The Conversion of Saul-sermon text version

DSC_0154Ray Kinsela is the Iowa farmer in the movie Field of Dreams who plows under his corn crop to build a baseball field when he hears the voice saying “If you build it, he will come.” So he does it and goes out to meet the author Terence Mann who he’s supposed to take to a baseball game at Fenway Park. When Mann asks him, “Why go through with it?”, Kinsela says “It’s a long story. But it’s a good one.”

Today’s story is like that but even better because it’s not only a good story, it’s the best of stories.

It’s not only a good story, it’s a true story that has been told for almost 2000 years and is every bit as good and true today as it was when it first happened to the Apostle Paul whose Jewish name was Saul.

The Bible is filled with great stories: Creation, the Fall of Man, the Exodus, the birth of Jesus Christ, the empty tomb at Easter, and the Lamb of God at the end of time. And while all those are interesting and good stories, the story of the conversion of Saul is one we can put our fingers on. We can reach out and touch it. We find hope in this story that if the God who created the universe, who banished Adam and Eve, who rescued the Israelites out of Egypt, who came to us as God made flesh, who died and was resurrected and will come in Judgment someday didn’t just do these things for someone else. He did them in a very real way to you…and to me. If He could save someone as evil as Saul the “worst of sinners”, He can save me too.

Because it’s such a good story, I’m going to read it aloud. Not like the clergyman Mr. Collins in the book Pride and Prejudice who says, “I thought I might read to you for an hour or two. I have with me Fordyce’s sermons that speak eloquently on all matters moral.  Are you familiar with Fordyce’s sermons?” It won’t take an hour or two. But reading this story is helpful because no one tells it better than Luke, the author of Acts, unless the one retelling it is Paul himself…which he’ll do two more times in the book of Acts. This story is that powerful that it gets better and better each time you hear it.

After I finish reading it, I’ll go back and point out a couple of things. Stephen has just been stoned to death, Saul approved. The church was scattered. Philip was scattered to Samaria and now Acts 9.

Acts 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. sunrise desert israel no frame4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord– Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here– has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. 23 After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. 26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

It’s the best of stories. The evil villain Saul is out to kill Christians…breathing murderous threats when suddenly he sees the Risen Lord. This is the last of the Resurrection appearances of Christ. No one else has seen Jesus face to face since.

This is not just a vision. It’s not just a dream. This is not an imagination, a magic trick, or a drug-induced trip.

This is a confrontation of Saul by the post-Resurrection Jesus of Nazareth. Less than 30 words and it changed Saul’s life.

Saul sees Jesus and then Saul goes blind for 3 days to give him an indelible memory—to fix it in his brain forever—and something to think about theologically for 3 solid days in fasting and prayer.

So the first thing to notice is that Saul (who we’ve said was like ISIS before ISIS was ISIS) is out to kill Christians. Every single one he can find whether men or women. He was terrorizing homes and whole towns. He was a household name and it wasn’t good.

Reflection point #1: If Saul, the worst of sinners, can experience a turnaround, then so can I.

Saul has companions who see the flash of light and hear a sound like thunder but don’t see Jesus. Nevertheless, they see Saul fall to his knees and they give up their task of killing Christians. Instead, they take him by the hand and lead him to Damascus.

Do you think Paul was just silent this whole time? The Scriptures say he was blind, not speechless.

If you were on Wheel of Fortune and had the million dollar wedge and then, Pat gives it a final spin, the Wheel landed on the $3500 wedge and you get $4500 for every consonant, Vanna was busy because you got them all…and then won the game and went to the winner’s puzzle and you solved it and the million dollars was your prize revealed at the end…do you think you’d tell anyone? Sure you would. No one could shut you up!

I wonder what Saul told his companions as they were taking him by the hand to lead him to Damascus. I wonder what he might have said as he explained what he was doing on his knees and why he couldn’t see. Less than 30 words from the Risen Christ and it changed Saul’s life forever!

Reflection point #2: This event changed the course of Saul’s life and likely impacted his traveling companions too. When you or I meet Christ—not face to face, but in His Word and believe in His Name—we become changed people too.

Jesus says, “Why do you persecute ME?” When people do things against the Church, this whole theology of the Church as the Body of Christ, Jesus feels the pain. Why are you persecuting ME? Saul only asks “Who are you?” I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.


When Stephen was stoned, it was Jesus who felt every blow. When 21 the Coptic Christians were beheaded by ISIS, Jesus felt it all 21 times. When pastors or priests lie, commit adultery, embezzle, cheat, betray, molest Catholic altar boys, fall from grace and bring disrepute upon the Church and because of that, people leave or fall away from the faith, you know what? Jesus feels the pain, the sin, the abandonment, the betrayal, the grief, and the shame we experience as if it was His own.

Reflection point #3: Every single thing we do to the Church is felt by Jesus.

Ananias was no fool. He’d heard all about Saul. He didn’t want to be taken and put in prison, stoned to death for blasphemy, etc. When in a vision, the Lord speaks to the disciple Ananias, it’s no wonder that Ananias was unwilling at first. He was scared all the way down to his socks. But he obeyed anyway.

Reflection point #4: Fear God and obey Him.

Ananias’ obedience was only outdone by his generous and kind spirit. Brother Saul.

Can you imagine what healing words those two words must have been to Saul?

Brother Saul.

His past was behind him. He was part of the family now. Brother Saul.

Reflection point #5: In the Church we are all brothers and sisters. No one has a past so bad that Christ can’t forgive it. No one’s past is so bad that it prevents them from being part of the family in the present and for the future.

Saul’s eye sight is restored. He was a blind man healed to remind him of his spiritual blindness and how seeing the light of the Risen Lord healed him. Less than 30 words later, he was a changed man!

So as a changed man, he begins sharing Christ with others.

Reflection point #6: while the Church can forgive a past because Christ did, the world won’t be as forgiving.

The arch-persecutor becomes the arch-persecuted. It’s so bad that he’ll be a fugitive the rest of his life because everyone he used to hang with wants to kill him now. Hiding in a basket being dropped outside the city at night. Being sent away. He’s going to suffer a lot for the Name of Christ. Jesus even said so. And it’s precisely because Saul had been as bad as he was that the change witnessed as much as it did to the powerful forgiveness of Christ.

Reflection point #7: Everyone needs an Ananias and a Barnabas in their lives.

Brother Saul, so encouraging. And Barnabas takes Saul not just to the Church but to the apostles themselves. Barnabas put his neck on the line for Saul. Brave. Encouraging. A friend when Saul really needed one.

DSC_0886And they welcomed him.

They welcomed him.

And Jesus felt that too.

It must have reminded the apostles of what Jesus said to them Luke 9:48 Then [Jesus] said to [His disciples], “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all– he is the greatest.”

Saul, the worst of sinners, the most undeserving, the cruelest, meanest, most violent, most unworthy piece of human debris to walk the planet, who had persecuted Christ himself over and over and over again…is God’s chosen instrument to bring God’s Name to the Gentiles and to write so many letters to churches and to lay out the most articulate theology of the plan of salvation our Bibles contain.

The worst of sinners saved.

They welcomed him.

And what’s the result of all this?

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

The cycle continues: Pure Church, Powerful Church, Growing Church, Persecuted Church.

That’s what happens when we welcome the worst of sinners who has come to his senses and been saved. We are strengthened; we are encouraged; we grow; and we will experience times of peaceful purity between times of persecution.

It’s a great story. It’s one I can’t get enough of. It’s a perfect picture of redemption. Saul, Saul, Why do you persecute ME? Who are you Lord? I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

What might Plymouth Church know today as changed people? What will we know regarding salvation of sinners? Or turnarounds? How about our ability to impact others? Will Jesus feel welcomed here? Will we fear God and obey Him? Will we welcome those whose pasts are bad? Will we stand firm though the world is arrayed against us? Will we be an encourager to someone? What does Jesus feel as His presence in our midst?

Let’s pray.










Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on May 2, 2015

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