Sermon 09 - Acts 9,1-31 - An Eye Opening Experience - 8-15-04
1. ((illus)) Vladimir peered out of his office window onto Red Square on a cold grey November morning and stared at the Cathedral of St. Basil's. He imagined it on fire and smiled.
He caught sight of his own reflection. As a KGB agent he held in his hands he held a thick file containing the names, addresses, photographs and anti-state offences of the five leading religious dissidents active in London. Within an hour he was on a scheduled flight bound for Heathrow.
He took out the photographs again, memorizing their features.
His assignment was to locate and neutralise another cell of émigrés, and entice, blackmail or drug them to the London embassy for interrogation.
From there they would be brought home to be.... Diplomatic baggage... diplomatic garbage more like... he smiled.
Suddenly the smile froze on his face as his heart stopped, and he gasped for air. The plane was dropping like a stone. A sudden violent electrical storm had engulfed the plane causing total electical failure, and the engines had stalled.
Vladimir began to sweat, his past flashed by,
- his childhood memories of the orthodox church,
- his parents simple faith, his rejection of religion at school,
- his admiration for Lenin,
- his membership of the Party,
- his acceptance by the KGB,
- the searches, the interrogations, the trials, the psychiatric clinics, the camps...
Unconsciously Vladimir heard himself praying, prayers he had memorized as a child and forgotten until now. When he came round, the plane had made an emergency landing at Heathrow airport, and he was being driven to the embassy.
Unable to settle, he telephoned one of the dissidents he had come to interrogate.
- Ivan, the pastor of a small Ukrainian Pentecostal church in East London could not believe his ears.
- Against his better judgment he agreed to a meeting with Vladimir in a near by park that evening.
They walked and talked till morning. That Sunday morning he was a rather unexpected speaker giving his testimony of his new faith in Christ as his Savior at their church.
Within a week, Vladimir was back in Moscow, but not at his old office desk. He was at the other end of Red Square, kneeling in the confessional at the Cathedral of St. Basil, asking a surpised priest about the possibility of a job....
a. When I read this story I asked myself the same question I would ask you as well - Could it happen today?
b. My friend, the Lord did it to Saul, and he has been doing it ever since.
c. Some of you could give testimony of having been a religious skeptic or an agnostic or even an atheist.
d. And you can identify with this story – of God’s mighty salvation.
3. Lets look at the story together in Acts 9:1-31 (page 934)
a. Paul tells his testimony in three parts.
i) 3 places in Acts where his testimony is given.
ii) Here; 22; 26 (see sermon notes)
iii) Each gives additional details.
b. In each part Paul’s testimony is in 3 parts.
i) The form a good general approach of how we should think and use our testimony as the occasion warrants.
ii) We each come to the Lord in a unique way, but its important in sharing those facts we explain how others can know him too.
4. The order is simple:
a. Before – What Paul was like before he met Jesus :1-2
b. During – How Paul came to trust Christ :3-9
c. After – Some of the results and consequences of salvation :10-22ff
5. Acts 9:1-22 (NLT)
1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath. He was eager to destroy the Lord’s followers, so he went to the high priest.
2 He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
3 As he was nearing Damascus on this mission, a brilliant light from heaven suddenly beamed down upon him!
4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
5 “Who are you, sir?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!
6 Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
7 The men with Saul stood speechless with surprise, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice, but they saw no one!
8 As Saul picked himself up off the ground, he found that he was blind.
9 So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days. And all that time he went without food and water.
10 Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord!” he replied.
11 The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you arrive, ask for Saul of Tarsus. He is praying to me right now.
12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him so that he can see again.”
13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem!
14 And we hear that he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest every believer in Damascus.”
15 But the Lord said, “Go and do what I say. For Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.
16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for me.”
17 So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may get your sight back and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
18 Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.
19 Afterward he ate some food and was strengthened. Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days.
20 And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”
21 All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who persecuted Jesus’ followers with such devastation in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And we understand that he came here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests.”
22 Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
6. Now you can understand why this was an eye opening experience.
a. For many, if not most of us, coming to Christ was an eye-opener.
b. ((illus)) For me it was the eye opening truth that God doesn’t have any grand children and that I could not come to Christ because my parents were Christians.
c. It was a personal faith.
AN EYE OPENING EXPERIENCE
Acts 9:1-31 (page 934)
1. BEFORE :1,2
a. Paul’s Pedigree
i) See cross references in notes.
ii) What a nasty little man Saul was.
iii) I'm amazed the Lord didn't wipe him out the way you swat a fly that is annoying you.
iv) Saul was from a wealthy influential family of Tarsus.
¨ His father was a Pharisee, and Saul was trained as one also.
¨ Saul had been taught by Gamaliel one of the most famous Hebrew scholars.
¨ Saul could therefore speak Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.
¨ He would have memorized most of the Old Testament.
¨ He was also a member of the Sanhedrin, the elite ruling authority of Judaism. He therefore had good connections, access to the high priest. (Annas or Ciaphas)
¨ Saul was also a Roman citizen, which meant he was part of the upper class.
¨ Raised in Tarsus meant he had access to what was one of the three most important universities competing with Athens and Alexandria.
¨ Saul had the best possible education, a combination of Greek culture, Hebrew religion and Roman law.
v) Quite a pedigree.
vi) But according to Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3, they didn’t amount to a hill-of-beans before God.
vii) These things, even zeal for what he thought God wanted him to do, would not get him into favor with God.
¨ Titus 3:5 - not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
b. Paul’s Prejudice
i) :1 - He was eager to destroy the Lord’s followers
ii) NKJV - breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord
¨ Again, one of the reasons we know this to be the Word of God is because of the complete honesty of its human authors not to hide anything under the carpet.
¨ By the time this was written Paul was a celebrity, the hero of the church.
¨ But Luke does not disguise or play down Paul's past.
(a) In Galatians 1:14 Paul admits that before he met Jesus he was extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers. In that zeal, he had developed an all consuming fanatical hatred for the sect known as Christians.
(b) Here, described as “followers of the Way” – only in Acts
(c) In Acts 26:10 he admits that "on the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death I cast my vote against them."
iii) Quite a combination, a man of power and influence and a man with an all consuming passion to destroy the followers of Jesus.
c. Paul’s Plans :2
i) Not content to persecute the disciples in Jerusalem, he was prepared to travel 140 miles to Damascus in search of these heretics.
ii) 140 miles was a long way in those days, especially on foot.
iii) Its interesting to see how this highly intelligent spiritual leader allowed his prejudice and his hatred of Christians to blind him to the wisdom of his old professor Gamaliel.
¨ Listen to what Gamaliel himself said about how to respond to Christians....
¨ Acts 5:38-39 - And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing;
39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”
¨ Saul's Pedigree : he was an exceptional man of learning.
¨ Saul's Prejudice : he was a fanatic, zealous for his religion, consumed by hatred of his opponents.
¨ Saul's Plan : the systematic extermination of Christians.
(a) Saul makes the Yasser Arafat look like a saint by comparison.
(b) Saul was not the kind of man you would want to meet outside church one night....
v) But this also tells us a lot about God.
¨ God's patience, God's perseverance, God's sovereignty.
¨ God had a plan for Saul, but the early Christians didn't know it.
¨ They couldn't understand why the Lord allowed them to suffer at Saul's hands, but we know with hindsight the Lord was indeed at work.
vi) If verses 1-2 tell us how God tolerates Saul so patiently.
¨ It also tells us how patiently God tolerates us.
¨ ((illus)) I know a man who, when he was a teen tried to take his life. He was so angry at God, that He has saved his parents. This keep him from having the freedom do engage in the sins he had enjoyed prior to their salvation. In trying to run his motorcycle into a wall, he “missed.” He realized God’s patience, was saved and now is a missionary.
BEFORE :1,2 – God tolerates our sin so patiently
2. DURING :3-9
a. Here and elsewhere is chronicled the details of Paul’s salvation.
b. :4 – An interesting question
i) He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
ii) Notice the Lord says to Saul, "Why are you persecuting ME ?"
¨ Not persecuting the church but "me".
¨ God took Saul's sin personally.
¨ God takes your sin and mine, personally.
iii) We not only believe in a God who is sovereign, but also one who suffers.
¨ He is personal.
¨ The Suffering God came to Saul.
¨ The power of the Risen Lord Jesus revealed in the blinding light brought Saul to his knees. See 9:3.
¨ The presence of the Risen Lord Jesus through the voice that spoke brought Saul to his senses. See 9:4
c. Rather drastic medicine you might think, but Saul was a dangerous man, a ruthless man.
i) God uses the minimum force necessary to bring a person to the point of repentance and forgiveness.
ii) Saul had a pedigree but he found that no one is immune from God's call.
d. God tolerates the Saul in all of us so patiently.
e. God takes the sin in us so personally.
i) That's why Christ came.
Before : How the Lord tolerates Saul so patiently 9:1-2
During : How God takes sin so personally 9:3-9
3. AFTER :10-22
a. There is a drastic change in this story.
i) :15 - But the Lord said, [to Aninias] “Go and do what I say. For Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.
ii) Galatians 1:13-16 (NLT) 13 You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted the Christians. I did my best to get rid of them. 14 I was one of the most religious Jews of my own age, and I tried as hard as possible to follow all the old traditions of my religion. 15 But then something happened! For it pleased God in his kindness to choose me and call me, even before I was born! What undeserved mercy! 16 Then he revealed his Son to me so that I could proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When all this happened to me, I did not rush out to consult with anyone else;
b. Notice the abrupt division in Paul's testimony... my previous way of life... but when God who set me apart from birth...."
i) God was at work in choosing Paul even from his birth.
ii) All through his childhood and his training as a Pharisee the Lord was preparing him for a far greater mission.
iii) No doubt part of his training was learning what the heretical Christians believed.
¨ I wonder when the Lord began to sow the seeds of doubt in Saul's mind.
¨ When the light and voice confronted him on the Damascus Road, he knew who it was speaking to him. "Who are you, Lord?"
¨ The God he claimed to worship yet the God he did not know personally.
c. Saul was a chosen man.
i) Saul was a changed man all because of that meeting with Jesus.
ii) I'm glad that I haven't been given the kind of assignment Ananias got!
iii) Is there anyone in our church you find it hard to get on with?
d. :17 - How does Ananias greet Paul when they meet?
i) He calls him "brother".
e. The next time you feel like giving up with a particular person you don't like, remember how hard it would have been for the church at Damascus accept Paul.
i) Only the Lord could transform a Saul into a Paul.
ii) Saul had been an intolerant, bitter, persecuting, religious bigot....
iii) :20 - After his conversion Paul is pictured as a patient, kind, self sacrificing believer. Quite a transformation.
f. Now if you had been one of the apostles, say James or Peter, what would you have done with Paul?
i) Made him principal of a theological college?
Bishop of Athens?
ii) That's probably what we would do, but what did the Lord do?
g. He took all Paul's training in the scriptures and the law, his gifts of languages and culture, his key contacts from all over the world and what?
i) Acts 9:23-26 (NLT) 23 After a while the Jewish leaders decided to kill him. 24 But Saul was told about their plot, and that they were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him. 25 So during the night, some of the other believers let him down in a large basket through an opening in the city wall. 26 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They thought he was only pretending to be a believer!
ii) What a start to his new ministry...
iii) In fact for most of his Christian ministry the Lord let Paul rot in prison, or stay on the run for most of his Christian life!
iv) God transforms his saints providentially
¨ But he does so, so often in ways we would not expect.
h. What is the explanation for the great influence of Paul?
i) True he did found more churches than the other apostles.
ii) Yes, he did probably travel more miles for the gospel than any other apostle.
iii) Yes he did write more letters in the NT than the other apostles.
iv) But this was not because of his pedigree, but his dependence on the Lord. Listen to how he describes it himself.
¨ 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (NLT) 26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes, or powerful, or wealthy when God called you. 27 Instead, God deliberately chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose those who are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important, 29 so that no one can ever boast in the presence of God.
¨ 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 (NLT) 23 They say they serve Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes.25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not. 27 I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
28 Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of how the churches are getting along.
i. Paul's great strength, his driving energy, his insatiable desire to share the truth about Jesus Christ grew out of his own intense unworthiness, his own weakness, and God's strength in him.
i) Do you remember what the Lord said to Paul? "My Grace is sufficient for you for my power is perfected in your weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
j. We have here then Paul's testimony.
i) Before : How the Lord tolerates Saul so patiently 9:1-2
ii) During : How God takes sin so personally 9:3-9
iii) After : How God transforms his saints providentially 9:10-22
1. How did Paul's life end?
a. In retirement on Crete? with a church pension?
b. With book offers from publishers for his autobiography? his own TV station?
c. With churches named after him?
2. We don't know.
a. God did not think it that important to ensure it was recorded.
b. Tradition has it that Paul appealed to Nero and after two trials was executed in AD 68 on the Ostian Way outside Rome.
c. Executed for the crime of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
3. Paul is a model.
a. A model of the way, God tolerates His Saul's like you and I so patiently.
b. Of how God takes our sin so personally, that's why Jesus died.
c. Of how God transforms us so providentially.
a) God is powerful enough to turn His enemies like Saul from blind religious fanaticism, into His friends.
b) If He could do it for Saul, has done it for us, think what He can do through us.