Transformed by Jesus

Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  33:31
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INTRO: The last we heard in Acts of a young man named Saul, he was giving approval as the Sanhedrin stoned Stephen to death. Then he continued to persecute the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem, so that most of them scattered. Since then, he’s continued to be busy persecuting the church. But Saul’s life is about to be completely transformed. And the difference is a personal encounter with Jesus. More specifically, the difference is learning that Jesus is indeed Lord.
Acts 9:1–19 ESV
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he 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 rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, 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 evil he has done 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 carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus.
The text has three movements, so our discussion will as well. Saul’s persecution of the church is brought to a screeching halt by a personal intervention from the risen Christ. Then the Lord chooses Ananias to be the hand of the church that helps Saul. And when the two meet, the Lord confirms that Saul has been chosen and is being commissioned in his service.

Saul, Meet Jesus (vv. 1-9)

There can really be no question that Saul experiences a truly unique/extraordinary conversion and commissioning. He will be numbered among the Apostles, but even in this the Apostle Paul refers to himself “as one untimely born” and “least of the apostles.” (1 Cor 15:8-9) Saul was an odd duck because he had persecuted the church and because of the way in which the resurrected Lord appeared to him.
And yet for all the uniqueness of Paul and his experience, what happens to him is a reflection of the extraordinary change that a confrontation with Jesus has in the life of anyone who responds in faith to be his disciple.
Why is Saul persecuting the church?
Can there be any doubt that Saul thinks that this zealous effort on his part is actually for God? He is not what the Psalmist describes as the fool who says in his heart that there is no God (Ps 14:1). Rather, he is exceedingly well-trained in Judaism and zealous for the law of God. Saul thinks he is pursuing a heretical sect that blasphemes God and therefore needs to be crushed, silenced, put out of existence.
But all of this is because he is among those who have refused the evidence that Jesus is in fact God’s promised Messiah, and that he came to not do less than what they thought, but to do more. He came to not just free Jews from bondage under Rome, but to free all of his own from slavery to sin and make them right with God.
Not even Saul’s greatest efforts can make him right with God. Instead, he must receive righteousness apart from the law, through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3:20-22).
That’s the point, then, isn’t it? Saul thinks what he’s doing is pleasing to God. But the Lord Jesus arrests his wrong thinking, “Why are you persecuting me?” You have it backwards and these followers of mine have it right. I am the way to right relationship with God. … There is only one thing to be done: reverse course.
What changes?
Jesus reverses (Saul’s) spiritual blindness.
Saul hadn’t seen that Jesus is who he says he is, but now his persecution of the church is brought to a screeching halt. The difference is the Lord Jesus. Saul thought he saw clearly how to follow God’s will, but now he is left blind and stumbling, but in prayer (seeking God’s mercy). The difference was Jesus.
I think that although Saul has been blinded, he finally has spiritual sight. I think that at verses 6-8, for the first time ever, Saul obeyed the voice of the Lord.
This is the journey of every person who would be right with God. We are heading our own way… Jesus takes the initiative to intervene. Our necessary response is repentance and faith. Once God gives us eyes to see Jesus, what seems so unreasonable and even foolish, becomes to us the only right and reasonable option. (1 Cor 1:18)
What happened to Saul on the road to Damascus? Same God, different relationship. How did that relationship change? God intervened through Jesus. (God initiated it.) Saul learned this day that Jesus is the only way to right relationship with God.
What changed for Saul? By God’s own merciful intervention, Saul was given spiritual sight to see that the difference is Jesus. Jesus is indeed Lord. The way to be made right with God is Jesus.
Also, we should note by way of application that…
There is nothing ordinary about anyone’s conversion.
Ephesians 2:1 ESV
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
Ephesians 2:4 ESV
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Jesus reverses spiritual blindness, giving us the ability to respond rightly to Jesus as Lord, finally making us right with God.
And in this text we also see that Jesus provides help through his people.

Ananias, Go Help Saul (vv. 10-16)

‘Are we talking about the Saul I think we’re talking about? I must have heard you incorrectly. You want me to go warn everybody that Saul is here, right, and that they better hide or scatter?’
While that’s kinda funny, there’s a question we really do need to ask about this section:
Why does the Lord involve Ananias?
It is a help to the church to confirm that Saul is safe. Ananias is the first who can testify that Jesus confronted Saul and made him his own.
The appearance to Ananias corroborates Paul’s own testimony concerning not only his conversion but also his apostolic commissioning.
(and this is the most relevant to our own application) Involving Ananias teaches Saul (and all of us) that when we are born again, we are born into the family of God; we become members of the body of Christ. No one, no matter how extraordinary his conversion story or how impressive his gifting and impact on God’s church… No one is above needing the body of Christ.
Paul believed this! … and taught it and lived it.
1 Corinthians 12:12 ESV
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:18 ESV
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
1 Corinthians 12:21–23a (ESV)
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, […]
This is how Paul would view Ananias, as indispensible and worthy of greater honor.
You are indispensible to the body of Christ. Your quiet and consistent service in the shadows is worthy of greater honor. You may think it goes unnoticed, but the more mature believers know this is true and are grateful for you. And even if you should go unthanked in this world, God does not overlook your loving service for the sake of his name.
As I said, Paul not only believed this and taught it; he also lived it. Paul experienced great help and comfort and multiplication of ministry by working alongside fellow believers (his letters are often listing such people). And Paul experienced the emotional loss and difficulty at times of feeling kind of alone without the support of the body around him, and the hurt of being attacked by those who were supposed to be his brethren in the faith.
Ok, we’ve seen why it seems that the Lord involved Ananias: to confirm that Saul is safe, to corroborate Saul’s conversion and calling, and to emphasize the importance of the body of Christ for all believers.
Now, another question:
Why does Ananias obey?
He himself would have been one of the targets of Saul’s murderous threats against the disciples of Jesus in Damascus. So why does he obey?
Ananias obeys because Jesus is Lord. … not just a good man and famous Jewish rabbi, a teacher to be considered amongst other various wise and decent human voices vying for his attention. No, this is the Lord himself, who not only made a way for right relationship to God, but himself is that way. He is the Son of God, in whom we place our faith and therefore whom we worship and obey.
So Ananias is listening for the Lord with an intent to obey him. “Here I am, Lord.” His posture already demonstrates a willingness to obey.
Now, this isn’t going to be one of those easy things to obey. (‘You make sure and eat all your ice cream.’ Our faith is tested when obedience is difficult. Will we trust and obey the Lord?)
The Lord is gracious to Ananias and quiets his doubts and fears with comfort and confirmation of his will. The Lord’s repetition of the command to go is coupled with an explanation that helps Ananias understand that Jesus is already at work, and will do something special with this former persecutor.
What should we do with our doubts and fears? Tell them to the Lord (1 Pet 5:7), and then read his word to listen to his voice, where he comforts and confirms his will for his people.
For Ananias too, as for Saul, the difference is Jesus, because he is Lord. Jesus reverses spiritual blindness, and Jesus provides help through his people. Finally, Jesus gives us new purpose.

Saul, the Lord Has Given You New Purpose (vv. 15-19a)

Everybody knew what Saul thought his purpose was previously: v. 21b. But God interrupted Saul’s purpose to save him and to give him new purpose (cf. parallel in Ac 26:16).
God interrupts us with discipline for our own good. Discipline stops us in our tracks, because we are thinking and feeling something contrary to what honors God; we’re being selfish and foolish. So discipline is for the purpose of interrupting that wrong thinking and behavior in order to correct our hearts so that we can reset and live lives pleasing to God by the Holy Spirit he has given to those who belong to him through faith in Jesus.
Based on verse 17,
What are we to understand has taken place during Saul’s timeout?
Personally think it is nearly certain that by the time Ananias arrives, Saul is truly converted, that he has repented and put his faith in Jesus as a response to the encounter on the road. We already know that Saul fasted (v. 9) and was praying (end of v. 11), and here Ananias enters the house and lays hands on him, calling him “Brother Saul.” In spite of his well-founded initial fear, the indication is that Ananias has interpreted what the Lord told him, to mean that Saul has been brought into the household of faith in Jesus Christ. Saul has gone from Christ persecutor to Christ follower.
That would mean that here he is filled with the Spirit for service (empowered and controlled by the Spirit) in accordance with this commissioning that he will be v. 15b. According to Paul’s own teaching, every believer receives the indwelling Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), but the filling of the Spirit is an ongoing process in the Christian life (Eph 5:18) in which the believer participates with the Spirit (Gal 5:25), who provides the gifting and empowerment (1 Cor 13:4-7,11).
And if external baptism saves you, then why is Paul being filled (empowered and controlled for service) with the Spirit before he is physically dunked? And why does Paul (among others) sometimes describe salvation without mentioning baptism at all (Rom 10:9-10)? Baptism is an important step of obedience to demonstrate outwardly what the Spirit has done inwardly, baptizing us into Christ, but salvation comes only by grace through faith… not by any work, not even baptism.
Although he received his physical sight back, the spiritual difference wasn’t that Ananias came a laid hands on him, nor that he was baptized in water. The difference was that Jesus revealed himself to Saul as Lord, and the Holy Spirit gave Saul a new heart so that he responded in faith.
Saul previously had a mission of his own making and by his own effort that he thought pleased God. Now he has been given the Lord’s own mission and the Spirit’s empowering and the fellowship of God’s people who are on this same mission.
Believer, the Lord himself has chosen and commissioned you.
In the early verses of Ephesians, Paul opens with an amazing prayer of blessing, encouraging the believers in the Ephesian church about their secure status in the Lord and how he deserves worship because of it. [Read and pray through Ephesians 1:3-14 this afternoon… or another time soon!]
And although we already looked at Paul’s words in Eph 2 that salvation is all of God’s grace, and we can’t boast that we did anything to make it happen, Paul follows that up with this:
Ephesians 2:10 ESV
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So here’s a reminder, Christian, that you have been brought from death to life for a purpose: to glorify God by being set apart to him and by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ until God brings you home.
[Conclusion] What have we seen today?

The Difference Is the Lord Jesus

Saul heads to Damascus one way, but will depart another way, yet on the same exact road. The difference is Jesus. Saul sets off for Damascus a zealous persecutor of the church, but departs as her ally. The difference is Jesus. Saul has been viewing right relationship to the God of Israel one way, but arrives seeing God rightly. The difference is Jesus. Saul heads to Damascus thinking he’s God’s instrument to silence followers of the way, but he will leave as God’s instrument willing to suffer to make more followers of the way. The difference is that Jesus is Lord.
When you come to realize you are a sinner with no hope to be right with a holy God, the difference is trusting Jesus as Lord (Jn 14:6).
When religious efforts to keep the law only pronounce your failure (Rom 3:20), the difference is faith in Jesus (Rom 3:21-22).
When you suffer (as a Christian) what would seem unfair and meaningless, the difference is trusting and abiding in Jesus (1 Pet 4:12-14).
When someone you love precedes you in death, the difference is trusting and abiding in Jesus (1 Thess 4:13).
When you experience your inadequacy to serve the Lord, the difference is trusting and abiding in Jesus (2 Cor 12:9-10).
And in all these things we are secure and hopeful, because God has given us his Spirit (Rom 5:5).
PRAY: God of all glory, because of your own grace and mercy, and by the power of your Holy Spirit, give us eyes to see Jesus as Lord, to trust him, and to abide in him. We trust in you to intervene in each of our lives to take us from death to life. We trust in you, Lord, to be our purpose and our source, that we may serve you all our days. We rejoice in the hope of knowing that one day our faith will be sight, and we will live with you forever. Amen.
COMMUNION - Do this in remembrance of me.
Saul would not quickly forget this experience interrupted him and changed his life and eternity on the road to Damascus. But couldn’t he forget in the sense of letting the memory fade to where it has little impact on his life? Could the fires of his love wane and the embers of mission focus cool?
We must keep coming to Jesus by the ordinary means of his grace to his people. One of these means of grace to us is that he instituted the ordinance of Lord’s supper for us to pause and remember... to reflect and refocus.
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