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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:God Works Unexpected Miracles In His Chosen People
Text:Acts 9:1-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-07-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Acts 8:40-9:31

Text: Acts 9: 1-19

 

GOD WORKS UNEXPECTED MIRACLES IN HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE

  1. The Unwary Persecutor

  2. The Unimaginable Conversion

  3. The Uneasy Healer

 

  1. Psalm 87:1-3

  2. Psalm 139: 1, 2, 9, 13

  3. Psalm 145: 1, 3, 4

  4. Hymn 82:1-3

  5. Psalm 50: 3, 5, 7

  6. Psalm 87:4-5

 

Words to Listen For: expertise, Kelowna, absolutely, bigger, Handel’s Messiah

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. How many miracles are talked about in the sermon?  List them below. (Note, they are mentioned throughout)

  2. Compare and contrast Philip and Saul

  3. What do Philippians 3 and Romans 10 tell us about why Saul was the way he was?

  4. Was Saul converted on the road?  Why or why not?

  5. What is important about Saul praying?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved Congregation of Jesus Christ,

Has a miracle ever happened to you?

I know some people, faithful Christians, who tell me stories of when their car broke down on a deserted, dead end road in the middle of the night, and another car drove up to them, boosted them, then drove off in the other direction, and was never seen from again.  They believe this was an angel, sent to help them.

I have another friend who, when he was very young, tripped and fell on an escalator at the mall, and was plunging towards the bottom.  He could have been seriously injured, or even died.  But he felt someone putting him back on his feet, letting him regain his balance.  He felt it, but never saw anyone.  He believes this was God’s work.

And maybe some of you have stories like this too...but it seems that miracles are few and far between in our day.

There are things we can think of as miracles, but we could also explain away.  We can think, for example, of our brother who fell off a high ladder onto hard concrete last year.  Thankfully, the ladder got in his way and broke his fall, and he survived with nothing but a pretty cool scar on his forehead.

But what about us?  What about AVERAGE Christians?  Have we ever had miracles happen to us?

Well, believe it or not...you have.  For what is more miraculous than being raised from the dead?  As Christians, we are people who were born dead.  Born, dead in our sins, like the rest of humanity

But God made us alive in Christ, forgiving us all our transgressions, raising us from the dead, transforming us into His people.

And though our journeys are different...we all have the same starting point: death.  And we all have the same ending point: looking like Jesus Christ.

This morning, let’s take a look at some amazing miracles that happen to two different Christians in Acts chapter 9.  Two vastly different Christians, with different strengths, different weaknesses, and different journeys.

Let’s examine how 

GOD WORKS UNEXPECTED MIRACLES IN HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE

  1. The Unwary Persecutor

  2. The Unimaginable Conversion

  3. The Uneasy Healer

 

The Unwary Persecutor

It is interesting how, in our reading, Saul comes, seemingly, out of nowhere.

We had a single paragraph about him in the previous chapter, introducing us to this man who stood there approvingly of Stephen’s murder,

and then started ravaging the early church, dragging away all those who put their trust in the Lord.

We see almost a shadowy evil, a looming presence.

But it is here in Acts 9 that this character who will dominate the New Testament church, we see him come into the light.  And what we see is rather...2 dimensional.

Nowadays, in books and movies, complex villains are all the rage.  Grey characters who aren’t all evil, and aren’t all good.  You have sympathetic villains and you have anti-heroes who dabble in evil to get good results.  But Saul isn’t like that.  For such a well-rounded and complex Apostle later in life, Saul begins his story in the Bible in a very 2 dimensional way.

Saul had a 1 track mind - stop the Christians.  Whether by killing them, like Stephen, or by rounding them up and putting them in prison.

Our text begins: But Saul,

A very interesting start to this chapter.  But Saul.

This contrasts with what comes before, and it is a stark contrast.

At the end of Acts 8, we saw Phillip, chosen as a deacon in Acts 6, a man full of the Holy Spirit and full of wisdom, we see Philip travelling throughout the land of Israel, spreading the gospel.  In verse 40 of chapter 8, we saw that Philip travelled north from Azotus to Caesarea, preaching the gospel to all the towns in between.  Philip was so full of the Spirit, and full of love for the people of Israel, that he was not content only to preach around Jerusalem, but he walked through all these towns, 120 kilometers, preaching and teaching.

But Saul.

Just as the Holy Spirit was powerfully using Philip as a travelling preacher, spreading the good news…Satan was at work too.

Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord

The gospel of salvation was coming out of Philip’s mouth

     But threats and murder were coming out of Saul’s mouth

As Philip travelled north to Caesarea,

     Saul was travelling north to Damascus

Saul was so full of rage and hatred for the Christians, that he was not content with persecuting the Christians in Jerusalem, but he would travel far and wide to bring them in, to be jailed, and put to death.

Saul and Phillip are exact opposites.

But why?  Why was Saul like this?

Well, in his writings, later, as an Apostle, we can get some small hints.

The first hint is in Philippians chapter 3.  Philippians 3.  Please turn there with me.

Philippians 3:3 and following: For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh

Here, Paul, for, remember, Saul was also called Paul...here the Apostle Paul explains that Christianity is not against Judaism, Christianity is not anti-Jewish, or anti-Old Testament, but rather, it is the FULFILLMENT of Judaism.

Those who force you to mutilate your flesh, those who force circumcision for those who come to faith in God...they don’t understand what it’s all about.

The REAL congregation of God are not those who were circumcised, but those who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus!

And then Paul lists his credentials so to speak

We put no confidence in the flesh, through I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.  If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.

Paul is saying here...don’t think that you know more about this than I do.  I haven’t come to this conclusion because of ignorance, but rather, the exact opposite.  Don’t think you are an expert in my field of expertise.

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more.

  • Circumcised on the 8th day

  • Of the people of Israel

  • Of the tribe of Benjamin

  • A Hebrew of Hebrews

  • As to the law, a Pharisee

  • As to zeal, a persecutor of the church

  • As to righteousness under the law, blameless

We see here that Paul’s one-track-mind for persecution was driven by his ZEAL.  He had this fire that was lit in him, a zeal for what he thought was the truth.  But he was wrong, you see.

We can see him admit this in Romans chapter 10.  Romans 10

Here, Paul is speaking of the Jewish nation.  Of those who still clung to Judaism and denied Christ as the Messiah.  He knows full well what they believe, for he himself once believed as they do.

Brothers, my hearts desire and prayer to God for them, that is, the people of Israel, is that they may be saved.  For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

They’re just like I was, Paul is saying here.  Their hearts are running ahead of their minds.  If they would just see Jesus.  If they would just see Him, and know Him as I do...everything would change.

They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

If you really and truly understand God, you will really and truly know that you can’t do it yourself.  You know that your righteousness, your zeal, no matter how strong, no matter how fervent...cannot make you righteous in the eyes of God.

You can kill 100 heretics and 100 blasphemers, as Paul thought he was doing...and you will get nowhere with God.  Because it’s not about that.  It’s not about your righteousness, it is about the righteousness of Christ.  But Paul didn’t understand that.  Paul was an unwary, ignorant persecutor of the church.

But then, on that road to Damascus, everything changed.  Paul encountered Jesus Christ Himself, and, in the eyes of the world, experienced an UNIMAGINABLE conversion.   Our second point.

We know the story, don’t we.  We know the story of Saul on the road to Damascus.  This is one of the most well-known conversion stories in the entire New Testament.

But, let us not make familiarity breed contempt, as they say.  Though the story is familiar, it is full of the grace and love of God.

Verse 3 - Now, as he went on his way, he approached Damascus.

Now, we must realize that this was no small trip.  For 330 kilometers...approximately the distance from Surrey to Kelowna...Saul had been marching.  With one purpose in his mind - kill the Christians.

With one emotion in his heart - hatred.  Marching, fueled by hatred and misplaced zeal for about 3 weeks.

Day after day, step by step in the heat and the dust of the road, propelled by one thought - all Christians must die.  This cult must be stopped.

And then, suddenly, it all came to a grinding halt.  Suddenly...a miracle.

Now, as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.  And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Saul, a man trained in Judaism under the best Rabbis, would know that when light flashed around you, and a voice came from heaven...it was a heavenly vision.  Either God Himself or one of His angels was speaking to you.

And this heavenly voice was speaking directly to him.  There could be no mistaking it.

Saul, Saul!

It’s you that I’m talking to here.  Not the men around you, not the high priest in Jerusalem who gave you the letters to the synagogues in Damascus, but you.

Though the men with Saul heard a sound, they couldn’t make out the words.  They didn’t see the light flashing around him.

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?

It was at this moment...before the voice identified itself.  Before Saul was blinded, before Saul was visited by Ananias...it was at this moment that Saul’s life was changed.

These Christians, this heretical sect...was protected...by HEAVEN?

They were identified with GOD and His angels?

Suddenly, Saul’s blood ran cold, and doubt started to creep in…

Was Stephen right with what he said to the Sanhedrin?

Am I in the same position as my forefathers who killed the prophets?

Am I on the wrong side here?

 

And so, trembling, Saul asked, Who are you, Lord?

Even though he already knew...he had to be sure.

 

Who are you Lord?

And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

 

And this is curious, beloved.  We would expect the voice to say something like, “I am Jesus, and you are persecuting my people.  My church.”

But Jesus Christ identifies so deeply, so intimately with His church, that when they are hurt, He is hurt.  When they are persecuted, He Himself is persecuted.  Saul had to learn that when you set yourself up against the church of God, you have made God your enemy.

The enemy of Christianity, the menace that had been arresting them, and handing them over to be killed, a shadowy phantom-like figure...the ultimate human enemy of God’s people...in a few words from heaven...7 words and a blinding light...Saul was utterly transformed.  He was converted, going over from darkness into light.

And it is interesting, congregation...there are those who fight against the idea that Saul was converted on this road.

They say….Saul was serving God his whole life...he just had it a little wrong.  He was serving God in the wrong way, and so we shouldn’t say that this was a conversion, it was just a refocusing of Saul’s mind and Saul’s heart.  And besides...we learn in verse 15 that this man IS a chosen instrument of God’s!  Not that he would BECOME a chosen instrument. 

So...what exactly happened on that road?  Can we call it a conversion?  Should we call it a conversion?

Well...yes.  We absolutely should.  Saul’s heart was filled with hatred and malice.  If it was fire that came down upon him that day instead of a light and a voice, we can be sure that Saul would not have been with God in heaven.  For he had, at this time, rejected the Messiah of God.  He had set his face against God and His church.  He was fighting with every ounce of his strength against the things of God!

Instead of there not being a conversion on the road...there is, perhaps, no clearer conversion, no clearer spiritual resurrection that this: the persecutor Saul into the Apostle Saul.

His heart of stone was taken out and turned into a heart of flesh.  God had defeated his enemy by showing him love.  He stepped down and refused to let this madness continue.  That day, Saul’s heart was healed and his mind was focused.  He was a brand new man!  This is miraculous!

Though he had been chosen before the foundation of the world to be God’s apostle, before the light flashed around him, Saul had been a tool in the hands of Satan.

And so what our Saviour did on that road was to wrench His vessel from the hands of His arch-enemy.

Satan had his claws in Saul so deeply.  He had turned this covenant child, this man of Israel, pure and perfect in legalistic righteousness...he had turned Saul into a child of the devil.  But God wasn’t done with Saul.  Saul still had an important role to play.

And this speaks to the heart of Jesus Christ.  Though you are not Saul, and the point of this story is not to put yourself in his shoes...it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn anything from it, or apply this to our lives.

It’s a fine line to tread here.  But let’s try it together.

Even though you are not Saul...Jesus Christ, who spoke to Saul on that road, speaks to you today.  He does not speak through a voice from heaven or a shining light, but He speaks to you in His Holy Word.  Each and every page of the Bible is the word of God, as much as those 7 words to Saul on the road.

It’s been said that “if you want to hear God speak to you...read your Bible out loud.”  God is still speaking today.  God is still calling out to you from the pages of His Word.

And even though you are not Saul on that road...you are a covenant child.  Perhaps you are a covenant child caught up in sin.  Caught up with hatred in your heart that fuels you.  Or caught up with guilt over the sins in your past or present.  Trying desperately to earn your way back into the good graces of God.

But that’s not how our God works.  Saul refused to listen and hardened his heart, so much that God had to literally stop him in his tracks, throw him down on the ground, and blind him.  Don’t be that stubborn!  Don’t harden your heart with bitterness.  Don’t hold on to your hatred, but let go of it.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking your sins are bigger than your God.

Even though you are not Saul...called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles...you ARE called to serve God with your entire heart.  Your whole heart, soul, mind and strength must be employed in service to God.

To devote yourself like that to ANYTHING ELSE...even good things, like your family, your friends, or even your church...is idolatry.  You must be devoted...only to God.  You must worship...only God.

You are called to share this with everyone that you meet as an ambassador of Christ.

And if this seems like a difficult task...an impossible take even...be comforted that you don’t have to do it alone.  Even with Saul...he wasn’t simply commissioned by a light and a voice, and immediately sent out to be an Apostle.  But he was encouraged, he was strengthened, he was healed by a fellow believer.  Ananias, the uneasy healer.  Our final point.

It is interesting, and important, that the story does not end at verse 5.  Christ’s instructions to Paul don’t end there either.

But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.

Even in this miraculous and unexpected way...God still acts in a way that is consistent with His character.  Even when He does miracles, even when He shows Himself in miraculous ways, He still works through His church.

For there was a member of the early church living in Damascus for this very purpose.

Verse 10 - Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias.  The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”

This, we could say, is our third miracle of the story.

     The first is the light and the voice

     The second in the conversion of Saul

     And the third is this vision.

Miraculously, the Lord spoke to Ananias.

“Ananias.”  And he said, “Here I am Lord.”  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.

It may seem like a small thing...you may have paid it no mind in the first reading, or in this second reading, but cast your eyes to the last 5 words of verse 11

For behold, he is praying.

Theses words are so simply, and yet so powerful.  Though Saul must have prayed before...did he ever really pray?  His prayers would have been like the Pharisee,

God, I thank you that I am not like other men...I thank you that I am not a heretic like these Christians.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.  I am zealous for your name, so much that I persecute those who disagree with me about you.

This is not a prayer heard by God.

But now...now Saul was praying.  For the first time in his life, Saul was praying in spirit and in truth.  He was praying in the name of Jesus Christ, his Lord.

And this is a mark of his conversion.  Private prayer is a sure sign of your love for God.  Anyone can go up to a pulpit and speak publicly.

He might be desiring his own glory, or he might try to lead God’s people astray.  Speaking from a pulpit does not prove your conversion.

A non-believer can sing the most beautiful spiritual songs.  Each year it happens when Handel’s Messiah is sung.  Do you think that each and every one of those singers believes what they are singing?  No.

Behold...he is preaching

    Proves nothing

Behold...he is singing

    Proves nothing.

But...behold...he is praying…

Saul is praying, pouring out his soul before his Heavenly Father.  He is praying because he recognizes his need and he recognizes God’s provision.

But Ananias is skeptical.  Ananais says, as it were…

Maybe you haven’t heard O God…

Maybe you don’t really know who this man is.

He is evil.  He is wicked.  He is BEYOND redemption

You haven’t taken all the factors into consideration.

Ananias is doubting the wisdom of God.  Ananias is fearing for his life, and this is a natural protest from having known who Saul was.

And yet, Ananias voiced this concern to God.  He was not like the prophet Jonah who, as soon as he heard of God’s mercy going to be shown to the people of Nineveh, he fled in the opposite direction.  He fled to Tarshish.  But Ananias, though trembling with fear, had a desire to obey.  And he trusted in God.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mind to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.

Saul’s conversion was a conversion from death into life...but it wasn’t a conversion from a hard life into an easy one.  If anything, it was the opposite.  Instead of being a respected Pharisee, with letters of recommendation from the High Priest, Saul would become a man on the run.  Persecuted with those he had once persecuted.  Persecuted by his fellow companions and friends.

We heard in our reading that the Jews plotted to kill Saul when he began to preach Christ.  He had to escape over the walls of city in a basket!

And yet, despite this difficulty and suffering promised to him, it was all worthwhile.  In Philippians 3, Paul concludes his list of credentials with these words: But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Paul lost EVERYTHING...but he gained SO MUCH MORE.

Just briefly, on Ananias before we close…

Immediately after being encouraged by the Lord to go to Saul, he left, and entered the house.  And laying his hands on him, he said, “Brother Saul”

Let’s pause there.  Can you imagine...can you even imagine...the man who had been travelling over 300 kilometers by foot in order to kill you...the man, who just 3 days before had a murderous rage in his heart against you and the rest of your church...can you imagine calling him “brother” ?  This is the fourth miracle in our text.

For the heart of Ananias was changed, from a heart of fear and dread, into a heart of love and acceptance.  He had been taught that God can claim anyone and use anyone for His purposes.

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.”

Ananias laid his hands of blessing on his new brother in the faith and healed his blindness, and gave Saul the Holy Spirit, equipping him for his work.

Beloved...there are many kinds of Christians that we can be…

We come from different places,

We have different journeys.

Maybe we struggle with bitterness and hatred like Saul.

Or we are fearful and skeptical like Ananias.

Maybe we feel wronged by other Christians, wronged by the church

Or we feel so different and misunderstood.

But even though we can start from so many different places, we all have the same destination, don’t we?

Ananias and Saul both had to stop being controlled by their past.

They had to leave the past in the past, and set their eyes ahead.  Saul had to look ahead to persecution, torture and death.

We don’t know what Ananias looked forward to, as he never again appears in Scripture.

But no matter who they WERE...they were claimed by God, and were being remade into the image of Jesus Christ.

You ask what a Christian looks like now...answers vary.

But what will a Christian look like on the last day?  What will you look like when you are fully sanctified, when you are glorified before the throne of God?

You will look like Jesus Christ. You will bear the image of your Saviour in an unmistakable way, and everyone will see that beautiful resemblance.  This is the final, the last, and the greatest miracle.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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