Good morning! I’m so glad you’re here to celebrate with us. To God be the glory, great things he has done! He is the one who has planned this from the beginning and made it all possible. What an honor he has given us to be part of it. Would you agree?
When we began our sermon series through Acts, I didn’t know what text we would be in when this day arrived. But the Lord had it all under control. Today we are in the second half of chapter 9. When I first read this, I couldn’t figure out how it related to our first Sunday in the new worship center. But as I prayed and studied the connections began to emerge. I’m excited to share what the Lord has shown me this week.
Let’s open our Bibles to Acts 9:19. Immediately following his encounter with Jesus, “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. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t this 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? Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” Acts 9:19-22
The synagogue of Paul’s time was not primarily a house of worship, but a community center where Jews gathered to read and discuss the Scriptures. Local rabbis led the discussions. Saul, as a visiting rabbi, was given the floor. But what he shared shocked them all!
Remember, Saul is a baby Christian. His only encounter with Jesus was on the Damascus road. He’s full of passion and enthusiasm, but short on spiritual maturity. He came to Damascus to raise havoc among the Christians, now he’s raising havoc among the Jews. He still has a lot to learn about following Jesus. Nevertheless, the Lord has chosen him.
Saul is trained in rhetoric and debate. He knows the OT by heart. He’s can body slam anyone who dares to debate him in the synagogue. Not exactly the way to make friends and influence people - certainly not the way to introduce people into a relationship with Jesus. In fact, this new believer Saul ends up accomplishing just the opposite of what he intends.
“After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” Acts 9:23-25
Luke gives us just the basics here, but there’s much more to the story. Paul tells us in Galatians and 2 Corinthians that the “many days” were in reality about three years. I’m not sure of the exact details of this three year period but a few things are certain.
The first is that sometime prior to being let down the city wall in a basket; Paul went to the desert area south of the Dead Sea to pray and examine the Scriptures. Maybe like Moses and Elijah of old. I think as a scholar, Saul wanted time alone to compare his Damascus road experience and the claims the Christians were making about Jesus with the OT promises about the coming Messiah.
Paul is the best young Bible scholar in Judaism at the time. What he found convinced him that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah of the OT! He also discovered this Messiah is not just for the Jews but for the whole world. Jesus is in fact, the Lord of heaven and earth!
Saul began sharing his discoveries about Jesus with the Gentiles that lived in the in the area. The Romans had put one of the Herod clan named Aeretas on the throne there in the city of Petrea. King Aeretas could care less about the theology of this weird little Jewish rabbi turned Christian, but it got his attention when Saul said that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord!
Damascus was under his jurisdiction. So when King Aretas heard that Paul had gone back to Damascus, he sent word to the authorities there to either arrest Paul or kill him. When the Jews heard about this, they knew they had the green light to exterminate Paul.
Isn’t it interesting how often religious and secular authorities come together against Jesus and the coming of his kingdom! That’s what happened to Jesus! Revelation tells us that in the last days, the state and the apostate church will unite to fight against the Lord’s return.
I’ve been reading recently about the martyrs over the last 100 years and in every case, the state attempts to destroy the church and Christians, not because they are a physical threat, but because they believe that Jesus, not the state is the supreme authority. They see this as treason to the security of the state that must be rooted out and destroyed at any cost!
Paul escaped Damascus in a basket let down out of the city wall. He made his way to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples there but they refused to believe he was one of them. But a man named Barnabas who we will meet again, vouched for him. Barnabas told them about Saul’s miraculous conversion and his fearless preaching in Damascus.
So they gave him a chance. It didn’t take Saul long to find himself arguing with the Hellenistic Jews. Once again, these scholars were no match for Saul’s skills so they tried to kill him. Once again he escaped with his life. His Christian brothers sent him to Tarsus, his boyhood home where he waited and waited – two years? Five years? We don’t know. And just like Moses in the desert he began to learn what it means to follow Jesus as Lord.
So how does this story apply to our lives this morning? First, moving in to a new sanctuary doesn’t make us a church. Following Jesus, obeying him, is what makes us a church.
Having a spiritual experience like Saul on the Damascus road doesn’t make you a Christian; though it may introduce you to Jesus! It’s following Jesus, obeying him, even when nobody notices and you get no credit for it, that’s what makes you a Christian. This is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight.
Going forward at an evangelism meeting, or inviting Jesus into your heart, or being baptized, or being saved from your sin, these are important ways in which the Lord breaks into our lives and calls us to himself. But they are not the end. Being a Christian involves leaving our old life behind to follow him. It’s following Jesus, obeying him, turning over the Lordship, the sovereignty in our hearts that makes you a Christian.
In order for Jesus to move from Savior to Lord in his heart, Saul had to learn that the Lord didn’t need his ability, the Lord needed his availability. Without the Lordship of Jesus, Saul’s abilities and skills were more of a liability than an asset for the kingdom of God.
Until Paul humbled himself and submitted himself to the Lordship of Jesus, he was a loose cannon. In the days of wooden ships, a cannon that broke loose in a storm could easily roll across the deck and punch a hole in the hull and sink the ship.
In 2 Cor 11, Paul tells how his pride was broken the night they lowered him down the city wall in a basket. How humiliating. He was proud of his ability to take care of himself. Now he was being protected by the Lord as if he was a little baby. Which in reality, he was. He goes on to say, “I’ve learned that it’s my weaknesses that are my salvation, not my strengths, for it is in my weaknesses that the power of God is revealed.”
Saul learned that our greatest enemy isn’t those who oppose us or throw us in jail. Our greatest enemy is our own pride and ego - our believe that we can do it in our own strength.
I think Paul was either sitting by Luke’s side as he wrote his journal or he checked out Luke’s work and approved and edited it. With that in mind, look at 9:31. God has taken Saul, recent convert, full of enthusiasm, bull in the china shop evangelist, out of the game. He’s benched him. Sent him home to Tarsus to learn what it means that Jesus, not Saul, is Lord. Yeah, but what happens to the church in Damascus and Jerusalem without Saul?
“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.” Acts 9:31
So who is in charge? Is it Saul? Is it us? It’s Jesus isn’t it? There’s a lot of talk in the American church today about being saved, inviting Jesus into your heart as if that’s the whole deal. But that’s easily misunderstood. We can begin to think of Jesus as if he is nothing more than an insurance policy or our own personal genie in a bottle.
We can claim that Jesus is our Savior and still stubbornly hold on to the idea that we are Lord of our own lives and Jesus is supposed to serve us. That’s backwards. Jesus is Lord, not us! He’s the Creator, we are his creation. We aren’t Lord of anything. He is Lord of all.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Certainly trusting Jesus to forgive and save us. But Jesus gave us the best answer. He didn’t say “Get saved and do as you please.” He said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” Saul was in the process of learning what that means. So are we.
What matters isn’t that we are finally in a new building. Buildings come and go. What matters is that we pick up our cross and follow Jesus. It’s not about us. It’s about him. It’s not about what we want. It’s about what he wants. Let’s remember as we enjoy these new digs, to follow him, listen to him, wait on him, and live our lives for him!