of Ages!

2 And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them.

  1. Had God never revealed His name to the patriarchs? What about Genesis 18:19 when Abraham appealed to the Lord (YHWH) as he interceded for Sodom? Or Genesis 22:14 when Abraham called the place of sacrifice on Mount Moriah “The Lord Will Provide,” after Isaac was saved? Or Genesis 28:16 when Jacob saw the vision of the ladder in Bethel and declared that the Lord was in that place? Obviously, the patriarchs were familiar with the covenant name of God; it just wasn’t how God was primarily known to them. The name God used most often with the patriarchs was El Shaddai, God Almighty.
  2. What’s the difference? El Shaddai speaks of God’s strength; YHWH speaks of God’s existence and faithfulness. YHWH is the name God most often uses when speaking of His covenant, thus, that was how God was revealed to Moses and to the Hebrews of that generation. YHWH (I AM) had always existed, had always known them, and would always be faithful to His word.
  3. Even so, God knew the patriarchs, just as He knew Moses and the Hebrew people of the day. This was shown in the ways God worked with them in the past.

4 I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. 5 And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.

  1. God made a promise to the patriarchs, and had every intent on keeping it. There was a homeland in which they dwelt, though never owned. But it was promised by God.
  2. God heard His people. The Israelites had cried out to God in their suffering, and He heard them. Their pleas had not fallen on deaf ears. God heard them and cared for them.
  3. God remembered His word. His covenant was not null & void. What He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning their descendants would come to pass.
    1. We have promises in Christ! God hears us as His people when we pray! God remembers the covenant we have in Jesus!

What God will do in the future…

6 Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.

  1. God will deliver – God will rescue – God will redeem. All synonyms basically speaking of the same act: freeing the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. Don’t miss the main point: God Himself would work! They didn’t need to fear Pharaoh or his threats, because God was working – God was on the move! The Hebrews weren’t dependent on Pharaoh – they weren’t even dependent upon Moses; they were dependent upon God, and God was active!

7 I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the LORD.’ ”

  1. God will have a relationship with them: He would have them, and they would know Him. When they saw God move on their behalf in mighty ways, their doubts would be dissolved and they would come to the true fear and knowledge of the Lord. That’s when God would shower them with grace and give them their inheritance in the land of promise. When they knew God in truth, they would experience the life and blessing for which they longed.
  2. How do we know the Lord in truth? By looking to Jesus in faith. Likewise, He has moved in mighty ways on our behalf. The Hebrews looked back to the Passover & the Red Sea; we look to the cross and resurrection. We find our rescue in Jesus’ act of redemption, and now we know the Lord God as our King & we are His people. Now we have relationship with the One whom before we could not know. Now we have God the Holy Spirit within us, and the promise of heaven as our heritage. What the children of Israel experienced in shadow, we experience in truth!
  3. What a wonderful word to pass on to the Hebrew people! It should have given them hope, but sadly they weren’t looking for hope.
  • God’s unwavering faithfulness (9-13)

9 So Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel; but they did not heed Moses, because of anguish of spirit and cruel bondage.

  1. They didn’t believe! They were too focused on their troubles to look to the promises of God. They could have had hope, but they made the choice to live in hopelessness because of their lack of faith.
  2. Note: their lack of faith did not stop God from working. 

10 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 11 “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the children of Israel go out of his land.” 12 And Moses spoke before the LORD, saying, “The children of Israel have not heeded me. How then shall Pharaoh heed me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?”

  1. Moses commanded to return to Pharaoh and basically repeat the same message. In His great mercy, God was giving Pharaoh another chance to respond before beginning the cycle of plagues that would lead to the destruction of Israel.
  2. Moses’ objection: Why would Pharaoh pay attention to him? Why should Pharaoh believe someone whom the Hebrews did not? Moses had “uncircumcised lips” – he was treated by his own people as someone who was unclean.
  3. Of course, what Moses forgot was that God knew Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to Moses, no matter how well-received Moses might have been among the Hebrew people. This wasn’t about Moses; this was about the plan of God. (It’s not about you, either!)

13 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them a command for the children of Israel and for Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.

  1. Even so, God’s command did not change. Neither the Hebrews’ lack of faith nor Pharaoh’s indifference changed what God had planned. God’s will does not depend on our faith. When we don’t believe, we’re the ones that miss out; not God.
  • Break: Moses’ genealogy (14-27)

14 These are the heads of their fathers’ houses: The sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel, were Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi. These are the families of Reuben. 15 And the sons of Simeon were Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman. These are the families of Simeon.

  1. Going through the sons of Jacob through Leah, but not comprehensively. The listing will cover Levi, but not Judah. The point isn’t a comprehensive numbering of the nation of Israel (that comes later, in the book of Numbers); it’s a general background for Moses and Aaron. Who are these people who were chosen by God to lead Israel at this time? The family history answers that question.

16 These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. And the years of the life of Levi were one hundred and thirty-seven. 17 The sons of Gershon were Libni and Shimi according to their families. 18 And the sons of Kohath were Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. And the years of the life of Kohath were one hundred and thirty-three. 19 The sons of Merari were Mahli and Mushi. These are the families of Levi according to their generations.

  1. The names of the sons of Levi (Gershon, Kohath, & Merari) will become important again when it comes to the Levitical duties surrounding the tabernacle. Different clans had different duties – one’s family lineage determined one’s service in ministry. (Obviously not the case for today, but it worked for the nation of Israel.)

20 Now Amram took for himself Jochebed, his father’s sister, as wife; and she bore him Aaron and Moses. And the years of the life of Amram were one hundred and thirty-seven.

  1. Moses’ immediate family, though his sister (Miriam) is not named. That isn’t too unusual, as the listing only includes men, per the culture at the time. 
  2. There are some questions of a potential time-gap here. Is this Amram the same Amram who was a grandson of Levi? There were 400 years of slavery, so this would seem rather improbable. Then again, when lifespans lasted 137, 133, 137 years (Levi, Kohath, Amram), with Moses being 80 years old when starting the Exodus, there seems to be enough overlap between them to make it possible.

21 The sons of Izhar were Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri. 22 And the sons of Uzziel were Mishael, Elzaphan, and Zithri.

  1. Just wrapping up that family tree.

23 Aaron took to himself Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Nahshon, as wife; and she bore him Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 24 And the sons of Korah were Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph. These are the families of the Korahites. 25 Eleazar, Aaron’s son, took for himself one of the daughters of Putiel as wife; and she bore him Phinehas. These are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites according to their families.

  1. Priestly lineage, with the sons of Korah in-between. A bit ironic, considering the sons of Korah attempted to usurp the priesthood for themselves (Num 16).
  2. Nadab, Abihu are the two eldest sons of Aaron, who were initially chosen to serve with Aaron as priests. They died on the day of their consecration due to offering “strange fire” to God in the newly assembled tabernacle (Lev 10).
  3. Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron served as high priest, having received a special blessing from the Lord because of Phinehas’ zeal for the holiness of God in the face of wild rebellion and idolatry (Num 25).

26 These are the same Aaron and Moses to whom the LORD said, “Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their armies.” 27 These are the ones who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt. These are the same Moses and Aaron.

  1. A brief not to state why the genealogy was included. It identified Moses and Aaron to the later readers of the book. Moses had not been some random former Egyptian ruler who imposed his will on the Israelites; he was a Levite – a child of Abraham, just like the rest of them.
  2. There’s also a good reminder to the reader: by the time he/she reads this, the Exodus had already happened. Not one of God’s promises should be in doubt, because they had already historically come to pass. The people of Israel were free (though wandering in the Promised Land); God’s word is true!
  • Recap: God’s command (28-30)

28 And it came to pass, on the day the LORD spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, 29 that the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “I am the LORD. Speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say to you.” 30 But Moses said before the LORD, “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh heed me?”

  1. Restatement of what came before, picking up the context leading on to Chapter 7.
  2. Question remains: Why should Pharaoh listen to Moses? God was about to tell him! It wasn’t what Moses could say or offer; it was all about God’s word and power. Moses wasn’t chosen for his negotiating skills; he was chosen simply due to God’s pleasure. God’s plan was working exactly as God knew it would – Moses simply needed to take things one step at a time in obedience.


Had Moses failed? No. Had God failed? Perish the thought! God knew what His plan was, even if the Hebrews did not. Keep in mind, it wasn’t as if God hadn’t warned Moses or the Hebrews of Pharaoh’s stubborn disobedience – it’s that Moses and the Hebrews hadn’t remembered (or perhaps listened). Their eyes were so consumed by their circumstances that they couldn’t see the hand of God. Thankfully, God’s will was not limited by their lack of faith – but they certainly missed out on the peace and relationship they could have had with God during this time because of their lack of faith.

The same thing happens with us. Although God has His long-term plans in motion, all we see is what’s right in front of us. We declare our trust for a time, and then as soon as things get rough, we panic & flounder & complain to God about His supposed-absence. But God hasn’t left us at all – His plans have not changed. The problem isn’t with God; it’s with us. We aren’t looking for His plans; we’re looking for ours. And that’s more than a lack of faith…that’s disobedience.

Put your eyes back upon God, and trust Him to work His plans! What He does, He does for His glory. What He begins, He will bring to completion. Trust Him to work it all the way through, because He will.

Want proof? Look at the Exodus – it’s already done. Look at the cross – it’s already finished! God has worked through His long-term plan of rescue and redemption for you, and if you’re a born-again Christian, you’ve already taken part. You’ve already experienced the work of God on your behalf, in which He has overcome impossible situations to save. The Hebrews were trapped by slavery and Pharaoh; you were trapped by sin and death. Yet Jesus saved you! God worked according to His plan, and His plan was good!

If God did that with our eternal salvation, what else is there in our lives that compares? Trust Him!

Saul Transformed

Posted: October 7, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 9:20-31, “Saul Transformed”

Some say people never change. They’re wrong…at least, in part. From the perspective of the world, they’re often right. Left to our own devices and our own strength of will, people rarely change. We’re far too comfortable with the familiar, and people tend to fear being different. That’s why so many patients ignore the advice of their doctors regarding diet and exercise (not to mention why so many doctors refuse to take their own advice!), and why so many people stay tied to the addictions they claim to hate. People don’t change because people don’t want to change…we simply lack the strength to do it.

But again, that’s from the perspective of the world – that’s for people trying to change themselves. Left to ourselves, humans are weak; what we need is power. Specifically, we need the power of God. It’s not a “higher power” that breaks people out of addictions – it’s not clinging to generic religious rituals that transforms anyone. What we need is real power from the living God, and that only comes through Jesus Christ. When a person believes upon Jesus, Jesus changes that person – transforming him/her from the inside-out.

If you’re a born-again Christian, that’s something you know – it’s something you’ve personally experienced. You were one thing; now you are someone totally different. You were lost; now you are found. You were dead; now you’re alive. You were a sinner doomed for hell; now you are a child of God destined for eternal life. That is true change, and that’s something that only comes from Jesus!

That kind of change is what is demonstrated in the life of Saul (Paul the apostle). Saul had been totally lost, a true enemy of Christ – but he was radically transformed by Jesus, and his life was never the same.

Remember what had happened to bring Saul to this point. Originally, he was a zealous young Pharisee, trained up at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), and just starting to make a name for himself among the Jewish Sanhedrin. It was Saul who gave approval to the mob-led killing of Stephen, after Stephen had been arrested and tried for his powerful preaching to the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jews in their synagogue. (Saul perhaps being present in that synagogue himself.) When the crowd rushed forward to stone Stephen to death, Saul was the one holding their coats, agreeing with their actions (Acts 8:58). This event touched off a new wave of persecution against the Christians, and they scattered from Jerusalem to all the region of Judea and Samaria, and even beyond. At the forefront of this persecution was Saul, pursuing the Christians wherever he found them, hauling off both men and women to jail.

As the gospel continued to spread, Saul’s zeal against it grew stronger, and he requested (and received) international permission to extradite Christians from other nations and haul them back to Jerusalem for either prison or death. Saul was on his way to Damascus in Syria to start this new round of persecution, when he was abruptly stopped on the road by none other than the Lord Jesus Himself. Appearing and speaking to Saul in a personal vision (while his companions only saw a light and heard an undiscernible noise), Jesus confronted him on the evil of his actions, and Saul came face-to-face with the truth. Saul surrendered himself to the Lord, and Jesus immediately called him to service.

The encounter left Saul blinded, and it was a man named Ananias whom Jesus called to bring healing to Saul and to pray for him to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul received his sight, was baptized, and entered into a time of recovery and discipleship.

What happened next? Saul got started in service. It wasn’t the ministry for which he would later be known, but it was ministry just the same. How could it be otherwise? Saul had been transformed by Jesus, thus Saul became bold for Jesus. Jesus had changed his life, and there was no way Saul could hide it (nor did he want to). 

Jesus still changes lives. He can change you, too!

Acts 9:20–31

  • Saul in Damascus (20-25). The ministry of a new believer.

20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.

  1. Note the “immediately”…there was no time wasted! However many days he spent with the disciples in Damascus, Saul didn’t simply twiddle his thumbs while he was there. Jesus had changed his life, and he couldn’t stop himself from telling others about Him. How could he not? After all, Saul had just experienced a life-changing encounter. He had seen the Resurrected Lord Jesus, and through his blindness, Saul finally saw the truth for the first time. He had seen the Living God for who He is, and that was something others needed to know. As a zealous Jew opposing the Christians (followers of “the Way”), Saul had believed he was serving God in righteousness, but he was terribly wrong. Saul hadn’t been serving God; he was persecuting God. Saul did the very opposite of what he intended to do. Instead of purging the faith of heretics, Saul had become the heretic and made himself an enemy of the God he claimed to love. From Saul’s perspective, if he had done that, how many other Jews were in the same situation? They had to be told, and Saul was the one to tell them. They didn’t know they were opposing the Lord – they didn’t know they were working against God. Even if they weren’t zealously persecuting the church as Saul had, if they had rejected Jesus as the Messiah then they had rejected God Himself. How could Saul stay silent? He was compelled to say something. People had to be told of their danger, and Saul quickly understood his responsibility to tell them.
    1. Beloved, the urgency is no less with us…yet we’ve often lost sight of it. We are surrounded by people who are totally lost, doomed for hell as they are rebellious enemies of God. But they don’t know it. They need to be told, and we are the ones to tell them! We are the ones who have been saved and forgiven by the resurrected Lord Jesus, so we are the ones to tell others how they can experience the same thing. How can we not? How can we experience eternal life, forgiveness, safety, and fellowship with God, and not extend to others the same opportunity? We have a responsibility; may we be faithful to carry it out!
  2. Where did Saul go? The synagogues. It was a logical beginning point. After all, who else in Damascus would be familiar with the Holy Scriptures? Who else would have been looking for the Messiah to come, and for the promises of God to be fulfilled? It only makes sense to begin with the Jews. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of the promises of God to Abraham, Moses, and David. Saul went to first to the synagogues, because Jesus came first for Israel, and then for the rest of the world. This would prove to be the pattern throughout Saul’s ministry. He’d begin with the local Jews, and only after he was rejected with them would he go to the Gentiles.
    1. Should we do the same today? Yes and no. Yes, by all means we should preach the gospel to the Jews whenever we have the opportunity…but being Gentiles in a Gentile culture, we don’t often have the opportunity. Saul was a birth-born Hebrew; we are not. As a church, we do support a missionary to Israel, and we encourage Jewish evangelism, but most of the people whom God has given us are Gentiles. Proclaim Christ to the people around you. You can be sure God will care for the rest.
  3. What did Saul say? He preached Jesus! He proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God. To preach Jesus as God’s Son is not to preach Him as less than God; it is to preach Jesus as Although the term is rare in the Old Testament (other than to refer to angels as “sons of God”), it was readily understood by the Jews of the day. The demons cast out by Jesus would often call Jesus the Son of God, just before Jesus forbid them from speaking. When the disciples saw the power of Jesus to calm the storm and waves on the Sea of Galilee, they acknowledged Him as the Son of God (Mt 14:33). When Jesus first called Nathanael to be a disciple, Nathanael understood Jesus to be the Son of God, the King of Israel (Jn 1:49). When Saul preached Jesus to be the Son of God, Saul wasn’t describing Jesus as an angel; Saul was confessing the truth of Jesus as the Christ, God in the flesh come to dwell among men and women for our salvation.
    1. This is the gospel! The gospel is the good news about Jesus. It isn’t how to live a better life (or your best life now) – it isn’t how to be free from trouble or how to feel better about yourself. It isn’t even about some kind of higher spirituality, in which people commit themselves to religion. The good news we preach is Jesus Himself! Jesus is God, and it was God incarnate who died for our sins upon the cross. It was God in the flesh who paid the penalty we deserve for our crimes. And it was God Himself who physically rose from the dead and offers us life and salvation in His name. When we proclaim the gospel, we proclaim Jesus. (Don’t settle for anything less!)
    2. Before we get any further…have you believed the gospel? Have you put your faith and trust in Jesus as the Son of God, crucified and resurrected for you?
  4. This was quite the ministry from Saul, and he received quite the reaction from the local Jews in Damascus.

21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?”

  1. They were “” The word in English doesn’t really do the Greek justice. It is to be confused, astounded, astonished…made insane. To say that the Damascus Jews were amazed at the preaching of Paul was for them to be flabbergasted – to do double & triple-takes, just to ensure that what they heard with their own ears was what Saul actually said. 
  2. The reason for the amazement? It didn’t make any sense. Saul had come to Damascus to round up and destroy followers of the Way; not to become a follower himself! Try to put it in modern terms. Imagine if Osama Bin Laden, the man most responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks walked into an American assembly and started extolling the United States of America, renouncing everything he ever proclaimed about Islamic conquest. It wouldn’t make any sense. We’d think either he was lying, or that we were hearing things. That was the response of the Damascus Jews toward Saul. He was supposed to be the inquisitor for Israel, the one sent to be hammer against the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Now he was preaching the same message the Christians preached. He seemed to sincerely believe that Jesus was the Son of God risen from the dead. Talk about a reversal! It could have hardly been more dramatic.
  3. What happened? Saul had been transformed. He had been radically changed by the Lord Jesus Christ. Saul had seen the Living Jesus on the road, and that changed everything. Whatever it was Saul had previously believed about Jesus was all turned on its head. There was no way he could ignore the truth – his life had been flipped upside-down, turned inside-out. And that was exactly the way it should have been! When we come to faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, we are (in Jesus’ words) born-again (Jn 3:3). Just like a newborn baby breathes air for the first time when leaving the womb, so does a new-born Christian experience new life for the first time when coming to faith. It’s a new world for a new creation, for that is exactly what we have become. Paul wrote as much to the Corinthians: 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” There is no more rebel doomed for hell; there is only a child of God. There is new beginnings, new life, new everything, for we are new creations!
    1. This is the change for which we long! This is the change that comes from the Lord Jesus and His gospel. Again, it’s not about being made “better” people. Better people might simply be more moral men and women on their way to hell. What is needed is something totally different, totally new. We need a new life and new eternal destiny, and that only comes through Jesus.
  4. Saul had been truly changed – the truth of Jesus changed his mission and his message. And that transformation was lasting. This wasn’t a temporary phase; it was a true transformation of the man.

22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

  1. Saul didn’t grow weak in the face of Jewish opposition & accusations of betrayal; he “increased all the more in strength.” Saul became a powerful apologist for Jesus. Keep in mind this was before his calling as a missionary. That wouldn’t come for several years later when he was serving in Antioch. For now, he was a fairly new convert – another Christian, like any other Christian. Granted, he had a strong theological background as a rabbi and Pharisee – but he had no “official” position within the church. Even so, he stood strong for Jesus, and became stronger day by day.
  2. How do we grow stronger in our faith? Do we need a fancy program or specialized teaching? Not at all. What did Saul have? He had prayer, the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of other believers. That was all he needed. Likewise with us. We too, can be continually filled with the Holy Spirit – we spend time with our Lord Jesus in prayer – we dig deep into the written word of God, worshipping Him and being built up by His instruction – and we spend time with other believers in the local church, bearing one another’s burdens and loving them as Christ loved us. Christians who do that will be strong, indeed!
    1. Have you ever felt weak in your faith? Which one of those four things is lacking? We so often look for quick fixes or emotional “highs” so we buy books, go to conferences, search for the “right” worship song, etc. What we need is what God has already provided for us: prayer, the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, and the local church. If you want to grow in strength, start there!
  3. BTW – Can it be proven that “Jesus is the Christ”? Yes! Saul was able to convince the Jews in the Damascus synagogues, leading them to the logical conclusion that Jesus is the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy. (And was the cause of consternation and aggravation for many!) But that’s exactly the purpose of prophecy: to point us to the truth of God. According to some counts, there are well over 300 prophecies in the Old Testament already fulfilled by Jesus. Saul could point to any number of them to prove to a Jewish congregation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. For example:
    1. Jesus is the Prophet like Moses, with the authority and power of God (Dt 18:15).
    2. Jesus is the son of David (2 Sam 7:12-14), but not the son of the cursed line (Jeconiah, Jer 22:30).
    3. Jesus was crucified, ridiculed by onlookers, with His garments gambled for (Ps 22:1-18).
    4. Jesus died among wicked criminals, and was buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isa 53:9).
    5. Jesus did not remain in the grave, nor have His body see corruption, but was raised from the dead (Ps 16:8-11, Jonah).
    6. And the list could go on! No other person has ever fulfilled Messianic prophecy, but Jesus has fulfilled it all. An honest, unbiased look at Scripture proves Jesus is the Christ!
  4. Imagine for a moment being there in the Damascus synagogue. Day after day, no matter what Scripture is put to Saul, he is able to show its fulfillment in Jesus. It was a message that couldn’t be countered; it could only be ignored if one’s eyes & ears were willfully shut. To the Jewish leadership, Saul had become dangerous. He was the one who was supposed to root out the Christians; now he had become their most powerful advocate. Something had to be done, so they took action. 

23 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. 24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. 25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.

  1. What incredible irony! Saul went from being a persecutor to being persecuted. He had gone to Damascus to haul Christians to prison or death, and now death was being plotted against him. He was too theologically dangerous for the Jews to allow to live, so they decided to ignore Jewish law (specifically the 6th Commandment: “You shall not murder”) and kill him.
    1. Was this the wonderful plan God had for Saul’s life? As a matter of fact, yes. Coming to faith in Jesus didn’t guarantee Saul an easy comfortable earthly existence. On the contrary, Jesus promises trials and tribulations for His followers – this was just the very first that Saul would experience. But was it wonderful? Yes! Not in the sense of “ease,” but in the sense of glory. For the first time since Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection, Saul was being faithful to the King of Creation – so much so that his unswerving faith and dedication to the Lord was recognized by the enemies of Jesus. That may not be glamorous, but it is glorious!
  2. When did all of this plotting and conspiracy take place? There’s a bit of ambiguity on that point. At first glance, it seems as if all of this is right on the heels of Saul’s conversion, but that’s not necessarily the case. Luke writes “after many days were past,” but never says how many days were past. From elsewhere in Paul’s writings, we have some more information about this time, and it seems that quite a bit of time had elapsed. Years, even… Galatians 1:15–19, “(15) But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, (16) to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, (17) nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (18) Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. (19) But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.” At some point during Paul’s stay in Damascus, he went to Arabia. What happened in Arabia, we aren’t told – most theorize that it was there that Saul was personally instructed by the Lord Jesus, and he grew deeper in his faith. Three years (approximately) elapsed, and he returned to Damascus to the only other Christians he knew. It seems that this was when the Damascus Jews were fed up with him and conspired to hill him.
  3. All of that led to a dramatic plot and escape! Conspiracy, intrigue, covert actions – it has all the makings of a wonderful movie! (Maybe someday some director will do it justice?) Paul later wrote about it in his own words to the Corinthians: 2 Corinthians 11:32–33, “(32) In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; (33) but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.” The Jews weren’t alone in their conspiracy – they had an agreement with the Gentile governor of Damascus (which seemed to have more political influence from the king of Nabatea than the Caesar of Rome), and Saul had to escape them all if he was going to live. They snuck out to the city wall by night, found a window through which Saul could fit, and they lowered him in a basket. It wasn’t the most awe-inspiring of exits (he didn’t exactly leave the city as a victorious debater!), but Saul survived.
  4. Question: Was it wrong for Saul to try and escape? Absolutely not! Jesus had shown Saul the things he would suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 9:16), but that meant that Saul had to live to see those days. Persecution is a reality for those who live godly for Christ Jesus, but it doesn’t mean we need to blindly walk into it. Christians are called to godliness, and part of godliness is wisdom. Saul demonstrated it when he escaped the city…and it wouldn’t be the last time he was forced to do so.
  • Saul in Jerusalem (26-30). Overcoming a bad reputation.

26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.

  1. On one hand, their fear was understandable. After all, Saul personally oversaw the lynching/stoning of Stephen. Saul had personally pursued Christian men and women to prison and death. He had breathed out murder and threats of violence towards those who believed in Jesus, willing to persecute them as far as he could find them. Saul had a track record of hate, and that’s not an easy thing to shed.
  2. On the other hand, it had been three years! (Gal 1:18) Saul had actively preached the gospel in Damascus over a period of weeks – not just once, but twice. He had himself been persecuted, just barely escaping death. Granted, it’s not as if news of the day travelled at the speed of Twitter, but surely there was some news that had spread of Saul’s change. After all, Saul’s reputation had preceded him to Damascus, to the point that Ananias had not only heard of Saul, but knew of Saul’s plans to imprison Christians…surely news would spread in the other direction. Besides all that, three years had gone by without Saul doing anything to Christians. Obviously, the Jerusalem Christians knew what Saul had done in the past, but that was a long time ago. Why hadn’t they heard of any recent persecutions? Why hadn’t they seen Saul dragging men and women through the streets to the Sanhedrin? Doubtless, Saul had attempted to share his testimony with the Jerusalem Christians, but sadly, no one believed him.
  3. Part of us can empathize with how difficult it must have been, but there’s no question that their deep seeded distrust of Saul was tragic. After all, that goes to the heart of the gospel. Remember: Jesus changes lives…but He does it for more people than just us. How willing are we to believe that Jesus makes people into new creations? We want to believe it of ourselves, but do we believe it of others? There are some people of whom we have good reason to distrust, but all reasons have good reason to change when Jesus is involved! Jesus can change anyone – even those whom we hate and fear.
    1. Consider for a moment the person you believe is least likely to come to faith in Christ. What would be your attitude towards him/her if he/she did? Would you be willing to believe Jesus made them into a new creation – that Jesus did a work of transformation in their life? Your answer reveals much of what you believe about forgiveness – it reveals much about what you believe about the power of Christ.
    2. Beloved, if Jesus can forgive me & Jesus can forgive you, then Jesus can forgive anyone. Be willing to believe the best!

27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

  1. Remember who Barnabas was: the Son of Encouragement, last seen in Acts 4:36-37 just before the event with the Jerusalem Ananias & Sapphira. He was a Levite with a truly generous heart, having given the proceeds from a real estate transaction to the church, and he had a sterling reputation among the Christians of Jerusalem. He was an encouragement to those who needed it, and there was someone who needed it now!
  2. Apparently, Barnabas knew Saul’s testimony, and he spoke up in Saul’s behalf. How did Barnabas learn everything that had happened to Saul? We don’t know. Perhaps Barnabas had learned it from the Christians in Damascus. Saul had spent quite a bit of time there preaching Jesus in the synagogues, and the Damascus Christians had witnessed Saul’s change first-hand. They would have heard Saul’s testimony for themselves, and perhaps news got back to Barnabas. Barnabas would have spoken to Saul personally before presenting him to Peter & James (the only two apostles he saw at the time – per Gal 1:18-19), thus confirming anything else he had already heard. Whatever it was, Barnabas heard Saul’s testimony and believed him at his word. Barnabas understood the transformation Jesus can work in the lives of His people.
    1. Anyone can be changed and transformed! Writing to the Corinthians to correct some of their worldly carnal behavior, Paul reminded them what Jesus had done in their lives. 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, “(9) Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, (10) nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (11) And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” What they were vs. what they are. What they were, they are no longer – praise God! Jesus changes us!
  3. Keep in mind, Saul also had actions to back up his words. He didn’t only claim he had faith in Jesus; his witnessing in the Damascus synagogues proved it to be true. Perhaps if Saul had made a profession of faith, but then hid himself in the house in Damascus, never saying anything for Jesus, never fellowshipping with other believers, then people would have had reason to doubt. Certainly if Saul had resumed his work as a persecutor of Christians, claiming to separate his religious life from his work life, people should have questioned his faith. But that’s not what happened. Saul’s life had completely changed, exactly as should have been expected for someone who encountered the living Lord Jesus. There was fruit of faith in his life – there was evidence.
    1. If someone questioned your faith in Christ, what would be the evidence? Fruit doesn’t save us – we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. But a real faith in Jesus produces real fruit. There ought to be some evidence of the work Jesus has done within us. There’s a love for the Lord God, and love for His people – a compassionate and forgiving heart – an obedience to the commands found in Scripture, etc. Saul had these things…do you?
  4. Whatever it was Barnabas said on Saul’s account, it was enough for Peter, James, and the other Jerusalem Christians. Saul was accepted into their ranks.

28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. 29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.

  1. What Saul did in Damascus, Saul did in Jerusalem. He went among the Jews and preached Jesus. Whether or not Saul did it in the synagogue is unsaid, but when in Jerusalem, Saul didn’t need to go to the synagogues to find Jews. That may have been necessary 135 miles away in Damascus, but not in the heart of Judea.
  2. Interestingly, Saul specifically “disputed against the Hellenists,” the Greek-speaking Jews of Jerusalem. Saul himself came from a Hellenist background. Even though he was a Hebrew of Hebrews from the tribe of Benjamin (Phil 3:5), he was born a Roman citizen in the city of Tarsus in the province of Cilicia (Acts 22:3). He was fluent in both Greek and Aramaic (and probably Hebrew and Latin as well), and would have been thought of by other Jews as a Hellenistic Jew. Thus, that was where he started in his Jerusalem ministry.
  3. If it sounds familiar, it’s also the same thing done by Stephen in Jerusalem three years earlier. Saul picked up where Stephen left off, perhaps debating some of the same people with whom he once sided against Stephen. Just as the Hellenistic Jews opposed Stephen, they also opposed Saul. This time, instead of trumping up charges to have Saul arrested and tried, they followed in the footsteps of those in Damascus and conspired to murder him.

30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.

  1. Just as the Christians in Damascus had to help Saul escape their city, so did the Christians in Jerusalem. By the grace of God, they learned of the plot against Saul’s life, and they sent home to Tarsus for his own safety. This is where Saul will remain until Acts 11, where none other than Barnabas will seek him out for help in ministry.
  2. So Saul has now preached the gospel in two cities, faced death threats in two cities, and was forced to escape two cities. Now he’s in his hometown, far away from all of the ministry “action.” Had he failed? Did he do something wrong, to get sent back to the “minors”? Not at all! This wasn’t God’s hand of discipline on his life – this wasn’t some kind of punishment for Saul’s past sins. This was God’s sovereign hand of protection and blessing on him! Jesus had a specific ministry in mind for Saul; the timing simply wasn’t yet right. By no means was being sent to Tarsus a setback for Saul; it was the will of God for him.
  3. BTW – What did Saul do while in Tarsus? We don’t know. No biblical record exists of that time. But we can make an educated guess: evangelism. If Saul had twice preached the gospel in two different cities, what else would he have done back in Tarsus? No doubt that would have been a tough area of ministry. His family, who had sent him to Jerusalem to become a rabbi through the training of Gamaliel, would have learned of Saul’s faith in Christ. So would his former colleagues and synagogue friends. Would they accept Saul as he now was? Would they believe? Whatever happened in Tarsus, Saul’s time there was not easy by any measure; it would have been the place that his faith was first put to the test.
    1. Sometimes the most difficult people to reach with the gospel are the people we love the most.
  • Summary update (31)

31 Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.

  1. Just as Luke has done at other points, he gives a brief conclusion of the narrative section, wrapping up Acts 6-9. Although the church had encountered its first real bout of persecution, persecution hadn’t stopped the church. On the contrary, it flourished! Christians may have been opposed, but they continued to preach the gospel as they experienced the peace and power of God. Did the opposition from the Jews stop? Not necessarily; just the forceful persecution led by the single individual of Saul.
  2. What did the church do in the meantime? Exactly what they were supposed to do: they walked in reverence & worship, they lived in the comfort of God, and they continued to share the gospel with those around them.
  3. Sum it up: change hadn’t only come to just one man; change came to all Christians! ALL the believers experienced the transformation brought to them by the Lord Jesus.


Jesus transforms lives! He transformed the lives of all the Christians in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and Jesus especially transformed the life of the former Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus. No longer did he pursue Christians to death; he pursued Christ in obedience. He was compelled to preach the good news of Jesus to the Jews around him, and as a result he went from being the persecutor to the persecuted. There was a cost that came with Saul’s change, but the cost was worth it. After all, what were threats of death when, for the first time, Saul had assurance of eternal life? Saul had been soundly saved by the living Lord Jesus – he could not help but share Jesus with others, and people could not help but see it. (Even if some were slower to see than others.)

If you’re a believer, Jesus has changed you, too! You who have repented of your sins and placed all your faith and hope in the Lord Jesus for salvation, have been born anew by the Holy Spirit and been made a child of God. You have been made a brand-new creation, fully transformed from the inside-out to the glory of God. You are not the same & will never be the same, so don’t let anyone tell you that you are the same. We do not define ourselves by the categories of the world; we are defined by the word and judgment of God. God has said we are new, thus we are new!

So live as a new creation! Be bold for Jesus! Live as a transformed man or woman for the glory of God. Tell others of the change that Jesus has made in you – tell others of who He is: the Son of God. For Saul, he saw the urgency for others to hear the gospel…may we experience that same urgency. May we understand how short time is, and take advantage of every opportunity.

Saul’s Story

Posted: September 30, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 9:1-19, “Saul’s Story”

Everyone loves a good origin story. One of the reasons superhero movies are so popular today is because people want to see how ordinary people become extraordinary. What made Bruce Wayne turn into Batman, or Steve Rogers into Captain America? People want to see how it all began.

Everyday people have origin stories as well: things that happened in the past that made us who we are today. For Christians, we call them our testimonies. What happened in your past that caused you to come to faith in Christ? What was it that caused you to go from spiritual death to spiritual life in Jesus? (Something far more extraordinary than any comic book superhero tale!)

For the man we know today as the apostle Paul, his testimony is recorded at least three times in Scripture, the first in Acts 9. This was the moment that changed Saul’s life, and truly the history of the world.

Remember that the church in Jerusalem was under attack. Although the Sanhedrin had opposed the twelve apostles, they left the other Christians alone (for the most part). All of that changed with Stephen, one of the seven original deacons chosen by the church to help distribute benevolence to the believing widows. Along with his servant’s heart, Stephen was an evangelist, and he took his evangelism to the Greek-speaking synagogue where he was soon arrested and made to stand trial before the Sanhedrin. Those he proved his case from the Scriptures, showing that the Jews had always rejected the prophets and messengers of God, the people came against him and stoned him to death. It was at his execution (lynching) that Luke gave his readers a side note: that “the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul,” (Acts 7:58). Saul held their jackets while the mob viciously beat Stephen to death with the rocks. Saul was a relatively young Pharisee at the time, and he fully consented to the killing of Stephen.

At that, Luke took a bit of an aside to follow the ministry of Philip, another one of the deacons. Philp was the first to take the gospel to Samaria, and the first to knowingly preach the gospel to an ethnic Gentile. Philip had a fantastic ministry, but his is not the focus of the book of Acts. That honor belongs to Paul, or how he was originally known: Saul.

What happened to Saul, to change him from an enemy of the church, to its greatest missionary and theologian? Saul met Jesus, and that encounter changed his life forever. It can change yours, too.

Acts 9:1–19

  • Saul and Jesus (1-9)

1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

  1. Luke paints the picture of Saul seething. The last time we saw Saul, he was holding the coats of the mob at a public lynching, and apparently his adrenaline never came down. He’s described as having an active rage, like the snorting of a warhorse. He had an unbridled hatred for Christians, desiring every man and woman with a love of Jesus to be killed in a similar manner as Stephen. He was so angry, in fact, that he went to the high priest to request international authority for purposes of extradition. Damascus is 135 miles northeast of Jerusalem, far outside of any legal authority in Judea. Saul counted on the courtesy of others within the Roman empire to acknowledge the authority of the Jerusalem priests regarding Jewish matters and “heresies.” It took much hubris to request that kind of power, but such was Saul’s hatred of Christians. He wanted to see the whole movement wiped out, literally exterminated, if need be.
  2. Such a harsh description…and yet so true! Remember that Luke was Paul’s friend, being one of his frequent travelling companions. Yet Luke doesn’t hold back from describing his friend’s former sinfulness for what it was. For that matter, neither did Paul! Even toward the end of his life, he still considered himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15). He never forgot how he persecuted the church of God (1 Cor 15:9). He never called it less than what it was, never watering down the vileness of his past sin. It’s not that Paul never knew that he was forgiven; it’s that he never lost sight of the grandness of grace. After all, Paul was forgiven of all of that: hatred, persecution, murder – the pursuit of both men and women unto death. To whitewash his past as being less than what it was only diluted the work of Jesus for him. Paul never lost sight of who he had been, because he didn’t want to lose sight of who Jesus is.
    1. That being said, all of this was who Paul was; it wasn’t who he remained. Why? Jesus! Jesus transformed Saul/Paul from the inside out. Paul knew from firsthand experience what he wrote to the Corinthians: 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Jesus made Saul into a new creation; Jesus does that with us, too! What were you in the past? Never forget it, but never forget that you’re not it any longer. If you are a born-again Christian, you are a new creation! (If you’re not one, you can become one today!)
  3. Before we leave this verse, it’s interesting that this is the first time that Christianity has been labeled in the book of Acts. The apostles were known as followers and disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, but they were primarily thought of as a sect within Judaism (Pharisaic Judaism, at that). By this point, Saul was asking for people who belonged to “The Way,” or “The Road/Path.” Whether Saul wanted to admit it at the time, or not, it was a fitting name for the budding church! Throughout the OT, the people of God were exhorted to walk in the ways of the Lord, and parents were supposed to teach their children the ways of God. Psalm 119:1 speaks of the blessedness of those who “are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD,” and Psalm 1:6 says “the LORD knows the way of the righteous.” Jesus Himself used the same imagery: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” (Jn 14:6). There is but one way, and Jesus is it! (Do you follow the Way?)
  4. So Saul is still seething murder, so zealous to persecute Christians to death that he’s willing to make a 6-day journey by foot to the large Jewish population in Damascus to search out followers of “The Way” in the city. Day 1 probably went by quickly, as do all road-trip beginnings, but things were tiring as the days went by. By day 5 or 6, Saul and his companions were getting closer, the anticipation was rising, but the excitement would come far sooner than they expected…

3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

  1. Imagine it: you’re walking along, preparing yourself for what lay ahead in Damascus. You’re thinking about the contacts you’ll need to make with the local rabbis, the meetings you’ll need to have with the governors or city officials, the more mundane things like food & lodging. That’s when all of a sudden, you’re hit with a supernatural powerhouse! In that moment, Saul saw a light, and he heard a voice. Elsewhere, the light was described as being “brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13), no doubt calling to mind the brightness of the glory of God seen by Ezekiel and others. Later, Paul wrote to Timothy saying that God dwells in “unapproachable light,” (1 Tim 6:16) – something that Paul witnessed firsthand! Although the devil can appear as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:4), this was no imitation of God. It was so bright and so pure, there was no doubt it was the real thing.
  2. At the same time, Saul also heard a voice. The voice from the light called him by name, and called him twice. Interestingly, there are only a handful of times this takes place in Scripture, within the context of a supernatural revelation of God. Each of these times is either prefacing a huge step of faith, or a person’s first encounter with the Lord. For Abraham and Jacob (Gen 22:11, 46:2), God called their names twice when they had an immediate need to trust the Lord. For Moses and Samuel (Exo 3:4, 1 Sam 3:10), it was not only a step of faith for the men, but their first encounter with Almighty God. Likewise for Saul. The Lord’s repetition of Saul’s name underscores the solemnity and importance of the call, and Saul no doubt thought he was having his own “Moses moment.”
  3. If this alone hadn’t been enough to overwhelm Saul, it was what the voice said that made Saul’s heart drop to the pit of his stomach: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” To this point in Saul’s life, he had been persecuting Christians (followers of The Way), and he did it willingly and gladly. All of a sudden, Saul was confronted with the reality that his acts affected far more than men and women…they had an impact on God Himself. That’s when Saul asked his question…

5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. …

  1. Right of the bat, there’s a bit of an issue: Did Saul acknowledge Jesus as God, or did he call Him “Sir”? Scholars disagree, as the word could be used both ways. Theoretically, an argument could be made for “Sir/Master,” but it seems far more likely Saul used the term for “Lord” as a knowing reference to God. First, there was the supernatural phenomena of the light as the glory of God. Second, the question that was asked Him was “Why are you persecuting Me?” and Saul knew that he was persecuting Christians. If Jesus appeared to him with the glory of God, then it must mean that Jesus is God, and Saul was quickly coming to grips with that fact.
  2. That begs the question: If Saul knew this was God, why did he ask? Easy: he was confused! To this point, Saul was convinced he was serving the Lord in zealous fervor, keeping the faith and the law of Moses. He was a guardian of Judaism, keeping out the supposed-heretics, hoping to keep others from following in their footsteps. Now all of a sudden, he hears that he’s on the wrong side. He wasn’t persecuting heretics; he was persecuting God.
    1. At some point, all of us were on the wrong side, but for some, you were more zealous about it than others. You actively hated Jesus and tried your best to belittle Christians. (Praise God that the grace of Jesus saved even you!) For some of you, perhaps you’re still on the wrong side. You don’t have to be. You’ve been confronted with the truth of Jesus, and no doubt the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart right now. This is the moment you need to ask “Who are You, Lord?” and surrender your life to Jesus!
  3. Jesus didn’t mince words on this topic at all. Saul had not only been persecuting Jesus’ followers; Saul had been persecuting HIM. There is a mystical unity of Jesus with His church. Paul later understood this well, using the analogy of a body. We are the body of Christ, though we are members individually (1 Cor 12:27) – Christ is the head of the church, just as a picture of marriage (Eph 5:23). Even Jesus made the point, using the picture of Him as the vine & the church as the branches (Jn 15:5), and praying for the church’s unity, and His own unity with the church along with the Father: “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one,” (Jn 17:23). The point? Jesus is joined to His church – what affects us, affects Him. When a Christian is persecuted, Christ Himself is persecuted.
    1. Consider what that means for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. They do not go through their suffering alone…Jesus is with them! When Muslim or Hindu extremists haul Christians into the streets for public beatings and stonings, they do the same thing to the Son of God. It is like the account of the judgment of the sheep and the goats, when something is/isn’t done to the “least of these My brethren,” it is done unto Jesus (Mt 25:40). Jesus is with every individual persecuted for His name’s sake, and Jesus will judge every individual persecutor who has acted in hatred.
    2. That’s not only for those halfway around the world; it applies to us as well. Jesus is one with us, His church. There is no suffering we endure that Jesus does not know, and there is no sacrifice we make of which He is not aware. And for those who hate the church, there is no act of persecution (verbal or physical) that can be taken against a Christian that isn’t taken also against Christ. Those who hate Christians today will be held accountable for that on the Day of Judgment…of that, we can be sure. (But even that can be forgiven! Saul was forgiven…you can be, too!)

[It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” 6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him,] “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

  1. From the middle of verse 5 to the middle of verse 6, there is little to no manuscript support in the Greek. The only reason it appears in the King James (and thus the NKJV) is because Erasmsus back-translated this into Greek (for the Textus Receptus) from the Latin Vulgate. (Why Jerome included it in the Vulgate is a whole other question…most likely due to the influence of the Church Fathers.) There’s no doubt these things were said by Jesus and Saul, because Paul said as much when he later recounted his testimony for others (Acts 22:10, 26:14); Luke simply did not originally include it in Acts 9. Most likely, a well-meaning scribe inserted the phrases in an attempt to harmonize the passages.
    1. BTW – The only reason we can be so certain about this is because there are well over 5000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and well over 22,000 total hand-written manuscripts of the New Testament. We can have supreme confidence in the integrity of our Bible – there is more textual support for it than every other book of antiquity put together!
  2. No doubt Jesus said more to Saul than what is listed in any of these accounts (and Jesus would say much more to Saul in the future). What is included at this point is Jesus’ clear, yet ambiguous directions to Saul. “Arise and go into the city” – that much is clear. “…And you will be told what you must do” – that much is not. Like Abram of old, Saul has been confronted by the God he only thought he knew, and now he’s told to take a step of faith. He doesn’t know what – he barely knows where – the one thing he does know is that his whole world just changed. His original journey to Damascus had been done out of an ignorant zeal unto God – now the Son of God had a mission for him, and he didn’t yet have a clue what it may be. Even so, when God calls, you follow. So he did.

7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.

  1. If Saul was confused, imagine the men who were around him! Apparently they saw a light, but no person; and they heard a sound, but no distinct words. There can be a bit of confusion when Acts 9:7 is compared with Paul’s later telling of the story in Acts 22:9: Acts 22:9, “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.” On the face of it, that appears to be a clear contradiction. Did they, or did they not, hear a voice? The Greek word is the same (φωνή) but the meaning can vary, depending on the context. It could refer to a general sound, a cry, or a specific voice. Context and grammatical construction makes the difference, as it does in this case. The witnesses with Saul heard something, but they couldn’t identify what they heard; Saul heard nothing less than the voice of God.
  2. This shouldn’t be surprising. After all, the natural man cannot understand spiritual things, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14). What Jesus spoke to Saul was for Saul, necessary to bring Saul to faith. The men who were with him were still (presumably) unconverted Jews, being part of the party sent out from Jerusalem. Of course, that begs the question: Why did Jesus go to such lengths to convert Saul, while leaving the others as they were? (1) The others did have a witness: Saul himself! They were fully aware something miraculous had happened, though they didn’t know how to interpret it. Yet Saul knew the truth, and he could tell them (and probably did). Perhaps they later came to faith, perhaps not – we simply don’t know, because it isn’t included for us in the Scripture. What is certain is that they did have an opportunity to hear of Jesus…that was something left clearly open to them, even if it was different from Saul’s personal experience. (2) What God chooses to do with someone is His prerogative. God is God; we’re not. He knows what is best, and what is for His glory. It’s a dangerous game to second-guess the Lord. We know He always does what is right & just (Gen 18:25) – we know that He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). We have to trust that God acts according to His character and His word, even when we don’t know all of His reasons for His actions.

8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

  1. What irony! Previously, Saul had been spiritually blind; now he was physically blind. In his zeal, he was blinded to the truth of Jesus; now he knew the truth, but in his humbled state he could no longer see. Originally, he had gone to Damascus to drag Christians away in chains; now he had to be personally led by the hand into the city. All of the hubris had disappeared; all that was left was humility and faith…exactly the way it ought to be! God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Saul had been proud, and Jesus resisted him on the road in a mighty way. Now he was humble and finally had faith in Jesus as God the Son risen from the dead.
  2. What did he do in that state? He fasted and prayed. The fasting is mentioned in verse 9; the praying was known by Jesus in verse 11. On one hand, it may be said, “Of course he prayed. What else was there for Saul to do?” On the other hand, it was the very best thing that could be done! Saul had just had a life-changing experience. Everything he thought he knew was turned upside-down. Think about it: Saul had been a Pharisee, studying under the tutelage of Gamaliel, one of the preeminent members of the Sanhedrin. Whatever Saul had believed about the Messiah prior to Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, Saul had flatly rejected Jesus as the Messiah. His opposition to Jesus was so strong that he was willing to murder Jesus’ followers…all in the name of God! Thus, from Passover 33AD to this point (at least!), Saul had a false, blinded faith. Every prayer Saul thought he prayed to God, Saul was really praying in rebellion. Every act of devotion Saul thought he brought to the Lord in worship, he did so outside of faith, even though he believed it was in faith. He had carried on in a lie, ever believing it to be the truth. For those three days without sight, food, or water, Saul likely reviewed every prayer he had prayed, thought through the Scriptures he had memorized, poured over every doctrine he held, all thinking how it should have pointed him to Jesus & mourning over his willful blindness. Fasting and prayer was exactly the right thing to do!
    1. Just because someone believes something sincerely doesn’t mean that what they believe is right. Saul sincerely believed Christianity was a heresy; he was sincerely wrong…and it grieved him to learn it. It’s no different with anyone else. Muslims have a sincere devotion to Allah and Mohammed, and they believe a lie. Likewise with Hindus, Buddhists, and every other religion in the world apart from Biblical Christianity. Likewise with belief systems that claim they are not religious, like atheism. They may truly hold to their beliefs and presuppositions with all their might, but that doesn’t make those beliefs true. Only Biblical Christianity has been proven true, because Jesus historically rose from the dead. That puts the lie to atheism, agnosticism, Islam, and yes, even Judaism…just as it does with any system that denies Jesus as God.
    2. That doesn’t mean that people in those other religions are without hope. They may be spiritually blinded, but their blindness can be removed. Again, if Saul can be converted, anyone can be converted!
  • Ananias and Jesus (10-19)

10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”

  1. Question #1: Who was Ananias? We don’t know. Acts 9, along with the other stories of Paul’s conversion, contain the only record of Ananias and his faith. He was a Christian in Damascus, and that’s all we know. Tradition holds that he later became the bishop of Damascus, but there’s no way to verify it, and certainly Scripture says nothing about it. As far as what we can truly know, Ananias had no official title/office, nor do we know of any other evangelistic or missionary ministry. He was “just another” obscure Christian, right? Wrong! There is no such thing as “just another” Christian! This seemingly “obscure” Christian had a profound impact upon the history of the church. Even if this one event was the only thing Ananias did for the Lord (which is doubtful), what he did impacts each and every Christian to this day.
  2. Question #2: What was Ananias doing in Damascus, as a Christian 135 miles away from Jerusalem? Either he had been present, or influenced by someone who had been in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, or he was there because of Saul’s persecutions and murderous threats. We cannot know, but if the latter was true, it certainly heightens the tension of what it was Jesus was about to call him to do. But that’s the most intriguing thing about Ananias of Damascus…
  3. Ananias was also called by the Lord Jesus. When we think about Saul’s conversion, we often remember the miraculous appearance on the road and the Lord’s words to Saul…we don’t often think of the Lord’s words to Ananias. There were two people who received supernatural revelation that day, neither who had any expectation of anything happening. 
  4. His response? Perfect…simple availability. He had no idea what the Lord Jesus was about to say to him, but he was ready to hear. 

11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12 And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”

  1. As opposed to Saul, Ananias received very specific instructions! Jesus even gave the home address of where Saul was staying. There wouldn’t be a question of whether or not Ananias knew what to do, or somehow “misinterpret” the command from Jesus – it was as clear as it could get.
    1. We sometimes make excuses for our hesitancy to obey, saying, “I just wasn’t sure – maybe I misunderstood.” We may not receive GPS directions from the Holy Spirit, but the commands we have in the Scripture are equally clear. We don’t need to question if God really wants us to forgive someone, share the gospel with a specific person, help out someone who is needy, or spend time with someone pouring into their lives in discipleship. (Just to name a few examples…) He’s already told us to do these things. We hesitate on the specifics (Here, Lord? With him/her? In this situation?), but let’s be honest with ourselves: we’re just looking for an excuse to be disobedient. What Jesus has said to do, we are to do…period.
  2. Apparently, Jesus was just as specific with Saul in Damascus as He was with Ananias. Although Saul hadn’t been told much while on the road, during those three days of prayer and fasting Jesus has revealed to him what was going to happen. Saul had the assurance that his blindness was temporary, and that the Lord Jesus was sending someone to him for prayer and help. What makes this especially interesting is that Ananias was already named to Saul. Jesus knew of Ananias’ faith & obedience even before Ananias did!

13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”

  1. From a human perspective, this was an understandable reaction & reasonable objection. The hatred of Saul towards Christians was well known. Even in a city 135 miles away from Jerusalem, Saul’s reputation preceded him. And again, if Ananias had fled to Damascus as a result of the persecution in Jerusalem, Ananias’ question makes even more sense. He was available to do anything the Lord asked him to do, but he wanted to ensure he knew what the Lord was asking him: go to the very guy he wanted to hide from, pray for him to be fully restored to health, and then hope that Saul wouldn’t turn around to arrest him and/or kill him. Jesus was asking him to go to the foremost of all persecutors, and make himself fully available to be taken. Obviously this did not happen, nor was it the Lord’s intent, but it was a logical possibility.
  2. Question: Was this a lack of faith? Not necessarily. Ananias didn’t say “no”; he just voiced his concern. His willingness was already implied in his response to Jesus; his fear was simply voiced in honest confession. That’s not a lack of faith; that is faith! To know that whatever fears and concerns we have, we can take to the Lord, leave at His feet trusting that He will provide – there is wonderful assurance and trust in that. Sometimes we get the idea that born-again Christians should never experience fear, and that simply isn’t realistic. Of course we’ll have fears…we’re human! We shouldn’t be driven by our fears, nor live in them – so how do we deal with them? We turn them over to the Lord. Confess your fears to the Lord, and trust God to handle them. Philippians 4:6–7, “(6) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; (7) and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Ananias had a legitimate reason to be anxious, so he freely confessed his anxiety to the Lord. That’s how we handle ours, as well. Maybe it’s something about a health issue over which we have no control – maybe it’s more like Ananias, when we have a command we are hesitant to obey – whatever it is where we have fears, concerns, and anxieties, let it be made known to God in prayer. That isn’t weakness or lack of spirituality on the part of a Christian; this is how we’re supposed to walk as Christians.
  3. BTW – This is the 1st time in the New Testaments that born-again believers are referred to as “saints.” Saints are not certain men and women who have been appointed by the Catholic church, nor are they people who run around with halos floating over their heads. Saints are us. To be a “saint” is to be someone set apart by God for His own purpose, and that is the case with every single born-again believer. When you have faith in Jesus, you have been called by Him, saved by Him, and indwelled by God the Holy Spirit. You have been truly set-apart by & for the Holy God – you are a saint.

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

  1. Why should Ananias go to Saul? (1) Because Jesus commanded it. (2) Because Saul was chosen. Saul hadn’t known it when he set out from Jerusalem, nor could anyone else have guessed it at the time, but Jesus had chosen Saul for Himself. “Jesus chose Saul before Saul chose Jesus,” (AT Robertson). What grace! Out of all the people in the world, Jesus had chosen Saul to be a Christian. Saul! This one who breathed out threats and murder towards the saints – this religious zealot who persecuted whole families of Christians in the name of God…Jesus chose him to be saved. Jesus had known Saul from before the foundation of the world, loved him, and died for him…just like Jesus did with you. Think about it for a moment: you too, have been chosen by Christ. Out of all the people in the world, Jesus picked you to be saved…that’s how much He loves you!
    1. How do you know if you’ve been chosen? Simple: respond to the open invitation of the gospel! When you make the free choice to believe upon Jesus, you discover that He has already chosen you.
  2. Jesus chose Saul for some specific things. First, Saul was chosen as a witness. He was to be the apostle to the Gentiles, taking the gospel of Jesus to cities all over the Roman empire. He would truly witness of Jesus in front of kings – in chains, perhaps, but he would do it gladly. And Saul would even witness of Jesus to the Jews. He may have been the apostle to the Gentiles, but he routinely preached the gospel in the synagogues before he ever went to the city streets. Paul/Saul was a faithful witness of Jesus, preaching of Him at every opportunity.
  3. Second, Saul was chosen to suffer. If the first calling seems exciting, the second does not. It’s one thing to be called as a missionary and evangelist; it’s another to be called to suffer. Yet that was Paul’s future. The persecutor would become the persecuted. The one who caused other Christians to suffer would himself suffer for being a Christian. Was this poetic justice? From a certain perspective perhaps, but that’s the wrong way to think of it. Jesus wasn’t punishing Saul for his former crimes…all of that was taken care of at the cross. 100% of Saul’s sins were forgiven by Jesus because of the cross & resurrection, just like 100% of ours are as well. Saul wasn’t being punished; he was being prepared. Jesus simply showed him the truth of what was to come. As Paul wrote to Timothy: 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” That wasn’t a threat from Jesus to Saul; it was simply a fact. Saul would face more persecution than most, simply because of his calling. But all Christians will face some kind of persecution at some point.
    1. That’s not something to fear, but it is something of which we ought to be aware. Even here in the United States, we will (at some point) face opposition to our faith. At least, we will if we “desire to live godly in Christ Jesus.” If our faith is known, it will be opposed. The question is whether or not we let our faith be known in the first place. Be bold! God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7).
  4. With Ananias’ concerns answered and with Jesus’ command to go, Ananias went…

17 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

  1. Ultimately, Ananias was obedient. Apparently, Jesus shared more with Ananias than what Luke originally recorded, as Ananias knew the details of Saul’s conversion (the vision, the road, etc.). Ananias had also been given a specific task: not only to help Saul recover his sight, but to “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” At this point, Saul had been born of the Holy Spirit (having believed upon Jesus as the Lord), but had not yet been filled with the Spirit’s power. Just like Peter and John went to Samaria to personally attest of the Spirit’s work among the Samaritans, so was Ananias sent to witness of the Spirit’s work within Saul.
    1. BTW – It is good to lay hands upon one another and pray that we would be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is something we can pray for ourselves, but we have Biblical precedent to do with for one another.
  2. Notice the change in Ananias’ attitude toward Saul: “Brother Saul…” Any fear Ananias previously had toward Saul was gone. Why? Saul now had faith. Belief made Saul a brother! 

18 Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.

  1. Immediate sight; immediate baptism. In his later letter to the Romans, Paul wrote how the nation of Israel was blinded to the gospel (Rom 11:7) – Paul knew what that was from personal experience! In his case, he was physically blinded by the Lord, but that physical blindness was removed at the prayer of Ananias. The only thing left to do at that point was to be baptized. Saul had believed upon Jesus, his faith had already been confessed (to Ananias by the Lord Jesus Himself), now that confession was made public by baptism. Saul was fully committed to following Jesus as Lord, and he was baptized gladly!
  2. Although Luke doesn’t describe anything else, no doubt Saul was also filled with the Holy Spirit, just as Ananias was commanded to do for him. Note: There is no mention of tongues being spoken by Saul. Later to the Corinthians, Paul wrote how he spoke in tongues more than any of them (1 Cor 14:18), but apparently, he did not do it at his initial filling of the Spirit. Despite the claims of some, tongues are not evidence of the baptism and filling of the Holy Spirit. The filling of the Spirit happens by faith alone; not because of a certain spiritual gift.

19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.

  1. After his baptism, what happened? Like any good worship service, Ananias and Saul followed it up with a meal. No doubt Saul was hungry, and he took some time for recovery and reception by the local Christians. What did Saul do during those days? No doubt, he spend some time in heavy-duty discipleship. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote that the gospel he gave to them was the one he first “received,” (1 Cor 15:3-8). When would he have received it? As a new believer in Damascus with Ananias and the others. Although it’s difficult to think of Saul of Tarsus as a new believer in need of discipleship, he was. Everyone starts somewhere…even Saul.


How amazing it is that Saul was saved! The hard-hearted Pharisee, zealous to destroy the church of Jesus Christ was himself confronted by Jesus Christ. In an instant, his life was forever changed. And so was ours! After all, without the apostle Paul, who would have taken the gospel to the rest of Rome? Who would have written over 1/3 of the New Testament? Think about some of the grandest statements of the Christian faith:

  • Romans 1:16, “(16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
  • Ephesians 2:8–9, “(8) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
  • Galatians 3:11–12, “(11) But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” (12) Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.””

And that is only a sampling! Without Paul, we would have none of it. Would Jesus have called someone? Of course…His will is going to be done, with or without our obedience. But what richness would have been lost without Paul! Jesus had a grand purpose in mind when He called Saul to faith, and when Jesus transformed Saul into a new creation, Jesus transformed His entire church along with him.

That’s Saul’s story; what’s yours? As a Christian, what was your origin with Christ? Consider your own testimony, thinking about what you were – the vileness, the rebellion, the sin, the apathy. (Or whatever your case may be.) Now think about what you are! You have been transformed by the grace and love and power of Jesus! Once you were also an enemy of Christ, but now you are His friend – a fellow child of God by the grace of God. And we as the church are richer for it! We need one another, for our God has a plan to use each of us for His glory.

Think about the two men in Acts 9. Jesus called Saul, saving him; Jesus called Ananias, using Ananias to minister to the guy who had originally come to Damascus to arrest him and see him killed. Both men were transformed that day by the love and authority of Jesus. Jesus had a plan for each of them, just as Jesus has a plan for you. 

Walk in it! Trust that our Lord Jesus has made you a new creation, and now walk as He has made you. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,” (Eph 4:1), all to the glory of God! May we hold nothing back, allowing no fear to keep us from obedience, giving ourselves fully over to Christ and His plans for us.