Thought for the Week 17 - 12th July 2020 by Rev Peter Baxandall

(17)   12th July   Acts 9:1-19       The conversion of Paul

Today we take a detour from the letter of Paul to the Romans where we have been for the last few weeks picking out some of the incredible truths about our Christian faith, and we turn back to look into the book of the Acts of the Apostles.

Because some weeks ago we looked together at the unfolding story of what we call ‘Holy Week’ and Easter we then found ourselves looking into the book of Acts.

There we saw the dramatic events of the ‘first Christian’ Pentecost and the growth and development of the early church soon afterwards.

What I want to do with this ‘Though for the week’ is to look back into the Acts of the Apostles – and his week we turn today to Acts 9:1-19 for our time together.

As we charted our way through the earlier chapters of Acts we saw the church growing in great numbers following Pentecost, and we traced the story up to the time of the choice of seven men to become ‘deacons’ – one of whom was Stephen.

As the story unfolded we saw what led to the stoning of Stephen we were introduced to a young man named Saul of Tarsus who was a leading Jewish Pharisee and a staunch opponent of the newly emerging ‘Christian’ church.

What we will look at today is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, who later became known as Paul the Apostle – but more of that in a while.

First of all we will have a time to pray as we commit this study to God and then we will sing together.

Prayer

Almighty God, who caused the light of the gospel to shine throughout the world through the preaching of your servant  Paul: grant that we who celebrate his wonderful conversion in our ‘Thought for the week’ may follow him in bearing witness to your truth.

We thank you for the many who came to faith through Paul’s  ministry and for all the churches that were formed in so many different places.

We pray for the church members here in Gunton, Corton and Hopton and for all that you have in mind for us at this time.

We rejoice in some of the incredible truths we have been able to look at in our ‘Thought for the week’ in past weeks and we pray for our study today and for all who are taking part in it.
We bring ourselves before you through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever, Amen.

 

Today we begin with a well known hymn that speaks of the unmerited favour of God towards individual sinners like you and me – it’s the hymn Amazing grace

 

Amazing grace - how sweet the sound -

that saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

was blind, but now I see.

 

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

and grace my fears relieved;

how precious did that grace appear

the hour I first believed.

 

Through many dangers, toils and snares,

I have already come;

‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,

and grace will lead me home.

 

When we’ve been there ten thousand years

bright shining as the sun,

we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

than when we’ve first begun.

 

The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the leading persecutor of the early church, was perhaps one of the greatest events in church history after the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

Soon it would be followed by another great event which was the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 10), and Saul, later to be called Paul, would become the apostle to the Gentiles.

God was continuing to work out His plan to bring the Gospel to the whole world.

The account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is given three times in Acts, in chapter 9, chapter 22, and chapter 26.

According to the record before us, Saul experienced four ‘meetings’ that together transformed his life, two of which come later in Chapter 9 beyond the section we have in view today.

For the sake of completion those 4 headings for the whole chapter are:

(1)          He Met Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1–9)

(2)          He Met Ananias (Acts 9:10–19)

(3)          He met opposition (Acts 9:20-25)

(4)          He met the Jerusalem believers (Acts 9:26-31)

For our study today we only look a the first two of those headings, but you can read the rest of the chapter any time you wish to follow through the rest of the story.

We discover that having met the Jerusalem believers they helped him to return to Tarsus, where he remained until God sent Barnabas the ‘encourager’ along to help him begin his ministry.

During his time back in Tarsus he studied what we call the Old Testament to trace through the many promises of Messiah and discovered just how cleary Jesus was the fulfilment of these promises.

So we look at the first of those headings.

(1)     He Met Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1–9)

When you look at Saul on the road (Acts 9:1–2), you see a very zealous man who actually thought he was doing God a service by persecuting the church.

Had you stopped him on that journey and asked for his reasons, he might have said something like this:

“As far as I am concerned Jesus of Nazareth is dead. Do you expect me to believe that a crucified nobody is the promised Messiah? According to our Law, anybody who is hung on a tree is cursed [Deut. 21:23]. Would God take a cursed ‘false’ prophet and make him the Messiah? No! His followers are preaching that Jesus is both alive and doing miracles through them. But their power comes from Satan, not God. This is a dangerous sect, and I intend to eliminate it before it destroys our historic Jewish faith!”

In spite of his great learning (Acts 26:24), Saul was spiritually blind (2 Cor. 3:12–18) and did not understand what the Old Testament really taught about the Messiah.

Like many others of his countrymen, he stumbled over the Cross (1 Corinthians 1:23) because he depended on his own righteousness and not on the righteousness of God (Rom. 9:30–10:13; Phil. 3:1–10).

Many self-righteous religious people who exist within our churches today do not see their need for a Saviour – they prefer ‘rituals’ to ‘relationship’ -  and resent it if you tell them they are sinners.

Saul’s attitude was that of an angry animal whose very breath was dangerous! (see Acts 8:3)

Like many other rabbis, he believed that the Law had to be obeyed before Messiah could come; and yet these “heretics” were preaching against the Law, the temple, and the traditions of the fathers (Acts 6:11–13).

Saul began to destroy the churches in Judea (Gal. 1:23) and then got authority from the high priest to go as far as Damascus to hunt down the disciples of Jesus.

This was no insignificant enterprise, for the authority of the highest Jewish council was behind him (Acts 22:5).

Damascus had a large Jewish population, and it has been estimated that there could well have been thirty to forty synagogues in the city.

The fact that there were already believers there indicates how effective the early church had been in getting out the message.

Some of the believers may have fled the persecution in Jerusalem, which explains why Saul wanted authority to bring them back.

Believers were still identified with the Jewish synagogues, for the break with Judaism would not come for a few years.

However, for Saul, his journey suddenly changed and he found himself on the ground! (Acts 9:4)

It was not a heat stroke or an attack of epilepsy that put him there, but a personal meeting with Jesus Christ.

At midday (Acts 22:6), he saw a bright light from heaven and heard a voice speaking his name (Acts 22:6–11).

The men with him also fell to the ground (Acts 26:14) and heard the sound, but they could not understand the words spoken from heaven.

They stood to their feet in bewilderment (Acts 9:7), hearing Saul address someone, but not knowing what was happening.

Saul of Tarsus made some wonderful discoveries that day.

To begin with, he discovered to his surprise that Jesus of Nazareth was not dead but that He was actually alive!

Of course, the believers had been constantly affirming this (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 5:30–32), but Saul had refused to accept their testimony.

Because Jesus was alive, then Saul had to change his mind about Jesus and His message.

He had to repent, a difficult thing for a self-righteous Pharisee to do.

Saul also discovered that he was a lost sinner who was in danger of the judgment of God.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5, nkjv) was the message Saul heard.

Saul thought he had been serving God, when in reality he had been persecuting the Messiah!

When measured by the holiness of Jesus Christ, Saul’s good works and legalistic self-righteousness looked like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6; Phil. 3:6–8).

All of his values changed. He was a new person because he trusted Jesus Christ.

The Lord had a special work for Saul to do (Acts 26:16–18).

  • The Hebrew of the Hebrews would become the apostle to the Gentiles;
  • the persecutor would become a preacher;
  • and the legalistic Pharisee would become the great proclaimer of the grace of God.

Up to now, Saul had been like a wild animal, fighting against the goads; but now he would become a vessel of honour, the Lord’s “tool,” to preach the Gospel in the regions beyond.

What a transformation!

Some thirty years later, Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12 that Christ had “apprehended him” on the Damascus road.

Saul was out to arrest others when the Lord arrested him.

He had to lose his religion before he could gain the righteousness of Christ.

His conversion experience is unusual, because sinners today on the whole do not hear God’s voice or see blinding heavenly lights.

His salvation is certainly a great encouragement to any lost sinner, for if “the chief of sinners” could be saved, surely anybody can be saved!

It is worth noting that the men who were with Saul saw the light, but did not see the Lord; and they heard the sound, but did not hear the voice speaking the words (note John 12:27–29).

We wonder if any of them later trusted in Christ because of Saul’s testimony.

The men led Saul into the city (Acts 9:8–9), for the angry bull (Acts 9:1) had now become a docile lamb!

The leader had to be led because the vision had left him blind.

His spiritual eyes had been opened, but his physical eyes were closed.

God was thoroughly humbling Saul and preparing him for the ministry of Ananias.

He fasted and prayed (Acts 9:11) for three days, during which time he no doubt started to “sort out” what he believed.

He had been saved by grace, not by Law, through faith in the living Christ.

God began to instruct Saul and show him the relationship between the Gospel of the grace of God and the traditional Mosaic religion that he had practiced all his life.

(2)     He Met Ananias (Acts 9:10–19)

Ananias was a devout Jew (Acts 22:12) who was a believer in Jesus Christ.

He knew what kind of reputation Saul had and that he was coming to Damascus to arrest believers.

It was up to a week’s journey from Jerusalem to Damascus, but some of the Jerusalem Christians had got to the city first in order to warn the saints.

It is interesting to note in Acts 9 the different names used for God’s people:

  • disciples (Acts 9:1, 10, 19, 25–26, 36, 38),
  • followers of the way (Acts 9:2),
  • saints (Acts 9:13, 32, 41),
  • they that call on God’s name (Acts 9:14, 21),
  • and brethren (Acts 9:17, 30).

We use the word Christian most frequently, and yet that name did not appear on the scene until later (Acts 11:26).

‘Disciples’ is the name that is used most in the Book of Acts, but you do not find it used in the epistles - where the name ‘saints’ is the most frequently used title for God’s people.

(They were not ‘tied up’ with today’s customary ‘religious’ definition of ‘saints – as a result of which we often fail to recognise that we are all ‘saints’ if we have accepted Christ as Saviour)

Ananias was available to do God’s will, but he certainly was not anxious to obey!

The fact that Saul was “praying” instead of “preying” should have encouraged Ananias.

“Prayer is the autograph of the Holy Ghost upon the renewed heart,” said Charles Spurgeon.

Instead of trusting himself, Saul was now trusting the Lord and waiting for Him to show him what to do.

In fact, Saul had already seen a vision of a man named Ananias coming to minister to him; so, how could Ananias refuse to obey?

Acts 9:15 is a good summary of Paul’s life and ministry.

It was all of grace, for he did not choose God; it was God who chose him (1 Tim. 1:14).

He was God’s vessel (2 Tim. 2:20–21), and God would work in and through him to accomplish His purposes (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:12–13).

God’s name would be glorified as His servant would take the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles, kings and commoners, and as he would suffer for Christ’s sake.

Once convinced, Ananias lost no time going to the house of Judas and ministering to waiting Saul.

The fact that he called him “brother” must have brought joy to the heart of the blinded Pharisee.

Saul not only heard Ananias’ voice, but he felt his hands (Acts 9:12, 17).

By the power of God, his eyes were opened and he could see!

He was also filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized, and then he ate some food.

Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus and no doubt learned from them.

Imagine what it would be like to disciple the great Apostle Paul!

He discovered that they were loving people, undeserving of the persecution he had inflicted on them; and that they knew the truth of God’s Word and only wanted to share it with others.

Before we leave this section, we should emphasize some practical lessons that all believers ought to learn.

To begin with, God can use even the most obscure saint.

Were it not for the conversion of Saul, we would never have heard of Ananias; and yet Ananias had an important part to play in the ongoing work of the church.

Behind many well-known servants of God are lesser-known believers who have influenced them.

The experience of Ananias also reminds us that we should never be afraid to obey God’s will.

Ananias at first argued with the Lord and gave some good reasons why he should not visit Saul.

But the Lord had everything under control, and Ananias obeyed by faith.

When God commands, we must remember that He is working “at both ends of the line,” and that His perfect will is always the best.

There is a third encouragement: God’s works are always balanced.

God balanced a great public miracle with a quiet meeting in the house of Judas.

The bright light and the voice from heaven were dramatic events, but the visit of Ananias was somewhat ordinary.

God spoke from heaven, but He also spoke through an obedient disciple who gave the message to Saul.

The “ordinary” events were just as much a part of the miracle as were the extraordinary.

Finally, we must never underestimate the value of one person brought to Christ.

Peter was ministering to thousands in Jerusalem, and Philip had seen a great harvest among the Samaritan people, but Ananias was sent to only one man – and yet what a man!

Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle, and his life and ministry have influenced people and nations ever since.

Even secular historians confess that Paul is one of the significant figures in world history.

Our task is to lead men and women to Christ; God’s task is to use them for His glory; and every person is important to God.

Prayer

Almighty God, we ask you guide your Church as we continue in ‘lockdown’ but as we see glimmers of hope that the time is coming when we can move on.

Give us patience and wisdom as we eventually re-open our church buildings, both for individual private prayer and also for our worship together.

(Short Silence)

Lord in your Mercy: Hear our prayer

We pray for what it will mean for us as Your church here in Hopton, Corton and Gunton as we move beyond the first tentative steps of ‘return’ and look to ‘rebuild’ and ‘renew’ what it means to be Your church in this place.

(Short Silence)

Lord in your Mercy: Hear our prayer

Creator God, help us to walk humbly with you at our side and when we come to the crossroads and have to choose which way to go lead us down the path whilst steering us away from the road that leads to selfishness and sin.

Take from us any hard words and the cynical look.  Let us be to others as we would wish them to be to us and, when we fail, forgive us and heal us.

(Short Silence)

Lord in your Mercy: Hear our prayer

Caring God, we pray for all those who are afflicted by physical, emotional or mental illness especially the problems caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Help them to keep their eyes fixed on you, and give them the courage to face the trials and temptations that may come.

We ask you to continue to have your hand upon our doctors, nurses and all care staff as they stand at the front line of seeking to bring healing and health to all.

(Short Silence)

Lord in your Mercy: Hear our prayer

Holy God, we pray now for the relatives of those who have recently died both from Coronavirus related illness and from other causes and we ask you to be with them in them in this time of bereavement.

(Short Silence)

Lord in your Mercy: Hear our prayer

Gracious God, we thank you for hearing our prayers and as we move into the coming week help us to remember our Saviour’s words as he sent his disciples out into the world “As you go, proclaim the good news, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”.

Merciful Father: Accept these prayers for the sake of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

 

And so we turn to one of the songs on our ‘Mid-week extra’ and sing together the hymn Jesus, what a beautiful name

Jesus, what a beautiful name

Son of God, Son of Man

Lamb that was slain.

Joy and peace, strength and hope

Grace that blows all fear away

Jesus, what a beautiful name

 

Jesus, what a beautiful name

Truth revealed, my future sealed

Healed my pain

Love and freedom, life and warmth

Grace that blows all fear away

Jesus, what a beautiful name

 

Jesus, what a beautiful name

Rescued my soul, my stronghold

Lifts me from shame

Forgiveness, security, power and love

Grace that blows all fear away

Jesus, what a beautiful name

         

Jesus, what a beautiful name

Son of God, Son of Man

Lamb that was slain.

Joy and peace, strength and hope

Grace that blows all fear away

Jesus, what a beautiful name

 

Joy and peace, strength and hope

Grace that blows all fear away

Jesus, what a beautiful name

 

Joy and peace, strength and hope

Grace that blows all fear away

Jesus, what a beautiful name

 


This church website is powered by Church Edit