Paul had an encounter with Jesus and it changed him entirely.
Good morning, everybody. I, uh, it’s great to see you and it’s great to be back, right? The carpet is still green. I know you missed it. Uh, it is great to see you, those who are here and I thank you everyone. Who’s also joining us on line today. We have a lot of our church family that’s worshiping with us online.
I’m uh, Moving a little bit slowly I wrenched my back out on Tuesday was doing better. And then I did it again yesterday. And then when I didn’t see this podium here, I thought I’m just going to spread my notes and stuff out on this beautiful green carpet and sort of sit down and go at it that way. But, uh, it’s been a tough week for me and yet I never really felt discouraged about it.
Uh, it was like, not just my, my back, but the, uh, backed up sewer line. That’s fun. Um, the tractor that I couldn’t fix a furnace turn on and listen, he said to me, well, I know why this is happening. It’s because you’re preaching this Sunday. Well, I’m not so sure about that. There is spiritual warfare. We have an enemy.
I don’t want to give him too much credit in orchestrating the events of my life for greater is he, that is in us than he, that is in the world. Right. I have before me a book describes itself as the word of God as living active and useful. And I’m excited to be able to be here with the strength God’s given me to share some things that he has put on my heart today.
So, um, uh, you’re going to invite you if you want to open your Bible. We’re going to start today in acts chapter eight,
and we are going to focus on the, the power of the gospel to change lives. We’re going to look at this through the conversion experience of Saul of Tarsus. Now the life conversion in ministry of Saul of Tarsus, who’s more popularly known as the apostle Paul to recorded for us in the book of acts, as well as bits and pieces of his story are made clear in the 13 letters that he wrote that part of the new Testament.
He is undoubtedly with the exception of Jesus Christ, the biggest personality in the new Testament. And I believe that he penned his life verse. Or the theme of his life in ministry in Romans one 16 when he wrote, I am not ashamed of the guy hospital, because it is power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes it’s for the Jew and also for the Gentile.
And Saul knows firsthand the power of the gospel to change lives dives, because it changed his life. And I want to talk about the power of the gospel to change our lives as seen in the conversion of Saul. And we’re going to see that in acts chapter eight and nine, and then he re re retell his is a testimony, his conversion experience on two other occasions in the book of acts chapter 22 and 26.
And I believe this gospel has the power to change lives as well. And if the gospel can change the life direction and destiny of a guy like saw it can surely change ours as well. And this is the conviction for which I am here before you today with an open Bible, let’s read what happened to this man named Saul.
And we begin with our introduction to him in acts chapter eight. And it reads like this in acts chapter eight, verses one through four. And Saul was there at the, at the, at the killing of Steven, the martyrdom of Stephen and Saul was there giving approval to his death. There’s our introduction to a guy.
He was all on board with putting Christians to death and persecuting them. Let’s keep reading on that day. A great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria, godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church.
Going from house to house. He dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered, preached the word wherever they went. Now, I want to ask you to jump forward to the first verse of chapter nine and we’ll continue with what with Saul’s story there. Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.
He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to 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. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed all around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice, say to him, saw Saul, why do you cute me?
Who are, are you? Lord Saul asked, I am Jesus, whom you’re persecuting. He replied now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do. The men traveling with Saul stood there, speechless. They heard the sound, but did not see anyone 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 for three days, he was blind and did not eat or drink anything in Damascus. There was a disciple named Anna Niaz. The Lord called to him in a vision and an . Yes, Lord. He answered 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 in a vision.
He has seen a man named Dan and I calm and place his hands on him to restore his sight. Lord. And an answered. I have heard many reports, this man and all the harm he has done done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with you, the authority of the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.
But the Lord said, Dan and I S go. This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their Kings. And before the people of Israel, I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. Then Anna Niaz went into the house, went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul. He said, brothers saw the Lord.
Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here has sent me so that you may again, may see again and be filled with the Holy spirit immediately. Something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again, he got up and was baptized and after taking some food. He regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus at once. He began to preach in the, the synagogues that Jesus is the son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, isn’t he the man who re raised havoc, Russ alum, 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. After many days, days had gone by the Jews conspired to kill him, but som 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.
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, 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 preach fearlessly in the name of Jesus.
So Saul stayed with them, right? Moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. We’ll stop our reading right there. This amazing account has so much to teach us. And here’s my theme for today. I admit it’s a bit of a mouthful, but I’m going to break it down simply for you. After I give it to you.
The power of the gospel takes an improbable center. Release’s him or her from his impossible pursuit and changes his identity, purpose, and destiny through an unmistakable encounter. Which Jesus Christ. Yeah, it’s a mouthful, right. But it’s really three phrases that we’re going to talk about. Improbable center, impossible pursuit and unmistakable encounter.
First of all, here’s the first, first of those phrases, the power of the gospel is made available to improbable centers and see what we’re going to see. Is that a part from grace? That’s all of us. We’re, we’ve all gone. Too far, apart from grace, there’s no hope he’s gone too far. She’ll never change. Not a chance for him.
There’s no hope for her. If you ever said those things about someone or even thought them about yourself, you know what you’re right. Because apart from grace, we’ve all gone too far, but you know what? You’re also wrong. Because by God’s grace, no one is too far gone to be changed by a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
Now by all appearances saw was too far gone. Having dedicated himself to destroy the church and to imprison and kill Christians killed Jesus followers. He made himself the most improbable candidate, the most unlikely person to ever come to faith in Christ. He was beyond hope and everyone knew this. And NIS knew this.
He believes Saul was a hopeless case. In fact, when the Lord directed Anna, nice to go and lay his hands on Saul, he objected. Are you sure about this? He tried to correct the Lord. I’ve heard reports about this guy and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. I almost hear the Lord cutting him off mid sentence.
Go. This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their Kings. And before the people of Israel amazing. Isn’t it? That God had a plan for Saul’s life, but on an ISDN was not so sure. Even the apostles in Jerusalem believed that Saul was too far gone. Verse 26 tells us that they were afraid of him.
Not believing that he really was a disciple. So unlikely a candidate was this guy for the gospel that not even these men who had been with Jesus, seen Jesus miracles, done miracles in the name of Jesus and had been commissioned to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Not even, they were sure that the gospel could reach saw.
here’s the truth. The gospel of Jesus has the power to change. Even the most improbable center. Make no mistake about it. No matter how far from God, you may feel how no matter how lost a person looks, no matter how far your son or daughter appears to have strayed from God. The gospel of Jesus will never lose its power to reach him or her.
The gospel will never be rendered null and void. The gospel of Jesus has the power to reach the most improbable of sinners, but you know, here’s the other side of the coin. Each one of us must come to the place where we can look in the mirror and realize that we are. That most improbable of sinners and that apart from God’s grace, we too are too far gone.
Now, many of us fail to see this, see ourselves that way, because there’s always someone else that we can compare ourselves to who looks worse.
Saw you have to remember was not some atheist communist. Terrorists zealot. He, he who hated God and all religion. He was a devout, biblically trained Jew, a Pharisee outwardly scrupulously, righteous. He was squeaky clean, believing that he was doing God’s will, you know, I think the squeaky clean among us have the hardest time coming to the place where we realize.
That we need God’s grace. And that we are the most improbable of sinners because we find so much comfort in comparing ourselves to the bad guys. It’s, it’s kind of like someone saying I robbed a bank. Sure. But it was only a small bank. I could have done so much worse. The reality is it is only by God’s grace, that our complete sinfulness has not played itself out Holy in our lives, as it could have give it time.
And it would see the biblical doctrine of total depravity doesn’t mean that we’ve all behaved as badly as we could have. It’s simply means that the core of our being we are completely and utterly. Sinful now, Paul would later write these words to Timothy. He’d say here’s a trustworthy saying that deserves full of acceptance.
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst, but for that very reason, I was shown mercy. So that in me, the worst of sinners. Christ Jesus might display his immense patients as an example, for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life, we must all come to the place as Saul did.
When we look in the mirror at ourselves and conclude, I am the worst of sinners and it’s from that place that we cry out. God have mercy on me. A sinner. We come to realize that in grace, the grace of God is our only hope because we’ve all gone too far. So, as I said, no one has gone too far because we’ve all gone too far.
But the good news of the gospel is that its power is available to the most improbable of sinners to saw to me. To you now here’s our second truth. The power of the gospel releases us from an impossible pursuit. And what I mean to say here is that apart from a relationship with Christ, all other pursuits will leave us empty until we come to faith.
In Jesus Christ and have a relationship with our heavenly father through Christ. Our lives are on an impossible pursuit, a quest for something that will always feel out of reach true meaning and purpose. Come through a relationship with Jesus now saw was on an impossible pursuit. What was his pursuit?
To seek out, kill them, destroy the church in off Jesus followers. Yes and no. Yes. That was his pursuit. But no, that was not really what he was after. He, like, all of us will say after that satisfaction, validation, inner, inner satisfaction. And he was using his religious zeal levied against the church as a way to get there.
He was seeking. Fulfillment and satisfaction through religious zeal to persecute Jesus followers. And this was an impossible pursuit for two reasons. One, the church can never be destroyed and two, there can be no ultimate satisfaction or purpose in life. Apart from a relationship with God through Christ.
Now acts eight tells us we write it that own. The day Stephen was put to death, a vicious persecution. Against the church broke out. We read godly men, buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him, but saw, began to destroy the church.
He was on an impossible pursuit. He was going to be fighting a losing battle because Jesus made this declaration. I will build my church. And the Gates of hell will not prevail against it. The power of the gospel is seen and that the church consisting of all those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ and therefore have, and thereby have become part of his body has withstood the last 2000 plus years and continues to grow, to thrive and to multiply.
And that is why today. As those scattered believers in acts chapter eight, did the church goes on spreading and preaching the word of Christ wherever we go, the church can never be destroyed least of all by a simple quarantine. This is just a building. The church is the body of Christ. So Saul set out on an impossible pursuit.
He was fighting a losing battle, but Saul’s chief pursuit. Was also doomed to fail because like everyone like us, like me, like you, he was seeking meaning and purpose apart from faith in Christ. So Paul shares his conversion story before King Agrippa in acts chapter 26. And not going to read it, but he, he includes this detail that Jesus spoke to him.
The voice of Jesus, speaking to him said saw, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kill against the goats. You see that statement is a description of what life is like when salt or me or you. Or anyone tries to find meaning and purpose. Apart from Christ, it’s like kicking against the goads and animal, resisting the prodding and direction of his master, resisting the direction the master wants to take him.
He’s kicking against the goads and we’re doomed to frustration. And failure when we seek meaning and significance apart from a relationship with Christ, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, but to resist Tim as Saul was doing okay, doomed Saul, dooms us to a life of a life far below the good purposes that God has in mind for us, the new century version, paraphrases, that phrase, it’s hard for you to kick against the goats like this.
It says you are only hurting yourself. By fighting me. That’s what happens when we resist God, when we resist Christ and his call and his pull on our lives. Some people, some people pursue that meaning and satisfaction through pleasure through riches, through possessions, through relationships, through workaholism, through trying to prove to themselves and everyone else, their worth Saul was trying to do this through his religious zeal.
Misguided as it was, but a part from a relationship with Christ, all of those pursuits are impossible, doomed to failure, doomed a frustration. What can bring a new beginning, what can bring purpose, what can bring hope for a fee for our future to people like Saul and to you and to me, and that’s simply this an encounter with Jesus Christ.
And that brings us to our third point here. The power of the gospel to change are the power of the gospel changes our identity and our, our purpose and our destiny. How through an unmistakable encounter with Jesus. What I mean to say there is that aligned with Jesus. We experience a new beginning, a new purpose.
And hope for a glorious future. So by the way, you probably noticed that I refer to this guy as Saul, and also as Paul, in fact, it might get a little bit confused and the scripture does that as well. He’s got two names, Saul and Paul. Now some have suggested that a Saul is his preconversion name. And then when he became a follower of Christ, he changed it to Paul, sort of like to indicate a break with the past.
Well, not so. Cause there’s plenty of times in the book of acts, even after his encounter with Jesus and his conversion to Christianity, but he’s called saw the explanation for the two names is simply that he had two names. Saul was his Jewish name because he was born into a Jewish family. And Paul was his Roman name because being born in the city of Tarsus, he was by birth a Roman citizen.
Uh, most of us have two names. I mean, My name is Donald Walter only. My mom will use both names together and only then if she’s mad at me, but that’s the explanation for the two names and it, all of Paul’s letters. Uh, the 13 letters of the new Testament, he writes, he only calls himself Paul at that point.
And I suspect that since his ministry focus was to the Gentiles for much of his ministry, he, it made sense for him to use his. Roman name. So that’s Saul. That’s Paul. And hopefully I haven’t confused just too much by interchanging them. The scripture does the same thing. So Paul saw me Jesus in a very dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus.
What happened at that moment? His life was changed radically in that moment, sins were forgiven. His heart was made new. He was born again, a phrase that Jesus uses while his physical eyes became blinded temporarily, his spiritual eyes were opened permanently. His life was filled with new purpose and direction.
He was given a clear commission and directive. To no longer kick against what God was trying to do, but to be used by God, to steer others into the path of God and out of the path of Satan, he received a place in the family of God. He received the promise of eternal life. This is the promise to all who their faith in Christ, the promise of eternal life.
And he goes into great deal explaining. The significance of this encounter with Jesus, as he writes his 13 letters of the new Testament, he wrote the Jesus had appeared to him. He wrote that the gospel, he preached, came to him by revelation from God. He wrote that he had been called by God. And that his conversion had brought about a complete change in the inner controlling power of his life.
He referred to it as a death and resurrection. When he said I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless, I live Christ lives in me. He talked about being created a new, when he said, I said, if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation. And this radical change that he experienced would propel him to travel the world and use the rest of his life to spread the message of this gospel and its power of which he was on ashamed.
He proclaimed it because he experienced it. Listen any, and every center me you saw, anyone can be changed. Through a personal encounter with Jesus. What will that look like? Will it include a bright light from heaven? Will I be struck blind? Where will you hear the voice of Jesus and an audible fashion?
It’s possible, but not probable because for the, for the past, for the past 2000 years, the testimony of millions and millions of jesus’ followers. Their encounter with Jesus has included generally these following elements. The first is this that your, your encounter with Jesus will be unique and personal.
I observed in reading Saul’s testimony before King Agrippa. He adds the detail that the voice of Jesus spoke to him in Aramaic. And I thought that’s a funny detail. Why did he include that? And I’m not sure I entirely know, but it was, it occurred to me that possibly it’s because he wanted to emphasize that when Jesus speaks, he does.
So in a way that you and I will understand in a language that we can understand at the heart level, Jesus will do whatever he needs to do to read. Shoot, he’ll speak your language. He’ll get through to you now for Saul, that required a pretty dramatic encounter maybe for you and may not so dramatic, but all of us will know unmistakably that he is called and that we are compelled to listen and to respond.
Here’s the second element, common to most encounters with Jesus. Your encounter with Jesus will include a turning from sin. And he trusting in Jesus. We call these elements, repentance and faith, turning from sin, turning to Christ as our only hope of salvation. And this became Paul’s message. So he says to King Agrippa, I taught them that they should repent and turn to God and prove.
Their repentance by their deeds. Third element of an encounter with Jesus is that it will protect both immediate changes as well as Greg jewel changes over the rest of your life. Your sins will be forgiven. Your heart will change. The Holy spirit will enter you. You will be added to the family of God.
You’ll become a son or daughter of God. You’ll have a new home in heaven, a secure future, and you’ll have eternal life. You’ll have a new sense of purpose here in now. And also your lifestyle will change. Some believers go through testify to instantaneous changes, giving up vices immediately cold Turkey.
Others experience changes on a more gradual way over a period of time, but make no mistake for all who encounter Jesus. No one remains the same. And through your encounter with Jesus, you’ll receive a new identity, a new purpose. And a new destiny. So I was sitting in church on a Sunday evening as a 12 year old.
And that was fine back in the days where we had church in the morning and at night and we were in the evening service and I was sitting there and we were singing choruses. Now the evening service was more laid back, so we didn’t just sing hymns. We sang choruses. On Sunday evenings and the chorus was being sung that had seven verses each verse corresponding to one of the seven days of the week.
And the idea of the song is you were supposed to get up from your seat and remain standing during the burst that corresponded to the day in which you met Jesus. God’s saved. We’re born again. However you want to put it the day you got sick. That’s when you were to stand. So I had seven versus corresponding to the seven days of the week.
And I was in a real difficult time in my heart because I had no clue what day of the week I met Jesus. In fact, the whole song had the effect of making me ask myself the important question. Do I even know if I have, I had a personal encounter with Jesus? I always assumed I did. I was the squeaky clean kid.
I grew up in church every Sunday, morning and night. But I didn’t know what verse to stand up one. So there, I was thinking, do I just stand up on any verse and fake it?
If I stay seated, then I’m testifying to the fact that I’d never had an encounter with Jesus. So it was in a real, a difficult moment, you know, I’ve come to realize since that day. That the essence of a relationship with Jesus is not necessarily remembering the day of the week or even the exact circumstances of it.
But knowing that you have had that encounter. See, I don’t remember my physical birth either though. My mom has shores me that it happened, but the main proof I know I was born physically is hello. Here I am. And when you’re born spiritually, even if the details of that exact moment are not clear enough to know what day of the week it happened.
The main thing is to know that you have met him, that you’ve been born again, changed, made new
to my great relief. There was an eighth stanza to the chorus for those of us, for whom we did not know what day of the week. We met Jesus. Have you met Jesus?
That is the most important question that I can ask you today, or that you can come to the place you answer. God loves you and sent Jesus to be your savior, to rescue an improbable center. Like you. Like me, like saw to rescue us from our empty pursuits that can’t satisfy and to give us a new life and a new start, a new identity and a new hope, a new direction, a new destiny.
And if you’re here today or listening today, I want you to be able to listen for his voice speaking inwardly to your heart. And then I want you to answer.
I want you to confess your sin and turn from it. I want you to accept his forgiveness that he’s offering to you at no charge. I want you to surrender your life to him and receive the gift of eternal life that he died and Rose again, to make possible for you. Now, you can do that in the privacy of your home.
In your living room, you can do that in your car. You can do that silently in your heart. Even as you sit here this morning, you can Val your head and talk to him silently in your heart. And if you wish to talk more, um, or pray with me or another one of our pastors about how you can be sure that you have a have had an encounter with Jesus, I’d be happy to help you with that.
Any any of us would, let’s go ahead and close this time with prayer. And if you want to pray to Jesus and invite him into your life, a silent prayer, like this could start or even restart your spiritual life right now. Dear Jesus. I know that I’m a sinner and have no right to your grace or forgiveness, but I believe that you love me.
Died for me and Ken, forgive me, please forgive me for my sins. Please come into my life and make me new. Make me a child of God here and now I fully surrender all I am and have to you, my Lord and savior. Amen. We thank you God today for your word, for the, the, the testimony of this man named Saul and the power of the gospel to change our lives in Christ’s name.