INTRO: Good morning. Last Lord’s Day we were looking at Acts chapter 8 and saw Philip baptize the Ethiopian eunuch, and then Philip was taken away in the Spirit.
While all this was going on we need to remember that there was a great persecution taking place in the background, consented to by a man named Saul as we read in Acts 8:1-3.
Today Luke is going to inform us that the persecution of the Lord’s church hasn’t gone away, in fact, it was about to increase. Our text is Acts 9:1-18.
First I am going to tell you a story about a young reporter who had a strong desire to become a star journalist, but living in a small town in Missouri there was not much opportunity. One day the dam upstream broke and the town was flooded. He got in a rowboat and headed out to look for a story. He found a lady sitting on her rooftop, so he tied up the boat and told her he was looking for a story. They both watched as various items floated by. Finally, a hat floats by and then does a 180-degree turn, goes upstream a ways and does another 180-degree turn, etc. The reporter says, "There's a story." The lady exclaimed, "Oh no, that's not a story. That's my husband Hayford. He said that he was going to mow the lawn come hell or high water!"
I guess the point of the story is, there comes a time when determination needs to be reexamined. Such was the case for a man named Saul who was determined to persecute the Lord’s church. In the text today we will see how God used that determined man.
Let us begin reading in Acts 9:1-2 – “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”[NKJV]
Luke tells us that Saul was so determined to do what he thought was religiously correct, that not only did he persecute the church in Jerusalem, but he even went to foreign cities to carry out his vicious persecution.
There’s no doubt about it. Saul was very determined when it came to persecuting the Lord’s church. I’m not going to deal with the persecution Saul was doing today because I would like to focus on two little words for a bit; “the way”.
I. We know the Lord’s church has many names in the Bible. The church is called ‘the church of God’ in 1 Corinthians 1:2. The church is also called ‘the church of Christ’ in Romans 16:16. Here in Acts 9, we’re introduced to another name for the Lord’s church. Saul was authorized to seek out a group of people who followed "The Way."
A. Those who followed “The Way” were Christians like you and me, who were following Jesus Christ. God has always had a Way or a pattern for His children to follow. Malachi tells us about priests who had turned from ‘the way’ in Malachi 2:7-8 – “For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,'' says the Lord of hosts.”
1. Remember what Jesus said in John 14 when Thomas asked Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus replied in John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
2. Throughout the Book of Acts, we see people who are followers of ‘the Way’.
3. We see it first here in Acts 9:1-2 – “Then Saul... went to the high priest and asked letters from him... that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
4. We see reading of Apollos in Acts 18:25 that “This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord”.
5. In the next verse Acts 18:26 we see that “When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
6. Over in Acts 19, we see Paul debating with the Jews and the Bible says in Acts 19:9 - “... some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude...”
7. Also in Acts 19 we see trouble breaking out in Ephesus and Luke tells us in Acts 19:23 - “And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way.”
8. Then finally in Acts 24 when Paul was defending himself before Governor Felix, we read Acts 24:22 that “... when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings...” Felix was well acquainted with the Way.
B. Those people who followed the way of Christ are the very people whom Saul would go searching for, and when he found either men or women who followed that belief, he was authorized to take them in bonds to Jerusalem.
II. Luke tells us that Saul's mission of persecution was interrupted by a great light coming down from heaven and shining around him. Acts 9:3-9 – “3. And as he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. 4. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'' 5. And he said, "Who are You, Lord?'' And the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'' 6. So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?'' And the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.'' 7. And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. 8. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
A. Can you imagine being Saul on that road? You’re merrily plodding along the road, discussing what you are going to do with these people who follow the Way, doing what you believe is your duty to God, climbing up the religious ladder with all your good deeds, then suddenly not only are you surrounded by a bright light, but you hear a voice.
1. No wonder Luke tells us Saul fell to the ground as the voice asked, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
2. I don’t know about you but if I was in that situation I would be quite frightened and what to know who was doing this, I would answer the voice.
B. That’s what Saul did. He asked who it was that was speaking and the voice replied according to Acts 26:14 – "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."
1. Let’s just stop and think about this for a moment.
2. Here is a man who gave his approval to Stephen’s death.
3. Here is a man who viciously went about killing and imprisoning the followers of Jesus.
C. Jesus is telling this same man, “Saul when you are persecuting my people, you are persecuting Me”. The deductions from the truth in evidence here are far-reaching and comprehensive:
1. What is done to the church is done to Christ.
2. Hatred of the church is hatred of Christ.
3. Persecution of the church is the persecution of Christ.
4. Membership in the church is membership "in Christ."
5. Liberality toward the church is the same toward Christ.
6. Neglect of the church is the neglect of Christ.
7. Refusal to belong to the church is a refusal to belong to Christ.
D. He says, “Saul, it’s hard for you to kick against the goads."
1. Like some in Peter’s audience in Acts 2 who panicked and asked “What must we do?” after they realized that they had killed the messiah, Saul trembled and asked what he must do.
2. We are living in a society where people think that God is like Santa Claus, all He does is give gifts.
3. People think, “Yes God is good, He sent His Son to die for us, just ask God whatever we want and He will gladly give it because He is a loving, caring God.”
4. Folks, God is not only a giver of good things. That is only one aspect of God. He also wants something in return. He wants obedience to His word.
a. Let me suggest some things we should consider. When was the last time you asked God what He wants you to do?
b. When was the last time you said: “God thank you for answering my prayers, thank you for the salvation you have given me but God what do you want from me”?
III. Let’s look at a few things that God wants you to do.
A. God wants you to pray. How often do you talk to the One who loves you so much He gave His Son for your salvation?
1. Maybe you’re only praying once a day. Maybe only at mealtimes.
2. God wants you to pray more.
B. God wants you to read His word and learn from it.
1. Maybe you only read or hear God’s word on Sunday mornings.
2. God wants you to read His word more than once a week.
C. God wants you to meet with other Christians as often as you can.
1. Do you only see or speak with other Christians once a week?
2. Do you ever visit or call any of your brothers and sisters during the week?
3. God wants you to stay in touch with other Christians as much as possible.
D. God may want you to stop being busy doing other things, worldly things that are taking the place of being with Him, and with fellow Christians.
1. Do you attend Bible studies or are you always busy doing something else?
2. Maybe God wants you to put time aside for Him first.
E. I do not know what God wants you to do, but God does. Maybe you already know what God wants you to do but you keep putting it off. God doesn’t make disciples for the sake of it. He makes disciples to serve and do His will.
IV. The Lord said Saul, "This is what I want you to do, I want you to arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
A. Maybe that’s the message God is saying to you, “Arise and go.” In other words, God is saying, “This is what I want you to do, but you need to make the effort to get up and do it.”
1. Saul's traveling companions were unable to understand the words spoken according to Acts 22:9.
2. According to Acts 26:14, they all had fallen to the ground. When Saul got up, he was blind.
3. His friends had to lead him by the hand into the city.
4. For three days, he prayed and fasted, unwilling, or unable, to take food because of the tremendous shock he had received on the Damascus' road.
B. John Newton was a rough sailor with a foul mouth and an appetite for rotten living. He hated life and it seemed life hated him. He was captain of a slave ship. Then someone placed in his hands a copy of Thomas à Kempis' “The Imitation of Christ”. He also had the gift of a good mother who told him about the Savior when he was young. John Newton was converted and went all over England sharing his faith. It is told that when he was well past his "retirement" age, he had to have an assistant stand in the pulpit with him on Sundays. He was nearly blind and spoke in whispers, but nothing could keep him from preaching while he still had breath. One Sunday, while delivering his message he repeated the sentence: "Jesus Christ is precious." His helper whispered to him: "But you have already said that twice." Newton turned to his helper and said loudly, "Yes, I've said it twice, and I'm going to say it again." "Jesus Christ is precious!"
C. When Saul of Tarsus had an encounter with the risen Lord, he knew from that moment, that Jesus Christ is precious.
V. Folks, we’ve all been on that road in some way or another. Colossians 1:21-23 – “... you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight, if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.” We’ve all been persecutors of “the Way”.
A. Paul says we have all been on that road where we were alienated and enemies of God but now, just like Paul, we have become His servants. Paul thought he was on the road to Damascus but God changed that plan and put him on the road to salvation.
B. Most people here today were heading on some road to a destination they had in mind.
1. When you had your encounter with Jesus through His written word, and you listened and did what God says, God turned your life around and put you on the road to salvation.
2. You were going a different way because you were trying to go through life alone. God prepared His people to meet you on that road so that they could show you the right way to go.
C. That’s what Luke tells us happened next. Acts 9:10-16 – “10. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, "Ananias.'' And he said, "Here I am, Lord.'' 11. So the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12. "And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.'' 13. Then Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14. "And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.'' 15. But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16. "For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake.''”
1. Notice what Luke records here in verse 10. He says that "there was a disciple," not an apostle or preacher, a disciple of Christ saw a vision from the Lord.
2. This must have been a bit of a shock for Ananias to hear the Lord tell him to go to Straight Street and ask for Saul of Tarsus.
3. It must have been even more of a shock when the Lord said Saul was praying and had seen, in a vision, a man named Ananias coming and putting his hand on him so that he might receive his sight.
D. Here is another example of God asking someone to get up and go. Ananias was scared and hesitated to do what the Lord asked him to do.
1. I think that’s understandable. Ananias knew about the persecution in Jerusalem and the letters Saul carried from the chief priests which gave him authority to bind any Christians he found in Damascus.
2. Wouldn’t you be afraid of Saul? The Lord was aware of Ananias’ fear, just as He is aware of our fears, and He told him that Saul was specially chosen to take his Name to the Gentiles, kings, and the Jews.
3. Folks, if you have ever wondered why you were chosen to be a Christian, here is one reason why—to take the Name of Jesus to others.
4. I heard a story of a couple who took their son, 11, and daughter, 7, to Carlsbad Caverns. As always, when the tour reached the deepest point in the cavern, the guide turned off all the lights to dramatize how completely dark and silent it is below the earth's surface. The little girl, suddenly enveloped in utter darkness, was frightened and began to cry. Immediately was heard the voice of her brother: "Don't cry. Somebody here knows how to turn on the lights." In a real sense, that is the message of the gospel: the light is available, even when darkness seems overwhelming and as a Christian, you know how to show it to others.
VI. Folks, Jesus is coming back one day to take us to heaven and we as the church have only got a short time on this earth to tell as many people as we can that Jesus is the Way to heaven.
A. The hymn “Into Our Hands”, number 90 in our hymnal, puts this very well. Verse 3 says “Souls that are precious, souls that are dying, While we rejoice our sins are forgiven.” We have all these blessings from being in Christ.
1. Our salvation is already taken care of if we remain faithful until we die, but sometimes we’re not very good at telling others that they can have these wonderful things too.
2. Maybe that’s because of fear, but salvation is not only ours to keep, it’s ours to share. “Into our hands, the gospel is given, into our hands is given the light, haste, let us carry God’s precious message, guiding the erring back to the right.”
B. Do we realize what we possess? We possess the answers to life and death.
1. We have God’s word and we possess something unique, hope which is something the world does not have.
2. 1 Peter 3:15 – “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;”
3. We possess that don’t we? If someone asked us why we are a Christian, we can tell them about the hope of heaven, can’t we?
4. We can tell them about what happened on our road to Damascus. Using our Bibles we can show them the Way, can’t we?
C. Unlike the experience of Saul and Ananias, God is not going to show up in a vision and tell you to go somewhere and do something like some people claim today.
1. Jesus has already revealed that to us in the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20. Where He tells us to go and then tells us where to go...“to all nations.”
2. When Peter was dealing with these very questions about Jesus coming back, people were asking, where is this Jesus? When is He coming back?
3. Peter answers in 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”
4. The reason we have to tell others is because God is holding off Jesus’ return so many will be saved. He wants you to go to and tell them about His Son Jesus.
VII. Just like He tells us to go and do His will, He told Ananias to go and do His will. Acts 9:17-19 – “And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.'' Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. And when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.”
A. Interestingly Ananias calls Saul "Brother," perhaps because they were both from fleshly Israel, or in anticipation of Saul's impending baptism which would result in his being one of God's children in Christ.
1. We don’t know, but we do know that Saul's sight was miraculously restored through the laying on of Ananias' hands.
2. Often when a person has an operation on their eye to remove a cataract they will find when it is done they can see perfectly again.
B. Some people are physically blind which is bad enough but most people in the world suffer from another kind of blindness.
1. A preacher I know told of a friend of his named Glynn who the preacher met when he was at Bible school. Glynn taught Bible school, and went on mission trips all over the world. He is a remarkable Christian and teacher of God’s word, but the preacher said what made him even more remarkable, is that Glynn is physically blind.
2. The preacher said he was listening to Glynn preach one day and Glynn said that many people feel sorry for him because of his physical disability, but do you know what he said his response to that was?
3. “It’s not as bad for me as it is for those who are spiritually blind.”
Paul tells us, in a forceful way, when responding to the objection that the gospel was veiled to some, in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 – “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”
Paul does not allow that any person is blameless in the inability to see the truth. If one does not see it, it is their fault. "The veil (that prevents their seeing) is woven by their prejudices and corrupt affections." As Jesus said, "Men love darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil" (John 3:19).
Saul saw the light in more ways than one and it changed the direction of his life forever.
When the blind are healed spiritually they see things for what they are. When that happens their immediate response will be the same as the Jews in Acts 2:38-41, the Samarians in Acts 8:5-12, the Eunuch in Acts 8:26-40 and Saul of Tarsus here in Acts 9:18. “He got up and was baptized.”
Saul is a man who was once a persecutor of the Way of Christ but is now a follower of that Way.
Folks, just like Saul who shared his testimony three times within the Book of Acts, we all have a testimony to share with the people we meet every day.
God gave Ananias the miraculous capability to heal Saul from his physical blindness and God has given us the ability, through the Bible, to heal people who are spiritually blind.
We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God, and be baptized for the remission of our sins... If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.
Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
Reference Sermon: Mike GloverPrint
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