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SAUL IN DAMASCUS AND JERUSALEM

Acts 9:19b-9:31
Key Verse: 9:22

The previous passage was about Saul’s conversion. While he was going to arrest Jesus’ people in Damascus, Risen Christ Jesus met him, the persecutor and embraced him unconditionally. The grace of Jesus penetrated into his heart and captured his soul and he was converted. Saul’s conversion showed the wonderful grace of Jesus who came into this world to save sinners, the enemies of God through his death on the cross. And Jesus called him as his chosen instrument to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Today’s passage is about what Saul did after meeting Jesus. The merciless persecutor of Jesus became a vigorous propagator of Jesus Christ. Let’s see what he did in Damascus and in Jerusalem and what happened to him there as the result.

First, Saul preached in Damascus (19b-25). Look at verse 19b. “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.” Originally Saul went to Damascus to seize Jesus’ disciples there and take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. But what a change that he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus, not against them! This was God’s work and at the same time it was because of the influence of Ananias in Damascus who overcame his feelings and preconception on Saul and accepted him as his brother in obedience to God’s word.

Then what did Saul do? Look at verse 20. “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” This is the first thing Saul preached after his conversion: “Jesus is the Son of God.” This is an amazing statement. Before his conversion, he thought that Jesus was just a leader of a sect. Now he began to preach in Damascus that Jesus is the Son of God, is written once in Acts here. So it will be good to expound this declaration. While on earth, Jesus called God his own Father. This was a main reason the Jews rejected Jesus and tried to kill him, considering him a blasphemer (Jn 5:17,18). And in John 19:7 the Jews insisted in their talking with Pilate, “We have a law and according to that law he must die because he claimed to be the Son of God.” In truth Jesus did not just claim to be the Son of God. He showed many evidences of his divine being through his miracles and teachings and life. Jesus said in John 14:11, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” Especially in John’s gospel there are seven miracles written it beginning with changing water into wine and raising dead Lazarus from the cave. The temple guards once were sent to arrest Jesus but came back empty-handed. Then they were asked, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” At this the guards declared, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.” They were not intellectual people, but they could sense it by their intuition. There are seven “I AM” declarations in the gospel of John, including “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6).

Not only his works and words are matchless but even his origin is different from all other human beings. When the angle Gabriel told Mary that she would with be child and give birth to a son, Mary asked, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Then the angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” This is written in Luke’s gospel (1:34-35). In Matthew’s gospel an angel of the Lord said to Matthew, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20). At the time of his baptism a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17); in Mark and Luke, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22). The same voice was also spoken to his disciples when he was transfigured on a high mountain (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35). God himself testified that Jesus is His Son.

He was tempted in every way just as we were, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). He was sinless, pure and holy. His life was powerful and loving and compassionate. Evil spirits were helpless and fell before him, crying out, “You are the Son of God” (Mk 3:11). There was no sickness he could not heal. All those who were touched by his love and realized the love of God were forever changed. He lived a life of love until he gave his very life for sinners.

At the time of trial, when Jesus was asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” Jesus replied, “You are right in saying I am” (Lk 22:70). With this he was sentenced to death and was crucified and died on the cross. But he rose again. His resurrection is the final undeniable evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. According to Romans 1:4, he was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. Then the religious leaders fabricated a falsity that Jesus’ disciples came to the tomb during the night and stole his dead body and spread the complete lie (Mt: 28:13-15). Probably Saul heard this lie and had been persecuting Jesus. But since he met the risen Christ, at once he preached in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

It is truly astounding that the Son of God came into this world and lived among people at one point of human history. John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. According to Hebrews 1:3, Jesus is the exact representation of God. We can know who God is through his Son Jesus. Because of the Son’s appearing in this world, we can believe God’s creation and the history of God and everything written in the Scriptures. The world should know that the man called Jesus in history is the Son of God. Last Wednesday Jorge Mario Bergoglio (76) from Argentina was elected as new Pope. He is the first Pope from non-Europe, Latin America, first from Jesuit and first Pope Francis. It is said that he has lived a humble life and a friend of the poor. There have been many great men in history. But Jesus is outstanding and matchless as the Son of God.

When Saul began to preach that Jesus is the Son of God, how did the people in the synagogues respond? Look at verse 21. “All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’” This shows what a terrible man Saul was! Their response was understandable.

Then what is written next? Look at verse 22. “Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” In the New Testament “Christ” and “Son of God” are written together many times. For example, Mark 1:1 says, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” When Jesus asked to his disciples, “Who do you say I am?,” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). At Jesus’ trial the high priest asked, “…Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Mt 26:63; Mk 14:61). We can say that the Christ is the Son of God and the Son of God is the Christ.

Here in Acts 9:22, Saul baffled the Jews by proving that Jesus is the Christ. We don’t know how Saul proved. Believing can include proving and reasoning, of course, spiritual proving and spiritual reasoning. Hebrews 11:19 says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.” Abraham was ready to kill his son according to God’s command, because he reasoned that God could raise the dead. Abraham’s resurrection faith contained his spiritual reasoning. He is the God of reason. God said to Israelites, “Come now, let us reason together…Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” (Isa 1:18). When we think about God’s creation, he is the God of order. We can say that he is the God of mathematics. A prominent pastor said, “Christianity makes most sense.” I agree with this. Christianity is not only true but also makes most sense. It appeals to sincere human mind. So Saul proved that Jesus is the Christ.

As we thought above, Jesus’ being the Christ can be equivalent to his being the Son of God. Yet, we can still expound on Jesus’ being the Christ. The Hebrew word for Christ is Messiah, meaning “the Anointed.” In the Old Testament priests and prophets and kings were anointed. Jesus is God’s Anointed One as our Priest, Prophet and King. Jesus is our Priest, sacrificing himself as a perfect and unblemished offering, as the Lamb to God, once for all, for the sin of mankind (Heb 9:14). No one died for our sins, but Jesus. Jesus is our Prophet, who spoke to the people the very words of God, revealing God the Father and leading them to the Father in heaven. Jesus is our King, who has all authority in heaven and on earth through his resurrection. Jesus is the Christ.

Simon Peter was the first human being, who made a confession of Christ, saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Among the four gospels the gospel of John is written last and John 20:31 says, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in his name.” Those who believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God are saved and have life that is eternal. Throughout history numerous people have been saved and changed one by one when they put their personal faith in Christ. His life-changing power is the proof that he is the Christ. Christ’s love changed destructive Saul. “Who is the Christ” has been a serious question to mankind. Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” There have been and will be many false messiahs and anti-christs. But the distinguishing mark is Christ’s life-giving and life-changing power, especially through his death and resurrection. Christ is our righteousness, holiness and redemption (1 Cor 1:30). Jesus is the Christ; he is the Son of God.

The founder of Methodism John Wesley went to heaven in his dream and there an angel was guarding the entrance door. He asked the angel, “Among those who have entered the kingdom of heaven, how many are from Methodism?” The angel looked over the book where the names of those who came to heaven were listed, and said, “None from the Methodism.” Then John Wesley asked, “how about from Presbyterian?” The angel examined the book again and said, “None from the Presbyterians.” Wesley was greatly disappointed and asked to the angel in a loud voice, “Then what kind of people come to the heaven?” The angel answered grinning, “Those who entered the kingdom of heaven are Christians who believe in Christ Jesus.” We believe that church or organization names are not written in the book of life, but only the names of those who have truly believed on earth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

When Saul preached that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” what happened to him? Look at verse 23. “As many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” The former persecutor of Jesus and now the preacher of Christ Jesus began to be persecuted even in the danger of being killed. We remember that baby Moses drifted in basket on Nile and then was rescued. Here Saul was put in a basket and the basket went through an opening in the wall and so Saul was rescued. God protected him in that way. The battle between the gospel preacher and persecutor will be going on to the end of this world, but God will protect his servants in his perfect care.

Second, Saul was accepted and then rejected in Jerusalem (26-31). When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. We all know that it is not easy to change one’s conception of a certain man, especially a terribly bad conception. Although Saul was changed, the disciples in Jerusalem did not experience with him. At the presence of Saul they were all afraid of him. In this situation God worked out through Barnabas, “Son of Encouragement.” Look at verse 27. “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” Barnabas was not a man of prejudice. His judgment was based on a person’s relationship with the Lord Jesus. And he told the disciples in Jerusalem the facts of God’s work in Saul’s life, his encountering the Lord, the Lord’s speaking to him and Saul’s fearless preaching in the name of Jesus in Damascus. Then the problem was solved; Saul was accepted.

When he was accepted, what did Saul do? Look at verse 28. “So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.” Saul did not try to show what kind of person he was and get people’s recognition. With the freedom he got, what he did was speaking boldly in the name of the Lord in Jerusalem, as he had done in Damascus. Here we see that wherever he went, Saul preached Christ Jesus and spoke in the name of the Lord Jesus. It became the top priority in his life. In doing this he was fearless and bold, depending on God and fearing him alone.

He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews in order to help them in the best way. But the result was not that good fruitful despite his whole effort. They tried to kill him. When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. It seemed that because he preached that Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ, he was rejected from everywhere. So he had to go back to Tarsus, his hometown. His life seemed to be declining. But certainly God had a definite plan for him.

Look at verse 31. “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.” When the persecutor Saul was changed into a gospel preacher, there was no more persecution. We could see his influence had been enormous. The church enjoyed a time of peace. And the church was strengthened after bearing the time of persecution. But also when Saul was persecuted because of Jesus and confined in his hometown with no more preaching, it was likely that the gospel work had to be diminished. But the Holy Spirit was orchestrating the gospel work and encouraged the church. It grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. The church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was going in a right direction with peace, strength, encouragement, growth and fear of the Lord.

In this study we thank and praise God for Jesus, who is the Christ, the Son of God. He must be preached to the whole world fearlessly and proved clearly through his servants like Saul. Then church will grow in the hand and plan of God.

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