Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 1 * PART 3 * BOOK 19
In our last lesson in Acts Chapter 9, we talked about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, a religious Jew, who was a fanatic and a zealot. But we saw the Grace of God stop him in his tracks and save him because he had no merit whatsoever, and that’s Grace. But how much does Saul know on the road to Damascus? That Christ died for his sins and that he rose from the grave for him? No! That isn’t the basis yet. He has only recognized Who Jesus really was. So let’s start where we left off. God is dealing with Ananias in verse 10:
“And there was a certain disciple (or believer) at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, `Ananias,’ And he said, `Behold, I am here, Lord.’ And the Lord said unto him, `Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth (Saul is on communication ground now with the Lord Himself).’ And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, `Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here, he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.'” In Chapter 22, we see what kind of man Ananias really was. Paul is speaking in the first person many years after the Damascus experience, and is recounting his conversion to the multitude of Jews.
“And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. And one Ananias (the one spoken of in Chapter 9), a devout man according to the (what?) Law!….”
So what is Ananias? He is a believing but Law-keeping Jew. No one has told Ananias yet, “You’re not under the Law, you’re under Grace.” No one has told these Jewish believers to quit Temple worship and stop legalism. They have maintained their Judaism, but they have also recognized that Jesus was The Christ. Do you see the difference? That is what we call the Gospel of the Kingdom – that Christ was the King of Israel; He was ready to give them the Kingdom, but they had to repent and be water baptized in order to be ready for that Kingdom. So Ananias is a believer that Saul was coming after. Turn to Chapter 26. Again, Paul is rehearsing in the first person all of this. Come down to verse 9:
“I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” He never got over it. But nevertheless, he had to recognize that this was what he had to go through before God could use him.
“Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints (these Jewish believers) did I (he takes responsibility for it himself. So he had to be a pretty big wheel in Judaism to have that kind of authority) shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death….”
They actually killed those Jewish believers as being heretics, they were offscouring of Judaism and they put them to death. And Paul takes responsibility for it. We often wonder how the Jews maintained the kind of authority that could keep their Temple going. In fact, I was reading a book just a few weeks ago, where every Jew out in dispersion would send fairly good-sized sums of money back to the Temple. The Romans never intercepted any of that. The Romans actually guaranteed safe delivery for these offerings of these Jewish people that went back to the Temple in Jerusalem. So, Rome sort of condescended to Judaism. They even gave permission to put their own people to death and that’s why Paul could say that he put them in prison and voted to put them to death. Rome would never have allowed that to happen to a Gentile. But you see, they put up with Judaism. The best explanation I’ve read on it is that the Romans had great respect for ancient religions, including their own mythologies. And Judaism is an ancient religion.
But when Christianity made its appearance under the Roman empire, that was not an ancient religion, that was something new and so they tried every which way to stamp it out. That’s why Christians came under such massive persecution under Rome. And yet the Jews didn’t. But notice that Paul even recounts in his own experience how he persecuted those Jewish believers, but they were Jews still under the Law. When we get to Chapter 10 I’ll show you that Peter is still a Law-keeper. But that’s for another time. Let’s move on. The Lord is speaking to Ananias here.
“But the Lord said unto him, `Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.'”
We haven’t seen that name `Gentile’ much before because it’s been all Jewish. But here is the big turning point in the Book of Acts. I’m going to send him, God said, to the Gentiles. He’s also going to kings and the children of Israel. Let’s go on to verse 16. And if you know anything about Paul’s missionary journeys you know how that man suffered. Starvation, deprivation, imprisonment, stoning, wrecked at sea, and it was all, I think, a flashback on how he himself had caused so many to suffer, for God says, in verse 16:
“I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake (in the ministry. And he was finally martyred because of it.).”
“And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house (the house that was of Judas,’ back in verse 11) and putting his hands on him said, `Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus (see how he’s emphasizing who He is), that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost (that hadn’t happened yet).’ And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.” Of course there’s no doubt about it, he was baptized because he was still under that Jewish economy that demanded it. Now verse 19:
“And when he had received meat, he was strengthened, Then was Saul certain days with the disciples (these believing Jews) which were at Damascus.” Now let’s look at verse 20. Highlight it, or underline it, or do something with it so you won’t lose it.
“Straightway (in other words, from his receiving strength, his sight and his baptism, he is now ready to get after it. Now watch the text again carefully) he preached Christ in the(marketplace? among the Gentiles? No, that’s not what it says. It says he preached Christ in the) synagogues,…”
So who is he preaching to? Jews! He preached Christ to the Jews. What did he preach? That he is the Son of God, Who died for him and rose from the dead? No! What am I trying to drive home? Even Saul of Tarsus was saved under the Kingdom Gospel, believing Who Jesus was. And Who was He? The Son of God. The Messiah of Israel. The promised One out of the Old Testament as coming to the Jews under the Covenant promises. That’s all he understood because that’s as much as God had revealed to him this time. Remember, this man is not going to continue just preaching to the Jews in the synagogue. God’s got a path for him among the Gentiles. So what is He going to have to do? He’s going to have to get him out of town to some place where he can enlighten him as to what He wants. Let’s see what happened. Again, remember that verse 20 was the same confession that Peter spoke, Martha spoke and that all the others spoke, including the Ethiopian eunuch. But that’s not enough now, so God’s going to move him out.
“”But all that heard him were amazed, and said, `Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem…'”
You see what I emphasized in the early chapters of Acts? What did they place their faith in? His Name! And what did His Name indicate? Who He was! He was The Christ, The Son of God.
“…and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews (he isn’t going to Gentiles yet) which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this (Jesus) is very Christ.”
This was the whole purpose of that miraculous three years of earthly ministry, to prove to the whole Nation of Israel Who He was. And to those Jews who could believe, they had Salvation and became disciples. This is as much as even Saul knows at this time – that Jesus was The Christ. But God’s got greater things for him to understand. And so God is going to have to pull him out and how does He do it? Verse 23 explains that. It is so easy to understand. God has to get Saul out of town. He could have done it like He moved Philip, but He didn’t, He used circumstances. In fact when people ask me, “Well, Les, how can I know the will of God?” Do you know what my first answer is? “Circumstances.” When God slams the door in your face, what are you to realize? That’s not where He wants you. And every time He closes the door, He opens another one. And so you follow your circumstances, as well as the Scriptures and prayer. But God is going to move in circumstances, and that is what He is doing here. Circumstances are going to arise, and Saul is going to have to move out. And what is it? Verse 23:
“And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:” There is a conspiracy about. Not from the believing Jews, but the orthodox, the ones who were still back where Saul was before he was converted.
“But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.” Somebody let the cat out of the bag, and Saul found out about it. There’s a bunch of Jews out to kill him. Those people were just as normal as we are today, What does Saul do? He makes arrangement to get out of Damascus.
“Then the disciples (those Jewish believers) took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.”
So Saul takes off, and God is going to lead him. Between verse 25 and verse 26 we’ve got a three-year gap in here. We have to go back to the Book of Galatians Chapter 1 to pick that up. When people have doubts or wonder about my approach to the difference between Peter and Paul, I usually ask them to read Galatians Chapters 1 and 2 carefully and slowly, and with an open mind. Don’t read a commentary. Don’t listen to what I say, but just read these two chapters very carefully, and if that doesn’t open your mind then I don’t see how anything else can. Galatians Chapter 1. Drop down to verse 16, where Paul now many years later is writing this little epistle to the Gentile believers up there in Galatia.
“To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen (Gentiles the non Jews); immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:” In other words, in Damascus after his conversion, there were several days involved, but time-wise it was short. “Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me;….”
Paul didn’t go back to Jerusalem and check in with the Twelve. He didn’t go back and ask Peter to fill him in regarding the three years Peter was with The Lord, or the forty days after His Resurrection. Paul didn’t say, “Fill me in so I can go out and preach with some authority.” He makes it so plain that he did not do that. He did not have contact with the leadership in Jerusalem.
“…but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.”
From Damascus he made his way down to, I’m sure, Mount Sinai in Arabia. The reason I think that, is because in Galatians Chapter 4, Paul is using the allegory of Ishmael and Isaac. And look at the geography that comes up in verse 25:
“For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia,…”
We know that Mount Sinai was the place where God gave the Law to Moses. Isn’t it appropriate to feel that this is the place in Arabia that God took Saul to reveal to him the doctrines of Grace? Three years he spent in a private seminary. No one except him and the Lord so far as we know. That’s a long time. But he had a lot to soak up and, consequently, from this three years of being alone with the ascended Lord, out of it comes this Apostle prepared to go to the Gentiles, not with Judaism and the Law, but with Grace. Not with just the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus was The Christ, but with the Gospel of Grace which is that Jesus is The Christ, The Son of the living God, Who died for our sins, shed His blood, was buried, and rose from the dead. Do you see the difference? That is all that Paul can write and talk about. I had a letter recently that asked, “Didn’t Peter ever come to understand Paul revelations; his uniqueness as an Apostle?” Yes he did, it took a while, but come back for a moment to Peter’s little epistle and I’ll show you. Peter is writing this little epistle just shortly before he is martyred. This would be about 66 or 67 A.D. or about 30 years after Saul’s conversion. So at least thirty years have elapsed since Peter and Paul had their meeting in Jerusalem. Let’s begin at verse 15:
II Peter 3:15a
“And account (understand) that the long suffering of our Lord is salvation;…”
That’s what the whole Bible is about. Beginning in Genesis, as soon as man fell, God begins to put a plan of Salvation on the human race. He’s not willing that any should perish. Cain and Abel certainly didn’t understand crucifixion, but Abel did what God said to do. Moses and the Law didn’t understand what we call the Gospel of our Salvation that Christ died for our sins. But they did what God told them to do. Let’s see what Peter says in verses 15 and 16:
II Peter 3:15,16
“And account (understand) that the long suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him (by revelation from the Lord Himself) hath written unto you;” Do you see where Peter is putting Paul? Not as some heretic, but someone who has now been part and parcel of the very working of God Himself.
“As also in all his epistles (now what part of your Bible is that? Romans through Hebrews. That’s the heart of our New Testament), speaking in them of these things (that’s Salvation in verse 15); in which are some things hard to be understood,…”
Thirty years afterwards, Peter is still having trouble with Paul’s message, and Paul’s going to the Gentiles. But he has to agree. Paul is on the right track. Now why was it so hard for Peter to understand? He was steeped in Judaism, and legalism. You know this is what is so hard for people even today. It’s like pulling teeth to see someone come out from under legalism, and step into the glory of God’s Grace. They fight it tooth and nail. And Peter’s no different. Bless his heart, I’m anxious to see old Peter, and I don’t think it will be that much longer. We as Christians are all going to be meeting one another. But Peter still couldn’t quite comprehend that God would save those pagan heathen, without at least coming in to embrace the Mosaic system, keeping the Law, circumcision, and every other command that was demanded of a proselyte. But to save them by Grace plus nothing was hard for him to understand.
II Peter 3:15
“As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest (twist), as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
Are people twisting the scriptures? You’d better believe it. Peter is saying, “Look, if you want Salvation today read Paul’s writings.” He doesn’t say go back to the Four Gospels, or Christ’s earthly ministry or to Pentecost and his great sermon. Peter doesn’t say to look at what he told the Nation of Israel, but rather to go to Paul’s epistles. In them you will find Salvation, the Christian walk, and all the things that God expects of a believer today. Now let’s go back to Galatians Chapter 1 verse 17 again:
“Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and (now the last part of this verse is there for a reason, and I don’t know why. If it wasn’t there it could be explained so much easier, but it’s there) returned again unto Damascus.” Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem…”
If Paul hadn’t put in that he returned to Damascus in verse 17, then you could follow his course more easily. We know that he left Damascus over a wall in a basket and went to Mount Sinai in Arabia where he spent three years. From there, with all these new revelations, it would be logical to expect that he stopped in Jerusalem, visited with Peter, went up to Caesarea, probably took a ship up the river that came down from Cilicia, and then went back to his home city of Tarsus. So that’s the route now that Paul will be taking as he begins his ministries to Gentiles in his home area of Tarsus.