PENTECOST 2021 NR 1
Scripture: Acts 9: 1 – 31
Theme: Arrested from heaven
I do not know the full history of all of you. Without a doubt, all of us have at one time or other had exceptional experiences. And yet, even though I do not know you so well, I can tell you that the most meaningful experience in your life – if you are a true Christian this morning – then the most meaningful experience in your life was when you were met by the glorified Christ and you received assurance that your soul has been saved by grace. Romans 8:16 > The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
That is the most meaningful experience because it changed everything. Without that your and my life would be completely different: our entire outlook on life, thought processes, attitudes, behavior, appetites, priorities, the complete way of life as well as our end destination.
It does not mean that our conversion should have happened the same as Paul’s. One can easily be discouraged by what is written here in Acts 9: The dramatic audible voice from heaven, flashing light, etc. But in 2 Timothy 1:5 Paul describes Timothy’s faith as something that first lived in his mother and grandmother’s faith in Christ. Something of a covenant atmosphere, therefore.
Strictly speaking, it is not only Saul’s CONVERSION which is described in Acts 9 but especially also his calling as Apostle. Although the two coincided. His ACTUAL conversion was only when Ananias led him towards the way for salvation. Significant (incidentally) is that he was first baptized and then called on the Name of the Lord. And also that he was baptized while in an upright position – again mentioned in 22:16. He had to STAND to be baptized. That, by the way.
No, the Lord undoubtedly works differently with different people. Some people suddenly come to the Lord and sometimes with a lot of emotion. Other people again by way of a gradual process. Others again through the upbringing in a truly Christian home – within the circle of God’s covenant. For example Samuel.
How it happens is not as important as that it does take place and particularly the life-changing that follows. Those who are in Christ, are new creations (2 Cor 5:17) – recreated, therefore.
In ONE way all Christians’ conversion corresponds with Paul’s: the absolute life-changing/transformation that followed.
Let us look more closely to see who/what Saul was before, who the Man is who met him, and what Saul was afterward:
1. The man he was before: It is not the first time we meet up with Saul/Paul in Acts.
Chapter 7 shows him where he is standing by, watching and approving while Stephen is stoned to death. Saul approved of the murder.
In chapter 8 we see how he is part of the persecution against the Christians, and how he is destroying the church of the Lord. He helped to drag the followers of Christ out of their homes to put them in prison. He was full of hate. There was something inhuman in his hatred for Christians. He was not only satisfied to clear Jerusalem of Christians, but his vision went far wider. That is how we find him in chapter 9 on his way to persecute the believers in Damascus – with the High Priest’s approval.
The irony is that his eagerness was encouraged by his sincere desire to serve God. Yes, you heard right! Remember, he was a Pharisee, and the Pharisees were not monsters! They strived to keep to the letter of the Law, and not only for outward show either. Besides their rigid legalism, they also had a passion.
But, they rejected Jesus as Messiah and Saviour, because they regarded it as blasphemy that a mere human can be worshipped as God! It is blasphemy! And a blasphemer must die! That is the main reason why they crucified Jesus – because He said that He (who is a man) is also God! (John 10:33). For the same reason, the Christians were persecuted and killed – because they worshipped a MAN as God.
That is why Paul was so full of hate for the Christians – exactly because he was such a committed Pharisee and thought that he was doing God a favor by getting rid of the Christians.
And then – suddenly – the unexpected: this Man whom Saul is persecuting and hate, give him a knockout blow out of heaven! He arrests Saul from heaven! All the time He is not only a Man! All the time He is who/what He said that He is – the Son of the living God! Jesus, the Christ!
There are THREE versions of Paul’s conversion in Acts. Apart from chapter 9, also where he is testifying about it to the crowd in Jerusalem (22) and again to king Agrippa (26).
When speaking to Agrippa, he says that the Lord said something more when he heard the voice from heaven: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” “Goads” means literally: “whip/quirt with which animals are prodded”. In other words long before the Damascus experience, the Lord was already working with him and sent goads to challenge his unbelief and hard heart!
We do not know what those goads were. Most probably it was the way Stephen died under the stoning. Paul was there and was watching. While the rocks rained on him, Stephen’s trust in Jesus did not waver. His face shone. And when he said: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”. And how he forgave his murderers.
Saul must have noticed the courage of the Christians – particularly when they were persecuted and abused. And how their numbers increased despite the ill-treatment. The goads were strong on his conscience: “Can it be that these people are right while I am wrong. Can it be that the carpenter’s son is truly the Son of God? Can it be that He truly rose from the dead?”
Do you see? Paul’s Damascus experience had a long run-up. While he wanted nothing to do with the Lord, the Lord wanted everything to do with him. Indeed the Lord chose him long before he could/would choose. To the Galatians, he says: “God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His grace…” (Gal 1:15).
But look at who the Lord chooses: the most unlikely candidate. The murderer, tyrant, Christ-hater. The man who had no qualms of conscience. No light could penetrate his heart.
This is the first truth we should see: repentance is possible. If it was possible for Saul, then for others too. The same Lord who could conquer and change Saul’s heart can do it with you also.
Do not tell yourself: “I am too far gone“. Nobody could have been further gone than Saul. Do not tell yourself: “I am satisfied with myself because I am devoted and religious“. Saul was also very religious as Pharisee. And yet he still had to be saved.
Take courage from Acts 9: conversion is possible. Also for someone, you may be worried about or are praying for. Do not be discouraged by the person’s hardness and indifference. Repentance is possible because it comes from Him who choose and works irresistibly.
1. The Man who met with Saul: Strictly speaking TWO men, TWO meetings. Come let us look closely at it.
When the light flashed over Saul, he fell flat on the ground and heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” And immediately he knew Whom he is dealing with. “Who are you, Lord?” The word “Lord” means: “Highest in command”.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” came the reply. “Touch My children and you touch Me. My church and I are one”.
And with those words, Saul’s life changed irrevocably. For the first time, he discovers the truth about everything: who God is, who Jesus is, who the Christians are, who he is himself. Until a minute earlier he thought that he was God’s champion and that he is wonderfully doing God’s will by getting rid of those heretic Christians who are worshipping a human. Suddenly he realizes that he is fighting against God and that he is utterly lost and that he is on the way to the eternal Pool of fire.
But he also discovers who the Saviour is. That He is the glorified risen Lord. No wonder that he fell on the ground! The one moment he was so strong, mightily on the way to Damascus! Nothing could prevent him! The next moment he was laying on the ground, broken before the living God and he hears the gracious words: “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do”. He, who deserves the death sentence, his life is spared. He received a second life and a new calling.
That is the second great truth: repentance is directed at a Person: Jesus himself because He is meeting with you. And remember: He is still the same as in Paul’s time. It is about a meeting with Jesus himself. The question naturally is how one can know that you have met with Him.
For Paul it was simple: he saw a light and heard a voice. Well, the test is not dramatic or emotional. The test is whether we know that Jesus spoke to us personally and that we reacted in faith and that our lives testify of it here and now. Did we hear His voice in such a way that we know it is His Word directed at us personally – not human words or words on paper – whereby He convinces us of Himself and calls us to trust His works of atonement? And we react by turning around to follow Him.
Saul also met a second man. It was an ordinary believer by name of Ananias. You see, the proud, confident opponent of Christ, was suddenly blind and had to be led into Damascus! Meantime the Lord spoke to Ananias to go to Saul because he is at Judas’ house praying! His life is changed. Is it not wonderful?
One can understand Ananias’ hesitation. Wow, everyone knew how infamous Saul is! But the Lord says: “Go! This man is My chosen instrument to carry My Name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name”. And Ananias obeys the Lord, how incomprehensible it may be! And when he reached Paul, he placed his hands upon him, and said: “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit“. Is that not beautiful? “Brother Saul…!” Just previously, Saul was on his way to drag this man off to prison. And now he does not hear a word of condemnation, but only acceptance: “Brother Saul”. The same people whom he came to persecute, now welcomes him as part of the Lord’s family. It is soul-stirring and wonderful what the supernatural power of the risen Lord can achieve.
Can you see that repentance implies a meeting: With Jesus himself and with other Christians. Your relationship with true believers is transformed. It is impossible to get to know Christ without at the same time be in a relationship with fellow believers. The two go together. If you persecute the Christians, you persecute Christ. If you love Christ, you love Christians and you want to be with them whenever you can. That is why Ananias found that he could not do anything but reach out his hand to Saul.
1. The man he became: What was the proof that Saul’s conversion was TRUE? One gets so many testimonies and experiences, but not many are lasting. How do we know that Saul’s conversion was TRUE?
Not the flashing light. Not the voice out of heaven. Not the severe experience. But, that which happened afterward: his life was overturned and suddenly he was passionate to share Christ with other people – he could not keep it to himself!
Look at verse 20: “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.”
What a breathtaking change! The persecutor becomes the preacher. And what is his message? That Jesus is the Son of God! That which was the most offensive to him, namely that Jesus is God, is now the central truth of his message! He accepts Jesus’s Deity. He also accepts Jesus’s instruction that he would take His Name to the nations. Immediately he starts to preach. He accepts the order.
He also accepts Jesus’s suffering. The Lord has said that Saul would suffer for His Name. And not long, but it started. The Jews plan to kill him. The persecutor becomes the victim of persecution. Also in Jerusalem whither, he fled to save his life, he received death threats. For the rest of his life, he would suffer for his Master. A true conversion, without a doubt.
Perhaps that was the reason why he changed his name to Paul (Acts 13:9), which means “small”. He would in the future be a humble servant of Christ – a complete change.
That brings us to the third truth: conversion results in a complete change of life. The proof that you came to faith in the past, is a changed life today – even though you have had whatever wonderful experiences 20 years ago. A Christ-centred life TODAY is what matters.
Do you see the three precious truths in Acts 9: 1-31: FIRSTLY: The man that Saul was: conversion is possible. SECONDLY: The Men who met with Saul: conversion is stamped upon a person. THIRDLY: The man that Saul became: conversion leads to a permanent change of life.
Translated by Marthie Wilson