Today we’ll look at Saul of Tarsus, because he was one of those people who made a difference in the world. He was somebody who rises up above their situation, above their circumstances, and stands out in history. He was one of those people that lives life with passion, because he rises above the mundane, the day-to-day, and makes a difference. Saul who would become known as Paul was that guy for the Church; like Abraham was to the nation of Israel, Moses to the Exodus, George Washington to the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln to slavery, Martin Luther King Jr. to the Civil Rights Movement, or the veterans are to our freedom.
And when it comes down to that for the church, to those on the front lines, leaving a legacy, and being a history maker for the Church, there is none comparable… well in addition to Jesus Christ… then Saul of Tarsus. If he wasn’t the kind of person that he was, if he didn’t do the things that he did, Christianity as we know it today would be radically different. This one man Saul, whom we know as Paul, is a giant in Church history. He’s the apostle to the Gentiles and you and I are the fruit of his ministry.
Today we’re going to look at a snapshot from his life. The first time we met him was in Acts 7:57-58. At this point, he’s a young man, he’s roughly the same age as Jesus Christ, and the first time we meet him Saul is opposing a man named Stephen. He is publicly persecuting the church and the only way he could get Stephen to stop talking about Jesus is to kill him. So Saul surrounds him with some other men and he oversees the murder as they all grab rocks and circle around Stephen like pitchers in a bullpen, they throw their rocks until he dies, he’s pummeled the death.
It’s horrific and tragic, but what’s amazing is that this man, Saul of Tarsus, goes from being a persecutor of Christians to being persecuted for Jesus, from being a murderer of Christians to being a Christian who would be murdered. And that just goes to show that God can start with anyone, from any circumstances, and transform them. So now just a few chapters later in Acts chapter 9 we pick up the story to discover what he’s doing. Let’s read together beginning at Acts chapter 9 and verse one.
“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.”
Breathing threat after threat, Saul promised the Stephen was just the first, he promised that there were more martyrs to come, and great persecution broke out as “Saul began to destroy the church” (Acts 8:1,3).
Now the people were scared. After he kills Stephen, the people run. So what Saul does is he gets permission to hunt them like a bounty hunter, to track down the people who belong to the Way. Now we’re not familiar with this term. We call ourselves Christians today with pride, but originally it was a negative term. Those who would scoff and mock the church said, “You all are just trying to be like Jesus… you’re like little Christs…” and it was a negative thing to say. But one of the earliest titles for Christians was the Way. It came from John 14:6 where Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So it came right from the lips of Jesus and it was a very exclusive claim.
What Jesus was saying was that there’s only one way, one truth, and one life. And that’s Jesus. You see there are people, there is God, and the only way for people to be in a right relationship with God was through Jesus. He is the only way. That’s what got him in trouble and in the same way when we say that Jesus is “the Way” we get in trouble don’t we? And so even though their just saying what Jesus said, Saul of Tarsus was opposed to anyone proclaiming that Jesus is the way.
The question I need to ask today is, “Do you believe that Jesus is the way?” You see, there are many religions, many beliefs, and many philosophies; but there’s only one little narrow path that leads to God. And now 2000 years later, the answer remains the same, His name is Jesus and he said “I am the way.”
And so Saul gets permission to pursue those who belong to the Way. He went from house to house, region to region, walking over 100 miles to hunt down Christians. They’re being stalked and arrested, their families were being torn apart, because they were committed to Jesus as the way. And isn’t it amazing how those who are opposed to Christianity are often more committed to their cause than Christians are?
You know, what are you so committed to that you would fly an airplane into a building?
What are you so committed to that you would walk over 100 miles for?
Saul was committed, he was opposed to the followers of Jesus, but suddenly, verse three says, “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?"
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."
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing…” (Acts 9:4-8).
Now nobody saw this coming… suddenly the tables are turned and now Saul who is used to giving orders is going to be told what to do. Now Jesus is going to give him some orders, and the men traveling with him, the military guard, the soldiers are speechless. All of a sudden, their leader is hearing a voice from heaven, he’s humbled, and he is blinded. And verse seven says, “They heard the sound but did not see anyone.”
It says in this mysterious supernatural moment that they’re “speechless.” Could you imagine? “Saul got up… but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.” Can you picture that? You know Saul’s there blinking, rubbing his eyes, and he can’t see. He’s blind! He’s persecuting the church, trying to destroy it, when suddenly Jesus shows up to protect the church. Saul is surrounded in light, up to that moment he thought he was walking in the light, he thought he saw things as they were, and he was committed to his own reality. But the truth is that he was in darkness, because he didn’t believe Jesus was the way.
So Jesus shows up suddenly, a light from heaven flashing, to reveal to Saul that he been walking in darkness (John 8:12). And what God was doing was taking the physical known realities and demonstrating the spiritual. You see, physically Saul had sight, but spiritually he’s blind. He doesn’t see the glory of God in Christ. He’s not seen Jesus as the way to salvation. He was spiritually blind and so God allows him to experience blindness physically to mirror what he is experiencing spiritually.
Continuing in verse eight and nine, “So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”
He’s in shock, Saul was so distressed, so overwhelmed, that he couldn’t eat or drink. Luke who writes this is a medical doctor and he gives us some insight into the shock and the anxiety that Saul was experiencing in those three days. And God got his attention didn’t he? Saul’s blind and you can just imagine the thoughts that are scrolling through his mind. Is this the rest of his life? What should he do? He doesn’t know, he hasn’t eaten, he’s dehydrated, he’s forgotten to eat or drink for three days.
Now in verse 10 were introduced to a man named Ananias. This is not the same guy mentioned in Acts chapter 5 who lied to the Holy Spirit and died. This guy does love the Lord, and God asked him to do something that is very difficult, even dangerous, and his first response like that of Jonah is fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and basically an unwillingness to do the will of God. Look at verse 10…
“In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"
"Yes, Lord," he answered.
11 The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."
13 "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."
So God tells Ananias, “Go to this guy named Saul on Straight Street. He’s praying, he’s been blinded, and he’s waiting for you to come to lay hands on him and pray over him the might be healed.” At the same time, God gives a vision to Saul as he is praying, “A guy named Ananias is coming to pray for you and you’re going to receive your sight.” So God gives both a vision for revelation.
Ananias needed revelation, because he heard about Saul of Tarsus and he was fearful. Ananias knew that Saul was a bounty hunter with a warrant. You know, he’s probably got that feeling in the pit of his stomach where he’s hoping and praying that it goes well, that he’s not the second murder victim, and so the Lord encourages him in verse 15, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."
Now up until these last three days, Saul had not suffered or been persecuted; he was the one who caused many others to suffer. He had been persecuting others. And part of the call on his life was a call to suffer and you know sometimes this is the hardest part of the call on the life of every Christian. Part of Saul’s calling was to speak about Jesus and as a result he would suffer like Jesus.
Meanwhile God and Ananias worked this out. Ananias is scared, he’s resistant, but in verse 17, “Then Ananias went…” He went “to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here — has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.”
Ananias overcomes his fears and obeys God. He talked it through and got to the place where he was obedient and did what God asked him to do. And God was patient with him in the same way God is patient with us. You know, if there’s something clearly stated in the Scriptures that he’s called you to, that he’s called you to go through, its confirmed by the Holy Spirit, and you’re not in that place of obedience yet, I want you to see that your story can be like that of Ananias. God can get you there, you can obey him, and you can overcome your fears and walk by faith.
So Saul has this mysterious, supernatural, unbelievable transformation from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the apostle? Well, here’s what happens. Look at this in verses 19-22, “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.”
What accounts for this radical transformation, this amazing redemption, this totally changed man? Well Saul receives four things: He receives the grace of God, he receives healing, he receives revelation, and he receives the Holy Spirit. Ananias came and placing his hands upon Saul he prayed that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Immediately, he was able to see, he believed, he was baptized, and he was empowered. The Holy Spirit filled him and empowered him just as he empowers us for life and ministry.
Jesus transforms Saul of Tarsus into the apostle Paul. All of the miracles, the casting out of demons, the teaching of Scripture, the living in holiness, it was all by the presence and the power of God the Holy Spirit. And this is Jesus the desire for all the children of God, he once to make us to be more like himself, and he teaches us to do the things that he did. The Spirit of Christ lives in us, works through us, and as we lay hands on and pray over people, Jesus saves people, answers their prayers, and heals people, because he loves to transform people.
In Acts 13:9, we see Saul of Tarsus taking on his new identity in Christ. Verse 9 says, “Then Saul, who was also called Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit…” So again back in verse 22, “Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” He receives the Holy Spirit, he’s transformed, and sent out speaking the word of God with great boldness. And so from beginning to end it’s all about Jesus.
And Jesus is pursuing us just as he pursued Saul, he’s loving us just as he did Saul, he’s forgiving us just as he did Saul, he’s saving us just as he did Saul, and he’s transforming us just as he did Saul. Saul was out trying to murder people, but Jesus comes very differently. Jesus lived without sin, he was perfect, he went to the cross, and allowed us to murder him. And in doing so, he’s actually fulfilling his word, substituting himself so that his death would be for our forgiveness, because he’s dying in our place for our sins. And the best part is that Jesus was buried but he didn’t stay dead. The greatest event in the history of the world is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The living God conquers Satan, sin, death, and hell. He’s alive and well, he’s pursuing, seeking, saving, and transforming sinners like Saul and me. And He’s so patient in that process, because it’s not about what we do, it’s what Jesus has done. It’s not about who we are, but who Jesus is. It’s not about what we deserve, but about what Jesus has earned for us.
The apostle Paul says it this way, “I’m not ashamed of the gospel, because it’s the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16).
As we close we’re going to respond to God remembering Jesus’ dead body and shed blood in our place for our sins. And as we’re doing that were going to examine ourselves to see what we’ve been withholding from God, like Saul, and like Ananias to see what God wants to redeem in our lives. To see what God can redeem for his glory and other’s good. To see how can we make ourselves available, how we can be used for the betterment of the church, and how we can be used for the forward momentum of the gospel?
Let’s bring it all to Jesus this morning and ask, “Lord Jesus, redeem these things, our lives and our sins, use us for your glory and good.” I assure you of this: Jesus can save anyone, Jesus can transform anyone, Jesus can use anyone, and he wants to do with you just as he did with Saul of Tarsus. As we pray, “What is it that we haven’t allowed Jesus to redeem in our lives today?”
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
May 24, 2015