Do we believe in God’s patience and power when it comes to saving those who don’t know Him yet? What does Paul’s conversion tell us about our God? In this message on Acts 9:1-31, Deric Thomas encourages us to grow in patience, trust in God’s power, and passionate love.
- See God’s patience toward sinful people and, specifically, you.
- See God’s power in his mercy, conversion, church, and hope.
- See Paul’s passion for evangelism and love for Jesus Christ.
Don’t you just love that song, “Amazing Grace?” You can almost hear the chains of sin being broken from the man wrote it. Most of you know who wrote that song, “Amazing Grace,” John Newton, a man who was born in London in the 1700s. He was a man who eventually became a pastor and a lover of people, but before that, by his own confession, he was a wicked man. His heart and his life were characterized by anger and cruelty and rage and sin. In fact, at one point, he was a slave ship owner and captain. Out of the overflow of his heart that was filled with anger, he would abuse and mistreat those that served him like animals.
However, God showed him mercy and grace. God transformed John Newton, and He made him a passionate lover of people. In fact, not only was he a pastor and a hymn writer, but he also went on to be a part of the abolition of the African slave trade in Europe, alongside men like William Wilberforce. God has always been transforming people’s lives. Today, we’re going to look at the account of a man by the name of Saul.
If you want to turn there in Acts 9. Acts 9, there we read about this man, Saul, whose Greek name was Paul. In fact, tonight I’ll use those names synonymously. It’s the same person. Saul is his Hebrew name, what the Hebrews would have called him generally, and Paul is his Greek name. It’s what the Greeks would have called him generally.
I want us to read verses 1 through 31 together, from Acts 9. As we read, I want you to see three things: the patience of God, the power of God, and the passion of Paul. What a privilege it is for us to live in a culture where most of us are literate, and we can read. Not only that, but we have the words of our God in our own language, penned by Dr. Luke himself, this medical doctor in the first century, who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and he said this in verse 1,
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days, he was without sight and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
So, Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So, he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
Verse 31, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”
I love the Muslim people here in Birmingham and pray for them, like many of you do, I know. It was just a few months ago that I visited one of the mosques here in our own city in Birmingham. Visiting this mosque, I met and saw around 300 men who were there on a Friday afternoon at 1:00, probably on their lunch break. There were just as many women there, if not more. I couldn’t see them because there were dividers in the room, separating the men from the women.
It was a very diverse group of men who were there. Men, of course, who had moved here from the Middle East; Caucasian men, African-American men, men from probably many other ethnic groups. You could tell by the way that many of them were dressed that some were business professionals and medical professionals and even men who had apparently come off the street, all there together to pray and to listen to a message.
The message that day went something like this, to these men who were listening very intently,
You must put Allah first in your life. Allah deserves everything that you have and everything that you are. And many of you are so caught up in your materialism and in your families. Muslims went into Spain in the seventh and eighth century, and they took it over. Muslims went into Indonesia in the 16th and 17th centuries, and they took it over, and now it’s the largest Muslim populated country in the world. The reason why that hasn’t happened here is because you are putting material possessions before Allah, and you are putting your children before Allah, and Allah deserves your full devotion. If you own a business, you need to hire only Muslims. When you buy a house, you buy it in the neighborhood next to Muslims. You give Allah everything.
Interesting, huh? Right here in our own city. There’s a lot we could say about that, but I want to direct your attention to this question today. Do you think that God could save, convert, transform a passionate, zealot, religious teacher, like this particular man? Do you think that God could save him and raise him up to be a missionary, a church planter among unreached people groups? Do you think God could do that? Hopefully, you’ll learn and see the answer even more clearly as we walk through Acts 9.
Acts 9: 1–31 Shows Us that Christ Came into this World to Save Sinners
Look with me at verse 1, and as you read this verse, I want you to see this verse through the lens of 1 Timothy 1:15—16. It’s a passage that Paul would have written to Timothy later, after coming to faith in Christ, where he said this, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom, I, Paul, am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his,” and you might want to circle this, “his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”
The Patience of God
“Love is patient,” (1 Corinthians 13:4) and “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) but even in this verse, I want you to see the patience of God. Look at verse 1. It says this, “But Saul,” let’s stop there. Saul was a man who, unlike most first century Jews, was not born in Jerusalem. Saul was born in Tarsus. Tarsus was a city right above Israel, in what would be present-day Turkey. He was born into the loving home of Jewish parents. His father was a Pharisee. Not only was his father Jewish and a Pharisee, but his father was also a Roman citizen, which means that Paul was born, and when he was born, he was born a Roman citizen.
As a young man, he grew up and his parents sent him off to Jerusalem to study there under one of the Pharisaical teachers, whose name was Gamaliel. Paul would have gotten the best education that a young man could get in the first century. In fact, he was very well educated. Paul would have known the Old Testament from cover to cover. In fact, much of it he would have had memorized. He would have been fluent in Hebrew and Greek and Aramaic, and probably even Latin. He was, by his own admission, passionate, filled with zeal. He surpassed his peers in knowledge and in power, and he was moving up the ranks. The traditions of his elders and the Jewish faith were ingrained in his heart.
“Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Still breathing threats. Still breathing them from the first time that we met him in Acts 7 and Acts 8. Do you remember? He was one of the men who was standing by, holding the coats, the garments, of those who had picked up stones and were pelting this man by the name of Stephen until he died. What type of man would it take to stand by and hold the coats and give full approval to a group of hostile, angry, abusive and cruel men as they killed this
man, Stephen, who the Bible says, “His face was like the face of an angel”? He was full of grace and the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and yet they killed him.
Surely, it would take a group of men, to use Stephen’s own words, who were stiff-necked, who were proud, who were always resisting the Holy Spirit. Paul was that type of man. We meet him here again in Acts 9, and it says he is still “breathing out.” That’s what angry men do, and it’s threats. It’s murder.
“Saul went to the high priest, and he asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Paul had already persecuted, even to death, Christians in Jerusalem, but that was not enough for him. He was so zealous, and he was so passionate, and he was so convinced that these Christians were wrong, “How in the world could a man who was hung on a tree, who was cursed by God, be the Messiah and the Christ? We’re going to kill them, and we’re going to stamp this out once and for all, and we’re not only going to do it in Jerusalem; I’m going to Damascus.”
So, he went to the high priest, who would have probably been Caiaphas at that time, and Caiaphas would have overseen the Sanhedrin, the 71 men who provided leadership for the Jews. He would have gotten paperwork to go to Damascus. Damascus was a city that was about 135 miles northeast of Jerusalem. So, Paul got a ticket from Southwest Airlines…Okay, maybe they didn’t have Southwest Airlines in the first century, which meant that this 135-mile journey would have been taken on foot, or by camel, or by horse.
So, this is a serious man. Six days breathing, waiting to get there. Waiting to bind Christians. Waiting to bring them back to Jerusalem and even have some of them killed. Men and women, no mercy. Let’s pick up in verse 3 and see what happens. “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.” Can you see this? Paul, on his way to Damascus, a sinful, angry man, who was not only on his way to Damascus, but was on his way to hell, but God rescued him.
See God’s patience toward sinful people.
Oh, do you see God’s patience towards Paul? Do you see God’s patience toward sinful people? Do you see Him rescue this man who is on the way to hell and make him a part of the Way, as He shines the light of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ on this man named Paul, to use Paul’s own words from 2 Corinthians 4:6? Paul was sufficiently humbled here.
This event would have taken place around noon. We learned that from Acts 22. We also learn from Acts 26 that the light that shone on him was brighter than the sun, because it was the Son. It was the Son of God. Now, Luke mentions Paul’s conversion account three times in his gospel: Acts 9, Acts 22, and Acts 26. That means this account is very important to this author as he gives us the history of the early church.
I recently heard the story of a Christian father. This Christian father has two daughters. He’s not a part of this faith family; you wouldn’t know him, but he told me the story about his 18-year-old daughter who recently left home. She left home filled with sin and filled with dreams of living out that sin. She looked her Christian father in the face and said, “I never want to see you again.” She got into her car with the boyfriend that she’d had for the last few months, the very car that her father had bought her just months before, and they drove off.
The father learned that they went to Miami, Florida, where she and he lived a life of sin and rebellion. There would be times, he would tell me, that she would call, and she would be on the other end of the phone, weeping. He could tell that she’d been drinking and probably even drugs. Before she could utter words to him, she would be disconnected, and he would not hear her voice again for weeks at a time. Oh, how his heart hurt for his daughter that he loved so much. I remember him telling me, “If she would only come back home. If she would come back home, I would love her, and I’m even willing to be patient, and I’ll wait, and I’ll pray.”
I was reminded of how patient fathers have to be at times. My own daughter, who will be four this Wednesday…you know, I have two sons, a seven-year-old and a five-year-old, but I only have one daughter, and I love her. I’m growing in patience towards her. I can’t say I’ve mastered it. There will be times when we’ll go on a date together, maybe to the big place like Chick-Fil-A or something, and the first thing she wants when we get there, “Daddy, can you get me a coke?” You know, I mean, it’s like a 50-ounce coke or something. So, this is like a special occasion, though, so, “Yes, I’ll get you a coke.”
We sit down and she’s drinking that coke nonstop. “Daddy?” “Yes?” “I need to go pee-pee.” “Okay, we’ll go pee-pee.” So, we get up from our seats, and we go pee-pee. Now, that’s quite an adventure for a dad with a four-year-old in a men’s restroom without his wife, because it takes, like, 20 minutes to clean the toilet in a men’s restroom. So, 20 minutes later, after cleaning everything…and if you don’t clean the toilet for your daughter, you’re just not a good dad, and so you clean the toilet. By the time you’re finished, you’re ready for a paycheck from Chick-Fil-A, but they usually don’t give you one. So, she sits on there, and she uses the bathroom. So, finally you come out about 30 minutes later. So, your food is kinda cold, but you still eat it because what’s most important is that you’re there with your girl.
So, she keeps drinking her coke, and you go home. So, we tuck her into bed, and, “Daddy, will you read me a story?” “Yes, I’ll read you a Bible story.” So, we read and, “Daddy, will you pray for me?” “Yes, I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray for you.” All right. “Daddy?” “Yes?” “Can I have a sip of water?” “Yes, you can have a sip of water.” A sip of water. “All right, goodnight.” “Daddy?” “Yes?” “Can I have a tissue?” “Yes, I’ll get you a tissue.” Okay.
“Okay, here’s your tissue. All right, here you go. All right, goodnight, baby.” “Daddy?” “Yes?” “I need to go pee-pee.” “Okay, all right, we’ll go.” So, we go pee-pee. “Daddy?” “Yes?” “Will you pray for me again so I don’t get scared tonight?” “Okay, I’ll pray for you so you don’t get scared tonight, all right.” So, finally you get out, the door’s closed. “Phew, all right. We did it.” Then, you go to sleep, and it’s like 3:00 AM. Okay? 3:00 AM, “Daddy?” “Yes?” “I need to go pee-pee again.” “Okay, I’ll take you.” So, on and on and on, but you know, as a dad, because you love your daughter, you grow in patience. So, patience, patience.
You see patience in good fathers, you know? However, the patience of a good father does not compare to the patience of the Almighty. Do you see the patience of the Almighty towards this sinful, rebellious, angry, chief of sinners, who calls himself the foremost? Do you see His mercy towards this man when He rescues him and brings him into His family?
See God’s patience toward you.
Jesus said, “It’s not those who are well who need a physician; it’s those who are sick and recognize it.” He said, “The Son of Man did not come for those who are well, but those who are sick.” He came to seek and to save the lost. So, let me ask you this, do you see God’s patience toward you? Do you see His patience towards you? I mean, when was the last time you reflected and meditated on all the times you’ve failed and sinned and turned your back on Him?
I think of my own life. For the first 19 years, I lived in absolute sin and selfishness. There were many a day that the Father could have turned His back on me, and justly He could have turned His back on me as I presumed upon His patience. Listen to the words of Romans 2:4, “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness has meant to lead you to repentance?” Listen, the patience of God towards you, the very reason that you’re still alive, even though you’ve sinned, is so that He might show His patience and lead you to repentance. It is not given so that you might remain in your sin; it is given so that you might turn from your sin. If you do not know Him, would you turn from your sin as you see the patience of God towards Paul, but more personally towards you?
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but he is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) Would you repent and put your trust in the one who has loved you and given Himself for you? Would you put your trust in the one that met Paul and that will meet you? Who lived the perfect life that you never could? Who died as a substitute on a cross, and when He was cursed, He was cursed for Paul and for you? Would you put your trust in the one who has overcome sin and death and hell? Do you see His patience?
The Power of God
Not only do you see His patience in this passage, do you see His power? Look with me at Acts 9:4, “And falling to the ground,” this proud, sinful man, humbled before God, on his knees, maybe even his face, as he recognizes that he was absolutely wrong about everything that he believed about this Jesus. He was humbled. Look at verses 4 and 5, “He heard a voice saying to him,” the personal God of the universe speaks to Saul personally, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”
You’ve learned this already, right? That when you sin, your sin is not just ultimately against people. When you sin, your sin is against God. Paul’s persecution, his sin was against God. It was against Jesus Christ Himself, because Christ so identifies with His people, that if you mess with them, you mess with Him. It is a serious and dangerous thing to fall into the hands of a holy and just and righteous God who hates sin, and Paul deserved to fall into the hands of that angry and just and wrathful God. However, God gave him what he did not deserve; God gave him grace, and the power of God transformed him.
See the power of God’s sovereign mercy.
Do you see the power of God’s sovereign mercy? Do you see it in this text? God’s sovereign mercy. Listen to the words of Paul later in life that he wrote in Galatians 1:15. You might want to write this one down. Galatians 1:15—16, Paul said, “But when he [that is God], who had set me apart before I was born and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me.” Did you catch that last phrase in verse 16? Paul was not seeking Christ; Christ was seeing him. Paul was not praying to the Almighty. He was in resistance to the Holy Spirit, but God spoke to him.
Paul was hunting Christians to kill them. God was hunting Paul to love him, and to reveal His Son to him. Look at verses 6—9, at Paul’s response to this revelation and what Jesus told him to do, “‘Paul, rise and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So, they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus, and for three days he was without sight and neither ate nor drank.”
Paul was spiritually blind, and God reveals to him that, even though he was spiritually blind, God was going to give him eyes to see. Eyes to see that the Old Testament that he had memorized and knew from Genesis to Malachi had always been about Him. Everything in there points to the Messiah, the Christ, the Suffering Servant, and Paul missed it because he was spiritually blind.
See God’s power in conversion.
So, Paul was led into Damascus by the men who were on the road with him. Do you see God’s power in conversion in Paul’s life? Do you see it? Listen to the words of 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
Look at Acts 9:10, would you, “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias,’ and he said, ‘Here I am, Lord.’” Okay, this guy’s ready to serve. Verse 11, “And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise.’” “Yes, sir, Lord.” Here he goes. “‘And go to the street called Straight.’” “Right away, Lord, street called Straight, all right. GPS, street called Straight, all right.” “‘And at the house of Judas, look for a man of Tarsus named Saul.’” “Uh, who did you say? What did you say his name was?” “‘For behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’”
“‘What did you say his name was, Lord?’” Verse 13, “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I’ve heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem, and here he has authority from the chief priest to bind all who call on your name.’” Interesting. Ananias says, “Lord, Master, Sovereign God of the universe, you know who’s got Saul’s back, right? The chief priest has Saul’s back, and the Sanhedrin. This is a bad man, Lord.”
What’s flooding my mind is, like, from The Lion King, you remember the hyenas that are there, and they’re like, “Say his name again.” “Mufasa.” “Whooo.” So, like, he’s scared. Just to hear this guy’s name, Saul, he’s like, “Whooo.” All right? He’s so afraid, that he hesitates to obey the Lord. Okay, the Lord, Sovereign God of the universe. The chief priest, the Sanhedrin? So, he probably thinks about this a little bit.
So, verse 15, look at it, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he,’” Paul, “‘is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.’” Notice how God has a plan for Paul from the moment of his conversion. In fact, God will commission him to fulfill His mission, verse 16, “‘For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’” So, we all know how much Paul suffered, right? We see it in the passage here in Acts 9. We see it in passages like 2 Corinthians 11.
Let me read it to you, 2 Corinthians 11:23—28. Paul says his life was characterized by labors, imprisonment, countless beatings, often near death. “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city…” He’s like danger downtown. “…danger in the wilderness…” He’s like danger in Chelsea, I don’t know. “…danger at sea, danger from false brothers…” within the context of the church. Verse 27, “In toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
However, he did it with joy because he knew the one who had overcome sin, and he knew the one who had overcome the consequences of sin, that is pain. Whether you are a Christian or not, you will experience the effects of the fall. You might as well experience the effects of the fall while trusting in the Christ who has overcome the fall, and in obedience to Him.
Would you obey Him, even if it means suffering, because of His great patience and love towards you? Paul said he would. Ananias says, “I’ll go.” Look at verse 17 with me of Acts 9, “So Ananias departed, and he entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said,” I love this word, look, “‘Brother Saul.’” Now think with me, this would have come from the lips of a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, who may have even known widows that were widows as a result of Paul’s persecution. Damascus and Ananias would have probably known orphans in Jerusalem, who were orphans because Paul was a part of the execution of their mother, but he says, “‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”
Acts 9: 1–31 Highlights the Power of the Holy Spirit
Verse 18, after Paul experiences the full experience of the Spirit in the New Covenant age, verse 18, “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he could see. He regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized;” immediately, he unites with the church, “and taking food, he was strengthened.” Somebody cooked him a good meal. For some days, he was with the disciples at Damascus because, from the moment of his conversion, he loved the church, and the church loved him.
See God’s power through His church.
So, see God’s power through His church. Do you see God’s power through His church, through Ananias? Through the one who baptized him? Through the ones who welcomed him? Through the person who cooked him a meal and fed him?
Those people who loved him, despite his sin, that they would have felt the effects of personally. It reminds me of what Jesus said to His disciples. Do you remember, in John 13? He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
“God, we’ve been forgiven; how could we not forgive Saul?” They loved him. They loved him. Now, there were a lot of people who loved him. I mentioned those who cooked the meal for him, unless, of course, they went to Panera Bread to get him maybe a bagel or something. I asked Bart Box, our resident New Testament scholar here at Brook Hills, “Did they have Panera Breads in Jerusalem in the first century?” He said he didn’t know, so I don’t know, but probably not. Probably someone cooked him a meal and used their gifts that God had given them, according to 1 Corinthians 12, maybe not the recognizable gifts like Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles and church planter would have. Maybe gifts like helps and mercy and service and hospitality, but they served him all the more.
When I was looking at this passage this week, I thought of one of Martin Luther’s works called Christian Vocation, a real thick theology book that he wrote on the doctrine of vocation. Martin Luther would have been writing during a time in the history of the church in which offices like the monks and the nuns and the priest were seen as real spiritual work. All you other people are just, well, not as spiritual as these people. So, he writes this…I love it. Listen to it. He says, “When we pray the Lord’s prayer, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And he does give us our daily bread. He does it by means of the farmer, who planted and harvested the grain; the baker who made the flour into bread; and the person who prepared our meal.”
Then, a 21st century author adds this,
We might even today add the truck drivers who hauled the produce, the factory workers in the food processing plant, the warehouse men, the wholesale distributors, the stock boys, the lady at the checkout counter, also playing their part, or the bankers, the investors, the advertisers, the lawyers, the agricultural scientists, the mechanical engineers, and every other player in the nation’s economic system. All of these were instrumental in enabling you to eat your morning bagel.
Praise the Lord for your morning bagel. Bagels to the glory of God. “Paul, eat a bagel. We love you. We forgive you. You’re a part of our church.” So, maybe, you won’t be an apostle to the Gentiles, but maybe, when God saves Paul’s in Birmingham, you’ll open your home, and you’ll say, “Have a bagel.”
See how God’s power gives you hope.
Also, see how God’s power gives you hope. Have you seen that? Saints, have you seen how God’s power gives you hope? Whether it’s the person you’re praying for who is dominated by sexual immorality, or whether it’s you that’s dominated by sexual immorality, God is able to save. He saved a man by the name of Augustine in the fourth century. He opened his eyes to the glory of Christ, and He raised that man up to be one of the greatest Christian theologians in the history of the church, and He freed him from that bondage.
Maybe you’re praying for a child who was raised in a Christian home, that you taught the gospel to from birth, and now he is, or she is an atheist. Is God able to save an atheist? He did in the 1900s when he saved C. S. Lewis, who was an atheist, and when he was converted, he said that he was surprised by joy. Maybe it’s the person that you’re praying for who is seeking to earn favor with God by their own works. Maybe they recognize their sin, but they think if they do enough good deeds, they can earn the favor of God. God saved a man like that. His name was Martin Luther, and Martin was reading the book of Romans, and his eyes were opened, and he became one of the leaders in the Protestant Reformation. Maybe it’s a drunkard and a person who’s addicted to drugs, and God is able to save them as well. I think of Jimmie Hale, who I learned about as a chaplain at the Jimmie Hale Mission years ago, who was known as the city drunk in Birmingham. Yet, God rescued him. There’s hope for anyone you’re praying for. There’s hope for you in Christ.
The Passion of Paul in Acts 9: 1–31
The patience of God, the power of God, and lastly, the passion of Paul. Paul was a passionate man. You see that even in his sin he was passionate, but God redeemed his passion, and He took this man who was passionate, but passionately wrong, and He redeveloped and transformed this man’s worldview, and his mind, and his thinking, and the presuppositional ideas that he brought and that he saw reality through, and He gave him a passion for His Son, and He gave him a passion for evangelism.
See Paul’s passion for evangelism from the moment of his conversion. See Paul’s passion for evangelism from the moment of his conversion. Look at verse 20, you see it there, “And immediately,” that is right away, “he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogue saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’” Paul could not help but talk about the one he loved, and the one who had first loved him. “And all who heard him were amazed and said, ‘Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon his name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?’”
I can remember it like it was yesterday. This summer we went to one of the housing projects here in Birmingham, and we were sitting around a table with other pastors and church leaders, other people who owned and operated nonprofit organizations. There were some residents from that housing project, and, of course, the director of the project was there as well. We were strategizing and thinking of ways to love the people in that housing project in Jesus’ name. We were planning, and were thinking, and we were even praying.
I remember the director, he stopped us, and he said, “You know what? I’ve been doing this,” I think he might have said 15 years. He said, “I know what we’re up against. At the same time that we’re around this table strategizing and thinking about how we can best serve the people here in this community, there are pimps who are doing the very same thing. There are drug dealers who are strategically thinking of how they can exploit these people.”
I walked away from that meeting thinking this, “There are men out there who have their street MBA’s and are using what God has given them to kill people…women, children. Mostly women and children in housing projects…these rebellious, sinful, sick, darkened, cruel, angry, murderous, stiff-necked, rebellious, always resisting the Holy Spirit.”
I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if God transformed one of them? What if God transformed one of those stiff-necked, rebellious men and raised him up to be a church planter, a missionary to…I don’t know…an unreached people group in North Africa. Maybe a business owner in North Africa, and he could use all these skills that he developed in rebellion, and God could redeem those, and he would use that for economic development there, and while he did that, he could evangelize and disciple. Or maybe God would just save him and raise him up to be a pastor here.” Because God is able.
Dr. Luke says, “God is able to save someone like that.” Do you see that? “Saul continued to increase,” it says in verse 22, “in strength, and he confounded the Jews.” He grew in his evangelistic zeal, and passion, and fervor. In verse 24 through 30, we read it earlier, the Jews plotted to kill him everywhere he went. Whether it was Damascus or Jerusalem, they wanted him dead. So, in Damascus, God raised up brothers in Christ and sisters in Christ to say, “Paul, it’s not your time, go to Jerusalem.”
See how even the most passionate followers of Jesus Christ can’t live life alone. So, Paul went to Jerusalem, and he preached boldly. God raised up Jews to want to kill him, and the disciples there said, “No, Paul, now is not your time to die.” Men like Barnabas connected him to God’s people, even when they were afraid there, and in that do you see how even the most passionate followers of Jesus Christ can’t live life alone? Yes, there are times when Christians are martyred. Stephen was martyred.
But there are times when God says, “No, I want you to leave the place where the people are trying to kill you because I’ve got thirteen letters for you to write, Paul. There are people who have never heard the gospel in Rome, and I’m going to send you there. In fact, I’m going to send you on three journeys. One day you’re going to make it to Antioch, and the Church at Antioch is going to send you out to the nations, but even before that, Paul, you’re going to proclaim my gospel to Gentiles and to kings and to Jews in Damascus. I’m going to send you for three years to Arabia, and you’re going to preach the gospel there. Then, you’re going to go to Jerusalem, and you’re going to preach there. Then, they’re going to send you to Caesarea, and you’re going to preach there. Then, you’re going to go back to your home and hometown and you’re going to do proclaim the gospel there, Paul. Then, you’re going to go to Antioch, and you’re going to preach there. Then, you’re going to proclaim My name and My gospel all over the world. Through the letters I’m going to have you write, Paul, I’m going to shake up the world, and I’m going to build up my church.”
So, in the perfect, wise providence of God, the church said to Paul, “Paul, it’s not your time to die. It’s your time to live.” See how God builds up and multiplies His church? The church continued to grow, and it was at peace. God gives seasons of persecution. He gives seasons of peace, but it makes no difference. Whether persecution or peace, God grows His church in holiness and in numbers.
See Paul’s passion for Christ as a response to the love of Christ toward him. See Paul’s passion for Christ as a response to the love of Christ toward him. You see that, right? We love because He first loved us. Paul was not passionate about Jesus Christ because he was just a passionate man. He was passionate for Christ because Christ loved him personally and dearly.
See God’s passion for you in Jesus Christ. Do you see it? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“This is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) That is, that Jesus satisfied the wrath of God so that we don’t have to. Do you see His grace and His mercy? Maybe, as you’ve read God’s Word, He has shown on you the face of Jesus Christ, and you have seen God’s glory, and you want that. Trust in Christ.
So, church, could God save a non-Christian, religious teacher and leader in our own city, who is teaching lies and error and leading others astray? Could He save somebody like that and raise him up to be a missionary and church planter to unreached people groups? I hope you’ve seen the answer to that question is, “Yes.”
The Patience of God, The Power of God, and the Passion of Paul
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I (Paul) am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1Tim. 1:15—16)
The Patience of God (9:1—3)
Love is patient… (1Cor. 13:4) …God is love. (1Jn. 4:8)
See God’s patience toward sinful people. (Lk. 15:11—32, Matt. 9:9—13, Lk. 19:10)
See God’s patience toward you. (Rom. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9, Lk. 22:54—62)
The Power of God (9:4—19)
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2Cor. 4:6)
- See the power of God’s sovereign mercy. (Rom. 9:15—16)
- See God’s power in conversion. (1 Pet. 1:3)
- See God’s power through His church. (Jn. 13:34—35, 1 Cor. 12:21—26)
- See how God’s power gives you hope. (Is. 63:1, Rom. 15:4, 1 Cor. 15:55—57, Rev. 21:5)
The Passion of Paul (9:20—31)
… he appeared also to me (Paul). For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1Cor. 15:8—10)
- See Paul’s passion for evangelism from the moment of his conversion. (Rom. 15:20—21)
- See Paul’s passionate love for Jesus Christ. (Phil. 3:7—11)
- See how even the most passionate followers of Jesus Christ can’t live life alone. (1 Cor. 12:12—20)
- See how God builds up and multiplies His church. (Prov. 8:13, Jn. 14:15—18)
- See Paul’s passion for Christ as a response to the love of Christ toward him. (1 Jn. 4:19)
- See God’s passion for you in Jesus Christ. (Jn. 3:16, 1 Jn. 4:10)
Prayers of Response and Application
Father, thank you for your patience towards us. As we continue to see and experience your patience, help us to grow in patience towards others. (Col. 3:12—15, 2 Tim. 3:10, 2 Tim. 4:2)
Father, thank you for your power. As we continue to see and experience your power towards us, help us to depend less on ourselves and more on You. (Eph. 1:16—23, Eph. 3:14—21, 2 Cor. 12:8—10)
Father, thank you for your passionate love for us. As we continue to see and experience your passionate love, help us to grow in passionate love for you, and passionate love for those you are still seeking to transform among all ethnic groups in Birmingham, the United States, and our entire planet! (1 Cor. 13:4—14:1, 1 Jn. 4:11—12)