Meeting Jesus: Saul

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Meeting Jesus: Saul
A Message on Acts 9:1-20
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 1, 2019
By Doug Wintermute

Acts 9:1-20 (NRSV)

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

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Today in the continuation of our sermon series “Meeting Jesus” we will examine someone that is very important in the Christian faith: Saul, also known as Paul.

Now let’s start with names first. There is a misconception that this person was named Saul until his conversion experience, and then from that point on took the name Paul. While that makes a good story, it simply isn’t true. He is referred to as Saul several times in the scriptures after his conversion. Which of the two names are used is based primarily on the audience. Saul is his Hebrew name, and Paul is his Greek name. Same person, two names.

Let me give you a modern example. Let’s take the English name “John.” In German it is Johann, in Dutch Jan, in French Jean, and in Spanish Juan. All the same name, but in different languages.

So, Saul/Paul is the same person. Same guy, just two names in two languages.

Saul was a Pharisee. He was a big wig in the religious and civic life of the Jerusalem area in the First Century. Saul was born in Tarsus, which is located in modern day Turkey. It was under Roman Control, so Saul had citizenship rights as a Roman Citizen.

Saul was smart. He attended the best schools and even studied under a famous teacher named Gamaliel. He had moved up the religious ranks to become a Pharisee, a leader of the Jewish people. He was smart, he was powerful, and he was passionate about his faith.

He was so passionate that he hunted down people of “The Way” who were causing trouble by talking about this person named Jesus.

Now it’s interesting to note that in all probability Saul never met Jesus in the flesh while Jesus was on the earth. The timelines just don’t work out right. Saul came along after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In researching the topic I came across one article that speculated on how Saul could have been present when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, or could have been present at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, or even present as his death. No. While that makes a good story, we have no scriptural support for that theory. Saul met Jesus after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Now Saul knew about Jesus, there’s no doubt about that. And he didn’t like what he heard about this man from Nazareth. He heard that Jesus riled up the Jewish people, that he had been arrested and killed by crucifixion on a cross. And even after his death his followers said he rose from the dead.

Saul made it his quest to hunt down and throw in prison–and even tacitly approve the killing of–those who believed that Jesus was the messiah.

We we think about Saul/Paul it’s important to remember just how huge a difference meeting the resurrected Jesus had on his life. Here is a man who goes from not only opposing Christians but actively persecuting them. (Saul held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen to death.)

And then, on the road to Damascus, where he was going on a mission of persecution, he meets Jesus. Not the bodily Jesus, but a voice from heaven. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Uh-oh. Snap.

Saul faced a dilemma. He could attribute his sudden blindness to some kind of disease or natural phenomenon, or even blame it on the devil and say his blindness was the devil’s way of punishing him for hunting those heathen Christians. Or he could admit that he was wrong. Big time wrong. He could switch sides and become one of the people he had hated.

Admitting that we’re wrong is a very difficult thing to do. We like being right. We hate being wrong. We hate it so much that we will even lie when we are confronted about being wrong.

Saul had to admit that he was wrong. To get a Pharisee to admit he was wrong was a really big deal. But what is even more amazing is that this Pharisee became a follower of Jesus Christ. Not only a follower, but a leader, one that ended up writing about one-four of the New Testament.

Jesus changed who Saul was. Jesus changes the lives of the people he meets. And Jesus changes you and me.

How has meeting Jesus changed you? If someone walked up to you and asked, “How has Jesus changed you?,” what would you say?

Saul/Paul goes on to write about how much Jesus changed him. We find one of his descriptions in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

He also writes in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

And in Galatians 2:19b-20 he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

One more from Ephesians 4:22-24 “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Here in Texas it’s still summertime, even though schools have started. But several weeks from now we will start getting some cool fronts coming through that will lower the heat and humidity for us.

It’s at that time that we will witness something incredible: a migration of monarch butterflies.

Yep, monarch butterflies migrate. You can see them after cool fronts, flying on the cool north wind outlined against a beautiful dark blue sky. The ones we see migrate to central Mexico for the winter where thousands upon thousands get together.

Now one of the interesting things is that no one butterfly makes the entire migration trip. Their lifecycles are too short. Yet there is something within the insects that is passed down from generation to generation which urges them to migrate onward.

Butterflies go through what is called complete metamorphosis. They start out looking like this. They are caterpillars, rather ugly things that voraciously eat the leaves of plants, primarily milkweed.

But after a while they form a cocoon inside of which they undergo an incredible transformation. They change. They change from an ugly, destructive caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. After leaving their cocoons, these butterflies, instead of being destructive, help plants by pollinating their flowers as they feed on nectar.

As Christians we are sort of like those Monarch butterflies. Before we meet Jesus we are like caterpillars, grounded on the earth and consuming the things of this world, caring only about ourselves, consuming things we want. But when we meet Jesus, we undergo a metamorphosis, we change. We go from self-centeredness to other-centeredness, serving God by serving others, pollinating love as we go. We are driven by the Holy Spirit to live lives of holiness and love.

Years ago a musician by the triune name of Steven Curtis Chapman recorded a song titled, “The Change.” Here are some of its lyrics:

Well I got myself a t shirt that says what I believe
I got letters on my bracelet to serve as my ID
I got the necklace and the key chain
And almost everything a good christian needs yeah

I got the little bible magnets on my refrigerator door
And a welcome mat to bless you before you walk across my floor
I got a jesus bumper sticker
And the outline of a fish stuck on my car

And even though this stuff’s all well and good yeah
I cannot help but ask myself

What about the change
What about the difference
What about the grace
What about forgiveness

What about a life that’s showing
I’m undergoing the change yeah
I’m undergoing the change

Like Saul, like the Monarch butterfly, we are called by God to change.

Has meeting Jesus changed you? Are you a different person now than when you met Jesus?

My challenge to you this week is this: every time you see a butterfly reflect on the ways you have changed since meeting Jesus. If you haven’t changed, then make it happen. Leave the cocoon of your worldly life and soar on the winds of change, sharing love everywhere you go.

That’s a lot better than munching on milkweed.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

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