2018-06-24 – Acts 9.1-19 – Transformation, Enemy to Apostle

9 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength

2018-06-24 – Acts 9.1-19 – Transformation, Enemy to Apostle, pg 127

Good morning everyone. I am so pleased that you chose to spend the morning with us here today. God bless you all.

As we are going through the book of Acts, last week we read about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was led by the Holy Spirit to the eunuch who was reading from the book of Isaiah as he was riding along in his chariot. Philip told him that Jesus was the person that Isaiah wrote about, and he explained the Good News Gospel, and subsequently baptized the eunuch right there in a water hole on the side of the road. The miracle was that the Holy Spirit knew what was needed and used Philip as an instrument of God to lead others to Him. What a great History lesson this was. We too should be more like Philip and be responsive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives. That was the charge presented on Father’s Day.
So now let’s see what God has for us in this next chapter 9 of Acts.

Please turn to Acts 9:1 (pg 127 of the Pew Bibles), which is the Inspired, Infallible and Living Word of God, and let us start with prayer.   [Prayer]

The conversion of Saul that we will be discussing today, occurred near Damascus and subsequently lead to Saul having 3 amazing missionary journeys. Just think of all the travel points he earned J

In the New York Times, recently there was a full-page ad for Columbia University. It advertised seven fields of study in which a person could get a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies. There was: America Studies, Ancient Studies, East Asian Studies, Islamic Studies, Jewish Studies, Medieval Studies, and South Asian Studies. Writer Richard Neuhaus spotted this ad and wrote an editorial about it, asking, Where is Christian Studies? There is Ancient, Islamic, Jewish, etc., but no Christian Studies. Sadly we live in a world today where it seems that prejudice and discrimination against Christianity is acceptable, and even rewarded. Giving Christianity, what might be construed even as a fair shake, makes secular people nervous. And heaven forbid that they might even give Christians a platform in the arena of open thought in our universities. Just mentioning things like creation and intelligent design will even get a teacher ostracized. Make no mistake, Christianity is a target in our world today, and it has been a target from day one as we will see in our first verses in this chapter 9 of Acts. Saul is going after Christians.

9Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 

The Pharisee Saul, who later became the missionary Paul, saw Christianity as a major threat to his own Jewish religion and heritage. So he attacked Christians with tremendous zeal — that is until the undeniable truth overcame him and God made him one of the greatest converts Christianity has ever had.

So according to these first verses, Paul was “breathing threats and murder” against Christians. He was even taking his persecution 150 miles north to Damascus to bring Christians back to Jerusalem for punishment.

The last time we spoke of Saul in scripture was right after he participated in the stoning of Stephen. And because of Saul’s outright and overt persecution of the new Christian believers in Jerusalem, the church family scattered. Now, according to these verses, Saul, who was effectively doing an internship to become a high-priest himself, asked and acquired a carte-blanche arrest warrant to go out and get the Christians, and he found himself on the trail after some of those he scattered toward Damascus.

Notice here in verse 2 that Saul was going after people who belonged to “the Way”. This is a title used for those who followed Jesus, “the Way”. That same name could also refer to those who followed Moses’ instruction in the Torah, as it was the way in which Israelites was to live according to God’s word. Then Jesus stated, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6). In this, Jesus was putting himself on the same level as Torah. So the people of “the Way” are those that followed Jesus Christ.

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

I believe that God wants us to see in this conversion story is that even the most unlikely people can be converted. God’s mercy and power are not only limited to people who have been set-up for Christianity by having a good family church association or a clean moral track record. The “chief of sinners”, as Saul calls himself, was converted this day, and that should give us hope as we strive to reach people for Christ and as we are pleading with God on their behalf. It also should give us some confidence in our own faltering walk with the Lord. God, according to 1 Timothy 2 “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Saul saw the light, figuratively and in person that day. Light has always been associated with Jesus Christ. He is the light of the world, and He lit up Saul’s world that day. Notice the first thing Jesus said to him, He said his name twice, maybe just in case there was any confusion here. He said Saul, Saul.

I did a little research this week and found there are 8 people God calls by name twice in the Bible. Abraham! Abraham! Jacob, Jacob; Moses, Moses! Samuel! Samuel! Martha, Martha; Simon, Simon; My God! My God! And now Saul, Saul.
I believe that in scripture God sometimes calls names twice to get the people’s attention, because what He is about to share or do is momentous. Here Jesus said, “why do you persecute me?” Many folks, many Christians think that what they do and what they say has little impact or importance to God. They think that God is not interested in their trivial day to day business. Let me tell you God knows ladies and gentlemen, and God cares very much how we act and what we say. Everyone say “God Cares”. Saul found out that day, God does in fact care.

The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Here Saul was thinking he was defending God’s church and going out and destroying the radical Christian believers, but all the while Jesus was taking account. Saul was thinking he was on the right path by persecuting Christian believers, but he was wrong. Saul had so much hate inside him that he couldn’t see the truth anymore. And as he was pursuing “the way” Jesus took it personally as if Saul was persecuting Him directly. The Bible tells us that Jesus still takes persecution against His people personally. Woe to people who go after those that are doing God’s will. Romans 12:19 says, “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” God is watching, we are never alone, and God takes vengeance.

Saul went from seeing red with vengeance that day, to being blinded by God’s Holy light. That must have been one heck of a light, maybe a jillion candles worth, and it blinded Saul for three days. It was meant to get Saul’s attention, and it impacted him so much he didn’t even eat or drink. I think seeing the light of God would impact anyone, let alone actually talking with Jesus directly. Saul hated Jesus, yet Jesus showed him mercy when He showed up that day.
I love it when God shows up in my life, don’t you? I try to look for God all the time as I serve Him day by day. And when He shows up I call it affirmation, as it affirms that He is with me, that maybe I am on the right path. Or like in Saul’s case, God points me to the correct path. Saul got a big affirmation that day didn’t he J. Jesus showed up, and just changed Saul’s direction.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 

Ananias is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible except here and in Acts 22:12, where Paul describes him as “a devout man according to the Law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt”. Whether he had become a Christian during the life of Jesus, or was among the Jewish converts on the day of Pentecost or at some subsequent time and had been forced to flee from Jerusalem by the persecution which followed on the death of Stephen, we are not told. However we can gather from his response and by his reluctance to visit Saul, that he still had communication with the Christians in Jerusalem. He knew about the havoc that Saul has caused, and the reason Saul came to Damascus.

I love how Ananias replied to God’s calling, “Here I am Lord”. What a powerful and perfect response. There are several places in the Bible where this phrase is mentioned. My favorite is from Isaiah 6:8, where he said, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for Us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” So Powerful a response. I would like to think I would do likewise

Jesus told Ananias that he was to go to a house on the street called Straight (not the crooked street) but the street called Straight, and at that house Saul was praying right now, and God gave him a vision that Ananias was coming.
Jesus had given Ananias a divine appointment, however it surprises me a little that Ananias is negotiating with Jesus in our text here. I would like to think I wouldn’t do that if God called upon me directly, but I am reminded that we all negotiate with God on occasion don’t we. The fact that the Bible makes these dynamics known proves to me that this book is real. The Bible isn’t a made up story with perfect people, it is real. So Jesus sets him strait (on the road called Straight, lol). And then tells Ananias and us what His plans are for Saul. Jesus was intending to use the most unexpected adversary to become His greatest advocate. Saul was being transformed from being an Enemy to Apostle. Only a gracious and compassionate and all powerful God could or would do such a thing.

17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

God provided Saul a unique and special repentive experience. One day he was going this way, and when Jesus hit him with His Light, it turned Saul on his heels. Just like the song we heard today, He was blind, but now sees. Saul’s eyes were healed through Ananias by Jesus Christ; the scales just fell from his eyes. He got a new outlook on life that day, and he was now looking upon the world with a new set of eyeballs. This story also reminds me of when the blind man was healed by Jesus. They asked him how this happened, and he responded with “all I know is I was blind and now I see”. Isn’t that just an awesome response!

We all were blind at one time, and most here, I would argue have had the scales removed from their eyes and hearts. You now see God, and you know God.
If there is hope for Saul, then there is hope for anyone. I think that is the main understanding God wants us to realize here today.

Jesus chose Saul long before Saul chose Jesus. In fact, Saul later says himself in Galatians 1:15 that God had set him apart before he was even born. In later scripture we know that Saul is going to be a great advocate and ambassador for Christ. He is going to have audiences with kings and nations and Israel. It is a divine appointment and Jesus told him even about how much he must suffer — not might suffer, in the process. So it is clear that this conversion is a work of divine, sovereign grace.

Saul’s conversion was not only for his own sake, but for our sake as well. I want you to take this very personally as we close. God had you in view when he chose Saul and saved him by His sovereign grace. Saul’s words in that regard are written in 1 Timothy 1:15 are very precious and reflective of this, he said: “I am the foremost of sinners; 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”. And that would be for both you and I.

If you believe on Jesus for eternal life, or if you may yet believe on Him for eternal life, Saul’s conversion was for your sake. Saul’s pre-conversion life was just a long, long trail for him to get to Jesus. Jesus asked Saul that day, “Why do you persecute me?” And Jesus asks each one of us that same question.

Will you please stand with me now.    Let Us Pray: Heavenly Father..