LESSON 2 13/12/2015
PAUL – THE PERSECUTOR
Suggested Hymns: G.H.B. 240, 242
Devotional Reading: Acts 8:1-4
Topic for Adults: Don’t Be An Enemy Of God.
Topic for Youths: Expect Persecution.
Topic for Intermediates: It Is Not An Easy Road
Scripture Lesson: Acts 7:54-60, 8:1-3; 9:1-2; 7:51; Phil. 3:5-6; Gal. 1:13; 1 Cor. 15:9; Acts 8:1-8; 11:19-21
Memory Verse: Now Saul was consenting to his death, at that time a great persecution arose against the Church which was at Jerusalem (Acts 8:1a) NKJV
DAILY DEVOTIONAL READING
God Can Convert A Terrorist
Acts 9:1-2; 13-14; 26:9-11; 22:4
From our texts today, Apostle Paul, before his conversion, would well qualify as a terrorist that was well feared by the Christians of his day. Right from the mention of his name at the stoning of Stephen, he went from bad to worse in persecuting and terrorizing believers. Just like the present day terrorists, he was killing and maiming, throwing Christians into prisons and the unfortunate thing about this was that he had the support and approval of the priests who were the religious leaders of the day. We can see this happening today when religious leaders support their followers to kill and destroy church buildings in the name of their ‘god’. It is instructive, however, from our texts that at the appointed time, God saved this persecutor par excellence and he became a defender of the truth as we shall see in our lessons in the coming weeks.
Point of Emphasis: Evil cannot continue forever.
Prayer point: Lord, prove yourself and intervene in all parts of the world where your children are being persecuted.
Paul of Tarsus hated Christians. He made it his goal to capture Christians and then bring them to public trial and execution. Saul was present when the first Christian martyr named Stephen was killed by an angry mob. In today’s lesson, we want to consider the extent of his persecution of the church and why he persecuted believers of his day and lessons we can learn from his life at that point in time.
NOTES ON THE TEXT
PART 1: EXTENT OF THE PERSECUTION (ACTS 7:54-60; 8:1-3; 9:1-2)
Saul as a Hebrew, a true follower of Judaism, a scholarly interpreter of Jewish law, had only contempt for those Jews who followed the man called Jesus Christ. They dubbed Jesus’ teachings “The Way,” but Saul was determined that no one from the newly formed sect called Christianity would reside peacefully in Jerusalem. The other different religious sects present in A.D 33 Rome during Saul’s time lived in relative harmony. Pagans, Jews and Philosophers all dwelt together, mostly in accord under Roman rule. To Saul, the pagans were not a threat. It was the Christians that he sought to destroy. And Saul witnessed the demise of Stephen who had been brought before the High Priest.
When the crowd grew violent, Saul stood artfully by as they lay their coats at his feet and stoned Stephen to death with Saul’s silent approval. He, Saul, consented to the death of Stephen (8:1), made havoc in the Church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison (8:3), and then, in the ninth chapter of Acts, we find him still “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, and asking for letters from the high priest so that he might go to the synagogues of Damascus, find “any who are of the way”, and bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1–2). The Bible did not go further about the specifics of this persecution with the exception of brief snippets centering upon the fiercest persecutor the church faced, Saul of Tarsus.
The lesson we learn from here is that when we are different from others in our ways of life, we will surely be persecuted.
PART 2: WHY DID SAUL PERSECUTED THE EARLY CHURCH (ACTS 7: 51; PHIL 3:5-6; GAL 1:13; 1 COR. 15:9)
Paul twice mentioned his role as a persecutor but without any details. As with much of his writing, Paul assumed his listeners already knew the story so he didn’t elaborate.
Saul of Tarsus believed that he was serving God by finding Christians, throwing them into prison, and executing them when possible. The claim that Jesus was the crucified Messiah is what greatly offended Paul and the others, because no strain of traditional Jewish messianic expectations suggested a crucified Messiah. Calling crucified Jesus the Messiah was thus completely alien, and repellent to their mentality. Deut. 21.23 says “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” Quite unexpectedly, this highly educated individual was wrong.
In addition, Paul persecuted the early followers of Jesus Christ because of the charges leveled against Stephen. The charges against Stephen were that he denied the basic tenets of Hebrew religion namely: adherence to the Law of Moses, temple sacrifice etc. In Stephen’s long speech to the Sanhedrin, he concluded, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears…You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” Acts 7: 51-53 (NRSV). There could be no greater offence than to question circumcision and failure to keep the law. Stephen challenged the basic Hebrew self-understanding and thus their standing before God. To a devout Pharisee, zealous for the law, as Paul claimed (Phil. 3:5) to be, this was the crux of the matter. This also tied closely with Paul’s Damascus road experience.
PART 3: EFFECTS OF SAUL’S PERSECUTION ON THE EARLY CHURCH (ACTS 8:1-8; 11:19-21)
Great persecution soon rose against the body of Christ, and consequently, the believers were scattered “abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except for the apostles.” (Acts 8:1) Those who left Jerusalem took with them the Good News of Christ, spreading the Gospel outside their circle to Samaria for the first time. One such believer who spread the Gospel to Samaria was Philip, a deacon who was assigned to serve tables for widows (Acts 6:5). The more Saul persecuted the early disciples the more the message spread! By God’s providence, it is interesting that before Saul was ever Paul, he started more mission work than anyone, and started Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples of all nations by scattering the church all over the place with persecution!
Christians in religious restricted countries of the world are still facing persecution today. Many Christians are dying on daily basis while others are facing severe punishment as a result of their faith in Christ. God is still using this event today to expand the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Why was Saul seeking the Christians to destroy them?
- What ways did Paul persecute the Christians?
- Why did the Christians scatter abroad?
- How did Saul indirectly help the gospel to spread?
- What claim infuriated Paul and his followers?