Sunday Morning Sermon: Acts 9:20-25, A Transformed Life

6 Mar

     I so appreciated the message brother Paul shared last week, giving us an overview of the apostle Paul’s life with a focus on his amazing conversion. There are few stories in the Bible more amazing than the story of this man, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee of Pharisees, who had been intent on destroying all who believed in Jesus, suddenly being confronted by Jesus on the Damascus Road. And then being miraculously converted, so that the one who was a persecutor of Christians became the greatest proclaimer of Christ the world has ever seen.
    Paul was always a fighter. In his life in Judaism he had always fought for the importance of the law and of service to God and he was careful to punish anyone who disagreed, even to the point of death. But now he had a different battle. He was the soldier of grace, warring not against flesh and blood but against spiritual rulers and authorities set up against the Lord Jesus. He was now a different kind of soldier, whose weapons were preaching and prayer not certificates of arrest and death by stoning. In one day the whole history of the world was changed when God saved Paul on the Damascus Road. The hand that wrote out execution papers for Christians would, after being saved,  write some of the most precious words in all of the Bible, thirteen letters written from a heart of love to churches he founded or with whom he had been involved in ministry. The man who once demanded the blood of Christians would come to desire that the blood of Christ be applied to every heart for sin. The man who traveled everywhere to hunt down Christians would now travel to the ends of the earth to tell people about Jesus. What a picture of change is the apostle Paul. John MacArthur says, “From a volatile, energetic, dynamic enemy of Jesus Christ, persecutor, blasphemer came the greater part of the New Testament. Came the noblest statements of Christian theology. Came the sweetest songs of God’s love. And he became the most saintly, heroic person who ever named the name of Jesus Christ. What a transformation.”
    For us, the change Christ brings may not be as dramatic, but it is nevertheless real. And so we see in verses 20-25 five characteristics of   transformation in Paul’s life. Let’s look at these five truths together this morning —
I.    Paul Could Not Keep SILENT About Jesus     (9:20).
Acts 9:20  And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
    Paul was originally going to the synagogues in Damascus with letters from the High Priest commanding the people of Damascus to persecute Christians, but now he is coming to these same synagogues preaching Jesus instead.
    Paul couldn’t hold back. Immediately he proclaimed Jesus. We all know how this works. Good news is made to be shared. From getting into the school you applied to, to getting a raise, to closing on your dream house, to getting a good deal on a car, to saving 15% on your car insurance, we love to share good news. How many ladies who get engaged keep quiet about it and don’t tell anybody for six months? How many of you out there just didn’t want anybody to see pictures of your grandchildren when they were young? No. You love to share good news. Some of you guys probably had to buy new wallets to hold all the pictures.
    So if we can get excited about a raise or a house or a special trip so that we can’t help but talk about it, why are we so reluctant to talk about Jesus? Could it be that He is not precious to us? Could it be that He has not transformed us? Could it be that we have come to church all along without really knowing Him? A transformed life can not stop talking about Jesus. This is what we see in the apostle Paul. This is what we consistently see in the Bible.
    So the real key to witnessing is not a new program or some other kind of external pressure, the real key to witnessing is inward transformation, because as your heart is more and more captured by the things of God, you won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll have to talk about Jesus, because He will be so precious to you. You will be like those early apostles in the book of Acts, who said, “We can’t help but testify to what we have seen and heard.” You’ll be like the apostle Paul, who would later write to the church in Corinth, “the love of Christ compels us.” And then, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  
II.    Paul’s Transformation Was APPARENT to Others (9:21).
21  And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”
    Imagine how shocked these Jews must have been in the synagogues. They thought this great Pharisee, coming on orders of the High Priest, was going to re-affirm everything they believed. They thought he was coming to further the persecution against Christians. And now he is preaching belief in the very thing he had come to destroy. The transformation in his life is readily apparent to all those who hear Paul. He is a changed man. He has a changed message.
    Paul’s change may be easier to notice than your change, but the change God brings in your life should still be apparent to others. Maybe you weren’t going around imprisoning Christians before you were saved, but I’m sure that there are things about your life that God has transformed and this transformation will be evident to others. You are not the person you used to be if you have trusted in Jesus.
    During my dad’s funeral, I was amazed to see the transformation in one of my cousins. For several years he had been living away from the Lord, not in church, just kind of aimless. But in the year or so he had come back to the Lord and what a change. Whereas before he was withdrawn and sullen, now he was talkative and caring. What a move of God had happened in his life. It was so good to see. And it is so good to see in your lives as well. There are few things more exciting than seeing lives transformed by the power of God.

III.    Paul’s Transformation Resulted in Spiritual GROWTH    (9:22).
    22  But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
    A transformed life doesn’t wilt under pressure, it gets stronger. We see this not only in the life of Saul but in the whole book of Acts. Whenever Peter and John or the early church faced persecution, they grew stronger. Persecution for the transformed life is like weight training. It tests our spiritual muscle and as a result of going through it we are made stronger the next time.
    Paul confounded the Jews by proving that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. One little side note here. How could Paul proved that Jesus was the Christ? He was a new Christian. Remember in the sovereignty of God he had been trained in the Old Testament Scriptures by the Pharisee Gamaliel. He knew the truth of the Old Testament and when he came to know Jesus all the dots were connected for him. And he could connect the dots for others.
    I think its really important to make note of Paul’s preaching. In verse 20 he preached Christ and in verse 22 he proved that Jesus was the Christ. Now Paul had the greatest testimony of anybody who ever lived, yet he is only recorded sharing that testimony three or four times in all his writings. I had Terry share his testimony today because I wanted to show you an example of a transformed life right here in our own congregation. But our testimony is only a pointer to the reality. The reality is the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is what we should preach. It is what Paul preached. He preached the cross. He preached the empty tomb. He preached salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. If we rely solely on our testimony, instead of sharing it as a supplement to the gospel, we risk putting what we are sharing into the realm of experience rather than truth. In other words, a person can accept our testimony as being true for us without at all having to consider the claims of Jesus on their life. They might say, “That’s nice for you but I’m a Buddhist. Or that’s nice for you but I find meaning in being an atheist.”
    Paul is so careful in all his writing to remind us that the gospel he preaches is rooted in history. Jesus really died, really rose, people still alive in Paul’s day saw the risen Christ. So testimonies are good, but its very important that our primary focus is on the gospel, that God has sent His Son into the world to save sinners and that all who trust in Jesus are forgiven and restored to God.
    All of this taken together shows us that the one who had been transformed was also one who was growing. Paul’s Christian experience did not end when he was saved, that was just the beginning. Transformed people will grow. False converts often make their so-called conversion everything. They want Jesus as Savior but not as Lord. But the Bible consistently joins faith and obedience, salvation and Lordship, forgiveness and growth.

IV.     Paul’s Transformation Resulted in OPPOSITION    (9:23).
Acts 9:23  When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him,
    We run into something here that is very important. When Luke uses the phrase “many days” here in verse 23, he is not talking about a few days or weeks, he is talking about years. “Many days” can refer to a very long period of time and that is the case here.  We find that Paul was gone for some time when we read Galatians 1:17, where Paul says, “neither went I up to Jerusalem to them who were apostles before me, but I went into Arabia and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and abode with him fifteen days.” So it is most likely that Paul began preaching in Damascus, moved for a while to Arabia and  preached there too and then he came back to Damascus. When he came back to Damascus and started preaching again, the Jews sought to kill him.  So there is a lot of Paul’s life packed into that phrase “after many days.” Now he is living under the threat of death.
    A transformed life will face opposition. Maybe you won’t face threat of death, but you will suffer for following Jesus in some way. Paul had been told right after his conversion that he was going to suffer many things for Christ. This initial threat was the beginning of countless sufferings the apostle would face.
    Through the centuries, Christians have traditionally faced persecution. In America, our relative freedom from persecution is the exception and not the rule. I think the day is coming soon when we will face persecution as well. Even now, when I go on to an internet news website, the most vicious things that are ever said in the comments on news stories are attacks against Bible-believing Christians. It’s not Republicans, its not President Obama, its not any ethnic or other religious group. It’s Christians. Maybe sometimes we’ve earned the disdain of others through our actions, but I think far more often it is simply that the gospel is offensive to people because it tells us two things we most hate to hear, that we have rebelled against a holy God and stand condemned as sinners and that we can not save ourselves. The gospel hits at the root of everything most people hold dear, that we are accountable to no one and that we can do anything we set our mind to. And the gospel comes along and says “you’re not the center of the universe and you’re helpless to save yourself.” And many, many people hate it. There are even people in the church that hate it when the true, biblical gospel is preached. So they will oppose you. Jesus said, “don’t be surprised when the world hates you.”  We should be more worried that we are not facing opposition than that we are facing opposition. If nobody in your family or among your friends is against your Christian faith, you either have a very Christian family or not much of a Christian faith.

V. Paul Experienced God’s PROTECTION    (9:24-25).
Acts 9:24  but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25  but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
    Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 that the King of Arabia, Aretus, was even in on the plot, making sure that the gates of the city were guarded, made ready to capture and kill Paul when he tried to leave. In the providence of God, Paul’s followers took decisive action and let him out of an opening in the city wall. By the providence of God, Paul’s life was preserved for his future ministry, his major missionary journeys, the writing of all his letters, the many lives he was yet to touch.
    The Holman commentary on this verse says, “The planned triumphal and powerful entrance into Damascus with the authority of the high priest ended with a Christian fugitive being lowered over the walls, just a basket case for Jesus.”
    But the basket was resting in the palm of God’s hand. God would not forsake Paul. God will uphold the lives of His transformed people.
    In recent years, Hebrews 13 has become precious to me. This passage says, Heb 13:5  Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
6  So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
    We want to trust in money. But money is fleeting. What is not fleeting is the presence of God. Because God is with us, we need not fear man. This means that whether God carries us through the trial or not, we will still be with Him. There would come a day when Paul would not be preserved from the trial. But in that day He would be ushered into the presence of God. This is why he could write, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” Matt Chandler says there are two outcomes for the people of God, sometimes God enables us to shut the mouths of lions and sometimes we are eaten by the lions. Sometimes you die like Stephen, sometimes you flee like Paul, living to labor on in the gospel.

     The Christian life is a mix of ministry and mercy and misery. I know that doesn’t sell very well and we’ll probably never be a very big church preaching it, but I don’t care, it’s the truth. As followers of Christ, we will have unmatched opportunities to serve others, bringing them the word of life, giving them help and hope. What a privilege to be a servant of Jesus Christ. We will see God’s mercy over and over again as His faithfulness covers our failures and He shows us His goodness and grace in our times of deepest need. And we will face real misery. We will live among the muck and dirt of life, seeing people ravage their lives with sin, seeing perfectly nice people who want nothing to do with God, watching marriages crumble, getting grief from other people because we trust in Jesus. So this is it. If you like to be comfortable, don’t become a Christian. But if you want your life to mean something in the big picture, if you want to know God, if you want even your sufferings to be redeemed in a way that brings glory to God, then turn away from your sin and trust the Savior today. Then get ready for the wild ride that is the transformed life. A life you can’t stop talking about, a life that gets noticed by others, a life that brings real change, and yes, a life that brings opposition but also the blessings of God’s protection. What a life it is. Paul knew this. And you can know it too. So today, trust in Jesus. Come home to Him if you’ve been wandering.

2 Responses to “Sunday Morning Sermon: Acts 9:20-25, A Transformed Life”

  1. Jeff Ngawe Yufenyu February 11, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    i will use it in my preaching. i am a deacon in Gebuaer Baptist Church Atuokom, of the Cameroon Baptist Convention CBC, Bamenda, Cameroon. Thank you. God bless you.

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