20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?"
22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him,
24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him.
25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
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.
Imagine the service in Jerusalem that day. Thousands came together, meeting outside. There were always visitors at the church in Jerusalem. We know this from Acts 5. Lots of people would come out of curiosity, with no real intention of becoming Christians. They would often walk around and ask one another, "Are you a disciple?". One day, after the fellowship break, somebody screamed out, "Hey! It's Saul!". Mothers grabbed their kids, people fell over one another running for the exits. Saul shouted, "Hey! It's all right! I'm a disciple!" How could they really know? Saul had to prove to them that he was a disciple. How could they know for sure?
"I have quiet times. I go to midweek in Damascus. I took notes while Barnabas taught . . ." These guys asking if he was a disciple had scars on their backs. They remembered Stephen's death. Taking notes, going to church wasn't enough. "You can't just walk into your church and say you're a disciple. There's got to be proof". What if someone confronted you in the fellowship. "Are you really a disciple?" What would you say? Some people don't say this, but they think it all the time. Our kids watch us, and they wonder. "Is my father really a disciple?" "He never studies the Bible with anybody". "In the Church they talked about family devotionals. What's that?" "He never has quiet times". Our kids are thinking it. "Wait a minute! My dad, my mom . . . are they really disciples?" "May be a member of this church for six years!" Church membership doesn't matter.
27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him.
30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Barnabas came forward, and confirmed that Saul was really a disciple. He had met Jesus, and he confirmed his faith by his boldness in preaching the word. "He was fearless! He talked and argued with them . . . he baffled them! We had to sneak him out". What did Peter and the apostles have to say? "I guess he really is a disciple. Look at his life". The question needs to be posed to everyone . . ."Are you really a disciple?". Not, "Do you go to midweek service? Did you pay your contribution?"
The real question is this: "Have you put your life on the line? Are you really a disciple?" God has and always will expect you to give up everything to follow him. The call has been the same throughout history--to lay our lives on the line. God doesn't care when your stock options mature. He doesn't care if you can afford a house. He doesn't care if it's more comfortable in the suburbs than in the city. He does care if you'll give up that job, move to another place, do anything to help the kingdom grow.
In Genesis 22, God called Abraham to kill his son. "You need to give up everything". He tested Abraham's heart.
In Exodus 3, he gave the same challenge to Moses. "You need to go back to Egypt, where they want to kill you, and lead my people out". To David, he challenged him to be hunted like a dog by the king, to put his life on the line.
"Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.
In Jeremiah, God knew he was young, but he had to put it all on the line as well. Daniel got down on his knees to pray that day, and knew they were coming to kill him. He had to put it all on the line.
In Ezekiel 24, Ezekiel even had to give up his own wife.
15 The word of the LORD came to me:
16 "Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears.
These aren't just stories, they're not just veggie tales. These are real people, real men. They had to make real choices, real decisions in their lives. Just like us. They had to wrestle through things emotionally. How do we think Abraham felt? What kind of family devotional do we have the night before we go to kill our son? Jeremiah was a real guy. He had real ambitions, a real job, a family, parents . . . His parents probably weren't proud of him walking around naked and preaching sermons. God always has and always will expect you to give up everything to follow him.
Maybe you're an older disciple, lost your drive, getting more comfortable, more worldly. You go ask Solomon about whether comfort is a big deal or not. Unfortunately, I don't know where to go to ask him. Is he in heaven or in hell? How about Asa? Demas? All we know is that he deserted Paul because he loved the world. We have to decide if we're going to be real disciples, or if we'll be deserters . This is an historic time. God is moving in unprecedented ways. The world is more connected, more in contact, smaller than ever because of technology. God wants the world to hear the gospel at a pace never before anticipated. He wants barriers crossed that have never been traversed, and the Spirit will release his fire. We have to be a disciple, though. Don't let it pass us by.
Maybe a better question is this: "When's the last time you really were a disciple?" "When's the last time you put it all on the line? That's it! No backdoors, no recourse . . ." That's the excitement of a disciple. When's the last time you had it? So many of us have fallen away from being disciples. The joy, the excitement . . We come to church, we sit in the seats, but we've lost that edge, and we know it.
2 Peter 1:8-9
8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
Have we forgotten what it was like to be a brand new disciple? We couldn't go to sleep, we were so excited. We felt that God had a great dream for us, and we were so excited we couldn't sleep. That's what disciples feel. When's the last time we had our heart converted like that? We get baptized one time for the forgiveness of sins, but our heart's had to be converted over and over.
Three simple points to call us back to the standard of being real disciples:
1. Do We Really Have a Purpose?
16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
17 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."
18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
Jesus didn't call them to salvation, to forgiveness, to heaven, to relationships. He called them to their purpose. "I'll make you into something, and you'll have a purpose". When Jesus called Saul, he didn't call him to any of these things either, but to a purpose. "You're persecuting me, you're kicking against the goads. Need to get on my side". "Go to see Ananias, and he'll tell you what to do. I'm calling you to a purpose".
So many of us have lost that purpose in the church. We're here for different reasons. On a fundamental level, our motivations for being in the church are off. We come to church looking to be entertained, rather than looking to be equipped. We want to learn how to make a date, rather than how to make a disciple. We look for an emotional boost, rather than looking for a baptism.
Everything we have is to allow us to live out our purpose. Why do we have our job? Our wife, our family, our home, our roommates--all to make us a better disciple-maker. Everything in our lives has been given by God to help us bring people to God. Marriage isn't just for fun, it's not an end in itself. It's to help us be more effective. This is even why we go through the hard times we go through.
It's all part of God's plan. God wanted us to be more intense, more focused in our efforts to make more disciples. Why are some of us struggling financially, even physically in our families? God wants to help us to become better, more effective disciple-makers. When we love our purpose, all these challenges fit into place . It all makes sense. When we don't love our purpose, these things all bother us, frustrate us, make us bitter.
1 Cor 2 says we all have the mind of Christ. Why don't we feel more of the things that he felt? It's simple. We don't do the things that he did. If we did more like him, we'd feel more like him. Imagine Jesus spitting in a man's eyes and restoring his sight. What an exciting thing! Jesus got to experience the joy of changing lives every single day. Every day he healed . . . He gave hope, he forgave sins, he healed the broken, crushed and guilty. Imagine those eyes of gratitude. "Wow! I can't believe you care that much".
That's what Jesus felt every day, and we get to have those experiences as disciples. We get to study the Bible with people. We break out the Kingdom study which is exciting. We get to reveal God's plan, study Light and Darkness with them. Suddenly, it's all clear. We get to see their eyes open, get baptized, come out of the water, and start over. That's what disciples do. That's what Jesus did. More of us need to get our hands wet.
We'll move anywhere when we love our purpose. We'll love giving as well. "Just let us know the need, and we'll meet it. Whatever is needed, just tell us". When we love our purpose, we love discipling. We won't avoid it--we'll desire it. When we love our purpose, we love openness. We love being open. 1 John 1--need to come into the light voluntarily.
When we get open, God can work in our life and fix anything in our past. When we get into the light, then and only then God can really use us. When's the last time we opened up somebody's eyes? When's the last time we led the study? Let us share our life, get our own hands wet, and we'll feel the joy of Jesus.
2. Do We Really Have a Vision?
The Antioch Church was the first to reach out to Gentiles, the first to give money for the needy in Jerusalem. Their leadership group was so diverse, with people from all races and generations. They were the first to have the vision of the world being evangelized, to send people out. To really be a disciple, we've got to have a vision of what God's doing in our time right now. In the first century, there were only 300 million people in the world. Paul used his own technology.
He wrote letters, put on his shoes and walked down the road. Now, there are more than seven billion people in the world, and we have awesome technology. Eph 1:22 says that God put everything under Jesus' feet for the church. That includes the Internet. With technology, we can reach people at a rate never-before matched. Countries that we can't get Bibles into can receive the message electronically.
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,
Do we have a vision as a disciple? Do we have a vision for God using us?
3. Do You Really Want to Kick Against the Goads?
We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
Acts 26:14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
It's hard to kick against the goads. We get really worn out, really tired. It's hard to be unbelieving in the midst of everybody else seeing unbelievable things. We've felt it when we were too tired to have those family devotionals. We 've felt it when we decide not to heed the call to go to missions. We've felt it when we decide to buy that house so far away from the disciples. We felt the wind, we felt the "whoosh" of the kingdom blowing by. The kingdom isn't too far beyond us. We just have to decide to be a disciple again. All we have to do is to stop kicking against the goads. It just isn't that hard. A simple decision.
Let us ask ourself : "Am I really a disciple? When was the last time I was a disciple?" "How am I kicking against the goads? Do I really have a purpose? Do I really share my faith?" "Do I love studying the Bible with people? Do I love opening eyes? Do I have the vision?" "Am I excited about God's destiny for my life? Am I in the throes of it? What sin is holding me back?"
God wants to unleash the Holy Spirit in each of our lives. He wants the passion back, the joy back. He wants the excitement in our eyes, the spring in our step, the zeal in our hearts.