Book of Acts Sermon Starters Week 11
We first met Saul as a minor player at Stephen's execution (Acts 7:58, see Week 10). Much has happened since that brief introduction. Saul persecuted the church in Jerusalem, house by house -- an action that eventually drove Philip's evangelistic ministry out of Jerusalem and north toward Syria. Consequently, Saul was partly responsible for the existence of the very disciples in Syrian Damascus whom he wished to persecute.
That Scripture recounts Saul's conversion three times underscores how transformational the conversion and call experience was to Saul and those he encountered (Acts 9:1-31; 22:3-16; 26:4-23).
- Saul, who later became Paul, was incensed against those who, in his opinion, perverted Judaism by embracing "The Way." He asked the high priest to authorize him to arrest followers in Damascus in order to bring them to Jerusalem, presumably to answer to the officials.
- Ironically, on the way to Damascus, Saul was arrested. Saul was so blinded by a light from heaven that he required someone to lead him to Damascus. While there, he fasted for three days and remained without sight.
- A disciple in Damascus named Ananias was instructed to find Saul and to lay his hands on him that he might regain his sight.
- Ananias was understandably disturbed. Saul had a reputation for persecuting Christians. In the course of his conversation with the Lord, Ananias learned of God's plans for Saul -- Saul would bring God's name to the Gentiles.
- Ananias followed the Lord's instructions, and Saul regained his sight. Shortly thereafter, Saul began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus.
The letters Saul sought apparently provided him the right of extradition of non-native Damascene disciples. "The Way" is a distinctive term used by early believers to describe the way of life or salvation. The term appears several times in Acts 19:9; 23:22:4; and 24:14,22; Acts 9:1-2.
In the Hebrew Bible and Jewish literature, people often fell to the ground during a divine encounter. Scripture notes that God sometimes struck people blind to prevent some evil purpose or as a temporary attention-getting measure (Gen. 19:11; 2 Kings 6:18-20). Acts 9:3-9.
Ananias, despite his concerns, visits Saul and addresses him as "Brother Saul." One Bible commentator calls Ananias "a hero of inclusiveness" because of the grace he affords his recent enemy, Saul. Acts 9:10-19.
*Putting the Sermon Together
Consider the following:
- Christian vocation
A Change in Plans. Saul of Tarsus' plans changed drastically after his encounter with the Risen Christ on the Damascus Road. Two major elements of this change were his call and his conversion. It is difficult to say whether his call preceded or followed his conversion. His call was similar to that of several of the Old Testament prophets. (Compare his call to that of Moses, for example.)
- Theophany (the voice or vision of God) -- A light from heaven and a voice saying "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Verse 5).
- Instruction -- Go to Damascus and wait for further instructions (Verse 6).
- Sign -- When Ananias laid his hands upon him, he received his sight and was baptized.
Saul's conversion is more difficult to discern:
- It began with the recognition that he was in the presence of the Risen Lord (verses 4-5).
- It continued with a time of penitence and prayer (verse 9).
- It was evidenced by the symbolic restoration of his sight, his baptism (verse 18), and his public confession that Jesus is the Son of God (verse 20).
- It was further evidenced by his changed life. Saul stopped persecuting Christians and began to proclaim Christ Risen from death.
An instrument of God. There were two men designated as instruments of God in this passage: Saul, who was apprehended on the Damascus road, and Ananias, whom God used to restore Saul's sight. Without Ananias's ministry, it is quite possible that Saul's ministry could have taken a different turn. In similar ways, we are all potential instruments of God. Look at the steps that Ananias took to make it possible for Saul to fulfill his calling:
- He dared to believe in transformation. The old Saul sought to kill him; the new Saul was chosen to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.
- He overcame his personal fears.
- He overcame his personal prejudices. Who wanted Saul around, converted or not? He had a terrible reputation. Yet, in verse 17, Ananias was able to call him Brother Saul, a Christian greeting.
Questions to Wrestle With
- Saul's persecution of the church in Jerusalem actually contributed to the spread of the gospel. Is your congregation confronted by barriers to the gospel that could be transformed into opportunities for greater ministry?
- Scripture records that Saul retold his conversion story several times. What opportunities exist in your church for sharing one another's salvation stories? How might you encourage people to both listen to and share one another's ongoing salvation stories?
- How would a layperson know if he or she were called to do something for God?
- Do members of your congregation have opportunities to discuss, discern, or explore calling?
- What does Ananias teach us about the important role of Christians when those perceived to be enemies are converted?
- What would it take for your congregation to welcome a person who declared his or her conversion from a radical religion to Christianity?
- How does your congregation practice "hearing and discerning" God's voice when facing adversity?
In the Footsteps of Paul (PBS Series)
Visit www.textweek.com for a wealth of additional online resources for Acts 9:1-19a.
Preaching Luke-Acts by Ronald Allen
The Acts of the Apostles by F. F. Bruce
Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free by F. F. Bruce -- a classic on the life of Paul
The Storyteller's Companion to the Bible, Volume 12: Acts of the Apostles by Michael Williams and Dennis Smith
The Helper (written from a layperson's perspective) by Catherine Marshall
The Breaking of the Outward Man by Watchman Nee
The Release of the Spirit by Watchman Nee
Basic Bible Study
What's in the Bible About the Holy Spirit? By Alexander Joyner