Imagine it. Lights and a voice, and you’ve been knocked to the ground blinded by the flash. And then you hear this voice, powerful and deep: “Why have you been persecuting Me?”
Bewildered, frightened and not a little bit worried, you look up. You can’t see.
You muster the courage to speak. “Who are you?” you call into the depth of darkness.
“I am Jesus…”
“Jesus,” you’re thinking. “You’re Jesus!” Your knees are trembling.
The voice continues, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
You know what goads are. They’re prickly little reminders to keep cattle moving the right direction. Some would say, “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” Either way, you’re resisting the influence of God in your life. That’s what Jesus is saying.
Scenes of the past rush into your awareness. You see yourself running into the home of a just-converted Jewish Christian, calling the troops to follow you. Another
heretic taken out of circulation. Another block to pure Judaism removed. You shudder. This is God talking. God says you’re not listening to Him.
You decide to listen, and listen well.
[Thought Questions for Lesson 1: Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles]
1. Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles. Who were Gentiles?
1) people from the land of Gentile; 2) People who weren’t Jewish; 3) enemies of Jehovah 4) A branch of the Pharisees.
Unconfuse the following: “As a devout Jew…the idea of the long-awaited Messiah being executed was too much for him (Paul) to tolerate.” Claims “that the crucified Jesus was the Messiah and that He had risen from the dead were, he believed, rank apostasy.” (From the lesson guide for Sabbath afternoon). Before his conversion, what did Paul think his primary purpose was? Have you ever been wrong about your life’s plan and
2. A Greek-speaking Jew. Since Stephen was such a strong traditional Jew, why did he downplay the importance the temple and the ceremonies that took place there? Would his message be better accepted today? Does it seem to you that ethnic differences played a significant role in the establishment of the Christian church? Could some of Saul’s anger towards Steven have been urged on by those differences? How could Saul commit murder and believe he was doing God’s will? How can you and I be sure we are doing God’s will and not just thinking we are?
3. Saul’s Conversion. What was Saul’s “approval rating” before he accepted Jesus as the Messiah? Imagine Saul running for political office among the Jews. Would he get any votes? Did Jesus see value in Saul’s heart and
perform “sin surgery” to make him whole? What role did Saul play in his own conversion? Have you ever been “tormented” by the Spirit of God to give up a bad habit or stop thinking evil thoughts? What finally moved you to relinquish your past and walk a new life with Jesus? Were you ever tempted after that to sin or live a careless life? Was Paul?
4. Saul meets Ananias. Still blind from the flashing light but now with a converted heart, Saul, now Paul, is told to go to the home of a man and wait there for Ananias. Imagine how Paul must have felt as he waited for three days. What about Ananias? Called from the comfort of his home to visit Paul the persecutor, what were his thoughts? Do you think he was looking forward to meeting the man whose heart had been set on destroying the Jews? Why doesn’t God send us visions when we have to do something difficult as He did for Ananias? Or does He lead us in other ways?
5. Going to the Gentiles with the gospel. Could the Christian church have faded into insignificance if it had been content by establishing a few local groups in and around Jerusalem? Why the urgent need to multiply
believers? Why the directive to go first to the Gentiles, who knew the least about Scripture? And why in Antioch, an important center of commerce and culture that would take at least a solid week to walk there? How did Paul,
grown up and dyed-in-the wool as a Pharisee, find pure joy in preaching to Jewish congregations who were just learning to accept Christ? And how was it possible for the people to listen to him, much less be converted by his words?
6. A mixed blessing. Why weren’t some of the early Christians thrilled to have Gentiles worshiping with them? How important was the ritual of circumcision to orthodox Christians? How important was it to just-converted
Gentiles? How important was it to Paul in his new ministry to the Gentiles? Is it wrong for you and me to judge fellow Christians, especially new ones, by their behavior or appearance? Do we ever place behavior above heart response? Is there a way to reach the unreached by preaching the gospel of love and adding behavior only as it relates to our love to God and fellow man?
7. Conflict. Is there ever conflict or disagreement in
your local church? Should there be? Would you rather belong to a church where everyone always agreed with everyone else? Does harmony mean uniformity? Have
you ever belonged to a church board that always voted as one? Is that the ideal? Which is worse, for a successful church leader to die and thus be lost to a church that needs him or her? Or, for that same successful leader to turn to another religion and become active in recruiting your congregation to his or her way of thinking?