Appointed by God.

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus.

12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ Acts 22:6-21 ESV

Paul had been on his way to Damascus, on a self-appointed mission to seek and destroy Christians.

3 I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished. – Acts 22:3-5 NLT

 He clearly believed he had been doing God a favor by eliminating this radical religious sect called The Way from the face of the planet. He saw his efforts as God-honoring, but the problem was that they were not God-appointed. God had not asked him to do what he was doing. He had not been commissioned by God to persecute, arrest and murder Christians. That had all been Paul’s idea. Yes, God had been sovereignly orchestrating the events surrounding Paul’s life and, according to Paul’s own testimony, God had chosen him for salvation and for his role as an apostle, long before Paul was even born.

 

13 You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. 14 I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors.

15 But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him 16 to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. – Galatians 1:13-15 NLT

But God had not made Paul, then known as Saul, persecute the church. He had not forced Saul to do the things he did. God does not entice anyone to commit acts of evil. James, the half-brother of Jesus reminds of this very important fact: “And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, ‘God is tempting me.’ God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else” (James 1:13 NLT). And John echoes those same sentiments: “Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God” (3 John 1:11 NLT). What Paul had been doing had been his idea, not God’s. But unbeknownst to Paul, God had been using his ungodly actions to accomplish the divine plan of redemption. Paul’s efforts to destroy the church had actually resulted in the scattering and dispersion of the believers and to the spread of the gospel message.

But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went. – Acts 8:3-4 NLT

And Paul had been heading to Damascus to carry out his self-appointed mission as a bounty-hunter for God, when his will ran head-on into God’s. He testified, “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me” (Acts 22:6 ESV). Paul had his eyes set on Damascus, but he had an unexpected and unplanned encounter with the risen Lord. This had not been on his agenda for the day. He had not scheduled this meeting in his appointment book that morning. When he had set out that day on his seek-and-destroy mission, he had not planned on meeting the crucified and resurrected Jesus. In fact, he didn’t believe such a person existed. Oh, he believed there had been a Jesus, but He had been put to death. And yet, Paul was in for the shock of his life. Jesus was alive and well, and knew him by name. He saw a blinding light and heard a voice calling out to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Whoever this was knew him. but Paul wasn’t able to put two and two together. He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” and Jesus responded, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” Can you imagine what went through Paul’s mind as he heard those words? He was hearing the voice of a dead man. The martyred leader of The Way was speaking to him from the grave. The recognized leader of the sect Paul had been trying to destroy was somehow communicating with him, and accusing Paul of persecuting Him.

Now, what happens next is fascinating. Just think of all the questions that must have been swirling through Paul’s mind at that moment. Imagine how his thoughts would have been reeling as he stood there, unable to see, but clearly hearing the voice of a man he had never met before and who was supposed to be dead. And yet, the only thing Paul could say was, “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul was a religious man. He was a devout Jew and a well-educated Pharisee, so he knew this was a divine encounter of some kind. It is doubtful that he fully understood what was going on or that he realized that the voice he heard truly was that of the resurrected Jesus. But he knew he had been physically accosted by a power greater than his own, that had left him blind and totally incapacitated. So, he asked for directions. He wanted to know what he was supposed to do next. And Jesus accommodated Paul’s desire for next steps by providing him with specific instructions: “Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.”

That word, “appointed” is important. The Greek word Luke used is tassō, and it means “to ordain, order or appoint; to assign to a certain position or lot.” Paul was about to find out what he was really supposed to be doing. He had been on a mission, but it had not been the one God had in store for him. And while Paul had been zealous to honor God in all that he did, he was not doing any of it according to God’s will. He had been well-intended, but well off the mark when it came to his true life’s calling.

Paul was led by the hand into Damascus, and later received a visitor, sent to him by God. Ananias was a believing Jew who had received a vision from God, commanding him to go to Paul, restore his sight and deliver to him a message. But Ananias had been somewhat reluctant to follow God’s orders. He had felt compelled to remind God just who this man Saul was and why it was probably not a good idea for him to go and meet with him.

13  “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.” – Acts 9:13-14 NLT

Paul’s reputation had preceded him. And Ananias was justifiably reluctant to have a one-on-one encounter with a known and renowned persecutor of the church. But God calmed Ananias’ spirit by providing him with insight into what was going on. God had a plan for Paul’s life. “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV). God had hand-picked Paul for a special assignment and had preordained the purpose for and outcome of his life.

And when Ananias had arrived on the scene and restored Paul’s sight, he delivered a personal message from the Lord. “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15 ESV). There’s that word again: Appointed. But this time, Ananias uses the Greek word, procheirizō, which carries the meaning, “to appoint for one’s use” or “to choose.” In this case, Ananias was letting Paul know that God had made a decision to reveal His divine will to him, by allowing him to have a personal encounter with Jesus, the Righteous one, and to receive a message directly from the lips of the resurrected, living Messiah. And now, Paul was going to have a new life assignment: Telling anyone and everyone what he had seen and heard. 

And Paul indicates that the very next thing that happened to him was his own baptism. He received water baptism as a result of his faith in Christ. Nowhere in the text does Paul indicate exactly when he came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but it was long before he was baptized, because the water baptism does not wash away sins. It is a post-conversion act of obedience, signifying that one has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and received the gift of salvation, including forgiveness and cleansing from sin. Ananias had rather abruptly asked Paul, “What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16 NLT). The text makes it sound like Ananias was associating water baptism with the washing away of sins, but in the original text, the phrase, “calling on” is actually an aorist participle meaning “having called on.” Paul’s baptism was following his conversion. It was symbolic of the spiritual cleansing that had already taken place in Paul’s life.

Paul ultimately returned to Jerusalem, where he received a vision from Jesus, warning him to flee the city because they were not going to accept his testimony. Jesus had other plans for Paul. Because of his prior mission as a persecutor of the church, Paul thought his chances at having a successful ministry were shot out of the water. He was damaged goods. But Jesus let him know that his ministry was going to be to the Gentiles, telling him, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!” And that is exactly what Paul had been doing, up until the point that he had been nearly beaten to death in the temple courtyard. He had been faithfully carrying out the ministry appointed to him by Jesus, and just as Jesus has told Ananias, Paul had discovered what it meant to suffer for the name of Jesus.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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What God Had Done.

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
     and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
    and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
     says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” Acts 15:12-21 ESV

After Peter had addressed the council in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were given an opportunity to describe all that God had done among the Gentiles during their most recent road trip. The crowd sat in rapt silence as these two men share what “God had done through them.” This is important. Barnabas and Paul were not bragging about their own personal exploits or trying to pad their resumes by highlighting the irreplaceable role they had played in the evangelism of the Gentiles. No, they told of what God had done through them. They had merely been the conduits through whom His grace and mercy flowed. Their contribution had been to share the gospel. Everything else that had taken place had been God’s doing. And they qualify that what God had done had been done among the Gentiles. This had all been His doing and, obviously, His decision. The receptivity of the Gentiles among whom Barnabas and Saul had ministered, had been the result of God’s Spirit moving among them. He had prepared their hearts to hear what Barnabas and Paul had to share. There were three essential ingredients that had made the journey of Barnabas and Paul a success. First, they had been willing to go. They had submitted to the will of the leadership of the church in Antioch and left the safe and secure confines of their local congregation, all so they could take the message of the gospel to those who had not yet heard. And that brings up the second non-negotiable ingredient that made their trip spiritually successful: They took the gospel. Everywhere they had gone, they preached the good news regarding Jesus Christ. And God’s Spirit provided the third essential ingredient: Power. The most willing of witnesses, eagerly sharing the message of good news, will accomplish nothing apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is a work of God. And no one believed that more than Paul. But he also believed that there was an essential role that he and others had to play. He would later write in his letter to the church in Rome:

13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

16 But not everyone welcomes the Good News… – Romans 10:13-16 NLT

You see, Paul knew that, as beautiful as the message of the good news of Jesus Christ was, it was useless without messengers. It was a message that could bring life to those who heard it, but they couldn’t believe in a message they had never heard. And for those whose job it was to take the message, it was necessary that they had a strong sense of calling and commission. Otherwise, they would be tempted to quit when the going got tough or the message seemed to be falling on deaf ears. Paul seemed to understand that not everyone who would hear would believe. Not all who heard the good news would welcome or accept it. That’s where the Spirit comes in. He is the trump card in the conversion process. Without His regenerating role, no one can or will come to faith. In a conversation He had with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, Jesus said:

5 “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life – John 3:5-6 NLT

What Paul and Barnabas had seen happen in Iconium, Lystra, Derby and Pisidian Antioch was the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, opening spiritually blind eyes and softening hearts hardened by sin. They had witnesses the Spirit bring life to those who had been dead in their trespasses and sins. Paul would describe this wonderful, Spirit-empowered process in his letter to Titus.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:3-7 ESV

The pattern of salvation is always the same. Those who were foolish, disobedient, led astray and slaves to various passions and pleasures are, somehow, suddenly transformed and made right with God. At one point, they were completely separated from and enemies of God, because of their sin. They they suddenly find themselves friends of God, fully righteous in His sight. Why? Because someone was sent with the message of the gospel, they shared it, and the Spirit prepared the hearts of those who heard it. The end result: They believed. You see, the Bible makes it clear that the things of God are spiritually discerned.

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 ESV

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. – 1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV

What Paul and Barnabas had witnessed had been the unquestionable work of the Spirit of God. And James, the half-brother of Jesus and a recognized leader in the Jerusalem church, came to their defense, fully agreeing with and confirming their assessment. He reminds those in his audience that Peter (Simeon) had already given ample proof that God was at work among the Gentiles, after he had returned from Caesarea and shared of the conversions of Cornellius and his household.

“Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.” – Acts 15:14 ESV

Notice his emphasis: It was God who had first visited the Gentiles. He doesn’t give Peter the credit. It was god who had chosen to take from among the Gentiles a people for His name. And it had taken a vision from God to get Peter on board and fully convinced that this mission had God’s full blessing. God had sent Peter. Peter had gone. The gospel had been declared and the Spirit had moved. Bottom line? Gentiles were saved.

And James further confirms that divine nature of the mission of Paul and Barnabas by citing a passage from the Old Testament book of Amos.

16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
     and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
    and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
     says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’” – Acts 15:16-18 ESV

According to James, the prophets had predicted the very thing Paul and Barnabas had described. Amos spoke of the “remnant of mankind”, not the remnant of Israel. He specifically mentioned “all the Gentiles who are called by my name.” And nowhere does he include a requirement that this remnant of Gentiles must first become full-fledged, card-carrying Jews, having submitted to the rite of circumcision and agreed to keep the Mosaic law in its entirety. And that was the real crux of the matter. The whole reason this council had been convened was to deal with the demands of the Judaizers that all Gentile converts to Christianity become Jewish proselytes first. By citing the passage from Amos, James was turning the focus away from a matter regarding Jewish ethnicity and a kingdom that mirrored that of David and Solomon. This was about a future Messianic Kingdom that would be ruled over by Christ Himself and made up of people from every tribe, nation and tongue. It is not to say that God does not have a place for the people of Israel in His eschatological plans. He does. But for those Jews in the audience that day in Jerusalem, they were thinking in a purely ethnic and Jewish-centric manner. For them, the Messiah was a Jew, and His Kingdom would be a Jewish Kingdom. Therefore, any Gentiles who wished to be a part of that Kingdom, must first become Jews themselves.

But Paul, Barnabas, Peter and, now, James, would strongly and vehemently disagree. So much so, that James would flatly state, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God” (Acts 15:19 ESV). By “trouble” he meant require them to submit to circumcision and adhere to the Mosaic law. In other words, demand that they become Jewish proselytes. The decision was made. The die had been cast. The only thing James suggested was that a letter be written and sent to all the Christians in the places where Paul and Barnabas had ministered, encouraging these Gentile believers to “abstain from things defiled by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:20 NLT). And James qualifies his words by saying that these very things were commonly taught in every synagogue and had been since the times of Moses. For Gentiles to remain ignorant of these typical Jewish prohibitions and to then violate them in ignorance, would have made the gospel onerous and repulsive to the unbelieving Jewish community. And the apostle Paul would later describe that he lived his own life with the very same attitude that James was prescribing in mind.

20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 NLT

The objective? That as many as possible might come to Christ. James was not willing to allow circumcision or the Mosaic law to become a stumbling block to belief. Paul was not willing to let his freedom from the law to act as a deterrent to his fellow Jews receiving the gospel. He was also not willing to let his own personal love for the law of God to turn Gentiles away from the love of God found in the gospel.

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Changed Man.

 19 For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. Acts 9:19-25 ESV

Saul was a man of action. Once he got his sight and his strength back, he was back at it again. But this time, his mission in life had a distinctively different direction to it. He was a changed man. He had come to know Jesus, in a very real and personal way. The very one Saul had discounted as dead and had viewed as nothing more than a cause célèbre on which the disciples were building their religious revolution. No, he had discovered that Jesus was anything but dead. This Galilean whose name was causing so much trouble for the Jewish religious leaders, was actually alive and had appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul had been blinded by His glory and convicted by His words: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5 ESV). It is interesting to note that Jesus’ words to Saul were few in number. And what is particularly fascinating is what Jesus doesn’t say. He never claims to be the Messiah. He doesn’t offer Saul living water or eternal life. He doesn’t speak to Saul about his need to be born again. Once Jesus had introduced himself to Saul, He simply said, “But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:6 ESV). Nothing more, nothing less. Short and sweet. But they made an impact on Saul. The whole experience left Saul more than just physically blind. He was spiritually rocked. His religious sensibilities had been shattered. All he knew to be true had been turned on its ears. And while he found himself unable to see, he had a new insight and spiritual eyesight he had never had before. 

The only other words we have recorded by Luke that reveal what was said to Saul are those spoken by Ananias.

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 9:17 ESV

And the next thing we know, Saul is proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus, giving proof that He really was the Son of God. His words confounded the Jews. His message confused them. They had a difficult time reconciling what Saul was saying with the reputation that had preceded him. Rather than defending Jesus as the Messiah, he should have been apprehending Christians. But Luke tells us, “Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah” (Acts 9:22 NLT).

In these verses, we get a glimpse into Saul’s personality. He was an intense individual who had a strong inner drive. He was determined and disciplined. It’s what made him so good at his job as a Pharisee and as a persecutor of the church. And now that he was a follower of Christ, he had the extra-added incentive of the indwelling Holy Spirit. God had taken this hard-driving, passionate, and self-motivated man and transformed him into a Spirit-filled, heat-seeking missile for the cause of Christ. Luke’s description of the early days of Saul’s conversion provide us with a teaser of what the rest of his life would look like. God had redeemed Saul’s zeal and inner drive. Those very same qualities that Saul had used to persecute Jesus and His church, God would now use to proclaim Jesus and build the church.

It didn’t take long before Saul found himself on the receiving end of the persecution he used to mete out. Now, he was the hunted. Luke simply tells us that “some of the Jews plotted together to kill him” (Acts 9:23 NLT). They wanted him dead and they set guards at all the gates of the city to watch for him so they could murder him. But Saul escaped. And he would later provide further details regarding his escape, revealing that the Jews had even enlisted the aid of the local city officials in their plot to have him killed.

32 When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. 33 I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him. – 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 NLT

What Luke provides us with in these verses is a summary or abridged version of Saul’s conversion. Later, Saul, writing under his Greek name, Paul, would provide more detail to all that had happened in those days.

15 But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him 16 to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.

When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being. 17 Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus.

18 Then three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. 19 The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I declare before God that what I am writing to you is not a lie. – Galatians 1:15-20 NLT

 In his Acts account, Luke does not include Saul’s detour into Arabia. But according to Saul, after his conversion, there was a period of time when he went into the wilderness and then returned to Damascus. And it would be three years before he made his trip to Jerusalem, recorded by Luke in the following verses of this chapter.

It was most likely during his time in the wilderness of Arabia, that Saul received additional insight from the Holy Spirit regarding his mission and commission. Saul would arrive back in Damascus fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and he would be fully prepared to defend that belief, even if it cost him his life. And this determination would not fade with time. Luke states, “Saul increased all the more in strength” (Acts 9:22 ESV). He grew stronger in his faith. His assurance that Jesus truly was the Messiah and that He alone was the means by which men could be made right with God, grew stronger with each passing day. We aren’t told what happened during Saul’s days in the Arabian wilderness, but we can easily assume that it had been Spirit-directed and had been filled with further insight from Jesus Himself. Saul most likely wrestled with God, debating with Him about Old Testament passages and receiving direct insight from God regarding the many prophetic passages that spoke of the Messiah. Saul received a theological education from the Godhead. And when he showed back up in Damascus, he was fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. And his determination regarding that matter would grow stronger over time. Saul would not relent. He would never retreat from his belief that the good news of Jesus Christ was real and needed to be shared with any and all. Which is what he would later write in his letter to the Romans.

16 “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Romans 1:16–17 NLT

Saul had met Jesus. He had received the Holy Spirit of God. He had been chosen as an instrument for God. And his life would never be the same again. He had a new mission in life. He had a new purpose for life. And all that had come before, all that he had accomplished up until that time, had all become futile and pointless. His Jewish citizenship, his membership in the sect of the Pharisees, his education and his many accomplishments were nothing when compared to his newfound knowledge of Jesus as his Savior.

5 “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” – Philippians 3:5-8 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not Man’s Gospel.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1:9-24 ESV

Paul pulled no punches when it came to his feelings about those who were preaching another gospel. These individuals were altering the nature of the gospel by adding conditions or extra requirements to it. And Paul would have none of it. In fact, he said, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8 ESV). Whatever authority these individuals claimed, Paul rejected. He deemed them anathema or under the judgment of God. This was serious business to Paul.The gospel was God’s message and not man’s. No one had the authority or right to alter the message of the gospel in any way. Adding to it, detracting from it, or preaching a different version of it were all equally dangerous in Paul’s mind. And this wasn’t about getting the approval of men. Paul wasn’t out to please anyone. He wasn’t in this to win friends and influence enemies. He was out to transform lives with the truth of the gospel of God as revealed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And he had received his commission from Jesus Christ Himself. First and foremost, he was a servant of Christ, not of men. Paul often referred to himself as a slave of Christ. He did exactly what Christ had called him to do and his faithfulness to that calling often left him with more enemies than friends. His commission to carry the gospel to the Gentiles had cost him dearly. At one point, he gave a detailed description of his sufferings to the believers in Corinth:

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

Paul wasn’t in this for popularity. He wasn’t out to win the approval of men. And the gospel he preached wasn’t something he learned from the lips of men. He had received it as a direct revelation from Christ. And to emphasize his God-given authority to preach the gospel in its original, unaltered form, he relayed the details of his conversion and commission. “I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 NLT). The remarkable thing about Paul’s conversion was the radical redirection it gave his life. At one point, his mission in life had been to destroy the followers of Christ, discrediting their “Messiah” and exposing their good news as nothing but a pipe dream. But God had had other plans for Paul. “But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15-16 NLT).

His encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus had given his life new meaning and purpose. His life goals had been irrevocably altered and his mission had gone from persecution to proclamation. He was transformed from mercenary to missionary. And his reputation spread throughout the church, even reaching the apostles in Jerusalem. Even before they had met Paul, they had heard about him. “All they knew was that people were saying, ‘The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!’ And they praised God because of me” (Galatians 1:23-24 NLT).

What’s Paul’s point? What is he trying to prove? The issue has to do with the message, its messenger and the authority behind both. Those who were preaching a different gospel were claiming to have authority to do so. But Paul trumped their authority, by stating that his message came directly from the risen Christ. His commission was God-given. Long before he had met the apostles, he had been preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. He had been sent by God, not the church in Jerusalem. There was no middle man, no human court of commissioning. What Paul preached had come directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. And no one could claim a higher authority or argue that their message had more validity than Paul’s. The gospel message is not up to interpretation. It needs no alteration or improvement. It requires no human intervention or clever repackaging. It doesn’t need to be softened, added to, rewritten, glitzed up, or glossed over – “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). It is the gospel of God, not man. And that is what makes it life-altering, sin-forgiving, righteousness-giving and holiness-producing.

A Divine Calling.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1:11-24 ESV

Paul will spend a great deal of time in this letter defending his apostleship in order to validate his message of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. There were those who were questioning his right to claim apostleship and were attempting to undermine his credibility. But Paul had no doubts about his calling or the commission he had received directly from the lips of Christ. So he provided his readers with a brief history of his salvation story. More than likely they had heard it story before, but Paul probably provided them with some extra added details. He began by clarifying that the message he preached was not given to him by any man. He hadn’t learned it from any human teacher. He had not been led to faith by anybody, but had been personally witnessed to by Jesus Himself. On that fateful day on the road leading to Damascus, Paul had had an intimate encounter with Jesus, the resurrected Christ. He had been struck blind by the very one he had been on a rampage to discredit and whose disciples he had been out to destroy.

The truly amazing thing about Paul’s testimony was the radical nature of his transformation. One day he had been on his way to the city of Damascus in order to arrest any Christians he found there, and then some days later, after his conversion, he was proclaiming Christ in the synagogues.

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. – Acts 9:19-22 ESV

Even the Jews who heard him preach in the synagogues of Damascus were shocked at the undeniable transformation that had taken place. Paul, the persecutor, had become a proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The self-appointed exterminator of Christianity had become its divinely-commissioned defender and proponent. There was nothing that could explain this radical change in his life other than the power of God. Up until that point, Paul had not met a single apostle. He had received no instruction of any kind. He had simply had a divine encounter with Jesus. And then he had spent three years in Arabia. We are not told exactly where Paul went or what he did while he was there. But it is likely that Paul, a student of the Old Testament Scriptures, spent his time reviewing all that he knew in light of what he had just experienced. His understanding of the Word of God was to be radically changed by the new revelation he had received from Jesus. It could be that Jesus did for Paul what He had done for the two disciples along the road to Emmaus when He had appeared to them immediately after His resurrection.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

And after Jesus had left them standing by the roadside, they said to one another,

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” – Luke 24:32 ESV

Whatever happened during those three years in Arabia, Paul was to return a dramatically changed man. He went immediately to Jerusalem, where he met with Peter and James. But he did not go to seek their approval or to get their permission. He was virtually unknown to the believers in Jerusalem, but his conversion had become the talk of the town. “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23 ESV).

Paul was a changed man. He not only had a new calling, but a new nature. His heart had been transformed. His passions and pursuits had been redeemed by God. Paul confessed that God, “who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Galatians 1:15-16 ESV). Paul’s conversion was God’s doing. His change of heart had been the work of God. And what he preached was the word of God concerning salvation through His Son.

It would seem that Paul’s greatest defense of his gospel message was his gospel transformation. His radically altered life was the greatest testimony to the validity of his message. It seems that far too often, what we proclaim about the gospel is not present in our own lives. We tell others of its transformational power, and yet our lives reveal little of that power at work. We talk of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, but our knowledge of Him has grown little since the day we first met Him. We can easily tell others about the day we came to faith in Christ, but we have a hard time telling them how we are living by faith on a day by day basis. Paul’s strongest proof for the authenticity of his message was his personal story of life change. The gospel was believable because his life made it visible. The transformative work of God in my life should be the greatest proof of the gospel’s power and veracity.

Galatians 1:1-10

Pseudo Good News.

Galatians 1:1-10

Obviously, I am not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. – Galatians 1:10 NLT

After a brief, yet heartfelt greeting, Paul cuts to the chase. He is writing to new believers living throughout the region called Galatia (now modern Turkey), and he wants to warn them about a problem he sees going on among them. He pulls no punches, but is extremely blunt with his assessment of the situation. “I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ” (Galatians 1:6 NLT). Paul is completely baffled by the reports he has heard coming out of Galatia. Of the 13 letters that Paul wrote that became part of the canon of Scripture, this is believed to be the first one. It was likely written some time around 49 A.D. Since the time of Jesus’ resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Gospel has spread throughout the known world. It had made its way to Galatia and Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ. But as the Gospel spread, so did a lot of false teaching. There was no New Testament Scriptures at this time. There were few, if any, elders or leaders for these new congregations of believers springing up all over the place. There was little in the way of an established doctrine for the Church. Much of what Paul and others wrote in these letters became what we now have as the New Testament. Their writings, penned under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, became the foundation of the doctrine to which we still adhere today. They were addressing issues and problems that were creeping up as the Gospel spread and the Church grew in numbers. Immediately after Pentecost, most of the early converts to Christianity were Jews, but that had begun to change as the Good News was carried around the world. Increasingly more and more Gentiles, or non-Jews, were coming to faith. And because Jesus and His disciples had been Jews, there was a strong tie to Judaism in those early days. Many of the Jewish converts were of the opinion that belief in Christ was simply an extension or add-on to their Jewish faith or heritage. In other words, becoming a Christ-follower also required that you become a Jew, submitting to all the Jewish laws and traditions. In time, a group who held an extreme form of this view rose up. They came to be known as the Judaizers. It seems that they were having a strong influence in places like Galatia, telling Gentile converts that their faith in Christ was incomplete or inadequate. They were teaching that faith in Christ alone was not enough. More was required of them. They must also become converts to Judaism, all males must go through the ritual of circumcision, and they must keep the Law and adhere to all Jewish traditions and customs. As you can imagine, this caused a great deal of confusion for these new believers.

And it caused a great deal of anger in Paul. This became one of the major themes in his letters. He warned his readers, “You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News, but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7 NLT). Paul makes it clear that what these believers are hearing is NOT the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is some kind of an aberration. It is a “different way,” but not the one true way. It is a false gospel, but not the true Gospel concerning faith in Christ alone. And Paul gives his feelings about this pseudo gospel and those who are promoting it: “Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who practices a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you” (Galatians 1:8 NLT). Paul was anything but tolerant and inclusive. He was not a proponent of the heresy that all religions lead to God. He was not politically correct or willing to accommodate all views. As far as he was concerned, there was one Gospel and it did not include conversion to Judaism or adherence to the Law. The Gospel Paul preached required faith in Christ alone and nothing more. It was faith-based, not works-based. It had no place for earning or merit. What made the Good News good news was that it was a free gift, unhampered by human effort or achievement. Gone were the days when sacrifice and law-keeping were the required means of pursuing a right relationship with God. No amount of either one had ever truly made anyone right with God. But with His death on the cross, Jesus had satisfied the just demands of God once and for all. He had paid the price for our sins with His own life. No more lambs needed to be sacrificed. No more hopeless attempts at trying to keep the Law to perfection were necessary. Salvation had been provided by Christ and was not dependent on the efforts of man anymore.

So Paul boldly and aggressively deals with this issue right up front. He is anything but subtle. And he makes it clear, “I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God” (Galatians 1:10 NLT). Paul is a servant of Jesus Christ. He answers to Him and Him alone. He cared more about what God thought about him, than what men did. This was not a popularity contest for Paul. He had been commissioned by Jesus Himself to take the Good News of salvation in Christ alone through faith alone to the world. He would not tolerate the teaching or preaching of any other gospel. He would not put up with those who attempted to redefine the Gospel as Jesus plus anything.

Father, it is so easy to try to add to the Gospel. We so want to put our twist on it. We want to add rules and requirements that are unnecessary and only muddy the water. We crave achievement and recognition for our efforts. We have been brainwashed to believe that we have to DO something to earn Your forgiveness and favor. But salvation is a gift. It was made possible by what Your Son did on the cross. It has nothing to do with human effort or earning. As we read through the letter of Galatians, help us see where we may be trying to add to the Gospel even today. Open our eyes and help us give up all attempts at self-righteousness and once again place our faith in the righteousness of Christ alone. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org