ODYSSEYING WITH PAUL – BLINDED BY THE LIGHT!
June 11, 2017
Summer is often filled with road trips near and far. On Sunday mornings this summer we are going to be taking various road trips through the Book of Acts with one of the central figures in the Christian faith. I call it Odysseying with Paul.
I once was having a deep discussion with a group of middle-schoolers in a confirmation class. I asked them, “What is conversion?” To which Daniel replied, “The point kicked after a touchdown.”
What is conversion? One definition is that it is a “radical change of heart and life.”
Christian conversion, though, is more than just a change. It is an awakening to, and embracing of, the presence of God in our lives as revealed through his Son Jesus Christ.
This morning we are going to catch a glimpse of the most famous Christian conversion in all of history–that of the Apostle Paul, known also by his Jewish alias, Saul. So sit back, relax, and hear what this account from Acts 9 has to say to you today!
Yes, Paul’s odyssey to conversion winds….
What makes this man Paul such a seemingly superior individual? Well, first of all, he is a Hebrew and Greek intellectual. He was raised by Jewish parents in the cosmopolitan Greek city of Tarsus. He studied under Gamaliel, the greatest Jewish rabbi of that era. His pores ooze blue-blooded Hellenistic culture and impeccable Hebrew scholarship.
Paul is also a natural-born leader, one whose mere presence commands authority. When he talks, people listen, and people move.
And yes, Paul is a most fanatical Pharisee, a member of that elite religious body committed to faultless obedience of Jewish Law and tradition, and making sure that any threats to that Law and tradition are summarily annihilated.
Paul had heard of Jesus and the circumstances surrounding his crucifixion. He had also heard of the incredulous tales being circulated about his supposed resurrection. There were actually believers witnessing about this Jesus in parts of Jerusalem and even 150 miles away in Damascus. How could people be so naïve to follow such a political anarchist and religious blasphemer as this Jesus, Paul wonders.
With great eagerness Paul takes on the take-no-prisoner assignment as a bounty hunter. He’s going to stamp out this movement called The Way, arresting and even arranging the execution of these annoying followers of Jesus. They are a threat to the status quo of proper religion.
One observation I’ve made over the years is that religious people are in need of conversion as much as reprobates. And I’m not just talking about on the world stage, where sadly much killing is done in the name of God by fanatical terrorists who have hijacked his holy name.
I’ve run into many sadistic, obnoxious religious people in nice churches–folks who believe their own particular slant on faith is the only right and true way to God, using their Bible as a weapon of mass destruction, and they make life miserable for anyone who might disagree with their point of view.
Paul is an uber-religious man, and God has him marked for an uber-conversion.
It’s a week-long journey from Jerusalem to Damascus. Paul is going bounty hunting for God there.
Paul has a lot of time to think on that lonely stretch of highway.
There is this incident in his past that haunts him. He is tormented by flashbacks of a young man named Stephen, a follower of Jesus.
Paul had watched Stephen die at the hands of an angry religious mob. In fact, he was an accessory to that execution–he had held the coats of many of those religious zealots while they hurled rocks at Stephen, crushing the life out of his body.
And yet, Stephen’s broken, bleeding face reflected a countenance of peace as he quietly prayed, “Lord, please forgive them.” And then he proclaimed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (see Acts 7:54-60)
Now, on this hot dusty highway to Damascus, Paul cannot rid himself of this image of Stephen’s courageous death as a martyr for Christ.
Yes, as the skyline of Damascus looms on the horizon, this Master of Morality, this Doctor of Divinity, this Renown of Religiosity–indeed, this Ruthless Terminator from Tarsus experiencing a crisis of inner turmoil, is about to have a life-changing encounter with the Risen Christ.
The odyssey to conversion winds from superiority….
It’s interesting how Christ gets our attention. He constantly strives to makes us aware of his saving and sustaining grace. Most of the time he does it with a chisel–carefully, quietly, meticulously chipping away layers of resistant attitude through our life experiences and circumstances that often span several years. Such conversion can be a long process, until we reach a point we surrender joyfully to his grace.
Other times, though, Christ brings a sledgehammer to knock some grace into our thick heads and hearts. Let’s check it out:
1Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
Wow! Whenever I read this account, I think of the training my friend Jeff Dietz went through a couple of years ago. Jeff is a deputy with the Augusta Co. Sheriff’s Department. He attended a weekend training seminar at the Criminal Justice Academy to be certified to use a taser.
As part of the certification, you have to experience having the taser used on you. And Jeff said it was one of the most excruciating, eye-opening ordeals he ever endured.
He said the moment the needle probes hit his back, his knees buckled from the jolt of current. His body went numb. He blacked out momentarily. He hit the floor, and he could not get up. Worst of all, he wet his pants. It was an experience he’s never forgotten, and it taught him to be very judicious about employing such a weapon, as only a last resort.
Jesus tasers Paul as a last resort. He gets Paul’s attention in a way only Paul will respond to.
Have you ever noticed that most of us fit into one of four styles of behavior? That’s what some psychologists tell us– four distinct styles of behavior:
Some of us are dominant. Dominant folks like to be in control. Nobody has to ask dominant people what they think. They are blunt, direct fast to make judgments and ready to take action.
Then there are those for whom life is a party. These are “people” people. They like to talk. They are very animated. They like meeting new friends. Their nature is optimistic. They are fun to be around.
Then there are folks who are marked by their steadiness. They like situations that are dependable, predictable. They’re not the rah-rah type. They will never be the life of the party, but they’re good listeners. They make others feel comfortable.
Finally, there are the detail people. They like to do things right. They take care of the little things and are highly conscientious. Some people call them perfectionists. Some of them are. But most of them simply take pride in a job well-done.
Four personality types “all valued all necessary. There is a clever story that helps illustrate these four types of personality.
Four of King Arthur’s knights were guilty of betraying him. They were sentenced to die on the guillotine. Somehow, though, as the blade was ready to drop, it jammed. King Arthur took this as a sign that he should show mercy and give the knights their freedom. The reaction of the four knights to this good news tells us a lot about their personalities.
The knight high in dominance growled, “I told you I was innocent. This execution should never have been planned in the first place!”
The knight who was primarily a people person shouted, “We’re free! We’re free! Let’s go party!”
The steady knight was consoling the executioner, “I want you to know,” he said, “that I don’t blame you. You were just doing your job.”
Meanwhile, the detail-oriented knight had been staring thoughtfully at the jammed blade on guillotine. “Hmmm,” he said aloud, “I think I see how this thing can be fixed!”
Four distinct styles of personality. I’ll let you choose your own category.
Paul would definitely belong in the category for high dominance. There is nothing retiring about his personality. He is direct, forceful. Such folks are sometimes wrong, but never in doubt. They are wonderful folks who get things done in this world, but when misguided, they can be a menace.
Did you notice how Jesus deals with Paul? Those who have studied the four personality types tell us that the dominant person fears loss of control more than any one thing. They like to be in charge. They hate to depend on anyone but themselves.
And what happens to Paul? He is knocked down and blinded by a brilliant light from heaven. And when he finally staggers up from the ground he finds himself sightless and helpless.
This proud man who fears loss of control more than anything else in the world is now totally dependent. He has to be led and fed by others. His blindness will prove to be only temporary, but for three days Paul the dominant becomes Paul the dependant.
Jesus has Paul’s attention. And Jesus begins changing his heart and his life. This man who would brag “I can do all things” would come to testify “I can do all things only through Him who strengthens me!”
Yes, Paul’s odyssey to conversion winds from superiority to surrender….and now it will proceed
10In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11The 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. 12In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15But 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. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “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.” 18Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
Someone once asked, “I wonder who was Billy Graham’s Sunday School teacher?”
Well, perhaps the foremost forgotten hero of the Christian movement is a citizen of Damascus called Ananias.
Ananias hears the command of the Lord to go and seek out the helpless, dependent Paul. Ananias protests vehemently. “Lord, don’t you know who this guy really is?!”
In the end, Ananias swallows his fear and obeys Christ. He enters the house where Paul is staying. And there he finds the feared persecutor alone and humbled. The rage Ananias feels for this despised man drains away, replaced by compassion, forgiveness. He refers to Paul as “brother.” And he offers a prayer of healing and restoration.
Paul now has friendship with Christ, and with Ananias. He, who came to Damascus to annihilate The Way, has now found The Way….and the Truth…and the Life. Though once blind, he now truly sees. He is a new creation.
A true encounter with Jesus Christ refocuses our lives from me to mission. Paul begins a lifelong journey of servanthood, sharing the Good and Saving News of Christ on missionary journeys throughout much of the known world.
Indeed, Paul’s theme song would become 20“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20
You and I are the beneficiaries of his legacy today! There would be no Vision of Hope Church without Paul’s odyssey to Damascus.
Yes, Paul’s odyssey to conversion winds its way from an attitude of Superiority to a sudden and intense Surrender to Christ to a lifetime of meaningful Servanthood in His Name.
What about you? What does your path to conversion look like? Are you on the trail? Have you surrendered your will to Christ at some point, experiencing his lifechanging grace? Have you continued down that road, finding purpose through seeking to serve him in word and in deed each and every day?
Is Paul’s theme song your theme song?
20“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Search yourself with these questions…. And join the odyssey of a lifetime!