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21. Paul and the Church

Updated: May 8, 2023




New Testament


Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples... As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. ...


The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.


In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ... “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Acts 9: 1-17


This is so supernatural! The risen and ascended Jesus Christ, now in the heavens, sitting at the right side of his Father in his father’s throne room, is speaking from the heavens to both Saul and Ananias. First, a bit of background into Saul. Earlier in the book of Acts, we are introduced to Stephen, a new convert to the new church of Christ, zealous for God and Christ through the Holy Spirit. We have read Stephen's speech in a previous lesson.


On the brink of death, Stephen spoke a lovely summary of God’s plan in the birth and growth of His beloved child of Jerusalem which makes up much of our Old Testament. This disciple of the now risen Christ stood in trial and persecution before the pious leaders of God’s Israel much as Jesus had stood in trial and persecution before his death.


Before his death by crucifixion, standing before the leaders of the law, Jesus, lead by the Holy Spirit, choose silence. For the past three and a half years, Jesus had exhorted these same pious leaders to hear and see but they were too deaf and blind, too stiff-necked and hard-hearted. At trial, Jesus had nothing left to give them.


Before his death by stoning, standing before those same leaders of the law, full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen spoke in holy truth:


“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”


When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7: 51-56


Saul witnessed Stephen's stoning as he most likely witnessed Jesus' crucifixion:


And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Acts 8: 1-3


Why was Jesus silent and Stephen not? Christ Jesus knew that he must be sacrificed in order to bring into fruition the Trinity’s plan for redemption. With the Holy Spirit indwelling, Stephen knew that that plan had been finally set into motion.


Now try to reflect on the connections of the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by the coming of Christ in the life of Jesus. In the perfect fullness of time, the law of Moses which served to convict the Israelites and the entire creation of their sin, must give way in fulfillment to the gift of grace brought to the broken kingdom of the earth by God’s Son, Christ through Man’s Son, Jesus. This was and is and will be the Holy Trinity’s plan all along. Now the good news of the Gospel is ready to be spread and sown to all the nations of the earth. The creation has been redeemed through Christ's sacrifice and can be adopted into the holy family of the Holy Trinity.


And Saul approved of their killing him … and began to destroy the church. Christ was crucified and cast into death and darkness for three days. Already filled with darkness in his soul, Saul is put into total blackness and blindness for three days. But on the third day, something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. Paul will become a zealous disciple of Christ. This horrible man, Saul, a pious man of the Jewish God-given law, will rename himself, Paul, his greek name, to preach to the gentiles of this good news. Now filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul will become the “instrument” of Jesus Christ, dramatically chosen to proclaim the gospel to both gentile and Jew alike. Paul will continue the plan that Stephen was martyred for.


The eleven apostles, remember Judas is no more, were privileged to witness the cosmic, supernatural Ascension of Christ back into the Heavens. Jesus, the Son of Man, the Word, delivered his last words as they received the Great Commission:


Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, …Matthew 28: 18-19


There is much discussion among Christians as to whether Paul became the the new twelfth apostle, replacing Judas. Please take a moment to read Acts 1. Regardless of that discussion, Paul will become Jesus’ most ardent voice to preach to the gentiles. His life’s work became his travels to the gentile nations as he spread the news given to him by Christ himself straight from Heaven. In his letter to the church in Corinthia, as he addresses how Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, Paul adds:


and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 1 Corinthians 15: 8-10


Abnormally born? Saul’s rebirth in the Holy Spirit followed the death of his Jewish prophesied Messiah unlike the spiritual rebirths of the original chosen twelve who were promised the Holy Spirit by the Son of Man, Jesus, when he walked the earth, in the flesh:


On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. Galatians 2: 7-8


I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 2 Corinthians 12: 1-7

The zealous "Pharisee of Pharisees,” Saul, is now the zealous “chosen instrument” of Christ. Can you imagine the things he saw and heard in the third heaven? In paradise? He will spend the rest of his life traveling to spread the good news to the people and nations throughout the ancient world. He will seed new churches and write letters to those small communities of believers much as a father would write to a beloved child. His letters encouraged these children of Christ as well as disciplined and chided them for their youthful and foolish behavior. In house arrest in Rome, Paul grows weary:


For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 2 Timothy 4: 6-11


Poured out like a drink offering, Paul was to be executed by the Romans.



 

Discussion


  1. Have you ever had a dramatic change of heart? Why?

  2. When were you convicted by faith? Have you been? Did it change you? Did your conviction change the way you live?

  3. Have you ever been chosen for something. By someone?

  4. What does it mean to be an instrument?

  5. What does it mean to be a zealot? Is it positive or negative?

  6. What are people zealous for today?

  7. Are you zealous for anything? How can you be zealous healthily and positively?

  8. Have you ever fought against someone who wishes you harm? Have you ever fought for someone even though they have harmed you? What’s the difference in these two questions?

  9. Have you ever deeply loved someone who has hated you?

  10. Has someone ever fought for you even though you didn’t wish them to?


 

Old Testament


The Tower of Babel


So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. ...God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 1: 27-31, 2: 1-3


...


Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. Genesis 9: 1


I have asked my high school students what it means to be full. Sometimes it is helpful to talk about the meaning of words that we hear so often that they, the words, lose their effectiveness. We went around the room and offered up synonyms for full: “Comfortable, content, peaceful, pleased, sated and secure” are some of the words that came to mind. Then we talked about what it means to be empty: “Hungry, afraid, needy, insecure, bereft, lonely, sad, …”


When I read a word that denotes “full” in the bible, I circle it: “full, filled, fulfilled, fullness, overflowing..” There is so much biblically about the idea of completeness. Do you remember what the number seven signifies? Listen to the story of the Tower of Babel from God’s perspective:


Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”


But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Genesis 11: 1-9


The Lord desired his lovely earth to be full, to be filled with us, all made in his own image…


 

Discussion


  • Have you ever traveled to a strange country where you are not understood? Have you ever tried to help someone who doesn't speak your language?

  • Are you full? What do you need to feel full?

  • Let me ask you a different question: are you empty? What makes you empty?

  • Can you think of a time that you have been full?

  • Can you remember a time of emptiness?


 

The 29:11 Story


Paul’s bead follows the fire orange bead of Pentecost and the second luminous white pearl representing the Holy Spirit. Paul’s bead, like that of the Last Supper and Crucifixion, is not only black but contains elements of white for purity, purple for divinity, or yellow for glory - Saul, full of darkness, now renamed Paul, full of light. Listen carefully to Paul:


For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”


“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”


The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15: 53-57


The beads of Mark and Luke follow Paul. These two converts to the new church were companions of Paul and wrote their own versions of his new savior’s gospel. The nephew of Paul’s companion, Barnabas, Mark traveled with the two on their missionary journeys, and disappointed Paul greatly when he, as a young man, deserted him to return home. Later, Mark was forgiven by the zealous Paul. After Paul’s martyred death, Mark became like a son to Peter.


Luke, identified by Paul as a physician, is the only gentile writer of the New Testament. His gospel is understandably full of the physical miracles of Christ. The Book of Acts, also written by Luke, follows his gospel after the death of his dear friend and possible patient, Paul. Remember, Paul has been given a thorn in his side. Luke was attendant on Paul during his house imprisonment in Rome.


Church-Age: Four of my favorite beads are found towards the end of each 29:11 Story. These beads represent the Church-age; that segment of time that exists now, in the present for us. Church-age actually covers all time that the Holy Church has existed since the death and resurrection of Christ and up until his yet promised Second Coming. These four beads follow Paul, Mark, and Luke. Church-age is where and when we live now. And Paul’s letters to the churches are what we now study along with the gospels of Mark and Luke, and of course, the gospels of Matthew and John. These are the books of the Bible we take with us as we evangelize throughout the world to the people of all nations.


These four beads are green, red, cream, and blue, and echo the chapter of God’s Story of the earth's first family - Adam and Eve, and their two sons, Cain and Abel. The green and blue beads represent the kingdom of the earth that is separated from the kingdom of the heavens by sin, the red bead. This red bead of church-age sin echos the red bead of Satan and the smaller one of Cain. Every sin we can imagine continues to reside and corrupt God’s creation still today.


But there is a small cream colored bead in the midst of the four. This is the body of Christ, the church, waiting to become the radiant white Bride of Christ. This small cream colored bead is us, me and you, as we strive to maintain an intimate relationship with God who struggles to maintain an intimate relationship with us. This cream colored bead takes the place of Adam, Eve, and Abel on the Old Testament side.


We, the church, wait for the promised Second Coming of Christ as witnessed by John. A beautiful rainbow bead that is God in the throne room and his Son Christ dressed in a white robe follows the four Church-Age beads. Can you think about what in the Old Testament prophesied this rainbow bead of God on His throne? It is the rainbow in the story of Noah which comes before the red bead of the Tower of Babel.


Because of the people’s all encompassing sin, the bead that represents the Tower of Babel on the 29:11 Story is red, like the beads of Satan, Cain, David’s sin against Bathsheba, Judas, and our Church-age sin. It is located after the flood and before Job.



My Story


I remember at William’s visitation, a very kind woman saying to me, “This will be the worst day of your life.” But it wasn’t my worst. My worst day ever was the day that we learned that William’s cancer had returned. He was 15 years old and a freshman in high school. He had so much life ahead of him. He had just gotten a new knee replacement that guaranteed him mobility from his crippled leg. But everything changed following a surgery that revealed tumors in his lungs.


That afternoon, when William, his father, and I were alone in his room at Children’s Hospital, I was walking down the road in the blazing heat to get us something to eat from the Captain D’s restaurant. I was so very angry with God. The day before, I had damned God to His face. I had told Him that I believed in Him but I did not trust Him because he had betrayed us. That was a horribly dark place for me. I realized the day of the rediagnosis that God was all I had left. So I opened up a new conversation with Him, “If you are going to make us go through this, you sure as hell better be with us. You better show me that you are here.”


Behind the counter at Captain D’s, was a young black man trying to take my order. I asked him how old he was, and he said he was 17. I reached my hands across the counter and grabbed his hands and said, “I need you to pray for my son.“ Immediately another black man behind the counter, pushed the young man gently aside and grabbed my hands and said, “Sister, what do you need?” I answered, “I need you to pray for my son. His cancer has returned and he is going to die.”


Immediately, another black man, this one older, with white hair, who was standing behind me in line, reached around me, and encircled me and held our hands together, now three of us locked in a circle with the younger man watching us in surprise and awe.


“Where is your boy?” asked the man behind the counter, still holding my hands. “He is at Children’s Hospital.” “What room?“ “He is in room 428.” I answered. “My brother and I will be there soon,” he said.


“Ok, Ok, Ok,” I said to God on the way back to William’s room. But I was so afraid of doing something that would be uncomfortable for William and his father. “ Listen, I said, “Two men are coming soon to visit and pray.” “No, Mom, no!”


We were so very overwhelmed and frightened. We were so heartbroken. We were in such deep shock. I called the nursing station and asked them not to let any visitors come in. Very soon after, the nurse called and said, “There are two lovely men here who want to see your son, may they come in?” and William and his father said, “ Yes, let them come.”


Still worried about William and his father, I stood back apart from the scene that unfolded. The two men came into the small hospital room and the one I had met asked William if he could perform a healing ceremony. “Yes, absolutely!” He anointed William’s head with oil and then placed his hands on his chest and on his right knee. Then he began to pray and soon began to speak in tongues. His “brother” began to interpret. This was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard! I watched those three men and that boy locked in prayer and in the Holy Spirit. I was so removed but deeply moved.


As the two visitors left William in the hospital room, they and my husband and I gathered in a tight hugged circle to pray. Immediately, I was in the Spirit with them, locked in a powerful and holy embrace.


After they left, in the hospital hallway, my husband asked me what I had told them about William. Only that he had cancer, my response. “Did you see where he placed his hands?” He asked, “On his chest and his right knee.” William’s cancer began in his right knee and now was in his chest cavity. God could not have given my son and his father a more necessary and poignant gift.


Do you remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Listen carefully! “The God we serve is able to deliver us from it... But even if he does not,... “ I often tell my high school students the story of the two men who came from Captain D’s. It is such a powerful story. Then I always ask them if the healing ceremony performed on William “worked.” What do you think?


Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. James 5: 14-15



 

Digging Deeper


  1. Who do you think was the new twelfth apostle?

  2. Define an apostle. Now find the definition of a disciple.

  3. What are some of your favorite verses written by Paul? Have you been encouraged by Paul’s writing? Have you ever been chided or disciplined by him?

  4. Paul has much to say about wisdom versus foolishness. Read Romans 1: 1-17

  5. Now read all of Romans 11. Have you ever studied this passage? It is tremendously important. What does it say to you?

  6. Read Revelation 7:1-8 and Revelation 14:1-5. We’ve read these two passages in our lesson on the Great Commandment. How do they relate to Romans 11?

  7. Can you imagine the things Paul saw and heard in the third heaven? In paradise? What do you think that Paul means when he speaks of the third heaven? Read Genesis 1:1, Genesis 1: 14-19, Genesis 28: 10-15, Deuteronomy 10: 14.

  8. How many heavens did you find?

  9. Paul tells us the he was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. Read Revelation 10. What parallels to Paul and his visions can you draw with John and his visions? Who do you think is the mighty angel with the scroll?

  10. In a vision, Christ tells Ananias, “ I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Read 2 Corinthians 11:23–29.

  11. Read Mark 14:51-52. What is the context here? Who wrote this gospel? Some believe that this young man was Mark himself witnessing the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Read Acts 15:36-41.We are not given a reason for Mark’s earlier desertion of Paul as he traveled to evangelize. Now, compare Mark to the three men who asked to follow Jesus in Luke 9: 57-62.

  12. What was the Tower of Babel made of? What was the God’s Holy Temple made of? Read 1 Kings 6. Who built it? Why did King David not build it?

  13. Why would God, the Trinity, desire for mankind to fill the earth?

  14. Read Revelation 5: 6-10.


 



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