Summary: I preach expository messages, and this is the sixteenth in my series on the Book of Acts.
August 26, 2007
One-eighty. It’s the term we use to describe an abrupt and total about-face, a full change of direction and focus. It’s a term that we can with ease apply to Saul, the man who not only had a saving encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, but he had an encounter that utterly, one-eighty changed the course of his life. It’s a reminder to us of a key fact of Christian living and it’s this: when we think of God’s grace, our minds immediately go to the fact that it is by grace that we are saved, through faith, of course. God’s grace saves us! But right along with that, we have to remember that the same grace of God that saves us is the grace of God that changes us. I’m not sure we give that equal footing, but we should, the fact that God doesn’t save us by grace to leave us where we are, but to revolutionize our very lives. Grace saves us, and grace also changes us. We see that happening in today’s text (read and pray).
Does the Bible contradict itself? Today’s passage is grist for some who would say that it does. Saul, later Paul, gives some details of his conversion in Galatians 1, some of his own autobiography in defending to the Galatian church his position as God’s apostle, and at first blush, the details of that account don’t line up with this story terribly easily. Bible’s wrong, right? No…what we must remember, though, are a couple of things: one, that Luke records certain events of history that are specific to his own purpose here, as Paul records certain events of history that are specific to his very different purpose in the book of Galatians. If Karen and I went to a Falcons game, the report that I gave afterwards and the report she gave would be very different. I’d be talking about draw plays and play-action passes and zone blitzes and critical interference calls. She’d be telling the story of the weather, the comfort of the seats, the cost of the concessions, and how long it took to find a good parking space. She might mention the score; I might be able to recall what it was I ate that she stuck in my hand as I was transfixed by a 4th-and-1 with two minutes left! Same game, different reports for different reasons. Similarly, Luke in writing Acts and Paul in writing Galatians mention or leave out certain aspects of Paul’s story in concert with the things they wanted to emphasize.
Two, there are ways to harmonize these two accounts, and it’s invalid just to jump to the assumption, as certain critics of the Bible do, that there’s no way to mesh the two together. I say all of this to say that, if you find yourself reading Galatians in your own study time, and find some things that don’t seem to add up quite right, remember these two truths.
Remembering these truths, let’s wade into several truths from this passage that illustrate that 180-turn that Saul made:
I. A Changed Man - :19b-22
Transformed by his new Master
A. A New Message
Saul had been given papers authorizing him to go into the synagogues in Damascus and bring back the followers of Jesus bound hand-and-foot to Jerusalem, where they would be imprisoned and very possibly executed. Where did he go following the Damascus Road experience? Right into the synagogues, of course! But instead of “you have the right to remain silent; anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of Sadducees”, he had a different message: “This Jesus? He’s really, honestly, truly the Son of God!” And in saying that, understand what he was saying: this would be understood clearly by his hearers to mean “the Messiah, the Promised One of Israel”.
Notice that the focus of his message was Jesus. John Stott wrote, “Testimony is not a synonym for autobiography”. In other words, if your message isn’t about Jesus, your message isn’t the gospel. If it’s about you, or about trendy techniques, or pithy pointers, or incredible ideas, or self-help soothings, or poignant panaceas, then it isn’t the gospel. If Jesus Christ isn’t front-and-center, in your life and in your story, then it’s not the message of God. It might be funny; it might be interesting; it might be well-voiced; it might rhyme or reason well; it might awe its hearers and captivate its critics. But if it isn’t Jesus, then it isn’t God’s message. Saul proclaimed Jesus and proved Jesus, because to Saul, the message was Jesus.
B. A New Effect
The word here is “amazed”, and in the original Greek, the term meant “freaked out, dude!” Well, maybe not…but what a different effect than his hearers might have anticipated at the sight of his face! They feared the very real possibility that he would have their heads for their belief in Christ; they knew that he’d been sent to round ‘em up for the slaughter. Instead, lo and behold, they had a significant emotional reaction, but it was one of delighted amazement!