Change Ahead

Change Ahead

This week, we’re continuing our message series based on NBC’s TV series, “AD.”

This morning, we’ll be taking a look at what the scriptures reveal about Saul and four significant life lessons that we learn from his life.
First of all, no clearer picture of the need to know God – personally through relationship and experience – than to know God – objectively by reading about Him and learning about Him outside of a relationship – than the person of Saul.
Saul thought that he knew God and no one could have ever convinced him of his error.  He saw Jesus as a false prophet, as a danger, and as an enemy of the one, true living God.  Saul knew the word of God very well and could tell you all about who God is and what He is like.  However, when God stood before Saul in the flesh, he did not recognize Him!
It is not enough for us to know about God, we must know God!  If we do not, we will easily fall into the same trap as Saul did and begin persecuting Jesus thinking that we are taking a firm stand on God’s word.  We will become like the Pharisees who were terrified of having even an appearance of sin and cling to religion instead of a relationship with God.
We will call those who lay down their lives to seek and save the lost drunks, gluttons, and sinners even as they called Jesus the same.  We will beat our chest and thank God that we aren’t like those heathens and have God’s ear deafened to our prayers instead of humbling ourselves and asking God to forgive our many sins.  Our hearts will harden and our compassion will run dry, exactly the opposite of how Jesus lived.  We will look down on others and gossip and slander them instead of befriending them and serving them like Jesus did.
For sure, there are too many Sauls within the church today!  Lord, forgive us for not truly knowing You!
Next, we learn of God’s power to radically change and transform a life.
Acts 9:1-31
9 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. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey,
* AD – Episode 8 Clip *
So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
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.”

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.

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 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.

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. 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. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

After just a single encounter with Jesus, Saul’s life was transformed.  He once was a man passionate for God’s and law filled with anger, resentment, and murder.  He now is a man passionate for God’s grace and filled with the Holy Spirit.  He once was set out to destroy the church and silence the name of Jesus.  He now is set out to build the church and proclaim the good news about Jesus to all mankind.  He once refused to defile himself by even associating with gentiles.  He now lays down his life to serve the gentiles and to reach them with the gospel.  He could write the below scripture because he was a living example of it:
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Saul’s life teaches us that no one is too far gone.  No one has sinned too much to be forgiven.  No one has offended God too much to be pardoned.  No heart is too hardened that God can’t replace it with one of flesh.  No misinterpretation of who God is is too vast for God to reconcile.  No pride is too haughty for God to humble.  No life is too far off course for God to redirect.
Those choosing to live lives far from the will of God simply need an encounter with Him.  Once they see who God truly is and how He truly sees them, their lives will be transformed forever; literally a new creation in Jesus!
Us, the church, are God’s chosen way of bringing people into that encounter with Him.  He chose us to show others who He truly is.  We are His ambassadors, representing Him and His kingdom here on the earth.  This is a great responsibility and we must ask ourselves, “Do we represent Him with integrity?”  By the empowering grace of God and the guidance and giftings of the Holy Spirit, we can!
No one has ever been more passionate to destroy the church and the name of Jesus more than Saul and yet Jesus forgave Him and, by the power of His grace, recreated His life with a new mission, a new purpose, and a new character.  Saul, who was enraged at anyone who opposed the law of God and murdered them now teaches to:
2 Timothy 2:22-26
22 Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Saul’s life also teaches us that these changes are all a work of God in our lives, but through our cooperation.  Saul could have walked away from His encounter with Jesus with a totally different response.  He could have been enraged that Jesus blinded and then healed him.  He could have pretended to be a believer to learn who the followers of Jesus were and where they met to be able to throughly destroy them.  He could have responded to the doubts of the disciples in his change with bitterness and resentment.  Imagine the suffering that Saul endured, not only from the Jews like he once was set out to destroy him and all others opposed to Jesus, but also from other followers of Jesus.
Instead of responding as he once did, Saul chose to submit and follow Jesus.  Saul chose to be live by the Holy Spirit and not by his flesh.  He crucified his old self and embraced the new creation that Jesus had made him.  He had to make this choice, however.  He knew that choosing to follow Jesus meant a life of sacrifice and suffering. Because he saw Jesus for who He truly was, Saul considered the persecution that he endured “light and momentary compared to the eternal glory that outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).  God will change and transform our lives, but only to the degree that we choose to allow Him to.
Lastly, Saul’s life teaches us to share what God has given us to anyone willing to accept it.  God will work His mighty deeds in and through our lives through preaching, gifts, signs, wonders, and miracles, but only if we desire them.  We will be salt and light to a dark world, but only if we choose to be.  We will be ones who experience God’s kingdom come and His will be done here on the earth if we bring it.  We will be ones who see the valley of dry bones come to life if we prophesy it.  We will see a new hope given to the hopeless around us if we share it.
Saul knew that what he had received, everyone else also had to have the opportunity to receive.  He shared this good news about Jesus to everyone.  In fact, his life’s sole purpose was to share it.  No matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, no matter the result, Saul was determined to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus had commanded him.  He knew that Jesus was surely with him, to the very end of the age.  This same commission embraced by Saul, Jesus has also given to us.
God is ready, willing, and able to change our lives and those around us.  Today is the day of salvation and so it will always be!  Today, let us learn from the life of Saul:
1. We need to know God through relationship, not just know about God through religion
2. No one is too far gone for God’s power to save and transform
3. We must cooperate with God
4. Share it!
This morning, let us also agree with Saul as he declared:
Acts 20:24
I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
Scattering Seeds
Let It Go