While teaching Acts 9:1-19, Todd Wagner showed us the conversion of Saul, who would later give himself the name of Paul, and how Ananias responded faithfully to God’s call to love a person who formerly persecuted the church.
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Welcome, friends. Good morning. How are we doing? Act Two: Judea and Samaria. We are making our way through the book of Acts. If you're here and you don't even know what the book of Acts is, that's okay. We're going to share with you. It is the story of God accomplishing his purposes through his spiritual body, the church, in the same way he did through his Son, who is the exact representation of his nature.
That Son when he was here said, "After I go, I'm not going to leave you as orphans. I'm going to give you my Spirit. You will be one with the Father, restored into relationship with God through the provision I make for you, so that the power of God can live in you and through you to God's glory and the blessing of the world and to the enrichment of your life. Not to the ease of your life, but that your life might be full of meaning and purpose and you would know why you are here, where you are going, why it's such a mess, and how I want to use you to do something about it." It is some good stuff.
We are in Acts 9. You're about to meet a guy who is one of the most influential people in all of history. In fact, in 1970-something, a guy named Michael Hart wrote a book called The 100, his personal ranking of the 100 most influential people in history. I remember pulling that book off a bookshelf in my house and glancing at it, and then years later, after I came to know Christ, going back to that book and looking at it. Number three was Jesus. Interesting.
I immediately read the first chapter that explained that this guy was saying, "These are not the greatest people in history. If you're asking me to rank the greatest people, I would say Jesus." You might even say Jesus isn't a fair comparison, because he was not just fully man; he was fully God, which we have explained many times here. But he said Jesus was a human, so while he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but walked humbly on this earth, being made in the likeness of man and being found in the appearance of a man, he ranked him third in terms of influence.
Part of the reason, he said, is there is somebody else you must share the advancement of that which Jesus began with. It's kind of like having a great running back and wide receiver on your football team, and your sports information department is trying to figure out who to promote for the Heisman. It kind of splits the vote, because you're not really sure which one to put forward.
What this guy said is, "Jesus, there's no question, is the greatest ever, but most influential…I don't know. He laid the foundation no man can build on except that that foundation is laid, but if you want to know who built on it, it's a guy by the name of Saul of Tarsus." Pretty amazing. He's saying, "You talk about influence? This guy you're about to meet had tremendous influence." In fact, 13 of the 27 books of your New Testament were written by Saul of Tarsus. Acts, chapters 13-28, are almost entirely about Saul of Tarsus. This guy matters.
This is the most important conversion in history, and we're going to study it. Let me amend that a little bit. It's the most important conversion in history to you except yours. What I want to do is show you that this section of Scripture doesn't just show us what happened to Saul. It's what must happen to us all. If what happened to him doesn't happen to you, then it doesn't matter what Jesus did or what Paul later said Jesus did, because you will be on the wrong side of what is coming.
I'm going to show you what true conversion looks like, and I'm going to help you evaluate, "Has that happened to me?" It's going to also be an encouraging message to you, because you might wonder why there is so much trouble in the world. Does God know about it and does he care about it? You will find out he does. Wherever you are on this little spiritual continuum, I think today you'll find something to challenge you and encourage you and help you.
I'm going to read through the text, and then we'll see if we can't learn something. We're going to just go down through verse 19 today in Acts, chapter 9, but this is a big deal. In fact, Luke, who doesn't like to repeat himself, shares this story three times. He is a crisp historian, so there is something really important here. It shows up six more times in your New Testament. You might want to pay note to this.
I want to say this to you. You might think this guy's name was changed by Jesus from Saul to Paul, and you would be wrong. His name was not changed. This is not Simon Peter. Simon's name was changed by Jesus to Peter, which means stone, because he was signifying in Peter that which he was going to be a part of. Jesus was the Cornerstone, and the apostles were the stones upon which the foundation of the church was going to be established. So he said, "I'm going to call you this."
Jesus didn't do that with Saul. Saul is his name that was given to him by his father who was a Hebrew who lived in a town called Cilicia, which is in southeastern Turkey, or Asia Minor in your New Testament times. They were a Jewish family that had somehow won the right to be Roman citizens, so it was common to be given two names at birth: one that signified your family of origin and your heritage (Saul, a good Hebrew name) and another that related to your relevance as a Roman citizen (the name Paul).
So he had two names, and what happens is Paul embraces the name Paul. Why? Because he goes on to be an apostle to the Gentiles. They're not Jews. He goes, "Why would I use my Jewish name? Why would I create a barrier with my friends I'm trying to reach when I can identify with them? I am a Hellenized Jew. I was raised in Turkey. I was raised in this Roman world that had Greek influence, so I understand these people I'm trying to go to."
As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:20, "To the Jews I became a Jew, so that I might win the Jews." When he was hanging around Jerusalem, I'm sure he went by Saul. He said, "As to those who are under the law, I lived as though I was under the law, though I myself was not under the law, in order that I might win those who are under the law. To those without the law, I lived as if I wasn't under the law, so I would eat as they ate and do as they did." It goes down to verse 22, and Paul basically says, "To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I become all things to all men in order that by all means possible I might save some."
This is a good mindset for you as you go on mission. Paul didn't say, "To sinners, I sinned with them, so there wouldn't be a barrier in our conversation about sin." He didn't say that. What he said is, "There are some things I can do to relate to the culture I'm in, so I can reach the culture I'm in, that don't compromise the kingdom I represent." "So I have two names," he said. "I am Saul of the Hebrew family I'm in, and I am Paul born to this family in a Roman colony."
Let me just say this to you. I say this a lot to people around here. This is a bad church to join if you join it because you can wear jeans or you like that I do wear jeans. This is a bad church to join if you like the music we choose. Let me tell you why I'm wearing jeans and why we use the music I'm using. Largely, in this culture, when you guys leave here and go to your little XM radio, you're not looking for a station that has a bunch of Gregorian chants just to chill. You're not even listening to hymn music and choirs, for the most part.
My greatest heroes, though, are people who wish I wore a robe or at least wish I wore a suit or who wish we'd have a choir or an organ or did a liturgy as we moved through our worship service, but they go, "You know what? I see God at work here. I see people being radically saved. I see disciples being made. I see Jesus being honored, so I'm going to adopt a cultural expression that is biblical that doesn't compromise on anything but is attune to a larger segment of the culture than I would relate to, so that the kingdom of God might be advanced."
You might like the name Saul more than Paul, but you choose to go by Paul here at Watermark. In other words, you choose to be in what would be a more contemporary, relaxed, chill vibe, so that you can invite folks and not get things in the way of helping them hear who Jesus is. To you I say that is amazing, impressive, and encouraging to me, and it speaks of your love of God that you don't go, "I'm from the family of liturgy. I sing hymns."
We want to sing about him, and we want to sing about his goodness and his glory, and we'll put whatever we need to put to it melodically so that people might receive the truth we declare. So don't jump into this place because you like the fact that we have casual dress going on here and certain vibes, because we're not committed to the vibe; we are committed to Jesus. If there is a better way someday to do it that doesn't compromise who we are, get ready to be a Paul and leave your "Saulness" that is Watermark circa 2016.
"Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'
And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.' The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.
And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, 'Ananias.' And he said, 'Here I am, Lord.' And the Lord said to him, 'Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 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.'
But Ananias answered, 'Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.' But the Lord said to him, 'Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake.'
So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus…" And he rocked the world.
Father, I pray you'd teach us something here today. This is not just some historical record that we should know what happened to one individual. It is a moment in history that has tremendous implications for us. Lord, we don't want to learn a bunch about some facts today. We want to increase in our understanding about the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. So in the conversion of this man, this enemy of God brought near by grace, may we see something for us.
As we look at your church suffering in the world and what you do to protect it, may we be encouraged that you are just as mindful at the suffering that comes to us. As we see your church be faithful in loving those you loved, may we become just as faithful in loving those you desire to be gracious toward today. Teach us. Open our eyes. Soften our hearts. Make us like Jesus, and make us like Saul of Tarsus. In Jesus' name, amen.
All right, let's look at this. There is so much good here. This guy Saul was not an individual who just showed up outside the city of Damascus. We've already been watching him. Let me tell you what's going on here. This is not a guy who is looking to make a decision for Jesus. This is a guy who is filled with derision. He is marked by hatred and hostility. When he describes this event himself in Acts, chapter 26, the second time Paul shares his testimony… In Acts 9 Luke shares the story, in Acts 22 Paul shares it, and in Acts 26 Paul shares it again.
In Acts 26, he says, "I was filled with raging fury." Some of your Bibles will say he was obsessed with stamping out this sect that, we're going to find out in a minute, is called the Way. This is a guy who is breathing threats and murder. Did you guys hear about the story in Maryland a couple of days ago? Some woman heard her dog barking, went out, and the next thing you know, a 200-pound she-bear mauled her, broke her arms and legs, slashed her. She required 80 stitches.
The third time after she was attacked, she thought she was going to die. She dialed 911 and crawled up in a fetal position. The 911 call is online. It's intense. She's sitting there, and she goes, "He's coming again. Please send somebody. I hear his breathing. He's broken my legs and my arms. I'm going to die. O God, please!" Listen to that. That's Acts 9. That is what the church was feeling with this guy.
In fact, it says in Acts 9, "He was breathing threats." That exact phrase is used of the snorting of a wild beast, like this bear in Maryland. It was the first bear attack in modern history up there. This is a bear in church history that is coming after them. He is breathing threats and murder. Again, that same phrase is used in the Psalms of a wild boar that is rooting up and destroying a vineyard. It is used of an animal tearing apart its prey.
This is a violent man. He is obsessed with destroying the church. This is coming on the heels of much rejoicing because the gospel was advancing. Yet here you're going to see trouble. Trouble is coming. You're going to find out God knows all about the trouble, and you're going to find out what he does to protect his church. Now you might ask, "Well, Todd, why doesn't he always do that? Why were there 26 Christians beheaded by ISIS?"
Why when this Saul we had seen before in Acts, chapter 7… After they drove Stephen out of the city and were stoning him, it says, "Witnesses laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul, and he gladly took them." In fact, chapter 8, verse 1, says he was in hearty agreement with putting Stephen to death. On that day, the bear of persecution was unleashed on Jerusalem.
Then it says in verse 3, "Saul began ravaging the church, dragging off men against their will, slapping them in prison and killing the ones he could." This is no guy who was looking to make a decision. He was filled with derision. He was hateful and hostile, and something changed him. God dragged him there and compelled him to be a prisoner of Jesus by love and grace.
Now watch this. It says he went, this Pharisee… That's what Saul was. Even though he was born in the Roman province of Cilicia, he was a guy who was sent to rabbinical schools in Jerusalem. He grew up around Jerusalem under a guy named Gamaliel, whom we met in Acts, chapter 5. Remember, Gamaliel was a little bit more patient with the church.
Gamaliel said, "Hey, listen, man. Leave them alone. There have been a lot of guys who rise up and say they're a big deal, but they die, and the little sect after them all go away, but if this is of God, not only will you be fighting these men; you'll be fighting God himself. Let's not do that. Let's just give it some time." Saul said, "Forget that, Gamaliel."
Just like Stephen had a greater understanding even than the apostles did… That's why Stephen preached what he did in Acts, chapter 7. Stephen was the one who basically said, "Hey, we don't need to keep gathering in the temple courts. Jesus is the High Priest who has once and for all offered the sacrifice that is acceptable to God. He is the perfect sacrifice. He is the Holy Place that God has brought man near him." Stephen understood that.
When Saul heard somebody say that the Messiah could be crucified and the temple was unnecessary, he said, "We must stamp this out." He was just like, "We're not going to let this happen. May it never be said the Messiah of the Jews will suffer. May it never be said the temple of God is unnecessary." He went on a rampage.
It says, " [He] went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus…" Why? I'll tell you why. This is in there for this reason. The high priest is part of what's called the Sanhedrin. There are three things… You'll hear scribes, teachers of the law, rabbis, but you'll hear these three terms a lot in your New Testament: Sanhedrin, Sadducee, and Pharisee. It really helps to understand who they are. Let me give it to you really quickly.
The Sanhedrin is 70 men plus the high priest, made up of Sadducees (the majority) and a minority party called the Pharisees. The Sadducees were aristocrats. They were more political than they were spiritual and religious. They believed in the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis through Deuteronomy, but they didn't believe in oral traditions of any kind. They didn't believe in any of the prophets, really.
They didn't believe in life after death. That's why all they cared about was continuing the peace Israel had underneath Rome. They were rich and didn't relate to the common men, and they were only concerned about keeping peace. So when the people started following this young rabbi, Jesus, they thought, "Hmm, it's better for him to die than the whole nation be stamped out and we lose our wealth."
By the way, that's why after AD 70 you no longer hear from the Sadducees or the Sanhedrin, because when the Roman relationship with Israel is abolished, because they smother them out of existence, there's no more reason for those guys to exist. What continue are the Pharisees who were zealots for the law, not just Genesis to Deuteronomy but Genesis through Malachi. They believed in an oral tradition that was also equally authoritative, and that's what Jesus went after with them, because their oral traditions were sometimes inconsistent with Genesis through Malachi.
They were kind of middle-income, middle-Israelis, and they related to a lot of people and were zealots for the things of God. So even though they were the minority party in the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees had to play with them, because they couldn't have peace without them. Those two always battled each other. The Pharisees believed in eternal life. They believed in angels and demons. The Sadducees didn't.
Now why do I say all that? The only time these two enemies got along is when they found a common foe that was a greater threat to them than each other, and it was this Jesus and the people who followed him. So this Pharisee goes to these Sadducees and the ruling Sanhedrin and says, "I need permission from you, leadership, to give me extradition papers for everywhere this cancer has spread." He heard it went as far north as Damascus.
When they found sarcoma in my body… That's what doctors want to do. They want to take it out and then keep cutting out around it every bit of the cancer they can find so that they would get the margins. They cut it off and send it off to the pathologist and say, "Is this good? Is this clean?" Anyplace there's a cancer cell they want to take more. "Let's go as far as it is, and let's get it all out."
Saul was like, "All right. I think we have persecution going in Jerusalem. Where else has this cancer spread? Up there in Syria? Let's go." I mean, this guy was filled with raging fury. Now watch. He says, "I want to go, and if I find anybody belonging to the Way, both men and women, I'm going to bring them bound to Jerusalem, where we can do business with them and teach them not to be about this Jesus."
What's interesting is what the people who follow Jesus are called. They are called people of the Way. That's used six times in Acts. The term Christian will show up in Acts, chapter 11. It'll fire back on in Acts 26. It's a derisive term that is used of "little Christs." What is commonly used of followers of Jesus in the book of Acts is people of the Way, for two reasons. First, because they believed what Jesus said in John 14:6. "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
You ought to be able to say the same thing. We reject the idea, because Jesus did, that there are multiple paths up the same mountain that all make their way and all end up at the same summit with God. That is inconsistent with what Jesus thought and what the Scriptures teach. There is one way, one Lord, one God, one mediator between God and man. His name is Jesus. There is no other name given among men on earth by which they might be saved.
They were called people of the Way for that reason and another reason, and this is what I want you to listen to. They were called that because the way they lived was different. Paul is about to meet Jesus in a way that was powerful, but he had already met Jesus in a way that was powerful. By the way, I told you he grew up in Jerusalem. There's a better-than-average chance that he actually interacted with or saw Jesus, certainly had heard of his miracles, and probably heard him talk a few times.
What we do know is that Paul had interacted with people of the Way before. Where? Stephen. He saw him, in the midst of great persecution, have amazing peace. He had a way about him that didn't make sense to him. Later, he would write about that in Philippians, chapter 1, when he said, "Hey, when they're coming after you, don't sweat it, because the fact that you have peace in the midst of their persecution will be a sign of judgment to them but salvation to you."
In other words, "You must know something they don't know. You're not going to fear those who destroy the body, because you have a relationship with the one who will destroy their body and cast their soul into hell forever one day." Paul says, "I met people who for them to live was Christ and to die was to gain." That is why Paul would later say when he became a person of the Way, "Hey, go ahead and kill me. Send me to glory. If you send me on I'll be happy, but it's better for you that I remain so you can see the reality of who Jesus is."
Here's my question. This week, did people run into people of the Way when they ran into you? People who had a peace that passes understanding, who loved their spouse differently than they do, who discipled and cared for their kids, who didn't see money as a god but as a tool and a testimony and a test, who was gracious, who forgave those who hurt them, who lived almost like aliens and strangers among them. That's exactly who you ought to be.
After your family is with you, they should say, "There's something different about the way you interact with us. There's something different about the way you love. There's something different about the way you're leading your family. This isn't the way we did it when you were growing up. What is it about you?" Your answer should be, "I follow Jesus." It wasn't normal course of men to be stoned and have a face like an angel. It's not the normal course of men when you're suffering under injustice to say, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." That was the way of the early church.
Can I just make a quick observation? I came across this this week. Pew Research released some demographics about our country. There are about 245 million adults in America. Close to 300 million people, but adults. What they did is they said, "Let's just boil down America to a small township of 100 people." They said if you did that, this is what America would look like.
How many people in that town of 100 would be Christians, how many would be Jews, how many would be Muslims, and how many would be in that famous "none" or "other" category? What do you think? Here's your answer: 71 would call themselves Christian, 2 would be Jews, 1 would be Muslim, and 23 would be "nones."
Here's the problem. In this little town that is America, where 71 out of 100 call themselves Christian, how many of those do you think are people of the Way? That the way they live and love and reconcile and serve and treat money and care for others and devote themselves fully to Jesus… How many of them are people of the Way? I think not very many. I think probably 10 percent of those 70, and I think the reason is that they haven't been converted, even though they call themselves Christians.
See also the message from two weeks ago. Are there tares among the wheat? I just made a case that there are probably some wheat amongst the tares. What I want to share with you is you want to make sure you're wheat, and you're going to see today how you can know that you are truly one of… Of that 70, there are many who are going to hear from God, "Depart from me; I never knew you," and they're going to say, "But didn't I call you Lord? Didn't I even do things for you?" and he's going to say, "You never knew me."
We're going to teach you today what a person who knows Jesus looks like. By the way, I was talking to a lot of the "nones" and people who were of a different demographic than us, and they said, talking amongst other people, do you know what they believe is the greatest example…? If you asked them, "Describe an evangelical Christian," they said, "You need to know this right now. People who aren't associated with you, who don't look like you, think the thing that is the highest ideal of an evangelical Christian is Donald Trump." You might go, "What?"
Here's the reason they think that. Because Donald Trump received more votes from the evangelical Christian 71 than any president in recent history. They go, "He must be what you want this country to be run by and like, so we assume that's what a Christian is." Are y'all okay with that? Pray with me for our president-elect.
James Dobson said he has a faith. I hope he has. Our current president says he has a faith. I hope he does. I don't see in either one of those men that they are people of the Way, but we pray for them. We pray for kings and all those who are in authority, but let me just say this. How are we? When people run up against you, is there something different?
It says as he was traveling and approaching the city, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. You would know if you read ahead in Acts, chapter 26, that it was around noon, Paul said, as it approached midday. When is the sun the brightest? At noon. So think about the thing in the heavens that is the greatest display of glory and light and power to man. What is it? It's the sun.
All of a sudden, something brighter than our sun shows up, and it knocks him off his high horse, or probably off his ass onto his…rear end. What you're going to find is this guy off his ass on his ass is looking up for the first time in his life. (I almost made it through without doing that, and I just couldn't do it.) This is a guy who is seeing something.
You're going to find out that in the midst of this massive revelation Paul received, God doesn't convert him with that. He just humbles him. Some of you are in incredible pain, and you're suffering, and life isn't like you wanted it to be, and you're being humbled that the way that has seemed right to you, the way you've been living your life is not working out, but you're raging against God.
Proverbs 19 says, "The way of a fool subverts himself, but his heart rages against the Lord." In other words, you're flat on your back. As one guy said a long time ago, the great thing about being flat on your back is you'll start to look up for the first time. Some men don't. They're flat on their back and are raging against God. "If you loved me, I wouldn't be in a spot like this."
Jesus many times would say, "Listen. If you loved me, you wouldn't have gotten in a spot like this. The reason you're in that predicament is you have been living your life in a way that has led to the brokenness of relationships and the despair and hopelessness that defines you. So maybe you ought to start listening to somebody other than you as king."
Jesus is the light and the glory. It says all things become shadows in the light of him, even the sun. Whatever you think the sun is, Jesus is that much more. Proverbs 4:18 says, "The way of the righteous is like the light of dawn; it grows brighter and brighter until the full day comes." In other words, what ought to be true of you as you become more like Jesus… It's what's called progressive sanctification.
The longer you walk in the Way, the more your way ought to be like Jesus, and the more your way is like Jesus, the glory of God on your life ought to be brighter and brighter and brighter. If you don't see yourself becoming saltier and a greater source of light as an ambassador for the kingdom from one day to the next, it ought to concern you.
There is nothing on earth or in heaven that ought to pop as much in this dark world as a Christian who is maturing. When Jesus shows up, I don't care if it's noonday. You're like, "Now that's brighter still." That's why Paul later wrote in Philippians 2:13-16, "You are like shining stars in the midst of a dark and perverse generation." Jesus is the shining star in the midst of the sun, and we're to be like him.
So we find our brother Saul flat on his back, and a voice is saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" I'm going to make a note here. This is where you want to really lock in and pay attention. All men who have beheld the glory of God find themselves right where Saul did: humble before him, asking for clarity about his nature and his will.
If you are not an individual who is consumed with finding out, "God, tell me your glory. Show me everything about who you are and everything you want from me," you've never seen him. Every time you see somebody who either interacts with God in the Bible or even interacts with one of his messengers, it is like on their face, on their knees, because they realize there is something greater than them there, and they'd better reconcile with it. That's what Saul is about to do.
If you've never come to a spot where you are full of humble adoration, then you've just come across some facts about God. You might have a good theology, but you do not have a personal awareness of him. I'm going to show you what needs to happen for you to be converted. Not just enlightened about facts but converted. This is really worth paying attention to.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice. "And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?'""Tell me more." "And He said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting…'" I bet you there was an "Uh-oh." "…but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do." This is really interesting. Jesus didn't lead him to faith at this moment. He didn't say, "Believe in me and be saved." Why? I believe it's because God wanted the holy catholic church to be reverenced and used as he had sovereignly described.
Now listen to me. Some of you guys just got thrown off right there. What do I mean the "holy catholic church"? I didn't really grow up in a believing family. I grew up in a church-going family. From the time I can remember, I was dressed and traped off to church on Sundays. When we went, until sixth grade it was a Lutheran church. Then we moved, and it was a Methodist church, until I eventually left and later trusted Christ.
I remember in both the Lutheran and the Methodist church I was exposed to this thing called the Apostles' Creed. I didn't care much about what we did, because I didn't see any relevance. I didn't see us living any way differently than anybody else other than we went to these very boring services every week. I didn't see anybody's life different.
But when we read this I had some pride of identification, because when we'd get to this thing called the Apostles' Creed and it says, "I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the holy catholic church," I was always a conscientious objector to that moment. I'd go, "Look, I know this doesn't make much difference, but aren't we Methodist here? Why are we saying 'I believe in the holy catholic church'?"
Answer: Because the word catholic means universal. Now you put an adjective in front of that, Roman, and you have something different, because it's a descriptor that describes how the universal church is going to identify based on the leadership of Rome. We're part of the Watermark catholic church as long as the Watermark doesn't modify catholic. I'm okay with the Roman catholic church except where Rome modifies catholic and brings some oral tradition and some things that just aren't so into the conversation.
I think what's going on here is he's taking Saul and saying, "Hey, those people of the Way know the way. There's not going to be a Pauline branch and a Petrine branch of Christianity." "There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God over all who is in all," Paul would later write in Ephesians 4. "It's in the church, the holy true universal church of Jesus Christ. You go learn from them who I am, because these are the acts of the Holy Spirit working out through the apostles and their followers." Do you get it?
God's plan A has always been the church once Jesus was ascended to heaven. God's plan A today still is the church. There are Sauls all over this city whom God wants to run into you, because that's where they're going to get clarity. Circumstances in life might have them flat on their backs, and the question is…Are they going to run into you, and are you going to be able to lead them to faith?
Let me just say this to you. Don't look for a Damascus Road experience, but you have to make sure that you have a Damascus Road. What do I mean by that? Don't look for a bright light from heaven and an audible voice like Saul got, but make sure you get what Saul got, which is a road that changed everything for him.
What must happen for you to have a true Damascus Road? First, a personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus. Paul had it through Stephen, and he had it with great clarity right here. You need to have it because you're running into the Word of God being preached to you, the power of God and the risen Lord made manifest to you by his people, but there needs to be a moment where you don't just go, "The Lord is a shepherd; I shall not want." The psalm doesn't say that. David wrote, "The Lord is my shepherd."
You need to say, "I know not just facts about Jesus…crucified, dead, buried, raised on the third day. That is my Jesus. That was my cross. It was my sin that placed him there. That's my atoning gracious sacrifice that was offered for me, and my life has been changed. The risen Lord has completely encountered me in his kindness, and I now know him."
Secondly, you have a surrender to him. This is huge. Notice what Saul didn't do is start to go, "Okay, I get it. Jesus is risen." He surrenders in a little bit. This is where the 71 are going to miss it, because there are a lot of them who would maybe, like Paul, go, "Okay, Jesus wasn't dead. The tomb is empty, he does live, but I'm not going to follow him."
See also Simon Magus. The last time we went through Acts together with me, we talked about this guy who believed and was baptized and hung out with the church, but he did not surrender. He, in fact, became the father of Gnosticism. He was an enemy of the church going forward, and he never wanted to surrender to Jesus. He was willing to take what Jesus offered to make him more prosperous and famous, but he did not say, "I am on mission with you," which gets you to the third thing.
First, a personal encounter with the risen Lord. Secondly, a surrender to Jesus as sovereign Lord in your life. Thirdly, it changes you. You have a humble response to service and to suffer for his name's sake. Folks, if your mission hasn't changed, you have not changed your master. If your mission in life is still to fulfill the American dream instead of the dreams of Jesus, you have not met a new master. You know about conversions but you have not been converted.
You're part of the 71 who confuse the world that Jesus is anything spectacular, because there is no different way about you, because you still are making yourself king. The reason Saul got knocked off his donkey onto his donkey is so that he would know he isn't king. What are you going to do when you get knocked off like that? Paul would write, "…it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."
"It is no longer I but Jesus in me." If you're not saying that, you have not had a Damascus Road. Watch what happens. He got up. His eyes were open, but he couldn't see. God took this terrorist… Look at this. Jesus is so capable. In a minute, you're going to find a little interchange between Ananias and Jesus. You need to know that anytime God wants to change you he can change you, just like that.
How long does it take God to change someone's opinion of him? As long as it takes a man to fall off a donkey. That's how long. Any moment he wants. Paul is going to later write in Galatians, "I was extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions, but God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me."
God has a lot of folks who are terrorists right now whom he intends to serve him, and he'll change them when he wants to. You're like, "God, when are you going to change them?" He says, "When I'm ready to, and when I change them, it won't take me much time, and there's nobody I can't change." Let me just tell you something. I know exactly where they are. In a second, Ananias is going to say, "Lord, the Christian CIA is out there doing all this research. We know that Saul is a bad guy. We know he's coming with papers." Word had gotten to Damascus.
What did God know? God knew where Saul was, and in a minute he's about to tell Ananias, "Let me tell you where he is, bro. He's not just approaching the city; he's in the city. He's not just in the city; he's on Straight Street. He's not just on Straight Street; he's at the house of Judas. I know what's going on with my enemies, and when I am ready to drop my smart bomb of grace on them or ultimate judgment, I will do it. Fret not, little lamb."
Be encouraged here, people. This is not some guy sneaking in to terrorize God's people. God knows. He has a GPS on that bad boy, and anytime he wants, he'll go, "Now." You go, "Todd, why doesn't he stop the evil?" I don't know. I know he's always up to good, and you can trust him. Spurgeon said something like this. "God is too good to be unkind, too wise to be mistaken, so when you cannot trace his hand [when you can't see the fingerprints of God on someone], trust his heart."
Everything I see God do eventually is good, so when there is a lack of understanding, I assume it's my problem, not God's. That's how you know you're a disciple: you surrender to your master. This is what Ananias does. "Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias…" Guess what his name means? The Lord is gracious. I guess.
This is a true disciple. Here's what a true disciple does. "…and the Lord said to him in a vision, 'Ananias.' And he said, 'Here I am, Lord.'" That's what disciples say. Now, they're human. The Lord goes… There's that verse 11. "Straight Street, Judas' house, Tarsus. You, go." Verse 13. Ananias: "No."
"Here I am. What do you want?"
"Go see Saul."
"No. Do you know who he is, Lord?" He said, "I know who he is. Go. He is mine. He is a chosen instrument. I'm going to use you to bring him to glory." This is why you're a man of God: because you're changed with a verse. A word of God hits you and you change. You go from "No" in verse 13 to "So" in verse 17, because the Word of God told you what to do. If you're somebody who continually reads the Word of God and listens and you are deluded… In other words, James 1 says:
"But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does."
What I would offer to you is that you want to be that guy who doesn't just look at the Word and act like it wasn't a big deal and bail out. You want to be that guy who says, "Yes, sir," and flips, because you have surrendered. Now watch. I'm going to take you back. There's a verse I skipped over I'm going to hit you really quickly with. It's verse 7 of Acts 9. It says, "The men who traveled with [Saul] stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one."
There are a lot of you, some of you here today, that I'm like Charlie Brown's mother to you. You're hearing the Word, but you don't see Jesus. You're going to forget it, and this is what the unregenerate always do. They hear the Word; they just don't see the Son and don't follow him in all of his glory. That is not a good place to be. People who know him surrender, like Ananias did and Saul is about to.
Don't make the mistake of just thinking what God wants you to do is invite Jesus into your heart. He doesn't want you to invite Jesus into your heart. He wants you to surrender your heart to him. If anybody has ever told you that all you have to do is say certain things are true and even go through certain external functions without having a heart that is deeply penetrated because you've beheld the glory and sovereignty of God…woe.
He is not just Savior factually; he is Lord, and you'd better know him. There's going to be a day when everybody bows before him (Philippians 2). Those who are in heaven, on earth, and below the earth will bow before King Jesus. Wise men do it now when there's still time to make peace. Ananias went, and this is what he said. "Brother Saul…"
Can you imagine? This is the guy who has been killing the church, ravaging it, and the first words he hears from the followers of God are, "Brother Saul, my Father loves you. That's enough for me. We are of the same family. I was lost, but now I'm found. You are being found. Come home to King Jesus. We will sup together and dine at the same table of grace."
What do you think a blind enemy thinks his enemy is going to do to him when he walks in the room? Take his head off. But what did Jesus say constantly to a wicked world? "Fear not. I'm coming now to make peace if you want it. I'll make you my sons." There is no prejudice and racism. Ananias is just going to say, "If you're good enough for God by grace, you're good enough for me. You are my brother." There's something there for us, people.
"Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Watch this. Verse 18: "And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales…" There are four things that happen to Saul. First, he has new eyes. He sees the world differently. It's like what Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 6.
"Here's your problem, people. The reason you still worship money is you don't know God. You can't serve two masters. The reason you guys still love money is that you don't love me. Money is a great servant. It's a lousy god. The reason your whole life is wrapped around trying to make more money is you think it's worth serving. It's because you have bad eyes. In other words, your worldview is wrong. You don't know that stuff is going to go away and be irrelevant."
One of the things in that book The 100 that the guy says is… He wrote an addendum to it 20 years later, and he said, "I have to do that, because I myself, though I was trying not to do it, always over-imagine the importance of current ruling kings." He said in 20 years he realized how irrelevant some of those guys were who were on his list. You're going to see that same thing. There is one King who shall never die, and all men will bow before him.
Paul has new eyes. He's seeing the world completely differently. Secondly, it says that he got up and was baptized. That's a new identity. When you're baptized, you say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered himself up for me and was risen from the grave as evidence that the debt of sin had been paid. So it's no longer I who lives but Christ."
There's a great story about Augustine, another amazing conversion. Augustine was a philanderer, just a wild man. Think Lower Greenville in your 20s. He was nothing but a guy who just pleased his flesh. After Augustine came to Christ, he was walking down the road, and one of his ex-lovers was hanging out a window, probably with a low-cut blouse, going, "Augustine! Augustine! It is me." Augustine said, "Yes, but it is no longer I," and kept walking. That's good, isn't it? It's because he had surrendered to something more than his flesh, because he knew there was a king who was better than his flesh.
Thirdly, it says he spent several days with the disciples. Longer than that, actually, but he was just saying, "Before I went to Arabia for three years to be discipled with the Lord, I continued with the church." He has a new association. You have people that you say, "We're family now. You admonish me, encourage me, and help me. I run with you; you run with me. We extend grace to each other. We help each other be everything God wants us to be."
Lastly, you're going to find out in verses 20 and following, which we'll get to, he had a new mission. Everything changed. He saw the world differently because he saw Jesus for who he was. He had a new identity. "It's not me; it's Christ." He had a new family. People of faith were going to help him be what God wanted him to be, and he had a new mission.
Folks, let me encourage you with this fact. Salvation is always a result of divine initiative. This was not Saul wanting to come home. This was God in his grace drawing him. It's always a result of divine initiative, done through a personal encounter with Christ, met with humility and obedience, which acknowledges the lordship and the worth of God's Son Jesus Christ, expressed through surrender and engagement with Christ's body and the lost world for his name's sake. If that's not happening, you have to find a Damascus Road before you die and meet the divine King.
Father, I pray that we'd get after it. Thank you for this amazing text. It's more than a story. It is what conversion looks like. I thank you for Ananias, that he was a man of the Way and said, "Here I am." We want to be the Lord's gracious provision. So, Lord, would you help us be today people who say, "Here we are, Lord. Not my life but your life. Not my will but your will be done."
Lord, thank you that the same Spirit which dwelled in Ananias and then in Saul dwells in us, that we may go and, out of our ordinary obedience, leave an extraordinary legacy. I pray, Father, that we would be converted not just in name but by grace as we live by faith. Lord, if there is anybody here who has not surrendered all, would you pierce them?
Would you allow them to hear from you, and would they come and find what all men have always found who have come: grace, transformation, purpose, healing, power. Help us now, Father, to serve and suffer for your sake, to be faithful this week as we gather, express real thanks to you for the divine initiative that is accomplished in our lives. May we be about the divine task. In Jesus' name, amen.