Hello and welcome to the show today! In our study of the book of Acts, we have been taking a look at one of the most important conversion stories in all of history, the salvation of Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul had been violently persecuting the Christian Church and was on his way to Damascus to further persecute Christians and prevent them from winning converts in the synagogues there. But something amazing happens to Saul on this road to Damascus in our passage today! He meets the risen Lord! And after he meets Jesus, he was no longer Saul the Jew! He was no longer Saul the Roman; Saul of Tarsus; Saul the highly educated; or even Saul the Pharisee of Pharisees. He was Paul, first and foremost, a what? Listen to…
Romans 1:1– 1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
A Genuine Encounter-- Saul became an apostle of Jesus Christ. And when you think about the power of that; how the unlikeliest convert (one who hated Christianity) became one of its chief advocates and missionaries, it really speaks to the genuineness and the power of the encounter that he had with Jesus there on that road to Damascus. And today I want you to see in Paul’s testimony what a true encounter with Christ ought to produce in the life of a person.
Point 1: Dealing With Sin— First, a Genuine Encounter with God Deals with Sin. The first thing God does is confront Saul with the sin that is at the heart of the issue. He first points out his sin in persecuting the Christians, which is (in essence) persecuting Christ Himself. Then he tells Saul to go into the city and await further instruction. And Saul gets up to leave and realizes he has been struck blind. Now this is an interesting part of the story because he is the only one who is struck blind. Why does Jesus strike him blind? What is the purpose of this?
God’s Light Taken-- Well remember how the Jews viewed light and the ability to see? In scripture, God Himself is light and those who know Him walked in the light. In Egypt darkness covered the whole land, except for Goshen, where God’s people dwelt. Why did they have light? Because they followed God. And in and throughout the Old Testament those who are fools; those who reject God and his wisdom are said to be those who stumble in the darkness. Jesus even calls the Pharisees blind leaders of the blind, making the point that they do not know either God or His truth. So what I think Jesus is doing here is making Saul experience his own spiritual darkness; his own spiritual blindness. He is making him bear physically what he is spiritually. And so through this Jesus is saying to Saul, “You are so blind, you persecute the very God you claim to serve. You think you are walking in the light of truth when in fact you are lost. I want to communicate with you just how lost you are. Here, let me take away your sight. And then He says to him, “Now stumble on over into the city and you will be told what to do.”
Point 2: Producing Humility— Now the second characteristic of a Genuine Encounter with God is humility. Now picture this. Saul, who was expecting to come to Damascus in might and in strength, overwhelming the Christians there with his persecuting power, is now sent into that same city the weakest, most powerless person you could imagine. And sometimes this has to happen to us. We have to be humbled before God can do anything with us.
Two Ships Illustration— [In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below. News of the disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident. It wasn't a technology problem like radar malfunction—or even thick fog. The cause was human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship's presence nearby. Both could have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late.]
Humbling Ourselves-- Now that story may sound may sound ridiculous to us. But let me ask you, are there areas in your life that you are not willing to humble yourself and submit to God? Are you so determined to grip the steering wheel of your own life that you are even willing to crash it into disaster just to escape from having to humble yourself and submit to God’s way; God’s plan for your life? Now even those of us who are followers of Christ still have to wrestle with this on a day to day basis. Are we going to obey God in humility; or try to do things our own way? And there was another man in this story that also had to learn this lesson. Look with me at verses 10 to 16...
Acts 9:10-16 [NIV]— 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 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. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Ananias’ Doubt— Now I really feel for Ananias. He is a Christian who has already heard that Saul is coming and he is possibly even in hiding. And God says to him, “You know Saul of Tarsus?”
“You mean that guy I and a lot of other Christians are hiding from; the guy who has every Christian he meets thrown into prison? That Saul of Tarsus?”
“Yes. That’s the one. I just revealed to him a vision of a man named Ananias coming to restore his sight.”
I Love God’s sense of humor here. He doesn’t say that Saul saw just anybody, but somebody in particular: a man named Ananias! And Ananias is probably talking out loud, “Wow, God, that’s pretty specific. You know God, Ananias is a pretty common name. Why don’t you grab an Ananias who’s a little bit less me. I was on my way to get my name changed anyways. How about Sapphira’s husband?”
And God says, “Well, he can’t.”
“Yes, he tried to deceive the Holy Spirit.”
And Ananias says, “God, I was seriously kidding about that whole name-changing thing. I wasn’t really on my way to change it.”
And God says, “Go!” So Ananias goes and finds the house Paul is staying in. Look at verse 17...
Acts 9:17-19 [NIV]— 17 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.” 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.
Point 3: Being Brought To Repentance:-- And this brings us to the third point, which is this: A Genuine Encounter with God leads you to Repentance. Paul not only had his sight restored, but his soul as well, as he received the Holy Spirit into his life. He arose and was baptized, becoming a follower of Jesus Christ; that very Jesus he had met on the road. Now look at the instant change that was wrought about in his life. It says in…
Acts 9:20-22 [NIV]— 20 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 Messiah.
Point 4: An Evangelistic Drive— And so we see that the fourth thing A Genuine Encounter with God leads you to is Evangelism. Anybody who has been genuinely touched by Christ and filled with His Holy Spirit will want to carry that new hope he has found to those who have yet to receive it. And the irony now is that Saul (who had been an enslaver of Christians) has now become an Evangelist for that very faith. Before he was the persecutor; now he is the persecuted, which we see in the very next section. It says…
Acts 9:23-26 [NIV]— 23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews 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.
A Trojan Horse?— Now you can really understand where they are coming from. How would you know if he were telling the truth or not? What if he’s just faking it to gain information; information he can later use to cause great harm to the Church. Might be kind of a Trojan Horse situation; where you welcome in as a gift the very one who would destroy you. Well, that is what these early Christians were afraid of. And think about it, what are the chances that he would happen to have this kind of change of right now when you know he is seeking out Christians. I guarantee you most of you would not believe him. I probably wouldn’t. But what is remarkable is that he really was telling the truth! Yet nobody believes him. It just sounded too good to be true! But look at what is says. It says…
Acts 9:27-28 [NIV]— 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.
When We Avoid Encountering God-- You know, Paul had a real, genuine encounter with God. And it changed his life forever. But you know, sometimes I feel we avoid genuine encounters with God. Because He’s like a mirror for our hearts, we often don’t want Him to be near enough for Him to reveal those areas in our lives we would prefer to keep hidden and un-dealt with. We often forget to humble ourselves before God and submit our way to His. It is not that we don’t want to be good Christians. We are just afraid to let God take the wheel of our lives. It’s strange. We think we can manage and steer our lives better than the One who made us. And we have all been guilty of this. But what the reality scripture points us to is that if we are to walk in the light as Christ is in the light, we must allow God to deal with our spiritual blindness. We must acknowledge our sins before Him. We must humbly accept His way. We must repent and turn from those sins we are clinging to in our lives. And lastly, we need to take the hope of the Gospel to those who need to hear it. And so today I want to encourage you (if you want to have a genuine encounter with God today) to humble yourself and confess your shortcomings and sins. Repent before the Lord now in this moment and ask Him to give you the strength to do the work He has for you. Let’s do so. 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.