Day 50: Obedience

Acts 9:10-16 :

Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

He said, “Behold, it’s me, Lord.”

The Lord said to him, “Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judah for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight.”

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he did to your saints at Jerusalem. Here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to him, “Go your way, for he is my chosen vessel to bear my name before the nations and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

Ananias was, evidently, ready to hear from the Lord because when He called him, he immediately answered, “it’s me , Lord.” That’s what it is like to have a personal relationship with God.

God told Ananias to go to a dangerous enemy and when Ananias raised his concerns about this, God was patient and explained that He had the situation under control. This is the way God is with us. He is patient and deals with our doubts and fears. It is interesting what God said about Saul’s change. He didn’t say: “You can go to Saul now because he chose to follow me.” Instead He says that “he is my chosen vessel.” The difference is that God did the choosing. We may think that we have changed our own ways, but it is God who actually gets us to turn from sin and believe in Him. From our perspective, it was our doing, but from God’s perspective, it was His choice and God’s perspective is the most important one.

We find out here that Saul wasn’t going to have it easy because “he must suffer” many things for God in the future. That is what fills much of the rest of this book of Acts. It is pretty clear from this passage that being a servant of God isn’t easy. We may have to face an enemy or even suffer for God, but it is also obvious as we read along that God gives all of the power and the peace we need to do it.

Day 49: Saul Meets the Jesus of the Way

Acts 9:1-9 :

But Saul, still breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he traveled, it happened that he got close to Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. He fell on the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

He said, “Who are you, Lord?”

The Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise up, and enter into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the sound, but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. They led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. He was without sight for three days, and neither ate nor drank.

I love the name that the Christians had before they were called “Christians.” Here, Luke refers to them as those “who were of the Way.” Saul was quite an ambitious man to attack this huge “Way” by himself. Saul had plans to go Damascus to fight against the Way but Jesus had entirely different plans for Saul.

There is another very important thing we learn about how Jesus views persecution against Christians here. Notice that Jesus told Saul that he was persecuting Him two times. When a Christian is persecuted, Jesus is being persecuted too and He feels the pain with us. There was Saul on the ground with the one he had been hurting completely overpowering him.

Saul was probably one of the worst persecutors of the Church, yet Jesus, the one being persecuted, didn’t kill him. That tells us a lot about how we should deal with those who persecute us. Not that we should never kill someone who is mistreating another, but our goal, like the goal of Jesus is that everyone would change and become a Christian before they die. It is not our desire to hurt those who hurt us but to bring them into the Kingdom of God.

It is so funny to me that Saul said: “Who are you, Lord?” This tells me that deep in his heart, somehow, Saul knew that he was up against God, but he decided to call Him Lord, which tells me that he was ready to obey.

Notice that Jesus didn’t give Saul a long-term plan about his future. Isn’t that how it is with us many times? He took Saul’s sight away but only told him his next few steps.

I’m not exactly sure what was going through Saul’s mind at this point, but if he is anything like me, he was being tortured by the thought that he deserved to be stricken by God for his great sin. It appears that Saul was about to die without water because he stopped drinking and eating and a person can’t live too long without water.

Day 48: Caught Away

Acts 8:39-40 :

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, and the eunuch didn’t see him any more, for he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. Passing through, he preached the Good News to all the cities, until he came to Caesarea.

This is an interesting passage because it’s about suddenly disappearing. Philip gets “caught away” and “was found at Azotus.” As far as I know, no other apostle had an experience like this after Jesus ascended. Jesus was said to have this kind of experience but now we read that Philip had it too.

One of the other times that this happened we read about in John when Jesus walked on water out to the boat that the disciples were in and, after He calmed the storm, they were immediately at the other side of the lake. The whole boat was caught away to the other side along with everyone in it.

One other instance of suddenly disappearing hasn’t happened yet. Luke uses the Greek word “Harpazo” which is translated into English as “caught away.” The other case is in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Here, the same word: “Harpazo” is translated “caught up” in English. Believers in Jesus are to be “harpazo-ed” to meet Jesus in the air when He comes to take His Church. Today, we usually refer to this word “Harpzo” as the word “Rapture” and because of this, I think we can learn a little bit about what will happen to us from this passage.

Notice that the Spirit of the Lord did it. I think it is safe to say that the Spirit would be involved in our rapture. Also, notice the reaction of the eunuch. He just didn’t see him any more. It doesn’t say that there was a dramatic explosion, or that there was a poof of smoke, or anything else. He just didn’t see him anymore. It appears that the eunuch was too preoccupied with his rejoicing anyway. Perhaps the world will be preoccupied enough to not even notice at first and only later realize that we are missing. This is a compelling argument for how things may happen when the Rapture takes place. I am really looking forward to it!

Science: All of these things violate our understanding of physics but they were recorded in history. Science is unable to account for what the historical record reveals. It is isn’t very wise to wait on science in order to believe in something because some things can’t be explained by science yet. We simply don’t understand how they work. Also, some things are beyond the reach of science; things such as “truth” and “love,” are very real, but cannot be explained by science. Just because we don’t understand something, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

Day 47: To Africa

Acts 8:32-38 :

Now the passage of the Scripture which he was reading was this,

“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter.
As a lamb before his shearer is silent,
so he doesn’t open his mouth.
In his humiliation, his judgment was taken away.
Who will declare His generation?
For his life is taken from the earth.”
The eunuch answered Philip, “Who is the prophet talking about? About himself, or about someone else?”

Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture, preached to him Jesus. As they went on the way, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Behold, here is water. What is keeping me from being baptized?”

Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” He answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

He commanded the chariot to stand still, and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.

It is quite a coincidence that this man was reading from a place in Isaiah where the prophet was talking about the death of Jesus. This influential man from Ethiopia became a Christian after Philip explained what it all meant. The prophesy was hundreds of years old already and it is amazing how accurate a description of the death of Jesus it was. It must have been quite amazing to this man as well.

So, here we see that Africa was one of the first places outside of Israel to hear the message of the Gospel. We shouldn’t be deceived into thinking that Christianity isn’t a “native African” religion because the Bible tells us that the message went to Africa very soon after the Church was formed; even before many others heard about it.

The Bible tells us that you have to believe in Jesus before you can be a Christian and only Christians are to be baptized. Although some Bible Scholars argue about whether verse 37 was added to the Bible later, it doesn’t matter to me because it is still true. You do have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God to become a Christian. This is repeated in many other places in the Bible.

Day 46: Guided by the Holy Spirit

Acts 8:25-31 :

They therefore, when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, returned to Jerusalem, and preached the Good News to many villages of the Samaritans. But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise, and go toward the south to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a desert.”

He arose and went; and behold, there was a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was over all her treasure, who had come to Jerusalem to worship. He was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit said to Philip, “Go near, and join yourself to this chariot.”

Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

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

When we listen to the voice of God, our work is never meaningless, that’s for sure. I really love how Philip responded to the angel here. When the angel spoke to him, he didn’t wonder about it or brag to others about it. Instead, he got up and did what he was told. Not only that, when the Spirit told Philip to catch up to the chariot, Philip ran! That’s the kind of willingness we have when the Holy Spirit is empowering us. That’s the kind of power that we need to live every day of our Christian lives.

Notice, however, that the Spirit didn’t tell Philip everything. When he heard the man reading from Isaiah, Philip asked him if he understood it without being told what to do. God was working with his natural will and personality. The Holy Spirit doesn’t put you out of your mind and take over your body in order to get things done. The Holy Spirit is the Creator of our bodies. He knows exactly how they work and He knows every little thing about our wonderful, and sometimes not so wonderful, personalities. He can use all of these things like a conductor directs the orchestra, if we will allow Him.

Philip was willing to give his life over to the Holy Spirit and take whatever orders He gave. That’s something good for us to take from this account.

Day 45: Salvation Comes with the Holy Spirit

Acts 8:9-24 :

But there was a certain man, Simon by name, who used to practice sorcery in the city, and amazed the people of Samaria, making himself out to be some great one, to whom they all listened, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is that great power of God.” They listened to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching good news concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself also believed. Being baptized, he continued with Philip. Seeing signs and great miracles occurring, he was amazed.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet he had fallen on none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me also this power, that whomever I lay my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart isn’t right before God. Repent therefore of this, your wickedness, and ask God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

Simon answered, “Pray for me to the Lord, that none of the things which you have spoken happen to me.”

This is a difficult passage because it sounds like the people became Christians when heard about “Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ,” and were baptized physically.

We know from other parts of the Bible that you can’t be a Christian without receiving the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). It is clear, however, they were not yet Christians because they had not received the Holy Spirit yet.

When Luke says that Simon believed, I think he was talking about the external, human perspective rather than an internal subjective one. In other words, Simon said and acted like he believed on the outside but was actually still thinking like an unbeliever as became evident later. Also, the Holy Spirit had not come yet, and when He did, Simon clearly didn’t receive Him.

I think that one of the reasons that Peter sounds so harsh is because it stands out against how we act today. This kind of false conversion is tolerated in many “churches” today. The basic problem is that we cannot buy God’s blessing in any way at all, and to do so, is to miss His blessing entirely. The gift of the Holy Spirit can only be a gift and it must stay that way or we will end up “in the bondage of iniquity.”

There is no two-way transaction in grace. God’s favor is a free gift and that is what brings us the Holy Spirit. Also notice that Simon demonstrates that being amazed about miracles and getting physically baptized will not save us. We must receive the Holy Spirit and we must accept the Holy Spirit as a free gift.

Day 44: Jerusalem’s Loss, Samaria’s Gain

Acts 8:5-8 :

Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. The multitudes listened with one accord to the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many of those who had them. They came out, crying with a loud voice. Many who had been paralyzed and lame were healed. There was great joy in that city.

After the rejection in Jerusalem, Philip took the opportunity to go to Samaria. Jesus had told them that they were supposed to go there after the spread the gospel in Jerusalem and that’s exactly what Philip did.

Remember the study in John, that this was the city of “the woman at the well.” This was the one that Jesus had told about the living water that would cure thirst forever.

The living water, of the Holy Spirit, gushed into the city as Philip “proclaimed to them the Christ.” The people were ready for it. “The multitudes listened with one accord” and were changed because of the message and the miracles. What an amazing time that must have been for a whole city to have “great joy!” It is difficult for me to feel that kind of oneness in my city. It is likely that Saul heard about this and it is also likely that he wasn’t happy about it. It is common for unhappy people to be filled with hatred toward those who feel joy.

I have found that people who are filled with hatred are slaves to that hatred and those who are filled with joy have found freedom from what used to keep them down. People who are not filled with joy can get very jealous of those who are not working as hard as they are to get joy that they haven’t been able to earn. When God comes and gives other people joy that they don’t deserve, it can expose the hatred of the self-righteous ones who strive to reach God by their good works.