Today we are continuing our series on the book of Acts. This one is called, 'Feeding the Flame.' I hope you've got the flame in your heart.
You know, Seventh-day Adventists are a little bit hampered because we don't listen to the TV on Sabbath hours. Probably you haven't heard the latest news about Al Qaeda. Let me share this with you. Late yesterday Bin Laden was converted. That's the headlines of some of the newspapers. Osama bin Laden, the head of terrorism in the Al Qaeda network, has become a Christian! In fact, he is to replace Billy Graham as the leading protestant evangelist to the Arab nations! The former terrorist was suddenly overcome by the conviction of his evil deeds and he has renounced his former ways and has become a true Born-again-Christian. He was sitting at the entrance to his underground bunker and suddenly like a bolt out of the blue a Christian Bible fell out of the sky and landed beside him. He took it as a direct sign from God that He should become a Christian. He was baptized last night, and now the Muslims are out to kill him.
Do you have a hard time believing that? How many of you believe that? Imagine the trouble that the early Christians had in believing that terrorist Saul was converted. Would you have believed it? Really? Would you? In those days? Terrorist Saul has actually become a Christian. He's going to become the leading evangelist, uplifting Jesus. Let's study this exciting story. It's in the book of Acts, and begins in chapter nine. And it begins with Saul and his henchmen suddenly confronted by a blinding light on the road to Damascus. Acts 9:6, we went over last week. I basically says that Saul was on the road to Damascus, a blinding light came upon him, a voice spoke and said, "Saul, why do you persecute Me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting," He replied. "Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do." And in Acts 9:7, 8 it says, And the men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.
Now, imagine Gestapo officer Saul physically blind and his henchmen stood there mute. You've got the blind and the mute. However Saul did see Jesus. They stood there speechless, the bible says. The blinding image of Jesus in all His glory burned its way into his mind permanently etching itself upon his soul. However his cohorts were blinder than Saul. Now, he saw Jesus; they didn't see Jesus. If you don't see Jesus you are unfortunately really blind. Now what Saul saw the truth in its beauty, because Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Light.
Saul's men had eyes but did not see anything. This still happens! You can have a whole crowd of people who attend church and listen to a sermon. Some will sleep, some day will day-dream, many walk out unaffected, but a few people see Jesus and are forever changed. It's going to change your life.
Look at Acts 9:9. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
One day he is employed; the CEO of the Christian Persecution and Martyrdom Company. The next day he is totally blind and unemployed because now he is disabled. He thought his entire world had crumbled down upon him. He lost everything.1. However this tracker was found by the Hound of Heaven. Jesus is the Hound of Heaven who specializes in tracking down sinners, finding them, blinding them, that they might see Jesus. What a great thing! Instead of losing it all, actually Saul gained it all. True life begins when we have a divine encounter with Jesus Christ.
Actually the scales over his eyes were a blessing. He lived three days in total blindness. For three days he could not see any other person in the world. He couldn't see any worldly thing He couldn't watch TV. He couldn't read the paper. He couldn't read the books. Maybe we all ought to pray for the scales that we might see Jesus. Sometimes we can see more with our eyes shut than you can with them wide open, because it enables our soul to see. I don't know about you, but when I pray, I close my eyes. I close my eyes so that I might see better spiritually. I don't pray with my eyes open. Saul's eyes were sightless but his mind was illuminated with a flood of light. I think that two things stood out very clear that were upon the retina of his mind: One was the shining face of Jesus and the other was the radiant face of Stephen before his death by stone power. I think he never forgot Stephen's face. I think he was mostly converted by Stephen's sermon, and all it took was the light and it finished the job.
Let's look at Acts 9:10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"
"Yes, Lord," he answered.
God knows your name, doesn't He? He knows if you are a disciple or not. He knows if your willing or not. And God needed somebody just like that. And so God called on Ananias. He knew just where Ananias lived. He knows your address, too.
Acts 9:11 says The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus, named Saul, for he is praying. God know when you are praying. "Ananias, you get up. You go out of the house. You go to Straight Street. Go to the house of Judas and there is a man there from Tarsus."
By the way in Damascus today there is still a Straight Street. It still exists! It is a major street going from East to West. One of the only straight streets in town. That's the street that Judas lived on, that's the street that Ananias went to. God knows your address. You can't hide from God. God knows where people are, He knows when we are praying! I suppose that Saul had probably prayed many times in his life. But, when your heart is fully surrendered and open can God truly respond. And God did respond. How quickly God answers our sincere humble petitions.
Jesus continues in Acts 9:12. In a vision he (Saul) has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight." Now, Ananias knows the word, "Saul." He has heard this term, he knows who this man is, and Ananias may have thought, 'If Saul is blind, Praise the Lord! Maybe that will slow him down and stop the persecution. Why should I help him? I'm thrilled he's blind. We might just as well leave him that way, Lord. Lord, you're wrong. You know if we open up his eyes, then he can see to get us. Why should I help him?'
Now, Ananias was a church member there in Damascus. And please note that Jesus personally spoke to Saul, but then heaven backed off. Did you notice that? God doesn't speak with Saul any more in these verses. And God begins to use His church to guide this repentant sinner to the proper way of life. That's an amazing thing.
During World War II, a church in Strasbourg was destroyed. After the bombing, the members of this particular church found that the entire roof had fallen in, leaving a heap of rubble and broken glass. But much to their surprise, a statue of Christ with outstretched arms that had been carved centuries before by a great artist was still standing erect. It was virtually unharmed except that both hands had been sheered off by a falling beam. A sculptor was found who could replace the hands of the statue. He even offered to do it for nothing.
However, the church officials decided not to accept his offer. Do you know why? Because they felt that the statue without hands would be the greatest illustration possible that God's work is done through His people. Jesus' hands are His people, and often Jesus chooses human hands to do His work. You think about what your hands have done this week. Have your hands been doing the work of Jesus? Often your hands are His hands. Often times are the least qualified, yet they are the hands Jesus chooses to do His work. God's church, enfeebled and defective as it is, is God's appointed agent for the finishing of His work.
"(Saul) was placed in direct communication with the church, which is the light of the world."2 So don't throw stones at the church. The church is the light of the world. Never throw mud at God's church. Christ is the fountain and the church is the channel designed by heaven to carry the truth of Jesus to the world. That's what happened here in Acts 9. Jesus struck Saul down with light, and then turned him over to the church. The church instructed Saul. The church ministered to Saul. The church baptized Saul. The church is the channel to carry the flow from the fountain.
I grew up in Indiana and I knew some parents there who had a child. I heard that father and that mother criticizing the church there in Marion, Indiana. They were just critical of the church in the presence of their daughter. Their daughter is not longer in the church. Why should she be?
Don't ever criticize the church in the presence of your kids. Don't criticize the pastor. Don't criticize the Sabbath School. Don't criticize. Don't be critical of anything God wants to use. Be supportive. Think your own thoughts, but protect your children. When a parent criticizes the church, or the pastor, or the Sabbath School, in the hearing of a child, that youngster is poisoned against the very thing which God wants to use to finish His work and to bless the world. So, be careful.
Ananias balked like a mule in the presence of a rattlesnake. He doesn't want to go. He has heard about the notorious killer Saul and does not want to be the first martyr in Damascus. Would you? Imagine the fear that hijacked his thoughts. Ananias questions his calling. He says: "Lord, You don't know how crafty Saul is. This may be a trick. Lord this man has come to arrest us. He has credentials from the priests at Jerusalem and we are all doomed. It would be suicide for me to do what You ask." Actually it would be suicide for Ananias not to do God's will. How often we humans get life all twisted up and things are just the opposite.
Don't argue with God. If God has called you to do something, go and do it even if you makes no sense. Do it with all your might. God will bless you. Just be sure it is God that is calling you, and not someone else that's telling you what God wants you to do.
Look at Acts 9:15. But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.
Now, God saw something in Saul that everybody else had missed. I'm glad that God looks upon the heart, don't you? God can see things that we can't see. God sees the potential in what seems to be the worst of us. God approaches men the same way a miner approaches a gold mine. When gold is mined, several tons of dirt must be moved to get an ounce of gold; but you don't go into the mine looking for dirt you go looking for the gold. In order to get the gold, you've got to get the dirt. You've got to go looking for gold. When God looks at you, He is looking for the gold in you. He's not focusing on the dirt in your life. That's the way Christians need to view people. Don't look for the flaws, warts, and blemishes in people. The warts and blemishes are easy to find. Look for the gold, not the dirt; the good, not the bad. The more good qualities we look for in people, the more good qualities we are going to find. God sees us as we might become not as we are.
Why would God want Saul to be a chosen vessel? He's got 12 disciples there in Jerusalem. He's got Peter, and John, and James. He's got all of these disciples. Why would God need Saul? Well really, you could take all twelve disciples and put them all together and they wouldn't hold a candle to the qualifications of Saul. Look at him. He spoke Greek and Hebrew fluently, and probably Aramaic as well. Saul was a towering giant of intellect. His IQ was probably one of the highest in the entire land. His knowledge, his logic, his zeal and energy, his dual citizenship that he had. His education under Gamaliel. He was tailor made to do God's job. And God saw that. Only Saul of Tarsus could speak before the kings of the world. Peter couldn't. James couldn't. John couldn't. But, Saul could. And he could take the Gentile world by storm. And he did. Saul could stand before these kings and meet their minds.
Now we here at the McDonald Road Church have an almost sure vacancy that is coming up. We are going to need a new youth pastor in all probability. Unfortunately, Kent Crutcher, Susan and the kids are probably leaving for Africa. The call is sure. It's just a matter of a few little things happening. Will we choose a successor as God would choose? Will bin Laden appear on our list of possible candidates for youth pastor? Definitely not! Would the early church have chosen Saul? Never. But God did. I hope that we will let God choose and that we will accept God's choice.
Acts 9:16 says, I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. That's what God tells Ananias. Ananias probably thought, 'Well, good. He's going to have to suffer. At least he's not going to get off the hook.' And did Paul suffer? Absolutely he did.3 He admits himself, I have... been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. [That's an interesting way of stating it, isn't it? He could have just said 39.] Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, [that must have been traumatic] I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Poor Paul! My wife and I just returned from a reformation tour, and we saw the prison where Paul was supposedly imprisoned. It was a cold, dark, dungeon of a place. He went through a lot. He certainly did suffer, possibly for all the pain that he had inflicted on so many Christians. Maybe Paul's pain was simply from his strong witness.
So, Ananias finally mustered up his courage and walked down Straight Street and found Saul. Notice what he said in Acts 9:17: "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
What does he call Saul? He calls him Brother! Isn't that exciting? Could you do that? Ananias really took God seriously. Brother! He called him by a name he had not yet earned. Now every parent ought to be wide awake right here. You call your kids name by which you indicate your high ideals and aspirations for your kids. Call your kids by terms that indicate your belief in them. Call them smarties; not dummies. Call your wife sweetie not the old battle-axe. There is a queen in every wife. Speak to the queen and she will eventually answer.
Ananias called him brother. This former terrorist must have been just warmed by that term. "They're calling me 'brother.' They're accepting me. Praise the Lord." Visualize how brave Ananias must have been to walk up to Saul, the Saul that was going to kill him probably, going to put him in jail. And lay hands of love upon this man, Saul the one who had taken part in the stoning of Stephen by holding the coats and being an accomplice to the crime. Saul was accepted by his new family.
Acts 9:18 says, Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. Just like that! The last thing he had seen was the face of Jesus. The very next thing he sees after his healing is the loving face of a Christian brother, Ananias.
He was Baptized. Probably in the same river that Naaman was baptized in. Scales fell from each man. Scales of leprosy and scales of unbelief.
Notice how quickly Saul is baptized! The mark of a true Christian is that when you are led by God, you want to be baptized. And you want to be baptized without putting it off. You don't want to delay it. Some might say, "Well, I'm not ready" or "Something's wrong here." Be baptized. Never put off baptism. Never discourage someone from being baptized. That's not the mark of a Christian. Saul was baptized.
When a Jew was baptized into the Christian church he was ostracized from his family. I think Saul probably Saul lost of his entire family. But he had a new family of twice-born Christians.
Acts 9:19 says, After taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. Saul had a full heart but an empty stomach! He broke his fast and ate his first meal at a Christian Church pot luck. He fellowshipped with his new brothers and sisters. Those he had hated he now loved. This is a surefire sign of true spiritual rebirth. 1 John 3:14 reads: We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. If you don't love your Bothers, something must be wrong.
"What a tremendous experience it must have been for this former predator from the "wolf" tribe of Benjamin to sit down with the sheep!" - John Phillips Jesus specializes in making sheep from wolves. That's what Jesus did for Saul. He made him into Paul. He joined God's church that very day. He was now a member! He was a born-again Christian surrounded by twice-born people. Now all his energies and skills are shifted toward propagating what he had once persecuted. He is doing the work of Jesus. His former blood stained hands would now be dedicated to doing the work of Jesus.
I want to urge you to give your life to Jesus. Don't be caught persecuting the church. Support the church. Time is short. It is time to stop assisting the throwing of stones at church leaders and roll up your sleeves and like Paul, use your energies to advance the cause of Jesus Christ. Let's catch the flame, feed the flame, spread the flame, strengthen the flame. Next week, how to Strengthen the Flame! Oh, for that Flame of Living Fire.
1. Philippians 3:7,8.
2. Acts of the Apostles, EG White, p. 122.
3. 2 Corinthians 11:7,8.
Hymn of Praise: #538, Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah Scripture: Acts 9:17-19 Hymn of Response: #264, O For That Flame of Living Fire
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last updated 14/08/05 by Bob Beckett and Rebecca Koester.