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What a Transformation! (2)
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. 20 Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 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.
23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. 26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21 Later I went to Syria and Cilicia.
What a transformation!
- The leader became a follower.
- Persecutor became persecuted.
- He was a hunter of the saved, but became a hunter of the lost.
- His physical eyes were closed for three days, but spiritual eyes were opened for eternity.
- He was a wild bull, but became like a docile lamb to preach the gospel as far as possible.
- He started to Damascus breathing out murderous threats, but surrendered in humility in Damascus.
- Paul’s mindset / belief set were turned completely 180 degrees upside-down.
- Up to then he had been doing what he wanted, what his own will commanded. But from then on, he must do what Christ commanded.
We must understand, if we’re living a Christian life, it means doing what Christ wants us to do. A Christian is a man who stops doing what he wants and does what Christ wants.
“19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. 20 Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 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.”
If we want to know the chronology of the whole period of Paul’s whole conversion, we must also read Paul’s own account of the matter.
When we put these two accounts together, the chain of events runs like this:
- Paul is converted on the Damascus road.
- He preaches immediately in Damascus.
- He goes away to Arabia, the desert.
- He returns to Damascus and preaches there again.
- After three years, he goes to Jerusalem.
- He escapes to Caesarea.
- He returns to Syria and Cilicia. (southern Turkey)
We can see Paul began with 2 important things:
1. Immediately witnessed for Christ in Damascus.
At that time, there were many Jews in Damascus – so many synagogues there. It was in those very synagogues where Paul raised up his voice for Christ.
This was boldness, fearless, moral courage. The same synagogues he preached the gospel – were the same synagogues where he had been going to persecute the believers. It would have been much easier to start his Christian life somewhere he wasn’t well known.
“I’m a changed man!”
Those who know me / you best should know that.
“I’m not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”
2. Commune alone with God
Not mentioned in Acts, but let me share with you. We can get a hint from Galatians. After that, he went to Arabia (the lonely, isolated desert).
Into Paul’s life had come a life-shattering change, so he had to be alone with God for a time. Before him stretched a new life, so he needed:
For these things, he went to Arabia to be alone with God. Also, he needed time to know three things (we can check ourselves on these as well – are we clear on these?)
- Who is Jesus Christ?
- Who am I?
- What shall I do then?
These are the very basic, fundamental questions.
- Who is Christ (to me)?
- Who am I (in Christ)?
- What shall I do about it then?
#1: Who is Christ?
Remember, on the way to Damascus, Saul heard a voice and saw a bright light:
- “Saul, why do you persecute me?”
- “Who are you, Lord?”
- “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
- “What shall I do?”
- “You will be told what to do.”
So, Paul went to Arabia to learn these three things.
Do you know Christ?
- Jesus says, “This is eternal life, that you may know God and Jesus whom he sent.”
- Jesus asked two disciples: “Who am I to you?”
- Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
- Jesus: “You are very blessed, but this was revealed to you by my Father in heaven. On this confession, I’ll build my church.”
Those who know Christ have power to open the gates of heaven – to salvation, and also power to bind the workers of Satan.
Phil 3 “Whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything in this world a loss for the sake of Christ. I consider everything as rubbish so that I may be found in Christ and know Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.”
Remember, if you know Christ, you will want to know him more.
Do you know Christ?
#2 Who Am I?
Whenever we see Christ truly, we truly see ourselves. This is like when we see our reflection in a mirror.
Isaiah did when he saw the Holy God (chp 6): “Holy, holy, holy, sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. The train of his robe filled with the temple.” Immediately he cried in response: “Woe to me, I’m ruined for I’m a man of unclean lips!”
Are your lips clean?
He saw himself as he was – as God saw him.
Paul also needed this same experience – he needed to get over being Saul.
Actually, Saul had two names from the beginning.
Some people think he was Saul in the beginning, then converted, and he changed his name to Paul.
- Saul is a Hebrew name – after Israel’s first king, Saul.
- Paul is his Roman name.
Until his conversion, he preferred the name Saul – after Israel’s first king. He was very proud of being a Benjamite (one of the 12 tribes of Israel) – these went into battle in the front lines in history. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee of Pharisees.
- “Saul” means “asked” – it’s very high.
- But after his conversion, he preferred the name “Paul” – which means “small.”
He was now yoked to Christ for his service.
Jesus: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, I’m gentle and humble in heart.”
Are you holding Jesus’ yoke on your shoulders?
When God wants us to do an impossible task, God asks an impossible man and crushes him.
God always uses, takes, ourselves to the end of ourselves before he uses us.
But Paul learned who he was in Christ.
Not knowing who Jesus is makes it impossible to know who I am.
#3 What shall I do?
What should you do?
He was chosen – a chosen instrument of God to be a mighty hunter, missionary, apologist. But – he would not only climb mountains, but also endure pain. When Christ called him, he said to him (through Ananias), “I will show you how much you must suffer for my name.”
- When Jesus called Paul, he did not say, “You must know how blessed you are.”
- Rather, he said, “I will show you how much you must suffer for my name.”
Paul was prepared for powerful, effective service through the time he spent alone with God in Arabia.
Also, today is the same.
If we want to serve Christ, we need some time to be alone with him. God may not ask us to seclude ourselves for several years, nor even several months, but we need time with Christ – one on one.
Moses also spent 40 years learning to think he was “somebody” – but then spent another 40 years learning who he REALLY was. Only after that, could he serve Christ effectively.
Even Christ spent at least 18 years preparing for the 3 years of his ministry.
- Also, at the beginning of his ministry, he spent 40 days and nights alone in the desert with God.
- Moses was also alone with God in the desert.
- Paul also went to the desert to be with God.
We need to retreat to be with God daily – to have communication with him, to be prepared by him, to have his purposes in us.
We can, yes, immediately be saved, but preparation for ministry never happens overnight. God is never in a hurry. He is building us for eternity.
- Desert (Arabia)
- Damascus (3 years) – but the response of the Jews was not good
“23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.”
The Jews even set a guard on the gate lest Paul should escape them. At that time, the Asian cities were walled cities. Those walls were open wide enough for chariots to be driven around the top of them. On the walls there were houses whose windows opened over the walls. And in the dead of night, Paul was taken into one of those houses and let down with a rope in a basket – and smuggled out of Damascus. Then, he began his journey to Jerusalem.
This is only the gateway of his adventures for Christ – but he is already escaping by the skin of his teeth. This is a witness of his courage.
He must have seen the great gatherings against him in the synagogues. He had also seen what had happened to Stephen years ago. And he knew what he himself had intended to do to the Christians. So, he knew well that the Christian life is not a “safe” life in this world.
He knew through his own observations and experiences that a Christian’s life is not easy, not “safe.”
A wolf will never attack a painted sheep.
What idea can you get from this sentence?
Don’t be fake. Counterfeit Christianity is always “safe” in this world, but real Christianity is in danger in this world.
To suffer for Christ is certain proof that others think we really matter.
“26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”
From Damascus, he went to Jerusalem. When he arrived, he found himself regarded with grave doubt and suspicion. How could it be otherwise? They did not believe that Paul became a real Christian. This is natural – from a human perspective.
In this same city, several years ago, Saul had dragged men and women from the church here to prison.
But, we can see how certain people help Paul at certain points in his ministry.
Yes, we also were saved by grace through faith in Christ, but through our faith journey, whether we know it or not, there were several people who helped us grow in faith. Also, we can help others grow in faith.
- Stephen helped Paul grow in faith. When Saul was an enemy of the church, Stephen helped with his message and loving, interceding prayer, and death. He gave a great impact to Saul.
- Ananias also helped Paul very much when he was in great confusion and bewilderment. He came kindly and said, “Brother Paul, the Lord has sent me to you.”
- Barnabas helped with encouragement and confidence. When everyone else was afraid of Paul – doubting him – Barnabas took him by the hand and stood before the apostles with him. How beautiful is the ministry of Barnabas?
- Giving a word of encouragement,
- reconciling believers with other believers,
- taking a risk for Christ in relationships,
- promoting the ministry of others,
- giving encouragement,
- rejoicing in others’ successes.
Even today, God mightily uses men and women like you, like us. We need men and women like Barnabas today.
Barnabas insisted on believing the best of others. When others suspected Paul of being a spy, Barnabas insisted on believing he was a real Christian. Even today, there are two kinds of men.
- Those who think the best of others
- Those who think the worst of others
Which side are you?
Do you think the best / worst of others?
1 Cor 13 “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”
Nobody is perfect. Yes, including me, we have failed, made mistakes, sinned. If God held our past against us, nobody could come to God. Who could come to God.
“If you confess you sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Are you Christian?
Please, do not condemn others – NEVER condemn others due to their past failures or mistakes.
God receives us as we are today. We can approach him at any time due to what Christ has done for us on the cross.
“31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”
This was a time of peace, not complacency. They grew spiritually and numerically.
- The door of faith opened to the Jews in chp 2,
- opened to Samaritans in chp 8, and
- will open to the Gentiles in chp 10.
Saul has moved out of the scene, and in chp 10, 15, Peter will appear again. Then, Paul will fill the rest of the pages of Acts.
God changes his workmen.
20 years ago, I was not a pastor in AICF. God changes his workmen, but his work goes on and on continually. Today, you and I are blessed and privileged to be a part of that work.
God bless you.