Hello and welcome again to Lechem Panim. In our study of the book of Acts, we have come to chapter 9, in which we read of the conversion of a man who was at one time one of the fiercest persecutors of early Christianity, and yet became God’s chief instrument in bringing the good news of the Gospel to the gentiles. And of course I’m talking about Saul, who was also known as Paul. I say “also known as” because there is a widely-spread belief that God (or Jesus specifically) changed Saul’s name to Paul. But that is not the case. Saul in fact always kept both names. “Saul" was his Hebrew name and “Paul” was his Greek name. And having that kind of duel name was actually very common during that time. Simon Peter’s name is another example: Simon/Shimeon (a Hebrew name), and Peter (a Greek name). Now there definitely is a shift from the use of “Saul” in the beginning of the book of Acts to “Paul” later in the book of Acts; but the reason for that shift has nothing to do with Saul's conversion. Rather it has to do with where he was ministering. In and around Jerusalem he would use his Hebrew name (“Saul”) and in Gentile regions he would use his Greek name (“Paul”). And you will note here that when Jesus confronts him here on the road to Damascus, he calls him by his Hebrew name; not his Greek one.
The Importance of Saul’s Conversion-- Now the story of Saul’s conversion is very important for at least two reasons. First, it helps us to get to know who he is, the problems he struggled with, and how Christ changed who he was. Secondly, Paul’s testimony is important because his apostleship (which is the source of his authority) is based upon this very important encounter he had with Jesus while on the road to Damascus. In fact, Paul’s testimony is so important that the event is described three separate times here in the book of Acts (Acts 9:1-9; 22:3-21; 26:1-23). And what makes Paul’s testimony so important is that it shows us that he did not receive his authority from either himself or the other apostles. His authority came from the fact that he met Jesus face to face and was called (by Christ Himself) to go and be a minister of God’s word; a messenger who would carry His authority and do great things in His name. And over and over again Paul points back to Christ as the one who gave him this authority. He doesn’t consider himself worthy to do the work God has for him. In fact, he even describes how the other disciples met Christ in 1 Corinthians 15 (NIV) and then says in verse eight, “and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” You see, he recognizes that it is only by the grace of God’s love that he was chosen to be God’s special instrument.
And I am sure that all of us here today recognize our own unworthiness in being chosen by God not only to be His special instruments, but His children. It was not because we were anything special, but because He is good.
Zealous Rage-- Now although Saul became a mighty instrument for God, at this time Saul is violently persecuting the Christian Church. And behind this is a misguided zealousness for God, whom he thinks these Christians are in rebellion against. And so he is enraged (really) against these Christians. And you know, that is not very different from how the world often responds to you and to me in our day and age as well.
An Answer Forum— Some time ago I was looking something up online and I stumbled across this website where people could ask any question they wanted and other people could answer. And as I was looking through some of the religious questions people were asking and some of the answers other people were giving, I was struck with how easily you could tell who was a Christian and who wasn’t by how differently they responded. The Christians, though not always on track, were honestly trying to answer the questions while those who weren’t Christians were often flippant and rude. And not only that, they were vindictive, speaking hatefully and mockingly towards Christianity. And I found it interesting how people who reject the truth of Christ are rarely content to just say, “I respectfully disagree with you.” No, they often feel the need to lash out and vent their hatred, even when what they are venting about how little or nothing to do with the question that had been originally asked. And through my interactions with unbelievers in those kinds of forums (but even in person) I have really come to understand more and more that very often it is not merely a matter of respectful debate. No, there is an underlying hatred; an enmity that is working against you right from the outset. And you know, that is because of the truth of what Jesus expressed in…
John 3:20-21 (NIV)-- 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Thick Hide/Warm Heart-- And so when we come to interact with people who are lost, we need to do expect that there are unseen emotions and forces at play in their lives that will be working against us. Satan will seek to deaden their reason and cloud their thinking. He will place before their mind’s eye a manufactured picture of Christians that would be detestable to anybody. He will seek to stir up their spirit against you. And so, as my mentor once told me, you need to “have a thick hide and a warm heart”. Be willing to take the abuse, remembering what we talked about last week; that those who often respond to us with the most anger are often those who are under the greatest conviction.
The Storm Before Salvation-- I remember one time in the early years of my ministry trying to be there for a man who had lost his mother, who had gone to our church. But he himself was a drunkard who did not know the Lord; and it showed in his unsettled (and often angry) spirit and in the way he chose to grieve for his mother, without hope. He was one of those people you would look at and wonder if there really was any hope for him because of how incapable he had rendered himself of hearing God’s voice. How could God ever break through to a man like him? But I kept visiting him. And I would sit with him, listen, and try to offer the hope of Jesus wherever I could. But then one day something happened; he told me he didn’t want to see me anymore. He had misread a situation and thought I had said something to somebody else about him, which I hadn’t. But he said he didn’t want to see me anymore. Now I was a little stubborn and came back later anyway to talk to him and try to restore the relationship, but after I knocked on his trailer door and he opened it, I found that I had interrupted his cleaning of his rifle. And he very menacingly said he didn’t want to see me again. And so I got back into my car and left. But as I was driving down the road back towards the church, I just said, “Okay God, I can’t do anything else. He’s in your hands now. I turn him over to you.” One week later my phone rings and I pick it up and it’s him. And he said he wanted to see me. And so I went and saw him. And when I came to him and sat down with him, he began sharing his own personal despair; the darkness that had closed in upon him. And once again I offered him Jesus. And this time he said he was ready; and he received Christ that night, one week after saying he never wanted to see me again. Later he gave me a plaque that had a cross on it made out of railroad spikes. And I hung it in my office to remind me of what God had shown me through that experience; that there is nobody beyond His reach and ability to save. And even when somebody may be biting into you (as their conviction is at it’s worst), let them do so, all the while recognizing that that chastisement (like the stripes of Jesus) may just be the last croaking of the darkness before the sunrise. So let them bite. And perhaps even in their biting they might taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). Now Saul has definitely come to this turning point. His anger is at it’s peak. And so it says…
Acts 9:1-2 (NIV)— 1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 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.
En Route To Damascus— Now what is happening is these Christians are spreading the Gospel by teaching in their local synagogues. And Saul wants to put a stop to this in order to prevent those people who come to the synagogue to debate and to learn from being led into what he perceives to be a wicked cult. So he receives permission and is on his way to Damascus in Syria, which [was the nearest important city outside the Holy Land. It also had a large Jewish population. The distance from Jerusalem to Damascus was about 150 miles, four to six days’ travel.] And he is at the end of his journey, drawing near to the city. Look at verse 3...
Acts 9:3-9 (NIV)— 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 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. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
Only Through Encounter-- Now here we find that Saul, who thought he had had a clear vision of God and what He wanted; and who had intended on riding into Damascus in might and in strength, now has been rendered vision-less (physical blindness to match his spiritual blindness) that now necessitates his having to be led into the very place he had intended to bring persecution. And it was Jesus Himself who confronted Saul and (as we will see) works about a marvelous transformation in his life. And what that shows us is that it is the presence of Jesus that ultimately changes a person; not anything you and I say or do (though God will most certainly use that). But ultimately it is He who confronts, convicts, and brings people to repentance. Our job is simply to lead them to Him. And so this week, seek to bring the presence of Jesus to those around you. It may be in something you say; or it may be in how you respond to their mistreatment of you. Let them see reflected in you and me the presence of Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.