Acts 8:1-8, Acts 9:1-19
July 22, 2007
So far in Acts, we’ve had the Pentecost experience, and the first Christian sermon by Saint Peter. Then we’ve had Peter and John healing the lame man at the Temple gate, and their subsequent trial before the Jewish council. That stretched out over about three chapters. Then last week we had the story of Stephen, with his trial and execution. And that brings us now to the next major part of the book of Acts, that part that tells the story about this man named Saul.
Luke actually prepared us for this story by introducing Saul a little earlier. I think he liked to do that in his writing. He introduced Stephen to us a little bit before the major part of his story. He introduced him as being one of the “helpers” that the Apostles chose as the Church was growing and more leaders were needed. Then, when the big part of his story took place, we knew who he was.
Well, if you remember that story of the Stoning of Stephen, you might remember the 58th verse of that chapter. “And they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” There, we first meet him. And then at the beginning of the next chapter, Luke gives us more. When Stephen had spoken his last, “he ‘fell asleep.’ And Saul was consenting to his death. And on that day a great persecution arose against the Church in Jerusalem…” So there we have Saul introduced, and we know of his involvement Stephen’s story, and in the beginning of that time of persecution of the Church.
Now, fast forward to chapter 9. Luke starts out by doing something they told us not to do in school. He begins the Chapter with the word “But.” Maybe that rule hadn’t been invented yet. At any rate, he says, “But Saul, still breathing threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Saul takes on this Anti-Christian fight, this persecution, with a fervor! Now why is that? Is it a matter of his “zeal for the faith?” Is he concerned about the purity of the religion, upset about what has been happening ever since this Jesus came on the scene? Had he been a witness to any of Jesus’ ministry? I wonder about that. And I also have to wonder, is his fight against the Church any more or less fervent than the other religious leaders. “A great persecution” had arisen against the Church, as it says at the beginning of Chapter 8. Is Saul’s part in that persecution any greater than anyone else’s? I don’t know if we can answer that question fully. I think we can say that his part is certainly equal to anyone else’s!
What I want us to concentrate on today is that this person, who was passionate (to say the least!) in his fight against the Church, went through a change. And I’ve used here the word “Metamorphosis.” That’s a word that’s used in a biological sense. It’s a word that is used to describe bullfrogs and butterflies.
Have you ever seen one of those things change? Have you ever watched a caterpillar spin a cocoon around itself and then later on emerge as a butterfly? When I was a kid, I used to catch tadpoles and put them in a big tank. And then I’d watch them. They’d swim around for a few weeks, and then when they got big enough, a leg would sprout out near their tails. And they’d swim around with one leg for a few days. Then later another leg would grow. Then another. Then another. And pretty soon the tail would shrink and the gills would turn into lungs! And there was a little frog! It was an amazing change. It was a metamorphosis!
Well, I’ve chosen that same word to describe this young man, Saul. I think his change was so great that the word “metamorphosis” is appropriate! His name is changed from Saul to Paul. And his life was turned around! And I hope we see today how much change he went through. Let me remind you!
First of all, he went from enemy of the Church to its greatest advocate. And you have to love the strategy on God’s part here. I’m convinced more and more every day that God has a great sense of humor! How do you fight against a bitter enemy, one who is bent on your destruction? God’s solution – get him on your side! Not only do you eliminate an enemy, but at the same time, you gain a person of great fervor working for you! What a great strategy!
The next thing to notice here is that it took a blinding light to get through to Saul! It took losing his sight to get him to open his eyes! Do we sometimes need that? Do we need to be knocked off of our donkeys? And as we think about that, let’s remember what Saul was going to Damascus to do! He was going to find believers and capture them! He was going to bring them back to Jerusalem.
You see, they had a problem. (Those who were persecuting the Church.) They caused the problem! When this “great persecution” arose, back in chapter 8, what does it say? “They were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria. The problem all persecutors had in those days, was that when people are persecuted, they tend to leave – to move away. And they take the message with them! And that spreads the message! At first, the believers were all in the city of Jerusalem. They had them in one place! Now those who persecuted them caused them to spread out. So Saul was going to find them and bring them back! But God had other plans!
As we read this story, perhaps we can remember the words of Gamaliel, who was the teacher of Saul. A few weeks ago, we read his words of advice to the council. “If this thing is men it will fail. But if it is of God, you will not be able to stop it, and you might find yourself fighting against God!” “And your arms are too short to box with God!” Do you remember that? Well here that very thing was happening. And this man Saul, his student, found out just how powerful God really was! And his story became one of dramatic and traumatic change.
What about us? Are we changed that much? Paul wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else. And as we would read Paul’s writings, we find even more aspects of his metamorphosis. Saul was a Pharisee – and proud of it! Pharisees believed that “The Law” was everything! Yet, the more we read his writings, the more we find him convinced that all his teaching about “The Law alone” has given way to “the ways of Grace.” That alone had to have shocked his former Pharisee colleagues!
In addition to all that, though, perhaps one of the biggest changes that took place in Paul was his attitude toward the Gentiles. And that was about to become a huge controversy in Acts. Again, Luke introduces people and subjects ahead of time. And this was a big one! What about those non-Jews who would come to the faith? What was their status? Well here we have a staunch, proud Jew, a man who by the culture of the times would have thought very lowly, even derogatory things about the Gentiles. Now he has become God’s missionary to the Gentiles! Does God have a sense of humor or what?!
These are some incredible changes thast have taken place in this man! Later, Paul would write to the Corinthian Church and say, “If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation. The past is finished and done, behold the new has come.” And wow, was that ever true in his own life! He knew of his own metamorphosis. But he would suggest that the same was true of all people!
So what about our “new creation?” What about our metamorphosis? Sometimes I think we’re ok with the “past is finished and done” part of that verse. We’re just fine with God forgiving and forgetting our past mistakes. But that “New Creation” part, that “Changed life” part, we’re not so big on that! “Don’t change my life, God. Just forgive me. That’s good enough.” This is one of those “minimum of faith” kind of things we’ve talked about before. Some people just want to do the minimum, and that’s all. Paul would say “No.” “This is where you really have to get this!” Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.
Are you a new creation? A couple of weeks ago, I told you one of the things I heard years ago, and I have often repeated. Let me remind you of that. “If you don’t feel a tension between what the world calls you to do and to be, and what your faith calls you to do and to be, then you need to ask your self if you’re taking your faith seriously enough.” Well, this is another one of those. “If you don’t feel like your faith in Christ has changed your life, then you need to ask yourself if you’re taking your faith seriously enough.”
If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation! Are you a new creation? Has your life been changed by your faith in Christ? Maybe you aren’t the equivalent of an enemy of the faith like Saul being turned into an advocate. But you might have fought against God in your own way. Maybe you aren’t a person set on the way of the Law, who now sees the love of God in terms of Grace. But maybe you’ve had an experience of that Grace of your own. Maybe you haven’t been blinded by the light the way Saul was, but you’ve come to see life in a new way of your own. (Or maybe you haven’t – and you need to!)
Whatever your story, I do encourage you to think about where you’ve come in your faith. Think about how God has begun to change you into his likeness “from one degree of Glory to the next.” And be sure to know that, when people’s lives are changed, they go on to change the world.
So, have you been changed? Have you gone through a “metamorphosis,” like a bullfrog, or a butterfly, or a zealous Pharisee? What’s your story?
Lord, help us to see how our lives are changed through your grace. Help us to see the more difficult thing of how our lives still need to be changed. Help us to be that new creation Paul wrote about. We thank you for his example, and his writings, that teach us so much about you and your love for us. Help us to follow more closely our Savior, in whose name we pray, Amen.