We are either with and for God or against God. There is no middle ground. We have been taught this Truth way of Life in Jesus through God’s Word. God is a jealous God, not the way we think of jealousy in our human way. God is the One who wants us for His own so He can give us His best. It breaks the heart of God when we seek after all that is not God.
Saul/Paul was a learned, traditional Jewish man who was zealous for God’s Law but had no real relationship with God, much like his accusers in the passage we are about to read. He was the one who dragged new believers in Jesus out into the streets, ordered them to be beaten and then put them in jail. His zealousness led him to seek permission to go to surrounding communities to torment more new believers with an evil thirst for blood.
Then Jesus came and changed everything about Saul. Jesus blinded his eyes so Saul could hear what He was about to say to him. (Haven’t you ever turned down the radio so you could find which road to turn on when driving? This makes perfect sense to me!) Jesus stopped Saul cold in his tracks, spoke to his heart of hearts, and ask, “Saul, what do you persecute Me”. After three days, sight returned to Saul’s blinded eyes through a Jesus’ disciples and life would never be the same.
That’s how it is with Jesus. When we fully commit with the decision to believe and follow Jesus with all that is in us, Life is never the same as it was before, it is gloriously better! We will still have problems and earthly troubles to deal with but we have the Victor over death and sin, Jesus Christ, to take our hand and lead us through it all. Jesus changes everything.
Imagine Paul rising up to his full short stature, in chains, to tell his testimony of what Jesus did in His life. Paul put his life on the line, as Jesus did for him, knowing that “to die is gain”. To live with Jesus, forever, is Paul’s new life goal.
ACTS—God’s Actions through His Disciples
1-2 “My dear brothers and fathers, listen carefully to what I have to say before you jump to conclusions about me.” When they heard him speaking Hebrew, they grew even quieter. No one wanted to miss a word of this.
2-3 He continued, “I am a good Jew, born in Tarsus in the province of Cilicia, but educated here in Jerusalem under the exacting eye of Rabbi Gamaliel, thoroughly instructed in our religious traditions. And I’ve always been passionately on God’s side, just as you are right now.
4-5 “I went after anyone connected with this ‘Way,’ went at them with all my might, ready to kill for God. I rounded up men and women right and left and had them thrown in prison. You can ask the Chief Priest or anyone in the High Council to verify this; they all knew me well. Then I went off to our brothers in Damascus, armed with official documents authorizing me to hunt down the followers of Jesus there, arrest them, and bring them back to Jerusalem for sentencing.
6-7 “As I arrived on the outskirts of Damascus about noon, a blinding light blazed out of the skies and I fell to the ground, dazed. I heard a voice: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?’
8-9 “‘Who are you, Master?’ I asked.
“He said, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the One you’re hunting down.’ My companions saw the light, but they didn’t hear the conversation.
10-11 “Then I said, ‘What do I do now, Master?’
“He said, ‘Get to your feet and enter Damascus. There you’ll be told everything that’s been set out for you to do.’ And so we entered Damascus, but nothing like the entrance I had planned—I was blind as a bat and my companions had to lead me in by the hand.
12-13 “And that’s when I met Ananias, a man with a sterling reputation in observing our laws—the Jewish community in Damascus is unanimous on that score. He came and put his arm on my shoulder. ‘Look up,’ he said. I looked, and found myself looking right into his eyes—I could see again!
14-16 “Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has handpicked you to be briefed on his plan of action. You’ve actually seen the Righteous Innocent and heard him speak. You are to be a key witness to everyone you meet of what you’ve seen and heard. So what are you waiting for? Get up and get yourself baptized, scrubbed clean of those sins and personally acquainted with God.’
17-18 “Well, it happened just as Ananias said. After I was back in Jerusalem and praying one day in the Temple, lost in the presence of God, I saw him, saw God’s Righteous Innocent, and heard him say to me, ‘Hurry up! Get out of here as quickly as you can. None of the Jews here in Jerusalem are going to accept what you say about me.’
19-20 “At first I objected: ‘Who has better credentials? They all know how obsessed I was with hunting out those who believed in you, beating them up in the meeting places and throwing them in jail. And when your witness Stephen was murdered, I was right there, holding the coats of the murderers and cheering them on. And now they see me totally converted. What better qualification could I have?’
21 “But he said, ‘Don’t argue. Go. I’m sending you on a long journey to outsider non-Jews.’”
A Roman Citizen
22-25 The people in the crowd had listened attentively up to this point, but now they broke loose, shouting out, “Kill him! He’s an insect! Stomp on him!” They shook their fists. They filled the air with curses. That’s when the captain intervened and ordered Paul taken into the barracks. By now the captain was thoroughly exasperated. He decided to interrogate Paul under torture in order to get to the bottom of this, to find out what he had done that provoked this outraged violence. As they spread-eagled him with strips of leather, getting him ready for the whip, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is this legal: torturing a Roman citizen without a fair trial?”
26 When the centurion heard that, he went directly to the captain. “Do you realize what you’ve done? This man is a Roman citizen!”
27 The captain came back and took charge. “Is what I hear right? You’re a Roman citizen?”
Paul said, “I certainly am.”
28 The captain was impressed. “I paid a huge sum for my citizenship. How much did it cost you?”
“Nothing,” said Paul. “It cost me nothing. I was free from the day of my birth.”
29 That put a stop to the interrogation. And it put the fear of God into the captain. He had put a Roman citizen in chains and come within a whisker of putting him under torture!
30 The next day, determined to get to the root of the trouble and know for sure what was behind the Jewish accusation, the captain released Paul and ordered a meeting of the high priests and the High Council to see what they could make of it. Paul was led in and took his place before them.
Whew, Paul narrowly escapes torture! Tomorrow we will read the continuing the true story after the story of testimony of what Jesus did in Saul who is now named Paul. Paul stood firm on his salvation through Jesus Christ. For Paul, he was “all in” for Jesus, no matter what.
Are we all in for Jesus? Take a moment to think, reflect and wonder if we were pushed into proclaiming who we believe, would we be found guilty of following the King of kings and Lord of lords? Would our lives reflect what we say we believe? Take all the time you need, I am.
I repent of passiveness, avoiding conversations that declare my allegiance to you, for that is no allegiance at all. Help me stand like Paul when push comes shove, to lift up Your Name above all Names and declare You as my Redeemer! You are God. You are my Savior and Lord of my Life. Help me to live it out loud in respective, persuasive, peaceful ways like you have taught us today. Help us to make the most of every opportunity to testify about how You changed our lives.
In Jesus Name, Amen