Genesis 17:1-8, Acts 9:1-22
July 2, 2014
Bullfrogs and Butterflies. Those are two of the species that go through this thing called “Metamorphosis.” We learned all about that in Jr. High science class. (If we were paying attention!) “Metamorphosis” means “change.”
When I was a kid, we used to catch tadpoles and keep them in a big tub. And over a number of weeks, we’d watch them turn into frogs. It was so cool. First a back leg would pop out, then the other. Later a front leg would appear, and then the last one. Then the tail would start to shrink. And pretty soon it was a frog. When my kids were young, we would get tadpoles for our fish pond, and we’d watch them change. My daughter made up a new word to go along with it. She said the tadpoles were being “froginated.”
Maybe you did the same thing when you were young. Or maybe you found a cocoon in a bush, and you took it home and put it in a jar with holes in the lid, and watched it turn into a butterfly – or maybe something else. Many insect species go through that metamorphosis. They change from one critter into another.
Well, I’m using that word today because here we have the story of a man who went through a “change” – a “metamorphosis.” This man Saul went from being the biggest enemy of the early Church, to it’s greatest champion!
As we said last week, the names of the high priests of Israel, Annas and Caiaphas, wouldn’t be heard again in Acts, but that their influence would be felt for a long time in the early church. That’s because the animosity, the enmity they felt for Jesus, and now for his followers, persisted in the Jewish leadership in the early days. And no one continued that enmity more than this Pharisee named Saul.
I have to say this again! It was likely that Saul was there all along. He didn’t just come into the picture in this chapter of Acts. This is just where he was first named. We first hear of him at the end of the story of the Stoning of Stephen. But I believe he was there all along. I believe he was there during the trial of Jesus, and then the more recent trial of his disciples. I believe he was there during Jesus’ ministry. I believe he was listening when Jesus spoke to the crowds. In fact, when we read stories of the Pharisees watching Jesus, or asking him questions, I have to wonder if Saul was one of them. He may even have been one of the unnamed Pharisees whose words are recorded in those stories!
Well, I believe Saul was in the council in the story for last week where they became so enraged at the disciples they were ready to kill them. And he was there to hear the words of Gamaliel, who we understand to be his teacher. We read those words last week. “Leave these men alone.” Gamaliel said. “If this endeavor is of their own doing, it will fail. But if what they are doing is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. And you might even be found to be fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39)
That’s what we see in this story! The first words he heard after being knocked off of his donkey were, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He was fighting against God, wasn’t he! And now God was fighting back! And I’ve always been amazed about this. And not just about the “metamorphosis” – the “change” in Saul. What amazes me is the strategy God used in fighting this dangerous man! What better way to deal with your greatest enemy, than to make him your greatest ally!
As we think about that, I want us to remember also what this change meant to Saul. It meant the giving up of everything he had worked for. Listen to the description he gave of himself in the book of Philippians.
“If any other man thinks he has reason to boast, I have more! I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews. As to the law, I was a Pharisee. As to zeal I was a persecutor of the church. As to righteousness under the law, I was blameless.” That’s what I gave up, to be who I am now! I had every reason to boast. I was a Pharisee of Pharisees! I had all that authority and prestige. “But!” he continues, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:5-8)
Gave it all up, he did! Now it was he that would be pursued! (At one point the others had to let him down over the city wall by night – in a basket!) Now he would be harassed and “heckled” when he spoke. And eventually it wouldn’t be good enough for his detractors to heckle him only when he spoke in their towns. Soon, they would follow him from town to town and harass him there!
So, on that road, the light blinded him. So, they took him, blinded, into Damascus to await the next phase – whatever that would be! And this man named Ananias was sent to him. But not without protest! For Saul’s reputation preceded him! But he was obedient, and he went and said, “Brother Saul.” And he healed him. Then he did a very brave thing! He took Saul to meet the other believers. It was brave because, if you think about it, wouldn’t pretending to be one of them be an expected strategy for Saul to use to find the believers? Remember, we the readers know what had happened to him. We know it was genuine. They didn’t! But they would soon find out.
As it turned out, Saul’s change was complete. He got his legs. He got his wings. And he used his formidable debating powers to begin to convince others, as he had been convinced. Truly this is one of the greatest stories of change – of metamorphosis – the world has ever seen! And this of course, is the same Paul who would later write, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The past is finished and done. Behold, the new has come.” (II Corinthians 5:17) No one knew that better than him!
As we think about that change in our lives, we need to ask ourselves, is there ever anything that we might lose that is as near and dear to us as Paul’s heritage and position of authority were to him? That kind of change is hard for us, isn’t it? Sometimes we think that we’re ok with following Jesus, “But just don’t expect me to change very much.”
Well, that’s exactly what is expected of us! Let me read another thing this “changed man” would say. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to the next. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (II Corinthians 3:17-18)
So let me ask you. Do you see a change in yourself? Are you a better person than you were, say a year ago? Are you more Christ-like? Are you more forgiving, more tolerant, more encouraging? That’s what this means. We in the Church need to be different, for so many reasons. One is that God knows what will make this life the best for us. And criticism, grudges, self-centeredness, those things are not part of that! But the other big reason we are “being changed into his likeness,” is so that others might see him in us! In all of this, his kingdom will be promoted through the likes of us!
So, “Metamorphosis” – Bullfrogs, butterflies, prominent Pharisees, and us.
Eternal God, help us to know the transforming power of your spirit. Help us to know that we are new creations, that the past is finished and done, and the new has come! Help us to grow into the likeness of Christ, and to promote his kingdom in all we do. For we pray in his name, Amen.