Acts 9 – Saul to Paul for Us All

Opening Movie Trailer – Saul: The Journey to Damascus

Audio [25:25]

Transcription – Pastor Dan Borgelt:
If you’re a visiting with us here at Kirkmont, we are going through the fifth book of the New Testament, the book of Acts. The Book of Acts is really the history of the early church, about how they got started, about how they interacted with each other, about how they grew as a church, about the type of opposition that they encountered–all those types of things.

It was written by a man named Luke who really studied and investigated all of this stuff; and he puts it down on paper for us.

And you saw in the video a man named Steven–he was the first person, two weeks ago in Acts, Chapter seven, who was put to death because of his relationship with Jesus Christ.

He was martyred as a result of his relationship with Christ… and that led to a large persecution across the church. There was a man named Saul who was there, he saw the martyrdom happen and he thought, “That’s a good thing I want to see it happen more… I’m intent on putting an end to this church… this whole idea that people are going to follow Jesus Christ and call him the Lord.”

And so the martyrdom started to spread, the persecution spread.  The church began to move geographically to get away from the persecution.  And now we get to Acts, chapter nine, and what we’re going to be talking about today is,

How does Saul respond to all of this persecution and the church fleeing?

We read last week that even as the church was fleeing into different regions, they were still telling people about Jesus Christ, and spreading the news about him.  But Saul is intent on putting an end to it.

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So church I want to invite you to the Book of Acts Chapter nine starting in the first verse.  In Acts Chapter nine… if you have a Bible we’d love to have you turn there with us.  If not, that’s OK the Scripture will be on the screen… and the Scripture says this in the very first verse.

Saul’s Conversion

9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.

I’m afraid that when we read that verse, we sort of misunderstand what this verse is really all about.  When we think of a murderous threat we tend to think of it as being an empty threat.

I want to be clear, that is not what Luke means here.  He’s not talking about an empty threat; he’s just really angry at these people, and he’s giving them murderous threats if you will.

No… Saul has a goal in mind to put Early Christians to death–to stop The Church.  The Scripture tells us that when Stephen was martyred, Saul was there giving his approval tacitly saying, “This is a good thing, it’s a worthwhile thing.”

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Some of you might be asking, as we go through these last few chapters in the Bible, “Why is Saul, why is this figure, this religious man, he was a Jewish religious leader, why is he so intent on putting an end to the early church?  What’s his deal… right? Did he have a bad experience at church as a kid or something… I mean what’s that what’s the problem here?

Well I think the key insight comes from the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter twenty one, versus twenty-two and twenty-three.  These two verses we’re going to pull up on the screen.

We see a Jewish man reading these verses.  I want you to be thinking about why he would have a hard time. He’d be familiar with these verses because they are part of the Old Testament Scriptures.  Why he, Saul, would have a hard time, knowing these verses, with the idea that a group of people would follow someone who was crucified on a Cross. The Scripture says this.

Deut 21:22-23
If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole (or tree), 
you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

You see, Saul was someone who thought look, “If someone has been crucified or hung on a tree, they must be under the curse of God;” –it’s such an awful way of dying, they must be under the curse of God, therefore this whole idea that people are now following Jesus and worshipping him makes absolutely no sense. So Saul’s sort of zealous for the Jewish faith and that’s why he’s trying to put an end to the early church.

Back to Acts, the Scripture goes on, it says,

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 (that’s name for the Early Church, the early followers of Christ), whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

Let’s be clear… Saul’s early persecution of the church was in the city of Jerusalem, but as the persecution broke out Christians started to spread.  But Saul was not intent to just say, “Well that’s fine, let’s let him go, let’s let him do their thing as long as they get out of Jerusalem.”

No… he wants jurisdiction in Damascus where they’ve gone so he can go on arrest them there and bring him back to Jerusalem.  That’s how intent this man is at putting an end to the early church.

But, verse three…

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.

And so as he was on his way to Damascus, Saul has this incredible encounter. It begins with this burst of light which causes him to fall to the ground.  And then apparently he sees and encounters Jesus Christ, the risen Christ himself.

At this point Jesus had already ascended into heaven; he shows up to Saul on the road to Damascus, and they have this interaction, and Jesus says, “You are persecuting me.”  

Now this had to be somewhat mysterious for Saul to hear, because Saul probably was thinking, “No I’m not, what are you talking about?”  

There’s actually no Biblical evidence to come to the conclusion that Saul was behind the whole idea of Jesus being persecuted and Crucified on the Cross.  Plus the Scripture doesn’t say, “Saul, Saul why did you persecute me? It says, “Saul, Saul, why are are you persecuting me?

Like it’s happening right now.  Saul’s probably thinking, “I’m not persecuting you, I’m persecuting these people.”  

But what we discover is that Jesus identifies himself so closely with those of us who are his followers… that to mistreat one of them is to mistreat him. 

He calls us the body of Christ, he identifies with us in such a personal, and real, and intimate way, that to mistreat one of them is to mistreat  Him. 

I just want you to just bask in that wonderful promise. 

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For those of you who are already walking with Christ over those who of you who are considering following Christ… that Christ invites you into such a special and intimate relationship, that he will identify with you in such a profound way that if anyone was to mistreat you, He identifies with you in that pain and suffering. 

Just think of the ramifications for how we might handle people who have wronged us differently, knowing that our Lord not only knows we’ve been wronged, but identifies with us in all of that. 

This is something that had to have been mysterious for Saul at this point in time… but I think that God uses it to sort of warm his heart, to soften his heart, to help him to realize that this… this idea of following Christ is maybe something far better than what he had thought at first–that this crisis is a loving and kind and a special person… if he only has that at this time. 

As Saul would mature and grow in his understanding of the Christian faith, he would later write in the book of First Corinthians chapter twelve, verse twenty seven, these words,  

Now you are the Body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.  

Saul would grow in his faith and understanding and realize that Christ identifies with his followers, as being a part of his body, and he would later write those very words. 

[Transcriber Insert: The above section is an example of what I love about this guy (Pastor Dan)… how he amplifies, and clearly explains Scripture… in this example by combining Scriptural truths.

We’re studying Acts… earlier he went back to Deuteronomy to show why Saul was so passionate about destroying the Early Church, and now he jumps forward to Corinthians to show Paul’s mindset after CONVERSION–like a “sandwich artist”, the presentation is masterful]  

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Let’s keep going see what happens… Scripture tells us that he says,

“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.”

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. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. Acts 9:5b-9

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Friends this morning, we have a large group of people who are going to be joining the church.  One of whom joined the church at the first service; a couple people who are going to be baptized. And I’m really kind of treating my message as more sort of a charge to them.  A charge… by that I mean words of encouragement, and words of challenge… but I think they’re words for all of us as well. 

So if you’re one of the people who are going to be joining this morning, and baptized this morning, I want to let you hear these words from this passage. 

The reason I entitled this sermon Saul to Paul, like all of us, or like us all… is that I think there’s two major things that happen in Saul’s life in this passage that you and I must experience to have a real relationship with God.

And the first one we just read about… and that is,

A Conversion  

…that Saul has a conversion experience.  By conversion I mean a sense of repentance–a sense of turning around… meaning, WE ARE NOT BORN NATURALLY INTO A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST… it has to happen, something significant–a change has to happen. 

And this is what Saul experiences here.  This is really his conversion experience–it’s the moment in which he goes from someone persecuting Christians, to becoming a follower of Christ himself

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I had read the whole passage about him not eating or drinking so many times and never thought twice about it.  So I started studying and preparing for this morning’s message, and I began to discover that,

WHY Luke includes the fact that “he did not eat or drink” is incredibly significant. 

You see for a Jewish person one of the key ACTS OF REPENTING OF THEIR SIN… is to FAST.  And I think that’s exactly what Saul’s doing here. 

He’s someone who’s had a conversion experience, he’s recognized the sin in his own life, and he has placed his trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sin, and as a result of that conversion he’s now fasting before God. 

Can you imagine the weight and the guilt that he’s sort of bringing into this moment?

 I mean, Church, you and I, we think we’ve done things that we don’t know if we’ll ever get past–we don’t know if God will ever be able to forgive.

Can you just imagine what Saul’s experiencing, as he begins to place his trust in Jesus? — just days before he was having these people put to death.  

And now he’s got to bring that to the table to his conversion experience.  There’s got to be all of this weight and guilt and burden… and yet this joy and relief… as he’s putting it at the Cross of Jesus Christ. 

And here he is repenting of that… fasting from food and water, as a symbol of all of this. 

And this is something that has to happen for each of us. It may not be as dramatic, but there has to be a moment for each of us, where we decide that, as Saul does here, that we’re going to begin to become followers of Jesus Christ–we’re not born into that.

Now you might be thinking, “Well, I don’t know… I mean are you confident that he’s really a believer at this point in time?”  Let’s read on and see about this conversion experience.  The Scripture says. 

Acts 9:9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

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 (doing what?)… praying.

So here’s Saul fasting, out of repentance, and praying to the Lord because of this grand conversion experience. 

And some of you have had pretty grand conversion experiences as well.  I mean you guys were doing things that you are incredibly ashamed of, that you completely regret, just like Saul did.  And if you were to be honest you’d say,

“Yeah, I mean I can identify with him, I’ve done some really bad things.  I’ve mistreated my wife, I’ve mistreated my husband,  I’ve mistreated my kids.  I did horrible things in my younger years…” whatever it might be. I’m completely addicted right now…” whatever it might be. 

You can identify with Saul, and this whole idea that when you became a follower of Christ, or if you were to become a follower of Christ, it would be a Saul-like conversion. 

But I want to tell you, that’s what God wants from you. If that’s you–you’ve done some really messed up things, that’s what God wants from you… is that experience what Saul experiences here–to know the joy of placing all of your sin at the foot of the cross and become a Follower of Christ.

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Some of you are here this morning and you feel like, “You know I don’t I’m not sure if I’ve had a conversion experience… I mean, I grew up in a Christian home, I can’t ever remember a time where I didn’t know Jesus Christ.”  

First of all, let’s just “Amen” that… we’re happy about that. 

I have said before, I don’t want my kids to have a Saul-like conversion experience (LAUGHTER)… you know.  I mean I want them to be… you know, don’t we want that for our children?

We want them to be able to say, “I’ve always known.”

But that doesn’t mean that someday they still don’t have to own this thing for themselves. 

You cannot make your kids become Christians and your parents couldn’t make you become Christian–it is a personal choice and decision between you and Jesus Christ as we witness here between Saul and Christ. 

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Some of you know, one of the things that have come out about me in my time here is, I’m kind of a Michigan fan…  Michigan Wolverines fan  and.. (MIXED JOCULAR RESPONSE) “Amen”… “Boo” … ‘Amen’… ‘boo’…  but anyways (LAUGHTER).

And I don’t think people realize how big of a fan I am… I mean I get emotional at these games… and I know who they’ve recruited from High School for next year, and the two years down the road… and all that kind of stuff… I follow them really closely. 

And as I was reflecting, “From where did i get that?” Well, my parents were both really big Michigan fans. 

In fact my parents were such big Michigan fans, this little sidebar that I thought you’d be interested in knowing; they decided one day they wanted to make money.  So my dad worked at a paper company, and they had thousands of rolls of toilet paper printed.  

And they went up to Ann Arbor stadium the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game.  That’s back when Woody Hayes was the Ohio State coach.  And each sheet of paper had a picture of Woody Hayes.  And the caption underneath said, “Wipe with Woody.” (LAUGHTER).

And so they sold those… they said they want like “hot cakes” and they made lots of money (Laughter).

I mean my parents were big Michigan fans.  But you know one day when I was in fifth or sixth grade, I was sitting in the living room watching the game, and here I am yelling at the T.V. and getting excited and all this kind of thing… and I look around and I realize that neither of my parents are in the room. 

I don’t know what they’re doing they’re doing something else, I can’t remember, but the point is.  That’s when I realized this thing is no longer something I’m excited about just because of my parents.  They could stop being Michigan fans tomorrow and I’m a Michigan fan, I’m all in. 

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And that same type of thing has to happen for you and I.

I celebrate...

Kids Matthew, who’s going to be baptized… Teenagers, I celebrate the fact that your parents are raising you in a Christian home and family. 

But…

at some point in time, you’re going to have to make a commitment and a decision that says, “You know what… Christ is my Lord and Savior. And even if my parents abandon him tomorrow completely,  I will not. Because he’s my Lord and Savior.”  

That’s the type of experience we want. 

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Let me tell you something … if you’re interested in just exploring, “Have I had a conversion experience? I don’t even know what would that mean.”

In a moment I’m going to pray, and invite you to consider joining me; but I also want to let you know that, if you need more time, but you’re interested…. we’re starting a class tomorrow night here at the church called, Alpha.  Alpha is free… and it’s a wonderful class and it’s just a basic Introduction to Christianity.

And it’s an opportunity for you to come and just explore this whole idea of, “What would it be like to become a follower of Jesus Christ?”

But for the rest of you, I want to just pray in a moment… I need to be clear, that when I pray, I’m not done. Usually that’s how it works, you know, we pray and the pastor’s done. 

I got a few more things to say,  but I want to stop under this conversion component, and pray and lead you in a simple prayer, that I prayed when I was in fifth grade, when I became a follower of Jesus Christ. Will you join me…

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Father God if there’s anyone who’s here this morning who is unsure whether they’ve had this Saul conversion experience to become a follower of Christ for their own, I want to invite them to consider joining me.

As I said something simple to you and I was a fifth grade, it wasn’t profound, but you were faithful, and you heard it, and you did a great work in my life since then and I thank you for that. 

God, I remember just telling you that, “I admit that I am a sinner”…  maybe some will join me in that. And God, I remember saying that “I believe in your Son Jesus Christ; and that he died on the cross for my sin.”

And finally I remember just saying, “God, while I know I’m not going to be perfect, I want to commit my life to following you, and walking with you.”

In Christ’s Name I pray. Amen.

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Church, there’s this idea of conversion.  If you’re joining the church this morning or you’re being baptized… we need to know; we need to make sure that it’s because you have had a personal conversion into a relationship with Jesus Christ, and not because anyone else has asked you, or pushed you to do this. 

Your spouse can’t get you in with Jesus; your parents can’t get you in with Jesus; your kids can’t get you with in Jesus.  It has to have come_from_you. 

But there’s more than just a conversion…  there’s also this idea of,

A Call

Will you join me in verse twelve of this chapter.  The Scripture says this,

12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

So what God is doing here is he’s making this arrangement… if he’s going to convert Saul to a follower of Christ, and Saul’s going to go be a part of the church, He’s going to have to do something miraculous to help this church receive him because he was previously imprisoning them.

So he speaks to an Ananias, he sets up this sort of miraculous connection between the two… but Ananias, like many of us, questions God’s plan, in verse thirteen,

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

So he’s politely saying, “Are you sure this is a good idea God?

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.

Wow… how he (God) turns things around.

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.

I loved that video clip.. how intent it showed the Baptism scene.

He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

And just another verse then,

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

You see Saul not only receives a CONVERSION into a relationship with Jesus Christ, but he also in this moment receives a CALL upon his life… which is to go and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others.

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And there is no such thing, Church, as a conversion without a CALL.

The Church in America today is filled with people who think there is such a thing as a conversion without a call…. thinking, “God loves me;  God died for me“…  you know… “I have all this wonderful thing that Jesus has done for me“… and they think that it stops with them.

But there is no such thing as someone who has become a follower of Christ, who is also not trying to help others follow Christ.

Disciples of Christ produce Disciples of Christ.

We can’t claim to have a conversion experience with Christ, without embracing the fact that he has placed a call on our life to lead others to Christ as well.  This is what happens with Saul–he embraces this immediately.  It becomes a part of his identity.

And he later writes to the Church to make sure that you and I all realize that this isn’t just for the apostles… this isn’t just for the Saul’s of the world. This is for every single person who claims to be a follower of Christ. 

The Scripture tells us in Second Corinthians, chapter five, verse fourteen… starting here it says this.

For Christ’s love compels us,

So let’s be clear — the call that God has given us to minister to other people is not so that we can earn God’s love.  We don’t share our faith so that the church will sing our praise.  We are motivated_by_Christ’s_love.  It compels us, it pushes us, it drives us to do that because….

…because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died.

See, the CALL begins to show us that we no longer are living for ourselves.  If we claim to be here this morning to be a follower of Christ, the call that God has on our life is to stop_living_for_ourself.

But instead, it says, “we no longer live for ourselves…

…but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come!

You know friends… this is one of the first verses I ever memorized when I became a Christian, Second Corinthians five, seventeen.

Therefore anyone who’s in Christ, a new creation: the old is gone and the new is come”.

We think it’s a wonderful verse, and it is a wonderful verse, but, we forget that the context in which it was given, is Paul writing to the church saying, “Part of your new identity is to no longer live for yourselves, but to begin living for Christ–to embrace your CALL” that at conversion you have a new call in your life, a new purpose in your life… which is to now begin living_for_Christ.

18-20 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

Well, those of you who are about to join and be baptized, I want to charge you with this idea that God is trying to make, as the Scripture says, to make his appeal to the world through you.

That… we will celebrate your conversion to Christ… but we charge you with the idea that you are now called to live for Him for His glory.

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You say, “But Dan, I have a job… I have a full time job, it’s easy for you to talk about this whole idea of doing ministry, because, you know, it’s your full time job.

Let me tell you something, I think you are uniquely positioned, at advantage better than me, to do real ministry in the world.”  You guys are interacting in your jobs and in your daily life with people outside of the church.

You know, there are entire people who leave America, who go to countries where it’s illegal to talk about Jesus, but they do so under the umbrella of being a teacher, or a scientist, or some other career, or job.

What if we could just take that mindset, and bring it right here.  If you could wake up tomorrow and say, “This is me… as a missionary, I have a job, but, my goal, my purpose is not this job. I have a call on my life to not live for myself but to live for Christ now.”

That’s what Saul was… he was a Tentmaker… he literally made tents and made money that way, and he also ministered to people. Which means that if God could do it through him, he can do it through you as well.

You have a job, you have a life–some of the thing that occupies your time… you can take all of that and allow God to redeem it for_His_Glory.

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