Edit (10/26/11): Sermon now available online.
What if…? This is a powerful question. When you couple “What if…” with “…is true?” it can be even more powerful. We often like to talk about whether or not something is true or is real, but then we stop. We don’t go on to the essential issue of so what. What difference does it make?
In Acts 9:1-31, Saul is confronted with a truth that changes everything he believes, everything he lives for, and everything he does. Paul (Saul is his Hebrew name, Paul would have been his Greek name – I’ll use Paul from now on.) did not accept that Jesus was God’s Son. He did not accept that Jesus was the Messiah. He absolutely did not accept that Jesus had risen from the dead. So imagine his dilemma when he sees a light brighter than the midday son and hears a voice that says “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5)! This one statement changed everything for Paul. If Jesus was alive then he had risen from the dead. If Jesus had risen from the dead then he was the Messiah. If he was the Messiah then everything he said and taught was absolute truth. The very foundation of Paul’s life was being pulled out from under him. The thing about foundations, though, is that if they can be pulled out they are probably too weak anyway! Paul was about to get a much better foundation for his life. A foundation built upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ which proves that he is the Messiah (Acts 9:22 – “the Christ”) and that he is the Son of God (Acts 9:20).
In Acts 26:9-14, Paul is retelling his meeting with the risen Jesus to King Agrippa. There he says that Jesus states, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). Goads were sharp sticks that were used to direct animals. In a world that believes the highest goal of human existence is to be happy the idea of “goads” is somewhat unacceptable. A goad hurts. A goad even causes bleeding. A goad limits our freedom. But if it is God that is holding the goad, and the path that he wants us to stay on is the path of life – the path we were created for – then maybe the pain of the goad is much better than the pain we will face if left to our own wanderings. The other thing we learn from this idea of the goad is that Christ was at work in Paul’s life long before this incident on the road to Damascus. Jesus had evidently been pricking Paul’s conscience for some time. Maybe it was guilt about what he was doing, maybe it was some unanswered questions or doubt. I don’t know, but whatever it was, Paul had been kicking against it and feeling the pain. Maybe we kick against the goads in our lives as well.
I absolutely love Jesus’ creativity in dealing with people. In this passage he teaches someone who thought he saw everything clearly that he was absolutely blind to the truth by causing Paul to be blind for 3 days. He also uses one of the people that Paul was going to arrest and possibly put to death as the instrument of Paul’s healing and his commissioning to spread the truth about Jesus.
Think about this encounter from the perspective oo Ananias. Ananias knew that if Paul was in town it was to arrest Christians (see Acts 9:14). I made the point in the sermon that we all have people that we think are “too tough to save.” It could be a spouse, co-worker, or friend, or maybe an enemy. They are the last person in the world we think will ever accept the gospel. For Ananias, I imagine Paul was someone who was “too tough to save.” How could this persecutor and killer of Christians ever accept that Jesus is the Messiah? There is no strategy or plan that could be made that would end in the conversion of someone like Paul. But the resurrection of Jesus really does change everything!
Paul is going to go on to be one of the superhero’s of Christianity. He is someone that we read about in Scripture and think, “if I could only be more like him…” There are some “Pauls” in the world and they are important instruments that Christ uses in the Gospel Mission. But I think there are a lot more Ananias’. These are the people that serve in small ways wherever they are. These are the people who traveled with Paul and worked in the churches he started. These are the people who kept the Gospel Mission going, slugging it out in the trenches of day-to-day life. God may not call us all to be Paul – to leave everything behind and go from place to place sharing the gospel – but I think God does call us all to be Ananias. We should living daily for Christ and be ready and willing to be used by God whenever and wherever. We should trust that if God says to go talk to the guy that might put us in jail or even kill us then we go. If God says to live for Christ in our secular world then we will (oh, and by the way, He does say to do this!).
One last thing that struck me from this passage is that Paul immediately begins telling others about Jesus. The mere fact of the resurrection of Jesus was all that Paul needed to start telling others that Jesus is the Messiah, the way of salvation. I didn’t get this into my sermon yesterday, but Paul does go away for about 3 years during which time I assume he is discipled and spends time relating what he knew from the Old Testament to what he now realized about Jesus. This takes place sometime before he leaves Damascus for Jerusalem (see Galatians 1:17-18). I am sure that this time of training was good for Paul. I am a big fan of training and education as tools and preparation for effective ministry. The problem is that so many believers use the lack of training as an excuse to not share the gospel with others. In Acts 9, as soon as Paul understands that Jesus is risen from the dead, he immediately (as in before any training happens) starts telling others that Jesus is the Messiah! The fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is more than enough to get us going on the Gospel Mission. It really does change everything!
I ended the sermon yesterday with the following lengthy quote from C.S. Lewis that is from his book, Mere Christianity (which I I found on Wikipedia):
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.
Jesus has risen from the dead. This proves he is the Messiah, the Son of God. It proves that he has the authority to say “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This is not just some truth that we can stick into our bag of interesting facts to pull out at our convenience. It is THE truth that really does change everything! What difference is it making in your life?
Here are the devotional readings and questions from the back of the sermon notes:
Monday: Read Acts 9:1-19. Why was this such a big deal for Saul (aka, Paul)? Has Jesus made a big difference in your life? Why or why not?
Tuesday: Read Acts 9:20-31. Why could Saul now proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God when before he was arresting people who believed this? Why do you think Saul immediately begins working at telling others about Jesus? Has your relationship with Christ had this effect on your life? Why or why not?
Wednesday: Read Philippians 1:12-26. How did Paul’s (Saul’s) encounter with Jesus change his life? What do you think he means by verse 21? Is this true of your life? Why or why not?
Thursday: Read Philippians 3:4-11. What things might Paul have been tempted to trust in before he met Jesus and how did he feel about those things after meeting Jesus? Why? Do you see this in your life as well? Why or why not?
Friday: Read Acts chapter 10 in preparation for Sunday.