Paul and Ananias
Paul and Ananias
Transformation: Acts 9:1-17
I love the Olympics! I’m bordering on depression with the realization of the Olympics coming to a close. Although, I’m a little conflicted because I’m exhausted and don’t know how much longer and can go with so little sleep.
Have you been staying up past your bedtime? Me too! Just think NOW we can start getting a full nights sleep! But, it was true, that all these athletes needed our support. So it’s important for us to stay up into the weee hours of the morning to watch them compete on an at least 3 hour tape delay.
But seriously, I love the Olympics. I love sports, I love competition, and I love the stories of the athletes and their disicipline and sacrifice to try to achieve that elusive gold medal.
As hard as it is for me to understand the unique achievements of people like Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt, the one that baffles me the most is Dara Torres. 8woman swimmer in the world. Only one person faster, and she was only 1/100th of a second faster.
The coverage did a piece on the workouts that Dara subjects herself to and the great team around her to help her reshape, and mold her body and mind into a finely tuned machine. Yet the fact that she is 41 years old and swimming faster than the best in the worlds 20 something is almost impossible to believe. Can someone, that much past their physical prime really transform themselves into the fastest in the world without using performance enhancing drugs? She voluntarily submits to blood testing on a regular basis in an attempt to squash such speculation but it still exists.
When it comes to radical change or transformation…it’s easy for us to be skeptical. Take it outside of the physical realm and let’s talk character.
Can anyone really be transformed? Not just on the external or physical, but what about internal transformation? Can a bad, evil man be transformed into a good honest man of integrity? Can you make a woman who for all appearance has no conscience into sweet and lovely person on the inside? Can a shattered, broken relationship be put back together as good as new...or even better?
Some of you in this room have personally experienced a transformed life. BUT you have lost some faith to believe that this transformation could happen in the life of someone you love. Maybe you’ve even begun to doubt that you can be continued to be transformed.
What I want to do this morning is look at a man who was probably the most famous of the apostles. He wrote a good part of the NT, the 14 Pauline epistles. The man God used more than any other to establish and extend the early church throughout the Roman world, the Apostle Paul.
But that isn’t what I want us to focus on this morning. I want to take you back to the beginning of his journey as a follower of Christ, when he was known as Saul of Tarsus. Back to Acts 9 where we read about the story of his conversion.
1 Timothy 1:15-16. Paul says, 15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.; (16) but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
In other words God had you and I in view when he saved Paul. That is an awesome thought. God saved Paul for your sake. So that you would take courage and hope that God does transform lives. He can transform yours but also there is hope for those you love that you’ve doubted God can reach.
Public Reading of Scripture:
Pay attention to the story as we read together
He was a native of Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, a Roman province in the southeast of Asia Minor.
Tarsus was also the seat of a famous university, higher in reputation even than the universities of Athens and Alexandria, the only others that then existed. Here Saul was born, and here he spent his youth, doubtless enjoying the best education his native city could afford.
His father was devout Jew, a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, of pure and unmixed Jewish blood (Acts 23:6; Phil. 3:5).
Saul was sent, when about thirteen or fourteen years of age, to the great Jewish school of sacred learning at Jerusalem as a student of the law. This was the normal age in which the best and brightest of Jewish boys would continue to study and apply oral and written law from the Talmud, the Mishna, and the Sages. Each Rabbi would have their own interpretation of how to live out the Torah. Saul became a pupil of the celebrated rabbi Gamaliel, the teacher of teachers or Rabbi of Rabbi’s.
Each Rabbi would align himself with interpretations of the law and traditions attached to the law. The Rabbi’s would debate what it meant to actually obey the law. Traditiions were born and established over years and years that eventually held equal weight to the original law itself. You see, you have the law itself and then the Rabbi's interpretation of the rules required to obey the law. The Rabbi's rules were called his yoke. When you studied under a Rabbi, you took his yoke upon you. Paul was Gamaliels star pupil so Saul would have taken on the yoke of Gamaliel.
Saul was so committed to making sure his external behavior was right that he eventually became a Pharisee. This was a brotherhood of Jews committed to the meticulous keeping of the law. They were dedicated to the most minute regulations.
Saul became a Pharisee and also most likely a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court).
So Saul was obsessed with this code of conduct. This way of living that was the only right way to live.
This is not all bad. I mean after all, what’s wrong with encouraging good morals?
One Important Point: There is a benefit to making right choices no matter what you believe.
There is benefit to doing good no matter what you believe.
Don’t murder – avoid prison
Don’t cheat on spouse – avoid family hardship and build trust instead of destroy it
Love people – you’ll probably have many good friends who love you
Obey & honor your parents – God says you’ll have a better chance of living a longer life
There is benefit to doing the right thing no matter what your world view because obeying God generally brings health versus destruction.
And we are encouraged by God to grow in our distaste for evil actions that go against what is honoring to Him.
But one of the lessons I learn from Saul of Tarsus and his undying commitment to an external code of conduct are the …
The Limitations of External Transformation
Here’s the problem with focusing on external conformity.
Morality can damn you just like immorality. Morality doesn’t earn you a right to a relationship with God. But we have a tendency to think it does make us more loveable and acceptable to God. And then we compare ourselves to how others are doing.
We are all prone to this trap. I can so easily slip into this, I don’t have to even try…unfortunately it seems to come naturally. No matter what our view of God, our ideology, our political affiliations, our moral standards, our nationality, we can easily slip into thinking my way is superior and thus I’m superior. Maybe we don’t say it out loud, but on the inside it is easy to slip into a spirit of self-righteousness.
Here’s one of the problems with this if you’re a follower of Christ:
2 Corinthians 5:17-20
17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
The mandate for followers of Christ in the world: The ministry of reconciliation to God through Christ, which brings about real transformation.
Here’s the danger when we get caught up with placing our emphasis on the externals, those we are commanded to lovingly reach with the gospel we can mistakenly identify as our enemy.
Immoral people – whoever you think of when you think ‘immoral person’ -- become vilified and hated the enemy.
2 Cor 5 says they aren't the enemy, they are the ones God wants to reach with His love. They are the ones that Jesus hung out with.
I think about Jonah. The Ninevites were wretched people; I mean they were really wretched. They were pagans. They slaughtered their enemies, and they piled their skulls in pyramids. They damned up rivers with dead bodies. They would cover pillars in buildings with the flayed skin of a conquered ruler. That's ugly stuff; wicked, haters of God, enemies of Israel. God tells Jonah: Jonah, go preach to them. Says, ha, no chance. And he heads 2,000 miles in the opposite direction. That is a repulsive thought. Preach forgiveness to a Ninevite? Eventually, after being swallowed and vomited -- frankly, any fish would have vomited up someone as bitter as Jonah -- he went to Nineveh and he preached; 600,000 people probably, and the whole place repented. And then he was really mad. He was miserable. He was so mad he wanted to die. Here’s why Jonah didn’t want to go preach to them, because he knew the following about God. Jonah 4:2 He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
That's the severe danger in moralism. If we’re just going to extend God’s love to people who deserve it, then guess what, none of us are going to receive it.
God wants us to extend love to undeserving people just like we received His undeserving love.
These disciples of Jesus, and their preaching about unmerited love and forgiveness through this false prophet Jesus was threatening the very lifestyle and traditions he’d devoted his life to.
This mindset lead Saul to a darker place than Jonahs’.
Saul lived his life to hurt, to injure, and if need be, to kill people who disagreed with his view of God and how he wants us to live our lives.
Acts 8:3 Luke says, "But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison."
Then in Acts 9:1-2, Luke says that Paul was "breathing threats."
About two years after Pentecost, Christianity was quietly spreading its influence in Jerusalem. Saul became the active leader in the furious persecution by which the rulers then sought to exterminate Christianity.
But these disciples of Christ, the ‘Nazarenes’, the members of this new sect also known as ‘the Way’ began to scatter under the persecution in Jerusalem. But as they scattered they continued to preach Jesus Christ. This only intensified Saul’s anger for these mindless sheep. So hearing that many had fled to Damascus, he obtained from the chief priest letters authorizing him to travel there and continue on his persecuting career. He needed to stop them there, because Damascus was a city located on the trade routes that lead to the rest of the world. This is where Saul would squash this sect.
So Paul took a business trip 150 miles north to Damascus in order to terrorize some more Christians and bring them against their wills back to Jerusalem to be punished.
Is this the guy you would expect to become a follower of Christ? NO WAY! His life passion was in total opposition to Christ and His followers.
Saul was enemy #1 to the Christian faith.
Saul of Tarsus was not open to Christ. He was not interested and nor was he spiritually sensitive. He was utterly closed and utterly convinced that Christianity was untrue.
He was NOT "ripe for the picking". So what happened next?
3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
5"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6"Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
Here’s the second point:
Real Transformation Is A Divine Act of Grace
Do you see any evidence that God was responding to anything SAUL had done to deserve or win God’s grace? Me neither.
God’s grace, mercy and power have no limits.
It was a utterly sovereign act of Divine grace and mercy– that means God chose Saul not on the basis of anything deserving action. It was totally free, unmerited and it came with overwhelming power and authority.
Sometimes God breaks into a life in a dramatic way. And other times it a slower process where He chooses to slowly bring someone along. But either way, the point is God does break into and transform lives.
Saul’s conversion would be the modern day equivalent of Osama Bin Laden getting converted and becoming a Christian missionary in Afganistan.
Here’s one of the messages:…God’s grace, mercy and power are not limited to people raised in solid Christian homes who have clean moral records. The most unlikely people can be transformed and are transformed.
Two weeks ago I read a news article about Mosab Hassan Yousef. Mosab is an extraordinary young man with an extraordinary story. He was born the son of one of the most influential leaders of the militant Hamas organization in the West Bank and grew up in a strict Islamic family.
Now, at 30 years old, he has renounced his Muslim faith, left his family behind in Ramallah and is a follower of Jesus Christ.
Here are a few excerpts. Mosab was quoted…
‘When I studied the Bible carefully verse by verse, I made sure that it was the the word of God, so I started to see things in a different way, which was difficult for me, to say Islam is wrong.
Islam is my father. I grew up for (one) father — 22 years for that father — and another father came to me and told me, 'I'm sorry, I'm your father.' And I was like, 'What are you talking about? I have my own father, and it's Islam!' And the father of Christianity told me, 'No, I'm your father.'
God opened my eyes, my mind also, and I became a completely different person.
God transforms people…2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
When a man puts his faith in Christ, at that moment he is totally transformed. He met Jesus and in an instant he knew Jesus was his Messiah.
WHAT HAS BEEN TRANSFORMED? What was changed? His standing before God is instantly changed—he’s new creation. This is not a process, it is a miracle.
On The road to Damascus:
• Saul went from a condemned sinner before a holy and just God to a totally forgiven and declared innocent before God when he believed in Jesus on the road to Damascus.
• He went from powerless to live a life honoring to God, to now having everything needed in which to live the life God created Saul to live.
• Saul went from being estranged from God to becoming an adopted child of God.
THIS WAS ALL DONE AS AN UNDESERVED, DIVINE ACT OF GRACE.
There was a completed transformation that took place. But there is also an ongoing transformation that began on the road to Damascus as well.
The process of following Jesus and having Saul’s life continually transformed to be more like Jesus.
Instant transformation and ongoing transformation: I am a different person as a follower of Christ than I was 5 years ago. There is an ongoing transformation continuing on.
Illustration: Baby Raechal
This week we’ve had my nephew, his wife and their little baby Raechal, staying with us. She is a beautiful little girl. When Raechal was born, she was whole. Her parents didn’t say, she’ll be all right in a few years when she grows some eyes and ears and when she develops some internal organs. No she is a perfect little healthy girl. She was complete. But at the same time she is continuing to grow into the framework of what God already created her to be.
This transformation is not surface, Not superficial, it was deep, to the core.
Saul’s character was to be continually transformed by God…
As Saul served, God continued to transform:
Hate to Love
he left Ephesus, he gathered with the leaders and they cried like babies because of their mutual love. In 1 Thes. 2 “We loved you so much that we delighted to share with you, that we treated you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging on…”
Restlessness to Peace
Philippians 4:11-13 he says, "...I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content.
Pride to Humility
In Lystra people started to proclaim that he and Barnabas were gods (Acts 14). Paul and Barnabas became so shook up that they started tearing their clothes in revulsion and said, "No, we're not gods, we're just men! We don't want your worship" (vv. 13- 18).
Roughess or Heavy handedness to Gentleness:
To the Thessalonians he says, "But we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children" (1 Thess. 2:7).
And Saul of Tarsus was changed in a moment. He became a new creation. He who was dead in sin became alive to God; it was both a completed work as well as an ongoing work.
THEY ARE HOPELESS: Do you know people who seem like there is no way they will ever know God? Maybe you work with one. Maybe you’re married to one. The Lord has ways of breaking through to them and shining His light on them unpredictably and unexpectedly—even as He did with Saul.
God uses people to continue his Transforming Work In Us
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
Different Ananias from Acts 5. Ananias was the liar of the early church (Acts 5).
We don't know much about Ananias except from Acts 22:12, which tells us that he was a devout Jew and had a good reputation. He was a devout Jew who believed in Jesus as Messiah. And I think that Ananias may well have been a leader, if not the leader, of the church in Damascus. In fact, Ananias may have been the leader that Saul was after.
Ananias Recognizes God: Notice the differences in Saul’s response to God vs. Ananias. Ananias knew God’s voice. Ananias kept close enough to God that when God spoke, he not only recognized the voice but was ready for it.
This is an area that many of us leaders feel God is transforming in us right now. My sensitivity to God’s leading in my life moment by moment. We do not want to miss his voice.
CHASING DAYLIGHT: series this fall, help build our sensitivity to hearing and responding to the voice of God in our everyday lives.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
Ananias was available to God, but I wouldn’t say he was anxious to obey.
The only thing that came near matching the panic Saul felt on the road was the fear Ananias felt when the Lord appeared to the leader of the Damascus church and told him to go to the persecutor of the followers of the Way. Saul of Tarsus? Ananias probably knew that he was top on Saul’s list for arrest and perhaps worse. Admitting to Saul, who he was, was like voluntarily signing his own death warrant.
I imagine his heart was filled with a mixture of trepidation and love. What casts out fear? Love. God’s love for us sinners won out as it had transformed Ananias heart to demonstrate love to his worst enemy.
Ananias was to be a reconciler.
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul…
One of the most moving scenes in all of Scripture is what happened when Ananias went to Saul. He found the feared persecutor alone, blind, and helpless. All the hurt and fright Ananias had felt for what this man had done to his brothers and sisters in Christ drained away. The same Lord who told him to go to Saul lived in him and had given him His own character traits of love and forgiveness. It was with the Lord’s deep compassion and acceptance that Ananias could say, “Brother Saul.” Brother? Not ‘Butcher Saul’, but ‘Brother Saul’. Welcome to the family. Took care of Saul, took him out and baptized Saul. Came alongside to help him get off to a good start.
What an impact this must have had on this new follower of Christ, Saul.
God uses people to continue His divine work in our lives. And God wants to use you to continue His work in the lives of others.
Illustrations: Who’s in your life right now? In your life, who has God used to continue His transforming work in your life? Think about different seasons of life and the different people God had there for you. Who right now is God continuing to transform to be more like Jesus, and He’s using you as one of His instruments to do it?
We should always be able to recognize who God is using in my life and who’s life God is using myself in. Don’t have that person right now? Pray, listen to God about who that person may be and ask them if they can help you on your journey as a follower of Christ.
1 Timothy 1:15-16 I am the foremost of sinners; (16) but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience (literally: the whole of his longsuffering) for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Saul's conversion is for our benefit.
God gives hope to every man who is sick of himself. We shouldn’t lose heart. We shouldn’t think God could not really save us. We should not think God is prone to anger. We should not think we have gone too far away from God to Him to find us. We should not think our loved one cannot be touched by God--suddenly, unexpectedly, by the sovereign, overflowing grace of Jesus.
• Prayer of faith for God to touch a life you’ve lost hope for
• Prayer of confession and faith to claim and submit to God’s transforming work in your own life
• Prayer responding to God making Himself known to you today. I am your God, I want you to follow Me.
From birth to conversion:
Born at Tarsus in Cilicia Acts 22:3
Born a Roman citizen Acts 22:25–28
Called Saul until changed to Paul Acts 9:11; Acts 13:9
Benjamite Jew Phil. 3:5
Citizen of Tarsus Acts 21:39
By trade a tentmaker Zealot for Judaism Acts 18:1, 3; Gal. 1:14; Phil. 3:5
Very strict Pharisee Acts 23:6; Phil. 3:5, 6
Educated under Gamaliel Acts 22:3 the ‘teachers teacher’ of that day
His sister in Jerusalem Acts 23:16
Apparently unmarried or a widower 1 Cor. 9:5
Member of Jewish council Acts 26:10 He was a member of the Sanhedrin—the Jewish Supreme Court
Zealous for the Mosaic Law Acts 26:4, 5
Consented to Stephen’s death Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1; Acts 22:20
Intensified persecution of Christians Acts 9:1, 2; Acts 22:3–5; Acts 26:10, 11; Gal. 1:13
Conscientious persecutor Acts 26:9; 1 Tim. 1:13