Acts 8-9
(Chief Adversary Becomes Chief Advocate)
November 14th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

For several days he (Saul) was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?”

Acts 9:20-21 (NRSV)

Summary of Chapters

These two chapters are packed with important stories and lessons that call our attention to several distinct threads of activity that were key to the early growth of the church. For instance, in chapter 8 Luke informs us that the apostles dispersed themselves across the region following the death of their fellow apostle Stephen. The persecution had begun immediately after this event, lead by a man named Saul.

    And Saul approved of their killing him (Stephen).

    That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

    - Acts 8:1-3 (NRSV)

This was the beginning of the persecution that Jesus had described, but God used this tragedy to serve the kingdom:

    Forced to leave home base, the followers of Jesus all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God’s action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city!

    - Acts 8:4-8 (MSG)

Therefore, Philip was the first one to fulfill the command from Jesus to spread the Good News to Judea and Samaria. Moreover, the believers remained in these areas to continue to spread the word. Later in the chapter, Luke describes how the Spirit of God directed Philip to assist in the conversion of an Ethiopian official who was reading the book of Isaiah.

    The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

    Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

    “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

    This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

      “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
      and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
      so he did not open his mouth.
      In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
      Who can speak of his descendants?
      For his life was taken from the earth (Isaiah 53:7-8 - NIV).”

    The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

    - Acts 8:29-35 (NIV)

Philip baptized the man, who continued his journey back to his own land – thus also spreading the word to the “ends of the earth." Luke referred to this man as an Ethiopian, but the Greeks considered all the land south of Egypt to be Ethiopia. This man have come from the land between the present-day Ethiopia and Egypt, in an area that the Hebrews called Kush and is currently known as Sudan.

Chapter 9 records the plans of Saul to persecute the leaders of the church and then describes God’s act to convert Saul to a believer in Jesus Christ. While Paul was on his way to Damascus to identify the Christians, God knocked him off his horse, spoke to him directly and rebuked him for his persecution.

    As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

    “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

    “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

    - Acts 9:3-6 (NIV)

God temporarily blinded him and sent him to a place to wait to be blessed for his new ministry. After the blessing, Saul became Paul and went immediately to work preaching in Damascus. Now the Jews wanted to kill him, but he escaped and traveled to Jerusalem. At first, the Apostles did not believe Paul was on their side, but Barnabas convinced them. While in Jerusalem he “talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews (Acts 9:29 NIV) (the ones who had adopted Greek Culture following the exile in the 6th century B.C.).”

The Hellenistic Jewish folks did not agree with Paul's preaching so they also wanted to kill him. Consequently, the Apostles sent Paul to other regions. Luke reports that there was peace and the church grew in numbers and in strength.

Meanwhile, Peter continued his traveling ministry which included his own experience of calling on God to raise a dead person to life.

Reflection and Application

There are many examples in today's chapters of what Jesus was talking about when he said that with God nothing is impossible (Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27, and Luke 18:27). In this case, there existed a very determined and organized man who was apparently responsible for the death of the first Christian martyr – Stephen, and was calculating plans to eliminate the other leaders.

But out of persecution came growth, much like the rapid return of flowers after a forest fire. The persecution forced the early disciples to leave their cozy environments and travel to other regions, including Samaria, home of the “half-breed” Jews who had inter-mingled with others and were considered outcasts by all proper Jews. However, Jesus had not subscribed to this type of thinking. He embraced those whom others considered outcasts, including the Samaritan woman to whom he spoke at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-42).

Notice how Philip obediently and enthusiastically responded to the Spirit of God. When Phillip was told to go see the man in the chariot he didn’t just walk over, but “ran” up to it. Note also how the Ethiopian sought instruction and how Phillip was prepared to respond. It would be good for us to seek to follow both models. We need to continually seek instruction and interpretation on the word of God and at the same time be ready to share what we know when prompted by the Spirit or when others ask.

What about Saul? We can imagine that God foresaw how Saul’s talents and tenacity could be put to use if he were on the right side of the spiritual divide. Saul probably reckoned that he was on the right side – he perceived the Christians as blasphemers and figured he was doing God’s work by eliminating them. Maybe he had never had the chance to meet Jesus in person and no one had evangelized to him, so he believed what the other religious leaders were teaching him.

But God knew Paul from before his birth and said to himself, "I want that man!" The ease with which God acquired this talent calls to mind the way that successful corporations and sports team acquire the talents that they want. There are some teams in sports that have a reputation for getting any player they want just because they are willing to spend more than anyone else, and they often do.

Of course there are many distinctions between these two scenarios. Paul was called for a spiritual mission of the highest importance. No other job or assignment is comparable. Some sports teams owners have vast sums of money to spend, but our Boss in Heaven has unlimited resources more valuable than gold and silver, and in addition, knows the outcome of his acquired talent.

Paul recognized the voice of his master immediately, and followed the command he was given, just like Jesus said that his sheep would recognize his voice. As a side note, we can observe that he who is perfect in all things is also perfect in grammar: “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied (Acts 9:6 - NIV).”

Philip, Paul, and Peter each had specific tasks to which God called them. What do we think is the assignment that God has had in mind for each of us since birth? Has he knocked us off our horse or have we heard him calling us out of the sheep pen? If so, what is the command for us to follow?

Whatever it is, we might want to pray for the same persistence as Paul, who carried on despite many dangers, as we saw in this last chapter and shall see again and again.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What situations have you experienced in which you were reluctant to trust or welcome someone who came from an opposing group?
    2. For which parts of the Bible would you like to receive more instruction?
    3. Which area of the Bible would you feel most comfortable explaining to others?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know nothing is impossible for you. Help us to believe and trust in you.

    Prayer Concern
    Bible Students

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Acts 10-11 (Repentance for the Gentiles!)

    Comments and Questions
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