Conversion Is True
Last week we briefly mentioned a young man named Saul who was persecuting the Christians. The follow up to that persecution was a lot of conversions to Jesus that happened as a result. It started with many being converted in Samaria, then Simon the sorcerer, then the Ethiopian and now the conversion of Saul himself.
In the New Testament, Saul and Paul are the same person. Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Roman name, just as people today from two languages may have 2 names. I will probably refer to him mostly as Paul.
Paul’s story of conversion is told three times in the Bible. And as the author of most of the New Testament, Paul tells of his own life before Jesus to show how great God’s grace is, that God can not only save, but use someone like him.
Paul’s dramatic conversion from a man who killed Christians to a man who led Christians is arguably, second to Pentecost, the most important event in the establishment of the church and Christianity as we know it. From his letters to the first churches, the world learned the change that the coming of Jesus and the Holy Spirit can make in a person’s life and what is the purpose of the church.
Today I will read, in sections, from Paul’s third account of the story of his conversion, as told to King Agrippa before he was sent to Rome to be tried before Nero, after which he was beheaded.
PAUL WAS LIVING HIS OWN LIFE
9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.
While those that followed Jesus were known as part of The Way, Saul was all about his own way. He was on his own road with his own mission in life. Even if we are not always consciously aware of it, each one of us walk down our own way. It may not look as hostile as Paul’s but each of us believe our way will lead to a flourishing life.
PAUL WAS SEARCHING FOR GOD BUT COULD NOT FIND HIM
If I asked the average person, “Do you believe in God?”, a lot of people would say, “Well, I think there may be a god, I think there probably is a God, if there is a God, I believe He is….”
No matter who we are, we are guilty of putting God into a box of our own understanding or into a box of who we hope God is.
If we “create” God within our own understanding, we limit the work of God in our lives.
It’s not until we understand that God is our ultimate creator and give him authority over every area of our lives, that we can be transformed and live a flourishing life that we never could have imagined.
BUT GOD FOUND PAUL
12 “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied.
Why was Paul persecuting the Christians? I would say it was out of pure blind ambition. He wanted the accolades that persecuting Christians brought from his peers. It was blind ambition because he did not see the outcome of his ambition. Do many of us struggle with blind ambition?
WHAT DID JESUS MEAN BY SAYING IT WAS HARD FROM HIM TO KICK AGAINST THE GOADS?
We are all goaded or nudged along in life toward God.
These nudges come from a variety of sources, the still small voice in our hearts, our conscience. Sometimes it is from other friends or people. Maybe someone spoke a word of faith that you could never forget?
Sometimes it’s our parents who are trying to nudge us in the right direction. Did your mother pray for you? Did your father? A wife, or a child, a friend; has someone planted the seed of the Word in your heart, and God has never let it die?
Perhaps, you are also nudging someone closer to Jesus.
Ultimately it is God who is trying to speak and say, go this way, go this way. We have a choice. We either listen and walk the path he calls us to follow, or we kick against the goads and make choices that lead us further away from a flourishing life.
PAUL DID NOT THINK HE WAS PERSECUTING GOD
Paul thought, “I’m not persecuting you, I am persecuting them. Why would I be persecuting you?”
Paul had never connected Jesus with being God. Having Jesus appear as God to him was a surprise. When Jesus said, “I am Jesus” it would have brought Paul back to the moment God spoke with Moses at the burning bush and revealed his name as “I AM.” Paul would have quickly realized that Jesus was God because he knew the throne room vision in Isaiah 6. He knew the vision of chariots in Ezekiel 1. He knew the vision of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7. And falling to the ground and hearing the Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” At this moment everything connected and he saw that everything he knew about the Jewish Bible was talking about Jesus, who was speaking to him face to face in that moment.
16 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.
Ever wonder what pieces of the puzzle of your life God can use? The truth is he can use them all. Your life experiences, your schooling, your past, your parent’s divorce, if your father was an alcoholic, if you had a painful experience, if you went to this school, or got this kind of degree, you realize that all of these are the pieces to the puzzle in your life. And God says, I can use that.
DARKNESS TO LIGHT
I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light…
Conversion is not primarily turning over a new leaf, or saying, “I need to really change my life, the way I live.” Conversion is an opportunity God brings to us and we accept. And by accepting his gift of forgiveness we commit to following him, being in a relationship with him, for the rest of our lives and so our lives are changed forever.
Early Christianity swept the Roman Empire, it completely took it over. The first Christians pulled off a social and spiritual change, unprecedented and unique in history. So what was the secret of their power? It’s the secret that everything else flows out of, and that is, Christianity converts people.
Converts us from what? It converts us from a heart of sin and a life heading in a direction away from God; to a heart that is filled with the love of Jesus and is committed to following his will, living in relationship with him. Conversion is the moment that we are forgiven of our sins because we accepted the price Jesus paid on the cross for them. It is the moment when our destiny is changed from hell to heaven.
…and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
The person I was before I became a follower of Jesus is very different than the person I became after I became a follower of Jesus. I am far from perfect, But when I started following Jesus HE GAVE ME THE STRENGTH TO FIGHT AGAINST MY DESIRES OF SELFISHNESS AND BECOME THE PERSON HE WAS CALLING ME TO BE. And in that decision, I found life.
And finally, life only began for Paul, when he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. And I’d like to invite you to whisper to God these words. “Lord, I surrender myself to you. lead me and guide me in your way and use me to help others find the path and to experience your love Here I am Lord. Send me in Jesus name. Amen.”