Easter People on Mission: Week 3
Acts of the Apostles Scripture Challenge
Chapter 9 reveals the dramatic conversion of Saul from a fierce persecutor to a zealous witness. On his way to Damascus, Saul is blinded by a vision of the risen Christ, who instructs him to go to a disciple named Ananias who would minister to him and pray over him to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Through the ministry of Ananias, Saul regains his sight and immediately begins his new mission proclaiming Christ. The complete turnaround of Saul’s life sets the stage for his leading role in his missionary work. After spending a long time preaching in Damascus, Saul travels to Jerusalem to gain acceptance by the apostles through the mediation of Barnabas.
Next, the focus shifts to the peace and growth of the Church and Peter’s visitation of Christian churches in the region of Judea. The miracles performed through Peter’s hands have an extraordinary evangelizing impact. The text clearly indicates what the apostles do and say is a continuation of the ministry of Jesus, as the stories parallel Jesus’ own miracles. The apostles exercise great faith and confidence in Jesus’ power and their own authority to speak and act in his name.
The baptism of Cornelius and his household opens a new chapter in the history of Christianity. For the first time, Gentiles accept the Gospel and become full members of the Church. The narrative stresses that God initiates, orchestrates, and approves this new missionary step: he instructs Cornelius, he directs Peter, and he pours out the Spirit as a tangible sign of acceptance. In a vision, Peter is instructed to eat foods forbidden by the Jewish Law, but through this experience, he comes to realize that the religious distinction between Israel (clean) and Gentiles (unclean) is lifted under the New Covenant. Through Peter’s preaching, Cornelius and those in his household have a Pentecost experience, speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Now, Gentiles enjoy equal footing with the Jews before God.
The Jewish Christians of Jerusalem are scandalized to learn of Peter’s involvement in the baptism of Cornelius’ household, but nevertheless accept the divine directions given to both Peter and Cornelius. The text mentions three centers of Christian presence outside of the land of Israel – Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. The Church experiences more growth. Barnabas and Saul are sent to Antioch to teach and preach for a year. The term “Christians” is first applied to the members of this community.
The Church is hit with a second wave of persecution at the hand of Herod Agrippa I (AD 41 – 44), grandson of Herod the Great. James, one of the Twelve, is killed, and Peter is imprisoned a third time and again rescued by an angel. The chapter closes with an account of Herod’s death through divine punishment for his evil life.
What are some things we can learn from these passages?
Sometimes, God uses the most unlikely people to accomplish his purpose. Jesus chooses twelve uneducated, ordinary fishermen as apostles, then he chooses Saul, a highly trained and distinguished Pharisee who vehemently opposes the faith. We can never underestimate what God can do to convert people’s hearts, and we may never anticipate who God might call as his chosen instrument to accomplish a particular mission.
In addition, the early Christians were subject to the political and social pressures in the public exercise of their faith. The same is true for us today. However, when God wills, he can rescue us from the most impossible predicaments, just as he rescued Peter from prison. No matter how bleak our circumstances, God is infinitely more powerful than any human adversary.
Conversion is at the heart of evangelization. This week pray deeply for the conversion of someone you know who is indifferent to Christ or antagonistic to the faith. Pray for him or her to encounter Christ powerfully to know his love and take their first steps in a life of discipleship. Pray that the Lord gives you to the opportunity to minister to him/her, as Ananias did to Saul.