Convinced – Acts 9:1-22

 

This is the day in which most of Christendom celebrates the resurrection of Christ. I have no problem with celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, but I do have problems with the superstitious and unbiblical fashion which this celebration so often takes. Tradition should not be allowed to dictate to people what they believe – or how they should celebrate what they believe.

Taking our cue from the Bible, I believe that it is wrong to confine our thoughts on this subject to just one day. The resurrection of Christ has been a part of the theme of every chapter and every sermon preached in the first eight chapters of the Book of Acts. It is at the core of Christianity, and it was the reason the disciples gave their lives for Jesus’ sake. With Christ’s resurrection the disciples had hope, and without that resurrection they had nothing. If those Apostles were in the world today, I’m not sure whether they would laugh or cry, watching people walking into their fancy churches wearing their fancy hats on Easter Sunday, especially if they knew that those people hadn’t been to church in three months or a year. I believe that Easter Bunnies and painted eggs are an abomination when laid along side Jesus’ resurrection. And then there is the Biblical fact that the Lord Jesus didn’t arise from the grave on Sunday morning, Easter morning, or any other morning. When the ladies came to Joseph’s tomb at the break of the Lord’s day morning, it was already empty. Christ Jesus prophesied that he’d be three days and three nights in that tomb. And when we know that He died at about 3:00 in the afternoon, and that He was buried by about 6:00 P.M., Biblical mathematics demands Christ to have arisen at approximately 6:00 P.M. on Saturday night. I have no problem preaching a resurrection sermon on what people call “Easter Sunday,” I have done it dozens of times during my 50 year ministry. But nearly everyone of those sermons, for the sake of truth, contained the facts which I have just told you.

As I said a few seconds ago, one theme included in every chapter and every sermon in the first eight chapters of Acts has been Jesus’ resurrection, and chapter 9 is no different. I know that we have heard several messages over the last year from the account of Saul’s conversion. But each of them has highlighted a different aspect of the record. This morning, I’d like to spotlight the proof of Christ’s resurrection by thinking about four things – Christ’s COMMUNICATION of Himself to Saul; Christ’s CONTROL of this encounter. His Lordship and COMMAND of His subjects, and the CHANGE and CONVERSION of Saul.

First, there was the Lord’s COMMUNICATION of HIMSELF to Saul.

We were introduced to this man, Saul, in chapters 6 and 7 – another text which has come up recently. When Stephen was stoned to death for his service of Christ, his executioners laid their clothes at a young man’s feet whose name was Saul. This Saul was known specifically as “Saul, of Tarsus.” Tarsus was the principle city of the Roman province of Cilicia, on the underside of what is now Turkey. In Acts 6 when the problems between the Jews and Stephen are first recorded, we read: “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.” The evidence seems to suggest that Saul was a leader of this synagogue of the Libertines. He was the one of those who laid the charges of blasphemy against Stephen. And that explains why he was the supervisor of his execution. Once this spiritual shark had the taste of Christian blood, it would require a miracle from God to stop him.

Notice verses 1 and 2 of Acts 9: “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.” The words “threatenings and slaughter” tell us that Saul was instrumental in executing other Christians. Later he said: “Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.” “Ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.”

While on his way to Damascus, Syria, apparently with authority from the High priest to arrest and extradite the Christians of that city, the Lord Jesus interrupted him. “As he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Later Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, said that this voice spoke to him in Hebrew, rather than in Aramaic or Greek. As I said in an earlier message, I wonder if this had something to do with the fact that the men with Him heard the miraculous voice but didn’t understand the speech. Saul – a Jewish scholar – was undoubtedly an expert in the original language of the Old Testament, so it wasn’t a problem for him. There was probably more than this, but I just wonder.

And Christ Jesus got right to the point: “Saul, Saul why persecutest thou ME?” “Me?” This voice said “me.” How was Saul supposedly persecuting a dead man? Before His death, when the Lord Jesus was describing the last judgment, He taught that – To be a blessing to one of Christ’s saints was to be a blessing to Christ Jesus. And to be a curse or a hindrance to one of His people, was to be a curse to Christ Himself. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Saul was persecuting Christ by persecuting the people and the churches of Christ. And remember that this was taking place months after the earthly death of Christ. How could Saul still be persecuting Christ, if Christ was not still living?

What proof is there here of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection? I think that this is pretty obvious and undeniable. The Bible says that Christ Jesus, the One Who was crucified, and Who died on that cross… The One Who was buried in Joseph’s tomb… The One Whose body was sought but never found or recovered… THAT Jesus was now speaking to Saul of Tarsus, months later. This is proof of Jesus’ resurrection.

But here we are 2,000 years after that, reading the account of an historian who wasn’t even there at the time. Honesty requires that we ask: “How do we KNOW this was really Jesus speaking to Saul?” As believers we have no problem answering that question – because the Bible tells us. The Bible was given “by the inspiration of God, and is therefore profitable for doctrine, for reproof, For correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, Throughly furnished unto all good works” and good doctrine. But what about the unbeliever who reads this and wonders about this testimony. He says, “But how do we know Saul wasn’t imagining this encounter or that he wasn’t hallucinating? How can we be sure this wasn’t heat stroke in that early afternoon sun?” For one reason, we know this was really Christ Jesus, because of the effect which we see in Saul. We’ll have to come back to that in just a few moments.

But first, we know that Jesus lives because of His sovereign CONTROL of earthly CIRCUMSTANCES.

Saul was on his way to Damascus, when not too far from the city, at just about noon, a light, brighter than anything that he had ever seen before, covered him like an incredibly hot blanket. He, and the men with him, fell to the earth as if they were being smothered; they could hardly breathe. I imagine that initially they buried their faces in their hands and in the dirt.

Science has learned a lot about light over the last two millennia. And today we can create light almost brighter than the sun. We can concentrate light in such a way that it can cut through steel. We’ve learned to understand and harness light, but as yet, to a limited degree. In Saul’s day, man didn’t have that knowledge or technology. And I’m not exactly sure that man has yet come close to what is described here. That light, which was brighter than the mid-day sun, was supernatural. But I wonder if it was MERELY miraculous light, or if it was the actual glory of Christ which fell upon Saul. Whichever it was, it appears to have come close to taking this man’s life.

The men which journeyed with him “stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.” Acts 26 says they were struck down by the light. They, too, were laying on the ground, trying to shield their eyes with their hands. Saul heard the voice, but there is some question about what the others heard. It might have come to their ears like the voice of thunder. It might have been that they couldn’t understand Hebrew, and so there was no message for them. I got an advertisement the other day which said that hearing is a function of the brain more than the ear. I wonder if the voice simply spoke to Saul’s brain or heart, so the others couldn’t understand. No matter what opinion we take and how we understand it, this voice was miraculous. And since it claimed to be the voice of our Lord Jesus, it testifies to the earlier resurrection of Christ.

Eventually Saul’s traveling companions were able to look around, seeking for the source of the voice. They never saw anyone. Was this some sort of Christian ventriloquist, trying to divert these Jews from their diabolical plans? Nope. There was no one to see, because there was no earthly man involved. What we see described here was Christ’s omnipotent control of a miraculous situation from Heaven. He was definitely alive and in control, but not physically present.

And then there was the blindness. How was it that Saul was blinded, but apparently his traveling companions were not? I know that the Bible doesn’t actually say, but it appears that they were able to lead Saul into town. Could it be that the blindness wasn’t directly caused by the miraculous light. Saul’s blindness was as miraculous as the light and the voice. The cause of Saul’s blindness was as miraculous as the cure of that blindness three days later. It came from the resurrected Christ.

The Lord’s control of the details around His revelation to Saul, testifies that Jesus’ resurrection is a fact.

And a third proof of that resurrection is seen in the Lord’s COMMAND of Ananias.

“And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.” There was a flourishing church in Damascus – that was the reason Saul was making this journey. Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that there were 10,000 Jews living in that city at that time. We have no information about how many of them believed that Jesus was their Messiah, but they could have numbered in the hundreds. Saul was going there to arrest and extradite to Jerusalem as many as he could, charging them as heretics.

One of the members of that church was a man named Ananias. He might have been one of the pastors or elders of that church, but we are not told. And as such, of course, he was a believer in Christ. By that I don’t mean that he was merely trusting the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross for the cleansing of his soul. He didn’t look at Christ as a means of escape from the punishment of his sins. This servant of the Lord, believed all the vital doctrines of Bible Christianity, including the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. And he lived in the light of what he believed. He was a genuine saint, not an “Easter-only Christian.” His faith wasn’t speculative or theoretical. So when Christ Jesus spoke to him through some sort of vision, he wasn’t the least bit surprised. But he may not have particularly liked what the Lord was telling him to do. He apparently had doubts whether or not such a wicked and violent man as Saul could be saved, or even should be saved. But he had no doubts that it was the Lord Jesus who was commanding him to find Saul, restore his sight and baptize him. So he replied, “LORD, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem.” What did Ananias mean by the word “Lord?” Look at verse 17 – “And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the LORD, even JESUS, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”

When someone doubts or denies the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, they are impeaching the honesty and integrity a great many people of the New Testament, including this man Ananias. At the very least they are casting aspersions on his sanity. And they are questioning the foundation of Bible Christianity. This man of God told Saul that the voice he had heard on the road outside of town was the voice of the resurrected Christ. And he told him that the Lord Jesus had commissioned him to visit him and to heal him of his blindness. “And immediately there fell from (Saul’s) eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.” If Ananias had been wrong about Christ, then God should not have honored his claims by healing Saul of his blindness.

Ananias is a testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

But perhaps the greatest proof of Jesus’ resurrection is the CHANGE that we see in Saul.

Remember, the disciples and apostles may not have understood the Lord when He prophesied His crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Most, if not all, the disciples were surprised when they found the tomb empty. They may have been shocked and even terrified when the resurrected Lord suddenly appeared in their locked hideaway. But they were eventually thrilled when that truth became settled in their hearts. The resurrection changed and empowered them. But keep in mind that they were already the Lord’s disciples. Saul was an enemy of Christ. The disciples were on a better footing to receive the blessings of Jesus’ resurrection. Saul had no foundation at all.

If, just after the execution of Stephen, you had asked Saul what he thought about Jesus’ resurrection, he might have arrested you as an heretic for simply asking the question. There may have been some similarities between the early disciples and Saul with doubts about the resurrection, but their attitudes were on different continents. I won’t put words in his mouth, but Saul might have said that he’d sooner kill himself than to admit that Christ might have truly risen from the dead.

Ah, but the sermon of Stephen refused to be dismissed from his memory. Neither could he forget the calm and faith-filled way in which that servant of God died. “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” Saul was a smart man, and as he saw what the gospel was doing to Israel and rest of the region, it made him wonder. All the pieces of the puzzle were laying there waiting for the Lord’s personal revelation. And on the road to Damascus, the light, the voice and the conversation from Christ, instantly broke his rebellious spirit and those pieces began to fall into place.

It was the grace and omnipotence of Christ that reduced this tool of Satanic terror into a blind and humble sinner before the throne of God. Instantly, he called the Heavenly speaker “Lord” just as Ananias would do. When the voice identified Himself, saying “I am Jesus,” Saul immediately responded, “LORD, what wilt thou have me to do?” There is no explanation for the 180 degree turn in this wicked persecutor of Christ, other than the power and sovereign grace of God. The evidence is overwhelming – he recognized, respected and believed that Jesus of Nazareth was alive and well, living in Glory but ruling over all the earth. Saul was willing at that point to do anything that the Lord commanded – and in fact he did.

Not only does this chapter once again, prove the resurrection of Christ from the dead… Not only does it prove that He lives… It’s important to notice that it was the resurrection which keyed Saul’s conversion. He became a new man by God’s grace with a new heart and a new life. He came to the immediate realization that he was a sinner before this living Christ. He realized that what the apostles had been saying about the necessity of the Messiah’s death as a sacrifice for the sins of this people was true. He realized that although the sacrifice was made, it was accepted by the Father and that was why Christ was raised from the dead. Christ was “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” Saul was born again by the grace of God, partially through the effects of seeing and understanding Jesus’ resurrection.

And this is what the resurrection of Christ should do for us. I can’t tell you what the people at the Catholic churches in Post Falls were thinking as they went to their Sunrise services today. I can’t read the minds of the folk at the Calvary Lutheran church or Calvary Chapel. But oh, how I wish that the resurrection of Christ would bring those folk to their knees before the Lord. Besides the establishment of salvation and the cleansing of sin through the sacrifice of Christ, the living Son of God will very soon return to earth, “in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is what crushed Saul to the ground that early afternoon. The Man whom he had been persecuting, in absentia because He was dead, was in fact alive. He was and still is the Anointed of God, the Saviour, and the Judge of Heaven and earth. Instantly Saul knew that he was doomed if the Lord wasn’t merciful toward him. With a repentant and believing heart, he humbly cast himself before God’s throne of grace. Saul was born again; he became a new creature in Christ; he became a genuine Christian. This is what the resurrection should do to the millions of self-righteous church-goers this morning.

And what about you? Like Saul at the beginning of this chapter, do you still need to be born again? This morning I have brought you, through the back roads, to the empty tomb. Now you need to visit the blood-stained cross where the Saviour gave His life. Will you not repent before God and put your faith in the living Christ, who gave His life a ransom for many?