Summary: I preach expository messages, and this is the fifteenth in my series on the Book of Acts.
“Extreme Makeover, Damascus Edition”
August 19, 2007
Though I’ve never seen it, I’m given to understand that there is an ABC TV show called “Extreme Makeover”. It must play well in our “image is everything” culture, as teams of plastic surgeons and dermatologists and dentists and other “image consultants go to work on folks who are in deemed of needing an “extreme makeover”. I found a few of these folks, and I must admit, some of the work is fairly impressive! (I found some Extreme Makeover examples online, and shared pictures with the congregation.)
Here’s Jim, both before and after.
Here’s Jennifer; she’s his fiancé, and they did some work on both of them in preparation for their wedding.
Here’s a young lady named Micha, and hers is a touching story; she was legally blind and suffered from an overbite so severe that she could hardly be understood. She lived on the farm with her parents, never learning to drive. The team went to work on her, not only the plastic surgeons, but also coaches who helped her with her speech, her social skills, and her driving. After her “extreme makeover, Micha was hardly the same girl! Even cynical me is impressed…
What we find in Acts 9 is an extreme makeover of a spiritual nature, the story of the conversion of a man named Saul, who’d later take on the name “Paul” and become the first full-time missionary to people outside of the nation of Israel. It would be no stretch to suggest that, after Jesus Christ, the most important human being who ever lived was the apostle Paul. The first part of Acts details the birth of the church; the last part details the expansion of the gospel. The catalytic event connecting these two is the event we concern ourselves with today, the conversion of Saul.
I. The “Before” - :1-2
This wasn’t a dude who was mildly annoyed by Christians. The very breath that animated him was threatening the church! The verb used in the previous chapter to describe Paul’s work against the church, “ravaging” the church, is used only that one time in the NT, but it is used in Psalm 80 of wild boars destroying a vineyard, with the picture being of an untamed beast wreaking havoc and destruction in its path. Paul’s own words in Acts 26 described his “raging fury” at followers of Christ.
Saul was a zealous guy, completely committed to his cause. He wanted to extradite followers of Christ who had fled Jerusalem back to Jerusalem that they might be held accountable for their decision to follow Jesus, that they might face the music, that they might stop proselytizing.
This idea of a crucified Messiah struck Saul as preposterous, and from his perspective, this teaching was nothing short of heresy, their worship of Jesus nothing short of blasphemy, the Way nothing more than a cult that because of its sudden popularity was threatening the very core of Judaistic religion; it had to be stopped, at all costs!
Saul believed in using force to accomplish his purpose. He could point back to certain OT precedents for validation of his actions. Moses killed immoral Israelites at Baal-peor (Numbers 25); Phinehas killed Israelite men and women in the plains of Moab (same passage). Think about it: what reaction do some of us have at the perversion of God’s truth? I posted on my blog about that very thing this week, and I do so with regularity, the indignation I feel when people are claiming to speak for God, yet ignore His truth and twist the Scriptures to suit their own purposes. Saul was utterly convinced that he was right, and that these Christ-followers were wrong, and he was determined to do something about it!
II. The Makeover - :3-6
A brilliant light, bright enough to blind Saul, suddenly appeared from heaven, and a voice that was only understood by Saul himself. “Saul, why are you persecuting Me”, it asked. Was this what Saul was doing, in his mind? Anything but! To his way of thinking, Saul was on the Lord’s side, doing the work of God, and zealously at that! Persecuting God? How could this be?
Stumbling for words, confused and bewildered, confident that he’d been pursuing God’s will faithfully only to be accused by a voice from heaven of persecuting the One he’d believed he’d been serving, Saul stammers out, incredulously, “who are you, Lord?”
“I am Jesus”, came the answer. In an instant, Saul was given an entirely new perspective on God, a new Authority in his life, a brand-new direction and purpose. Needless to say, this rocked him to the depths of his soul!
Jesus equated persecuting His church with persecuting Himself. If you ever wondered how Jesus thinks about you, about His church, this ought to be one passage you should allow to sink deep down: Jesus is so intimately connected with the church that to mess with you is to mess with Him! We are His body; He is the head. This is more than metaphorical; it is real. We don’t say, “we’re like the body of Christ”; we say, “we are the body of Christ”, because that’s what Scripture teaches!