Changing Lives, Changing Hearts – July 17, 2022
Ezekiel 36:22-27, Acts 9:1-31
July 17, 2022
I used the plural in this title for a reason. “Changing Lives, Changing Hearts.” Plural. Yes, this is the story of Saul, the man who would become Paul. Yes, this is the story of one man’s dramatic change. But, in this story, God didn’t just change the heart of Saul. He had perhaps the more difficult task of changing the hearts of the other believers.
Think about it. Pretending to be a convert would be just the kind of ploy Saul would have been expected to use to ferret out the believers! And they knew it! After all, he was “ravaging the church!” He was “going from house to house and dragging men and women off to prison.” (And just picture the “dragging” part!) In his “zeal” to stamp out the church in its infancy, such “trickery” would not be out of the realm! And I was thinking, it would have been worthy of any well written TV drama! And there are some very well written TV shows these days, aren’t there!
So, this was more than just the story of one man’s transformation! But his story is an incredible story! I try to picture this, too. I’m sure there must have been a dramatization of it somewhere along the line. I don’t remember any in particular, maybe you do. But there must have been. (I think there was a TV series called “A. D.” – Anno Domini. But I don’t remember much about it – except for the story, of course!)
I try to picture Saul going from door to door, with his Temple guard, or maybe even some Roman soldiers. As I understand it, the Romans did work with the religious leadership in some civil matters – especially when they needed “enforcement” of some kind! After all, the Romans were interested in keeping the peace. And they were fine with helping to suppress factions and splinter groups to threatened that peace.
I imagine them knocking on doors, forcing their way in, putting people in chains and hauling them off. I can picture the panic among the people, the hushed voices of warning also spreading from house to house. I can imagine some people fleeing. And I can imagine Saul trying to figure out ways to get in and apprehend them before they could “get away.”
So, a “conversion” would be a good ploy. After all, we do know from Chapter 6, that a “great many priests were obedient to the faith!” He could pretend he became one of them. That way he could get close to the believers before they suspected anything! (There weren’t pictures of people then. So some people may not even have known what Saul looked like!)
Well, of course, it wasn’t a ploy. It was perhaps the greatest conversion to the Christian faith in history. This man who was bound and determined to stop the new Church – who probably felt he was doing God’s work in doing so – met the risen and now ascended Jesus on the road that day. And in an instant, he went from being the greatest enemy of the church, to one of the greatest advocates and apologists of the faith! (There’s that word again – apologist!)
In the synagogues of Damascus, he proclaimed Jesus, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And it’s interesting because those are words that I’m sure he heard in the council during the trial of Jesus, words by which Jesus was condemned. “He said he was the Son of God!” Now he was proclaiming that himself. And he was using his considerable wisdom and debating skills, which we know of from his letters – letters that became the books of the New Testament. Now he was using those skills to promote the faith. In verse 22 we read, “But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ!”
When I think about Paul, I’ve always thought, what an amazing “strategic move” on God’s part! Think about it! God had the power to defeat Saul. He could have struck him down, or put him to death somehow. But I believe he saw in Saul a man of great zeal. If that zeal, that drive, that determination, could be harnessed, if it could be made into a positive force for the church… and of course it was! What great strategy!
It’s an amazing story! And it wasn’t a ploy! It was a real conversion! But, as I said, the people did suspect him! They didn’t believe him. And can you blame them! We read in verse 26 today that he came to Jerusalem and “he attempted to join the disciples, but they were afraid of him.” Yeah! Jerusalem is where he had “ravaged the church and dragged off men and women to prison!” Of course they were afraid of him there!
And of course (back to the original thought) the title is plural because we are also part of this. With Saul, God had the difficult task of “changing lives and changing hearts.” I believe it was difficult then, and it still is today.
It’s hard for us to imagine being in a situation like those people were in. We don’t have a Saul breathing down our necks and then saying he was our friend. But maybe we can take a lesson from the other person in this story, this man named Ananias. We haven’t mentioned him much yet, but his was the first heart that had to be changed – other than Saul’s, of course.
Ananias objected when God told him to go to Saul. He knew exactly who he was! He said, “Lord, we have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your people!” But he was convinced. And perhaps the most amazing words in this story were where he found Saul and said to him, “Brother Saul!”
God changed his heart. And then he had to bring Saul to the disciples at Damascus. And I’m sure he had some ‘splainin’ to do there! And then Barnabas had the same explanation to give to the believers in Jerusalem. He had to change their hearts too. I’m sure they objected just as much, if not more!
And I was thinking… are there ever times when we are called on to represent Jesus in a place where he might not be welcome? Like Ananias, and Barnabas, do we ever have to deal with people who might be “suspect,” or skeptical? As I said last week, the church is not looked on very favorably in our world. In a way we are like Ananias. We need to convince people, as I said last week, that God is real, that Jesus is the Christ, as Saul said.
We talked about that the last week or so. It could be something we are able to say that might convince them. It might simply be in the way we live our lives that they’re convinced. And that’s often the most effective! But are we active or passive about that? Do we seek opportunities to show God’s love? Or do we just show that love when the opportunity happens to present itself? Think about that!
As I said last week, we need to know that we are God’s people. And that it’s good to be God’s people! We need to be sure that we are followers of Jesus, and that it’s good to be followers of Jesus! And as we seek to follow him, we need to keep in mind the words that Paul would later write, that we “strive to have the mind which is in Christ Jesus.” And his mind is all about compassion, love, and Grace! And when we show those things, they will know that our lives and hearts have been changed, and that we are his people, and that it’s good to be his people!
Eternal God, help us indeed to have the mind which is in Christ Jesus. May the way our lives and hearts have been changed be the instrument by which other lives and hearts are changed. Fill us with your spirit and with the joy of your kingdom. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.