Event(s): Saul preaches Christ, Saul escapes death, The church continues to prosper
Today’s Text: Acts 9:20-31
Tomorrow’s Text: Acts 9:32-43
God had sent Ananias to pray for Saul, to lay hands on him for restoration of his sight, and to receive the Holy Spirit. Just like Peter what had experienced on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon him, he was turned into a different man. Saul had been born again, and the man that emerged, most would refer to as one of the greatest gifts ever given to the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11).
A common misconception is that through this powerful encounter, God changed Saul’s name to Paul. But this is not the case. Saul and Paul are actually one in the same name. Much like the Spanish version of the name John is Juan, Saul is the Hebrew version of the Roman name, Paul.
Saul chose to use his Hebrew name, Saul, until sometime after he began to believe in and preach Christ. After that time, as “the apostle to the Gentiles”, he used his Roman name, Paul. It would make sense for Paul to use his Roman name as he travelled farther and farther into the Gentile world.
After Saul’s trip to Damascus, there’s about a three-year gap of time before we pick back up in Acts 9:20.
“Saul later wrote that immediately following his conversion, he did not consult with others about the Scriptures, but went into Arabia—and later returned to Damascus (Gal. 1:15-17). “Arabia” describes the kingdom of the Nabateans that stretched south and east from Damascus beyond Petra. Damascus was in the northwest sector of Arabia. After Saul’s conversion and baptism, he needed some time and space for quiet reflection and communion with God. He had to rethink the Scriptures, receive new understanding from the Lord, and revise his Pharisaic theology. So, like Moses, Elijah, and Jesus before him, he retired into the wilderness.” –Dr. Thomas Constable, Expository on the Book of Acts
Acts 9:26 “but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” A very normal response, of course. The one who had opposed The Church more than anyone else was now claiming to be it’s ally? But upon closer observation of his life and his message, it was easy to see that Saul bore the fruit worthy of repentance (Matthew 3:8).
As we said before, when we are born again and the Holy Spirit comes and dwells on the inside of us, there is a noticeable difference. We become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Bible says we pass from death unto life (John 5:24). We can’t experience that type of internal resuscitation and have life go on as usual.
Acts 9:27 “but Barnabas took him” Barnabas’s name means “Son of Consolation, or Encouragement.” It wasn’t just that he was a nice, accepting guy (though as we read more about him, we find that was certainly part of his nature). Neither was he acting irresponsibly or carelessly placing the rest of the disciples’ lives in danger in the name of acceptance. Barnabas could see three key factors that spoke to genuineness of Saul’s conversion:
- His encounter with God (he had seen the LORD).
- His relationship with God (how He had spoken to him).
- His message about God (he had preached boldly).
The apostle Paul could have never stepped into everything God had for him had he not received God’s forgiveness and allowed God to cleanse his heart of the shame and guilt he no doubt felt for his actions.
Shame is a focus on self; guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame says, “I’m a bad person” while guilt says, “I did something bad.” But through the life of Paul, we learn something about God’s redemptive nature. He will stop at nothing to pursue us, encounter us, surround us, equip us, and confirm to us that we were created for a specific purpose. And His desire is to take the broken pieces of our lives, wipe them free of shame and turn them into beautiful pieces of light that shine of His great glory.
We never need to hide in the shadows of our past. God’s forgiveness breaks the power of shame on our lives. It releases us from the ropes of guilt that try to entangle us. And His forgiveness moves us, raising us above the level of our past to where we can stand in a position of strength and confident assurance that we are not that same person and that God freed us from all of the effects of our past. Listen to these beautiful words Paul wrote later to his son in the faith, Timothy:
“This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16 NLT
Today, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to show us if there are any areas where we are experiencing a degree of shame or guilt. Again, shame is a focus on self; guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame says, “I’m a bad person” while guilt says, “I did something bad.” It’s time to let God’s love and forgiveness free us from any ropes that are trying to hold us back.