Summary: Saul was formerly a ’Preacher of Hate’. He was once a Religious Terrorist! After his dramatic conversion Saul, like us, was a forgiven sinner. He received a Jesus welcome into the Church from Ananias and Barnabas. That’s the Church God wants!
He was once a religious fanatic and a religious terrorist at the same time. He was once a preacher of hate. There was a time when he was “breathing out murderous threats against followers of Jesus” (9:1).
Saul! We heard last week that Saul’s conversion was as dramatic as the transformation which results in a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. It was the spiritual and moral equivalent of the alteration project which I watched on Monday evening on E4. The programme was called ‘Grand Designs’ and involved a 2 year project to transform an old and run down Church building into a family home. The stained glass windows, the roll of honour and the wooden carved Ten Commandments were all lovingly cleaned and restored to their former glory as part of the new family home. The wood from the pews was used to make furniture and both the interior and the exterior of the building were dramatically, wonderfully transformed.
Saul underwent a dramatic internal and external transformation. His attitudes, his desires, his words and his deeds were utterly converted.
In what ways do we need to be transformed and converted? Saul was persecuting Christians. He was rejecting the claims of Jesus Christ; but after his encounter with Jesus – an encounter of Hollywood epic proportions with flashing light from heaven (9:3) and the voice of Jesus speaking to him (9:4) – after Saul’s encounter with Jesus and his subsequent baptism (9:19) he joined the Christian believers in Damascus and “began to preach in the [Jewish places of worship] that Jesus is the Son of God” (9:20).
It’s hard for me to imagine what a modern day Saul might look like in Billericay in 2007. On the news we see occasional stories of preachers of hate, religious fanatics who encourage their followers to be terrorists.
Of course, all of ‘that’ happens somewhere else, out there. What about here? It could be any Church-hater. It could be any God-hater. It could be anyone who ridicules the person of Jesus; it could even be a Church-goer who claims to be a Christian and yet displays hatred towards people of other faiths, therefore forgetting that those people are also made in the image of God. A modern day Saul could be anyone who needs to have their wrong beliefs about God transformed; anyone who needs to have their attitudes and actions converted to fall in line with the ways of Jesus.
A challenge for us might be this: What would our reaction be if a ‘Preacher of Hate’ entered Christ Church now, book in hand, saying he’s had an encounter with Jesus and wanting to become part of the Church? How would you feel? Up until yesterday he was preaching and teaching violence and religious or racial intolerance. Today he’s met with Jesus!
When the former Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken found his Christian faith renewed and transformed during his prison sentence there were many people (Christians included) who were sceptical and suspicious of his declaration of faith; and we can relate to the astonishment of those who said of Saul (9:21), “Isn’t he the man who caused havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on [the name of Jesus]?” Later when Saul travelled “to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple” (9:26).
How grateful I am that Saul – former Preacher of Hate - was accepted by the Church! Saul, also known as Paul (13:9) later wrote much of our New Testament, including these famous words from his letter to the Corinthian Church: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13:4-5).
Are there people in our community that we would secretly or openly prefer not to see in our Church? The Church is designed to be full of forgiven sinners, of which I am one. A Christian is a forgiven sinner.
How glad I am that first Ananias (9:17) and later Barnabas (9:27) got alongside Saul and welcomed him into the Church, despite his history of anti Christian preaching and activity.
Let’s read Luke 23: 39 to 43. One thief with a repentant heart asked Jesus if he would remember him when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus then promised him a place in paradise and shows us how WE are to welcome others into the Church. That is the type of Jesus-welcome that Saul experienced from Ananias and Barnabas.
Saul was a very unlikely convert to Christianity but his conversion was of eternal importance. Will you join me in praying that some very unlikely and perhaps even currently unsavoury people will turn to the Lord Jesus Christ and that they will proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God, and that others will hear their message and believe? Will you also join with me in praying that we will be known for giving all-comers a Jesus welcome, whatever their history or background?
Let’s pray together now.