AGCC Sun. a.m. 11/4/2001
#6 (The MUST Series)


TEXT:  Acts 9:1-31; I Pet. 4:19


So often, both believers and unbelievers have a poor concept of how to deal with suffering. Unbelievers see almost no value to suffering, without an eternal perspective suffering has little meaning or positive value. However, sometimes Christians do little better with suffering, for they can become bitter against God when they go through suffering. Tragically, this is one area where Christians should really shine … this is one area where our faith and eternal perspective can show the world a huge difference. The Bible is quite clear about suffering … it will happen to EVERYONE! Jesus said it best: Mat 5:45 "that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." There is suffering and good in a fallen world for all! Suffering can do two things, make you stronger or weaker. The product is determined by the process … from the choices we make along the path. It can be a guide to growth or a stumbling stone to bitterness. Satan CAUSES suffering to destroy, God ALLOWS suffering to build up and mature us. We must guard ourselves against an unrealistic faith … some teach that believers should always prosper, be healthy, wealthy, and wise … and never suffer … this is a formula for fools, not the faithful! ILLUS:Sometimes the Lord calms the storm; sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms the believer. -- Croft M. Pentz, The Complete Book of Zingers (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990). PROP. SENT:      The presence of suffering in our lives is not designed to destroy us, it is allowed to develop us into mature saints. The end result is determined by the plan we follow when such suffering comes into our lives.


A. Callous     9:1-2 1. Early Christians had it tough … Saul of Tarsus took in upon himself to round up as many of them as he could to have them killed and imprisoned … men and women! a. Not only did Saul feel compelled to get rid of all Christians in the Jerusalem area, he secured permission to round up all Christians from Damascus and have them killed or imprisoned too. b. Such fanaticism to round up "evil doers" may have been stirred by a fear that they were right, so endangering his own theological position. 2. He was driven to do what he thought was God's work … but it was really the devil's work! a. The same still happens, these recent terrorist's attacks are supposedly in the name of God (Allah) to rid the world of evil western ideals, but in reality it is a sect that promotes murder in the name of God. b. History is also full of those who claimed to be Christians and attacked and killed others in the name of our God! c. God does not ask us to murder others, but to bring them eternal life. d. Killing is only used to stop evil, when justice is called for, not revenge. 3. Paul was callous toward anyone that did not believe the way he did. 4. Suffering however had not made the Christians turn against their faith, in fact, it strengthened it … they had learned to use suffering to make themselves stronger rather than weaker. ILLUS:Beverly Sills, operatic great, tells of her two severely handicapped children in her pictorial autobiography, Bubbles. Her own natural daughter is deaf and her stepdaughter is also severely handicapped. She writes: I was now only thirty-four, but a very mature thirty-four. In a strange way my children had brought me an inner peace. The first question I had when I learned of their tragedies was a self-pitying "Why me?" Then gradually it changed to a much more important "Why them?" Despite their handicaps they were showing enormous strength in continuing to live as normal and constructive lives as possible. How could Peter and I show any less strength? After all that had happened, I felt we could survive anything. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 12. 5. The end product of suffering is determined by the choices we make in dealing with it. B. Challenged!     9:3-6 1. Saul is confronted by Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus. a. It is interesting to note that Jesus states that Saul's activities to cause suffering to believers was seen by Christ to be against Christ Himself! b. Obviously Christ is concerned when we suffer, so much so that He sees it as against Himself when we are attacked! c. God is not indifferent to our suffering, He identifies with us in it! 2. Christ is about to turn around a man who was one of the biggest enemies of the Church! a. Nothing is impossible with God! b. We must be careful not to write anyone off the list of possibilities. c. Christ challenges Saul's life, and will invite him into the life of suffering he has inflicted on so many other believers! ILLUS:A modern-day Paul is Chuck Colson. I had the opportunity to travel and speak on behalf of Prison Fellowship. I learned that Colson had the experience of not being accepted into the Christian community. Can you believe that? This is the man who wrote Loving God and The Body. Colson had been Richard Nixon's close assistant during his presidential campaign and his years in office. Colson was so ruthless in his dealings with people, he was frequently referred to as Nixon's "hatchet man"--the one who handled the president's dirty work. One person described Colson by saying he'd walk over his own grandmother. It's not surprising when Chuck Colson became a Christian and confessed his wrongdoings that many people doubted his sincerity. After he served his jail term and began his ministry, many Christians were skeptical. If it were not for those who knew the reality of Colson's Christian experience and were willing to play a Barnabas role, Colson would have had a difficult time convincing people he was indeed a different man--a converted man. Thousands of people might never have been blessed by Prison Fellowship. We might not have Colson's two books. We might not have had half the New Testament if Barnabas hadn't been there for Paul. -- Rod Cooper, "The Kiss of Encouragement," Preaching Today, Tape No. 141. 3. Saul was not only challenged to give up his persecution of Christ and His followers, he is invited to join them in suffering … a. Hardly an invitation that most would welcome. b. Saul's willingness to join suggests that he had great respect for those he had arrested, their faith and confidence in God in the face of suffering now gives Saul courage to face it also. II. Saul The Pupil     9:7-19 A. Conviction     9:7-9 1. Saul's blindness and suffering helped him realize his need for God. a. Suffering can be used this way. b. Saul experienced 3 days of darkness … a death like experience for him, like Jesus being in the dark tomb for 3 days. c. This was Saul's death to self, and resurrection to new life experience. 2. Saul's affliction took his attention off of others and put it squarely on his need … in this way suffering can be good for us. a. This was a wake up call for Saul, as so many times suffering can be! b. We really need to learn to not just ask God to remove suffering from our life, but to help us learn from it! ILLUS:In America, Christians pray for the burden of suffering to be lifted from their backs. In the rest of the world Christians pray for stronger backs so they can bear their suffering. It's why we look away from the bag lady on the street and to the displays in store windows. Why we prefer going to the movies instead of to hospitals and nursing homes. -- Dave Dravecky in When You Can't Come Back. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 10. 3. This truly was the lesson Job learned also. a. Job learned that suffering doesn't always have to have answers, but it can provide insights and growth in our faith. b. Saul was now learning that he can be stopped … and thus he needs to submit his life to the same Christ that he had persecuted by hurting Christians. 4. Suffering can be a good school house for learning! B. Comprehension     9:10-19 1. God completes the training for Saul … and helps Saul comprehend the purpose for his suffering. a. God calls a believer named Ananias to come pray for Saul's healing. b. Ananias is NOT anxious to comply, he knows Saul's reputation and tricks. To Ananias' credit, he obeys the Lord in spite of his misgivings. c. Ananias is willing to expose himself to possible suffering to aid a suffering man like Saul, what a lesson in responding to other's suffering. 2. At the same time God is speaking to Saul about Ananias coming to pray for him. a. Ever wonder what Saul thought about this? (1. "Lord, when he finds out it is me, why would he want to come, I used to kill men like him!" (2. "If I have to depend on a believer coming to help me it might never happen, they all are afraid of me." (3. "Looks like I will stay blind … what Christian is going to come and pray for me after all I've done to destroy so many of them." b. This too would be an important teaching moment for Saul the Pupil … he would see Christian love in action by Ananias' willingness to come and pray for his healing. 3. Saul was learning the power of Christian love and faith in men like Ananias. a. So often suffering helps us to see the power of faith, faith doesn't work in a vacuum, it works well when it is challenged! b. It is the storms of life that make us realize the power of God's Spirit in our lives. ILLUS:To realize the worth of the anchor we need to feel the storm. -- Croft M. Pentz, The Complete Book of Zingers (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990). 4. Notice when Ananias arrives how he addresses Saul in 9:17, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here -- has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." a. What a powerful statement by Ananias … he took God at His Word about Saul and addressed him as "BROTHER SAUL!" -- the former terrorist to Christians! b. How many of us today would have done this … say with someone like Osama Bin Ladin who claimed to be converted? c. This was not tokenism at work, but real courage, love, and faith! 5. No doubt this taught Saul the Pupil some powerful things about forgiveness and God's love at work in an obedient servant like Ananias. It is easy to understand how Saul was willing to learn from him. a. God heals Saul. b. God fills Saul with His Holy Spirit. c. God makes a preacher out of him. d. There is hope for anyone! III. Saul The Persecuted!     9:20-31; I Pet. 4:19 A. Commitment     9:20-22 1. Saul's commitment now is to Christ and His Church … with the same passion he had been opposed to Christ he now is for Christ, and with a greater passion! a. He sets out to prove his conversion is real, that he is a changed man. b. No doubt there were reluctant Christians accepting this sudden change, clearly stated in 9:26 "When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple." 2. Saul would now join in suffering with his fellow believers as proof of his change. a. Saul never complains about his brethren's reluctance to accept him, nor does he become bitter or lashes out … he is understanding and faithful to the Lord and His Church … he gave it time to prove it! b. So often when we suffer we become bitter against God or those who don't understand how we feel … we need to stay focused however on the Lord and not others. c. It may take time before others come around, we must be willing to allow for this. 3. Christ does understand suffering and being mistreated … so we are not alone when we feel this way too. ILLUS:"God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering." -- Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 10843. 4. Saul grew more and more powerful in preaching the Gospel and showing his commitment to Christ and His Church. His commitment was unwavering, in spite of doubts by others and his new suffering from old friends. B. Conflict!     9:23-30 1. IF Saul had become angry over the hesitation of believers to accept the genuineness of his conversion, and over the suffering he would now experience he would never have become the great Apostle he did. a. Suffering really can make us BITTER or BETTER … depends on how we respond. b. This reluctance was not short lived, it went on for years! c. Saul spends almost 14 years in preparing, Luke skips over these many years from Saul's conversion to some of his next actions in Acts. This time was spent preparing and proving himself. d. Paul (as he later is called) mentions this 14 year span of preparation and proving himself in Gal. 1:15-2:1. (1. How many of us would have been faithful that long as proof? (2. Nothing would divert Paul from God's mission, NOTHING! (3. There was no time for self pity, remorse over a past he couldn't change, or the reluctance of believers to accept his change … he stayed focused on Christ instead of conflicts, and on the future and not the past! 2. Saul knew the poison of suffering … and the joy of knowing Christ now! ILLUS:The man who has not tasted the bitter does not know what the sweet is. -- Jewish Proverb - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 10903. 3. Suffering and conflict can actually help us appreciate God in a way we could not otherwise know. 4. When we understand suffering and our responsibility during it we will discover the power that God can bring into our life, power that is not natural, but supernatural! a. Saul now joined the ranks of his brothers and sisters in Christ … as he preached the very same Gospel he once hated he was now sought out to be killed … as he had once done. b. This is not God's punishment on Saul, just a reality of life … suffering is part of living for Christ in a world that is hostile to the Lord and His message of salvation. c. Saul avoids fear and trusts God … the same thing we can do. C. Contentment     9:31; I Pet. 4:19 1. Ironically, Saul and the Church discover genuine peace in the midst of suffering! a. Notice that the Church lived in the "fear of the Lord" and not the "fear of suffering." b. Too many times we fear suffering, but we can remain strong if we don't let fear become misguided. 2. We always need to keep in mind the benefits of suffering … when understood correctly, it makes us strong, not weaker! ILLUS:For two years, scientists sequestered themselves in an artificial environment called Biosphere 2. Inside their self-sustaining community, the Biospherians created a number of mini-environments, including a desert, rain forest, even an ocean. Nearly every weather condition could be simulated except one, wind. Over time, the effects of their windless environment became apparent. A number of acacia trees bent over and even snapped. Without the stress of wind to strengthen the wood, the trunks grew weak and could not hold up their own weight. Though our culture shuns hardship, we would do well to remember that God uses it "for our good, that we may share in his holiness" (Heb. 12:10). -- Jay Akkerman in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership. 3. Peter also tells us how to respond to suffering as Christians … and he gives some great advice for responding to it: I Pet. 4:19 "So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good." a. Make sure you continue to see God as the "faithful Creator" and not become embittered. b. "…continue to do good." -- avoid pulling away from others, avoid shutting down, avoid the temptation to wallow in self pity … reach out! 4. Turn suffering from a negative to a positive … this much is in our control when suffering comes! 5. There will come a time when you can thank God for the lessons and strength you received from a suffering experience … even when you can't see it now! CONCLUSION:    Being a Christian does not guarantee us a life free from pain -- believers and unbelievers alike experience suffering, but believers have an entirely different framework with suffering than unbelievers. God allows suffering but brings good from it for those who trust in Him. Suffering can make us strong when we continue to trust Him and do good in His name.