Summary: 7th Sermon in our Action in Acts series, preached on June 19th, it was leading into the summer were continuity and attendance start to decline. This sermon is focusing on the transformation of Saul, the stretching of Annanias and how God wants to change u
Action – A transformed name
I was watching the news reports of the rioting in Vancouver after game 7 this week and was struck by two things, how dangerous people can be when they start going down that path and the danger that is our reaction to it, thinking that there is no way we would ever do something like that, we are too good for that, ect. When the truth is, we have both possibilities in us. Given the right circumstances, we all have that in us, and when we think that we would never do “that kind of thing” (speaking now of more than just the Vancouver riots), we are deceiving ourselves with our own arrogance.
We were created by God, but all of us are also capable of the most horrific actions. This Sunday we are actually looking at some of that capability for both. We will also be looking to how God can move us from being in the midst of the worst actions and understandings, to reform us into some of the greatest agents of God’s action.
Today’s text in Acts is acts 9:1-22 and we will be looking at a pivotal time in one person’s life. This is the person we were introduced to at the end of the last text we looked at, at the end of the stoning of Stephen, a man named Saul is there, and we find out that he was one of those in charge of having Stephen stoned. Since then, as the persecution increased around Jerusalem, this new people of God move outward, and God uses it to bring about all sorts of new growth and reaching people, but as this is happening, the opposition, and in particular Saul’s opposition, has intensified.
9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 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.
This is a rather ominous beginning...you can almost hear the music change in the background of the story, as we begin this section.
It starts with “Meanwhile” ---tied back to the expansion and glorious things going on even as they are scattered, at the same time as all of these great things are happening... Saul was continuing to be a threat, continuing to fight against the movement of the word of God, continued to put this whole thing in Jeopardy.
He gets the permission of the highest authority he could find in order to proceed with this...and the leaders who had been in charge of Stephen’s trial, who had been found guilty of closing their hearts and lives to Jesus saw Saul as one of their own, an extension of their desire to stop this movement. He know gets permission to take the fight to them, and Saul is so committed that he is willing and wanting to go some 6 days hard travel to Damascus to the north.
Things don’t look so well for this new people, but as Gamaliel had said a few chapters ago, if God is not in this it will amount to nothing...but if he is in this, then we will be fighting against God Himself...and that is just what Saul is up against...so the story doesn’t go the way he thought it would.
3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
God lets him get all the way to Damascus before he steps in, and in a stunning revelation, shows himself to Saul.
“Saul, Saul” this sort of repetition is not a repetition to get attention, but on indicating fondness and care. That while Saul was still far from being in a right place, when he was filled with his own self righteousness, anger and hatred, and while he was actively working against what God was doing, still God not only loved but liked him.
He doesn’t ask “why are you persecuting my church or my people”, but instead “why are you persecuting me”. Showing the depth of the connection that God has with his church, and the suffering that he goes through with our own.
Jesus’ response to Saul’s question of “who are you?” links God to Jesus, showing them to be the same. He finds out that the Lord to which he had dedicated all he was doing was in fact the very God working in and through this new movement he was persecuting.