Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 2 * PART 4 * BOOK 19
SAUL CHANGES TO PAUL
It just thrills our heart to have people write and tell us they are following our references and are studying The Word. If you will get serious with God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth to you. As so many have written, “I’ve read The Bible all my life but have never been able to understand it before now.” And we just give the Lord the praise for that.
Now let’s begin our study again and pick up in Acts Chapter 11. Peter has come back to Jerusalem from the home of Cornelius. Peter is still not going out to the Gentiles; and he knew that he was not supposed to. Peter was correct in every way that had to do with the Jewish system. He only did what God told him to do. He was to confine his ministry to the Jew as we saw in the last lesson in Galatians 2:9. And it had been agreed that Paul would go to the Gentiles. Now remember that Acts is a transitional Book and here we are going to see the transition kick into a little higher gear. So far it’s been all Jewish. We saw the conversion of Saul on Gentile ground outside of Damascus. And we saw Peter in Chapter 10 go up to the house of Gentiles at Caesarea. Here in Chapter 11, we are going to see a little more of the transition to the Gentiles and a little more of the slipping away of the Jewish program. Verse 19:
“Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.”
Now that is the one verse that opened my eyes some twenty years ago. Because I had always been of the mindset that as soon as you got into the New Testament then you were into Christianity. And that the whole world was now being given the Gospel. Not so, as you can see. It had been confined to Israel, and even these Jewish believers have no concept of going to Gentiles. Let’s look at the persecution that arose about Stephen in Chapter 7 for a few moments. Here Stephen has given that long lesson on Jewish history leading up to the coming of their Messiah and he, like Peter, accused them of having killed Him. They finally turn on Stephen and stone him to death. We call it Stephen’s martyrdom. That happened in 36 A.D. and in verse 59 we see:
“And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, `Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, `Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Now then verse 1 of Chapter 8:
“AND Saul was consenting unto his death…”
That is Stephen’s death. Now when Paul writes in his letters that it just plagued him throughout the remaining portion of his life, that he had persecuted the Church of God, it was this Church at Jerusalem. You see he was the leader of this terrible persecution to stamp out any Jews who had embraced Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah. We will come back here in a moment but for now let’s go over to Chapter 26. Paul’s conversion experience is rehearsed three times in the Book of Acts and this is one of them. He is recording in the first person, how on the road to Damascus the Lord brought him to the realization that Jesus was The Christ and converted him. Let’s begin at verse 9:
“I verily thought with myself (Paul is talking in the first person), that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which things I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.”
Paul takes full responsibility for his actions. Remember, there is no one so vicious as a religious person. That’s religion. I’m not talking about Christianity, but rather religion. Look at the wars raging around the world today and it’s all in the name of religion. And the same way here, these Judaisers were so wrapped up in their Old Testament religion, they were ready to kill anyone who opposed them. Paul at that time was so glad to see these Jewish believers condemned to death that he thought he was doing God a service. Just get them off the scene, because they were impostors and blasphemers. Now back to Chapter 8. This is the persecution that arose about Stephen.
“AND Saul was consenting unto his (Stephen’s) death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church (or I prefer to call it assembly) which was at Jerusalem: and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
Now think, if they were embracing the great commission, where should they have been six or seven years ago?” Throughout the whole Roman empire. And where are they? Still in Jerusalem. Not only are they there, but they won’t leave even under intense persecution. Now that should tell us something. Why won’t they leave? They knew they had no God-given right to leave. They were to stay and present this Gospel of the Kingdom to the Nation of Israel. With the hope that Israel would still accept their King and then Christ could have come and set up His Kingdom. They understood that once they had The King and the Kingdom then they could bring Gentiles to The King, their Messiah. They knew what the Old Testament taught about that. They knew a lot more than many people do today. Remember what it says in Zechariah Chapter 8?
“Thus saith the LORD of hosts; `In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you (why?): for we have heard that God is with you.'” In the person of The King of course.
But these twelve disciples are not going to leave Jerusalem, but all the rest of the believers did. Now back to Acts Chapter 11. We did all that so you could get the timing. Here we have a flashback to the seven years after Pentecost, at the time of Stephen’s death. But in chronology we are already up about 41 or 42 A.D. This is twelve or thirteen years after Pentecost. Some of these believing Jews are migrating up to Antioch, up north of Palestine in the area we would call Lebanon today. Now verse 20:
“And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus.”
A Grecian was a Jew who was a native of Palestine. A Greek was a Gentile. So it wasn’t unusual for Grecians to be approached with this. We had Grecians back in Chapter 6. But here in verse 20, most Bible teachers, scholars and I believe Grecians should have been translated Greeks. Because this would have been something totally different for a Greek to hear and believe. But things are quickly changing in this Book of Acts.
“And the hand of the Lord was with them (indeed, because God was ready to move things out to the Gentile world): and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord. Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.”
What was the problem again? Gentiles being saved! This is only for the Jews. It’s the same way today. If your denominational headquarters heard there was a heresy out there in one of their churches, what are they going to do? They would send some people down and check it out and ask, “Are you people really following this kind of false teaching?” And it was no different there. So when they at Jerusalem heard what was going on up at Antioch, they sent Barnabas to check out what they were doing up there because it was not right according to Jewish thinking. Now verse 23, and isn’t it amazing how God always chooses the right man for the right place at the right time.
“Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.”
As an attribute of God, Grace has always been there. When Adam and Eve were hiding behind their fig leaves in the bushes there in the Garden of Eden, Who went looking for them? God did. Why? Grace! He could have just forgotten about them. Zapped them and started over, but His Grace took Him to pursue them. So His Grace has always been evident, but if you want to search the Scriptures, just count the number of times Grace is used, and you’ll get something like thirty or forty times. That is until you get to Paul, and then count how many times the word Grace appears and you will get something like two hundred. And what’s the reason? Because beginning with Paul, “It’s the Grace of God that takes the pre-eminence” Before that it was just more or less mentioned as one of God’s attributes.
So now good old Barnabas saw the Grace of God in verse 23. Very few people today understand God’s Grace. If you are not accused of teaching people they are free to do as they please with the liberties God gives us, then you are probably not preaching and teaching the Gospel of Grace. And Paul said the same thing. He said that he was falsely accused of preaching that just because God’s Grace is great, then go ahead and sin as you wish. But that’s not what Grace means. I have said it a thousand times that Grace is not license. But on the other hand, very few people comprehend that the Grace of God is greater than any person’s sin. It’s always Grace, and so here again these Gentiles no doubt had come out of immoral idolatry, and yet God saved them by His Grace, and Barnabas is seeing it happen. Now verse 24:
“For he (Barnabas) was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord.”
That’s at Antioch. Now verse 25, I love these tidbits, that’s what makes studying the Scriptures so interesting. When Barnabas saw the sudden influx of Gentiles into the assembly at Antioch, the Holy Spirit moves him and who does he go looking for?
“Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:” Why? Because he has the message for the Gentiles. Now Antioch was located a few miles inland, almost on the Mediterranean Sea up in Syria, and just around the corner of the Mediterranean in this river valley was the city of Tarsus in the country of Seleucia. So Barnabas, who had come from Jerusalem to Antioch, makes his way up the river valley on which Tarsus is located for the sole purpose of finding Saul. Saul is the one who has had three years of revelation from the risen Lord. He’s the one with all the answers. Now verse 26:
“And when he had found him (Barnabas left to look for Saul and he found him), he brought him unto Antioch (can’t you just see those two men as they met, and Barnabas says, “Saul, things are happening down there at Antioch, and I know, as God has revealed to me, that you are the man we have to have. You are the one who has the message now for these Gentiles. God has opened their hearts. God has opened the door, and evidently God is going to move out into the Gentile world. We can see it coming.” Now reading on). And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians (what’s the next word?) first in Antioch.”
Why not Jerusalem? The Jerusalem Church had been in operation for about twelve years already. The Bible never calls them Christians. Why? They were under the Judaistic umbrella. They had believed for their Salvation that Jesus was The Messiah of Israel. But these Christians at Antioch believed for their Salvation that Jesus had died for them, that His blood had been shed for their sins, and that He had been raised from the dead. In other words Antioch is being presented with Paul’s Gospel. And he differentiates it from anything that had ever gone before, because it was a secret hidden in the mind of God until He revealed it to the Apostle Paul while he was in Arabia. And now God is going to do something totally different. He’s going to save the whole human race, Jew and Gentile, by the Gospel that Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead. (Ref: I Corinthians 15:1-4)
I’ve always said, and I’ve been guilty of it also, that too many times we have reduced the Gospel to cliches. Do you know what a cliche is ? A little frame of words we use that’s handy. For example, “Come and take Jesus into your heart,” “Just believe in Jesus,” or “Take Him as your personal Saviour.” Now those are all well and good as far as they go, but that’s not the Gospel. Multitudes have been invited to come down the aisle of a Church building to take Jesus as their Saviour. Just take Jesus into your heart. Folks that’s not the Gospel by which you are saved according to the Apostle Paul. I’m going to stand and proclaim that the Gospel is only one thing. And that is – that Christ died for me and He died for you. He paid my sin penalty. He suffered in my place. His divine pure blood was shed in total payment for your sin and mine. He was buried, he was really dead. And He arose from the dead, powerful, victorious, and because He lives, you and I know that we live and will live. And that my friends is the Gospel and you can’t shortcut it one bit.
Now once a person understands that and believes it, then, yes, you are taking Christ into your heart. Then He becomes your personal Saviour. But most people are never told that. I don’t hear the Gospel, I hear everything but the Gospel, so be aware of that. And no wonder the Church has become powerless. I’m afraid that too many people are reading too many books instead of The Book. Because how many books have I read, myself, where they neglect this part of the Gospel. They talk about how to cope with all my problems, and how to get along with my wife and kids. Hogwash! You get into The Book and all these problems will take care of themselves. But the old devil is using every ploy that he can, trying to steer you from The Book.
In Matthew 24, the disciples ask Jesus what were the signs of His coming and the end of the age. Do you know what word He started out with? `Deception!’ Beware, be not deceived. The world is set up for the biggest deception that has ever hit the human race. They are gullible, they are falling for anything and everything that comes their way. But they refuse to get into this Book and search for the truth. And you and I have to warn people. Listen, we are living in an age where Satan is the master deceiver. And he is doing a tremendous job of it, even in the Church. He doesn’t mind if you go to church as long as you don’t hear Paul’s Gospel. And I’m not pointing my finger at any one group or congregation. I’m saying in general terms that Satan is infiltrating the Church with everything except what the Church needs. I’m so concerned because people are being given something less than the truth. And it’s up to you and I to let them know what the truth is. Let’s try to finish the chapter. They were called Christians first at Antioch, because these are Gentiles who are being saved by Paul’s beautiful message of God’s Grace.
“And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples (Gentile believers), every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”
Why the believers in Judaea? Back in Acts Chapter 2, the believers sold what they had and brought it to the feet of the Twelve to be used as a common kitty. And it was glorious, everybody had enough, but when you start to live out of a common kitty, pretty soon it will run dry. And it did.