THE DAMASCUS ROAD
Bible reading: Acts 9: 1-20
WHO IS THE MOST WONDERFUL PERSON IN THE WORLD TO YOU?
- Your husband…wife…son…daughter… grandchild… yourself!
AND HOW ABOUT THE MOST TERRIBLE PERSON?
- One of the world’s wicked dictators?
- Someone who treated you very badly as a child?
- A teacher from long ago who made your life a misery?
- Not yourself, surely! (Though some people feel that way)
THE EARLY CHRISTIANS WOULD PROBABLY HAVE NAMED ONE MAN AHEAD OF MOST OTHERS as the most evil… Saul of Tarsus
- He was originally from Tarsus (now in Turkey), circumcised as a Jew and given the Hebrew name of Saul
- Tarsus was the intellectual capital of the region and had a prestigious University
- Although a Jew, his father was a Roman citizen… a status that was passed on to Saul
- He later trained as a rabbi and was educated in Jerusalem under a man called Gamaliel…who has a lot to answer for
- His native tongue was probably Greek and he was raised as a Pharisee
- He persecuted Christians and “breathed murderous threats” against them… it’s difficult to understand why he was quite so venomous…but it must have been terrifying
- He was present at the stoning of Stephen
- Later in his life, Saul (who by then used his Roman name, Paul) referred to himself as “the chief of sinners”
AND NOW HE WAS HEADING FOR DAMASCUS to hunt down a group of believers that had found refuge there…
Note that “he neared Damascus”… he was almost there
- WE ALWAYS FOCUS ON THE “SAUL” END OF THINGS… but I wonder how the Christians in Damascus felt on hearing the news that Saul and his entourage was on the doorstep?
Some missionary friends working in the centre of Africa described how local believers insisted that they leave before the rebels came… or expect instant death
Others working in West Africa tell of being on the rooftop and watching the rebel army advancing, fearing the worst
THE SITUATION FOR THE Christians in Damascus was bleak… they must have prepared for the worst… there was nowhere to run or hide
BUT GOD HAD OTHER PLANS!
- We sometimes get so obsessed with our own lives, problems, decisions and challenges that it’s easy to forget that GOD HAS AN AGENDA
- Circumstances can be tough…there can seem no way out …but God is working His purposes out
AND THEN THE REMARKABLE STORY OF SAUL’S CONVERSION…
- A light from heaven shone (flashed) around him
- He fell to the ground
- He heard an audible voice asking him why he was persecuting “me”
- But he didn’t know who “me” was!
SO JESUS HAD TO TELL HIM!
- He told Saul to “get up”… to “go into the city”… and await instructions
THE MEN WITH SAUL HEARD WHAT WAS SAID BUT SAW NOTHING
- And today, people hear the word of the Lord but their eyes are closed to the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life
- It is possible to hear but not to listen to what God says
NOTE THAT ON THIS OCCASION ONLY GOD WAS INVOLVED…
- He normally chooses to rely on us to fulfil our part in Kingdom work… in partnership with Him
- But He did not rely on anyone on this occasion… the matter was of too great importance
Saul was God’s chosen one and, as far as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is concerned, the most important man on earth at that time
- We mustn’t underestimate what the God of the Universe can and will do to implement His plan of salvation
- He will use whom He chooses
In an age where Christians are being increasingly marginalised and persecuted…
- Where Christian beliefs and values are being questioned
- Where the Bible is derided…
GOD IS WORKING OUT HIS PURPOSES!
We can have our committees, systems, services, leaflets and the rest …all of them important…
- But it can only ever be through the power and authority of the Holy Spirit that the Kingdom of Heaven is advanced
I CAN STAND HERE AND SOUND WISE… preach a great sermon… entertain the children… display my fabulous knowledge of the Scriptures… laugh, dance, sing and shout…
- But if for one moment I start to believe that it is ME who changes people’s hearts and me who deserves the glory, we are all in deep trouble
- Yes, honour to whom honour is due… but I can’t save anyone… I can’t transform a life… I can’t remove the scales from someone’s eyes… NEITHER CAN YOU
GOD GRACIOUSLY USES YOU AND ME… but our priority is to seek first the Kingdom of God and HIS righteousness
SO FOR THREE DAYS SAUL WAS BLIND AND ATE/DRANK NOTHING
- Then God used a man, Ananias—one of the forgotten heroes of the New Testament!
- He was scared… but when God said “move”, he obeyed
BECAUSE OBEDIENCE IS BETTER THAN SACRIFICE…
“Nevertheless…” is an important word for every Christian…
- We have fears… we may be tentative… we can feel vulnerable and weak…
- We won’t always ‘be bold, be strong’… we will sometimes stumble… but God uses weak vessels for His glory
- It’s a matter of trust whether we do or we don’t obey God
“NEVERTHELESS… not my will but Your will be done”
JUST IMAGINE THE FACES OF THE BELIEVERS in Damascus when Ananias brought Saul into the city!
- But this was no longer ‘Saul’ but ‘Brother Saul’
- AS the hymn writer puts it: “What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought since Jesus came into my heart”
And notice that once Saul had recovered his strength, he immediately began to proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God…
HOW CAN SUCH A THING HAPPEN? The clue is found in verse 17:
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
- Saul had met with Jesus but still needed to receive the Holy Spirit in His fullness
- He had met with Jesus but still needed to be empowered
- He had met with Jesus but God had to equip him for the task that lay ahead
We are sometimes so anxious that our Church might become a focal point for ‘wacky worship’ and extreme forms of behaviour that we can unintentionally constrain the Spirit of God
- When He wants to do a “new thing” among us
We pray for God to move in our midst and have His way among us… but it’s all too easy to leave the door ajar and not open it wide
- To unintentionally hinder the work of the Kingdom
We note that Paul was BAPTISED… an important step
- No preparation classes… no listening to sermons… it was done there and then as a sign of true repentance and signifying the death of his old life
SOON SAUL (PAUL) WOULD HAVE TO RETURN TO JERUSALEM!
- Fresh challenges awaited him there
- His former allies would quickly turn against him
- He would be viewed with suspicion by the disciples and by other believers…
SAUL COULD NEVER HAVE GUESSED WHAT GOD HAD IN STORE FOR HIM
- He probably wouldn’t have chosen that path…
- But Saul (Paul) was God’s instrument to take the Gospel to the Gentiles and write much of the New Testament
WHAT MIGHT GOD HAVE IN STORE FOR YOU AND ME?
- And for all those whom He chooses
One day in the early 1800s, a missionary called Robert Moffatt was preaching to a small audience… Moffatt went away disappointed, but one small boy who was pumping the organ bellows had his life turned around on that occasion as he heard the message… The boy was DAVID LIVINGSTONE, who became one of the 19th century’s most courageous missionaries
So never say
- I’m too old… young… dull… busy… unwell… far away from God
- Or “I’m a failure, so God won’t want me”
- He is the God of second chances and, as with Saul, sometimes uses the most unlikely people
OUR EXPERIENCE WON’T BE ON THE DAMASCUS ROAD… but it can happen anywhere, anytime… that God stops you in your tracks… speaks to you by name… and calls you to “turn around”, pray, work and witness of Him.
- Are you listening for God’s voice?
- How will you respond when He speaks?
- Where next for you?
- What now for you?
May the Lord bless you and make you a blessing to others.