Damariscotta Baptist Church
Saturday, August 18, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

05/15/16 Sermon - The Tides Have Turned

“The Tides Have Turned”

Acts 9:19b-31

 

Last week we read about Saul’s dramatic transformation after meeting Jesus face to face. Within three days he went from persecuting Christians, to preaching Jesus as the Messiah to his fellow Jews.

Snap!

The Greek word for this is “metanoia” which means to turn 180 degrees in the other direction. We translate that word as “repent” in English. Saul had certainly repented and the verses we are looking at today describe the results of Saul’s conversion. This is where Saul begins to prove his radical transformation.

The first evidence that Saul had changed was he immediately began preaching, in the synagogue, in Damascus. I suspect Ananias, who had his own personal conversation with God about Saul’s change, was Saul’s advocate and supporter. The response Saul received from everyone else, was disbelief.

Makes sense.

Can’t you just hear those sitting in the pews asking each other, “Isn’t this the guy we heard was coming to arrest us and take us back to Jerusalem to put us in jail?

I suspect they were sitting on the edge of their seats, thinking maybe they were part of a plot to trap them.

Maybe Saul had made some kind of deal with someone who was allowing him to speak and he was starting out okay, but where were the guards?

When was he going to return to the man everyone knew him to be and have them arrested?

The second evidence of Saul’s conversion, was that Saul continued to increase all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.

The man who had previously responded like the Grinch whenever he had heard the preaching of the Gospel, was now using his knowledge and rhetorical skills to argue the very existence of Jesus as Messiah.

You would think that this would have been what the new Church had been waiting for, someone with Saul’s expertise and irrefutable arguments to join them in preaching Jesus. But as Saul grew in his ability and strength, the opposition to his new calling also grew in strength.

Up to this point we have been looking at Saul’s conversion from the side of the disciples of Christ.

What about those Jews who had been traveling with Saul?

The Jews who had been waiting for Saul to arrive, so they could rid themselves of this cult called “The Way”.

They must have been confused too.

What had happened to their ring leader?

The man who was destined to get rid of the Jesus freaks. There was only one solution to this new problem.

They knew they could not out-argue him.

So they decide the best way to get rid of him was to kill him.

The tides had turned.

This time we find Saul, running for his life.

He manages to make a most undignified escape, by being lowered, in a basket, out the window of the outside wall of the city. Not like this hasn’t been done before to save one of God’s chosen people.

At this point there was some speculation as to whether Saul went directly to Jerusalem, or if he took some time to think about things and arrived in Jerusalem later. The idea that he showed up much later comes from Paul’s argument in Galatians where Paul stated after “three years” he went to Jerusalem, whereas in Acts we have “after many days had elapsed”. Nevertheless, Saul arrived in Jerusalem to encounter the disciples who were also skeptical of Saul’s conversion. They had not had a personal visit from God and therefore they were not as convinced as Ananias that Saul was not the ruthless killer he had been when he left. It was Barnabas, who intervened and stuck up for Saul and it was through their friendship that the other Jews slowly granted Saul the freedom to associate with the saints in Jerusalem.

Saul continued to do what Saul did best. He spoke out boldly proclaiming Jesus as the promised Messiah for the Jews.

Like Stephen, Saul preached particularly to the Hellenistic Jews, those Jews of Greek descent. And like Stephen, they wanted to kill him.

Saul had become Stephen’s replacement.

Saul’s presence was disturbing and Saul realized that, again, in order to save his life, he would have to leave the city. So the church decided to send him back home, to Tarsus, by way of Caesarea.

Again, the tides have turned. The very lives Saul would have eagerly taken in his unsaved days, were now the lives that would be protecting his life by supporting him as they sent him away.

The persecution of the church seemed to have begun with the death of Stephen in Jerusalem, and Saul had been the instigator, at the time, making sure the persecution continued.

With the conversion of Saul, you would think that the persecution would have reduced, if not stopped.

The church was not able to accept Saul’s preaching and many opposed it. Today’s Scripture ends with the exit of Saul from the Holy Land, Jerusalem, to the Roman, Gentile city of Tarsus. Upon his leaving, the church once again is restored to peace. There was a direct correlation between Saul and persecution and without Saul there was peace. And in this peace the church was comforted and continued to increase.

The account of Saul from his commando days up to his conversion demonstrates how he had been an instrument, utilized by God, to demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The expansion of the gospel began with Christ, to his apostles, to the beginning of His church.

Geographically the expansion began in Jerusalem and spread to Rome.

Racially the expansion went from Jews to Gentiles.

Saul played a crucial role in the expansion of the gospel. It was Saul’s opposition to the Christian movement that caused those Christians living in Jerusalem to flea in the first place. By fleeing, they took the gospel with them and spread the Good News to Judea, Samaria and beyond. Saul takes off to arrest the Christians who have left and to bring them back to Jerusalem, when Jesus meets him face to face. The salvation of Saul again causes the gospel to be preached even further away. Because of Saul’s reputation of being a ruthless defender of Judaism as he had been taught, the very faith he once defended, turns on him and he is forced to return to his homeland, Tarsus, part of the Roman Empire. This places Saul in a perfect place to begin the outreach to the Gentiles. Not only does Saul’s preaching result in many Gentiles coming to faith in Christ, but his writings to these saints, his epistles, strengthen not only those saints, but saints throughout history.

Many theologians believe the story of Saul is a metaphor for the story of Israel. Saul, like Israel, has been blinded as to the meaning of the law, because of their rejection of Christ. This rejection is seen as a means of serving God in a holy way.

Yet, even in the rejection, the purposes of God are being fulfilled. The Gentiles are being evangelized.  The rebellion of Israel has been foretold, so has their restoration. Just as Saul was converted, seeing Jesus for who He really is, so Israel too will surely return to God, and when it occurs, it will be all of God, all to His glory and honor and praise. Just as God used the disobedience of Saul to further His kingdom, He continues to use Israel’s rebellion today to accomplish His purposes. And when the time comes, God will use their obedience to serve him.

The same goes for each of us.  

Nothing is wasted with God.

He is the administrator of grace and grace means God uses not only the good things in our life, but also the bad. It is up to us whether we connect or not. God is ready to use everything we have to bring. Even the worse things we have done can be used by him to bring him glory. There are many examples of this today. The person who has been saved from the addiction to alcohol is able to meet the alcoholic in their midst in a way that someone who has not experienced alcoholism, can only imagine.

Henri Nouwen labeled such a phenomenon as “The Wounded Healer”. The person who has been wounded, then takes that wound and uses it to help others avoid more wounding. It’s when you get to the place in your life where the tides turn on doing the wrong thing, for doing the right thing, and somehow God uses them both.

What about the negative things in your past?

Whether you managed to mess things up on your own, or you happened to be the recipient of someone else’s bad choices.

Regardless, the grace of God can turn the tide and use all of it for His glory, if you let Him.

Paul himself expressed the appropriate response to the wisdom, the grace and the sovereignty of God which works all things together for His glory in Romans 11:33-36:

Doxology

The Message (MSG)

33-36 Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom?

It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.

Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor
    that God has to ask his advice?
Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.