Sermon for Sunday Evening, August 28th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 9:1-22 ESV] 1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at 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 instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
Saul is final one of the three persons I previous mentioned in the chiasm of chapters 8 and 9. We looked at Simon the Magician, then Philip the Evangelist, and now Saul of Tarsus.
Now, an initial point of importance before we review the text. Saul always was Paul. He doesn’t get a new name from Jesus or anyone else. Saul is his Hebrew name like the King Saul of the Old Testament, and Paul his Greek name. In Hebrew places he is called Saul, and when he goes out on missions to the Gentile world he is called Paul. Saul always was Paul. The great change that comes over him is not a change of name, but a change of person. He now believes. He comes to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, not by his own power, but by the power of God.
And people will say silly things like “God respects people’s ‘free will.’” Umm … no.
Saul’s ‘Free will’ was monstrous. Everything we read about him is of the worst person imaginable. In chapter 8 he is “ravaging the church, and entering house after house.” He “dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Now Saul is “breathing threats of murder against the disciples of the Lord.” He’s not seeking the Lord. He is not slowly changing his mind as to Jesus being the messiah and Lord. His will is entirely opposed to the Lord.
Perhaps Saul was one of the most read on the Old Testament and the traditions of the Jews. He took them seriously. So seriously, that he desired to condemn those he saw as blasphemous, the Christians.
But against Saul’s will, we have the Lord breaking in. There is no knock on the door, no inviting, no offer, no pleading.
The Lord does not come to Him from a place of weakness pleading with him or bargaining with him, but Jesus Christ comes by the power of God.
Saul “went on his way.” Saul was doing what Saul does.
“and SUDDENLY a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Indeed there are times of seed planting and times of watering. We grow in understanding of the Scriptures and our children do as well. But that faith — that saving faith — is always the work of the Lord, SUDDENLY entering in upon the mind, changing the mind, bringing about repentance and belief. For no one can believe in Jesus Christ but by the Holy Spirit. Faith is a grace given us from God.
The conversion of Saul seems to have occurred at this moment or shortly thereafter, once he recovered from his blindness. The text says
“For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And IMMEDIATELY he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”
Saul repented. Saul changed his mind. Or rather, the Lord changed Saul’s mind.
And this is one of the greatest events in human history. The British theologian F. F. Bruce even once said in his biography of the Apostle Paul that this conversion alone is sufficient reason to believe in truth of Christianity.
How hard – how impossible – it is from an ardent opponent of something to become its biggest proponent and supporter.
Imagine, if it is possible, something like Bernie Sanders trusting the free market. Or a Pope renouncing all the errors of Rome. These things just don’t happen.
Here with Saul we see
The Calling OF GOD.
The Effectual Calling.
There is a General Call – the audible words.
And there is an Effectual Call – an irresistible overwhelming work of the Holy Spirit.
Paul could have still ignored the Lord after the encounter. But it wasn’t just the blinding. He must have also been renewed by the Holy Spirit on that occasion or shortly thereafter. And once the Holy Spirit came to him, he was changed, he was born again. Not by his own power but by the power of God.
The work OF GOD is this, believe in the one whom He has sent.
Then, starting in verse 10 we have introduced to us Ananias.
This obvious is not he same Ananias as earlier in the book of Acts. For one, this Ananias lives in Damascus, while the previous Ananias of chapter 5 was in Jerusalem. And — here’s the clincher — the previous Ananias is dead. So, not the same guy.
The Lord tells this new Ananias in a vision to go to Saul and lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight.
And I’ve always liked these directions because they tell you something about the ancient world. Really, my understanding is that in most places of the world streets didn’t all have names until modern times. But some major streets did have names. So Ananias is to find Saul on Straight street at the house of a man named Judas. I imagine you’d have to go to these places and ask around, unless you were from the area and knew where Judas’s house was.
It is interesting too that the Lord does this miracle through this disciple Ananias and not one of the Apostles. This clearly was a special miraculous time where even an otherwise unknown disciple is performing miracles. His laying on of hands “something like scales” fall from Saul’s eyes and he regain his sight.
But before this miracle we have Ananias wondering what the Lord is asking him to do. He knows that Saul has caused trouble. “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at 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 instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
Paul regains his sight, and here is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” This is real conversion.
Paul was not converted on the road to Damascus when the Lord came to him in a light, but in Damascus itself — at the house of Judas — when the Holy Spirit filled him.
He was baptized, And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Paul is God’s chosen instrument.
And we often think of him as the Apostle to the Gentiles. And indeed he is.
But notes that he is to carry the name of the Lord before the Gentiles, AND THE KINGS AND THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL.
Basically, he is to preach to the Gospel to ALL people.
That is the General Call of the Gospel.
The effective call came to him, the General call goes forth from him.
And it is important to distinguish these calls.
The General Call is made to all people indiscriminately. And it NEVER effective by itself in conversion. Many people, maybe even most people, become more hardened against the Gospel when they hear it. This is part of God’s plan to bring judgment on them.
But THROUGH the General Call the Word is heard by many, and of those then the Holy Spirit comes to some with the Effectual Call, converted each and every person whom He the Holy Spirit comes to.
The General Call and the Effectual Call work together. God does not convert people apart from the Word heard. The Word is preached so that it may be understood, and the Spirit is effectual so that the Word may be believed.
And preaching the word is now the major task of Saul, or Paul as he is usually spoken of as he goes out to the gentiles.
And because we know much more about Paul in the New Testament he becomes a real favorite of many. We have a lot of details of his ministry, his hardships. And that is mostly what it is – hardship. There are no luxurious, no prosperity, no private business jets for this preacher. He will be beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, and imprisoned multiple times for the Gospel. His is not an easy path laid out for him.
But it is his calling.
The Lord has called him “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
And we each as well are chosen instruments of the Lord.
Have you ever thought of yourself in that way? You are a chosen instrument of the Lord.
YOU have been chosen to teach your kids the Word.
YOU have been chosen to listen to others, to brighten their days, to love your neighbor.
YOU have even been chosen to bring the Good news of the Gospel to others wherever you may go. All Christians are called to this. You might not feel like a success in that undertaking, but the Lord uses His people as instruments to extend the General Call of the Gospel.
A Mr. Zavitz when I was in 6th grade spoke about faith in one of my Sunday School lessons. And only then, and never before, did I understand Salvation by Faith in Jesus Christ.
I wonder if the Lord had 25 people previously tell me this truth, going through each letter of the alphabet. Only when he got to Zavitz did the Holy Spirit enlighten my mind to understand the truth presented to me.
Perhaps Mr. Zavitz never thought of himself as God’s chosen instrument. But he was. To me, he was. And perhaps to others.
Who was God’s chosen instrument in your life? Often it is many. A teacher, a parent, a pastor. The word is spoken through many instruments, but belief comes only by the Holy Spirit.
And this work of the Holy Spirit is so powerful that it can convert even a person like Paul.
And you, and me.
Praise be to God.