JESUS THE LIFE-CHANGER IS STILL DOING SURPRISING ACTS TODAY; IN THE WORLD, THE CHURCH AND IN OUR LIVES
As we continue our study of the amazing conversion and total reversal of Paul's life – from the church's greatest enemy to its most powerful missionary, we would be remiss if this radical change of events did not inspire our hope and even expectation that Jesus is still doing the same "acts" today; in the world, in the church and in our lives. Even in our lifetime we have seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Communism and openness to the gospel in nations we may have thought would never happen. Most of us have seen friends or family members, who formerly rejected Jesus, receive Him and begin to live for Him. And in our own lives we have experienced Jesus changing us from the inside out. When the author of Hebrews says "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb. 13:8) one thing he means is that Jesus is still in the life-changing business today just as He was 2000 years ago.
But if we are not careful we will point the finger at others, the government, our boss, our wife, etc., wanting them to change (for our benefit, of course) and not plead with God to change us. "We must have the unconditional readiness to change in order to be transformed by Christ." (Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990, vii.) Change me, O Lord, to be more and more like You; this should be our constant and earnest prayer and a prayer we can expect God to answer. "Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God-truly righteous and holy." (Eph. 4:21-24) Paul, whose life was radically changed as we see here in Acts and in his letters (epistles) to the church, calls us by the Spirit's inspiration to cooperate with God Who is always at work to change us for His glory, the spiritual good of others and our own spiritual and eternal good. "Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him." (Phil 2:12-13)
Let's look at some more of these radical changes in Paul and through Paul's transformed life to learn how God wants to change us.
1) Vv. 19-22 – proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God and as the Christ must be pre eminent in our lives. Paul shared his personal testimony with others (see Acts 22 and 26) and we are called to do the same (1 Peter 3:15; Psalm 107:2 KJV). But more importantly we are to teach, preach and share with others one on one Who Jesus Christ is. "So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ" (Rom. 10:17); or faith comes by hearing a speech about Christ. In fact, Jesus said His church would be built on the revelation that God gave Peter when Jesus asked the disciples, "Who do men say that I am? Simon Peter answered,
You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt. 16:15-16) Our personal (subjective) experience is helpful but the objective truth of about Jesus Christ is of ultimate importance. Even Peter said that his experience of Christ's Transfiguration (Matt. 16) was not as important as knowing the truth of God's Word: "We ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts." (2 Peter 1:18-19; also see Luke 16:31)
Let's look at these two descriptions of Jesus: the Son of God and the Christ (Messiah, Anointed One). 1) Son of God -["In the Bible, Jesus is often called the Son of God, which means that He is God made manifest in human form (John 1:1, 14). Jesus is the Son of God because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), who is God. In Jesus' time, the phrase son of man was used to signify a human being. In relation to that, Jesus being the Son of God, means that Jesus is God. Jesus, the only begotten Son: begotten means "pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind." Jesus possesses the same attributes as God and both are honored equally. (John 5:21-23) He is thus deity and not inferior to God the Father in any way. Some cults teach that since He was born as a human being it means He is not deity. 2) The Christ – ["Christ is the English term for the Greek ΧριστÃÅ’ς (Khristós) meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew Ã—Å¾Ã–Â¸Ã—Â©Ã–Â´Ã—ÂÃ—â„¢Ã—â€”Ã–Â· (MÃ„ÂšîaÃ¡Â¸Â¥), usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach. In popular modern usage-even within secular circles-the term usually refers explicitly to Jesus of Nazareth." "Christos meaning "anointed" translates the word "Messiah, Christ is twice so designated, as the Messiah in the OT (Psalms 2:2; Daniel 9:25, 26; "the anointed one"). Christ combines all three offices of prophet, priest and king in His own Person. When we kiss the Son, we make peace with the Sovereign Father (Psalm 2:12). If you have never made peace with the Anointed of Yahweh, you will never experience peace with God. When Satan offered Jesus the world's kingdom, He refused it (Matthew 4:8-9), and chose to obey His Father and die on the cross, rose from the dead, and returned victoriously to heaven to receive His inheritance from the Father (Ps. 2:2-9). He will continue to reign until He defeats all His enemies (1 Cor. 15:25). One day Jesus the Messiah will come to earth again, and He will reign over all of creation as Sovereign King and Lord." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ; http://www.abideinchrist.com/keys/messiah.html ]
So like Paul, sharing the truth of Who Jesus is must be pre-eminent in our lives because it means life or death for every person in the world and "our" world. 1 John 5:12 says, "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life (Zoë – eternal life); he who has not the Son of God has not life (Zoë – eternal life)." 1 John 2:23 says, "No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also." Galatians 2:20 says that we "live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us."
2) Vv. 23-25, 29 – Proclaiming Jesus as the only way to be right with God (salvation, heaven or hell) will bring a reaction from those who reject Jesus. For Paul it mean the threat of death as we see in this chapter, and in 2 Cor. 11:23-29 we see the extent of his suffering which ended with imprisonment and execution (be-headed) in Rome. "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?" For us it may only mean we are marginalized by unbelieving family members, work associates, neighbors, etc. This is surely a small price to pay compared to Paul's suffering but even more so to the suffering of our innocent Lord on that cruel Roman cross.
3) "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase." (V. 31) I have heard it said and I believe this verse supports it, that if we rightly fear God we need not fear anything else and thus we experience God's comfort even in the midst of deep trials. Again, we see Paul's life as an example of this. "Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men," (2 Cor. 5:9-11; also see 1 Cor. 3:10-15) And as we live to please the Lord He will comfort us in every trial as He reminds us that every trial will ultimately be for our eternal glory as we trust and obey Him in this brief life. "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
4) "And it continued to increase"- fearing the Lord out of a desire to please Him and in light of our accountability to Him will bring increase both inwardly (spiritual growth in Christ likeness) and outwardly (through our spiritual influence on others for salvation and spiritual growth). "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life." (2 Cor. 2:14-16) Like Paul, as we surrender our lives to Christ to be used as He pleases we will get a response or reaction from others. To some we will be the aroma of Christ that leads them to salvation and to others we will be a reminder of eternal death to those who continue to reject Him and us only because of His life in us.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) "We must have the unconditional readiness to change in order to be transformed by Christ." (Dietrich von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990, vii.) Discuss your desire and readiness to be changed by the Lord. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being set in your ways and 10 being like a piece of clay ready and willing to be shaped by the Potter (God), where would you place yourself? Where would you place Paul?
2) Proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God and as the Christ must be pre-eminent in our lives. What do these two titles for our Lord mean? Is proclaiming Him as the only way to salvation the highest priority of your life?
3) Proclaiming Jesus as the only way to be right with God (salvation, heaven or hell) will bring a reaction from those who reject Jesus. How have you suffered for sharing Jesus as the only way to God/heaven?
4) I have heard it said and I believe this verse supports it, that if we rightly fear God we need not fear anything else and thus we experience God's comfort even in the midst of deep trials. What does it mean to rightly fear God per Paul's words in 2 Cor. 5:9-11 and 1 Cor. 3:10-15? Is pleasing God your greatest ambition/desire? Does the promise of eternal rewards (or loss of them) motivate you as they did Paul?
5) "And it continued to increase"- fearing the Lord out of a desire to please Him and in light of our accountability to Him will bring increase both inwardly (spiritual growth in Christ likeness) and outwardly (through our spiritual influence on others for salvation and spiritual growth). Please read 2 Cor. 2:14-16 and discuss your "aroma" (influence) for Christ in your home, at work, and with people you have contact with but do not know personally.