As the sun rises on this Easter morning, believers around the world are gathering to worship the One who completely defeated death (and every other enemy of the human soul). Sermons are being preached describing the biblical accounts of a risen Jesus. Each story is an eyewitness testimony of an encounter with a no-longer-dead man… the women outside His tomb, the men on the road to Emmaus, and the hundreds of disciples who saw Him before His ascension… people who experienced Easter!
But there’s another individual story – rarely mentioned at Easter – about an obsessed, bloodthirsty religionist who met a risen Jesus. His name was Saul (later known as Paul). In one of his later writings he lists the other Easter appearances, and then points out that “last of all… He also appeared to me” (1 Corinthians 15:8). Here is his story found in Acts 9…
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (1-5)
. . . So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (6)
. . . And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (9)
. . . Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. (20-21)
Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine you are Saul. Blind. No longer able to see. Unable to do anything except reflect on what just happened. What conclusions would you be making over those three days?
Although Saul could not see with his eyes, he was still “seeing” – arriving at multiple conclusions that changed his life forever. What did he see?
Jesus knows me. As Saul was sitting there in the dark, not eating or drinking, he recalls how that day began. Closing in on Damascus, his purpose was to round up anyone associated with “the Way,” tracking and hunting them down. He hated them. He wanted to end their lives and their obnoxious teachings. He was breathing an atmosphere of “threats and murder.”
And then the light came… and that voice calling his name, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Sitting there in the dark, Saul realized that the voice – the One who said He was Jesus – knew who he was! Knew what Saul was doing out there on that road. Knew what he had done in the past. Knew everything that was in his heart.
Have you “seen” that Jesus knows you too? Is He calling your name too?
Jesus comes after me. Saul wasn’t looking for a sign from God – he already knew the truth. Jesus was a heretic and a fraud. There were no second thoughts rolling around in Saul’s mind. He was thoroughly convinced that he was right. Saul was not looking for Jesus. But Jesus had come after him!
Did Saul know that Jesus had once taught that “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10)? We can’t know for sure. But sitting there in the dark, Saul understood that Jesus had seized the initiative. Jesus made the first move. Jesus pursued Saul at a moment when Saul could not have cared less.
Jesus pursues a relationship with you. Have you “seen” this?
Jesus is Lord. “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. And then the Voice replied, “I am Jesus.” Whoever was speaking to Saul from that blinding light had to be Lord! Sitting in the dark, Saul was forced to revise his entire understanding of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was not only alive after being dead, but He spoke with absolute authority. Everything Jesus taught to His disciples suddenly mattered. Everything Jesus did needed to be examined again. Nothing about Him could be dismissed.
Writing to a young pastor years later as Paul the apostle, Saul described Jesus as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, the only One who has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light [and Saul knew about that blinding light, didn’t he?], whom none of mankind has seen or can see, to whom be honor and eternal might” (1 Timothy 6:15-16). Among those phrases Paul calls Jesus “the Lord of lords” – that name first uttered on the road to Damascus.
Saul concluded that if Jesus is Lord, there is nothing and no one greater who can be lord! Not sin or death or any problem or disease… Jesus is Lord over everything that would be “lord” over us! Jesus is the deliverer out of Satan’s kingdom, away from God’s wrath, and into God’s kingdom. His death on the cross was not the cruel end of an imposter Messiah – He was the real thing!
On regaining his physical sight, Saul had to share what he has seen! Luke writes that “immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.” Saul had a new mission and a powerful message.
Have you “seen” this truth? Everything changes when you know that Jesus is the Lord of lords.
Jesus is intimately connected with His followers. Sitting in the dark, Saul kept turning over in his mind the words of Jesus. The insights surfacing in his heart were stunning. Perhaps none more so than when Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul had never seen Jesus, but he had seen many of His followers. He tied them up. He dragged them back to Jerusalem. He was doing everything within his power to destroy the people of the Way.
But Jesus said that Saul had been doing all these horrific things to HIM. Arresting HIM. Beating HIM. Terrorizing HIM. Killing HIM. How was that possible?
It was in that moment that Saul realized that the relationship Jesus has with each of His followers is different from any other in creation. “Why are you persecuting Me?” is much more than compassionate rhetoric about identifying with an oppressed people. Jesus was exposing His deep connection with His people. He was always there with them. He was living in them! Consequently, Saul clearly that whatever he did to a follower of Jesus, he did to Jesus Himself.
More than any other first-generation Christ-follower, Saul came to understand that Jesus rescues His people by uniting Himself with each individual. Years after meeting Jesus He taught that “anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:17), later adding “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Because of the believer’s intimate union with Jesus, he could face down any critic or calamity with this challenge: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35).
Sitting in the dark, Saul saw that whatever happens to the follower of Jesus, happens to Jesus. Have you seen this about Jesus and His people? Do you know whether Jesus lives inside of you?
Jesus has a detailed, stepped out plan for every life. Lying there on the ground immersed in light, Saul didn’t know what to do. Jesus said, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” So he obeyed and took that first step of many that would follow. Now sitting in the dark and waiting for the next step, Saul understood that Jesus had something for him to do. There was a larger plan being implemented and Saul was being included! He would later describe God’s plan for each individual believer in this way: “For we are His making, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Sitting in the dark, Saul also saw that Jesus didn’t give him the plan all at once. Just the next step. It is the way He leads. He doesn’t hand someone the master plan and then sit back to see how well we follow it. He takes each by the hand and says simply, “Follow Me.” Every step surfaces in the context of an ongoing and intimate relationship with Jesus.
Sitting in the dark, Saul saw that God has a plan for his life. Do you see this too?
Saul’s encounter was the last of the Easter stories in the Bible. But he was not the last to experience Easter. Every genuine follower of Jesus has a story to tell about meeting a risen Jesus.
I wish we could sit together for awhile… I’d love to hear the story of your journey this Easter. Where would you place yourself in Saul’s story? Are you still on the road? Are you sitting in the dark beginning to piece things together? Are you walking with Him now, step-by-step, enjoying Him daily? If you would like to read how my story began, go here… and if you are still wanting to know more after that I’d be glad to help. Feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a very blessed and happy Easter… He is risen!
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. . . . And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. . . . Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. – Acts 1-5, 9, 20-21
Saul hated anyone who was a follower of Jesus. He tracked and hunted them down. He tied them up. He dragged them back to Jerusalem. He was doing everything within his power to destroy the church (Galatians 1:13). That is, until He encountered the brilliant light and the penetrating voice on the road to Damascus.
Saul heard the Lord… Adonai, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And this Lord identified Himself as Jesus! In the aftermath of the conversation, Saul was blind. He was in total darkness for three days, but he was able to “see” the truth. What did He “see” while he was in the dark? He concluded that:
- “Jesus knows me.” He called Saul by name.
- “Jesus comes after me.” He was pursuing Saul.
- “Jesus is really Lord.” Saul had to revise his entire understanding of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.
- “Jesus is intimately connected to His followers.” Saul was persecuting the followers of Jesus; Jesus said Saul was persecuting Jesus. What you do to a Christian, you are doing to Christ.
As soon as he regained his physical eyesight, Saul began preaching that Jesus was the Son of God. Have you ever “seen” the truth about Jesus?
Jesus knows you. He is pursuing you.
Saul… he represents every life changed because of the baby born in Bethlehem: every soul transformed by the Christmas Revolution!
Editor’s Note: If you would like to obtain a single PDF file containing all 25 blogs in the “Counting Down to the Christmas Revolution” series, click here to download. May God richly bless your efforts to explore the revolutionary truth underlying the Christmas celebrations around the world.
In the book of Acts we have a record of the “starting line” of the Christian church. Beginning at Pentecost, believers reached out to the lost in dozens of languages and cultures throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Although they encountered many obstacles and disappointments, the early Christians penetrated their world with breathtaking speed. So where does effective ministry begin?
Effective ministry begins…
When I understand that all of my resources combined will never be enough to do the job. (v. 1)
On the day of Pentecost we find the disciples gathered together in one place. With all they had experienced with Jesus and armed with the Great Commission, we would expect them to be out in the streets, preaching the good news.
However, in Acts 1:4 and 1:8, Jesus made it clear that the disciples needed something more in order to fulfill their mission of local and global evangelization. Years of intensive training and sitting at the feet of Jesus were not sufficient. By telling them to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, Jesus was underscoring a basic truth: in my own strength and abilities I will always be inadequate to do what God has called me to do (Zechariah 4:6).
Power for the task is a gift, not an achievement.
When I am filled with and fully dependent upon the Holy Spirit. (v. 2-4)
Heralded by the sound of wind and the appearance of fire, the Holy Spirit came to rest visually on each disciple as a fiery flame. Through this imagery, He makes it clear that each individual disciple needs His guidance and enablement in ministry. It is not enough to have a Spirit-filled pastor and staff in my church. I need to cultivate a personal relationship of love and obedience with the Lord Jesus Christ through His Spirit.
It was common when I ran track in high school for some runners to start too soon: this was called “jumping the gun.” They were forced to go back to the starting line and begin again. Have you “jumped the gun” by attempting to do ministry apart from the Holy Spirit?
When I am willing to do whatever it takes to share the gospel with my world. (v. 5-11)
Moved by the Holy Spirit, the disciples immediately began to speak in the languages of at least 15 different nationalities gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feast. Now the Spirit did not have to do this. Using the language of business and trade, the disciples could have simply spoken Greek or Aramaic. They would have been clearly understood by most of the crowd.
The Holy Spirit wants to help us overcome every obstacle posed by language and culture. Unlike Islam which requires seekers of truth to study the Koran in Arabic, the good news of Christ is to be shared in the idiom and within the cultural norms of peoples around the world.
Was it comfortable for the disciples to speak a language they had never learned? I doubt it, but the greater purpose of proclaiming the “wonderful works of God” (v. 11) overwhelmed all personal preferences and tastes. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to communicate the gospel in terms others can easily understand?
When I accept that some people will reject me and my message. (v. 12-13)
In verse 12, some people are asking “what does this mean?” In verse 13, others are mocking the disciples, accusing them of being drunk.
Some people will reject and ridicule you and your message. Paul taught we should expect persecution whenever we begin to live our lives with reference to Him in all we do and say. (2 Timothy 3:12)
However, there will also be those who want to know more. Endure those who reject you so that you can impact those who respond positively to you.
When I embrace a deep sense of evangelistic urgency. (v. 14-21)
Quoting from Joel 2, Peter announces to the crowds that the arrival of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of prophecy. Everyone willing to call on the name of the Lord (v. 21) could be saved and subsequently filled with the Spirit (v. 18). He also explains that these are the last days, describing signs and wonders which will immediately precede the “day of the Lord.” (v. 20).
Life is short and time is short. Anyone and everyone can now call on the name of the Lord. Armed with the leading and power of the Holy Spirit, God’s people ought to be deeply motivated to broadcast the good news.
Let’s go to the starting line for effective ministry and allow Him to launch us into His work—just like He did for the church at Pentecost.
Reproduced here with permission, this message originally appeared in the March-April, 2004 issue of Preaching Magazine (Vol. 19, No. 5). Edited by Michael Duduit, Preaching Magazine is written almost entirely by those who share a calling to the ministry of preaching. Each issue contains practical feature articles which offer useful insights to strengthen your preaching. Every issue contains a selection of model sermons which reflect the best of preaching across the United States and beyond.
In a church parking lot one Sunday I passed a small truck that had a new bumper sticker on it I had not seen before. It said, “Stop World Whining.”
I stifled a laugh as I thought about the many times pastors have to handle dissatisfied members in their church. Have you ever felt like saying, “What do I look like? God’s complaint department?”
Complaints, problems, and disagreements will always erupt in our churches when we least expect them to. They can be threatening and discouraging to the forward movement of the church. But hang in there.
When I played football years ago, one of the drills we used to run required us to hit a line of defenders, spin off and around the line, and continue running down field. The early church was like that. When they encountered complaints in the church, they addressed the issue head-on, spun off the problem using a Spirit-guided solution, then continued to grow and expand in a dramatic way (Acts 6 & 15).
“Stop World Whining”? It would be really be nice wouldn’t it? Yet, the Lord seems to use even whining to propel His church forward.
He is risen!