Grades 3-6 for Sunday School:
The Apostle Paul: Part 2
A Great Escape
Author’s Notes: Last week we began a new series on the life of the apostle Paul. We were introduced to him as Saul, a Pharisee who hunted down Christians to persecute and even kill them. But Jesus Christ came into his life in a miraculous, personal way on the road to Damascus, and changed his heart. Today, we’re going to see just how much Paul’s life changed when he was born again. We’re going to see the Christian-hunter become the hunted Christian. And we’re going to see Paul’s first great escape.
Has anyone ever heard of “The Great Houdini?” What was he famous for? Harry Houdini* was a magician and stunt performer. But he’s probably best remembered for his performances as an escape artist. Using his ability to dislocate his shoulders, he could get out of small, tight places, as well as straight jackets (which keep your arms pinned tightly against your body). He could also control his breathing, to allow himself time to escape ropes and chains, while being held under water.
One of Houdini’s most famous escapes was called the “Milk Can Escape.” This is how it worked: “Houdini would be handcuffed and sealed inside an over-sized milk can filled with water and make his escape behind a curtain. As part of the effect, Houdini would invite members of the audience to hold their breath along with him while he was inside the can. Advertised with dramatic posters that proclaimed "Failure Means A Drowning Death", the escape proved to be a sensation. Houdini soon modified the escape to include the Milk Can being locked inside a wooden chest, being chained or padlocked, and even inside another Milk can.”* Now that would be an exciting escape! And what could have happened to Houdini if he couldn’t get himself free? He could have drowned in the milk can.
Did you know that there are many accounts of great escapes in The Bible? Many times God’s prophets and apostles found themselves in situations where they would have been killed if it hadn’t been for God making a way for them to escape. In fact, Jesus, Himself, escaped from several groups of men who wanted to kill Him. He simply “disappeared” into the crowds.
In our lesson today, we’re going to find Paul (or Saul, as he’s still known) still in the city of Damascus. Remember from last week that he had been met, on the way to Damascus, by the Lord Jesus Christ. And once Saul realized what he had been doing in persecuting Jesus followers, he became a follower of Christ, himself.
Of course, the Christians in Damascus were thrilled to have this great persecutor now on their side. But there was another group of people who were not so happy with Saul. And a great escape would be required to keep Saul alive, and able to go on preaching for Christ.
Our memory verse for today was written by Paul, and talks about escaping from trials and temptation. Let’s learn it together.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“…but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13b
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for the apostle Paul – the example he is to us, and for the Words he’s given us to read, from You. Help us, today, to be attentive to the lesson we’ll be learning from his life. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: A Great Escape ( Acts 9:19-31 )
(the hunter becomes the hunted)
In our last lesson, we learned that Saul repented of his life as a persecutor of Christians, and became a Christian, himself. We found that his life completely changed, and that the change could be seen in the people he chose to spend time with. Acts 9:19 said that Saul was “with the disciples who were at Damascus.” But there were other changes in his life, as well.
Saul was so excited about what he had learned about Jesus being the promised Messiah, that he wanted to share the good news with all who would listen. So here’s what he did:
20And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
Where does it say Saul went to preach? He went into the synagogues. Those were the Jewish churches. How do you think the Jewish people and leaders in those churches received Saul’s new message?
21But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?
Why were the people who heard Saul amazed? Did they understand the message he was preaching? Yes! They completely understood that he now believed that Jesus was the Messiah. And they also knew he was the one who had come from Jerusalem to arrest those who were preaching that very message. So how do you think they reacted?
22But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
23And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:
Were the Jews glad to hear this message from Saul? No! They wanted to do to him what he had been doing to other Christians. They wanted to kill him. Why do you think they were so upset with Saul? Maybe it was because they felt betrayed by him. He was supposed to come and arrest the Christians. But instead, he was out there preaching a very convincing argument in their favor. And that made the Jewish leaders look bad.
(a daring escape)
So now, the notorious Christian-hunter was becoming the hunted Christian. But God was taking care of His new preacher. He had a plan for Saul’s life, and, at this point, it didn’t include the Jews in Damascus getting their hands on him. So an escape plan was formed.
24But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
25Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
How did the Jews plan to catch Saul? They had watchmen posted at every gate of the city, so if Saul tried to leave, they would certainly see him, and capture him. And they were there all day and all night, so they couldn’t possibly miss him trying to sneak out.
But what plan did the disciples come up with? They found a basket big enough to hold Saul. They tied ropes to the basket, found an opening (maybe a window) in the city wall. And when it was dark, they lowered Saul in the basket, through the opening, to the ground outside the city wall. And he was able to get away without the Jews seeing him.
Do you think the Jews could have seen Saul if they had looked in the right direction? There’s no doubt they would have been suspicious of a large basket being lowered out of a window, to the ground. But the God who had opened Saul’s eyes to the truth was also able to close the eyes of the Jews, so they wouldn’t see Saul’s escape.
(a less than enthusiastic welcome)
So Saul escaped from the Jews in Damascus, and headed back to Jerusalem. Who do you think he will stay with when he gets back to Jerusalem? And how do you think they will feel about him? Let’s find out.
26And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.
If something like Saul’s experience were to happen today, you can be sure that it would be in the evening news. But remember that back then there were no televisions with news reports, no radios, computers, telephones, newspapers… no quick way to get word back to Jerusalem that something miraculous had happened to Saul. The last they knew, Saul was headed to Damascus to arrest and bring back all the Christians, there.
And now, here he was claiming to be a Christian, himself. They hadn’t seen any proof, yet, that he had changed. They hadn’t heard any word of a miracle on the road to Damascus. What do you think they might have thought Saul was up to? Maybe they thought he was trying to sneak into their group so he could find even more of them to arrest and torture.
But God opened the eyes of one of the Christians, there, so he could see that what Saul was saying was true – that he really was a changed man.
27But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
We don’t know how Barnabas learned the truth of what had happened to Saul. Maybe Saul personally shared his testimony with him. Or maybe there were others who had traveled with Saul, who verified his story of what had happened. Regardless of how he heard, Barnabas believed Saul, and encouraged the other disciples to accept him, as well.
And once things were settled with the apostles, Saul set out to preach in Jerusalem, just as he had in Damascus. Do you think he would be careful, knowing full well how the Jews in Jerusalem felt about Christians? What do you think the reaction of the Jews will be?
28And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem.
29And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him.
Well, the Jews in Jerusalem reacted the same way as the Jews in Damascus. And not only that, but Saul was also preaching to or disputing with the Greeks…with no better results. What did they all want to do? They all wanted to kill Saul, to silence him.
Do you think Saul expected that reaction? Maybe he did, since he had felt that same way not very long before. He knew that most people did not accept that Jesus was the promised Messiah. And he knew that the Jews did not like being told that they needed to repent. So why did he keep on preaching what no one wanted to hear? He did so because that was what God had called him to do.
God will sometimes give us tasks that are not easy. He may ask us to share our faith in Him with someone we know will not want to hear it. They may even be angry and try to hurt us if we continue. But do you remember what our verse said? It said that God will always make a way of escape. God knows exactly how others are going to react to us. And He is fully capable of protecting us, if that’s what He wants to do. But we need to trust God, like Saul did, to take care of us when we are following His will.
(Saul goes home)
And although it might not have been the solution Saul was hoping for, God did have a way for him to escape those who wanted to kill him, once again. And again, it was the disciples who came to Saul with a plan.
Before we look at God’s plan to keep Saul alive, what do you think Saul might have been hoping God would do? What would you want God to do, if you were in the same situation? What could God do?
These might all seem like reasonable ideas, since they would allow Saul to keep preaching about Jesus right in the capital of Israel. But that’s not the solution God had in mind for Saul, at least not at that time. God’s solution was to send Saul back to his home town, Tarsus. That certainly does not sound like the exciting escape Saul had back in Damascus. But this escape was just as much a part of God’s plan as his first one.
30Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus.
31Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
It seems that the Jewish leaders had become so upset with Saul, that they were willing to leave the other Christians alone for a time, just because they were relieved that Saul was no longer there to challenge them. And the Lord used that time to encourage and build up the church.
But God was certainly not done with Saul. He was just giving Saul a time to rest and learn until the day that his new friend, Barnabas, would come looking for him, again. So in our next lesson, we’ll find a new partnership in ministry being formed between these new friends.
But until then, as you go through this week, remember our memory verse, and how God was faithful to provide Saul with ways to escape just when he needed them. We may not look forward to times of trial. Certainly Saul didn’t look forward to the persecution he would endure in following God’s call to preach. But Saul always trusted the Lord to have an escape route ready. And we can do the same.
That includes times of temptation, too. We have no excuse for ever sinning or failing God. We have the promise that there is always a way to escape. We just need to be sure that our eyes are focused on God, and His escape route, instead of the trials or temptations around us. When you find yourself tempted to sin this week, or tempted to stop following what you know God wants you to do… just take a moment to change your focus, and search for that escape. It will be there. God promises!
And here’s one more thought to consider: do you think Saul ever wondered if he was doing the right thing, when it kept ending with people trying to kill him? That didn’t seem to be the case. He went right on preaching, until God made him rest for a while.
There are a couple of things we can learn from this. First, just because God asks us to do something doesn’t mean we should expect it to be easy. Sometimes obeying God is very hard. But we need to trust and obey Him.
And lastly, just because things sometimes don’t go smoothly doesn’t mean you aren’t being obedient to God. In fact, just the opposite may be true. Satan may see you obeying God, and try his best to discourage you so you will stop. But that’s why God always has that escape route for us. Satan won’t win if we do things God’s way. He didn’t stop Saul. And God won’t let him get the best of us, either.
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of the apostle Paul. And for Your promise that You will always provide us with a way to escape temptation and trials, just like You did with Paul. We know that You love us. Please help us to trust You this week. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Activity: (Review Questions)
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. Saul returned to Jerusalem, after he escaped from Damascus. (true)
2. The disciples were excited to have Saul back in Jerusalem. (false – they didn’t believe he had changed)
3. A man named Barnabas convinced the disciples to accept Saul. (true)
4. Saul was afraid to preach the truth in Jerusalem. (false – he spoke boldly)
5. The disciples sent Saul back home, to Tarsus, when his life was in danger. (true)
Our Great Escape
No matter what the circumstance,
God gives us a way out;
Because defeating Satan
Is what He’s all about.
Lisa DeVinney, November 2016