Category Archives: Conversion

Study 8 – Luke 14:25-15:32

The Decisive Disciple

Context

Entrance into the kingdom of God is described as narrow and those who enter it will not be those who presume on God but those who hear the words of Jesus and follow him. The Pharisees and teachers of the law have been fueling their disapproval of Jesus while the crowds listening to him have been growing. Jesus has spoken about the coming judgement that pivots around him – if you are not for him then you are against him. He has come to bring division in households rather than peace. As our series title suggests, “On Board With Jesus”, means being a disciple that has made a decision to be for Him.

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25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Observation

Structure

  • 14:25-35 – Counting the cost of discipleship
    • 25-27 – The principle given: such a person cannot be my disciple
    • 28-30 – The principle illustrated 1: Building a tower
    • 31-33 – The principle illustrated 2: Fighting a battle
    • 34-35 – Salt that is not salty is no longer salt
  • 15:1-32 – God the Father rejoices when a sinner comes home
    • 1-2 – The issue raised: Jesus welcomes sinners!
    • 3-7 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost sheep
    • 8-10 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost coin
    • 11-32 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost son
      • 11-24 – The lost son
      • 25-32 – The bitter son

We will spend most of this article on Luke 14:25-35 with some small commentary on Luke 15:1-32. These two sections make a great double-sided lesson: Discipleship is Costly, but God the Father is cheering for you! For the sake of time, it is recommended to choose one of the sections for study rather than try to get through all of it.

14:25-35 – Counting the cost of discipleship

What we see in these verses from Jesus is his description of what we might call the cost of discipleship. He lays out the principle and uses two illustrations to show what he means. Then finally gives us the ultimatum: a disciple is like salt: when it has no qualities of salt, can you still use it like salt?

25-27 – The principle given: such a person cannot be my disciple

“Large crowds were travelling with Jesus…” We are really used to this background by now in Luke (4:42; 5:15; 6:17; 7:9; 8:4, 42; 9:37; 12:1). Luke not only mentions the crowd support or curiosity but also the reminder that Jesus is travelling (to Jerusalem Luke 9:51).

“…and turning to them he said…” Jesus addresses the whole crowd now. He has spoken to the disciples with the crowd listening in before but now he wants everyone to hear. He doesn’t want numbers, he wants commitment. We recall the excuses given in 14:15-24 for what else was more important than coming to Jesus. This teaching follows directly on from that. If people in the crowd are contemplating their allegiance to Jesus, Jesus wants them to know what a commitment means. He begins with a huge challenge!

“…If anyone come to me and does not hate….even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.” Bible reading principle: if a statement in the bible appears to directly contradict another clear teaching, then we must look at the two statements again and listen to what the Holy Spirit is teaching us. 1 John 4:20 condems hatred of others (brother and sister) as a sign that they do not love God. Luke 14:26 has the meaning of “loves more”. That is, whoever loves father, mother, wife and children, brother and sister and even your own life MORE than you love God, you are not worthy to be a disciple. Look at it this way: the bible uses two words to describe commitment: love and hate. We use hate almost always to mean that you wish something were dead! But the bible uses it also as a description of choice. “Jacob I loved but Esau I hated (Malachi 1:2,3; Romans 9:13). Our love for God must exceed our love for our family. Abraham left his home in obedience to God’s instruction to go to another place that he had never seen. He took his wife and servants with him BUT he denied them the comfort and security of staying in the home that they knew. He loved God more than he loved his family – but he did not stop loving his family.

“…take up their cross and follow me…” The hearers of Jesus don’t know yet that Jesus himself will carry his own cross to his own death. BUT they do know what the reference is regarding since crucifixion was a common death sentence. It was a hugely shameful way of dying. The whole process was humiliating and even after death, your family would be ashamed to speak of you. Following Jesus is akin to leaving the security of being respected and loved in this world and committing to being different and choosing to be at odds with the world. Little did Jesus’ hearers know that he was not speaking figuratively altogether. He would literally take up his cross. Many of the disciples died serving the mission of Jesus. All of us must be baptised/buried and reborn into a life of commitment to Jesus.

“…cannot be my disciple.” Stop and breath in this warning. See also Luke 9:23.

The principle Jesus has laid out is this: following Jesus means a 110% commitment to him above all other things. A disciple ought to be aware of this before they go any further in following Jesus. The cost of discipleship is that Jesus comes first.  Following Jesus comes with a warning label: beware the cost of following Christ.

28-30 – The principle illustrated: Building a tower

“…first sit down and estimate the cost…” It is important to acknowledge that following Christ comes at a cost. Many projects in life never begin because the cost is known and is too much. If anybody begins their walk with God before knowing what’s at stake, they may come to a time quickly when they choose to ignore God and put family first.

“…enough money to complete it.” When we match this illustration with the gospel, the expense on our behalf is simply perseverance – keep the faith. To run the race as though you will reach the end. Acts 20:24; 1 Cor 9:24; Gal 5:7; Heb 12:1; 2 Tim 4:7.

31-33 – The principle illustrated again: Fighting a battle

“…first sit down and consider whether he is able…” This second parable begins very similar to the first and so does have the same principle in mind: know what it will cost you to follow Jesus. Will the king act foolishly without calculating the risk or will he be wise and work out how this will play out for him.

“If he is not able, he will send a delegation…” Here is where the second parable differs from the first. The calculation results in failure. The sums do not add up: he is outnumbered 2:1! An army stronger than his is coming. Remember the parable of the strong man and the stronger? Two kingdoms are going to war and one of them is vastly outnumbered. But, what if there was a way to diffuse the war and so you did not have to go at all. The first king avoids defeat but it comes at the cost of a kind of surrender.

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” We need to reconcile the difference between the two parables while allowing Jesus to say: in the same way! What did the king give up? His pride. His self-sufficiency. His self-made triumph over the enemy. He surrendered to someone greater than he. Is Jesus not teaching us that the cost of discipleship includes surrendering to Christ?

34-35 – Salt that is not salty is no longer salt

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” This reminds me of the joke: What do you call a fly with no wings? A walk! What do you call salt that is not salty? Can it actually be called salt? It’s dead salt. It’s expired. It’s ex-salt. We are not to be ex-salted (could not resist that!) If comes to Jesus to be included in the kingdom of God and yet remains in their own kingdom here on earth, aren’t they forfeiting their inheritance? If a king goes to battle on their own and loses to the enemy and dethroned, they are no longer a king are they? A disciple, by definition, is someone who aligns their life with Christ. It is no longer they that live but Christ that lives in them (Galatians 2:20). Salt has qualities that make it salt. Without those qualities, it is no longer desired or used as salt.

A note to bible readers: keep the meaning of the text as your goal and read the text in its context. Jesus talks of salt in other passages and sometimes that will shed light on what we are reading here, but Luke has given us enough to go on. A disciple must be a disciple or else they stop being a disciple. You cannot serve two masters. You cannot be a part time disciple. Darrell Bock, in his commentary on Luke writes, “Failure to pursue discipleship can indicate that faith is not really present, even though it was thought to be.”

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Rather than just a random tack on to the end of his lesson, Jesus is indicating what is really required. Many ears will be present that day to hear Jesus speak but they will not really hear. They will continue to travel with him for a while before scattering and giving up on him. The moment of Jesus’ trial and execution will be too much for the best of the disciples. Jesus’ warning is concluded with this call to listen.

Meaning of 14:25-35

Jesus is not interested in great numbers but in great commitment. Better a few that will take up their crosses to follow than a great multitude who will not give their life to Him. Following Jesus comes with a warning label: followers will lose themselves in order to gain eternal life.

15:1-32 – God the Father rejoices when a sinner comes home

In contrast to Jesus’ warning about discipleship, He expresses how excited God is when a sinner repents.

1-2 – The issue raised: Jesus welcomes sinners!

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.” Remember the previous verse (14:35). Who are the disciples who will have ears to hear? Answer: the tax collectors and sinners. This couplet is shorthand for “everyone that the Pharisees and teachers of the law would consider unworthy for the kingdom of God.”

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Conversely, the Pharisees and teachers of the law do NOT have ears to hear. They say this as though it is an evil accusation but this is actually the gospel! And it is the theme of the rest of this chapter. Jesus will answer their mutterings with a celebratory YES!

3-7 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost sheep

“…more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” God is ecstatic over the right choice of a sinner to repent! We must never be slow to come to him and say sorry. He is not seeking self-righteousness, so why do we overlook grace and keep pursuing what we cannot obtain! 1 Timothy 1:15 – Christ Jesus came into the world to SAVE SINNERS! (and I am the worst!). Jesus will not respect those who feel that they have nothing to repent over. The parable of the prodigal son from verse 11 teaches this exact lesson.

8-10 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost coin

“…rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The lost coin parable has the same message as the lost sheep story. Notice that the searcher looks high and low for their precious thing. We hear a reference to God not being alone in the kingdom of heaven. The angels will rejoice with God. The angels were thought very highly of in the first century (Hebrews 1 illustrates this by arguing that Jesus is better even than angels). Creatures as special as the angels will be amazed when a lost person is found.

11-32 – Repentance results in rejoicing: The lost son

Commonly referred to as the Prodigal Son story, it is actually a story about two sons and the love of the Father. He has equal love for both brothers but the one who was lost is then found, while the one who presumed on the Father and grumbled against him remained outside of the banquet celebration.

11-24 – The lost son

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filld with compassion…” The love of the Father and the quickness of forgiveness is important in this story.

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This is the model of a repentant prayer. Jesus’ theme here is that he is not looking for righteous people but he is looking for those who are ready to repent.

“Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again…” Like the lost sheep and lost coin stories, this is a story of the lost son. The parable is brought closer to an emotional connection of relationships rather than lost possessions. But the conclusion remains: God is ready to celebrate when we come back home to him and REPENT! He welcomes sinners and eats with them (Verse 2).

25-32 – The bitter son

“Meanwhile, the older son…” The parable turns to look at the heart of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They believe that they have been faithful to the Father but actually they do not know Him and are unable to understand the celebration that is necessary.

“Your brother has come…” Notice how the relationship is emphasised in this story. There is no care from the Pharisees and teachers toward the lost sinners. But Jesus says that these are your brothers!

“…refused to go in.” The nature of those who do not enter the kingdom of God is an unwillingness to enter. Two wills are required, the will of the Father and the will of the sinner. Either of them missing will result in failure. The doctrine of election and predestination expresses that this is true and that even our own change of will is an act of grace on God’s behalf. But God does not force our wills against our own willingness. Notice in the story how the Father goes out to plead with the older brother.

“But when this son of yours…” The older son does not see his own relationship with the younger brother but labels him as a son of yours.

“My son…this brother of yours was dead and is alive again;he was lost and is found.” The Father will not allow his first son to disown his own brother. The story ends with the Father making the same statement as the stories of the lost sheep and lost coin. What was lost is now found. We don’t hear another word from the eldest son since the parable is a lesson for them. How will the Pharisee respond? Given their history and what lies ahead for Jesus at their hand, probably just what the parable gives: silence.

Meaning of 15:1-32

God the Father welcomes sinners and eats with them! He has not come for the self-righteous who do not hear the call to repent. He has come to seek and to save the lost.

Application

Topic A: “Hate” as “love less”. Explore what Jesus means when we are to hate our family and even ourselves. What does this look like for you? Can you share how you have seen this play out in your life? Perhaps you can describe a situation where you are unsure how to apply this which your group can help you with. What does it look like to put Jesus first in life?

Topic B: It’s time for some perseverance. The builder of the tower may have started to build but ran out of resources. Those around him laughed at him. Do you feel like someone who has started out as a disciple but is feeling the difficulty now? Let your group encourage you to keep listening to Jesus who is barracking for you. How can you encourage someone to keep on growing in the faith?

Topic C: Being the king who surrenders. The gospel says that we are all doomed to destruction if we try to go to battle on our own apart from Jesus. Repentance means admitting that you cannot do this on your own. Have you ever had a moment of true repentance? It is a very healthy practice to repent regularly. Using the Lord’s prayer and the Ten Commandments as a guide for your thoughts, you can come to Christ and confess that you fall short of his glory but give thanks and praise knowing that a repentant sinner means more to God than a thousand proud Pharisees.

Acts 9:1-31 – New Life in Christ – Saul is no match for the power of the gospel

Context

Acts 1:8 provides the project from Jesus to the eleven: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was poured out in commencement of  a new era in the work of God in this world: the Spirit was not limited to people in special offices such as the prophet, priest and king but that all who believe in the name of Jesus would be saved and receive the Holy Spirit. Peter proclaimed the name of Jesus first in Jerusalem and thousands believed his message.

The church grew and the apostles organised 7 men to look after the distribution of money to those in need in the church. These were godly men filled with the Holy Spirit. When Stephen, one of the seven, was persecuted and stoned to death, the church scattered from Jerusalem and into the world. Philip, one of the seven, went to Samaria and preached the word there and the disciples came to investigate and preach also. Philip also took the gospel message to an Ethiopian man by the power of the Spirit. So, the Acts 1:8 plan was being fulfilled.

While Stephen was stoned to death in chapter 7, we are told that a young man named Saul looked on and minded the persecutors’ coats (Acts 7:58) and he “approved of their killing him” (Acts 8:1). While chapter 8 explores what happens as a result of church persecution, chapter 9 returns to the character of Saul.

Chapter 9 opens with the fiery hate of Saul aimed at the growing disciples of the Lord: members of “the Way”.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-2 – The hatred of Saul against the Way
  • 1-9 – Saul’s vision with Jesus
  • 10-16 – Ananias’ vision with Jesus
  • 17-19 – Saul is born again!
  • 20-22 – Saul’s gift for preaching
  • 23-25 – Saul’s own persecution
  • 26-30 – The apostles’ embrace Saul
  • 31 – A time of peace and strengthening for the followers of Jesus.

Verses 1-2 The hatred of Saul against the Way

Meanwhile” – the persecution against the followers of Jesus did not cease while the happenings of chapter 8 occurred. Saul’s energy was being spent in direct opposition and was not taking a break – it seems he was just getting started!

“…against the Lord’s disciples…who belonged to the Way…” Little gems like this are easy to miss because we might forget that “the church” was still in its infancy and actually still operating as a unity within Judaism rather than as a church-plant. How would Saul find the followers of Jesus? Would he go to their church? No, he would approach the Jewish community both in Jerusalem and in Damascus and seek them out. But! How would he recognise them? He is looking for people who have believed that Jesus is Lord. They are the Lord’s disciples – apparently referred to as members of “the Way”.

Saul had hate for anybody who placed Jesus in the position of God. It was blasphemy to him. People who mingled among Jews calling Jesus Lord and calling Jesus the Way the Truth and the Life ought to, according to Saul, be locked up in prison.

“breathing out murderous threats.” The NIV translation is fine but a clunkier translation might read “still breathing threat and murder toward the disciples of the Lord.” I think the nuance here is that he was openly threatening the disciples even with murder. They were not just empty words but full of literal intent.

Saul had absolute disgust and violent feelings toward Jesus and anyone associated with him. To Saul, they were a plague.

Verses 3-9 Saul’s vision with Jesus

This little section begins with Saul ready and able to take down the disciples in Damascas (he had successfully scattered them out of Jerusalem) and ends with Saul disabled. What changed him? – the voice of the Lord!

When Jesus speaks with Saul, he reasons with him. I’ve spoken to a man who claims to have had amazing visions and signs from God but he was only ever left with impressions of God’s power and holiness (a bit like Ezekiel). When Saul has an encounter with the ascended Jesus, he appeals to Saul’s reason. “Why?” asks Jesus, “are you persecuting me?”

Notice how bound up we are to Jesus. He is our Lord and the Way and we are his body. Saul experienced first hand what it means to attack the body of Christ. Jesus is not saying that he loves these disciples so much that he’s willing to look out for them – he is saying that when you attack them, you attack Christ.

There was a light and a voice from heaven which Saul saw and heard. Those travelling with him heard something but did not see what Saul saw. Did they hear the voice and the conversation? That is not clear and the point is that the voice was directed to Saul. Jesus confirms that Saul is not fighting against a heresy but against the very Word of God. “The Way”, that Saul was fuming against, was not a band of new thinkers but the product of God’s mission into the world – they were followers of the Truth.

Saul is left speechless, sightless and unable or willing to eat for three days. He quite effectively experiences a death before his resurrection to new life with Christ – something he will say we all do according to Romans 6:1-4. On the third day, he would receive sight!

10-16 – Ananias’ vision with Jesus

Ananias means “Yahweh has dealt graciously”. Names are sometimes just names but imagine how Saul might have understood the events of the past few days when received and healed by a man named Ananias. This man, living in Damascas, was the very one Saul was charged to hunt down and put in prison, but now, Ananias is charged by God to find Saul and restore his sight.

“In a vision.” God has communicated to people in this world through visions right through the bible. This does not mean that He did this daily and to everybody. The bible is full of unusual events. It is worth noting that the New Testament does not instruct us to look out for visions from God, but it does command us to listen to the Word of God. Saul was to become one of the great writers of the New Testament so that we could hear God’s voice and know how we must live.

“This man is my chosen instrument.” God is a great story teller. While there was a man in Damascas named Ananias who was already a faithful disciple of the Lord and who was willing to listen to the voice of God and respond in obedience – that man was not the one God chose to proclaim His name to the Gentiles and kings and people of Israel – effectively the world! No, God’s choice was the very man who, at the beginning of the narrative, hated Jesus and everybody who calls on His name. Abraham was an old and childless man when called by God to be the father of many. Moses was a reluctant, stammering murderer when he was called to lead the people of Israel to freedom. David had no mighty look about him like Saul did when God set him apart to be the man after his own heart. The disciples were just fishermen and Galileans. Mary and Joseph were poor. While we have a tendancy to raise up and train the “right” people for God’s work – God chooses the weak and foolish to do his work (1 Cor 1:27).

“I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” In doing the work of God, Saul will be taking up his cross to follow. Two heresies are debunked by the conversion of Saul: 1) that God saves those who are seeking him – Saul was actively fighting the true God – and 2) that God saves people to bless them in this life – well, it depends on how you define or view blessing. The Christian walk is not for the faint hearted. Saul’s mission especially was to fight the good fight and run the race to the end and experience much suffering throughout. See 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 for Paul’s recital of his life of suffering for Christ.

17-19 – Saul is born again!

“Brother Saul” – here is the great thing about these verses: Ananias immediately calls Saul his brother! The Lord had conveyed quite clearly to Ananias that Saul was one of His. Who is Ananias to label Saul as anything other than a brother. He could have gone sheepishly to Saul and opened his eyes and then waited nervously to see if Saul would retaliate with hate, but he acts in faith that this man has been saved by God. Saul’s eyes are healed and he receives the Holy Spirit, he is baptised and then remains in the presence of the disciples for several days. Saul has been called out of darkness and into God’s wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).

20-22 – Saul’s gift for preaching

Saul had the knowledge of the scriptures to argue that Jesus is the Son of God. He didn’t just speak from ignorance but from his knowledge and understanding. The difference in Saul’s mind is that he now sees that Jesus is the Messiah. The scriptures that Saul knew contained all the information that he needed for “proving that Jesus is the Messiah.”

23-25 – Saul’s own persecution

The persecution that Saul set out to hand to the disciples in Damascus is now being dealt out on him. Perhaps the Jews could not take him legally within the walls of Damascus, but outside the walls, he was anyone’s?

Note that in only days (although many but not so many that it would be called months!) Saul had gathered his own disciples! In verse 25 it was his own followers that lowered him down in a basket outside a wall. His impact for the gospel had been great. These may have been new converts or simply disciples who saw that Saul had depth of knowledge and passion for Christ that they wished to learn from. It should be noted that we are called to be disciple makers too (Matthew 28:19-20).

Saul was led down the wall in a basket. He would later refer to this moment as a key example of how his life was no longer great in the eyes of the world – if he is going to boast, then he will boast in the persecution and suffering that he has endured for Christ (2 Cor 11).

26-30 – The apostles’ embrace Saul

Saul’s reputation in Jerusalem was great and it took a little convincing for the disciples there to receive him. It was Barnabas, meaning one who encourages, who speaks for Saul to the disciples. It was the evidence that Saul had “preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus” that convinced the disciples that Saul was now one of them. This is the place of testing for all humanity – how you receive and talk of Jesus. Only the saved will boast of his Lordship and demonstrate that they truly believe this.

This narrative has come full circle, almost. The hater of the disciples has now become one of their key members. The one who sort to kill them is now being saved by them as they lead him out of persecution back to his home town of Tarsus.

31 – A time of peace and strengthening for the followers of Jesus.

The people of “the Way” are described as the church in this verse. See 5:11; 8:1, 3. They were the gathering of disciples and experienced peace and strengthening at the end of chapter 9. The church increased in number through this time of peace. Many have said that it takes persecution to grow a church, and there is truth in that! But here we see a time of peace and still growth. The ingredients was 1) living in the fear of the Lord and 2) encouraged by the Holy Spirit.

Living in the fear of the Lord – not to be confused with being terrified of God – this expression refers to those who treat God with awe and respect. He is our creator and King – not buddy and equal. We are saved by Jesus from judgement – we must remember that judgement is part of the message of the gospel. Living in the fear of the Lord is expressed in holy living and loving as God has first loved us. The opposite of fearing the Lord is to disregard his authority and live loosely in the presumption of his love.

Encouraged by the Holy Spirit – The task of the Holy Spirit, as described by Jesus, is to lead us into truth and to convict the world that Jesus is Lord. The Spirit does that secretly in the hearts and minds of believers and He does it blatantly through the reading of his word (2 Timothy 3:15-17). We must not think that the Holy Spirit is a whimsical experience that comes and goes like a party trick. He is our constant councilor to show us that Jesus is Lord and redeemer. Our encouragement from the Holy Spirit is through knowledge and conviction over the matter of Jesus. The Spirit sets our eyes on the King and the hope of our future.

Meaning

“This man is my chosen instrument.” Christ chose Saul. Christ confronted Saul. Christ enlightened Saul. Christ put Saul to work. Saul became an instrument for Christ’s mission – his passion and drive was redirected from the powers of darkness and to the gospel of light. Ephesians 2:4-10 come to mind.

4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Application

  1. Examine in your heart who you think God is unable to save. Do you feel like there are people who are out of God’s reach? How does this passage convict you to change your mind?
  2. How has God been preparing you all of your life for his service? God didn’t give Saul a sudden depth of knowledge of the scriptures but drew on years and years of his knowledge to show him how it is applied now to Jesus. Are there ways that God has been shaping you from birth for a certain task for his kingdom?
  3. The disciples in Jerusalem lived in fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit. Consider how you can adopt these two approaches to life – a right and healthy view of Jesus and the growth in knowledge and understanding that comes by the Holy Spirit.