Unlikely Suspects Part II
Jacob’s Pillow and Saul to Paul
Here’s what’s amazing about the Bible: We’re given this wonderful book filled with the history of God’s love and examples of how He’s moved and changed lives. But in the pain of a broken family or the extreme anger in one’s life, it can be difficult to identify God’s hand in any particular situation, even in Biblical times. So let’s take a look at two Biblical figures to discover God’s power in transformation: Jacob and Saul (who would later be known as Paul) Their lives were forever changed through the love that transforms us all.
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Jacob’s story in the Old Testament
tells us about his character, one that began with manipulation and lies, but one that would ultimately lead to truth and a Godly heart. Jacob’s story comes to a climax in Genesis 28, when he runs for his life. His brother Esau vows to kill Jacob after realizing that he had deceived their father in order to receive the inheritance. (Genesis 27) So Jacob’s mother tells him to run, and keep running until Esau’s fury subsides and she sends word to come back home. So Jacob ran. He was looking for a place where he might find distant relatives. He was completely alone, and he didn’t have the faintest idea of what was going to happen to him. Would his brother find him? Would he be killed? So let’s be honest here. This looks pretty bleak.
When Jacob reached a certain place, he stopped for the night. Like anyone on a journey such as this, he was weary, and simply wanted to sleep. Having no place to rest his head, he used a rock as his pillow.
As he fell into an uneasy sleep, shivering out of fear, he had a dream that changed everything. He came to a sudden awareness and realization of Godâ€™s presence, even in the darkness, even in pain, even when it seemed like life wasnâ€™t in the cards.
When Jacob awakens, he declares,
“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” Genesis 28:16 (NIV)
Jacob is an unlikely suspect. Looking across the timeline of his life, you wouldn’t expect to see God’s love in it; but look closer, and you may be able to see where God’s hand is orchestrating something beautiful. Step back for a moment. Reflect on those times in your life where you felt completely abandoned. Entirely alone. Attacked. When you ran for your life, either literally or figuratively (let’s hope for the latter). And when you just wanted to sleep all your troubles away, all you had was a rock on which to lay your head. When has God spoken to you in these times? What has he said? Did you know he was there?
Paul is arguably one of the most well-known figures in the New Testament. His story of anger and reconciliation is repeated over and over again as more of us recognize God’s presence in this day and age. Paul was originally known as Saul. In his early years, Saul was raised in all the right ways. He had the best education, and he worked hard to maintain the Jewish tradition as he grew up in the faith. Before long, Saul became engrossed in spreading their way of life, even to the point of violently persecuting those who followed Jesus. In the thick of Saul’s mission to destroy Christianity, there was a faithful follower named Stephen. He was put on trial against the Sanhedrian, a council of Jewish leaders, for blasphemy against Moses and God when he claimed that
Jesus had made a new way - the only way - to eternal life. Stephen’s verdict at this trial was one that led to his death: he was found guilty and stoned for his offences. The street was filled with onlookers,
“and Saul approved of their killing him.” Acts 7:1 (NIV)
But Saul’s anger toward Jesus’ followers didn’t end there. Even while Stephen’s community mourned his loss, tears not yet dry, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” Acts 7:3 (NIV) He “was breathing out
murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” Acts 9:1 (NIV), and had plans for more. He left for Damascus, a city center with a known large Christian population, with the intention to imprison any Christ followers he encountered. What caused Saul’s anger? And why did he continue to act? How could he have gotten so carried away as to persecute and
PUT TO DEATH those who followed
the Truth, the Light, and the Way?
It was there on that dusty road to Damascus where Saul became Paul. “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.” Acts 9:3-5 (NIV) Sometimes God works in the most mysterious, beautiful ways, and in ways that may be absolutely terrifying. “Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So [the men traveling with Saul] led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days, he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” Acts 9:8-9 (NIV) After those three long days, Saul encountered Ananias, a faithful Christian who had been told by God about Saul’s situation. Ananias prayed for Saul and “immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.” Acts 9:18 (NIV). Have you ever done something that felt fundamentally wrong? A time when you just knew, in your bones, that you were made for more? When has Christ appeared in your life to show you a different way, either in a sudden realization or a more gentle whisper? Who was by your side, praying for you, encouraging you? What scales have fallen from your eyes?
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Jacob’s Pillow and Saul to Paul
Saul had a vibrant experience with the risen Christ. And it changed him forever. He went from a murderer to one of the greatest known writers and apostles in the New Testament. Just a few chapters later in Acts, we see that Saul is now referred to as Paul. Out with the old, in with the new. This encounter was so powerful that it changed his entire identity, including his name. He was an unlikely suspect. The same occurred in Jacob’s life. Everything was spinning madly out of control (by our meager human perspective), but God was there the entire time. It was only in the realization of God’s presence did Jacob’s life turn around. His situation was an unlikely suspect. We are the unlikely suspects.
Monday Read Genesis 27 and 28 to get more complete background on Jacobâ€™s life. Focus on Genesis 28:10-11. What has occurred in your life (or is currently occurring) that has caused the sun to set? Where have you stopped for the night?
Tuesday Read Genesis 28:10-22. When everything’s going wrong, what’s your stone pillow? What do you put your comfort in?
Wednesday Read Genesis 28:16-17. When have you been awoken to the presence of God? When have you been made aware of his love in the toughest of situations?
Thursday In Genesis 28:18-19, Jacob builds an altar to the LORD using the stone he had used as a pillow. It serves as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the midst of trial. In your life, what have you built as a monument to God, telling the stories of where you’ve been and how you’ve come through a stronger person? How can we share these monuments?
Friday Read Acts 9:1-6. We all have plans of our own, but sometimes God interferes and steers us a different, more loving direction. When have you felt this?
Saturday Read Acts 9:7-16. Ananias knew the things that Saul did, and he knew his intentions for traveling to Damascus. But God called him to visit with Saul. When have you been called to care for someone you knew had a hard heart? How has God changed your feelings toward them?
Sunday Read Acts 9:17-22. The people who knew of Saul knew of the awful things he had done. And they were amazed by his impossible transformation into a loving, Christ-centered teacher. Where have you witnessed impossible transformations in your own life or in the lives of those around you?