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Monday, April 22, 2013

Acts 9: Suffering Servant

Suffering Servant

Acts 9:15

What has gone before...

Saul seemed near to death. Struck down with blindness, confronted by a man he'd thought long dead by crucifixion, his Jewish life of rigid righteousness and violent religious rule seemed gone in an instant.

All he could do was pray.

Meanwhile, God was preparing Ananias to go to Saul, to heal his blindness and commission him to be a witness for Jesus.

And to suffer.

Moving on...

"The Lord said to him, - 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)

SUFFER: pascho "PAS-kho" (to experience a sensation or impression, usually painful)

Much of the Book of Acts is an account of how Saul suffered as a Christian. Jews plotted to kill him early in his ministry (9:23). Fellow Christians suspected him of being a spy (9:26). He was persecuted and driven out of town (13:50), attacked (14:5), stoned (14:19), stripped and beaten with rods (16:22), imprisoned and locked in stocks (16:24).

Saul remembered his ministry as being a time of "all humility and with tears and with trials..." (Acts 20:19). His final visit back home to Jerusalem was heavily darkened by foreboding:

"I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me." Acts 20:22-23 (ESV)

Saul summarized his life of suffering:

"Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches." 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (ESV)

For Saul, being a chosen instrument of God, a witness of the resurrection and lordship of Jesus, would mean a life of pain.

Saul never enjoyed suffering. He described his life as one of "serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials." (Acts 20:19)

Challenged by religious leaders who boasted of their accomplishments and popularity, Saul would later boast in the only thing he felt he could truly own: his weakness.

"On my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses...I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:5,9-10 (ESV)

Saul didn't enjoy suffering, but he was content to suffer. He regarded every weakness as an opportunity to realize, and rejoice in, God's grace and power. During an expecially difficult time of trouble, God encouraged Saul:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Think back to a recent experience in which you suffered, either physically or emotionally. What effect did your suffering have on your walk with Jesus?

What seems to help you personally while dealing with persistent disappointment or pain?

What for you is often the purpose or benefit of suffering?

Ananias obeyed.

"So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, - 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. - And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened." Acts 9:17-19 (ESV)

Later, Luke records more detail concerning Saul's healing and conversion:

"One Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 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. 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; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name." Acts 22:12-16 (ESV)

This detailed description of Saul's appointment by God uses a word that is different from that used earlier in Acts 9:15. Let's compare the two words:

"The Lord said to him, - Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel." Acts 9:15 (ESV)

CHOSEN: ekloge "ek-log-AY" (divine selection); from eklego (to select); from ek (out of) and lego (to "lay" forth, to relate in words, as in a systematic or set discourse)

"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)

APPOINTED: procheirizo "prokh-i-RID-zom-ahee" (to handle for oneself in advance, to purpose); from pro ("fore", in front of, prior to, superior to) and cheir (the hand, in the sense of hollowness suitable for grasping; power, means or instrument); from chao (to "gape" or "yawn", a "chasm" or vacancy)

The two words both describe the same concept, but from two slightly different perspectives. In one sense we can imagine God speaking into existence His entire plan for Saul's life, even before Saul was born.

An example of God "speaking" His plan for specific individuals, long before they were even born, is seen in Jacob and Esau:

"When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad...in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls...she was told, - The older will serve the younger. - As it is written, - Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." Romans 9:10-13 (ESV)

"Election" is the same Greek word as that seen in "chosen".

On the other hand, we can also imagine God "preparing in advance" all the circumstances and experiences necessary for Saul to fulfill His plan. This perspective imagines Saul as being held by God in the hollow of His hand, with all details and events under His control and power.

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." John 10:27-29 (ESV)

"Hand" is from the same Greek root word as that seen in "appointed".

Every circumstance and detail of my life
Has been spoken from of old in God's plan and
Securely held in His most powerful hand.

Milton Reynolds, 2013

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Why would it be important for Saul to keep in mind both perspectives, that of being part of God's plan from before he was born, and that of being held, moment by moment, in God's hand?

When in your own life have you felt the furthest away from being part of God's plan and held in His hand?

When have you felt yourself to be the most close to God?

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