The reason we are able to gather here today to worship the risen Jesus is because there were people who saw Jesus after his resurrection and this witness changed their lives and then they shared this news with others. For 40 days after his resurrection Jesus appeared to people and did miracles to prove that he was alive, and then he ascended into heaven. After his ascension there are no more stories of Jesus appearing to people and the focus in the Bible shifts to the work of the Holy Spirit and what the followers of Jesus did to continue the work of God in the world. There is one more appearance of Jesus, however, that not only changed a man’s life but changed the world and that man was Saul.
Saul was a devoted Jewish leader who had learned his faith and the finer points of Jewish law from one of the most well respected rabbis of his day, Gamaliel. Saul was a zealous leader who felt like the followers of Jesus posed a threat to the Jewish people so he began a campaign of having the early Christians silenced. In the book of Acts we learn that Saul authorized the stoning of Stephen, an early church leader who was the first Christian martyr. The Bible says that Saul stood there and watched it all happen. After Stephen died, Saul continued to persecute the followers of Jesus. Acts 8:3, Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
Saul’s passion was to put an end to the teaching and movement of Jesus and he set off from Jerusalem to Damascus with letter’s authorizing the arrest and imprison the followers of Jesus. It was along the road that Saul witnesses the living Christ and we hear this in Acts 9:3-9. The witness of Jesus here is different than in other places because Jesus doesn’t appear in bodily form, but the appearance of Jesus is no less powerful. The presence of Jesus came in a blinding light and a powerful voice that literally stopped Saul in his tracks and while Saul did not physically see Jesus he talked about the power of Jesus’ appearance in his first letter to the Corinthians – 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.
After Saul witnessed Jesus he continued his trip to Damascus where a few days later a leader in the early Christian church not only opened Saul’s eyes but opened his heart as well. Acts 9:17-23.
Again, Saul’s witness of Jesus was affirmed by Ananias who said that Jesus appeared to him on the road as he was traveling. So Saul witnessed Jesus and like all the others who witnessed the risen Christ, seeing Jesus changed him. Saul went from being a man who persecuted the followers of Jesus to someone who now professed that Jesus was the Savior. Saul’s witness of Jesus not only changed him but his witness to the living Jesus changed others.
The rest of the story with Saul, better known as the Apostle Paul, is that he became the person God used to take the news of Jesus Christ to the gentiles. While Peter and many of the other disciples shared the news of Jesus among the Jewish people, it was Paul who insisted that salvation through Christ was not just for the Jews but for the gentiles as well and Paul gave his life to that mission. Paul’s witness to the gentiles changed the church and it has changed our world. Now, if we go back to that road where Saul first witnessed Jesus we will see three important lessons about how our witness of Jesus can change us and the world around us.
The first lesson we learn is that contact with Jesus always starts with Jesus. Saul isn’t looking for Jesus when he sets off for Damascus, in fact, Saul is looking to put an end to any talk about Jesus. Jesus doesn’t appear to Saul because Saul is looking for him or because Saul has been good or because he has been faithful, Jesus appears to Saul and gives him new life only because of God’s grace. God initiates the contact and God brings the new life. It all comes from God and it all starts with God and God does the same thing in our lives.
Our witness of Jesus and our contact with God are not initiated by us but by God. When God reaches out to love us or offer grace and mercy to us or when God steps into our lives to offer healing, hope or power it is not because we have earned it or deserve it – it is always because of God’s grace. It is God’s grace that pursues us and it is God’s love that first reaches out to connect with us. In 1 John it says that it’s not that we loved God but that God first loved us. It always starts with God. In my own life it was God who reached out to me when I was in college and it was God who rescued me when I chose to walk away and it was God who called me into the local church when I wanted to explore other areas of ministry and it is still God who pursues me in love and offers me grace and fills me with power when I am in need. It is God’s grace that enables us to see Jesus and it is God’s grace that helps us experience him. Our connection with God always starts with God.
John Wesley calls this prevenient grace or the grace that goes before our turning to God. We may think that we are the ones looking for God or that on our own we have found God, it is always God who first reaches out to us. If God did not first reach out to us the truth is that we would never be able to see or hear or experience God. It always starts with God.
It is God’s grace that reached out to Saul if God’s grace can connect with a man who was actively persecuting the followers of Jesus and who was personally responsible for the first Christian martyr – then we know God is reaching out to all people. That God went looking for Saul means God is actively looking for all of us. We don’t have to ask for God to come to us – God is already with us. We don’t have to ask God to reveal himself to us – God is working to draw us to him. God initiates the contact and Jesus is at work in our lives today. He may not come to us in a blinding light that causes us to fall to the ground, but Jesus still comes to us and we can witness him if we will open ourselves up to him.
When a friend comes to us the moment we need help – we are witnessing the presence of Jesus. When a word of encouragement or truth jumps off the pages of scripture the moment we need it or when a silent word of affirmation speaks to our hearts – we are witnessing the presence of Jesus. When we know that God is using us in a specific moment for his intended purpose – we are witnessing the presence of Jesus. God comes to us each and every day in so many different ways and if we will open ourselves up to God, we will witness Jesus and that witness will change us.
Saul witnessed Jesus and from that moment on things in his life began to change. Conversion is the second lesson we learn from Saul’s witness of Jesus and what Saul’s conversion shows us is that God can take even the worst person and make someone great. This means God take the worst part of us and turn it into something great. For Saul the conversion meant he no longer persecuted those who followed Jesus but now he was the one proclaiming Jesus as the Savior. All of the witnesses we have looked at experienced some form of conversion. For Peter it had to do with how he forgave himself and others. For Thomas the conversion was that he now had a vision of how Jesus could change the lives of others and for Mary seeing Jesus changed what she believed about herself and her world. Everyone who witnessed the risen Jesus was changed and their conversion made them into something greater and better than what they were before and God wants to do that same work of conversion in our lives as well.
I hope this will make sense when I say it, but none of us should feel content with where we are in life and faith. We all need to change and we should want the power of conversion to be working in us. Whether a dramatic change in our hearts and lives is needed or whether it’s just the constant conversion that comes with spiritual growth – we should all want to experience the power of conversion and that change comes when we are in the presence of Jesus. Saul witnessed Jesus and his life changed and that change came as Saul was willing to be still and silent and as he listened to both God and others and this is still how God can bring change in our lives.
Look at what happened to Saul after he witnessed Jesus. He was led into Damascus where he had to wait in darkness for several days. Saul couldn’t see anything, he didn’t know what was going on and he couldn’t do anything so in silence and stillness Saul waited. Waiting in stillness, silence and even darkness is not easy and yet many times conversion can only begin this way. May of us need time to reflect on what we have been doing or where our life has been headed and the only way to do this is to be still and silent. I imagine Saul sitting in Damascus asking himself, how did this happen? How did I end up here? We all need to times to reflect on our lives to see if we are going in the wrong direction and so times of silence and waiting are often the first steps toward change.
Saul then had to listen to others – specifically Ananias. Saul had to be willing to let this man into his life to bring healing and he had to allow the man to speak into his future. It was Ananias who not only opened Saul’s eyes and restored his sight but he was the one used by God to fill Saul with the Holy Spirit. Conversion comes with the help of those people God places in our lives and it takes a spirit of humility to allow others to minister to us and guide us.
We also see here that no conversion takes place without the work of the Holy Spirit. God not only sent Ananias to heal Paul’s blindness but to fill him with the Holy Spirit and it is that spirit of God that changes us because it is the spirit of God that brings new life and it is the spirit of God that brings courage and the power to live differently than we did before. No lasting conversion and change can take place in our own strength and power so we need to ask God for the gift of His spirit to fully change us.
The last thing we see happen in Saul’s witness of Jesus is that God calls Saul to a new mission and purpose. It starts with Jesus calling Saul to go to Damascus and wait (Acts 9:6). Saul gives us more insight into this new calling when he shares the story of his conversion in Acts 22:10, 14-16. God has now called Saul to be a witness of his grace and truth to all the people of the world. Saul’s unique call was to go to the gentile people and make clear to them that Jesus was not just the Messiah of Israel but the Savior of the world – and that is what Saul did.
When we witness the living Christ it comes with a call from God. If nothing else, the call is for us to share our witness of Jesus with others. In my own life, that is what God has called me to.
My witness of Jesus was not a blinding a light that knocked me to the ground, but a voice that cried out one morning in a dream. I was struggling with what I should do with my life and had asked God to speak to me in a dream, but after 4 or 5 months of no spectacular dreams, I had given up on that prayer – but God was faithful and initiated the contact. One morning as I was lying in bed dozing in those moment between sleep and being awake I heard someone call out 2 Timothy 2:2 and then I heard the phone ring. I got up to answer the phone but there was no one on the line and so I hung up and sat there saying to myself – 2 Timothy 2:2. What on earth is 2 Timothy 2:2? I found a bible and this is what I read.
The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2
While I didn’t understand this at first, I could not get this verse out of my head nor the sound of the voice ringing in my mind. I have come to the conclusion that the voice was the voice of Jesus and that this was what God was calling me to do with my life. I am to share my witness of Jesus with those who will be qualified and willing to share that witness with others. It took me a while, but I have come learn that the best place for me to do this is in the local church where every day God raises up reliable men and women who are qualified and eager to share their own witness with others.
God calls us each of us to a mission. God has a purpose for us in the work of his kingdom and for all of us part of the work is to be a witness of God’s love and grace. Like Mary, Thomas, Peter and Saul, each of us will do this in our own unique way, but God calls us all. God contacts us with his grace, converts us in His love, fill us with his power and calls us to his purpose and it all starts when we witness the living Jesus.
Witnesses ~ Saul
1. The story of Saul’s conversion is such an important witness of the risen Christ that it is told 3 times in the book of Acts. Read each account:
• Acts 9:1-22
• Acts 22:1-16
• Acts 26:12-18
• See Also 1 Corinthians 15:5-8
2. Identify in Saul’s testimony the…
• Contact with Jesus
• Conversion of Saul’s life
• Call to God’s mission
3. Contact. God always initiates the contact. Identify the moments when God’s prevenient grace (the grace that comes before we turn to God) has been experienced in your life. If you are in need of contact with God today, look for God’s grace and presence already at work in you.
4. Conversion. God takes the worst of us and makes something good.
• What area of your life needs to be changed?
• What resources are needed for that change to take place?
• How is God already providing for this conversion?
• No conversion takes place without the work of the Holy Spirit. Pray for God’s spirit to fill you and change you.
5. Call. God calls us to be a witness to His truth and love.
• What mission do you feel God calling you to?
• In what ways has God already prepared you for this work?
• What one step can you take to move into this mission?