Summary: This morning our focus in on one last appearance, though this one took place after the Ascension, as Jesus radically redirects a rebel named Paul (also known as Saul – his Hebrew name).
Today we’re wrapping up our series called, “Beyond the Tomb,” during which we’ve studied the various appearances Jesus made between His Resurrection and His ascension into Heaven. This morning our focus in on one last appearance, though this one took place after the Ascension, as Jesus radically redirects a rebel named Paul (also known as Saul – his Hebrew name). Please turn in your Bibles to Acts 9.
Imagine if you will that Osama bin Laden has just left Madison, Wisconsin, God’s holy city in the Promised Land, and is on his way to Pontiac, a distance of about 200 miles. He is specifically targeting this church for destruction. After locking the doors, we’d pray, wouldn’t we? What would we pray for?
That God would waylay him.
That God would somehow strike him dead.
That he would have a divine accident.
That God would send His angels to set up guard around this building.
Would any of us pray that Osama bin Laden be converted and saved from his sins? That’s what happened to the fanatic named Saul. Just outside the city he was targeting, God broke through and redirected the trajectory of his life. I’d like to suggest that Saul’s salvation has application to us today. As John Piper says, “God’s design in converting Paul is to give you hope for yourself and for the people you want to see converted.” Let’s look at the details of how God tamed this terrorist.
His Struggle (1-2)
Saul was a Pharisee who believed that he needed to kill Christianity because it was a threat to Judaism. Actually, he believed he was doing God’s will by wiping out followers of the “way.” In his mind, believers in Jesus were heretics and blasphemers and if he did what he could to stop this new religion, maybe God would then bring the “real” Messiah to Israel. Saul was very religious, well-educated, ambitious, zealous, and full of hatred and bitterness. In that regard, he was like Osama bin Laden, thinking that those who didn’t believe like he does should be eliminated.
When Stephen was martyred in Acts 7, we read that the executioners “laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” In Acts 8:1, we learn that Saul not only stood guard over their outer garments, he was complicit in their actions: “Saul was there, giving approval to his death.” After Stephen is slaughtered, persecution broke out against the church and the apostles scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Incidentally, God used this persecution to help fulfill the mission mandate of Acts 1:8 as the believers didn’t stay huddled in Jerusalem, but spread out to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Acts 8:3 gives us a window into what kind of man Saul was: “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.”
As believers are being persecuted, some of them fled to Damascus, a city about 200 miles away. They thought they would be safe there. But like a warhorse sniffing the smell of battle, Saul headed to this community out in the desert. Notice Acts 9:1-2: “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. 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, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
Paul was not just doing a job; he was on a murderous mission. His very breath was venomous with spite and slaughter, and he hissed with hatred. The image is one of intensity. He didn’t care if the believers were men or women; he was armed with the legal documents to arrest and extradite, and nothing was going to stop him.
Paul was religious but he had no relationship with God; he thought he was doing “God’s work,” but he wasn’t doing His will. Does that describe you today? You may be zealous in what you’re doing, you could be far from what God wants you to do, or maybe you’re just far from God.
His Salvation (3-9, 18)
Paul might not have agreed that he was in a struggle but verses 3-5 reveal that he was actually in a battle with Jesus Himself: “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.” Saul could not stop God’s purposes. Saul learned that he was a sinner and that the Savior was alive. On his way to arrest others; the Lord arrested him.