Acts 9 records Saul's lifelong testimony: He was the persecutor, but became the believer after he met Jesus. Sault diligently testified that Jesus is the Son of God. Acts 9 also shows God’s zeal toward Saul. We can read this as a God's plan for Saul. We can see that how God’s plan was being accomplished. From Acts 9, we can learn that God has a plan for those who meet the Lord.
Today, I would like to share the life of the apostle Paul in the point of God’s zeal and His plan for him. You will learn that God has a wonderful plan for you.
2. God's plan for Saul
When the Lord called Saul, he had a plan for him. You can find it in Acts 9: 15-16.
"But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."
As you heard, the Lord wanted to use Saul as the apostle of the Gentiles. And also, He said the detail. 'How much he should suffer for my name'
This was God’s plan for Saul. However, His life might not be happy because he should suffer for God’s name.
How would you feel if this plan was for you? While you may have a desire to believe in Jesus, you may hesitate once you hear the plan for you. However, you will see that God's plan for us is much greater than we think. Of course, His plan is better than our plan.
Let’s think about “Jesus”
The Father had a plan for the Son, Jesus. God’s plan for Jesus was to save man from the sin. Then, the Father asked him to walk on the way of the cross. He suffered and died for the Father’s name. However, this was not the end of the plan. The Father raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus revealed himself as the Son of God.
We can find the similar story from Joseph. God's plan for Joseph was to make the big nation of Israel through him. And what happened to him was that he was sold by his brothers and became a slave in Egypt. Although he was innocent, he should suffer in prison for several years. It would be too far away to be the prime minister of Egypt. Joseph walked on the path of suffering for the name of God. It was not chosen by himself, but it was God’s plan for him. Actually, he confessed to his brothers later like this: "And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. (Gen. 45: 5)."
Later, Joseph could understand God’s plan.
At the beginning, it may not easy for us to understand God's plan. But what we can see is that everything works together to make good. The Apostle Paul confessed: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28).
This passage is recited by many people. Here, the word "good" does not mean that you will live a happy and be comfortable. The good means here that God’s plan will be done whatever the situation is.
God is good. God loves you. God has a wonderful plan for you. His plan for you is not to become rich on the earth. God's plan for us is to be sanctified and to resemble Jesus. His plan for us is to be free from sin, but not being bound to sin. God still works for this. God wants to save all nations.
Through Acts 9, what you should see is how God's plan for Saul is being fulfilled. Saul might do something, but God did everything for him. God has called, trained and protected him in his life.
3. The process of the Lord's plan
I want to meditate on Saul's life in the text today. In Damascus, Saul had a plan to kill the believers. However, his plan was changed after he met the Lord, the Light. What happened to him was to be blind. Was it good for him? It would be hard to say. This happening made him shocked. He didn’t eat nor drink for three days. He should be embarrassed by the unexpected thing. He prayed to the Lord and learned that God called him as an apostle of the Gentiles.
I want to share with you how God's plan was made.
First, the Lord prepared some people, such as Ananias, Saul’s disciples, and Barnabas, for Saul. Even though there were difficulties in Saul’s life, God opened the door for him to escape threats. Death could not touch Saul until he finished his calling.
Second, God comforted Saul through people. What Saul needed was the comfort. What we need will be also a warm comfort and encouragement. When Saul came to Jerusalem, no one wanted to meet him because of his bad reputation. Everyone suspected Saul: people thought that Saul would pretend to believe in Jesus. However, Barnabas, the comforter, was the one who helped Saul and persuaded other people.
"But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:27).
We can imagine how comfortable Saul was because of Barnabas who had believed him. Because of Barnabas recommendation, Saul could met the disciples and acknowledged him as an apostle. Later on, He preached more powerfully that Jesus is the Christ!
The place where Saul preached the gospel was where Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7. And as Stephen boldly proclaimed the word of the Lord, now, Saul did and people tried to kill Saul. Thus, the brethren sent him to the hometown of Saul to save him.
What did God show to Saul? He would be suffering, but God was with Him. He had a hard time for the name of God, but God was with Him.
God who love you also had plans for you. Please remember that even if you are in the stormy life, God is with you. God can make everything good for those who love Him.
I pray that you will have grace from God, who will send people to you when you are in trouble. This is also what I have been experiencing in my life. God calls me, guides me, trains me, protects, and of course, loves me. God sends the comforters.
A few years ago, our neighbor Chinese church pastor called me. And he asked me to have a lunch with him. It was unusual and unexpected thing. I have seen him for years, he never asked me to have a lunch personally although there might be no reason to eat together. During the lunch, the Chinese pastor willingly shared his story when he started the ministry. He told me how hard it was. Then he told me not to give up although I might be in hard time. He told me to be loyal to be called by God. I did not ask him to share his story, but his story comforted me. Indeed, God sent the comforter to me. Yes, he paid the lunch for me!
4. Saul comforted the believers.
How was Saul's life? And what was other people’s reaction when they saw Saul’s life? We can find the answer to this question from verse 31. Verse 31 begins with "Thus." What happened before, when you see the word, ‘Thus’. Saul ran away because some people tried to kill him. “Thus”, what happened to the church? Was the church ruined or not?
“Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord”
When people saw that Saul ran away because of persecution, you may think that people would be disappointed and the church would be shrink. The passage said that the church grew in numbers!
Why did this happen? We can find two clues from this passage.
The first clue is 'fear of the Lord'. When people saw the change of Saul, they learned about who God was: God can change a person completely. Saul was the worst person who persecuted the believers, but now, Saul became the great preacher for Jesus. His preaching seemed no fruit because some people tried to kill him, but some people started to think about who God was. People lived in the fear of the Lord. This is the secret how the church grows in numbers! The meaning of ‘fear of Lord” is that we recognize God’s absolute sovereignty in all areas of life.
The second hint of why the church grew in numbers, was the comfort of the Holy Spirit. People saw Saul's life and got the comfort.
I recently saw a video clip linked in the Facebook. It was a scene to comfort a woman living alone to achieve her dream. I'll show you it at the end of the sermon. You will know how many people are encouraged by the comfort. Needless to say how powerful the comfort of the Holy Spirit is. No matter how hard our life is, even though there are all kinds of threats and dangers in our life, if there is comfort by the Holy Spirit, we can live; we can enjoy a time of peace.
Even though we have many problems and in trouble, if we have someone like Barnabas, a comforter, we can live. Actually, Saul could continue his work because of Barnabas. Through him, God comforted Saul. Even if you go through a path of suffering, God will be with you. God may use the troubles and difficulties in our life to achieve His plan for our life. I hope that everything will work together to make good in God. This was also Joseph’s confession! This should be yours!
Expect God! Expect Lord’s comfort!
In all things God works for the good of those who love him!
God has a plan for each of us. His plan is for us to be holy and resemble Christ Jesus. Please meditate on the image of the apostle Paul. Could you see the Lord’s image from him? I hope that this will be true for us! Some people may see the image of the Lord from us!
God will guide us, protect us, and comfort us. Amen!