Acts, Devotional

Saul baffled the Jews in Damascus who expected him to defend Judaism against the new movement, but now he is preaching that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 20) and that Jesus is the Christ (v. 22). Luke tells of their reaction; they are astonished (v. 21) and baffled (v. 22). Meanwhile, Saul grows more and more powerful. He cannot be beaten in argument, and so the Jews plan to kill him (v. 23). Here is another example of unreasonable and unreasoning blind belligerence.

The reluctance of the brethren in Jerusalem to accept Saul is only broken by the encouraging intervention of Barnabas (v. 27). Saul’s activities are described as bold speech (v. 28), and talk and debate (v. 29), but again the last resort is not to recognize his argument but to seek to kill him (v. 29). For his own safety he is sent to his hometown of Tarsus.

The following verse (v. 31) is a summary of the life of the church at this time. It is probably about AD. 35. The church now has a time of peace. It is free of external threat, strengthened and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, growing numerically and living in reverence for God. With Saul’s conversion, the persecutions which followed the death of Stephen come to an end.

Luke’s description of Saul’s conversion is now complete. He was indeed God’s chosen instrument to bring about the spread of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. F.F. Bruce says Paul’s contribution to the Gentile mission was “unique and far reaching.” He summarizes his emphases:

true religion is not a matter of rules but an expression of the indwelling Spirit in love;
in Christ, people constitute the new humanity;
people matter more than things, principles more than causes;
discrimination on the basis of race, religion, class or sex is an offence against God and humanity alike.
“If these lessons are important, it is well to give grateful credit to one man who taught them.”*


Note the experience of the church in Acts 9:31 compared with 6:7. Why will the church described in 9:31 always be blessed with growth? Saul’s opposition to Christ is apparent from chapters 7–9. How is his union with Christ now shown in 9:20–30? How is your union with Christ evident?

*F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1992).

Devotional Sermons

March 3
The Restfulness of Christ
Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm — Mat_8:26
People Who Provide an Atmosphere of Restfulness
There are some people we meet who impress us with a sense of restfulness. Such people, not infrequently, are men; more often, if I mistake not, they are women. They are not necessarily brilliant, nor have they any striking or unusual gifts: all we feel is that in their company there is a pleasant atmosphere of restfulness. We are all tempted to strain after effect sometimes, but in the presence of these people we do not think of that. There is no effort to keep up conversation. We are not ashamed even of being silent. Like a breath of evening after the garish day, when coolness and quiet have followed on the sunshine, such natures, often we know not how, enwrap us with a sweet sense of rest.
And you will find, as your survey of life broadens, that people who are weak never create that atmosphere. There may be many vices in the strong, but there is always something unrestful in the weakling. We talk of the restfulness of the calm summer evening, and unhappy is the man who never feels it. But we know now how at the back of that there is the stress of conflict and the strain of battle. And so in the people who are full of restfulness, could we but read the story of their lives, we should find the record of many a hard battle, and the tale of many a well-contested field. I do not mean that they have done great deeds. I do not mean that they have suffered terribly. The greatest victories are not spectacular, nor is there any crowd to cheer the combatant. I only mean that people who are restful are people who have looked facts in the face; who have toiled, when there was not much light to toil by, and carried their crosses in a smiling way. There is never any rest in weakness. To be weak is miserable, doing or suffering, says Milton. The condition of all restfulness is power of the open-eyed and quiet, heroic kind. And probably that is why people who are restful are at the same time delightfully subduing; for there is nothing that so subdues a man as power, save the apotheosis of power, which is love.
The Restfulness of Jesus
Now no man can reasonably doubt that Jesus was pre-eminently restful. Whenever I peruse the Gospel story, I am impressed by the restfulness of Christ. One of the first invitations which He gave was this: “Come unto me…and I will give you rest.” One of the last promises before the cross was this: “My peace I give unto you.” And though there are depths in the peace of Jesus Christ that reach to the deepest abysses of the soul, yet the words would have been little else than mockery had the Christ not been wonderfully restful. Take a word like that of the Apostle Paul: “The Lord of peace himself give you peace always.” Down to the depths of the sin-pardoned soul you are still in the province of the benediction. But there never could have been that benediction unless the Lord, whom the church loved and worshipped, had impressed everyone who ever met Him with the feeling of an infinitude of rest.
Craving for Restfulness
And I cannot help thinking that if men realized that, it would constitute a new appeal for Christ. If I know anything about this present day, there is a craving in its heart for restfulness. Mr. Moody used to tell a story of a little child who was tossing and fretting in some childish fever. And its mother sang to it and told it stories, and the little child tossed and was fretful still. And then the mother stooped down without a word and gathered her little daughter in her arms, whereon the child, in an infinite content, said, “Ah, mother, that’s what I wanted.” She did not know what she wanted, like many wiser people; but like most of us she knew it when she got it. And so today there are a thousand voices singing to us, and some perhaps telling stories. But it seems to me that the times are a little fevered, that the pulse is not beating steadily like our fathers’, and that what we need in modern society is just the shadow and the space of rest. The strenuous life is being overdone. It is a little too strenuous to be strong. It is issuing, not in the dignity of manhood, but in the hustle of the modern market. And wise men everywhere are coming to see that we need a new ideal not less intense, but one that has ampler room within its borders for the fructifying pleasantness of rest.
Rest for Those Whose Burden Is Religion
It is just here that, out of the mist of ages, there steps the figure of the Man of Nazareth. “Come unto me…and I will give you rest”—it is the message of Jesus for today. I want you to remember that these words were spoken to men and women whose burden was religion. It was the spirit of the age, charged with religion. It was the spirit of the age, charged with tradition, from which our Savior offered them relief. And once again the spirit of the age demands an ideal that shall have room for rest, and standing among us is the restful Christ. But the continual wonder about Christ is this, that in every part and power of His being He was intensely and unceasingly alive with a vitality which puts us all to shame. Let a woman touch Him in the throng—”Who touched me?” Let Him see a crowd, and He is “moved with compassion.” Let Him be baited by the subtlest doctors, and He fences and parries with superb resource. In body and spirit, in will, emotion, intellect, Christ was so flooded with the tides of life, that when He cried to men, “I am the Life,” they felt in a moment that the word was true. Yet, “Come unto me…and I will give you rest.” That is the abiding mystery of Christliness. That is the secret we are hungering for today, how to engraft the strenuous on the restful. And you may laboriously search the ages, and all the ideals and visions of the ages, and never find these so perfectly combined as in the historic personality of Jesus. The East says, “Come let us rest awhile; no need to hurry, and the sun is warm.” And the West says, “Let us be up and doing,” till we have almost lost the forest for the trees. And then comes Jesus, most superbly active, and toiling with an inspired assiduity, and yet in the very thick and tangle of it, girt with a restfulness that is divine.
Christ’s Restfulness Was the Restfulness of Balance
Now when we study the life of Jesus Christ, we light on one or two sources of this restfulness. And in the first place it was the restfulness of balance. You remember how John in the Book of Revelation has a vision of the heavenly Jerusalem; and you remember how, as he surveys its form, he sees that the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. It was symmetrical in every measurement—perfectly balanced in every dimension, and I challenge any man to read the Gospel and not remark that equipoise in Christ. We talked of Bismarck as the man of iron, but we never talk of the iron will of Christ. We speak of the myriad-mindedness of Shakespeare, but we do not speak in that fashion about Jesus. And it is not reverence that keeps us silent, nor is it any awe at present deity; it is rather that everything is in such perfect poise there, that the total impression is repose. It is the same in the highest works of art. In the noblest art there is always a great restfulness. Passion is there, and energy, and power, as there are passion and power in the sunrise. But the mark of genius is the mark of God, that it brings the warring forces into balance, and holds its energies in such a poise that the impression of the whole is rest. It is not the enthusiast who is most like Christ, no matter how fiery his ardor be. It is not the man whose feelings are the tenderest. It is not the man who has a will of steel. Ethically, that man is most tike Christ who has so lived with Him under the love of God that every part and power of his being has opened out like a flower to the sun. That, then, is one of the ethical sources of what I call the restfulness of Christ. Ill-balanced men always make us restless; ill-balanced women do so as well. But to me at least, reading the life of Jesus, there comes such a sense of powers in perfect balance, that I accept the invitation, “Come unto me…and I will give you rest” with all my heart.
Jesus’ Restfulness Is the Restfulness of Purpose
Again it is the restfulness of purpose—of steady and unalterable purpose. There is no rest in the little Highland stream as it brawls and chafes along its bed of granite. It “chatters, chatters as it goes,” and chattering things and people are not restful. But the mighty river, silent and imperial, guiding its wealth of water to the sea, is like a parable of mighty purpose, and in the bosom of that purpose there is rest. There is something river-like about the life of Christ—it is so resistless in its flow. Sorrows or joys could no more stop His course than the lights and shadows on the hills can stop the Clyde. And in this mighty purpose, so deep and so divine, there lies not a little of the secret of the unfailing restfulness of Christ. Why is it that young men are so restless? And why is there generally more repose as life advances? It is not merely that the fires are cooling; it is that life is settling into a steadier aim. No longer do we beat at doors that will not open—no longer does every bypath suggest dreams—we have found our work and we have strength to do it, and in that concentration there is rest. Now in the life of Jesus Christ there is always the beat of underlying purpose. No life was so free or so happily spontaneous. To call it cribbed, cabined, and confined would be mockery. Yet underneath its gladness and its reach, and all the splendor and riches of its liberty, there is a burning and dominating purpose, and in the bosom of that purpose is repose. It is a bad thing not to have a friend. It is a worse thing not to have a purpose. Something to love, to fight for, and to live for, in the heat of the battle keeps a man at rest. And Jesus had the world to love and fight for, and the world’s redemption to achieve on Calvary, and I say that that, in the midst of all the tumult, was the strain of music whose echo was repose.
Jesus’ Restfulness Is That of Trust
Then lastly it was the restfulness of trust. Christ had repose because He trusted so. Faithlessness, even in the relationships of earth, is the lean and hungry mother of unrest. Let a mistress once distrust her maid, and there will be worrying suspicion everyday. Let a husband distrust his wife, a wife her husband, and the peace of home, sweet home, is in ashes. We charge this with being a restless age, and we lay the blame of that restlessness on love of pleasure, but I question if it be not lack of faith that is the true root of social instability. To me the wildest little child is restful, and it is restful because it trusts me so. Faith is the great rebuke of boisterous winds when the ship is likely to be swamped in angry waters. And the perfect restfulness of Jesus Christ, in a life of unceasing movement and demand, sprung from a trust in God that never faltered even amid the bruising of the cross.


March 3
Arise! Shine!
“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.” (Isa_60:1)
It is the dawn a of a new day, filled with opportunities to tell others far and wide of God’s amazing Grace. And I wonder if there might be a word from the Lord to boost us on our way as we venture forth in faith.
What might the Lord have to say to us at this significant moment? What word might He speak to carry us both forward and upward with a faith unfailing, a hope undying, and a love unending?
What could He say that would lift us above the darkening days of winter, both natural and spiritual, and give us a warming vision that sees beyond our times, so that we may patiently prevail until the chill thaws and Spring is once again upon us?
I think I know.
And it’s not new; the words have been with us for sometime now, like a perpetual torch passed down through the ages to enlighten any darkened day, and bouy any flagging spirit.
“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.” (Isa_60:1)
This is a word filled with great powers – the power of light and glory; the power of faith and courage. This is a word that stirs us to higher things – “Arise!” It is a word that summons us to a nobler outlook – “Shine!”
This word infuses us with a faith to believe and take hold of what we may not be able to actually see or feel – “Your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you!”
And this is a word that dares us to a life of action born of a courageous faith. Notice the specific order of the words, “Arise. Shine.” The implication is that if we will do the first part, “Arise!” – then the Lord will see to it that the second part occurs, “Shine!”
And it’s there that faith and courage must respond. We might prefer it to say, “Shine, and then Arise.” You know, “Lord, if You will light me up, THEN I will take a stand and serve You.”
“No,” the Lord courteously replies, “You take a stand and serve Me, and THEN I will light you up!”
In other words, “Arise! Shine!”
This is what I believe the Lord is saying for this new day. This is what the Lord is saying to you….and to me. Over the next several days I will develop this theme with one thought in mind — helping you experience the presence of God; to hear His voice and find the power to do what He is telling your to do. “Arise! Shine!”