Sunday, November 20, 2011

[Matt's Messages] "Saul"

From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
November 20, 2011
Acts 9:1-31

Two week’s ago’s message was titled “Stephen.”

Last week’s message was titled “Philip.”

After church last week, someone told me, “I know what next week’s sermon is called.”


And that’s right.

Today’s message is about that murderous young man who was bent on destroying the fledgling church of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

And Saul said, “Not if I have anything to say about it!”

We met this “beast” two weeks ago when Stephen was stoned. Saul was there.  He was holding the coats of those who were pitching rocks at an innocent man.

And the Bible tell us that Saul was giving approval to his death.

“Yes! Yes! Let’s stomp out these Jesus freaks.”

More than that, Saul was dragging men and women out of their homes and tossing them into prison for believing in Jesus.

We’re going to see that he has not stopped. He has only gotten worse.

But something is going to happen to change all of that.

Chapter 9, verse 1.

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”  Stop there for a second.

Saul has been very active as a persecutor of the church.

And successful. He’s tossed a lot of believers into the slammer.

Remember last week we read that the church had been scattered in this great persecution. And probably the greatest persecutor is Saul.

Saul is on a mission to stamp out the church.

And he’s willing to travel for it.

Damascus is 150 miles from Jerusalem, and in Syria, not even in Israel.

He gets authority to extradite Jesus-followers from faraway Syria and drag them back Jerusalem for trial. No one is safe from his clutches.

The church is scared of Saul. He is enemy #1.

And so Paul heads up the road to Damascus to make some arrests.

...But Saul is the one gets arrested. V.3

“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’” Stop there for a second.

What a moment!

This story is told three times in the book of Acts.  Three times! It must be pretty important.

In one of the times, he says that the light from heaven in verse 3 was brighter than the sun.

All of sudden, Saul is surrounded by flashing light, brighter than the sun and he can’t see a thing, but he can hear something.

Someone asks him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Now, notice something there. Very important to note.

We are Jesus’ body.

When you persecute the church of Jesus Christ, you are persecuting Jesus Christ.

He doesn’t say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting my church?”  He could have. It would have been true.

He says, “Saul, Sual, why are you persecuting me?”

That how intimately Jesus associates Himself with us.  Chew on that for a while.

Saul could probably guess who is speaking, but he asks anyway, just to make sure.

“Who are you, Lord?”

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” v.7

“The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.  [He saw the light and it was blinding.] So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”

Isn’t that interesting?

Saul was arrested by Jesus.

He had planned to come roaring into Damascus to root out the followers of Christ.

And instead, he comes limping into Damascus, blind and helpless.

And for three days he fasted and prayed.  I think they were prayers of repentance and new faith.

Next step. V.10

“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. The Lord told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’”


“‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’”

Did you know about that Lord?

I’m just checking here, Lord. I’m not saying, “No.”

I’m just checking to make sure that I’m hearing you right.

Did you say, “Go to Saul?”  V.15

“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘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.’”

That’s interesting, isn’t it?

Go, Ananias, and encourage Saul that he is my chosen instrument, and tell him that he will suffer.  V.17

“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord–Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here–has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” Stop there for  a second.

I love that Ananias calls him “Brother.”

That’s the first time that Saul has ever been called “Brother” by a Christian.

And he will use that word again and again in his writings.

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me to you. See and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

And Saul could sing, “I once was blind but now I see.”

Notice that Saul gets baptized soon after getting saved.

That’s the normal pattern. Becoming a Christian. Signify that with water baptism.

And then Saul did something that not all Christians do. He began to preach! V.19 again.

“Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ [People can’t believe their ears.] Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.”

This is not a flash-in-pan. This is no trick. Saul is convinced and converted and is seeking to win others to Christ. 

But it’s not easy. V.23

“After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.”

What a ironic twist.

This is what Saul came to Damascus to do. And now, he’s the target.

Later, he comes to Jerusalem.  V.26

“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.”

You can see their problem.

“But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him.”

Probably the same bunch who killed Stephen that he agreed with before. Now he’s the target. V.30

“When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. [His home town.] Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

That’s a healthy church!

“It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

That is was a great gift to the church after the great persecution.

Now, what lessons can we draw from this passage of Scripture?

It’s very familiar.

It’s very important to the story of Acts. Because this man Saul is going to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

The one who stood opposed to Jesus’ promise is the one of the key people to fulfill it.

I’d like to make four points of application this morning. More could be said. And will be as we will hear this story told two more times as we study Acts together.

But these are four for us today.


Saul was the least likely person to become a follower of Christ.

This guy was stomping out the followers of Christ.

Now, he is one.

How did that happen?

Notice. Jesus came looking for Saul, not the other way around.

It’s Jesus.

Saul was arrested by Jesus.

Do you have someone in your life that you despair of their ever becoming a Christian?

They are just too far gone, too hardened, too spiteful, too bitter.

They say that they don’t want anything to do with Jesus.

Well, that was Saul.

So, your hard case is not beyond the power of God.

Don’t stop praying.
Don’t stop looking for opportunities to reach out with the love of Christ.
Don’t stop sharing the gospel just because they are a hard case.

There is real hope for hard cases.

They can change through Jesus!

And that goes for you, too.

It doesn’t have to be somebody far away who thinks they are two hard a case for the Lord.

Could be somebody right here in this room.

Not everyone has a Damascus Road conversion.

Nobody else I know got knocked off a donkey or horse by a blinding light to become a Christian!

For many of us, it was a quiet thing that happened, and we can’t even tell you when.

But we know that Jesus did arrested, and now we believe in Him.

There is real hope for hard cases.

Don’t give up on them.

Ladies, is there a hard case in your life right now that you should be inviting to the Women’s Christmas Tea?

Don’t just invite your Christian girlfriends from other churches.

They have their own things.

Invite some hardened lady who is skeptical of all of this Jesus stuff.

Invite somebody who once went to church but decided that it was just full of hypocrites and quit.

Invite somebody who hates Jesus. You might be surprised at what happens next.


Did you notice that when Saul become a Christian his life got harder, not easier?

We do people a disservice when we communicate to them that trusting Jesus will make their life a whole lot easier.

In one sense, it does, of course. It gives us new joy and a new outlook on life and a great ending to our own personal stories that makes it all worth it.

But becoming a Christian also means that we become servants of Jesus. In the words of verse 15, His “chosen instruments.”

And v.16, “I will show [Saul] how much he must suffer for my name.”

It’s not a bed of roses.

Following Christ is worth it, but it is not easy.

It could mean getting dropped out of town in a basket.
It could mean running for your life.

Becoming a believer means accepting suffering.

Have you heard the Lord say that to you?

“I will show [him, her] how much [they] must suffer for my name.”

Have you accepted that part of being a Christian?

It’s actually hard to be a new Christian.

That’s why we have point #3.


I don’t look down on Ananias or the disciples in Jerusalem for their skepticism.

V.26 “They were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.”

But what would have happened if Ananias or Barnabas had not taken that risk?

They were brave to reach out to that former monster and call him brother.

And more than that, sponsor him with the other believers.

Now, most new believers aren’t like Saul was. They aren’t former persecutors of the church.

But it’s still not easy to be a newbie.

We need to reach out and welcome sinners into our midst.

This church is good at that.

I’ve seen this church love on new believers whom they would not naturally be attracted to.

Someone who comes from a bad background.

We welcome them.

The church is for sinners.  The church is to be a hospital for sin-sick people, not a museum full of perfect exhibits.

Is there someone that you need to befriend? To reach out to and make sure they feel encouraged?

Let’s all be Ananiases and Barnabases.


We have only just begun to see what Saul is going to do.

He’s going to be the first major missionary of the early church.

He’s going to end up writing 13 books of the New Testament.

We know him even better by the name “Paul.”

Just one person becoming a follower of Christ.

What kind of difference could that make?

All of the difference in the world.

Which brings me back to the question that we’ve been asking ourselves for the last few weeks.

“What is stopping you?”

What is stopping you and me from talking to others about Jesus?

We might only lead one person to faith in Christ.

But what if that person is the next Saul?

Just one new Christian can make a huge impact.

Let’s not give up.

Let’s not stop now.

Let’s be like this new Christian here in Acts 9 who wasn’t hardly a follower of Christ for a few days before he was telling others about Jesus.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving.

The thing we have most be thankful for this year is the same every year.


Jesus, who is the real hope for hard cases.
Jesus, who shows us how much we must suffer for his name, and how much He is worth it.
Jesus, who befriended sinners like us.
Jesus, who uses us to make a big impact if we will only just follow Him.

Let’s be thankful for Jesus.

Messages So Far In this Series:
No Other Name
Snapshots of the Early Church