June 22, 2010 David Balzer

Acts 9:1-31: Worst Case Scenario!

Wade and Catherine have new baby Isabella. Both Shelley and Bronwynne have new babies. And I’m sure each of the births was different.

But whatever your particular birth story is, they’re nearly always SLOW. With plenty of hard work, and discomfort, and pain, and wishing there was some relief.

There’s a saying that IF MUM’S CAN HANDLE CHILD-BIRTH, THEY CAN HANDLE ANYTHING.

I’m not sure how true that is/ but the theory goes that child-birth gets mums USED TO THE IDEA that raising kids is going to be slow, hard work, with plenty of discomfort. If they can handle CHILDBIRTH, they can handle ANYTHING.

It’s the theory of “Worst Case Scenario”. If you’ve been through the WORST CASE SCENARIO, EVERYTHING ELSE looks easy by comparison. And you know that whatever else turns up, you can handle it.

Well, the passage we’re looking at today has got a perfect example of a WORST CASE SCENARIO. And it’s a similar picture. Here in Acts chapter 9, we’ve got CHRISTIANITY… up against its NUMBER ONE FOE. We’ve got the power of the gospel – up against the MOST UNLIKELY PERSON IN THE WORLD to ever become a Christian.

You might reckon you’ve got a friend at work who’s an impossible case. You might reckon you’ve got a husband. Or a school friend. Or a brother or a sister, who you just can’t imagine EVER becoming a Christian.

It may be that you’re here today, and YOU’RE not a Christian. And for whatever reason, you can’t imagine YOURSELF ever becoming a Christian.

Well, let me tell you, whatever WORST CASE SCENARIO you want to think of, it’s PEANUTS – compared to the guy we’re looking at here. And what we’ll see by the end of the chapter/ is that if power of the gospel can change THIS GUY/ then it can change ANYONE.

His name’s Saul. And we’ve met him before. This is the young man we saw at the end of chapter 7, eyes gleaming with approval at the stoning of Stephen. Saul is the guy cheering them on. Saul is the guy saying, here, let me hold your coat so you can THROW HARDER.

Right at the start of chapter 8 it says Saul is there WATCHING WITH APPROVAL. Stephen – crushed under a pile of rocks. And Saul LIKES WHAT HE SEES. Chapter 8, first verse.

“And Saul was there… GIVING APPROVAL TO HIS .”

Saul reckons it’s absolutely TERRIFIC that these Christians are finally getting exactly what they deserve.

And a few verses later, he’s GRADUATED. Now he’s leading a house to house search; verse 3 in chapter 8, hunting for Christians. Doing his level best to stamp out this new religion that threatened everything he stood for. As a top class Jew.

And by the time we get here to chapter 9, he’s taking it A STEP FURTHER. He’s heard there might be some Christians in DAMASCUS. 300 kilometers to the North.

So have a look what he’s doing at the start of chapter 9. Meanwhile, it says in verse 1, Saul was still breathing out ous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” And so he goes to the High Priest, he gets letters of introduction, letters addressed to the authorities in Damascus that say, “Please co-operate with my friend Saul here as he arrests, and beats, and chains up these people called CHRISTIANS.”

But notice, that he’s not even sure there ARE any Christians there. But he’s willing to check it out, just on the off-chance! That’s commitment. Look there at v2. He asked for letters

so that IF he found any there who belonged to the Way, …, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

He gets the letters, and so he’s on his way; Saul sets out on the road north. Full of ZEAL. Ready for action. Here he is. Mr WORST CASE SCENARIO.

But follow the story from verse 3. Because Saul the Christian HUNTER is about to become the HUNTED. He’s about to have a life-changing experience. So big, it’s got an EXPRESSION named after it – a DAMASCUS ROAD EXPERIENCE.

He’s about to make the biggest U-Turn of his life. To run into one of those big red road signs that say WRONG WAY, GO BACK.

Except in this case, it’s a blinding light. In this case, it’s the booming voice of Jesus. Who Saul was ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED was safely and buried.

In this case, it’s a voice that says to him the words you can read in verse 4. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME?”

Now Saul hadn’t realised this. That persecuting defenseless Christians was actually TREADING ON THE TOES OF THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE. I mean, that’s quite a mistake, isn’t it?

It’s like a bully trying to beat up a little kid; and he doesn’t realise the little kid’s got a VERY BIG BROTHER.

“You take on my kid brother, and you’re taking on ME!!!”

Saul’s down on his knees, he’s blinded by the light; he says in a shaking voice, WHO ARE YOU LORD? And Jesus tells him. Verse 5. I am Jesus, who you’re persecuting. (When you persecuted MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, You’re persecuting ME!)

And he goes on. “Now get up – and go into the city. And you’ll be told what to do.”

Who’s calling the shots now?

The other people with Saul, they’ve heard the noise, but they’ve been left in the dark. They haven’t got a clue what’s going on; and they’re standing there speechless, watching Saul on his knees.

Saul gets up, he’s LITERALLY been blinded by the light – can’t see a thing; and so they lead him by the hand the few miles into Damascus, dazed and confused.

It’s not quite the entrance he’d imagined. “Mr Worst Case Scenario with letters of introduction in his pocket, LICENSED TO KILL. Determined to CRUSH CHRISTIANITY whatever it took. Riding into town with his posse. Christians diving for cover wherever he looked.”

But instead. He’s led into Damascus – blind and helpless. A sitting duck for anyone who wanted to attack him. Not quite the way he’d planned things.

But God’s got a way of doing that to people. Especially PROUD people. WORST-CASE SCENARIO people. Upsetting their plans. Turning their world on its head.

People like Chuck Colson.

From 1969-1973, Colson acted as President Nixon’s special counsel. In an administration already known for its tough guys, Colson was the toughest. He was known as the White House “hatchet man,” and the media once referred to him as “incapable of humanitarian thought.”

Then Colson found himself caught up in the Watergate scandal. He’d helped to organize the illegal wiretapping of Democratic headquarters, and in 1973 Colson realized he was in big trouble.

A friend encouraged him to turn to God. He found something in Christianity that completely changed his life. Turned him around.

Of course, outsiders had a hard time believing that the “hatchet man’s” faith was genuine. When news of Colson’s conversion to Christianity reached the press, the Boston Globe wrily commented, “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody.”

Colson entered Alabama’s Maxwell Prison in 1974 as a new Christian, and on his release in 1976 founded Prison Fellowship Ministries. He’s now a well-known author and speaker.

Completely turned around. God has a way of doing that to people.

Perhaps you haven’t had the sort of experience that SAUL had. Or Chuck Colson. Not many of us HAVE. But the RESULT needed be any different FOR YOU!

Perhaps you’re NOT a Christian. But you’ve had this GROWING AWARENESS OF WHO JESUS IS. It’s taken months, or perhaps YEARS.

In a sense you’ve got a vision of Jesus. You’ve seen what people are like who are following him. You’ve heard and read about him in the Bible. And you’re coming to understand what he’s like.

That he LOVES you. That he’s DIED for you. That he deserves to be the boss of YOUR LIFE, just like he’s the boss of the world.

But you’ve never actually made the decision to FOLLOW him. Today would be a great day to DO that. To bow your knee to King Jesus. To pledge your allegiance to him. To admit your sin. Your mistakes. And to vow to serve him.

That’s all a Christian is. And you can “Do a Saul” RIGHT NOW!

Back to the story. Next, we’re introduced to another character. Ananias – a Christian in Damascus. And HE has a vision too. And Jesus has a message for HIM TOO.

He tells him to do the LAST thing in the world he feels like doing.

Funny, isn’t it. A lot of the time when people say they feel God’s spoken to them, it seems like the thing they say God’s telling them to do is the thing THEY MOST FEEL LIKE DOING.

But this is different. Ananias hears the voice of Jesus very clearly. And you can see what he says in verse 11. “The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He’s praying. And he’s expecting you, cause he’s had a vision too, to tell him you’re coming.”

Now Ananias is no fool. Ananias knows EXACTLY who this Saul is. He’s heard what he’s done to Christians in Jerusalem. He’s heard he’s coming to Damascus to make trouble. And the LAST THING Ananias wants to do is to face up to Saul. Will he be obedient?

Last thing he wants to do. But he goes anyway. Because in verse 15, Jesus in the vision tells him the plan. He’s got a job for Saul to do; and it’s important. He says GO! Because this man is my CHOSEN INSTRUMENT to carry my name before the gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel. And I’ll show him how much he has to suffer for my name.”

It’s sort of a neat twist, isn’t it. This Saul who was such a determined Jew; this Saul who was so determined to get rid of Christianity; Jesus is going to turn him into Christianity’s number one MISSIONARY. And to the GENTILES. NON-JEWS like us.

And this Saul, who was the cause of so much punishment and suffering AGAINST those who named the name of Jesus. Will HIMSELF suffer much FOR the name of Jesus.

Who says God hasn’t got a sense of humour?

So Ananias, I guess in fear and trembling, he heads up to Straight street, he knocks on the door, he puts his hands on Saul; and Saul’s sight is restored.

And in verse 17 and 18, he receives the Holy Spirit, and he’s baptised. And he’s now a 100% card-carrying follower of Jesus.

And look at the wonderful way he addresses Saul. “BROTHER Saul”. Two guys from completely different worlds. A day ago one would have happily stomped all over the other. But when they both meet Jesus. They become BROTHERS.

That’s the wonderful things about Christians. You can meet someone from a completely different background. Looks different. Speaks a different language. Expresses their faith in a different way to yours. Male vs female. Young vs old.

But when you work out they’re Christian, there’s a BOND. A connection. They’re a BROTHER. Or a SISTER.

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus has sent me so that you may see again.”

Is Jesus calling YOU to be an Ananias? Is there a WORST-CASE SCENARIO out there for YOU to speak to? A family member? Neighbour? Workmate? Best friend?

Tim Wilson was the Minister at Tregear Presbyterian Church. And he’s just changed jobs to become a Prison Chaplain at Parklea Prison. A place with PLENTY of Worst-case scenarios. There’s a wing of the worst sorts of ual offenders. Who can’t mix with the rest of the prisoners, or they’ll be KILLED.

Tim feels Jesus is calling him to be an ANANIAS to those SAULS.

Do you believe God can change even the worst ual offender? Of course he can! Look at Saul!

CONVERTED…

There’s a word for what’s happened to Saul. He’s been CONVERTED. He’s had an absolute 180 degree turnaround. From the chief persecutor of Christians. To a Christian himself.

And it’s exactly the same for EVERYONE who becomes a Christian. Perhaps not to the same extent. But a conversion none the less. Values turned on their head. Priorities. Behaviour transformed. Language. Goals. Thoughts. Everything NEW. Everything CONVERTED. It’s almost unbelievable.

That’s what Jesus does when he makes someone a Christian.

And with Paul, we’re going to see that his conversion attracts the sort of SCEPTICISM you’d expect. Because the fact is, at first people just DON’T BELIEVE IT. Just like the press did when Chuck Colson became a Christian.

Saul starts preaching to the Jews in Damascus. Down at the Synagogue, every Saturday; not preaching AGAINST Christians like he was the Saturday before. Preaching to them in verse 20, that JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD.

Saul’s absolutely CONVINCED of that. I mean, why WOULDN’T he be, after what’s happened. And so his first instinct is to get around and tell people HOW WRONG HE’S BEEN.

And people are absolutely dumbfounded. I mean, this is like if John Howard suddenly said SORRY to the Aboriginal people. Or footballers actually having a quiet night on the town. If England’s cricketers started WINNING. Which might just be happening. A complete turnaround. And you just wouldn’t believe it.

And the trouble is, if you look at verse 22, Saul’s doing it SO VERY, VERY WELL. And over and over again, he PROVES that Jesus is the Christ. The one the scriptures had been pointing to for so long.

And so in verse 23, the Jews decide to kill him. Traitor. But he’s smuggled out of Damascus in a basket, and heads back to Jerusalem.

Poor guy. He’s not even welcome THERE. Have a look at verse 23. And I guess you can understand how they feel. “When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join THE DISCIPLES – but they were afraid of him, not really believing he WAS a disciple.” Maybe it’s a trap. Maybe he’s trying to infiltrate so he can kill us.

He’s caught in the middle. No-one wants anything to do with him. BOTH sides BOO him. Like someone wearing a Bronco’s jersey at a Parramatta/ Penrith game.

But there’s one person who believes in him. BARNABAS. We’ve come across this guy already. Back in Ch 4 v36.

(Acts 4:34-37 NIV)  There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales {35} and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. {36} Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), {37} sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Generous, encouraging, considerate, forgiving, trusting Barnabas.

He takes Saul to the apostles, and explains what’s happened; how the Lord’s spoken to him on the road, how he’s preached in Damascus.

We need more Barnabas’s in church. Just like we need more Ananias’s. We need sons of encouragement who see the GOOD in people. Have the FAITH to see that God can change ANYONE. Who are prepared to FORGIVE because God’s forgiven THEM.

One of the advantages of living in Blacktown is that you have the opportunity to SHOW that kind of faith. That forgiveness. That ENCOURAGEMENT. Because God is bringing people in from ALL sorts of backgrounds. Rough, tough, hard people. People with PROBLEMS. Lives we can’t even IMAGINE.

Don’t be ASHAMED of that sort of congregation. It’s one Jesus is PROUD of.

Will YOU be Barnabas – a son of encouragement – to them?

And so Saul stays with them. And moves around Jerusalem, we’re told, SPEAKING BOLDLY in the name of the Lord Jesus, debating with the Grecian Jews. And as usual, THEY TRY TO KILL HIM.

So the brothers take him down to Caesarea on the coast, and they put him in a boat to Tarsus. Where the heat’s off for a while. And we don’t hear from Saul again until Acts chapter 13.

OBSERVATIONS

Now I just want to finish up with a few observations. Things to notice. And the first one is, if you’d been one of the Christians back then, you’d be dumbfounded by what’s happened, wouldn’t you? And absolutely in AWE of the power of the Risen Jesus Christ. You’d have a sense that you were part of something BIG.

Because even your worst case scenario, even your worst nightmare of having Saul turn up on your doorstep and arrest you; you’ve just seen, it’s all under control. The RISEN CHRIST can handle it.

Which has to be a re-assurance for those Christians in China. Or Nepal. Or Indonesia. Or Egypt. Or Nth Africa. Persecuted. Arrested. Beaten. All because they follow Jesus.

But this Jesus they follow/ can even deal with SAUL. And so in spite of appearances, what they need to do is KEEP TRUSTING THAT THE RISEN CHRIST can handle it.

He can bring victory out of the most complete failures. He can bring conversions about in the most unlikely people. He can work ALL things for good.

And it’s an encouragement to those of us who know WORST CASE SCENARIOS. People you know who you think are the MOST UNLIKELY to ever become Christians. The TOO HARD list. Someone you think, NEVER A MILLION YEARS would that person SUBMIT TO CHRIST.

Saul was like that. He turns up back in Jerusalem as a Christian, and they say, NO WAY. There’s NO WAY IN THE WORLD it could happen. Saul’s the guy who PERSECUTES CHRISTIANS. Now he IS ONE.

Which is a reminder, isn’t it, that it’s NEVER TOO HARD FOR GOD. Let that encourage you. Let that encourage you to keep praying for the people you might have given up on. Whether it’s your husband, or your neighbour, or your brother who used to come to church as a teenager, or your son or daughter, or your workmate or your neighbour. Never say never. Because Jesus specializes in Worst Case scenarios.

There’s a guy at Glenwood. Some of you might have met him. His name’s Graham. And he’d been running from God his whole life. He was Mr Self-sufficiency. Needed nothing from anyone.

But God was chasing him. And about five years ago, he finally caught up with him. It took the best part of 50 years. But he broke through his defences. Shattered his pride. And now Graham’s in love with Jesus. And he can’t believe how wonderful life is as a child of God’s!          It DOES happen!

It’s worth keeping in mind so you keep praying. And looking for opportunities. To say a timely word.

If SAUL can become a Christian, Chuck Colson can become a Christian. If Chuck Colson can become a Christian, Graham can become a Christian. And so can anyone else. Because the Risen Christ specializes in worst case scenarios.

Let me leave you with Saul’s own words. Saul becomes PAUL. And becomes the greatest missionary of all time. And he writes these words to his young friend Timothy. 1 Timothy 1. He says

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus 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 – the worst case scenario – Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would BELIEVE ON HIM… and receive eternal life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.