#4 (The “Great Escapes” Series)
“ESCAPE FROM OPPOSITION!”
TEXT: Acts 9:1-31
INTRO: No one likes opposition, not even Christians. It can be a very weary experience when we are being opposed because of our testimony of faith. What often happens to us when we face opposition is that we become weary and faint! Sometimes this leads to depression (another sermon in the near future!). This robs us of the spiritual vitality God intends us to have in Him!
When we are confronted with opposition we need to take a larger look at the ordeal than just the present suffering; the God we serve does not abandon us in opposition even though for a time it may seem that the opposition is winning! God often reveals His power through the opposition we face. Stay faithful and confident during the pressure and you will find the time of rejoicing will arrive! “… weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b)
ILLUS: A believer by the name of Frederick Nolan was fleeing from his enemies who were persecuting him in North Africa. Pursued by them over hill and valley with no place to hide he soon became exhausted and fell into a small cave ... discouraged over God's failure to deliver him from his oppressors! He laid there waiting for his enemies to come and kill him, desponded over the outcome of having lived for the Lord only to see his enemies win over him. As he lay inside the cave waiting to be taken and killed, he watched a spider at the entrance of the cave spin a web. Within the minutes that passed before the soldiers caught up to him, the spider had successfully spun a huge full and beautiful web over the entire entrance of the cave. Then he heard the soldiers outside, and he could hear them talking about checking the caves to see if he was hiding in one, including the one he was in ... but then he heard the leader of the soldiers say, “you may as well ignore looking in this cave ... if he had entered here this web would be broken!” So they left and he was delivered! God had sent a spider to rescue him from his oppressors! Nolan successfully escaped and burst out “Where God is, a spider's web is like a wall!, where God is NOT, a wall is like a spider's web!” – Source Unknown
PROP. SENT: God promises to be with us during opposition and He has many ways of helping us through or in opposition. He also makes ways of escape from the tyranny of the fear that comes in opposition. The escape routes are the knowledge that God is sovereign and does good through opposition, and the other is the fellowship and strength we receive from one another.
I. SAUL THE OPPRESSOR! 9:1-19
A. Threatened! 9:1-2
1. We must understand the times of
a. Israel was under the thumb of Rome
... barely holding on to some religious sovereignty at the time. Any turmoil in
b. Saul was devoted to Judaism, it had been the way of life for his people for centuries!
c. These new Christians threatened
their way of life, their faith, and the freedom from
d. Saul, like many Jews of his day felt very threatened by this "NEW WAY."
2. Whenever something is a threat to our way of life or faith we react in fear, usually oppressing the ones advocating change!
3. It was inevitable that faith in Christ would bring about opposition! Even Jesus said His coming would bring "not peace, but a sword."
4. Unlike some other off-shoots of the day, this new Christian faith claimed it was the "ONLY WAY" ... hence in the early days believers were called "THE WAY."
a. They could not be just another type of religion; they claimed to be the only way!
b. Thus they could not be allowed to continue to exist or they would not just be another choice but would overthrow the other choices!
c. This would raise the eye of
5. Quick action thus had to be taken to preserve their way of life since persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem had only scattered them into other parts of the country ... they would all have to be rounded up and destroyed! A “Final Solution!”
a. Normally the school of the Pharisees had taught that great caution was to be exercised in executing punishment on others for just any reason ... they were pretty fair under normal situations and slow to bring such great punishments.
b. But caution had been thrown to the wind out of fear ... and a crusade of killing was put into motion!
6. Saul was very logical in his approach at stamping out Christianity ... many of the persecuted Christians had fled to Damascus, a territory not so controlled by Rome, but one that had an important relationship with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem!
a. Damascus was at the hub of all the important trade routes of that day, whatever went through Damascus went throughout the then known world!
b. Saul's concerns were logical, if the Christians fled to Damascus they will share their faith with the tradesmen who travel the world and Christianity will spread everywhere; it was therefore necessary to go to Damascus and stop Christians … all of them, or it might never be stopped!
c. Saul received the authority to do
this even though
(2. Because within the city of Damascus at that time lived over 10,000 Jews according to Josephus, a historian of that time!
(3. This meant a large Jewish influence
in that city, thus many sympathizers with Saul and
7. Those who are threatened the most will do the most to oppose us!
was threatened by Christianity when it was a world power, it burned Christians
at the stakes, outlawed Christianity, threw them to the lions, sent them into
coliseums to face jeering crowds and gladiators that struck them dead as
entertainment! Yet, today
where is the Roman Empire? And
today in the heart of it's ancient capital city sits
B. Temporary! 9:3-19
1. Saul's campaign of opposition to Christians finds some success, it is discouraging for many Christians at first but it won't last. God has a timetable for allowing things but trials don't last forever!
ILLUS: Like storms they are passing, then the sun shines again, so we should understand those moments of opposition. God's allows them to come, but they have a closing. They are just passing rains or passing storms! – Source Unknown
2. God calls a halt to the church’s persecution in an interesting way!
a. For many of us we would pray that God would destroy such an evil man and deliver the innocent in this way -- like Saddam Hussein, how many of us pray for his death?
b. But God goes one step better than us ... instead of killing Saul for bringing such pain on His people God SAVES him instead!
c. This not only delivers the church from terrible pain, it produces a great testimony of deliverance that is used to reach the Gentile world for Jesus!
3. God destroys the opposition by SAVING it -- not the system we would have used!
4. Saul is struck down and shown the REAL JESUS ... and is told that he is persecuting not only God's people but by doing so he is persecuting God Himself!
a. An attack on God's people is an attack on God, and He takes it seriously!
b. This is why we are warned in the Bible about harming any of God's people, we will answer to the Lord for the way we treat His servants!
5. Saul is taken to
a. God however in grace sends a servant named Ananias to pray for him to restore his eyesight and instruct him further.
b. Ananias is wonderfully human as
well as saved; he expresses some concern about ministering to Saul of
c. But God clearly instructs him to follow through, ensuring Ananius that Saul and his persecution was a temporary event that is now over for the moment!
d. God had answered his children's cries for deliverance.
II. SAUL THE OPPRESSED! 9:20-31
A. Turn-Around! 9:20-22
1. Saul is the same determined man he was before but now his drive is for the right cause! He cannot keep silent and he begins preaching Jesus to the very Jews he had come to remove from Christianity!
2. This turn-around attracted a great deal of attention for Christianity! The people were baffled by Saul's turn-around!
ILLUS: In the early part of this century a similar event occurred with a man named Sundar Singh of Tibet. This Hindu man had great hostility toward Christianity. Praying one day to a Hindu god his room was suddenly lit and Jesus appeared to him and said in Hindustani "HOW LONG WILL YOU PERSECUTE ME? I HAVE COME TO SAVE; YOU WERE PRAYING TO KNOW THE RIGHT WAY, WHY DO YOU NOT TAKE IT?" Sundar fell to his face and accepted Christ. This turn-around evoked the rage of the chief Lama in their Tibetan community. By his order he was thrown into a dry well where others had been condemned to die, in fact their rotting corpses were still at the bottom of the well. He was thrown in alive to sit amongst the smell of death. The well was sealed and locked. On the 3rd night as he was crying out to God for deliverance he heard someone unlock the well and remove the capstone. A rope was lowered with a loop for his foot since his right arm had been injured in the fall. He was lifted out, and when he crawled out he turned to thank his rescuer but found no one! The fresh air revived him, and he noticed his right arm felt fine again! When morning came, he returned to the city where he had been arrested ... and resumed preaching! When the Lama found out he had Sundar Singh captured again and brought before him where his miraculous release was shared. The Lama refused to accept the miraculous story and declared that someone must have stolen the only key to the lid and let him out ... so search was made for the key but it was not found, the Lama had the only key and when he looked on his belt it was still there where it have been all the time! God still delivers us from opposition in His time, we need to trust Him when such trials hit! God is working His good purposes out in such times! – Source Unknown
3. Saul the oppressor not becomes Saul the oppressed!
B. Target! 9:23-30
1. Saul now becomes the target of his own devices, he is sought by the local people to be killed. Now the very people he sought to kill become the ones who are used by God to rescue him!
a. Now the second stage of how God enables us to escape opposition comes into play, God uses our fellow believers to help us in such circumstances!
b. Saul's life was really turned upside down, now he needs help to escape from opposition!
c. Saul becomes a “BASKET CASE!” As a “basket case” he relies on his brethren to help him escape.
2. At night Saul’s new friends help him escape by lowering him down outside the walls through a window of a home built into the wall, they use a large basket to do this.
a. Sometimes when we are facing terrible oppression we need to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ for help to escape!
b. God often uses His children to minister to His children!
c. This is an important reason to be a part of a local body of believers faithfully!
d. This is called "BASKET CASE" ministry!
3. It works! Saul finds escape and travels back to Jerusalem. HOWEVER, he returns a different man than when he left, and he rediscovers opposition all over again!
4. Back in
a. Saul is hard-pressed to find someone to believe him!
b. In a sense he faces opposition in both directions at first!
(1. The Jews reject him for turning on them!
(2. The Christians reject him for turning to them!
c. Fortunately, one Christian named Barnabus (NAME MEANS, "SON OF ENCOURAGEMENT!") comes to his rescue!
d. It sometimes only takes one to help deliver us from opposition!
5. Barnabus takes him to the leaders before going to the people and shares the story of his conversion; this protects the people and allows the leaders to make a judgment call.
a. They are convinced and the right hand of fellowship is extended!
b. Saul proves the genuineness of his salvation by preaching to others with a great passion!
c. Saul can't sit quiet, he spoke boldly about Jesus to everyone and sure enough he becomes a target again!
d. The Grecian Jews seek to have him
killed, they don't want the peaceful union with
6. Again, God uses the brotherhood of the saints to grant an escape from opposition:
a. They take Saul down to
b. Saul is absent for about 10 years from this point in the history of the church.
(1. These years are probably spent resting and studying.
(2. These years become important for Saul's growth and plans for missionary enterprises, they are not wasted years!
(3. Tarsus was a lumber and linen town, a place of refuge for people of different persuasions, he could be free of opposition here for some time.
7. Saul enjoys a long reprieve from opposition here, but what about the church that had experienced so much opposition? What had God done for the other Christians?
1. The whole church is said to have enjoyed a time of peace now that Saul the oppressor had been saved!
a. God worked to help everyone escape oppression at this time, now the believers get a break also!
b. God refreshes the church ... and this time allows them to grow and be strengthened before another round of opposition arises to challenge them!
2. The church grew, the saints were encouraged and strengthened. God gives them all an escape from opposition although this does not mean they never faced any again!
a. He is faithful to relieve us at times, but we won't be free of all opposition all the time!
b. The fellowship of the saints became an important necessity to surviving and being delivered from opposition!
c. The Gospel moved on into the entire world ... a testimony of AN ESCAPE FROM OPPOSITION!
CONCLUSION: How do you handle opposition as a Christian? The first way is to realize God's sovereign power over all things. Like storms, most opposition is like a passing rain, it comes, and then goes. The second way is the fellowship and friendships of God's people! God uses them to help us through trials. It is possible to escape the tyranny that oppression can have on us.