A Year with Jesus: 'Risk-taking & Faith-filled'

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Note from Jesus

Dear Beloved,

What is the greatest obstacle that you face?

What seemingly insurmountable forces are at work against you?

Keep these two questions in mind as you read the verses below about Saul, the persecutor who became My great proclaimer of the gospel especially to Gentiles.

My disciples were growing in number and impacting areas outside of Jerusalem and Judea. They shared My message everywhere they went. Persecution was mounted against them with the martyrdom of Stephen and drove them out of the original areas of proclamation. In the process, Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles were becoming My disciples. In response to this growth, the Jewish powers aligned against My people sent Saul of Tarsus into neighboring lands to arrest Jews who believed in Me. This same Saul was the one who oversaw the execution of Stephen (Acts 7:59-60; Acts 8:1-3). He was sent to bring My disciples in Damascus back to Jerusalem in chains to face imprisonment, persecution, and possible death (Acts 9:1-2).

The people of Damascus knew he was coming. They knew what he had done. They knew what he was supposed to do in their city. If you were a believer in Damascus, what would you have done?

You would have prayed for deliverance!

And what would you have expected from your prayers?

You might have expected deliverance, but probably not in the form in which deliverance came! When faced with a great obstacle, most believers would never expect that obstacle to become their leading advocate and ally in sharing My good news. When faced with a seemingly insurmountable force, most would not expect that antagonistic force to become the great force for reaching the nations with My grace. However, I answered their prayers about Saul, their persecutor, by making him My spokesman to the Gentiles. Saul met Me on the road to Damascus. He became a believer. Later, he became the great apostle to the Gentiles you also know as Paul!

We — Father, Son, and Spirit — are the sovereign God! Our ways are not your ways. Our thoughts are not your thoughts. Our plans are not your plans. But even in Our sovereignty, We do not force men or women to do what We want them to do. They must choose to do it. Saul had to choose to believe. He chose to risk everything to follow Me. He chose to entrust himself to the very people he came to persecute. Ananias of Damascus, with some extra reassurance, chose to participate in My plan by reaching out to Saul. He knew the reports of all that Saul had done and was planning to do in Damascus. Ananias had to risk his safety, his freedom, and his very life to obey Me. Both Saul and Ananias responded to My call with obedience. Not only were their own lives very different from that day forward, but My people in Damascus, Syria, Phoenicia, Samaria, and Galilee were spared the rampaging persecution of Saul.

Saul paid a high cost. While he was accepted by believers in Damascus, Jewish opposition soon mounted to his presence in the city. To escape from those who wanted to take his life, he was lowered in a basket through an opening the city wall. Saul returned to Jerusalem, where the church received him reluctantly. He was finally accepted because of the influence of Barnabas. However, Jewish opposition to Saul mounted in Jerusalem, and the church did not have peace until he left and went home to Tarsus. He had lived for an extended time in Arabia and Tarsus before he re-entered the life of My church as an apostle (Galatians 1:13-24; Galatians 2:1-2).

Saul went from being a legendary persecutor of My disciples in Jerusalem, which gave him favored status among the Jewish religious leaders, to being an exile as far as the leaders were concerned. He gave up his favor, status, and influence with the Jewish religious establishment to become a Christian convert living largely away from the church in Jerusalem. All of this high cost was My preparation for him to become the most influential missionary the world has ever known.

I used Ananias to remove both the physical and spiritual scales from Saul's eyes. Ananias was privileged to hear Saul confess Me as Lord and Christ and then baptize him. But if Saul had not given his life to Me, Ananias could have lost his life trying to do what I asked him to do. He demonstrated great faith in the face of great risk!

So here are some points I want you to consider while you read this powerful story of risk, change, salvation, and mission.

First, I can turn things around in ways you would never expect; so pray! Pray in faith. Pray with confidence expecting Me to act.

Second, great movements led by the Holy Spirit often begin with a few people risking in faith to do what I have asked them to do. You never know how much hangs in the balance when I ask you to obey Me. Please know that what you do with what I ask of you matters immensely!

Third, you live in a time where many offer an easy form of Christianity. This easy, watered-down pseudo-faith doesn't require action, demonstrable change, or taking risks. It is not real faith. That is why so many languish in lukewarm Christianity. I am calling you, along with them, to risk-taking and action-oriented discipleship. As you read this amazing story of Saul and Ananias, please let the Holy Spirit stir your heart to follow Me with passion and with a willingness to take risks in faith.

Verses to Live

So much hangs in the balance with the decisions of two people in the account below. Will Saul do a complete U-turn and believe in Me and live for Me and claim as family those he had gone to persecute? Will Ananias risk his freedom and his life to save the man who had come to put him in chains and haul him to Jerusalem to face persecution? Read this story with fresh eyes and an open heart. Follow these two men into risk-taking, faith-filled, and vibrant discipleship!
... Saul — this fuming, raging, hateful man who wanted to kill every last one of the Lord's disciples: he went to the high priest in Jerusalem for authorization to purge all the synagogues in Damascus of followers of the way of Jesus. His plan was to arrest and chain any of Jesus' followers — women as well as men — and transport them back to Jerusalem. He traveled north toward Damascus with a group of companions.

Imagine this: Suddenly a light flashes from the sky around Saul, and he falls to the ground at the sound of a voice.

The Lord:
Saul, Saul, why are you attacking Me?
Saul:
Lord, Who are You?
Then he hears these words:

The Lord:
I am Jesus. I am the One you are attacking. Get up. Enter the city. You will learn there what you are to do.
His other traveling companions just stand there, paralyzed, speechless because they, too, heard the voice; but there is nobody in sight. Saul rises to his feet, his eyes wide open, but he can't see a thing. So his companions lead their blind friend by the hand and take him into Damascus. He waits for three days — completely blind — and does not eat a bite or drink a drop of anything.

Meanwhile, in Damascus a disciple named Ananias had a vision in which the Lord Jesus spoke to him.

The Lord:
Ananias.
Ananias:
Here I am, Lord.
The Lord:
Get up and go to Straight Boulevard. Go to the house of Judas, and inquire about a man from Tarsus, Saul by name. He is praying to Me at this very instant. He has had a vision — a vision of a man by your name who will come, lay hands on him, and heal his eyesight.
Ananias:
Lord, I know whom You're talking about. I've heard rumors about this fellow. He's an evil man and has caused great harm for Your special people in Jerusalem. I've heard that he has been authorized by the religious authorities to come here and chain everyone who associates with Your name.
The Lord:
Yes, but you must go! I have chosen him to be My instrument to bring My name far and wide — to outsiders, to kings, and to the people of Israel as well. I have much to show him, including how much he must suffer for My name.
So Ananias went and entered the house where Saul was staying. He laid his hands on Saul and called to him.

Ananias:
Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, Who appeared to you on your way here, sent me so you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
At that instant, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see. So he got up, received the ceremonial washing of baptism identifying him as a disciple, ate some food (remember, he had not eaten for three days), and regained his strength. He spent a lot of time with the disciples in Damascus over the next several days. Then he went into the very synagogues he had intended to purge, proclaiming,

Saul:
Jesus is God's Son!
Obviously this amazed everybody, and the buzz spread.

The People:
Isn't he the man who caused so much trouble in Jerusalem for everyone identified with Jesus? Didn't he come here to arrest followers of Jesus and bring them in chains to the religious authorities? Now he's switched sides and is preaching Jesus?
As time passed, Saul's confidence grew stronger and stronger, so much so that he debated with the Jews of Damascus and made an irrefutable case that Jesus is, in fact, God's Anointed, the Liberating King.

They didn't like being confounded like this; so after several days, the Jews plotted to assassinate Saul. But he learned of the plot. He knew they were keeping the city gates under constant surveillance, so they could follow and kill him when he left. To save Saul, the disciples came up with a plan of their own. During the night, they put Saul in a basket and lowered him by ropes from an opening in the wall of the city rather than passing through the gates. Their plan worked, and he returned to Jerusalem.

He tried to join the disciples there, but they didn't think he was sincere.

Only one person accepted Saul as a genuine disciple, Barnabas, who became Saul's advocate to the apostles. He told the whole story of what happened in Damascus, from Saul's vision and message from the Lord to his transformation into a confident proclaimer of the name of Jesus. Finally they accepted Saul and gave him access to their community, and he continued to speak confidently in the name of the Lord. He dialogued — and argued — with a group of Greek-speaking Jews. That didn't go well either, because soon they were plotting to kill him also. His fellow believers helped him escape by bringing him to Caesarea and sending him to his hometown, Tarsus.

And so the church enjoyed a period of peace and growth throughout the regions of Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. The disciples lived in deep reverence for the Lord, they experienced the strong comfort of the Holy Spirit, and their numbers increased.
(Acts 9:1-31)

Response in Prayer

O Father, forgive me for my times of lukewarm faith. Empower me with your Holy Spirit to live with passion and in risk-taking, faith-filled discipleship. I want to follow Jesus, willing to obey and honor You no matter the cost. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

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About This Devotional

A Year with Jesus is a daily devotional written to help us all reclaim Jesus as the daily Lord of our lives.

'A Year with Jesus' is written by Phil Ware.

All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Voice™. © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.