Who is Saul?
Theme: Living by Faith in Christ Alone
Theme Verse: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20 NIV
Readings: Acts 7:54-8:3; Acts 9:1-2; Galatians 1:13-14; Philippians 3:4b-6
Memory Verse: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the worst." (1 Timothy 1:15)
Start with Acts 7:51-8:3. (Stephen was a wonderful servant of God, read 7:8-10.) Deacon Stephen had just been arrested and hauled before the Sanhedrin and false testimony was presented, that he had spoken against the Jewish Law, the temple and the traditions of Moses. So Stephen, when he gets his chance to reply, knowing that he was being "framed", talks about these three things, how their ancestors had rejected God's messengers, including Moses and worshiped idols till God finally sent the Israelites into Exile. Stephen said yes, David's son built the temple but God doesn't live in man-built houses. He concludes by saying (vs.51) "You are just like your ancestors and always resist the Holy Spirit and you killed the "Righteous One" (Messiah) like your ancestors killed the prophets. The Sanhedrin was furious and "gnashed their teeth at him". At that moment God gives Stephen a vision (which he tells them about) of the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. That made them even madder so they covered their ears and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him to death. Stephen forgives his murderers as they were stoning him.
Witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul (vs.58). He was there, giving approval to Stephen's death. (8:1) Saul really thought he was doing the right thing. Obviously he was confused and blinded spiritually. Word received: Where are you spiritually blind? Pray for a soft heart, open eyes and ears so that I can transform you as I did Saul. (Stop and pray.)
Even at the point of death Stephen forgives his killers, just like Jesus did. Can we forgive people who have hurt us? "Now Saul was consenting to his death." Word received: I want you to look at the things you have consented to in the past and are now ashamed of. Look at your past and recognize your debt to Me…….and forgive your debtors. Remember what Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors". Our own need for forgiveness is intimately tied to our willingness to forgive others. Jesus is very clear about this teaching. Remember that forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a choice of our wills. If the hurt has been really terrible we may have to forgive step by step, a layer at a time. It is OK to pray, "Lord make me willing to be willing…to forgive."
Stephen's death was the start of a great persecution of the church which scattered it. But God used the scattering of the church to spread the good news of Jesus into many new places.
"As for Saul (8:3), he made havoc of the church, entering every house and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison." (Women could not be legal witnesses yet Saul even goes after the women in his fury.) Word received: There are still persecutors today who are trying to make havoc of My church and they will not succeed. China is another place where the church has been heavily persecuted. After World War 2 when the Communists took over and drove out the foreign missionaries, people thought that that was the end of the church. Instead, it went underground and multiplied into the millions and is still growing. A famous North African church leader, Tertullian in the 200's AD said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." God can take what human being mean for evil and use it for His own good purposes.
Read Acts 9:1-2. Saul continues to "breath out murder and threats" against Jesus disciples. He is well connected politically so he went to the High Priest in Jerusalem and asked for letters to the Synagogues in Damascus to arrest and bind up any man and women who belonged to "The Way" (Christians) and bring them bound to Jerusalem for punishment. Saul was even reaching into foreign countries! (Damascus was a large commercial city on several trade routes so whatever was done there would spread very fast.) "The Way" was the earliest name for disciples and believers in Jesus the Messiah. Word received: I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life and there IS no other way. There are many today who strongly object to saying that there is no other way to the Father in Heaven. We have to be faithful to the truth (and The Truth) no matter what many in our society say. God has made a way for all who believe and follow Jesus to receive new life that lasts forever, and that Way is Jesus. The truth about Jesus is Reality. Reality is not decided by majority vote!
It is important to see what Saul was like to see how completely God changed him as he became Paul.
What does Saul/Paul later say about himself?
Read Galatians 1:13-14. "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it." "I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers." We can be zealous for the wrong thing. Word received: Stay close to Me so I can lead you down the right path.
Look at Saul's zealous activities for the religious traditions of his ancestors and of Judaism. (See note at end on traditions.) Word received: How does this differ from the way to advance in My Kingdom? Discuss. How do we grow in Christ and in the faith?
Philippians 3:4b. "If anyone else things he may have confidence in the flesh, I have more." What were the things Paul was very proud of and had had confidence in before meeting Jesus" See verses 5-7. (1) circumcised on 8th day, (2) born into the people of Israel, tribe of Benjamin, (3) a Hebrew born of Hebrews, (4) with respect to the Law, a Pharisee, (Pharisee- one who carefully observed each large and small Jewish law) (5) with respect to zeal, a persecutor of the church, (6) with respect to righteousness according to keeping the Law, blameless (that is, external requirements). (7) Paul's family lived in a Greek city and had Roman citizenship, but they also spoke the language of Palestine (Acts 21:40). (8) He was educated in Jerusalem with the famous Gamaliel as his teacher "according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers" (Acts 22:3. (9) When he persecuted the church he not only shut Christians in prison, "but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them." "I tried to make them blaspheme." (Acts 26:4-11) Word received: What confidence do you have? Where do you place you confidence? Discuss: what are some worldly things people tend to put their confidence in?
After listing all his human and natural sources of pride and confidence, Paul says, "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ." (Philippians 3:7) Paul says, " as for zeal, persecuting the church, as for legalistic righteousness, faultless" BUT "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from law, but that (righteousness) which is through faith in Christ." Word received: "I want you to say with Paul, "but what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ (Philippians 3:7). Are there things that you had to leave behind to follow Christ?
Our Memory Verse shows us Paul's understanding both of who he is and a statement about God's love and grace. Read it again. Word received: This was true when Paul wrote and it is true today Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Make no mistake: that is why I came, to save sinners. I want you to give this your full acceptance. (Jesus is asking us for a response.)
[Note: "traditions of my fathers" God's plan often goes beyond traditions of our fathers. May traditions are originally from God, yet they can become ends in themselves, apart from a relationship with God himself. Or they can be distorted till they become the opposite of God's will. (Example: Jesus rebuking the Pharisees for not helping their parents by saying it was "Corban", given to the Lord.)
Apart from God, traditions become legalism or trying to get a right relationship with God by perfectly obeying a set of rules. We cannot obey God perfectly but that is why God provided the cross of Jesus, the Lamb of God, to forgive our sins. He provided that if we accept Jesus and receive his forgiveness, he will give us the power of the Holy Spirit to give us new life. God looks at our hearts.]
Teaching Ideas for Lesson 04
Please read the Study Guide first. Go over Memory Verse to make sure the children understand it and then if they have memorized it.
Remind them their parents need to sign a report slip monthly if they have read the lessons, so they will get credit at the end of the year.
Make sure they know what happened in the story. Get them to tell you.
Basic points of the lesson for little ones:
1. Saul was a man who agreed to kill Christians because he thought they were wrong; he did this before he knew Jesus. Saul thought it was the right thing to do.
2. Sometimes we can be like Saul/Paul. We get mixed up about right and wrong.
3. When Jesus showed Saul his mistake, he was sorry and asked God to forgive him. Saul asked Jesus to be his best friend (Savior) and Jesus said. "Yes."
God wants us to forgive each other just as he has forgiven us.
4. God wants to do the same thing for you. Jesus wants to forgive you for all the bad things you have done and he wants to become your best friend.
Pray together for God to give you a soft heart towards Him and ears to hear Him and eyes to see what He is doing.