||44 Acts - 2017
Welcome to Expound-- a verse by verse study of God's word. Our goal is to expand your knowledge of the truth of God by explaining the word of God in a way that is interactive, enjoyable, and congregational.
Father, we settle our hearts before you and this prayer is not formality. It's an intentional way of inviting you to speak to us-- every single one of us. We pray that your Holy Spirit would have something special for each of us that we would learn. Some of us have known these things and heard this story on so many different occasions as part of our growing up.
I pray, Lord, that what we encounter in your word would be like fresh manna and that we would become closer to you and better representatives of you because of the testimony that fills these pages before us. Strengthen us and give us hearts, Lord, that are interested in the truths of your Word. For the word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword, and I pray that we would love it and learn it and give it out ourselves in Jesus' name. Amen.
The main character in our story tonight is, of course, Saul of Tarsus who becomes Paul the Apostle. We have been introduced to him already in the book of Acts back in chapter 7 verse 58. It was Saul who was keeping the clothes of those who were stoning Stephen.
He was in the synagogue-- the Hellenistic synagogue-- the synagogue of the freed men in Jerusalem. He listened to the compelling message given by Stephen giving Jewish background, taking them through all the different patriarchs, the story of redemptive history all the way up to the coming of the righteous one, the Messiah-- Jesus Christ. Those who heard him were cut to the heart. But as they were cut to the heart, what they did with their conviction is close their heart.
They attacked Stephen, and they murdered him. Saul was there egging them on consenting to his death. Now, he goes from bad to worse.
But what's great about chapter 9 is this is his conversion story. This is his salvation story. This becomes his testimony.
Some people, like me, have a pretty low-key testimony. I didn't see a vision. There was no bolt of lightning. I didn't hear an audible voice.
I watched a message on television by an evangelist named Billy Graham. I knew that was the truth. I turned it off. I went into my bedroom. I prayed, I received Jesus, and I knew I was saved.
Some people, however, have dramatic testimonies, and everybody's story is different. I love to hear them all. I had a good friend-- still one of my close friends. He was my best friend at the time.
His mother-- after her son's conversion, his mother didn't really want anything to do with it. She was running a household, basically the one holding down the fort, bringing in the paycheck every couple of weeks. Her husband was a drunk and not contributing at all.
She didn't have time for religion. She didn't believe any of that stuff. She wanted that far away from her,
But one night, the Lord Jesus appeared to her in a dream, and it was so dramatic for her-- so vivid for her. She woke up the next morning, grabbed her son, and said, I need to receive Christ. And from that moment on, she followed Jesus. It was a dramatic testimony.
Now, I think we'd all agree that the conversion of Saul of Tarsus was not only one of the great days of human history and one of the great stories of human history, but one of the most dramatic conversions ever. And it was dramatic I believe because it was a noteworthy event.
He was a noteworthy person, and his salvation would mean so much for the growth of the early church. That is why he becomes the dominant figure in the second half of the second portion of the book of Acts. Now, we've already looked at him. We're going to look at his conversion and then the story's going to go back to Peter and highlight Peter for a few chapters before giving way to Saul of Tarsus-- now Paul the Apostle-- who becomes the predominant figure in the rest of the book of Acts.
It's interesting that some years ago, a lawyer by the name of Frank Morrison, who was an unbeliever, said there are two events-- two biblical events-- that we must deal with to overturn Christianity. That was his aim, he said, to overturn Christianity. But he said, I have to deal with two events.
And it was these two events that he decided to research and contradict, confound, show why they were false. And those two events were number one, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and number two, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. He said, if I can manage to get at those two events, I can overturn Christianity. And as he did his research, Frank Morrison found that the evidence was overwhelmingly for Jesus Christ-- both in his Resurrection and with the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. And Frank Morrison-- the atheistic, agnostic, whatever lawyer at that time-- gave his life to Christ, and he was overturned by in part this event.
Now, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus highlighted in chapter 9 is an unlikely conversion. I like those kind. Everybody has people they know who are like the most unlikely to ever be saved, and you think oh, they could never-- I could never see that happening to them.
I hope you rethink that thinking after being refreshed with the testimony of Saul of Tarsus because Saul would say if he can be saved anybody can. He was unlikely because at the time he was the chief antagonist against Christianity. But after this, he will become the chief protagonist for Christianity.
He was the chief opponent. He becomes the chief proponent. So it's very unlikely given his state of mind as the chapter opens up.
Now, in this chapter, Saul of Tarsus who is in Jerusalem decides that since Christianity is spreading so rapidly and moving northward to Damascus that he would ask special orders from the Sanhedrin-- from the Jewish council-- to go up to Damascus and find those believers so that it doesn't spread into Syria and into other parts of the world. He wanted to keep it from spreading. Now, isn't that interesting? Because he's the one who will become responsible for spreading it.
He'll take it from Jerusalem, Judea, Sumeria, and the uttermost parts of the Earth. But he is hot on the trail of believers, so he decides to travel 160 miles north of Jerusalem to the city of Damascus. Now, keep in mind that he has a purpose.
If you were to interview Saul of Tarsus, and you'd say, Saul, so what's up with this? Why are you so intent on hurting these Christians?
He would tell you that he's just being a good apologist. He is stopping a false doctrine-- a heretical movement. He wants to keep Judaism purified-- that's probably what he would say. I want to keep it purified.
But in attempting to keep it so purified, he's going to make it putrified. He's going to turn anybody off from it. If this is what your religion will do in getting at these people, and hurting these people, incarcerating this people, and making sure that they die because of their faith. He's going to turn people off.
It's similar to what I have seen happen in the Middle East with Islam. Last time I was in Iraq, many of the people who were raised in Muslim homes said after ISIS came in their area-- they said, we have now seen the true face of Islam. We didn't know that this was part of what we believed in but since ISIS came in, we started reading and studying the Koran and found that that really is representative of the intent of Islam and Mohammad from the beginning. And now, we want nothing to do with our religion. And because of ISIS, many of them have become more open to Christ and have turned to Christ because of it.
So here is Saul of Tarsus. He's just bent on putting it out. It's sort of like this. Did you know that the healthiest place on Earth-- guess where it is?
Healthiest place on Earth-- the South Pole. You know why? Germs don't have a chance. Man, the germs can't live in that stuff.
It's just too cold for them to be active. So since winds largely originate at the South Pole and move northward, all the contaminants are also-- the would-be contaminants would be pushed away. It's too cold for germs to thrive, to survive.
There's no dust at the South Pole. It is the healthiest, cleanest place to live. However, not many people are standing in line to move there.
Real estate I hear is cheap. Now, why is that? Why aren't people wanting to live in the healthiest place?
There's always a list of the healthiest cities to live in America. Well don't forget the South Pole. The reason people aren't moving there-- it's just too stinking cold, that's why.
So people can get like that. They want to become so pure, so perfect, so authentic that they can become so cold in their approach. So isolating in their approach to people. And Saul of Tarsus was growing hot under the collar and cold around the heart all at the same time.
We read about it in verse one. Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus so that if he found any who were of the way-- that is what Christians were called originally. Not the church, not Christians, but the way. Whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
The original language that this is penned in says, "Saul breathing in threats." Here, it just says, "breathing threats and murders." But the original intention of the participle I am told means to breathe in-- to inhale. What's interesting about that is some translations translate it by saying Saul breathing out threats. So I just want you to picture this as that murders and threats have become his very breath. He's breathing it in. He's breathing it out.
He's like a war horse who sniffs the wind and can smell war and gets all excited. He's ready for it. Saul is a fire-breathing Pharisee hot on the trail. It's become his very life breath to put out this movement of early Christianity that is moving northward. So he goes, and he asks letters to the synagogues of Damascus.
Now, let me ask you a question. Do you think Saul of Tarsus is sincere in his belief? Oh man, my yes. Very much so.
Now, ask yourself a follow-up question-- is sincerity all that's important? Why do I bring it up? Because how many times do people say of other religions-- oh, but they're so sincere.
Listen, I'm sure ISIS is very sincere in their belief system. They put their lives on the line, they give up family, friendships. They live sometimes in isolation-- all for the caliphate.
They are willing to cut people's heads off for their sincerity. Sincerity isn't enough. You can be sincere and at the same time be sincerely wrong.
And Saul of Tarsus at this point was very sincere about his religious beliefs, but he was dead wrong. He was sincerely wrong. Now, I didn't warn you, but we're going through Acts 9. But there are four other passages of scripture I'm going to make reference to because they tie together, and I need you to see how some of these things all integrate together.
One of them is Paul's letter to Timothy. And you can feel free to turn to any of these, or you can just let me read them to you. But this is the Epistle of 1 Timothy and listen to Paul what he writes. "And I thank Christ Jesus, our Lord who has enabled me because he counted me faithful putting me into the ministry. Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man"-- I'm reading out of 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 12.
"But I obtain mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. In other words, I was sincerely wrong. "And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief. However, for this reason, I obtain mercy that in me first Jesus Christ might show all long-suffering as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.
Do you remember in our studies of Philippians on our weekend series Technicolor Joy? In Philippians 3, he talks about-- Paul talks about his background, and he says concerning Zeal, I persecuted the church. I was that zealous. I was that sincere. I was so into purifying Judaism that I was willing to go on a rampage north of Jerusalem and put out the church-- persecute the church.
All of that has reference to what we're reading here in chapter 9 of the book of Acts. So he asked letters to him to the synagogues of Damascus so that if he found any who were of the way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.
Now, it must have been a very bright light. Because when he tells this same story to King Agrippa when he's on trial and Caesarea in Acts 26. He says to to King Agrippa, at midday O King, I saw a light brighter than the sun. So he is traveling in broad daylight under full sun and a light brighter than the intensity of the sun got his attention-- interrupted him.
Then verse 4, "he fell to the ground, and he heard a voice saying to him, Saul-- Saul, why are you persecuting me?" I have been on this road or on a road similar to it that Paul took from Jerusalem up toward Damascus.
And whenever we take a tour group to Israel, we travel one day to the far north of Israel. We'll do that again in February. And we go on to a mountain which is called Mount Bental. And on Mount Bental, it's a military viewing point a lot of equipment is up there to listen to what's going on around them because you're at the Syrian border. And from that mountain peak, you can look down, and you can see the road that goes north toward Damascus.
In fact, on a clear day, you can see the outskirts of the city of Damascus. And many times I've looked down on that lone stretch of road and wondered where it was that Saul of Tarsus had this event happen to him. And I've just thought about this in my mind because it was nearing Damascus that all of this happened.
Now, why Damascus? Why is he going 160 miles north? Well, there was a huge Jewish population already in Damascus. There were about 40 synagogues that were populating the city at the time.
Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian who worked for the Romans, said that on one occasion 10,000 Jews were killed in Damascus, which shows there was a sizable population that was in that city. And because Paul knew that that was one of the epicenters of Judaism and that this Jewish messianic movement could spread, he decided to tackle it in its inception. Now, what is his goal? Well, his goal as rabbi Saul is to stop this insane movement that believes that Jesus is the Messiah.
In Saul's mind, you've got a bunch of Jewish people believing that a dead guy is the Messiah. That's how Saul of Tarsus saw him. He did not believe in the Resurrection. He will in a moment.
But at this point, Jesus is a dead guy, and the law-- his law says cursed is every one who hangs on a tree. Why would anybody put their faith in a dead guy? This is insane to him. He wants to stop it, but he knows the fervor already of what has happened in Jerusalem. He doesn't want it to spread any further. Now, notice the word in our text. "As he journeyed, he came near Damascus and--" What's the next word? Suddenly-- don't miss that.
There was no forewarning for Saul. It wasn't like the day before somebody said, watch out. God's going to get you tomorrow. He had no idea what was about to happen. It came suddenly.
He went to the high priest, asked for official letters, nothing happened, God was silent. He rounded up his posse, got on horses or donkeys or walked and they decided to travel. And so as they set out, nothing happened. God was silent. Mile after mile after mile God was silent.
And then suddenly, from out of nowhere without any kind of process or forewarning-- suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Now again, I want to look at a text of scripture. I'm going to turn now to a text we have read on the weekend in Philippians chapter 3. And let me read it to you.
Saul, now Paul the Apostle, in the third chapter of Philippians talks about his background, his testimony, but then he says this-- "that I may know him--" chapter 3 verse 10 of Philippians-- "and the power of his Resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings being conformed to his death. If by any means I may attain to the Resurrection from the dead--" Now, listen to this. "Not that I have already attained or am already perfected, but I press on that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me." The word laid hold-- I mentioned it whenever-- a few weeks ago in Philippians-- is the Greek word that means to arrest or seize katalambano. So here's Saul going to arrest Christians and on the way, Jesus Christ arrests him. Seizes him, lays hold of him, gets his attention, puts him down on the ground-- this bright light, this voice from heaven.
So here is Saul saying my purpose is I'm pressing because I want to lay hold of-- I want to seize-- I want to grab a hold of the reason that Jesus Christ originally grabbed a hold of me. He remembers that day vividly when he writes his letter to the Philippian church. And probably he has that in mind by using this word katalambano-- to arrest or seize.
Now, I've noticed something about people's conversions. I mentioned every story is different. Some people will tell me I've gone to church all my life. I heard the gospel. I sort of made a commitment, then I made a more of a commitment, then I made a real commitment.
And so for some people, it is a process of Revelation but not always. Sometimes conversion happens suddenly. instantly. It's like an epiphany happened. It's like I get it. I believe, and it's amazing how life can turn so quickly.
For some people, it's a catastrophe. It's the death of somebody they know. For other people, it's a biopsy report. Suddenly, God has their attention and suddenly they give their life to Christ.
Now, Saul of Tarsus has heard the testimony of Stephen. That didn't convert him. Saul of Tarsus has heard the words, the preaching, the of spreading of the gospel in Jerusalem he was familiar with. It didn't do anything. But now, suddenly this will do it.
And what is it? He gets knocked down. Now, can I just urge some of you who haven't given your life to Christ yet-- I think the Lord is a gentleman, and He nudges you. He might nudge you through hearing a message. He might judge you through hearing a radio program or going to a Christian event-- a concert or something at a stadium or He might nudge you through a relative or friend sharing their testimony with you.
But if you won't respond to God's nudge, well maybe you'll respond to God's knock-- bam. And now you're down, you're pinned to the ground, you've got no options, and you do what Saul of Tarsus does in Acts chapter 9. He said, "who are you, Lord?" Verse 5-- "then the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." It is hard for you to kick against the goads."
Now, when he asked the question, who are you, Lord? He doesn't know who it is. He wants information. He doesn't know us, Jesus.
He's not like recognizing somebody's voice and so the word Lord here though it's capitalized in the text, I believe it shouldn't be capitalized. I believe it's the common usage for the term lord-- small L-- a term of respect. Who are you, sir? Because he doesn't know it's Jesus.
Now, he gets a response from the Lord, and it is not what he expected. The next sentence hits him like a bolt of lightning. It's Jesus speaking-- "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads." Now, stop right there.
Saul of Tarsus hears those words. He understands something. This is something he is experiencing. There is a light brighter than the sun.
There is an audible voice speaking to him who knows his name-- the double intonation-- Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me. Who are you, Lord? Who are you, sir? I am Jesus.
It means two things. It means number one, the guy that he thought was dead isn't dead-- he's alive. He's talking to me. So the significance of this statement is huge. It means first of all that Jesus Christ is alive.
Now, my belief is that he didn't just hear a voice, but that Jesus appeared to him. That's my belief. You say, well, why do you believe that?
Well, if you go ahead a little bit down to verse 17, Ananias, who will go to him in Damascus, went his way and entered the house. And laying his hands on him, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road as you came has sent me." So that's his testimony-- Jesus appeared to you. Not only that, but later on when Paul writes 1 Corinthians 15 listen to what he says.
Now, I am reading from 1 Corinthians 15 beginning in verse 1. "Moreover brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand, by which you also are saved if you hold fast the word which I preached to you-- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received-- that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried and that He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, and then by the 12." --That is the other apostles.
"After that, He was seen by over 500 brothers--" bretheren-- brothers and sisters-- "at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present--" They're still alive "but some have fallen asleep. After that, He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all, He was seen by me as one who was born out of due time." So I believe the bright light that he saw was similar to the vision that John had of Christ in the Book of Revelation chapter 1 when John said I saw His countenance that shone like the strength of the sun.
So later on when Paul says to King Agrippa, at midday, O King I saw a light brighter than the sun-- I think he was speaking of the luminescence that came off the person in the vision that he saw of Jesus Christ. Either way, it tells him number one, Jesus whom he thought was dead is alive because he just talked to me. The second thing that he comes to realize is that Jesus Christ is one with his people.
That Jesus Christ is inextricably entwined with and related to his people on Earth. Because He says, who are you, Lord? He says, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
He didn't say you're persecuting them. You're persecuting my church. You're persecuting me. In, other words, guess what? When you hurt my people, I take that personally.
It tells us this-- no blow that has struck on Earth goes unfelt in heaven. He feels all of the persecution that goes on against His people. He takes it personally.
Now, it doesn't mean He always intervenes. He's saving Saul of Tarsus for his divine purpose. He doesn't always stop people who are persecuting around the world, but there is a principle here.
Remember, Jesus said, "inasmuch as you've done this to one of the least of my brethren, you have done it to me." Jesus is one with His people. So let me just encourage you-- if you're having a spat with another of God's children that you be very careful. How far you take that argument, that disagreement, that fight, because if you're fighting against one of God's kids, you just might have a fight on your hands a lot bigger than you bargained for. Keep that in mind-- Jesus takes this stuff seriously.
Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me? I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Then he says this.
It's hard for you to kick against the goads. What is he referring to? Well, goads-- that's farm talk-- that's what farmers have. Farmers have oxen, and they yoke them up, and they pull plows so that they can get the fields plowed up and planted, et cetera.
Now, sometimes the oxen are not motivated to go and pull the plow. So farmers developed a really ingenious gadget to motivate oxen. It was a long stick that was pointed. It was pointed at one end to a fine point, and it was dull on the other end. The fine point was the motivating point.
So when the oxen just sat there and didn't move, the farmer could always get them to move by taking that stick-- that goad and sticking them in the rear. And the oxen would get the point and would pull the plow. Sometimes though, they refused, and they would kick against that stick. And in the process, they would stick their feet or their leg into that sharp point and they'd be worse off. They'd be hurt further because they're kicking against something that's very sharp and could hurt them and could cause bloodshed. So using that analogy, saying it's hard for you to resist what I'm doing in your life. The goads-- he's being prodded.
What is he referring to specifically? I believe two things-- the life of Jesus Christ and the death of Stephen. The life of Jesus Christ-- what do I mean by that?
Well, there's thousands of Christians in Jerusalem alone who are swearing by the fact that Jesus is still alive. Their lives are changed. Saul of Tarsus is a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth. We don't know if Saul of Tarsus was out of the country during the ministry of Jesus. He may have been. He may have just come back into the country.
Or it could be that Saul of Tarsus actually heard some of the messages Jesus preached or some of the events. Certainly, he would have heard what Jesus said about Pharisees like himself-- whitewashed sepulchers-- that didn't go down well with him. So the life of Christ was one of the goads.
The other goad was the death of Stephen-- the life of Christ, the death of Stephen. The bloodshed of Stephen as he bled out outside the gates of Jerusalem and Saul was consenting to his death. But Stephen-- after preaching that magnificent sermon-- said, Lord, don't lay this sin to their charge. And he said, look, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of the Father.
Saul of Tarsus had seen many men die but never had he seen somebody die like that-- with love in his heart, with forgiveness in his heart, believing in Jesus. I think it was the death of Stephen and the life of Jesus that were these things that were just goading his conscience, but he's fighting it putting on the good face. Man, he's just plowing ahead. Got to get rid of this Christianity stuff.
So when he gets knocked down on the ground, Jesus said, I am Jesus whom you're persecuting. It's kind of hard to knock against those goads, isn't it, Saul? You've been fighting conviction a long time, and it's hard.
So he-- verse 6-- "so he trembling and astonished, said, Lord, what do you want me to do?" Now, the second usage of the word Lord is also capitalized and appropriately so. The first time, he didn't know who was speaking. He said, Lord small L-- sir.
But now, the voice has identified himself as Jesus, so he goes Jesus is alive and Jesus Christ is entwined with His people. He's definitely in charge of this episode. So when he says, Lord in verse 6, what do you want me to do? Now, this is Saul recognizing the supremacy, and we could even say deity of Christ.
This is in this verse I believe the hinge point of his conversion. This is where he is saved. He's suddenly knocked down, he's a quick thinker, he's a quick processor, he's not going to-- duh, that was weird. I mean he's like, I get it.
Lord-- now this resignation-- what do you want me to do? So follow the process-- there was a very quick sudden process-- there was an interruption, light, he hits the ground, the interruption is followed by an interrogation-- Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? After that little interrogation process, it leads to conviction.
He says, Lord-- what do you want me to do Lord? And then that results in resignation-- what is that you really want me to do? I'm resigning myself to You. Then the Lord said to him, "Arise, get up and go into the city that's Damascus, and you will be told what you must do. And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless hearing a voice but seeing no one."
I love how CS Lewis talks about this episode-- this conversion. He says that God was the divine chess player who was maneuvering the chessboard and backing Saul of Tarsus into a corner until finally, Jesus said checkmate. I just love that-- it's just a clever description.
Here's Jesus saying checkmate. You're after me? You're trying to arrest my people. I just arrested you, dude.
Now, there are two questions that Saul of Tarsus asked. There are two questions I believe every one of you must also ask. Who are you, Lord? That's the first question. What do you want me to do? That's the second question.
Some of you have been around church your whole life, you've been around God your whole life, but you've never settled the question who is Christ. You've heard things. You've listened to things, but you've never wrestled with it and struggle with it. I spoke to a young man in the foyer, and he had all sorts of different issues and beliefs.
I said, who is Jesus Christ to you? Is he the Son of God? He goes, well, I've been dealing with that a long time. I said well, now's the time when you should get that answered and get that settled.
Who is Jesus Christ? Answer that question. Once you've answered that question, and you think He is the Lord, and you resign to that identity, then you should ask, Lord, what do you want me to do? There's nothing more exciting than living your life, getting that question answered. What do you want me to do?
Wake up the next morning. What do you want me to do? What do you want me to do? Where your life becomes a living sacrifice.
Those two are essential questions to ask and to have answered. Then Saul arose-- verse 8-- from the ground. And when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus, and he was three days without sight-- so they let him in because he can't see. He's without sight.
He neither ate nor drank. Saul of Tarsus is absolutely in shock. He has no appetite. He has no vision, so no outside stimuli can go in his head. He's just confined to his thoughts.
And I say he's in shock because every single thing he has come to believe about truth has just been challenged. His view of the Old Testament has been challenged. His concept of God has been challenged. His idea of the Messiah has been challenged.
The afterlife has been challenged. The Resurrection has been challenged. Who Jesus Christ is has been challenged. All of that is just like-- he's just like he needs some three days to get through this and think this through, so the Lord makes sure that he can't see anything, and he just has to think this through. Several years ago, I was 13 years old. I was with my parents.
What did I say? Several years ago? Oh, so you said I should say many years ago? Not several years ago?
OK, thousands of years ago.
When I was 13, in the antediluvian period---
My parents were in an automobile accident. It was right after the car was developed. No, I'm just kidding.
And I was in the back seat. They were traveling. It was out by Reno, Nevada. They went around a curb, and the man-- the car that eventually struck them was powered by a man who had been drinking, had fallen asleep at the wheel, and his car had wandered into our lane at a high speed. He was going near 100-- maybe 90.
And it was a head-on collision on a highway. It killed him instantly. It put my parents in the hospital, and I had amazingly just a bloody nose from it.
But I recall walking outside the accident scene after, and I was stunned. And all the rest of the day stunned, and the next few days just I could hear the noise still in my head. It was like a ringing in my ears.
I was just shocked by it. And I think of that was Saul of Tarsus. He's just absolutely blown away because of what happened to him.
"Now, there was--" verse 10-- "a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias." Oh, by the way, isn't it interesting that he was in this state for three days? This was the most revolutionary three-day period In Saul's life, but I think back to another revolutionary three-day period. And that is when Jesus between his death and Resurrection was buried in the ground-- a revolutionary three-day period. That was the most important three-day period in history. This is the second.
There will be a Resurrection so to speak of Saul of Tarsus. So he's three days-- he's not eating, he's not drinking. But there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias and to him, the Lord said in a vision, Ananias." I like how the Lord is so-- he says your name.
"And he said here I am Lord, so the Lord said to him, arise and go to the street called Straight--" by the way, It's still there in Damascus-- in Syria. "And inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus. For behold, he is praying, and in a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias--" that would be you. "Coming in and putting his hand on him so that he might receive his sight."
Notice the description that Jesus gives of Saul of Tarsus to Ananias-- for behold he is praying. Do you find that unusual? I find it surprising and beautiful all the same. It's surprising because-- well, let's see.
He said I'm a Hebrew of the Hebrews concerning the law of Pharisee. He grew up praying. He prayed all his life. He prayed every day of his life. Since he was a little kid, he was taught the Shema-- Deuteronomy 6-- [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
"The Lord, our God, the Lord is one." He said that from being a toddler, then, later on, he learned other formalized prayers. There is a set of prayers that pious Jews like Saul prayed every day called the [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]
The 18 prayers said morning, noon, and night. He prayed those prayers. There were formalized prayers on every day of the year. He was Jewish. Of course, he was praying.
So why does Jesus say, behold, he is praying? Because he's never prayed like this before. I grew up in a church where we had formalized prayer, but the day I gave my life to Christ in San Jose, California, I prayed differently. I was really communicating to God. It wasn't road, it wasn't formalized-- it was reality.
Now, he's really praying, and I love that description. For behold, he is praying. Keep in mind he's going through all that he has learned. He's changing his view of who Jesus is-- all those the Old Testament scriptures, the law he has been taught.
Remember Saul of Tarsus was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem. This guy was-- according to his own testimony-- blameless when it came to the Judaic worship system.
So he's rethinking all this. Alan Redpath said we can never say thy kingdom come until we first learn to say my kingdom go. So this is Saul of Tarsus saying my kingdom go. He's resigning.
He's letting go during these three days so that he can apprehend and obey the will of God. Then Ananias answered-- this is after he said get up and go talk to Saul at first. "Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard many things about this man and how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem." This is Ananias protesting the command.
It would be like if the Lord said, go to Syria and talk to Baghdadi. Find the head of ISIS and go talk to him because I've just converted him. You'd probably go, uh, Lord? I've heard about this guy. He has done many things against your saints, so he knew the reputation of Saul of Tarsus.
And here-- verse 14. "And here he has the authority from the chief priest to bind all who call on your name. But the Lord said to him, go, for he is a chosen vessel of mine to bear my name before the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel, for I will show him how many things he must--" I want that word to sink in-- "suffer for my name's sake." How would you like to hear that the first day of your Christian experience?
"And Ananias went his way and entered the house and laying his hands on him. He said, brother Saul--" I wonder how he said that. I wonder if he said that with confidence-- brother Saul or if he said brother Saul with a little trepidation and fear-- not certain. "The Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road as you came has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales--"
Remember, he was blinded for three days. "And he received his sight and at once he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus." Ananias was responsible for providing the first experience Saul of Tarsus would ever have with Christian fellowship.
Just think about that. Ananias is one of the unsung heroes in the Bible. You never hear of Ananias writing a book, preaching a sermon, performing a miracle-- but he was the guy who first approached Saul of Tarsus and called him brother.
And I love this, and may I say we need this in the church-- people who will come along and embrace those bumpy new believers who get saved out of weird, rank, sordid lifestyles who don't quite act or look like you think they should-- to come around them, embrace them, and say brother sister. Let me bring you into the body of Christ, stand with you, provide fellowship for you, disciple you. So I loved that man, and I did that whether he was reluctant or not, I'm not sure. I know I would be.
I would sort of feel like the missionary who is face to face with a cannibal, and he noticed the cannibal was staring at him for some time. And he finally said, what are you staring at? And the cannibal smiled and said dinner. You know you'd feel a little odd in that situation.
Saul of Tarsus was notorious. Ananias certainly could have felt reluctant, but he comes in and faces brother Saul. That Jesus who appeared to you has sent me, and he prayed for him.
Now, I want to say something as we are drawing to a close, and you know that time runs away from me. I'm always ready to just keep going, but we're not done yet. We still have some time. Wait a minute-- OK, just getting the time in my head.
OK, so let me ask a question. Jesus is speaking directly from heaven, and Saul of Tarsus says, Lord, what do you want me to do? OK, now stop right there. Why didn't Jesus just say, OK, Saul, right now believe in your heart that I am the Messiah and confess it with your mouth? You'll be saved then go get baptized.
Why didn't Jesus just tell him what to do? Because he doesn't. He says get up and go into town. You'll be told what to do. OK.
So he has to wait three days till Ananias shows up. Jesus goes through the trouble of speaking a vision to Ananias to get him to go speak to Saul. Why not pass go collect $200-- just forget the middleman.
Cut out the middleman-- just Jesus, you've got my attention. What do you want? Here's what I want, here's what you do-- he doesn't do that. Why? Do you ever wonder that?
I remember reading that wondering that. Here's why I believe-- Jesus delights in using people. We're called the Body of Christ. He delights in letting somebody else like Ananias be the human face for the invitation of Christ in the body.
We must never underestimate the power of personal touch-- personal testimony of one single person being used by God to reach another. It's the same answer to the question why don't angels get loudspeakers hung from the moon addressing Earth, Earth-- here's a miracle. Angels dancing in heaven, light shining-- wow, I believe. OK. Now, that I've got your attention-- He didn't do that.
He sends people to preach the gospel. It's by the foolishness of the gospel preached-- the message preached. So God is all about human instrumentation to do His work. He confines Himself to the foolish things of this world so that He gets all the glory.
So never underestimate the power of a single person-- surrender to God, spreading His word, and that trickles down. Think of it this way-- Edward Kimball was a shoe salesman also a Sunday school teacher. He shared with his boys the gospel.
One of them received the gospel. His name was Dwight Lyman Moody. DL Moody preached in his church after he became a pastor and at one of the services, a young man by the name of Frederick Meyer-- FB Meyer listened, and he was turned on to do the Lord's work. FB Meyer in doing the Lord's work led a person named Wilbur Chapman to faith in Jesus Christ. Wilbur Chapman worked for the YMCA and while he worked there hired a young ex-pro ballplayer named Billy Sunday to work at the YMCA and be an evangelist.
Billy Sunday eventually goes to Charlotte, North Carolina to speak to a group of Christian businessmen. The Christian businessmen get inspired, and they decide let's have a crusade. And they hire evangelist Mordecai Ham to come to town and give a crusade.
At the crusade on one of the nights-- I think it was the last night-- a tall blond-haired lanky young man came forward to receive Christ named Billy Graham. And thousands and thousands and millions of people, including myself by that trickled down obedience have been touched. The Lord loves that story told through humans of redemptive history.
So "Ananias obeyed and Saul spent some days--" verse 19-- "with the disciples at Damascus immediately--" What did he do immediately? He preached Christ in the synagogues that He is the Son of God. And there's a couple of things I just want you to notice about Saul's conversion. Immediately, he was baptized and immediately he was vocal.
Do you see that? Immediately he's baptized-- he doesn't like wait five years. I say, yeah, I received Jesus five years ago and now I'm going to get-- he got baptized immediately. He wanted to make a break and make a public demonstration of an inward change. Early church baptisms happened after salvation.
Second, he felt he had to be vocal from the beginning he wanted to tell people his faith-- he was a preacher. He felt like this was so great what happened to me. I've got to tell somebody. It's sort of like when you shake up a Coke. There's so much pressure built up that you just release your thumb a little bit-- it comes spewing out.
Saul of Tarsus was all shook up, and he had to get it out so immediately he preached the Messiah-- literally the Christ in the synagogues that He is the Son of God. And all who heard were amazed and said, is this not he who destroyed those who called in this name in Jerusalem and has come here for that purpose? So that he might bring them down to the chief priest? But Saul increased all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus proving that Jesus is the Christ.
Imagine being in the synagogue the day Saul of Tarsus walked in and preached Christ to you. You as a Jewish adherent to your faith are there for the typical service and this man stands up and preaches that Jesus is the Messiah and you're listening going-- what? Say what? That's the guy that kills people or arrests people that talk about that guy. What's he doing? It's quite a shock.
So it's sort of an interesting journey that he has taken so far. First, he was on his back hearing the gospel under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, then he's is on his knees praying, now he's on his feet preaching, and it happened all suddenly-- all immediately-- all within a few days. Now, between verse 22 and verse 23, there is, I believe, a gap.
So let's just read it. "Saul increased all the more in strength, and he confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus proving that this Jesus is the Christ. Now after many days were passed, the Jews plotted to kill him." Now that phrase-- many days, I believe was three years. I believe there is a three-year gap between verse 22 and verse 23.
And you say, well what happened in those-- first of all, why do you think three years and what happened during those three years? Well, next time we get together, I'll be able to unfold and unlock that mystery for you. To be continued. We'll pick it up there.
Father, we thank You for Your word. Thank You for this man who has impacted all of our lives-- Jesus, of course, changed our life in the most dramatic way. But probably the second most influential person in my life has been Saul of Tarsus. He has given to us a pattern in real life of what it is to follow Jesus. In fact, He said, follow me as I follow the Lord. Imitate me as I imitate Christ.
He has-- by his words, and by his testimony, by these stories-- shown us what it is to be convicted by the spirit and committed to Christ. And so we thank You for him and thank You for this wonderful historic monumental day of his own conversion-- the day You katalambano-- seized him, You arrested him, You laid hold of him. And each of us looks back to the time when You laid a hold of us, and we're still pursuing the reason for which You grabbed hold of our lives-- may we know what that reason is.
May we ask, Lord what is it You want me to do? How can I fulfill Your plan? And I pray, Lord, that we will experience the sheer joy of being instruments and vessels like Ananias was for Saul and like Saul, who became Paul, was for so many others.
May we by our words and our lifestyles like Kimball and Moody and Meyer and Chapman and Sunday and Ham and Doctor Billy Graham influence people. May we pass the baton of faith to the next generation. In Jesus' name, Amen.
For more resources from Calvary Albuquerque and Skip Heitzig, visit calvaryabq.org.