When Separation Leads to Struggle: Separation By the Holy Spirit Doesn’t Exempt You From Conflict and Struggle

Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament account of the spiritual body of Jesus the Christ which is the church as it was written and recorded by the beloved physician Luke in the book of Acts. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses forty-four through fifty-one of the thirteenth chapter. I WILL SHOW HIM WHAT GREAT THINGS HE MUST SUFFER FOR THE SAKE OF MY NAME! These were words which were spoken unto a man named Ananias who lived and dwelt in the city of Damascus around the time when Saul obtained letters from the Hugh priest in Jerusalem to bring back bound any whom he found were of the way. After Saul had experienced the brilliance and glory of the resurrected and exalted Jesus the Christ while on the road to Damascus—an experience that left him temporarily blind and unable to see—he spent three days in prayer and fasting communing and speaking with the One who had encountered him as he traveled along the road to Damascus. After Saul had been thrown from his horse, after he was asked He was persecuting the One who was speaking to Him, and after realizing that the one who was speaking to him—the One whom he was persecuting—this man named Saul was led by the hand unto Damascus where he would be left to pray and fast concerning the next steps and stages of his life. It was while this man named Saul was praying and fasting that Jesus the Christ appeared unto Ananias and instructed him to go and search out this man named Saul for he was praying. Initially Ananias balked at the idea of making the journey unto Saul for he had heard reports of how Saul had come unto Damascus with letters from the high priest in Jerusalem to bring back bound any who were of the way. What’s more, is that this man named Ananias had heard how Saul had vehemently opposed and persecuted the church, and how he was laying waste to it in the city of Jerusalem. It was in response to his doubt, in response to his skepticism, and in response to his fear Jesus the Christ informed Ananias that he would find this man named Saul praying and that he had seen a vision of a man coming and laying hands on him that he might receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost. What’s more, is that when Jesus the Christ was speaking unto Ananias he emphatically declared unto him that He would show this man named Saul how much he must suffer for His name’s sake. This is actually quite critical and crucial when you think about the life of this man named Saul, for it was true that he would be chosen as a vessel of honor for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ, and that he would be an apostle unto the Gentiles, but it is also true that this man named Saul would suffer great things for the sake of the name of Jesus the Christ. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we pay close attention to this reality for it was absolutely and totally mission critical for the life and ministry to which Saul had been called.

As you take the time to read the words which are found within the New Testament book of Acts—specifically that which is found from the ninth chapter you on—you will find that much of the language that is contained and found therein is centered upon the life and ministry of this man named Saul. What’s more, is that as you read the words found within these chapters you will quickly encounter three distinct missionary journeys which this man named Saul would engage himself in as the apostle unto the Gentiles. It’s actually quite interesting that this same man who gave us nearly half of the New Testament would have the details of his life recounted in more than half of the book of Acts which was written by the beloved physician Luke. How absolutely intriguing it is to think about and consider the fact that this man named Saul who would ultimately and inevitably be called the apostle Paul would not only write nearly half of the New Testament in terms of number of books, but would also have more than half of a single book dedicated to the life and ministry which Jesus the Christ had called him to when He encountered him on the road to Damascus. In fact, only Jesus the Christ has more written about Him within the New Testament as compared to what was written concerning the apostle Paul. There were four distinct and four unique gospels that were written concerning the life and ministry of Jesus Christ—one of which was written by the same man who presented us with and gave us the New Testament book of Acts. It’s quite unique and remarkable to think about and consider this reality, for in a book that is entirely centered around the life and ministry of the spiritual body of Jesus the Christ in the earth we find so much language that was written concerning the apostle Paul—from the time of his miraculous and supernatural conversion to the time of his final imprisonments within the city of Rome. This book which is entirely about the spiritual life and ministry of the body of Jesus the Christ would have as perhaps its main and central earthly figure one who had spent a considerable amount of time tearing down and destroying the church. This same one who had so earnestly and vehemently torn down the church would be the same man who would spend the rest of his life—not only building up the church and establishing various churches, but would also write individual letters to strengthen and encourage the churches. In some cases there were congregations that would have more than one letter and epistle written unto them by the hand of the apostle Paul.

Moving and transitioning back to the words which I mentioned at the beginning and outset of this writing, it is mission critical for understanding the life and ministry unto which this man named Saul had been called that we pay close attention to the words which Jesus spoke unto Ananias as He prepared to send him unto Saul. It was the Lord Jesus the Christ who would declare unto Saul that it was He Himself whom he was persecuting, and it was unto this man named Ananias that He would declare concerning Saul that he would be shown what great things he must suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus the Christ. As you think about the life and ministry of the apostle Paul you will find that from the very beginning and outset of his life and ministry in Jesus the Christ he would be shown what great things he must suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus the Christ. In fact, within the same chapter we read about his conversion, his being filled with the Holy Spirit, and his being baptized we find two separate and sitting accounts of certain Jews seeking to put him to death. Imagine this man who once laid waste to the early church and wreaked havoc against it would now find himself at odds with his own countrymen for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the name of Jesus the Christ. This man named Saul who had so vehemently opposed the church of Jesus the Christ would be shown just how much he would suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus the Christ, and would not only face opposition there in Damascus, but he would also experience the same opposition within the city of Jerusalem as well. How incredibly unique it is to think about and consider the fact that shortly after Saul experiences the presence of Jesus the Christ, and shrieks after he was filled with the Holy Ghost and was baptized he found himself facing and experiencing persecution and opposition from his own kinfolk and from his own brethren. In the same city in which he wreaked havoc upon the church to lay waste to it he would find within that city those among his brethren who would seek to put him to death and be rid of him. What’s more, is that in the same city where he journeyed to bring back bound those whom he found of the way he would himself be watched as those lie in wait that they might kill him. In the very same city he had received the Holy Spirit and was baptized after Ananias laid his hands on and prayed for him, and in the very same city in which Saul sought to bring back bound all those whom he found who were of the way, he himself would become a follower of that way, and would himself become a follower and disciple of Jesus the Christ. If you read the ninth chapter of the book of Acts you will find that in the same city wherein Saul sought to bring back a number of men and women who were of the way unto Jerusalem he would himself become a follower of the way, and would begin preaching the same Jesus whom he had previously been persecuting. THE PATH FROM PERSECUTING JESUS TO PREACHING JESUS! Oh how absolutely wonderful and remarkable it is to think about and consider the fact that the life and account of this man named Saul who would eventually become known as the apostle Paul would be one that would find himself on a road that began with persecuting Jesus the Christ through persecution of the church, and would eventually culminate in his preaching the very same Jesus whom he was persecuting. What an incredibly powerful truth it is to think about and consider the fact that this one who had previously sought to persecute the church of Jesus the Christ would now not only preach the same Jesus the Christ, but would also spend the rest of his life building up the church as he not only established churches throughout Asia, but also encouraged them in their faith and walk with Jesus the Christ.

I write concerning the words which Jesus the Christ spoke unto Ananias regarding what great things Saul must suffer for the sake of the name of Christ, for when you come to the thirteenth chapter of the book of Acts you will find yourself coming face to face with two more unique accounts of those who sought to persecute and oppose this man named Saul who had gone from persecuting Jesus to preaching Jesus. What a wonderful and marked transition and transformation would take place within the life of this man named Saul, for that one who previously persecuted the church, and that one who previously persecuted Jesus the Christ would now preach Jesus the Christ, and would now seek to build up, strengthen and establish churches. It would be this one who sought to tear down the church in Jerusalem and reduce it to nothing would help establish and found countless congregations and churches throughout Asia where he traveled. In fact, most of the letters he wrote within the New Testament were letters and epistles that were written to specific churches he would help establish and found within and throughout Asia. From Corinth to Rome, from Ephesus to Philippi, from Colossae to Galatia, and unto Thessalonica, the apostle Paul would establish churches throughout Asia, and would even write letters unto them in order that they might be strengthened in their faith, and might continue in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ where unto they had been called. When you read the words which are found within the thirteenth chapter of the book of Acts you will find that immediately after the Holy Spirit had separated Saul and Barnabas unto the work where unto He had specifically called them, these two men departed and sailed to Cyprus. What we find is that when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews and had John also called Mark as their minister. As you continue reading the words which are found within the thirteenth chapter you will find that when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perna in Pamphylia, and after John had departed from them and returned unto Jerusalem, they departed and came unto Antioch in Pisidia. It would be there in Antioch of Pisidia that they would enter into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogues sent unto Saul and Barnabas, saying unto them, Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. What a wonderful and remarkable invitation this was for Saul and Barnabas, for what we find when reading these words is not them entering into the synagogue for as to speak and share any thing, but simply to join themselves unto this congregation. It would be as they sat down, and after the reading of the law and the prophets that they would be invited by the rulers of the synagogue to speak whatever word of encouragement that might have for them. How absolutely astounding this invitation is, for what began with them merely sitting down in the midst of the synagogue would lead to an open invitation to speak whatever word of encouragement they would have for those who were present in the midst of the synagogue.

In verses fifteen through forty-one of this thirteenth chapter of the book of Acts we find the apostle Paul opening his mouth and speaking unto all those who were present in the synagogue concerning this man named Jesus the Christ who was handed over by wicked men in order that he might be crucified upon a cruel Roman tree, and in order that he might be put to death. The apostle Paul would ultimately and inevitably bring his word of exhortation and message to the reality of the person of Jesus the Christ, and would do so after beginning to speak to them concerning the history of the Jewish people. The apostle Paul would begin in the land of Egypt where the children of Israel lived and dwelt as slaves under the cruel and tyrannical rule of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and where they would be oppressed and mistreated for more than four-hundred years. Eventually the Lord would raise up from among the Jews one of their own who after forty years in Egypt, and after forty years in Midian would return with a staff in his hand and a word from God unto Pharaoh to let the people of God go. Where the apostle Paul picks up the story is the strong and high arm of the Lord delivering the children of Israel out of their slavery, out of their bondage and out of their oppression. The apostle Paul chooses to begin this account with the Lord with a strong and high arm delivering the children of Israel out of their slavery, out of their bondage and out of their oppression and bringing them into the wilderness. It would be in the wilderness where the Lord would tolerate and suffer their manners as they would test, tempt and try the living God who had delivered them out of their slavery and bondage. As the apostle Paul continued to speak he would go on to speak unto them how the Lord had destroyed seven nations within the land of Canaan in order that they might receive that which was promised on oath to Abraham centuries earlier when the Lord declared and promised unto him that he would be given the land wherein he dwelt and inhabited. The apostle Paul declared how the Lord destroyed seven nations from within the land of Canaan, and how during the days of Joshua would divide the inheritance among the twelve tribes of Israel—with the exception of the Levites who did not have an inheritance or portion in the land, for the Lord Himself was their inheritance and portion. Joseph who was one of the twelve sons of Jacob also called Israel would find his two sons—those two sons who were born unto him in the land of Egypt—being given a part and portion within the land of Israel, as Ephraim and Manasseh would become two of the twelve tribes of Israel, and would have an inheritance among the children of God there in the land of Canaan. It’s important that we note that before the division of the inheritance came the destruction of the enemies, and before the inheritance could be inhabited the enemies within the inheritance must needs be defeated and overthrown. First comes the destruction of the enemies within the land and within the inheritance, and next comes the actual division of the land.

Moving on even further within this chapter you will find the apostle Paul going on to speak about how the Lord gave unto the children of Israel judges over a space of about four-hundred and fifty years until the time of Samuel. It would be during the days of Samuel, however, when the children of Israel would ask for a king in order that they might be like other nations. In response to their cry and desire for a king the Lord instructed Samuel to anoint Saul son of Kish as king of Israel, and he would reign over the nation of Israel as their first king—that was until he would be removed by the hand of the living God. The words of the apostle Paul go on to describe how the Lord would remove Saul from being king over the nation of Israel, and how the Lord would raise up David who was not only a man after his own heart, but also one who would do and fulfill His will. Please don’t miss and lose sight of this incredibly important reality, for with the removing of Saul as king over the nation of Israel would come the raising up of David son of Jesse as the righteous king whom the Lord would not only set upon the throne within Israel, but would also set up a throne which would ultimately be sat upon by the Son of David—Jesus the Christ—of whose government there would be no end. It’s interesting and unique to think about and consider the fact that the apostle Paul bring the brief history of the Jewish people up until the time of David king of Israel, and would do so in order that he might demonstrate that from the seed of David would come this one named Jesus the Christ whom the Lord would anoint and raise up as as Saviour. The apostle Paul would go on to speak unto them concerning John the Baptist whom the Lord would raise up as a forerunner and messenger before the face of Jesus the Christ to prepare the way and make ready a people for Jesus the Christ, and for the kingdom of heaven which would be established in the midst of the earth among nations, kingdoms, and the like. Ultimately Paul would transition his message to the actions of the Jewish leaders and rulers who out of envy and spite sought to kill and crucify Jesus as they handed Him over to Pontius Pilate who was at that time the representation of Rome within the land of Judaea. In fact, Paul declared that Pilate found no fault in Jesus, yet in order that he might please the people, he agreed to have this man named Jesus put to death. Paul not only preached that Jesus the Christ was handed over to Pilate and unto the Romans in order that He might be put to death, but after Jesus fulfilled that which was written concerning Him, His physical body was taken down from a tree and and laid in a borrowed tomb. Ultimately the apostle Paul would not leave the account concerning Jesus the Christ with His lying in the grave, for the apostle Paul would go on to demonstrate and preach how Jesus the Christ would be raised from death to life, and how on the third day the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord would raise Him from death to life, thus allowing His physical body to see no decay or corruption. The apostle Paul would use distinct references from within the book of the Psalms to demonstrate that it was necessary for Jesus the Christ to be raised on the third day, for it must needs fulfill that which was spoken concerning Him in the Scriptures. It would be this man named Jesus Christ whom the Spirit of the Lord raised up from death to life on the third day who was being preached unto them and the forgiveness of sins that is found through Him in order that men might be justified from all things—those things for which the law of Moses could not justify them.

When you come to the forty-second verse of this particular passage of Scripture you will find that when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought Paul and Barnabas that the same words which were preached unto the Jews within the synagogue would also be preached unto them on the following Sabbath. What a truly wonderful and incredible thought it is to think about and consider the fact that after Paul and Barnabas had finished speaking unto the Jews in the synagogues it invoked something within the hearts and minds of the Gentiles, and it stirred something inside of them to hear the same words concerning Jesus the Christ. In fact, it might very well be said that it was through the preaching of Jesus the Christ unto the Jews that the Gentiles were stirred jealousy in order that they might hear the gospel concerning Jesus the Christ as well. In the forty-third verse of this chapter we find that when the congregation within the synagogue was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who speaking unto them persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. What we find next, however, is something that would become a staple within the life and ministry of the apostle Paul, for although in the forty-fourth verse of the chapter we find that on the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God, we find in the forty-fifth verse that when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. Isn’t it interesting how the interest, the intrigue and the desire of the Gentiles to hear the word of God would and could so provoke the Jews to jealousy and envy that they would actually rise up in opposition against Paul and Barnabas. In the ninth chapter of the book of Acts we find certain of the brethren—certain of the Jews—watching Paul closely both night and day in order that they might somehow put him to death. When the brethren and disciples learned about it, they lowered Paul in a basket out of the city through and opening in the wall, thus allowing him to escape. When the apostle Paul was in the city of Jerusalem after journeying unto the city after departing from Damascus, we again find the Jews seeking to persecute and put him to death, but how certain of the disciples of the Lord intervened on behalf of the apostle Paul, and caused him to escape out of the hands of those who sought to kill him. Ultimately the apostle Paul would journey from Jerusalem unto Caesarea in order that he might escape the murderous threats and hands of those within the city of Jerusalem who sought to put him to death because of the words which he preached and spoke concerning Jesus the Christ. In the thirteenth chapter we again find the apostle Paul—together with Barnabas—facing and experiencing persecution and opposition from the Jews, as the Jews who were moved to envy spoke against those things which were spoken by Paul, and sought to contradict and blaspheme against him.

What I so love about the words which we find and read in this passage is that despite the envy of the Jews, and despite the opposition of the Jews, Paul and Barnabas waxed bold and declared that its as necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken unto the Jews, but seeing as they put it far from them, and judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life, they would now turn unto the Gentiles and preach the word of God concerning Jesus the Christ unto them. What we find and what we read in this particular passage of Scripture is essentially the same opposition that was manifested during the days of Jesus the Christ when the chief priests, the elders of Israel, the Pharisees, the scribes and the Sadducees all refused the words and ministry of Jesus the Christ. What’s more, is that if you read the New Testament gospel of John you will find a tremendous amount of opposition against the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ—not only from the chief priests, the scribes, the elders of Israel, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, but also from the Jews. It would more often than not be in response to Jesus’ healing, and healing on the sabbath that would so infuriate and so enrage the Jews that they sought to kill and put Jesus forth from their midst. The entire gospel of John contains example after example of how the Jews, as well as their leaders and rulers took great offense to Jesus the Christ—not only concerning the words which He spoke, but also in the face of His healing those who were in need, and doing so irregardless and irrespective of their rules, their traditions and their laws. What we find within the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts is the Jews continuing their vehement opposition to the word and message concerning Jesus the Christ, and how they not only began speaking against Paul and Barnabas and the words which they spoke concerning Jesus the Christ, but they also sought to contradict and blaspheme against that which they had spoken. Upon hearing the words which the Jews had spoken unto Paul and Barnabas they not only declared that they judged themselves unworthy of the everlasting life that was given unto them first, but they also declared unto them that they would turn unto the Gentiles, and would quote the words from the prophet Isaiah in the forty-ninth chapter—“For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:47 cf Isaiah 49:6). What we find here is the beginning of something dramatic taking place and shifting in the preaching of the Jews, as well as within the church of Jesus the Christ, for it was here where we begin to witness the gospel transitioning from being spoken unto the Jews to being preached among the Gentiles. If you read the book of Acts—specifically the next few chapters—you will find that wherever the apostle Paul went he would still speak unto and preach unto the Jews concerning Jesus the Christ, first, but there was beginning to be a marked and noticeable transition taking place, as the word of God concerning Jesus the Christ would begin to be preached unto the Gentiles.

I have written concerning the book of Acts that it is filled with turning points—moments which dramatically alter and change the landscape of the church of Jesus the Christ—and what we find within this passage is yet another turning point which is found within the book of Acts. What we find within this passage of Scripture is actually quite unique, for it is within this passage where we encounter the dramatic reality of the word of God concerning Jesus the Christ beginning to experience a transition to being preached among the Gentiles, as the Jews would time and time again reject the word of God concerning Jesus the Christ which the apostle Paul would speak and preach. What is found within this passage of Scripture is the beginning of an intense opposition which the Jews would exhibit concerning the word of God concerning Jesus the Christ—a rejection which we learn has its roots in envy and jealousy. We must recognize and understand the opposition which the Jews exhibited concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ, and concerning the preaching of Paul and his companions was in direct connection and direct relation to their envy and jealousy concerning the reception of the Gentiles of the word of God concerning Jesus the Christ. It’s quite interesting to read these words which are found within this passage, for in the first chapter of the gospel which was written by the apostle John we find him writing how Jesus came unto his own, and how his own received him not. The entire gospel of John is about Jesus the Christ teaching and preaching among the Jews, however, it would also be about Jesus healing those who were in need, and how more often than not His healing men and women—particularly if those healings seemed and appeared to directly violate the rules and traditions of the Jews—directly upset, infuriated and offended the Jews. In all reality, I would dare say that it was not only envy, but also offense that caused the Jews to reject and despise—not only Jesus the Christ in the flesh, but also the preaching concerning Jesus the Christ. The opposition we find and read within this passage of Scripture was due to nothing more than envy of the Jews at the fact that virtually the whole city—Gentiles included—came out to hear the word of God which was preached by the apostle Paul and Barnabas. What we must realize, however, is that what was the rejection of the Jews would ultimately be the reception and welcoming of the Gentiles, for the beloved physician Luke writes and records how when the Gentiles heard the words which the apostle Paul spoke, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. What’s more, is that as many as were ordained to eternal life believed, and the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.

What we find within the thirteenth chapter of the book of Acts is Paul and Barnabas being separated by the Holy Ghost unto the work to which they had been called, but what we find directly linked and connected to that work is both reception, as well as opposition. We would be incredibly wise to read the thirteenth chapter of the book of Acts, for through and by reading the words which are contained therein we come face to face with the reality that although we might very well be separated by the Holy Ghost unto Himself, and unto the work where unto we have been called, that does not mean that the work whereunto we have been called cannot and will not be without opposition and without affliction and suffering. In fact, the entire Christian life and ministry of the apostle Paul would be marked with suffering, affliction, trials, trouble, opposition, persecution and the like, as he would suffer great things for the sake of the name of Jesus the Christ. If there is one thing we must learn and recognize when reading the words in the thirteenth chapter is that even though we might be separated by and separated unto the Holy Spirit for a work whereunto we have been called, that doesn’t mean the work cannot and will not be without and apart from its struggles. Paul and Barnabas were separated by the Holy Spirit unto a work whereunto they had been called, but almost immediately they found themselves experiencing and facing direct opposition from the Jews—those who were their own brethren and kinsmen. The initial opposition and affliction which Paul and Barnabas faced and experienced came not from Rome, nor did it even come from the Gentiles, but it came from the Jews and from their own people and countrymen. We would be both wise and discerning to recognize and understand that being called unto a work by the Holy Spirit does not mean that the work will be surrounded by peace and will be absent any type of conflict, struggle, affliction and opposition. We do ourselves a great disservice and we truly deceive ourselves when we think and believe for one moment that being called by the Holy Spirit, and being separated by the Holy Spirit unto a work which He has called us will mean that we cannot and will not face trials, troubles, affliction, opposition, suffering, conflict and the like. In fact, it is written in the Scriptures that through many afflictions and through many trials we enter into the kingdom of God. Eventually and ultimately you will find the apostle Paul writing unto the Corinthian saints and congregation that if he must needs boast in anything in this life he would boast of his afflictions, and he would boast in his sufferings, for it is within those sufferings that he is strong, and it is in those sufferings where the grace of God is wonderfully and powerfully manifested within his life. Oh that we would readily acknowledge that being called of and being called by God does not mean, nor does it guarantee a life and ministry absent any type of affliction, conflict, opposition and suffering, but more often than not invites and welcomes it.

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