The Damascus Road: Seeing the Light

Scripture: Daniel 9:24, Acts 9:1, Acts 8:1-3
Date: 06/03/2000 
First in a two part series on the life of Paul the Apostle. A foundation for Paul's work of reaching the Gentiles begins in Daniel 9. Paul's conversion is a prophetic turning point in history. He went through a dramatic experience of seeing the light of God.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Thanks you. Before we open God’s word together I’ve been reminded we have a brief housekeeping item to take care of. We forgot that next Sabbath we are hosting the Academy Graduation and so we want to try and do our preliminary report of the nominating committee. [I’ve skipped this part.]

That was a beautiful song. Thank you very much for that special music. I really appreciated that. We’re continuing today in our message dealing with the Damascus Road. The sermon title today is Making a U-turn. And I meant to tell Vivian when she was typing that in she needed to spell U, y-o-u Making a You-Turn. On the road to heaven God does allow you-turns. And since the only way we can get there is when you turn. That’s what conversion is. It’s when you and I on the road to destruction make a u-turn. And God does permit that. Now I’d like to do a little review. I don’t know how much to do. How many of you, by show of hands, were not here last Sabbath? Let me see your hands. Where were you Memorial Day Weekend? It was a holiday, I know. But I would like to briefly review. We are talking about the conversion of the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. And we’re trying to illustrate this was simply not the story of another conversion.

Matter of fact the testimony of Paul’s conversion is mentioned more in the Bible than any other conversion experience. And so it deserves our attention. Furthermore, we’ve learned that the timing of Paul or Saul’s conversion matches up perfectly with the end of the 490-year prophecy which was the time allotted to the Jewish nation. And isn’t it interesting that Saul who was chosen by Jesus to be an apostle, not just a disciple, he then becomes an apostle with a special emphasis to the Gentiles. Now let me also correct one myth. Peter was also an apostle to the Gentiles. Matter of fact the first apostle to begin preaching to the Gentiles was not Paul it was Peter. Remember when he went to Cornelius and his family and that’s Acts 10. Now Saul was known as Saul of Tarsus. He was born in that city in Asia Minor, now commonly known as Turkey. He was raised in the strong tradition of the Jews. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. His father named him Saul after that handsome king who was a head and shoulders taller than everybody else. And some have speculated it could be because one tradition about the apostle was that he was short, he was nearsighted, he was bald.

Now my sight is just fine. I told you that there may be a relationship here. And it could have been to offset that here they had this child who was a runt and so they named him Saul, you know, after the great tall handsome king. And one tradition I’ve read is that his voice was kind of a shrill, whiny voice. Now there is actually some scriptural support for that. You read in II Corinthians 10:1, Paul is writing to the Corinthians there. He said, “Now I Paul myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am lowly among you.” His presence was lowly he says. “But being absent I’m bold.” You can also read in verse 10, speaking of himself he says, “For his letters, they say, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech,” his voice, “contemptible.” You know you read some of the speeches that were given by Teddy Roosevelt and he was a fiery orator. And then one day, do you realize that Thomas Edison was a contemporary of President Teddy Roosevelt? He recorded Teddy Roosevelt, the one who talks about carrying a big stick. You ever heard his voice? “I speak softly, but I carry a big stick.”

That’s how it sounds, really. And he was quite a man’s man, but his voice sounded differently. Well now Paul, what made Paul Paul was not his presence, it was not his size, it was not any physical attributes. It was the depth of his commitment and the profound things that he said. Now what made Paul a great witness for Christ, those features are available to you and me. One of the important things we learn about the conversion of Saul and Paul is God can use you. Even though physically he was handicapped (and we’ll talk about that today), even though he may not have been a beautiful person, he may not have had a wonderful melodious voice; God was able to use him to turn the world upside down because of the depth of his commitment, the thoroughness of his conversion and he never consulted consequences when he decided what to do. Did you hear that? When he decided what God’s will was he never looked at what the consequences would be. On his way to Jerusalem, even the church members said, “You don’t want to go there. You’ll be arrested. You might be imprisoned. You could be killed.” He said, “God has told me to go. Don’t weep. I’m ready to die.

I am going to do what God wants me to do regardless of the consequences.” When he went to Rome he knew it might cost him his head. And ultimately it did. But he never made a decision based on the consequences. He made a decision based on is it God’s will? You know the reason that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo are in the Bible is because when the king said, “Bow down or die,” they did not look at the consequences. They said, “We will not bow down because it’s God’s will that we obey His commandments.” So many of us today, we have situation ethics. We make our decisions based on, “What will the consequences be?” and we factor that in to our decision. Consequences should never be factored into the decisions of a Christian. Amen? We ought to say, “What does God want?” That ought to be the primary criteria. And that’s what Paul did. That was the creed he lived by. Now we’re going to look again a little more closely at his conversion. Turn with me please to the book of Acts. Acts 9, you remember he’s on his way to Damascus. He’s got his back to Jerusalem. You know I searched all week long to try and find out last week what the word Damascus meant.

You know, I looked up the word Saul and I looked up the different names in the Bible. I couldn’t find anything and I looked right here in my Bible notes and it tells me that the word Damascus comes from, they believe, the word Damask which is a patterned cloth that was very popular in this most ancient city in the world. So here he’s going to the oldest city in the world. He’s going downhill. He’s going to persecute God’s people. And the interesting thing I don’t want you to miss and everybody here can learn something from this. Paul is getting ready to have the major ah-ha experience. He is a church member. He is zealous of obeying the letter of the law. He thinks he’s doing God’s will and nothing could be further from the truth. Is it possible for us to be in the church and unconverted? Is it possible for us to be in the church, we know the doctrines (Paul knew the Bible well) and yet be binding and imprisoning fellow believers by our influence? You know Jesus said, “If you are not with me you are against me.” There’s no middle ground. There’s no Switzerland where you can claim neutrality. Everybody here, everybody watching, we are all on one side or another.

We are either winning souls to Christ or we are binding and imprisoning them with the cords of sin by our influence. And that’s what Paul was doing. Thinking he was working for God and nothing could be further from the truth. He was fighting against Jesus. He did not know it. He was sincere, but he was sincerely wrong. And there’s a lot of people who, in the last days especially, will be fighting against God’s church thinking that they’re serving the Lord. So we read here, let’s jump now down to verse 4. He sees this flash of light. He falls to the ground either walking or from his horse. He hears a voice saying his name, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And he says, Who are you, Lord?” Well that’s pretty revealing. Thought he knew God, but he did not know. Remember Jesus said, John 17, eternal life is summed up in knowing “thee, that thou art the true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.” “My people are destroyed,” Hosea tells us, chapter 4:6, “for lack of knowledge.” Saul was on the road to destruction because he did not know the Lord. And yet he was acting like he did. He had been praying the prayer of the Pharisee, “Lord, I thank thee that I’m not as other men.” And now after meeting Jesus he needed to spend time praying the prayer of the publican, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.” His heart was changed. “Who are you Lord?

He said, I am,” first words in Jesus’ response are the words of Jehovah to Moses, “I am Jesus,” I am the Savior, “whom you are persecuting.” You know the Bible says, “Will a man rob God?” What a ludicrous thought that someone could rob God. Can a human persecute the Almighty? Yes. Can we rob God? Yes. Can we grieve the Spirit? Yes. And here Jesus said that when you persecute His followers you are persecuting Him. You know why the dragon makes war with the woman? Because he can’t reach Jesus. And the best way to hurt Jesus is to hurt His followers. You and I as Christians are the apple of His eye; we’re the bride of Christ. And the devil knows that the best way to hurt Jesus is by hurting us. And God was telling Paul, “You are persecuting me when you hurt them.” That’s why Jesus said, “If you do anything to make one of these little ones stumble, it’d be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck, and to be cast into the depths of the sea.” Because when you persecute God’s followers you’re hurting Him. “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting: is it hard for you to kick against the ox goads.” And in persecuting God’s followers he was hurting himself. “So he trembling,” you know I heard some of the skeptics when they talk about the conversion of Saul they said maybe it was an epileptic fit that he had on the road to Damascus. Some other skeptics have said he was probably struck by lightening and that’s why he saw this great blinding light and that’s why he was blinded. And one British theologian when he heard that he said, “Lord, smite the world with epilepsy if that’s what this is. Strike us with lightening if that’s what this is.” Because here Paul turns the world upside down by his influence.

If that’s what lightening does then Lord, strike me, amen? Epilepsy or lightening, hallucinations they say. “And he trembling and speechless, astonished he said, Lord, what do you want me to do?” Here he thought he was doing the will of the Lord. After a person is converted one of the first things that ought to come out of their mouth is, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Before conversion you’re doing your own thing. You might say you’re doing God’s will, but in reality you’re doing your own thing. There’s a lot of people in the world that are doing what they want to do and they’re blaming God for it. Amen? You know what I’m talking about? A lot of people saying, “The Lord told me to do this,” and “The Lord told me to do that,” and God hasn’t spoken to them. They’re using God to endorse their own will. He realized that. And now he says, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” He was not going to take another step until he knew which way the Lord wanted him to go.

Now what does Jesus say in response? The first words from the Lord are, “Arise.” Now first God knocked him down, had to humble him. Now He says, “Get up.” You know the word of the Lord came to Jonah and it said, “Arise, and go.” And here God says now to Paul, “Arise, and go into the city.” Isn’t it interesting the same words that were given by the same Lord to Jonah, who was a prophet, who was also disobeying the will of God, are the same words that God gives to Saul? They were both sent to these pagan cities. Jonah was sent to Nineveh; Saul was sent to Damascus. It says, “Arise, and go into the city, and it will be told thee what you must do.” Now why didn’t Jesus tell him everything? He just said, “Go to the city and it’ll be told.” God gives us what we can handle. Paul had enough to digest right then. Matter of fact he had enough to think about for three days. Jesus does not tell us everything all at once. First of all, I want to talk about a principle.

Christians should always be honest. We should be honest in our mannerisms, in our words, in our speech, in our body language, in our eye expression. But being honest does not mean that you need to tell everybody everything all at once. Being honest does not mean you need to be crude and hurtful in the things you say to others in the name of honesty. Jesus did not do that. Jesus does not tell us, He does not tell us everything all at once because we can’t handle everything all at once. John 16:12, Christ said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The Lord gives us things as we can bear them. I know some parents that decided to give their five year old a lesson on the birds and the bees. And they started his sex education at five. It was too much for the kid to handle. He didn’t need to know that at five years old, amen? Their not even asking those questions then. That’s very imprudent for a parent. Public schools are starting to do that, too, you know. They’re thinking it’s important to start them off early because they’re going to be exposed in the media, so may as well explain it in a scientific format.

It’s too much too soon. Part of prudent parenting is to give people, give your children things when they can handle it, at the age that’s appropriate. When you’re baby Christians you don’t choke the babies on the meat of the word you give them the milk of the word. Now Paul is saying, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” He says, “It’ll be told what you’re supposed to do. You’re going to have to recover from first finding out that you were on the wrong team.” And that’s exactly what happened. “So the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no one.” Now you read in other accounts, it says they saw the light and they did not hear the voice, meaning they did not understand the voice. “Then Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.” It’s interesting; here he was leading his attendants to persecute Christians. After seeing the Lord now the leader’s being led and he’s blind. It’s a vivid example of how the Lord sometimes tries to impress us that we think we know what we’re doing, but we’re really blind leaders of the blind.

You know that reminds me of a story. I believe you can find it in Acts 13. Yeah, go with me to Acts 13:6 I want to just fill in some of the gaps here. I’m going to take my time and we’re going to teach on this theme here. Acts 13:6, “Now when they had gone through the island of Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus.” Now notice something here. This is Saul and Barnabas working as an evangelistic team. This is a false prophet. His name is son of Jesus. What does Bar mean? Whenever you see Bar it means son of. Bartimeus was son of Timeus. Barnabas, son of consolation. Barabbas, son of papa; Abba means papa. Here you’ve got Barjesus. He is a counterfeit Jesus, a sorcerer. OK? It’s interesting in the story of the conversion of Saul you’ve got a lot of names that are the antithesis of what they are other places. You’ve got Ananias. The other Ananias was bad. The one in Saul’s story is good.

You’ve got a Judas. The other Judas is bad. In Saul’s story he’s good. You know what I think the Lord’s telling us? He’s trying to tell us that God can convert. God can change the very bad to be very good. All through this story here. And here’s this false prophet, verse 7, “Who is with the proconsul (he’s the governor) Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man; this man called Barnabas and Saul, and he sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas (BarJesus) the sorcerer (for so his name was translated) he withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” Here he is fighting against the truth. Paul and Barnabas are trying to preach the truth. Up to this point every time in the Bible that Paul and Barnabas are preaching Barnabas is the principle speaker and Paul is called Saul. This was a pivotal point in Saul’s ministry. Notice what happens here. “Then Saul,” verse 9 Luke tells us, “Then Saul, (who is also called Paul,)” that’s where it changes, friends. If you’re wondering where it changed, right here the man who used to be called Saul. And don’t forget Saul in the Old Testament was lost. Now it says his name is to be called Paul.

For the rest of Acts he is called Paul in the Bible. Now instead of Barnabas being the speaker Saul is filled with the Holy Spirit, he can’t constrain himself. He says, “I know I’m supposed to be praying while you’re preaching, Barnabas,” I’m paraphrasing, “but I can’t contain myself.” He jumped to the platform. He took the lead role. He began preaching. His name was changed. Listen to what he says. “Then Saul, (who is also called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, he looked intently at him.” This is the false prophet. “And he said, O full of deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And no, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind.” Did Paul know about that? When you’re misleading people, turning people away from the truth how the Lord has power to close people’s eyes? “You shall be blind, and not seeing the sun,” and then he caught himself; he remembered that he wasn’t blind permanently, “for a time.” He mingled in some mercy, “for a time.” He pronounced a curse on this false prophet who was resisting the truth.

The same curse that God had put on him when he was blinded for three days. You know the Bible tells us that God cannot only open the eyes of the blind. Remember Elisha prayed for his servant, “Lord, open his eyes?” He can close eyes. Remember when Elisha prayed, “Lord, close their eyes,” and a whole army was blinded? When people think they know they’re doing the right thing; there’s several times in the Bible you can point to where God closed people’s eyes. They thought they were in God’s will and He demonstrates, “You’re really blind.” There’s a lot of people who would trip on their way out of church today if God still did that. I wondered how that would settle. Not too good, huh? And, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you... And immediately a dark fell upon him; and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.” How did Paul make it to Damascus? He had to be led by the hand. Now let’s go back here, we find out a little bit more about the blindness of Saul. “So Saul arose from the ground;” verse 8, chapter 9 of Acts. We’re back at the conversion story. “Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was there three days without sight, he neither ate nor drank.” Now let’s talk about fasting. There’s different kinds of fasts in the Bible.

There is the kind of fast that Daniel participated in when he was wanting to understand a vision. He ate lightly, simple food. You know I understand that some of the Bible translators, Latimer and Ridley and some of those great Bible translators and great reformers, when they were working on passages of scripture they would eat very simply to keep their minds clear. You ever eat a heavy meal and you want a siesta right away? They would eat lightly and they’d eat simple food. They’d eat fruits and grains and small amounts that are easy to digest, enough for mental clarity. Then you’ve got the kind of fast where you don’t eat at all. That’s the typical kind of fast. The Pharisee prayed and said, “Lord, I thank thee. I fast twice a week.” He might have gone two days a week without eating. I just read this morning where George Whitfield when he was seeking after God he would fast 36 hours a week, a day and a half. You don’t eat any food. Then you’ve got, of course Jesus when He was in the wilderness He fasted 40 days, but He drank water. Then you’ve got the most radical fast that you find in the Bible where you do not eat, you do not drink anything.

Those fasts never go beyond three days. You can look here in your Bibles in the example of Jonah 3:7 when Jonah said that God was going to destroy the city because of their wickedness the king made a proclamation, “Let neither man, nor beast, herd, nor flock taste anything. Do not let them eat or drink water.” That’s a radical life and death fast. Esther 4:16 a death decree is pronounced against God’s people. They do the radical life and death fast. “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me, neither eat nor drink for three days, day or night: my maids and I will fast likewise.” That’s about as extreme, any of you ever done that? You ever go 24 hours without drinking water? Two days without drinking water? I got lost in the desert one time went half the day without water in the desert and I thought I was going to die of thirst. Of course I was dripping all the fluid out of my body. That’s pretty radical. That’s where you’re really afflicting yourself. Now sometimes we fast for health purposes. You might be praying about something, you could be fasting and praying and you might deny yourself food. And you know, I believe because the Lord principally communicates, not principally, the Lord communicates with our brains. This electrochemical computer. It’s an organ and it’s spiritual. They can’t figure out how the brain works.

It holds thoughts. And God speaks to us. But it’s also an organ. And your brain is affected by your health habits. And when you fast and you clean out your system your mind is more clear. And the part of your brain, not the part that operates animal functions, but the part of your brain that has its higher thinking is more receptive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. I really believe that. And so you might be fasting and praying for guidance. You might be fasting and praying; remember when the disciples tried to cast out a devil and they failed and they said, “What did we do wrong?” Jesus said, “This type comes forth only by prayer and fasting.” Now why was Christ able to cast them out? Because He was Jesus. Why do we pray and fast? We can pray and fast to be like Jesus so we can cast them out, right? That’s the purpose for that. So he’s fasting and he’s praying for three days. What do you think was going on in Paul’s mind during that time? What does a person think about when they can’t see? You know when you close your eyes you still have memories; you’ve got that mental screen. Right? You’ve got images you can put up on the board.

You’ve got videos you can play back. Paul was reviewing all that he had done to fight against the truth. He was having to reprogram for three days. Everything he had believed in was wrong. All the scriptures that he had taken and twisted. You know the good news in the story of Paul’s conversion? Is it possible for a person to come to the place where they love what they once hated and to hate what they once loved? I got a very disturbing letter from somebody who was raised in the faith and they’ve left the faith. And they believe that now they’ve been liberated and they don’t need to obey God’s commandments anymore because they’re free. “Not under the letter, but now led by the Spirit.” And you know it just it breaks my heart. That which they once loved they now hate. And I think, can a person be changed from that? The good news in Saul’s conversion story is it doesn’t matter how twisted a person’s thinking is God can help someone make an absolute u-turn.

You know Karen and I were thinking about some of the stories of conversions of those right here in this congregation. And I don’t want to embarrass anybody by telling your story, but I know some of you that have had radical conversions. Radical meaning you were going north and now you’re heading south. You were going west and now you’re going east. The things you once loved you now hate. The things you once hated you now love. Complete turn around. That’s the evidence that the Lord is genuine. I understand that when Robert Moffet, the missionary, first went to work in South Africa there was a very violent chief Afrikaner who, you know, he would take his enemies and cut their heads off and use their skulls as a drinking cup. I mean he was a violent, and when Moffet told the Dutch there in South Africa he was going to go work among the tribes and he was going to approach the chief Afrikaner they said, “You’re going to be a dead man.

He’ll use your skull as a drinking cup.” But he went right into the camp and he began to share the gospel. The first convert was Afrikaner. And he led this man in a wagon back into the towns there in South Africa and they saw here was this gentle, humble Christian man. And they said, “This is the eighth wonder of the world,” that God could take a person who was so angry and so violent and so full of hate and make him a humble, gentle Christian. Radical conversions. God’s in the business. Any of you remember the story of Harry Orchard, the hit man? Who killed, was it the governor of Colorado? Idaho, governor of Idaho? And the governor’s wife was a Seventh Day Adventist. And she went to the prison to this cold hardened hit man and began to say that she forgave him for killing her husband. And she loved him and began to share gospel tracts with him. He became a Christian. Turned into a preacher in prison. Former hit man. Radical conversions. Now that ought to be good news for you because some of you have got children that are outside the faith. You ever get to the place where you think this situation is hopeless.

I won’t mention any names, but I have got some friends and family and looking at things humanly you think, “It’s a waste of time to pray for this person.” Come on, fess up, you ever thought that about somebody? I mean would you go across the sea and you see a person who’s running around naked, covered with chains and blood, hair long and matted, living in a tomb, would you think that person’s going to be an evangelist someday? No, but that’s what Jesus did with the demoniac, right? The Lord is trying to tell us that we should not give up hope. Not only could the Lord do that with the demoniac, not only could He take someone like King Manasseh who for 55 years he reigned and he worshipped devils and he sacrificed his children to demons and pagan idols and killed the prophet Isaiah, wicked, wicked king. Who would have thought that God could turn Manasseh around? If God could change the demoniac and He could change Paul and he could change Manasseh then don’t give up believing that He can change your friends and your loved ones who might be far away from God right now. Amen?

They might be in that far country wasting their life and means with riotous living, but God has His ways of turning people around on the Damascus Road. He might cause them to endure famine like the Prodigal Son to bring them to their senses, but God has His ways to help them see the light and to make a u-turn. So Paul is fasting and he’s praying. Now when you’re praying God is doing things. And while Paul was praying God sent a message to another church member. You read here, back in Acts 9:10, “Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias.” You know what? This is one of the disciples that Paul was going to imprison. Isn’t it interesting God’s sense of humor? He could have brought one from Jerusalem or from another town. He’s using one who was going to be the subject of Paul’s wrath. Talk about overcoming evil with good. “There was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in vision, Ananias.

He said, Here am I, Lord.” Sounds like they were on speaking terms. “So the Lord said to him, Arise, and go.” That sound familiar? God calls you, His word always elevates us. God calls you and He sends us. You know sometimes we’re criticized here at Central for making evangelism a priority. I don’t apologize for that, friends. Because Jesus made it a priority. The great commission is, “Go ye therefore.” And the reason the great commission is called the great commission is it’s to have a priority seeking first God’s kingdom. Amen? Expanding His kingdom. Evangelism also, if it’s done correctly, meets every other need in the church. I believe that. I believe that when we really do evangelism it does nurturing, it does discipling, it does educating, it does reviving.

Evangelism accomplishes all that if we are doing what God calls us to do. He says, “Arise, and go to the street called Straight,” isn’t that interesting? You know Damascus is very much today like it was 2,000 years ago. It’s full of narrow, crooked, convoluted street arrangements except there’s one wide prominent street that dissects the city and today it’s still called the street that is called Straight. You know that? If you go to Damascus it’s still there today. Isn’t it interesting, Paul who was going the wrong way is now on Straight Street? And when God converts you He sends you to Straight Street, amen? “Go to the street that is called Straight, and enquire at the house of Judas,” I told you it’s interesting that now there’s a good Ananias and there’s a good Judas.

Oh incidentally, I wanted to tell you what the names mean. Ananias is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Hannaniah. You’ll find a lot of them in the Old Testament. It means Yahweh has dealt graciously. His name means Yahweh has dealt graciously. And Judah means I will praise the Lord. Judas is the Greek equivalent for Judah. And so here he is going, God is sending the one who has dealt graciously. He’s staying in the house of I will praise the Lord. Good things are starting to happen, right? “For there is one there called Saul, of Tarsus: behold, he is praying.” Did God see him praying? He heard and saw him praying for three days. And even though God personally now does not answer Saul He sends somebody to him. You remember what; Paul said, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” God said, “Go to the city; it will be told you what you should do.” Now how does the Lord generally speak to us? Like He did with Paul on the road to Damascus?

I think God was telling Paul, “Look, I’m doing something special for you now because you were sincere and you were on the wrong road I wanted to arrest your attention because this is the only thing you would believe. But this is not going to be a pattern, Saul. From now on I’m going to use people. I’m going back to my regular plan of operation.” God uses people to reach people. When Saul needed to get to Damascus it was humans who took him by the hand and led him there. Saul needed a place to stay. He had to find the house of a person. Now Saul needs educating. God does not constantly give him divine revelation. God sends a church member. He was not even an apostle. God works through people to accomplish His will. You know I love the story of Naaman’s conversion. You ever look at the story of Naaman’s conversion? We’re talking about conversions today, making a you-turn. It was a series of messages that came to Naaman the leper. This is II Kings 5.

First the message; and they’re humble instruments. Message comes through a little maid, “Go to the prophet Elisha.” Then a message comes through the servant of the poor prophet Elisha. And then a message comes through his own servants. It says, “Why don’t you listen to the prophet and wash?” God is working through people to reach him. Now some of us say, “Well, I’m waiting for the Lord to speak to me.” We’re wanting, you know, a heavenly email. We’re wanting the Lord to write something in the sky for us. And it could be God is speaking to you all the time and He uses people to do it. Amen? And here He’s using, it might have been a deacon in the church.

Doesn’t say he held any special office, but one of the church members who was on speaking terms with the Lord, he’s being called and used. Now that’s also something for you and me. God may ask you to give a message where you don’t want to give it like Ananias. But your message could be the means of sealing a person’s conversion. It says, “Go to the street, talk to Paul. He’s praying. And in a vision he is now seeing you come.” So God is confirming to Paul that He’s going to send somebody. “And you’re putting your hands on him so he might receive his sight.” And trust me, that word sight there means more than just physical seeing. “And Ananias said, Lord, let’s talk about this (I’m paraphrasing). I’ve heard from many about this man, and how much harm he has done to the saints in Jerusalem.” Paul, his reputation for being a persecutor of the church was broader than many people think.

A lot of people think it was just Stephen. His reputation preceded him all around Jerusalem. They had heard about what he had done to God’s people. Men and women bound, thrown in prison, consenting to their executions and death. He says, “Lord, do we have the name right?” “I’ve heard about him, how much hard me has done to your saints in Jerusalem: and now he is here he has got authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” “Let’s talk about this, Lord. You sure?” “But the Lord said,” verse 15, “Go: for he is a chosen vessel of mine, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and the kings, and the children of Israel.” And then as if to comfort Ananias God adds in verse 16, “And I’m going to show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” “I haven’t forgotten what he did to the church. If it makes you feel any better, he’s going to suffer. Yes, I’ve forgiven him, but he’s going to pay.”

It’s almost like the Lord is putting that in just so that Ananias says, “Well, in that case I’ll go.” Want to back up. Saul sees somebody coming in and laying hands upon him. Can I talk about that for a minute? I told you that we’re just; we’re taking this piece-by-piece. Matthew 19: 15, you better jot these down because I’m going to give you several very quickly. You ever heard a sermon on laying on of hands? I haven’t heard too many. It’s biblical. Matthew 19:15 Jesus laid His hands and blessed the children. “Laid his hands on the, and departed from there.” Acts 6 when they set aside the deacons, “Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.” You can be sure Jesus laid hands on the apostles when He commissioned them. Acts 8:18, “And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money.” Acts 19, Paul believed in laying on of hands. “And when Paul laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them; and they spoke with tongues, and prophesied.” Paul writes in I Timothy 4:14, Timothy was commissioned this way. “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy, with the laying on of hands of the eldership.” Now notice what it says in Hebrews 6 speaking of different doctrines.

You know when you do an evangelistic meeting we talk about the doctrines. We’ve got the state of the dead. We’ve got the law. We’ve got salvation. We’ve got the fall, where the origin of sin. The second coming of Jesus. The millennium. We’ve got all these doctrines. Did you know there’s a doctrine called the laying on of hands? Hebrews 6:2, Of the doctrine of baptism, of laying on of hands, of the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” Wow! That’s pretty good company. I mean I can see in an evangelistic meeting preaching on baptism, on the state of the dead, resurrection, on eternal judgment or hell. But the doctrine of laying on of the hands? Did you ever give it that kind of priority? You know sometimes I think that we miss things, friends. Amen? I think that we see stuff and we say, “They did that back then, but it’s not important now.” I don’t believe that. I believe every word of God is true and that we are to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Do you believe that?

Side two…healing service now and bring you all forward and lay my hands on you. But I want to tell you that I believe, and I practice this, I believe it’s important to lay hands on people. When I was in Russia and Karen and I did our meetings there in ’93 200 people were in the first baptism. And each one wanted me to baptize them. I don’t like to baptize people. I mean I love to baptize people, but in a foreign meeting when I’m doing evangelism I like the local pastors to do that because those people will be ministering to the converts after I’m gone. But they wanted me to some way tie in. I read to them in the Bible, I said, “Well, you know, the Bible says that they layed hands on people before they were filled with the Spirit. And the filling of the Spirit goes with baptism.”

I said, “I tell you what. I’ll be here by the entrance to the pool. Everybody that gets in the pool on the way to their respective pastors for baptism,” I briefly laid my hands on every person and I prayed for them. I did that in India as well. And you know what? It meant so much to those people. And it’s biblical. It’s biblical. So let’s not forget that. You know the Bible says there something; and it doesn’t mean the casual touch. The laying on of hands is more than that. It’s anointing people with your hands, touching them with your hands in connection with prayer. When we ordain our deacons and elders here you’ll notice that we put our hands on them. That’s all very biblical. So I just wanted to take advantage of this story to do that little detour. OK.

Back to acts 9. Did you learn anything on our little trip there? Good. OK. Acts 9:16, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake. And Ananias went his way, and he entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, Brother,” you notice. Does he believe Jesus that he’s now a brother? “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, (as you came to arrest me) the brother who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me, (who you were going to arrest) that you might receive your sight.” Isn’t it interesting how God works things out? Now the one who he was coming to harm is bringing him healing. Jesus tells us this is the way to reach our enemies is by loving them, right? “He sent me, that you might receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Those two usually go together, spiritual discernment and being filled with the Spirit as well as physical sight.

He lays his hands on him. Verse 18, “And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales,” these little cataracts. You know if you were to peel off the white scale on a person’s eyes, their cataract, it would look like a scale. “There fell something from his eyes like scales: and he received his sight at once, and he rose, and was baptized.” Now I’m going to stop right there. How soon after conversion should a person be baptized? That depends. Let’s talk about it. The criteria for baptism is Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, teach, baptize.” Now, when I do evangelistic meetings if good Christians from perhaps other denominations, they understand the fundamentals of salvation and the blood of Jesus and the commitment and they understand a lot of the scriptures, when they come to our meeting if they learn some of the peculiar things of our faith and they accept those they can be baptized right then at the conclusion of the meeting.

For somebody who’s coming off the streets, if they’re a Hare Krishna and they have no Bible background they’re not ready to get baptized after six weeks, friends, I’m sorry. There is so much to learn. They need to be taught. Paul did not need to be given lessons on the Ten Commandments. You understand that? The Ethiopian eunuch who was on his way from Jerusalem, when he was baptized by Philip right away why could Philip baptize him right away? There was just a few important details he did not understand. Acts 19 when Paul rebaptizes the 12 Ephesian men they are baptized right away. Why? Because there was a lot of things they didn’t understand. Now the one enigma, the one thing that sort of bewilders us is the Philippian jailor who gets baptized right away. And you have to speculate how did, how could Paul baptize this pagan so quickly without a little time in Sabbath School, some indoctrination, some teaching?

Well we have to speculate. It could be, you know there were believers, there were people who understood the law and the Pentateuch all over the Roman Empire. It is possible; remember in this town it was the Jews who had brought Paul before the magistrate to be whipped. No wait, I’m sorry, that’s Philippians 16. That was because he had delivered a girl from a demon and it was the men selling idols. But in the same city there was also a Jewish synagogue. I’m getting two stories mixed up. Is that OK? That’s what happens when you preach extemporaneously. So there was a Jewish synagogue in Philippi. It is possible that this jailor was a Jew who understood the background. I don’t know. But typically in the Bible when a person is baptized right away, like in the days of John the Baptist, they’ve already got the foundation in the scriptures. I think it’s a mistake to baptize people too quickly.

Paul could be baptized right away because he knew all these things. Amen? And the reason I tell you that is I did an evangelistic meeting where some people from the Church of Christ came to my meeting. A number of folks accepted the gospel invitation and the Church of Christ folks said, “Aren’t’ you going to have the baptism now?” They said, “No, we’re going to finish our meetings. There’s a lot they still need to learn.” “Oh, if they’ve accepted Jesus they need to be baptized right now.” And they showed me these scriptures about people being baptized right away. And so I did a little thorough study to try and find out when should a person be baptized. After they’re taught. After they’re taught what? Matthew 28 says, “to obey all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” There should be a period of indoctrination. The Bible says they need to believe with all their heart, they need to repent of their sins. Paul did all that.

He understood all those things. And when he was staying three days in the house of Judas, Judas very likely was a believer, he, Paul didn’t need to be given a study on clean and unclean foods did he? Did he need a study on which day was the Sabbath day? No, he understood these things. He just needed to understand Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for who now died for their sins. Something else you need to keep in mind. In those brief moments on the road, God’s Spirit can teach you in five minutes in vision what all the institutions of higher learning in the world cannot teach you in 100 years. I believe in that revelation he received quite a bit more than may be recorded. You get that when you listen to his preaching later on. He laid his hands on him and he was baptized. Now the scales fell from his eyes, but I don’t believe his vision was perfectly 20/20 as before. When Jacob wrestled with the angel and he really had his Damascus Road conversion.

Was he handicapped the rest of his life after that experience? If you know the Bible you know he limped the rest of his life. I believe the thorn that Paul speaks about, that he prayed God would remove, his vision was impaired the rest of his life. I believe he went from being totally blind to being able to see a little bit and get around and maybe recognize people up close, but I don’t believe that Paul was ever able to see perfectly again. Let me read some things to you that talk about the thorn that Paul had. II Corinthians 12:7, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations,” God gave him a lot of spiritual vision, “a thorn in the flesh was given me,” faulty physical vision, “a messenger from Satan to buffet me, lest I should exalt above measure.” They did not have glasses or contacts back then. Everywhere he went he was stumbling, bumping into things, misidentifying people. Acts 23:5, “Paul said, I did not know, brethren, he was the high priest,” remember he reviled Caiaphas? He’s right there in the Sanhedrin where he had sat once, with perfect vision. He says, “I did not know it was the high priest.”

He didn’t recognize him. Galatians 4:15, I’m trying to give you some scriptures that will explain that I think the thorn in Paul’s side was his vision the rest of his life. “What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear witness, that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes, and given them to me.” Why would he say that except he needed another set of eyes? Galatians 6:11, “See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand.” Most of Paul’s letters were written by someone else. Have you noticed that? He signed the end of them. Why do you think that is? He was fluent in many languages. He was well educated. He couldn’t see very well. When he wrote; when I first read this, “with what large letters I have written to you,” I thought it meant long letters. No, Galatians is not a long letter. It’s large characters. You ever see somebody that’s got one of those telephones because of bad eyesight?

Each number is about that big, each button on the phone. I have a friend who had a phone and his buttons were about that big so he could see the buttons because his vision was poor. Paul, from the time of his conversion, he had a physical handicap that forever reminded him of that encounter. It was his vision. And he said, “Lord, but if you don’t want to heal me, if you don’t want to remove this thorn in my side, I’m going to praise you anyway because in my weakness I’m made strong.” And you know what? He says, “Because of the abundance of revelations I have had.” He had the propensity to be proud. Whenever God blesses a person spiritually it’s pride, it’s possible they can become carnally proud. I’m not exempt. Nobody is. If the Lord blesses you spiritually you can become proud of how spiritual you are. I’ve even met some people that are proud of how humble they are. It’s true. And God was letting Paul know, “I am going to keep you on track because of this.”

Now Paul; the most important thing, I’m running out of time when I want to get him completely converted here. Hang on. Go with me to Acts 9:19, “And when he had,” he’s baptized, “And when he had received food, he was strengthened.” Now look at this spiritually. After baptism do we need to keep eating? He was strengthened and Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. What do you think he did with the disciples? He got discipled. Before he went out preaching he needed to eat and the disciples discipled him. That’s probably one of the most glaring weaknesses in our denomination is we don’t take enough time to disciple people. We’re so bent and intent on catching the fish we then let them dry on the shore to get carried off by the seagulls instead of processing the fish after we catch them. Amen? We need to disciple people. How did it happen he was in the house of a believer? The best place for a person to be discipled, it’s not in church.

It’s what happens in the homes through the week. That’s why you’ve heard me hammering and hounding every week, “Please participate at least once a week in a fellowship home study group.” We need to get into each other’s homes where by our example we are modeling what Christianity’s all about. Because even though many of the Biblical teachings of Christianity were the same as Judaism the principles of Christ’s government were radically different. Loving your enemy? Turning the other cheek? Overcoming evil with good? All of these Sermon on the Mount principles, he didn’t know how to live that yet. He didn’t know what it meant to go the second mile. That was not really part of the Jews’ thinking back then. He needed that modeled for him. So they discipled him. Now after he’s fed and he’s strengthened from being fed (he had fasted for three days, too) and he’s discipled notice what happens here. “Immediately,” verse 20, “he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” After he’s converted, he’s fed, he’s baptized he goes to work preaching. Friends, this is the pattern that God for each one of us. That we should get to work for the Lord.

You know where Saul went first? He went back to Tarsus. He went back and began in his home. And he began among his family. You know the Bible says that we are to preach the gospel to all the world beginning in Jerusalem. That’s home. Judea, that’s the neighborhood. Samaria, that might be where you work. And then the uttermost parts of the earth, that’s everywhere else that’s left out. Amen? But we’re to start in Jerusalem. We’re to start in our home. Paul, after he was converted, he began to preach and tell other people what God had done for him. He spent the rest of his life trying to reverse the damage that he had done. But he was faithful to his calling. That’s why Paul could say at the end of his life there in II Timothy, waiting to be executed, “I fought a good fight. I finished my course. I’ve kept the faith. I know that there is a crown waiting for me which the Lord, the Righteous Judge, will give me in that day.” Did Paul suffer? Yes, he did.

You know one reason that Paul spent so much time in prison is because he was such an enthusiastic, zealous preacher that the only way that God could get him to write anything was by confining him. And so the Lord said, “Look, Paul, you’ve got a lot of good things to share,” and he put him in prison. Now I’ll admit sometimes Paul had a way of darkening the sky with his deep thoughts and sayings, but the most simple things in the Bible in the New Testament also come from the apostle Paul. You realize, of course, he wrote approximately one-half of the New Testament. It’s very important for us to understand that this all came from somebody who was converted on the Damascus Road at the end of the 490 years. And God saved him with a purpose. Everybody is saved with a purpose. What was Paul’s purpose? Just to preach? Or did God give him a special mission? To the Gentiles. Now you know, Paul had been prepared his whole early life for his mission and he didn’t even know it.

He was growing up in a Gentile city. And because of his understanding the Greek thinking, speaking Latin and Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic God was preparing him all through his early life so when he was converted he had the tools to reach the Gentiles. Acts 18:6, “But when they opposed him, and blasphemed, he shook his garments, and said, Your blood be upon you; I am clean: from now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Acts 26, “Delivering me from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I now send you.” Paul was saved for the purpose of going in a special sense to the Gentiles. If God converts a person, if God saves you, He puts you to work. Everybody here is on that Damascus Road. Some of us haven’t’ seen the light yet. We all may feign religion.

We might know our Bibles, but unless you’ve really seen the Lord, unless you’ve really had a you-turn experience you are binding and imprisoning by your false testimony. Or you are working to preach Christ and bring others to the cross. But everybody here is somewhere on that road. It’s just whether or not we’ve seen the light and been converted. The good news is that Jesus, He wants to reach each one of you right now. You may not see a flash of light. You may not have a bolt of lightening come to you. Remember what I said? He typically works through human instrumentalities to bring about our conversions. That’s how it happened with me. I never saw any light, but I know that God, He got me on the road so to speak. Sometimes He uses trials like He did with Jonah to bring about our conversions. But God wants to convert us. You know why? Because that’s when you’re going to have your peace. Paul said that he had a peace. He could be content in prison.

He could be content in the palace. Wherever he was he had learned to be content because he knew he was in God’s will. Before he thought he was in God’s will, but he had no peace because he wasn’t. Once he knew he was in God’s will he had peace. And not only does God have a will for us He’s got a work for us to do. In closing I want to quickly review for you what we learned from the conversion of Paul. First of all Paul’s conversion is a turning point in history. It marks the transition point where God took the gospel from being distributed primarily through the Jews and expanded it to the Gentiles. Two, Jesus still can dramatically convert and call people today. Don’t forget, Paul’s conversion takes place after the cross and after Jesus ascended to heaven. We’re in that same dispensation now, aren’t we? That means God can still do today what He did for Paul. Number three, it’s possible to think you’re serving God when you’re actually fighting Him.

That’s a sobering thought, but we learned that from the story. Number four, it’s possible to be thoroughly indoctrinated, a church member, without even knowing Christ. Paul was thoroughly indoctrinated, knew the Bible better than anyone here and he didn’t know Jesus. Number five, though the Lord may supernaturally intervene God principally uses people to reach people. Number six, everybody saved has a special work to do. We are saved for a purpose. And number seven, you can learn to love what you once hated and hate what you once loved. Now that’s really good news.

That’s what a conversion’s all about. Some people here, there’s aspects of the Christian life you think, “Oh, I don’t’ know how I could ever do that.” Don’t underestimate what can happen when God changes your heart. Things that you might love now God can make you hate. Things that you think you can’t live without and you can’t live with He can completely turn you around and make you a new creature and put you in a new direction. And everybody has been called to go in a new direction. The good news about the story is it doesn’t matter how far away from God you are. Paul was fighting God. Manasseh was serving devils. Jonah was running from the Lord. Doesn’t matter how bleak your record is, how dark your sins might be, Jesus can make them white as snow.

I understand that in England they’ve got this company that makes some of the most expensive paper in the world. It’s very elegant paper. It’s highly coveted for wedding invitations and for royal meetings and gatherings. What a lot of people don’t’ know is they make this paper from old rags. They process old rags. And on the cards, the business cards for this paper company it says, “Old rags cleaned and transformed.” Converted. They convert old rags. You know that’s what the Lord can do for each one of us, right? He can take our filthy rags and He can then replace them, transform us and cover us with His pure righteousness. And then what does He do? He plants us in church to warm the pew, right? No, then He sends us to work. Are you willing to go where He sends you?

You know He has a job for each one of us. After Isaiah was converted he said to the Lord, “Here am I, send me.” And as soon as God saves us, as soon as He washes us and we’re strengthened and fed we’re sent out to do the work He calls us to do. Are you willing to go where God sends you? If you are, friends, please stand, reach for your hymnal on your way up and we’re going to sing our closing song, So Send I You. What’s that number, I forget? 578.

Verse one.

You know this beautiful hymn is based upon the words of Jesus. Before He ascended to heaven He said, “I need to go that I might send the Spirit. But I’ll never leave you.” How do you reconcile that? He says, “As the Father sent me, so send I you.” Is Jesus still in the world today? Yes, He is. You are the body of Christ. You and I represent His mouth, His feet, His hands, His eyes, His ears. We all have our respective gifts and together we comprise the body of Christ. And as we conclude our service today I want you to believe and remember that we go from this place to represent Jesus. He’s sending us to show the world what Christ is like. “As the Father sent me, so send I you.” Are you willing to say, “Lord, here I am. Send me.”

Before we sing verse three, we’ve talked about conversion today. You know if you’re converted you should know. Conversion is not just going from something; it’s going to something. It’s not just going from the old life it’s going to Jesus. And there may be some here today who have wondered if they’re converted. You may not have seen light on the Damascus Road, but you can tell by the trend and direction of your life. Are you following your own will or are you doing God’s will? Serving yourself or are you serving Him? Is the burning desire in your heart to show other people Jesus or is it distracted with worldly pride and wealth and pleasure? You can make a decision to have a you-turn right now. If the holy Sprit has spoken to you we’d like to pray with you. Come as we sing verse 3 and we’ll pray with you in a special way that you can see the light, the scales will fall from your eyes and you can have a new life.

Verse 3.

Bear with me before we sing verse 4. I’m almost out of hymn. And I think this is a very important sermon for us to take advantage of the message. Paul did not know he wasn’t converted. Paul had all the trappings of religion and he didn’t know the Lord. I’d much rather have you say, “Lord, who are you?” now and, “I want to know you,” Now than to say that when Jesus comes. Search your hearts, friends. Are you really converted? In a church setting we’re afraid of what others might think. But if you have doubts about whether you’re living for the lord, come now; come to Him just like you are. Don’t wait to see a light on the Damascus Road. This is your light right now. Come as we sing the last verse. We’d like to pray with you. And you can have a new beginning today.

Verse 4.

If today you’d like to say with me, “Lord, I want to be genuinely converted,” would you lift your hands? Remember there’s no neutral ground. We’re either with Him or against Him. We’re either preaching Christ or imprisoning those who want to believe in Him.

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