Series: Easter Sermons
A Life Transformed by the Resurrected Christ (Easter Sermon)
April 04, 2021 | Andy Davis
Conversion, Salvation, Internal Journey, External Journey, Resurrection of Christ
When the apostle Paul met the resurrected Savior on the road to Damascus, he changed from actively persecuting Christians to actively preaching the gospel.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
Turn in your Bibles to Acts Chapter nine. This is a sacred day, a day of celebration for Christians all over the world as you just heard me pray. A day in which we celebrate the mighty resurrection of Jesus Christ over the grave. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most powerful event that has ever happened in human history. What do I mean by that? Well, what is power? What do we mean by power? Well, it's the ability to make changes, to change things, to have an effect. A powerful machine is one that can move heavy objects. A powerful explosion is one that can produce instantly massive change. A powerful engine is one that can move a massive freight train, great distances. A powerful rocket can lift a payload from the surface of the earth to an orbit 22,000 miles up in the heavens. A powerful speaker is one who can produce a massive effect in the hearts of all of his hearers. A powerful ruler is one whose decrees make significant changes in the lives of millions of people. A powerful invention is one that changes the way people do something all over the earth from then on. That's what we mean by power.
And I say to you that there is no single event in the history of the human race as powerful as the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It changed the eternal destinations of a multitude greater than anyone could count from every nation on earth and every generation that there's been since then. That's the big picture. But it's hard for us limited human beings to drink in something of that magnitude. The dimensions of an infinitely powerful action like the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Our minds go numb with the implications. We can't really take them in.
"There is no single event in the history of the human race as powerful as the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
Recently, I was reading an account of the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, one of the greatest murderers in the dark annals of human history, and he was purported to have said in 1947, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Well, that's incredibly cold of him, but yet there's a dark kind of truth to that. Why does it seem to be true? It's because our minds boggle easily. We can't really take in the dimensions of something that big. We can't expand to grasp the mass of significance of a million lives snuffed out and all of those that remain to grieve over them. But let's turn that whole image around. The same dynamic may work in reverse when it comes to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The book of Revelation, chapter seven, gives us a vision of the finality of the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. We have in visionary form information about the success of the gospel, and John saw a multitude greater than anyone could count from every tribe and language and people and nation. And they're standing there in Revelation 7 in white robes, and they're celebrating the resurrection victory of Jesus. They have been cleansed of their sins and they will be there for all eternity celebrating that resurrection victory.
How can our minds expand to take in all that? Perhaps we need to take that wicked logic I just mentioned from Stalin and use it to our advantage in a glorious meditation. Let's zero in on what the resurrection of Jesus Christ did in the life of one man, one man, Saul of Tarsus. What change did the resurrected glory of Jesus work in his life? What did it affect in his mind, and his heart, his soul, his standing with God, his lifestyle, the course of his life direction from that moment on? Let's look at that. That meditation is in front of us this glorious morning, and I think it will be all we can handle. Amen? So, let's meditate on that by the power of the Spirit, salvation of one man is a glorious triumph of God's grace. The salvation of a multitude greater than anyone could count, each one of those saved by the same sovereign grace is a story it will take eternity to plume the depths of, and we'll have it, praise God. But this morning, let's just look at one.
I. The Context: The Gospel Accomplished, Applied, and Assaulted
So how radical was the change in this man Saul of Tarsus? We're going to begin looking at the context, and the context is the book of Acts as the second volume of a two volume set written by one author. I'm going to group that two volume set in headings; the gospel accomplished, the gospel applied, and the gospel assaulted. So that's the beginning to set the context. There's a story that you just heard read comes in the book of Acts is two volumes set, written by the doctor Luke. So the book of Luke is the gospel accomplished, and then the book of Acts, we see the gospel applied progressively to individuals and then assaulted right from the start.
Now, the word gospel is good news, good news, and the good news must start with the bad news. If we don't understand the bad news, we can't understand why this is such good news. And the bad news is our sinfulness, our rebellion against almighty God, our violation of his laws in detail, and our just condemnation under the wrath of God, under his righteous judgment for those sins, the impossibility of us doing anything to affect that situation, we cannot save ourselves, this terrifying natural condition of people is the black backdrop against which that glorious glittering diamond of the saving life and death and resurrection of Jesus shine so brightly. So you need to understand that bad news so we can understand the good news. For Christ came to accomplish our salvation by his life, death and resurrection. That story is told in the 24 chapters of the Gospel of Luke, how he was born of the virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, did all these incredible, astounding miracles, taught these amazingly perceptive parables, and then died a substitutionary death on the cross, and then was raised from the dead on the third day and showed himself to witnesses. That story, the Gospel of Luke, the book of Luke is the gospel accomplished.
Then we have the gospel applied, the achievements of Christ's resurrection, his death and resurrection would mean nothing if they were not applied to us individually by the Holy Spirit. Just like the blood of the passover lamb had to be actually painted on the doorpost in the crosspiece to save the Israelites from the avenging angel, so also the blood of Jesus spiritually must be applied to us. And that happens when the gospel message goes forth and is proclaimed and individuals hear it and believe it, moved on by the Holy Spirit, transformed by the working of the Holy Spirit, they are forgiven of their sins and become new creations. That's the gospel applied, and that's what is going on in the book of Acts. Christ's people were mobilized by the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses. The Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out from on high, and the people of God then poured out into the streets of Jerusalem, crowded for the festival, and Peter preached a mighty gospel message. And that first day of that preaching 3,000 were added to the number of the church in one day, and then more and more people believed as the gospel kept being preached, proclaimed, kept spreading to more and more people. The gospel was being applied.
But we also see in the book of Acts of gospel assaulted or attacked. From the very beginning, the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been resisted. It's been opposed. The very same Jewish leaders who conspired to kill Jesus, who hated Jesus and arrested him and condemned him into death now began doing the same thing to his followers who are preaching in his name. Now, one of those zealous persecutors of the church in the early stages was a man named Saul of Tarsus. And it says in Acts 8:3, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.” So, who is this man, Saul of Tarsus? He was trained in Judaism, we learned later in the Bible in the New Testament, by one of the greatest Jewish teachers of the day, Gamaliel. He was on fire out of nationalistic pride and self-pride for Judaism and he showed his zeal, especially in destroying Christians.
He'll say in a later testimony in Acts 26:9-11, he says, "I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them." Well, that's who Saul of Tarsus was. That's what he was doing. He was following a rage filled path and as Acts nine opens that path was leading him to go to Damascus to destroy the church there. He had obtained letters from the Jewish High Council in Jerusalem to deliver to the synagogue rulers in Damascus so he could persecute Jews that believed in Jesus there.
So look there as the account begins, verse one and two. Acts 9:1-2, it says, “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.” That was his mission. That's what he was doing. And he was passionately engaged, breathing out murderous threats. That's how he began that day. But he was about to have an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. It would change his eternal destination and powerfully affect 20 centuries of Christians that would follow. So let's look at this encounter in four steps. First, the resurrected Jesus confronts Saul. Second, the resurrected Jesus convicts Saul. Third, the resurrected Jesus converts Saul. And then fourth, the resurrected Jesus commissions Saul. So we're going to just walk through the account in those four headings.
II. The Resurrected Jesus Confronts Saul
First, the resurrected Jesus confront Saul. Look at verses three and four, “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?’” So this man, as I said, was seething with rage at Christ and at Christians breathing out threats and murder. And suddenly Jesus breaks in to his life. He confronts Saul. He stops him in his tracks. He meets him and stops him and knocks him to the ground with his glory. Now friends, Jesus is always the initiator in salvation. It always starts with him through the Holy Spirit. He seeks and saves the lost. He goes and looks for them and finds them. So Jesus effectively stood in Saul's way and would not let him take another step, would not let him go any further on what he called that broad road that leads to destruction. And there was a blinding light from heaven. Look at verse three, “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.” We find out in his later account that that light was brighter than the sun. Acts 26:13-14, “About noon… as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground.”
Now, before this moment, you need to know, Christ had already been working on Saul of Tarsus. It was a process that was going on. Later in Acts in that same testimony we get a sense from just one little phrase that Jesus says to Saul, that is omitted here in Acts nine, but it's part of what actually happened. Acts 26:14, Saul saying, "I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’” What an interesting phrase, to kick against the goads. Goads were it seems sharpened stakes or sticks put by the farmer as he's using a yoke of oxen, let's say, or donkeys, to keep them from kicking back whenever the master went with the straps to tell them to urge on and plow on, and some would be fractious and kickback, and their heels I guess would be met by that sharpened stake, and they would learn quickly not to do that. It would bring pain to kick back at the master.
And Jesus was saying, “I have been putting goads in your life, and you're kicking at them.” What are these goads? We don't know, but I can imagine what they were. I would think almost certainly encounters with other Christians, and the things those Christians said that Saul couldn't shake. I would imagine the men and women, he was dragging off to prison how they behaved at that time, the things they would say to him as he would force them, he said, to try to blaspheme. I think that means to blaspheme the name of Jesus and say, Jesus is cursed or something like that. They wouldn't do it. And they just honored and loved Jesus, and they would say things. I think especially this man, Stephen, who had says in Act six was debating with members of the synagogue of the freed men, Jews from Syria, and Cilicia. That's Paul's home area, Saul's home area. That's where he came from. And it said that they could not stand up against Stephen's wisdom of the spirit by which he spoke. So I think Stephen was bringing biblical evidence of the fulfilled prophecies and the full story of Jesus from the Old Testament. And Saul couldn't refute him. He couldn't win, and so he just wanted him dead. But the truths were burning, I think, in his mind. But Saul was kicking against him trying to fight him. And what's so beautiful is that God the Father is at work sometimes years, I would say years before people are converted, working on them, putting pieces in place, putting things in place in the mind and the heart. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
If you're a Christian today, the Father drew you, pulled you like a gravitational pull, like a magnetic attraction. How? By truth, by love. These things pulling you to Jesus. And that's what was going on, I think in Saul's heart, but he was kicking, he was fighting. But let me tell you something, God the Father always wins that. He always wins. Amen? Grace is sovereign and triumphant, and he never loses. So when the Father draws me, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” It's impossible for them to resist in the end. And so the drawing and the painful kicking in the goads, that was going on.
III. The Resurrected Jesus Convicts Saul
All right, second, the resurrected Jesus convicts Saul. Essential to our salvation is the conviction of sin. You need to stand before God's judgment seat guilty, rightly condemned of your sins. Jesus said in Luke 5:31-32, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Saul needed to be crushed in conviction. He was counting on his own righteousness. He was thinking he was perfectly obeying God's law. He was thinking he doesn't need a savior. But then this encounter and these few words from Jesus shredded all of his self-righteousness, just shredded it. Look at Acts 9:4-5, “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.” I can hardly imagine what this did to Saul's mind, what this did to his heart. To see the Lord revealed with blinding light from heaven, heavenly glory and a heavenly aspect in power, and to hear these terrifying words from heaven, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Persecute?” “You're opposing me. You're fighting me.” And then this tortured question, “Who are you Lord?” Isn't that fascinating? “Who are you Lord?” The word Lord meant everything to Jews. That's the word they use for God. There is one God and only one God, but he's saying, “I don't know who you are. Who are you Lord?” And then the words came that crushed Saul's former life forever. “I am Jesus.” Those words. Let me think about that. What would that have done to him, to his worldview? “The one you are persecuting.” This was the name Saul hated more than any other name on earth, but now the same Jesus is appearing in heavenly glory. Resurrected glory, clearly alive after his death, after his crucifixion, clearly alive, and he's accusing him of being his enemy. “To attack Christians”, Jesus was saying, “is to attack me.” And so he convicted him.
IV. The Resurrected Jesus Converts Saul
Thirdly, the resurrected Jesus converts Saul. You know, it had already begun. I told you about the gouds and I told you about the drawing. It had already begun, but it was done when he said, “Who are you Lord?” Don't you think at that moment it was done? “Who are you Lord?” “I'm Jesus.” Fundamental of our salvation, Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, [what?] ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Do you see how all the pieces were right there? “Who are you Lord?” “Jesus.” Jesus is Lord, and he's clearly risen from the dead. Everything that Saul needed for conversion was right there, and he'd called him Lord. Now he's going to be led by the hand into Damascus. Look verse 8:9, “Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”
Well, we find out later what he was doing for those three days. He was fasting, we know that, but he was also praying, and he was receiving at least one vision. Look at verses 10 through 18. It says, “In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called him in a vision, ‘Ananias!’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. 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. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.’ ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priest to arrest all who call on your name.’ But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles in their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer from my name.’ Then Ananias 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.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.”
So, what's going on for those three days? He's fasting, and praying, receiving visions from Christ, information and then we find out in the book of Galatians, other places, he's learning the gospel, directly revealed from heaven. He's learning the gospel. He's learning who Jesus was, the dimensions of Jesus. I can't imagine the sense of glory, of the heavenly light shining still in his mind's eye. I think it put a picture of beauty and virtue that was infinitely attractive to him and he wanted more of it for the rest of his life, he wanted to know Christ. He still wants to know him. He's in heaven learning more and more about Jesus. We'll never finish. You're never, even in heaven, going to get to the point where you’re like, “I got it. I got all of Jesus.” That will never happen. But the taste, as the scripture says, “Taste and see that Lord is good,” he's learning the glory of God in Christ and learning the gospel. That was what was going on.
V. The Resurrected Jesus Commissions Saul
So, Jesus confronted Saul, Jesus convicted Saul, and Jesus converted Saul. And then fourthly, the resurrected Jesus commissioned Saul. Saul's life was forfeit from that moment on. Saul knew he deserved to die. He could feel it. “You're persecuting me. You deserve to die. You're my enemy.” But instead, the Lord commanded him to serve him, and he would serve him from that day forward for the rest of his life. Verse six, “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Do you see the kingly authority in those words? Not, “What I'm recommending for you. You'll be told what you must do” And the Lord told Ananias what Saul's mission would be, and its cost. Look again at 15-16, “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, Saul would be better known as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles. He would live the holiest life perhaps of any man that ever lived other than Jesus. He would, in my opinion, suffer more than any other Christian in church history. I don't think anybody else can carry his shoes when it comes to prolonged, comprehensive, painful trials and suffering. He would travel relentlessly preaching the gospel from village to village and city to city and everywhere he went, he was viciously opposed and also saw conversions and fruit, savagely persecuted everywhere he went. And his writings would last long after his death and would be instrumental in the conversion of countless hundreds of millions. He could not imagine the effect of the book of Romans as he wrote it and what it would do to Augustine, what it would do to Martin Luther, what it would do to many others whose names we don't even know who read Romans and were converted by it because of what Paul wrote. And all of this came from this one moment. This moment that a man previously seething with murderous rage is instantly transformed to a new man.
All right, so what lessons can we take from this account? Let's begin with something I've already alluded to, and that is God's irresistible sovereign grace in conversion, the radical transformation of Saul's heart. I want to zero in on Saul's heart and his life from darkness to light. I want to talk about Saul before and after in four different areas. Saul concerning Jesus before and after. Saul's views in his heart concerning himself before and after. Saul's views concerning Christians before and after. And Saul's view concerning the rest of his life before and after, life direction. Let's look at all four of those.
First, concerning Jesus. He was converted concerning Jesus. Saul of Tarsus hated Jesus of Nazareth, that morning hated him. He considered him a false teacher. He considered him a deceiver of the people. He knew his teachings to be foolishness, and blasphemous, offensive. He considered Jesus' miracles to be fakes, deceptions or work by the supernatural power of Satan. He hated Jesus' claim to be God in the flesh, considered it to be utter blasphemy. And how much more of this one that the Christians were claiming to be the son of God, to be nailed on a Roman cross, to die under the curse of God. Absolute blasphemy. How could that even be possible? How could the king of the Jews, this son of David, who is meant to establish a worldwide Jewish kingdom, lose to the Gentiles and die on a Roman cross? How could he die under the curse of God for it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree? So how could that even be? Seething hatred for Jesus, but that was before his conversion.
After his conversion, he loved Jesus Christ more than any person on the face of the earth. I'm not saying he loved it more than any other Christian. I'm saying he loved Jesus. Jesus was the most delightful, appealing, attractive person to Saul. He had seen Christ’s infinite power. He had seen his love. He had seen his beauty in some kind of a glorious instant, a kind of a supernatural communication to his mind and heart. The glory of the Son of God filled his soul even though his eyes were blinded. The beauty of the Son of God, his ineffable power, his perfect wisdom, his tender kindness to him as a rebel, as an enemy, the gentleness with which he called him, he could see in some mysterious, infinite way, Jesus is both lion and lamb altogether, like John would later see. And when he said, “Who are you Lord,” he already knew who Jesus was. Jesus was Lord. God in the form of a man. The Son of God, the Son of Man, perfectly one. The deity of Christ was obvious from his heavenly positioned as heavenly glory and the sound of his voice. Therefore, the death of Jesus must have been something other than what he supposed it was. It was not blasphemy that the Son of God died under the curse of God. It was his salvation. The perfect completion of the animal sacrificial system where substitutes died for sinners. Jesus had become a curse for us.
Well, that brings us to the second point concerning himself. He was converted concerning himself. Before his conversion, Saul of Tarsus was self-righteous. He was proud of his Jewish credentials. He was a son of Abraham. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a Pharisee by conviction and by choice. He was proud, proud, proud. He was excelling in Judaism beyond any Jew of his generation, so he said. Thoroughly trained by Gamaliel under the law, his obedience to the law in his mind was sufficient to save him from all of his sins. It was perfect for his own salvation. And he was getting extra credit because he was in his zeal hunting down Christians and persecuting them. Very few Jews had that level of zeal for the God of Israel. Well, that was all before his conversion.
After his conversion, all of his righteousness was exposed as a nasty, stinking, filthy garment clinging to his skin as it were. He realized it was filthy. He faced his own condemnation as eternal banishment to hell. He was actually God's enemy, not God's agent. And his pride was revealed as the spiritual millstone around his neck dragging him down to hell. His heart was opened up by the light of Christ's purity. And the comparison was stark between Christ's purity and his own so-called righteousness. And his heart was laid bare, and inside his heart was revealed depths of corruption that he never knew were there, earthly lusts, earthly ambitions, earthly murders, earthly greed. He thought he had obeyed God's law from childhood. And now he realized that God's law actually stood opposed to him and was condemning him because it probed the inner recesses of his heart and revealed secret corruptions, covetousness of all types. And he realized that he was actually dead even while he lived. This darkness was revealed on the road to Damascus by the light of Christ's pure glory. And Saul turned and disgust away from his self-righteous achievements, and left that vile stinking garment of his self-righteousness on the ground there, the road to Damascus. And he was clothed in a robe of perfect, brilliant righteousness and holiness from Jesus, his savior. And in that robe of imputed, gifted righteousness, he has stood from that moment until now, perfectly righteous in the sight of God.
Concerning Christians, he was converted. Before his conversion Saul hated Christians. He was breathing out threats and murder against them. He hated them so much. He felt nothing but contempt for Stephen as Stephen was dying even though his face was like the face of an angel. It didn't mean anything to him. Saul thought he was worthy of death. And so it was concerning the men and women that he was, think about this, dragging off to prison. Imagine dragging a woman to prison and feeling you're justified in doing it. He hated these people. That was his true conviction. There were no doubts, no hesitation, no pity in his mind, just violence, murder, threats. That's what filled his heart toward both Jesus and all his followers. “They deserve death.” And he was very willing to see that they got it.
Well, that was before his conversion. After his conversion, Saul understood right off the connection between Jesus and his people. “Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, the one you're persecuting.” So, there is the heavenly head and then there is the body of Christ, his people on earth, and he loves them, and he will fight for them and protect them. And then in those three days, while he was fasting and praying, he had a vision of a Christian man named Ananias, who is going to come and give him some unspeakable gifts. He was going to lay his hands on him and restore his physical sight. That's a gift. What value can he put on that? He was blind. But Ananias will come and heal you physically. But more than that, when he places his hands on you, you'll receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will rush into you. He's already ministered too by the Holy Spirit, but in those days there was this dramatic on rushing of the Spirit that would happen, and that was going to come through the touch of a Christian.
Look at verses 17 and 18, “Placing his hands on Saul, he said, [listen to these words], ‘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.’ Immediately something like scales fell from Saul's eyes and he could see again. He got up and he was baptized,” water baptized. He’d already been baptized in the Spirit. Now he's water baptized and brought into the church. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit came in direct connection with the hands of a Christian brother. And Saul was not on his own in this world. He had now been adopted into a vast family of brothers and sisters, and he still loves them. He's still in that fellowship.
And he would go to the church in Jerusalem. And at first they were shrinking back and afraid of him of course. But Barnabas, another brother, put his arm around him, brought him in, spoke for him, represented him. And for the rest of his life, the brothers and sisters in Christ would be unspeakably precious to this man and they to him. He would love them. They would love him. As a matter of fact, there are some of the most heart rendering scenes you'll ever see in the book of Acts when Saul is kneeling and praying on a beach with some believers, and they cannot say goodbye to him, but he's already said he knows he'll never see them again in this world. And they were weeping, and he loved them, and they loved him.
Fourth, he was converted concerning his future life. The rest of his life was going to be different. Before his conversion, Saul was ambitious for the usual worldly things. He was zealous, and energetic, and passionate, and nationalistic for Judaism. And he says he was advancing in Judaism, but I believe he was also becoming rich and powerful by means of Judaism. These were the most powerful men in the Jewish nation, and he was their favored son, and he was on a fast track. You know what I mean by that? A fast track to power, and prestige, and possessions. That was the life he had. That's where he was headed. But in one instant all of that changed, by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ Paul will say in Galatians, “By that, the world is dead to me and I to the world. We agreed. The world and I agree, the world's dead to me and I'm dead to the world.”
And the world wanted him dead. And his loyalties all changed. The Sanhedrin, they weren't his allies, they were God's enemies. They hated Jesus. Saul was about to burn every bridge that he had been building through his career. He's going to burn them all. Went to Damascus and began preaching Jesus. And they heard about it back in Jerusalem and he became their enemy. The rest of his life now was forfeit to the plans and purposes of King Jesus. He now considered, as he’d say in another place, his life worth nothing to him. If only he could finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given him, the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. “My life means nothing to me.” And it's the very thing that was said in this text. “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel.” The end of Saul's mission, Paul's mission as apostle to the Gentiles would be to testify in the court of Caesar, Nero we believe, concerning the gospel.
Imagine preaching the gospel to megalomaniac Nero. “Nero, you need to repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.” Complete boldness. “This man is my chosen instrument.” Then he said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” How much? How much? How much? You can imagine a heavenly conversation, Paul saying to Jesus, “Is this enough suffering?” “No, more.” “How about this? Is this enough suffering?” “No, more and more and more.” That was what his life was, from prison to prison, from riot to riot, from persecution to persecution and yet through it all, eternal fruit coming from that life, Jesus said, unless a kernel of wheat falls at the ground and dies, it remains a single seed, but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit, and that was Saul for rest of his life. That's radical change, isn't it?
And the center of it all I believe is the light, the bright light. Yes, there was a physical blinding light, but there's another light. Paul writes about it in 2 Corinthians 4:6. And it is the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. It says, “For God, who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” What does that mean? God is glorious. He's marvelous. And he shines in his Son, Jesus. “Do you not see it?” He's saying. And then on the road to Damascus, he could see it. He could see it with his mind's eye. The eyes of his heart were enlightened, and he could see the beauty and the virtue of God in Christ. And for the rest of his life, he yearned to see that more and more taste and see that the Lord is good. He saw how good Jesus is and wanted to drink that in for all eternity.
So what about you? What about you? Has the resurrected Christ confronted you? Has the resurrected Christ convicted you? Has the resurrected Christ converted you from what you were to a new creation? And has the resurrected Christ commissioned you? Do you have a mission in life? And if so, you are called on in your own way to be a witness to Christ, crucified and resurrected the people that God brings in your life. And when that happens, isn't it encouraging to know that based on this story, God can convert anyone anytime he wants? If he can convert this man, he can convert anyone. So we're talking about powerful government leaders that are leading lives of open rebellion against God. He can convert people who have been drenched in a sinful lifestyle up until the day that they had that encounter that converted them. He can convert wayward grown children that are walking in disobedience to the way that they were brought up. He can convert them like that. He can convert anyone. He can convert people from other religions. He can do anything anytime. That's the power of Christ to convert. And that's the commission we have as you go out and see that power at work in the lives of people around us.
"God can convert anyone anytime he wants"
One final comment and I'll be done. I would say just speaking for myself, the greatest joy in my life, the most important powerful thing that's ever happened to me is my own conversion. I was converted when I was 19. I was a junior at MIT and I was converted, sitting under a tree at a retreat. And the Lord came into my life by the Spirit and he's never left. And that's the greatest joy that there's ever been in my life. The greatest grief in my life is that my heart is not yet fully transformed. I still, just like all of us, battle indwelling sin. The very thing that I hate, I do. The very thing that I yearn to do, I don't do like I should. As the hymn puts it, prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love. Isn't it marvelous that another work is coming for all of us Christians that will be spectacularly powerful and in an instant, he will change your defective, change-full, divided hearts and you will spend eternity perfectly loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. I'm looking forward to that. How about you? Close with me in prayer.
Father, thank you for this incredible story of what you did to one man. Lord, we know that you've done it to countless hundreds of millions all over the world, and we can't wait to see the stories in heaven, to meet the brothers and sisters to find out what the gospel's done in 20 centuries. God, I pray that you would help us who are Christians, first of all, just be thankful for the converting grace that came in our lives. Second of all, to yearn, to be willing to pay the price of suffering so we can see the same thing happen in the lives of others. And we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.