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You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. - Galatians 1:13-15 (NLT)
Today’s culture says you are at the mercy of your genetics, people can’t change. But Christianity says you are at the mercy of God, not your genes. We believe God begets real life change and makes all things new. Our man Saul (later called Paul) was a born and bred Christian killer. Saul was the son of a Pharisee (a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law). He studied Scripture, learned Aramaic, and memorized the Psalms as a young boy. By ten years old he was advanced beyond most other Jewish boys his age. At the age of fifteen, he trained under Gamaliel who was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the early 1st century. Saul was basically an Ivy League educated Jew, who, in his early twenties, made it his mission to destroy those who called themselves Christians, or followers of Christ. To him, they were heretics, bound for chains or worse, death. And to the world, Saul could never be anything different. But God had other plans in mind. What seemed impossible became a reality when Saul was traveling on the road to Damascus. On his way to kill and lock up more Christians, Saul was confronted with the true and living Jesus, and his entire life’s purpose changed in an instant. And the man called Saul the Christian killer became Paul, the chosen instrument to proclaim Jesus’ name to the Gentiles. Paul is living proof of Jesus’ words, “With God all things are possible.” This week we are going to take a look at Saul’s journey to becoming Paul and learn about the impossible things God might want to do in our own lives.
- Is there something broken in your life that you think will never change? Begin to pray about it this week. Maybe God has an “impossible” plan mapped out for you.
- Read Acts 9:1-31 and Galatians 1 in preparation for this week.
Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. - Acts (of the Apostles) 9:8 (NLT)
Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus left him blind. Literally. When he got up from the ground and opened his eyes, there was nothing but darkness. Struck blind by the presence of the true and living God. This was his first step into trusting the one he’d been persecuting. Saul was led by his companions into Damascus. For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything. But during those three days, God was enacting his plan. A man named Ananias was in Damascus, and he was a devoted follower of Jesus. The Lord appeared to him in a vision and told him about Saul. He said Saul was expecting Ananias to come and heal his blindness. But see, Ananias already knew who this Saul guy was. He probably had friends who had died at Saul’s hand. Could this vision be true? Could Saul really be different? Or was Ananias about to walk into a trap? See, we get excited about a God who can do impossible things, but what about the moment when He calls you to an impossible thing? Ananias had a choice: trust that his Lord and Savior could accomplish that kind of life change and follow His call, or save himself, just in case this guy Saul was a fraud. Ananias had to trust that God could make such a radical change in this murderer’s heart; his very life depended on it. And he did choose to trust. He went to the place Saul was staying, laid his hands on Saul’s eyes, and restored his sight. Ananias’ one act of obedience propelled forward the ministry of a man that would change the world for generations to come. He stepped through fear and said “Yes” to God.
So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. - Acts (of the Apostles) 9:17 (NLT)
Ananias’ act of obedience looks like a simple practical step in Saul’s journey, so it’s easy to read Ananias’ quick paragraph and just move on. But I think there is so much more to these few short verses. Saul is a man who has been on a Christian killing rampage for a long time. He grew up a zealous and educated Jew but still doesn’t know the full capabilities of his God. He knows the holiness of God, and the law of God, but he is about to experience God’s power and community in a whole new way. First, Saul is struck blind. As if God is saying, “All this time you haven’t been able to see the truth. Let me show you what you have been missing.” For three days Saul is blind. Don’t miss the significance of the three days. Remember who died and was raised to life three days later? Jesus - that’s right. This is a significant moment. The old Saul is dead and is about to be raised to a life of freedom. On the third day, Ananias shows up, probably trembling in fear, lays his hands on Saul and calls him “Brother.” How incredible. Saul fully knows this man would have fled from his presence just days earlier and yet he’s calling Saul “Brother.” In one word Ananias pours grace over Saul’s broken past and accepts him with love. And then, on top of all of that Saul receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s very presence to dwell in and with him for the rest of his days. These few verses may seem insignificant, but they hold the truth of the gospel.
Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus. - Acts (of the Apostles) 9:27 (NLT)
Shortly after Saul’s conversion, he began to preach Jesus’ name in the synagogues, the very place he used to go to find and kill followers of Christ. But everyone knew the old Saul, and it was hard to believe a man could be so different. People were probably pretty slow to get on board with this new Paul guy. I imagine he was getting calls from his old friends trying to figure out what elaborate stunt he was pulling. And when they realized it wasn’t a stunt, they conspired to kill him. And on top of that, his new community wasn’t sure they could trust him either. Imagine trying to trust and welcome a man who had killed your sister or son? They weren’t sure he was for real. So I imagine Paul’s early days in the faith were lonely ones. When we read about his transformation in the Bible, it sounds so exciting and incredible, but I think most days were probably just down right hard. After a near death experience in Damascus, Paul sets out for Jerusalem, hoping the disciples will accept him there. Unfortunately, the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of him, unsure if he was a real disciple. But finally, we see a friend. A man named Barnabas takes Paul in front of the apostles and gives an account of the real change he has seen in Paul’s life. And that changes everything. From that point on, Paul’s ministry was validated and accepted by other followers of Christ. All it took was one friend, one man to step out and stand up for the truth. And Paul and Barnabas were in ministry together for many years after that day.
- Maybe you are like Paul, in need of a Barnabas. Or maybe you are like Barnabas, positioned to help someone else. Either way, God made us for community! Not sure where to start? Head to southland.church/groups today and start or join a new group this fall!
But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. - Galatians 1:15-16a (NLT)
Saul to Paul. One letter changed. A small change on the outside, but Paul was truly a whole new man. When he met Jesus, Paul became the opposite of who he used to be. He went from being a highly respected Jew who persecuted Christians to being the voice of Christianity to the Gentiles, from chaining others up to being in chains himself. But Paul’s personality didn’t change. He was always a zealous teacher who stood on the edge of the law, both before and after he met Jesus. Often times we think becoming a Christian means giving up everything that makes you, you. But that is not quite right. To become a Christian is to put everything that makes you, you into the hands of the living God. And in His hands, you can finally become who He created you to be. You see, something happens when Jesus reveals Himself to us. He doesn’t change our personalities; instead, traits we’ve had from the beginning of life begin to make sense. Jesus gives our personality and life circumstance purpose and direction. He shows us what we were truly made for and how to wield the gifts He designed for us from the beginning. Paul’s heritage and early Jewish education were on purpose. His zealous nature and willingness to live on the edge of the law were gifts from God at the beginning of his life, given on purpose. It was when he encountered Christ that he finally knew what that purpose was.
- God made you who you are on purpose. And the truth is, who you are hinges on who/what you follow. Who or what are you following? Is your personality and life circumstance pointed toward Christ or something/someone else? Pray and ask God to reveal His reasons for making you who you are.