Lesson 21: Persecution Relaxed Throughout All Judaea, Galilee, and Samaria
Welcome to Acts, Lesson #21. We have covered Saul's conversion, a special case. Now the case of the Samaritans, the case of the eunuch, and the case of Saul give us several insights into the life and activity of the early disciples. We also learn several things about the steps of salvation we discussed earlier: Believe, repent, confess and be baptized. Then apparently every disciple became a preacher. They went everywhere preaching the word. You can see the urgency they placed upon becoming a Christian and living the Christian life. It was not just some superficial thing they did on Sunday as a social outlet. It was their life's "vocation" as Eph. 4:1 puts it. They did not think of the church of Jesus Christ as something for kids and the elderly. They placed their priority where Jesus commanded. :But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.? (Matt. 6:33). Now that paraphrases down to this: Seek God and his church first and foremost, material things will be provided. Faith in Jesus Christ turned Saul around about 180 degrees. Our lives can be changed as much today if we seek God's kingdom and his righteousness first and foremost.
Now, concerning Saul's activity after his conversion at Damascus, let's continue ch. 9 starting with the second sentence in v.19 and read down through v.22. Let's read, "Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might being them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is the very Christ." Saul stayed at Damascus certain days. He was with the disciples, Ananias end others at Damascus. He lived with and got his very strength and motivation from those who he had come for the purpose of persecuting. The word "straightway" in v.20 implies that Saul went into the Synagogue and preached Christ as soon as the doors were open and the members met. Notice, the word "synagogue" is plural. He preached in all of them. We are not told what he did with the letters from the high priest. We are not told what happened to his companions from Jerusalem. Whether they were baptized, we are not told. Whether they went back to Jerusalem or not we are not told. But, Saul stood in those very synagogues, where he had planned to enlist their help hi persecuting Christians AND preached the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, believe, repent, confess and be baptized that your sins may be pardoned. V.21, tells us the effects upon his hearers. They were amazed. They were expecting Saul to persuade them to help in the persecution of disciples. Instead, he persuaded them to obey Christ and be added to the disciples. Luke summarizes their thoughts and inquiries in the last part of v.21, let's re-read. "Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priest?: However, according to v.22 that did not discourage Saul, he became the more motivated, worked with greater fervor proving that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. His audience was confused and puzzled. How could such a man so suddenly change his argument and preach the very opposite. You see, Saul knew the arguments and teaching of Stephen; And now he believed those arguments. Soul did not hesitate to speak out and express his faith. Did Saul succeed? If any one could convince them, surely Saul could. If there was any good soil to be found, surely Saul could plant the seed. Now, one more point in v.21 before we leave it. Notice the wording in describing THEM that were destroyed in Jerusalem. THEM which called on this name hi Jerusalem. That is another way of saying THEM THAT OBEYED. In others words disciples. You might observe also the Jews at Damascus were aware of Sauls's mission and were apparently expecting him. Let's read V. 23-25, "And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: but their laying wait was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket." Saul's preaching finally had it's effect. They took counsel to kill Saul. His very own people, the religious leaders of that city. As was the case with Stephen, these Pharisees could not resist the wisdom and spirit by which Saul spake. They looked at Saul as a traitor, a turncoat. Can you imagine preaching under these conditions? Isn't it amazing how up-set religious people get when they run out of reason? It amazes me. That is one of the hall-marks of people in error who refuse to change. Jesus told the twelve in Matt. 10:17 "But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues..." As paradoxical as it seems when religious people get a little up-set they defy the very principles they claim to stand for. Jesus recognized that element. The prejudice of these Jews out weighted their reason. They MUST prevail by either reason or force, and reason had failed. V. 24 informs us their plot was made known to Saul. This goes to show the disciples were as wise as serpents. They worked together. Saul must have taken.cover as a fugitive to keep from being killed. He could NOT have failed to remember the fate of Stephen and those other disciples he had persecuted. Undoubtedly, the Jews enlisted the help of the Syrians to carry out their plot. "They watched the gates day and night to kill him." They enlisted the very forces against Saul mat he had hoped to enlist against the disciples by his letters from the high priest. Those ancient cities were wailed as part of their security system. The disciples hid ?Saul AND after it was judged hopeless to smuggle him through the gates of the city, the disciples resorted to the tactic described in v. 25. Some of the houses were built against the wall. Some of the upper levels may have extended a foot or two over the wall. It was easy during the wee-hours of the morning to carry out such an escape, by the use of ropes. So, Saul escaped with his life. According to v.23, this was "after many days were fulfilled." This is a very vague expression. You wold probably construe it to mean a month or two. However, by comparing notes with the information given in Gal. 1:17-18, we learn this was three years. Another interesting bit of information that can be gleaned from that writing, not given here 15, Saul made a journey into Arabia during that three year period. We are not informed as to his purpose there or the length of time consumed by that journey. Arabia is the territory represented on the southeastern corner of your map-worksheet. We can only guess as to his purpose there, likely to preach and teach Jesus. Therefore, his stay at Damascus during the three years after his conversion, was divided into at least two periods. Again we do not know the duration of either period. His second stay at Damascus ended with the threat on his life and his escaping over the wall hi a basket by night. From there he went to Jerusalem, we learn this in v.26-30. Let's read it, "And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. And he spoke boldly in te name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus." Can you imagine Saul as he approached Jerusalem? He arrived quite a changed man. He had completely different goals than those he possessed as he left in that persecuting rage three years before. When he left Jerusalem he was, "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord," according to v.l. In v.26, a few months later, he seeks to join himself to these same disciples. What a change in deportment! He found the disciples cold, unfriendly and shy for a reason he must have understood very well. However, he found a friend in the "son of consolation", Barnabas, that Levite from Cyprus, whom we met in Acts 4:36. Barnabas took him in confidence, introduced him to the apostles and tried to make up for his cold reception among other disciples. The story of Saul's conversion must have dribbled back to Jerusalem and all the disciples had heard, I'm sure. But, it is difficult for most of us to accept such a complete change in one, so suddenly and so readily. Thus, there is a lesson for US, couched within the design of this narrative. According to v.28 he must have soon become generally accepted by the apostles and disciples that he met hi Jerusalem. Again, it is interesting to compare notes with Galatians. Saul's stay in Jerusalem must have been short possible three weeks. He spent 15 days of this stay in the household of Peter. He also got acquainted with James the son of Joseph and Mary, the half brother of Jesus, one of the 120 that waited in Jerusalem with the apostles in Acts ch. 1. Other than this, he apparently made very few acquaintances among the disciples. It is only natural he would visit and try to renew old friendships hi those Grecian synagogues, especially with those from his home of Cilicia. Apparently, that is just what he did, according to v.29. Can you imagine him revisiting those same synagogues where he had disputed with Stephen? Can you imagine, "he spake boldly hi the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians." V.29. His message must have echoed memories of Stephen and those memories must have been more vivid to Saul than anyone else. Just as you might suspect, they certainly would not be taught such a message by a turncoat like Saul. The mere feet that the Grecians even let Saul speak, to start with, in their synagogue indicates things had settled down considerably over the past three years. But Saul must have put considerable effort into trying to teach them. But even with the brethren insisting this man Saul leave town for his own safety he must have strongly considered standing his ground., Jesus appeared to him, in the temple, and told Saul to "Depart." That's recorded in Acts 22:18,21. That is not recorded here in Acts 9. Jesus also told Saul He would send Saul "far hence unto the Gentiles." Another interesting gem of information considering they were preaching to Jews only at that time. Thus, we get a hint as to future events and future plans for Saul. Saul reiterated this entire incident himself in Acts 22 and again in Acts 26, just in case you would like to read it now. The Grecian Jews gave no thought NOW to the council and any pretense of justice as they had performed with Stephen. V.29 says: "they went about to slay him." And similar to what had happened in Damascus, when the disciples found out that threats had been made on Saul's life; they conducted Saul down to that seaport town of Caesarea, the hometown of Philip, "and sent him forth to Tarsus." This plan may have been concocted hastily, but I suppose their thinking must have been THAT if Saul could find refuge anywhere, surely he could find it in his hometown among his family and relatives. So, Saul sailed for Tarsus, city #7, you should already have it on your map. Saul had already begun fulfilling the prophecy of Jesus, spoken to Ananias in v. 16, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." This old planet is the proving ground of our faith. Saul was put through a difficult training program, but he learned his lesson well. As was said before, this man was subsequently designated the apostle to the Gentiles. The kingdom had not yet been extended to annex the Gentiles, bat the days were drawing near. Just as Luke drew the curtain with Philip headed for Caesarea, he draws the curtain temporarily on Saul, EN ROUTE to Tarsus. But, before Luke turned his pen to other matters, he gives us a ray of hope and encouragement. Verse 31, let's read
it: "Than had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and hi the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." That persecution that began at the stoning of Stephen had cut deep into the progress of the church in Jerusalem. But, for all the pruning that was done to the Jerusalem church, almost a very branch took root in another location. Jesus had said, "I am the vine, ye are the branches." John 15:5. It is interesting to notice, "churches" (in plural) are the subject of the sentence in v.31. Churches were multiplied. "Churches" in this verse are mentioned for the first tune in plural form. We learned in Acts 2:47 the church is not a building. The church is people, i.e. baptized believers. The saved that the Lord adds to his kingdom. The same identical Greek word that is used in Acts 2:47 is used here in Acts 9:31. Thus the KJV translates that word "churches" (plural) while the RSV does not add the "s" but supplies the word church. It reads like this "so the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace." The original word means a "calling out" or a "congregation". The idea IS those called out of the world and added to the kingdom of God. In the plural sense the word would be equivalent to congregations or assemblies. Now, focus in on v.31, I've got a question for you, Which church was that hi Judea? Which church was that in Galilee? And, which church was that in Samaria? You don't understand? O.K. let me ask the question this way: I sometimes ask a person "are you a Christian?" They may answer "yes", I'm a Methodist, OR I'm a Baptist, OR I'm a Presbyterian OR I'm a Catholic. Get the idea? O.K. Which church was this in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria? You tell me! Do you think one taught one plan of salvation AND another taught another plan of salvation? For example, did one teach sprinkling, another teach immersion AND still another teach: It doesn't matter? Or, did one congregation bo by one creed book, another by another creed book AND yet another congregation go by still another creed book? What do you think? The answer is obvious. They all taught the same thing. They were NOT sectarianized, denominational ized and disjunctionized. According to v.31, they all WALKED in the fear of the Lord. If all religious people would walk that way today we would not be divided in name, creed, etc. That prayer Jesus prayed in John 17 would be realized. Let's review! Before Jesus ascended He commanded the apostles to wait in Jerusalem. Ten days after Jesus ascended the H.S. came upon the apostles. Peter said: "this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel." The last verse hi Acts 2 mentions the church as being in existence for the first time in history. The apostles taught, they were arrested, an angel helped them, the Holy Spirit was in mem, the church grew rapidly. The first recorded internal problem came with Ananias & Saphira. The second problem came with the Grecians murmuring against the Hebrews. Deacons were appointed to serve tables i.e. conduct their welfare program. Stephen, one of the seven, debated with the Grecians. The Pharisees brought Stephen before the council. They rioted and stoned Stephen to death. Relations between the Jews and Christians became very tense. The disciples went everywhere preaching the word. Philip preached hi Samaria and also taught the eunuch. Jesus spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul was baptized three days later and spoke boldly in the Damascus synagogues. A threat was made on his life. He fled to Jerusalem. Where he was threatened again. The disciples sent him to Tarsus. Churches are mentioned hi three provinces: Judea, Galilee and Samaria indicating the persecution was relaxed. The churches walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. They were edified and their numbers were multiplied, according to the last verse we read.