Barnabas: gospel encourager

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”…and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord” (Acts 11:22b-24)

Before we unpack those verses, let’s backup and gather what Acts says about Barnabas and in turn what we will gather is an blue print of a gospel encourager. Interestingly, in Acts 4:36, Barnabas didn’t enter the world with that name. His Levite parents gave him the name Joseph. It was later the apostles nicknamed him “Barnabas” or literally “son of encouragement,” which was a name he earned and owned. So what makes Barnabas or anyone a gospel encourager?

gospel encouragers are generous givers (Acts 4:32-37)

Luke’s first reference to Barnabas is an illustration of his generosity. He is so transformed by the gospel that he take action to spread it to others. He, among others, sell property and give the money to the church. Now in his day, property was ones greatest asset and retirement plan. For Barnabas, selling his property was not wasting his future, but investing in the gospel so that others might have a future with Christ. He lived in a way that showed he was free from money or things. Why? God trumped stuff. Barnabas was generous because his God was generous.

Are you someone who is free from money or things? Are you characterized as being generous? You probably know someone like Barnabas, a “son or daughter of encouragement”. Like you, Sarah and I have seen God provide for our family via Barnabases who have “sold their land” so we could go to the nations. We are so blessed to have many generous partners in the gospel (cf. Philippians 1:5).

gospel encouragers gravitate towards outsiders (Acts 9:26-30)

In Acts 9, Saul, becomes one of the most unlikely Jesus follower. After his conversion, he travels to Jerusalem to meet other followers. However, the whole church freaks out. It is Barnabas who helps the former terrorist of the church take his first steps into the church. Barnabas is the kind of guy you want in your church greeters ministry because he proactively encourages and engages with outsiders.

Don’t forget that your journey began as an outsider and “enemy” too (Romans 5:10). It is only through the gospel that you became an insider and friend with God. And it is by the gospel that you can find the greatest encouragement in life, both now and for all eternity. And top it off God uses people to be vehicles of His encouragement.

Who was your Barnabas? Who brought your inside the church? Mine were Mike Huseby and John Miller. They were the first men who encouraged me as a young Jesus follower. They showered me with love and Christ-like affection. They discipled me in the Word and encouraged me by creating opportunities to serve with them in the local church. I am eternally grateful they befriend me as a broken and messed up middle schooler!

Jesus was a great example of one who made friends with people on the fringe. He was a magnet to broken and needy outsiders. He lovingly gravitated towards outsiders. And you and I become more like Him when we see people as He sees them. Don’t underestimate the power of the gospel to transform outsiders. Who knows who the He might want you to befriend? Who knows who the Lord might use to build His church?

gospel encouragers see no boundaries to the gospel (Acts 11:19-23)

For the first time, in Acts 11, the gospel reaches the big city (vs.19-20). Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire. Think of it like Chicago compared to NYC and LA. It was nearly 10 to 20 times the size of Jerusalem and also more urban, pluralistic, and multicultural. A perfect place for the gospel to flourish.

History and perspective shows us that this was a wonderful thing, as you and I are the byproducts of the gospel spreading beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem and Judaism. Acts says that the church at Antioch was experiencing exponential growth. In fact, it saw the greatest expansion to the church since Pentecost. Therefore, the mother church in Jerusalem, decided to send a representative to Antioch. Not to see if their reports were embellished, not to see if their theology was orthodox, not to gain new church growth strategies, but to encourage the church, like a mother encourages her children.

Who does the church call? Who else, but Barnabas, the one-man-encouragement-committee (vs.21-22). Barnabas was an excellent choice to bridge the Greek and Hebrew members of the church. Having come from Cyprus, he was not a typical “Jerusalemite” Jew, and he already established a solid reputation for generosity and encouragement and, after all, what do new converts need more than encouragement?

When you need a word of encouragement who in the church do you call? Who is your Barnabas? Moreover to whom are you a Barnabas?  Ben has been my friend and Barnabas since middle school youth group days. What I still love about Ben is that he encourages me not in a way that strokes my ego, but in a way that challenges me, sharpens me, and points me to Jesus.

God created you for one another-ness and to encourage one another. Yet some Christians think that since they don’t have the “gift of encouragement” it gives them an excuse from being encouraging (Romans 12:8). Some Christians think a “critical spirit” is another gift of the Spirit, but the Christian army has a dreadful history of shooting down it’s own.

Are you someone who tends to be critical of the church? Do you crave the encouragement that another Christian is getting? Do you regard the ministry of others with envy or jealousy? Do you struggle with skepticism towards testimonies of God’s work around the world? Let it be known, almost all so-called constructive criticism towards the church is destructive criticism. There is such a thing as constructive criticism, but it is always saturated in a spirit of encouragement. That is what is to love about Barnabas. He arrives in Antioch, he sees the grace of God, rejoices, and cheers them on towards faithfulness (v. 23).

gospel encouragers mimic Jesus, the True Barnabas (Acts 11:24ff)

Luke’s living eulogy of Barnabas in verse 24 is moving and theologically pregnant. It should not be a surprise that the marks of a son of encouragement mimic the Son of God, the True Barnabas.

First, a son of encouragement is praiseworthy (“he was a good man”). Luke used this phrase only of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50). It’s not a phrase stroking Barnabas’ ego, as in saying, “Good job, Barnabas. He da man!.” Not that those compliments are wrong, but this phrase speaks to a greater goodness. Paul later writes that goodness is a fruit of Spirit (Galatians 5:22). And Jesus said that you can tell the type of tree by looking at its fruit (Matthew 7:16). What is hanging from Barnabas’ branches are good fruit produced by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Second, a son of encouragement is powered by the Holy Spirit and proven faith (“full of the Holy Spirit and faith”).6 The fullness of the Holy Spirit and faith is the root of Barnabas’ goodness. You don’t get the Holy Spirit because you are good, rather when the Holy Spirit takes over your life He infuses you with His goodness. Galatians 3:2 asks: “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” The assumed answer is “faith”. Then Paul asks, “does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?” (3:5) And again the assumed answer is “faith”. Barnabas’ faith is from and through the Holy Spirit.

Third, a son of encouragement is productive in bringing people to Jesus Christ (“and a great many people were added to the Lord.”). Gospel encouragers full of the Spirit and faith usher people to Jesus.

Why was Barnabas so encouraging? He knew the “Father of mercies and the God of all encouragement” (2 Corinthians 1:3). He knew the All-Sufficient Encourager and it was His Spirit that changed Barnabas into a “son of encouragement”. Like Father, like son. Let us aim to be sons and daughters of encouragement too.

It was at that point that Barnabas likely thought to himself, “These people need to grow deep and wide. I know just the guy. I’ll go get him.” Thus, “Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul” (v. 25). The verb “to seek” used here indicates that Barnabas was going on a difficult hunt; nobody had a GPS read on Saul’s exact whereabouts. The last Barnabas had heard about Saul was that he was somewhere in and around Tarsus. So Barnabas went to seek Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.

The church and mission field need people who can take the ministry forward, but it also needs humble people who can spot the very people that God is calling. That isn’t always easy. Barnabas does a selfless thing. He didn’t decide to feather his nest. He didn’t desire to build an empire or church bearing his name. He didn’t become a celebrity disciple, pastor, or missionary. What he did was to give Saul a job.

“So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch” (v. 26). Up until this point in church history, Jesus followers had been called “people of the Way”. They were not known as Christians because the term was derogatory and mockery, but those in Antioch welcomed it as their identity. For the gospel has the power to bring together diverse people and erase biases or boundaries.

Being Barnabases is not about encouraging with warm and fuzzies. Gospel encouragement brings hope to the suffering and hurting (vs.27-30). Barnabases actively live out the gospel by helping people see how their situation fits into the bigger picture that God is painting.

It is your joyful commission to be a gospel encourager. How? By being a generous giver, giving abundantly, cheerfully, and sacrificially for the sake of the gospel. Second, gravitate towards outsiders, hospitable to the broken and needy. Third, see no boundary to the gospel because the gospel transcends culture or ethnicity. Fourth, mimic Jesus: good, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and bringing people to the Lord. Being a messenger of hope, never doing ministry alone, and humbly equipping others to serve the local church. How will you be a gospel encourager to someone this week?

How does gospel encouragement and communion mesh? One of the ways we encourage each other as Christians is gathering together. Like two burning hot coals, together they are encouraged, but separated they burn out quickly. In other words, to stay apart or to not relate with fellow Christians has the opposite affect to encouragement. It leads to discouragement.

”And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Communion as its name signifies is a community meal for mutual encouragement until Jesus returns (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17-34). No matter if you are rich or poor, new to the faith or established clergy, we are all equals.  Communion is not about me and Jesus it’s about “we” and Jesus. That’s gospel encouragement.

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God’s grace uses people as His intruments

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Saul’s conversion was a miraculous display of God’s grace. Jesus, the commander-in-chief of the universe, intersects with Saul on the Damascus road. There is no doubt that only He could change a soul like Saul’s. And Jesus isn’t finished with Saul. Grace isn’t a one time thing, it’s given for a lifetime of transformation. It’s a gift to be given again. In the next few verses, God’s purpose with Saul will be outlined to a little known Jesus-follower will give Saul another touch of His grace.

Who is the little-known disciple? Ananias (Acts 9:10a). How does Ananias respond to God’s initial call? He too, like Isaiah and Saul, expresses his willingness to obey God (v.10b; cf. v.6; Isaiah 6:8). What does God ask Ananias to do next? God doesn’t give any details about what had just happened to Saul, but asks Ananias to meet Saul at the street called Straight (i.e. Main St.) and touch him (vs.11-12).

Do you wonder what was going on in Ananias’ mind? Now, think about your response to a man of Saul’s reputation, “Lord, maybe we need to rethink this…Saul is coming to imprison me…maybe leaving him blind would be a good idea…at least long enough for me to pack my bags and get out of town…” This response isn’t far from Ananias’ (or the church) response (vs.13-14; cf. vs. 21-28). Have you ever questioned or challenge God’s demands upon your life? If so, you are not alone. Many biblical characters have done the same thing (i.e. Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah). God accepts questions, but will you accept His.

Notice the how God responds to Ananias’ questions: He is gracious, not harsh, but firmly commands Ananias to go down the street (v.15a) and He gives him insight for the journey. What does God say about His plans for Saul? (v.15b) By His sovereign grace, He chosen Saul and will use him as an instrument to take His name to to the Gentiles, to people in high places, even to His people. What does it mean that Saul is God’s “instrument”? He will be a tool or vessel in God’s hands to increase and expedite the gospel message to the uttermost parts of the world.

God always errs on the side of grace and so should we. Grace is seen in Ananias first face-to-face with Saul. How does Ananias greet him? He calls Saul, “brother” (v.17). What more intimate term could you think of? It’s as if Ananias says, “brother Saul, the Lord has sent me so that you may regain your sight. Once was a day that Jesus opened my eyes too.” And the intimate touch of Ananias hand healed Saul’s blindness (vs.18-20).

God uses reluctant Ananias as His ambassador. God gives him a vision to share the gospel with someone he really is not comfortable. He’s heard of Saul’s reputation, and knows he could be walking The Green Mile. I can relate to Ananias. I tend to be timid. I fear the unknown. I doubt or question God’s grace. Yet His grace is sufficient everyday. He carries my feet outside the gate. He opens my mouth to speak with feeble French and ever more amateur Arabic. He uses me as His instrument to proclaim the name of Jesus.

God’s grace is on display today through your life. It is an example of grace to those around you just as Saul’s conversion is an example. Later, Paul reflects on this with his young pastoral student, Timothy,

“I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost [chief, first place]. 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. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Timothy 1:12-17]

In the words of R.C. Sproul, “Just minutes before his conversion, all that Paul could think of was what he could do to Christ, but immediately after, all he could think of is what he could do for Christ.” That’s grace on display!

Coming Soon…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (2-weeks ago).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (last week).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (today).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (next week).

God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion

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With a flash like lightning, God intersects with Saul (and his entourage). “Now as [Saul] journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.” (v.3) It was an unexpected encounter. It is interesting, unlike many Christians, Paul never links his conversion to a long process of God convicting or frustrating him of sin or stories scaring him out of hell. All those things may have happened in the instant he fell to the ground.

As Saul lay there on the ground, what did God say to him? First, He says in Hebrew, “Saul, Saul.” (v.4a) God singled out Saul by name. Fifteen times in Scripture names are repeated (i.e. God>Abraham, God>Moses, God>Samuel, David>Absalom, Elijah>God, Jesus>Martha, Jesus>Jerusalem, Jesus>God), which was used to gain attention or warning. Second, God says, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (v.4b) Notice He doesn’t say, “Why are you persecuting My people? Why are you such a bull?What’s wrong with you?” We discover in verse 5, the voice of God identifies Himself as Jesus. And Jesus clarifies that the persecution Saul is inflicting is ultimately against Him (v.5). In other words, Jesus is saying, “If you persecute My people, you persecute Me.” Those words bring such comfort to those suffering persecution for His name sake.

Notice how Saul responds to Jesus. He’s not passive nor is he defensive (v.5). He knows the voice is the Sovereign One of heaven. I can image Saul is as white as a bleached sheet and under the tremendous conviction of all his crimes. Yet in that moment, God’s grace is sufficient for Saul. It is also sufficient for your weakness too.

When I consider Saul’s conversion, it gives me courage to speak about the name of Jesus with friends and family. Their salvation might not happen immediately, but it might happen suddenly. Like My Grandpa Dale. He was a generous and kind man, he didn’t have many enemies (and he worked for the IRS). I’d share the gospel openly with him, since I was a teenager. He would listen intently, but normally respond saying, “Justin, that’s good, but I am happy being Catholic.”

A few years ago, Gramps called me at the church. In his quirky way he’d say, “Hey Huttshead. You’re a counselor, right? I have two questions for you: First, what do you think about me and my girlfriend living together? Second, could you tell me again how you think one gets to heaven?” His questions caught me by surprise. I answered his first question, letting him know I would rather see them marry, but that dearly I loved him. We spent the majority of conversation going to the Word, the source for the answers to his second question. Gramps, thanked me for the chat. He didn’t convert that day, but seeds were sown. Later, I found out that he had just been diagnosed with a malignant cancer that would soon take his life. Questions about his eternal destiny were his present reality.

A week later, I received another call from Gramps at the church. He started off by say, “Hey Pastor Hutts. I have two things I’d like to share with you. First, I have asked my girlfriend to marry me. Second, after talking to a pastor in town I have given my life to Jesus Christ.” Gramps went into hospice care a few months later. I leaned over the edge of his bed, he looked into my eyes—with tears in his—and said confidently, “I look forward to seeing my Savior.”

Gramps conversion was sudden and unexpected, as it might be with your neighbors, loved ones, or enemies. When you consider Saul’s sudden conversion how does it call you to persevere and be patience? How does it encourage you as you think about those who hard to love or hard to the gospel? As we will see (next week), Saul’s conversion is meant give you encouragement.

Coming Soon…

Part 1: God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone (last week).

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion (today).

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments (next week).

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood (in 2-weeks).

God’s grace is powerful enough to redeem anyone

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Have you ever known a heinous somebody, who miraculously turned their life around? Have you ever been threatened by someone and struggled with doubts about them ever changing? Have you been praying for a loved one or friend to believe the gospel for a long time without any difference?

Saul, also known as Paul, is one of the most beloved characters in the NT. He is known for his boldness and bravery for the sake of Jesus’ name. However, don’t forget Saul’s beginnings. I suppose that’s what makes his story so sweet. He the proud student of the Jewish scholar, Gamaliel. He slavishly devoted himself to obeying the Torah among other Pharisaical laws [Galatians 1:13-14]. He rose in rank, becoming a member of the elite group that wielded considerable religious and political power in his Israel. He was a Hebrew through and through and he devoted his entire life to promote Judaism, no matter the cost.

The one thing that Saul saw as the biggest menace to Judaism was the growing movement of people who called themselves followers of the Way (cf. John 14:6). Jews were converting by the hundreds and thousands, believing “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which men must be saved” (Acts 4:12), but the name of Jesus.

In zealous response, Saul wreaked havoc and terror on Jesus-followers seeking to be a one-man roadblock to the Way. In Acts 9:1–2, Saul was not just bullying Christians, he was “breathing threats.” Like a bull snorting and stomping his hooves he was ready to charge at the church. With permission from the theocratic ruler of the Jewish people, his next stop was Damascus.

Saul’s intentions, like a terrorist, was to inflict debilitating fear that would squelch the new movement of Jesus followers (cf. Acts 8). Unbeknown to Saul, God had different intentions for his journey to Damascus. God was leading him down redemption road.

Remember, Saul began as an enemy of Jesus. Like Saul, we all began our journeys as enemies too. But as we will see (next week), God’s grace will be on display (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)! He is powerful enough to redeem any enemy into a friend. He is powerful enough to redeem the your friend or enemy or anyone. Don’t forget that!

How can the begins of Saul’s journey and the promise of God’s grace give you hope for those you know who are hard to love or hard to the gospel? How are you an example of God’s grace being powerful enough to redeem?

Coming Soon…

Part 2: God’s grace can lead to a sudden conversion.

Part 3: God’s grace uses people as his instruments.

Part 4: God’s grace on display in my childhood.

from fanatic to follower

Fanatics aren’t hard to find. Each weekend around the country fanatics pack stadiums proudly displaying the colors and logos of their favorite team and passionately cheer and shout for hits, sacks and complete annihilations. Football fanatics have been known to wear pirate eye patches, pig snouts, and large wedges of cheese. Honestly, I do not see anything wrong with the cheesehead!

Political systems have also produced more than one fanatic. Have you heard of Usama Bin Laden, Idi Amin, Gaddafi, Mugabe, and Kim Jong Il? These are household names. Historically you have certainly learned about Adolf Hilter, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Leopold II, and Nero who burned Christians as lighting for his courtyards.

Religious fanatics aren’t hard to find either. Thousands of Muslims pilgrimage yearly to Mecca, Hindu’s worship a pantheon of more than 300 million deities, Buddhist bow to an icon of bald man with a big belly, some religious radicals commit suicide in car bombings to gain merit in the afterlife, and on TV you seen “Christian” evangelists sporting big hair and big bank accounts.

Another religious fanatic that you may be aware of lived shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was a member of an elite religious group that wielded considerable political power in his region. His name was Saul of Tarsus.[1] His studied in Jerusalem under the Jewish scholar Gamaliel. He slavishly devoted himself to the Old Testament laws along with hundreds of other laws the Pharisees concocted [Galatians 1:13-14]. He assumed he was pleasing God as a religious fanatic.

STORY OF AN ENEMY OF CHRIST [Acts 9:1-2]

The one thing that Saul saw as a threat to his rigorous religious system of Judaism was this newfound faith called followers of the Way. Jews were converting in droves becoming followers of the Way of Christ. These followers realized “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which men must be saved” [Acts 4:12], but the name of Jesus. In zealous response Saul attacked Jesus-followers seeking to be a one-man roadblock to the Way.

After he just stood by and watch the stoning of Stephen[2] it is said that Saul “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” [Acts 8:3] Then in Acts 9:1–2, Paul was not just bullying Christians, he was “breathing threats.” It is as though persecution was the air he breathed. Paul was breathing threats and murder against Christians, and took his persecution 150 miles north of Jerusalem to Damascus and planned to bring Christians back for punishment.

While Saul travel down the road to Damascus, God is taking Saul down the road towards transformation. The conversion of Saul is the conversion of a stanch opponent of Christianity. Today I will look at the story of Paul’s conversion to Christ. I want you to see God’s purpose in converting Paul was to give you hope for yourself and for the people you want to see converted.

SUDDEN AND UNEXPECTED CONVERSION [Acts 9:3-9]

Saul is the last person on earth you would expect to convert to Christ. He was not open to considerations or interested in learning about the Way. He was closed and convinced Christ’s claims were blasphemous. His heart was hard and dead in his trespasses and sins. He is the kind of guy you wish would go away or that God would somehow smite. Do you know some Saul’s? How often do you pray for their salvation rather than their destruction?

“Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.” [Acts 9:3] The whole event came out of the blue, like a surprise party or hidden camera show. Paul’s first encounter with Christ was unexpected. Paul never links his conversion to any long process of God convicting him of sin or of frustrating him or of stories scaring him with death and hell. All those things may have happened in an instant as he fell to the ground. But there was no long process preparing the soil of his heart. The conversion was sudden and utterly unexpected.

When I consider Saul’s conversion it gives me courage that my prayers and efforts to see my friends and family saved might not happen immediately, but it might happen suddenly. It reminds me of my gramps conversion. I had been sharing my faith openly with him since I came to Christ as a teenager. I had many talks with him about my faith in Christ. He would listen, but normally respond by saying, “No thanks Justin, that is good for you, but I am happy being Catholic.”

I never gave up praying or sharing. Sometimes I would be frustrated when I would not see any progress or signs God was preparing his soul. Until about 3-years ago, just after he found out that he had a malignant form of cancer. I received a call at the church and he said, “Justin. Counselor. I have two questions for you: First, what do you think about my girlfriend and I living together? Second, how do I know Christ is Savior?” His questions caught me by surprise. I answer his first question, letting him know I would rather see them marry but encouraged him of my love. Then we spent the majority of time talking about his second question. He did not make a decision that day.

A week later I received another call at the church from gramps. He started off by say, “Justin. Pastor. I have two things to share with you. First, I have asked my girlfriend to marry me. Second, I have given my life to Jesus Christ.” A few months later on his deathbed he looked me in the eyes—with tears in his—and said confidently, “I look forward to seeing my Savior.” Gramps conversion was sudden and unexpected, like Saul’s. Keep praying and sharing the love of Christ because He is Truth and the Truth will set free.

SOVEREIGN GRACE ON DISPLAY [Acts 9:10-20]

Saul’s conversion was a miraculous display of God’s sovereign grace. Jesus as commander-in-chief of the universe took over that day on the Damascus road. There is no doubt that only Christ could change a soul like Saul’s. How is grace of God on display in Saul’s salvation?

First, God causes a light to flash from heaven with blinding brightness. Saul is left blind for three days—until Ananias prayed and laid hands on him [v.17]. God blinded him and God gave him sight again. This was a powerful sign to Saul of his actual spiritual darkness. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever followers Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” [John 8:12] The Pharisees doubted and questioned His bold statement of authority, but just a few moments later He gave them a divine object lesson healing a man born blind [cf. John 9:1-41].

Second, Jesus is seen as totally authoritative when He speaks to Saul and gives him an unquestionable command. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [vs.5b–6] Jesus does not bargain, debate or give Saul a choice in the matter. Jesus means to have Saul in His service and there is no question that He will succeed.

Third, Jesus chose Paul long before Paul chose Jesus. “Before I was born God set me apart and called me by His grace to preach the gospel to the Gentiles” [cf. Galatians 1:15]. Jesus speaks to Ananias as if He knows Saul will go along with what he says. Naturally Ananias is afraid to go pray for Paul, but Jesus says to him in a vision, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;[3] I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” [vs.15-16] Ironically, Saul the persecutor will face persecution in his future ministry. Christ is calling Saul to salvation and a ministry filled with suffering.

Fourth, He uses reluctant Ananias as His ambassador. God gives him a vision to share the gospel with someone he really is not comfortable. He’s heard of Saul’s bad reputation, and knows he could be walking into a prison sentence. I can hear Ananias asking, “What about that sweat old lady across the street who always makes my favorite cookies? Or the kid next-door who is really lost but faithfully comes to our weekly AWANA outreach?” Jesus used Ananias, but the glory for his salvation goes to Jesus.

I can relate to Ananias. I can be timid at times, I’ve been known to ignore God’s tug to tell others about Him. One of the simplest, but effective ways I’ve been able to remedy this in my life to pray for/with the often ignored people around me [i.e. sales clerk, bank teller, mailman, waiter]. Surprisingly they all respond favorably and God’s grace is on display.

SAUL’S CONVERSION IS FOR YOUR SAKE [1 Timothy 1:12-17]

God had you in view when He chose Saul and saved him by His sovereign grace. Later Paul reflects with his young pastoral student Timothy, “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost [chief, first place]. 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. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Timothy 1:12-17]

If you believed on Jesus for eternal life—or if you may yet believe on Him for eternal life—Paul’s conversion is for your sake. How does his conversion attest to this?

First, even a religious fanatic can be an enemy of God. Before Christ you were an enemy of God [Romans 5:10]. Paul’s life as a fanatical Pharisee was a long, long trial to Jesus. Jesus asked, “Why do you persecute me?” In other words, “Your life of unbelief and rebellion is a persecution of Me!” Paul had been set apart for God since before he was born. Therefore all his life was one long abuse of God, and one long rejection and mockery of Jesus who loved him. That is why Paul says his conversion is a grand demonstration of Jesus’ longsuffering.

Second, no one is too severe a sinner to be withheld forgiveness of his or her sin. You might have lied, cheated, murdered someone with your words, or blasphemed God to His face. You can be forgiven! Saul’s salvation was for your sake to show you the patience of Christ. Lest you lose heart and think He could not really save you. Lest you think He is quick to anger. Lest you think you have gone too far away. Lest you think your dearest one cannot be converted—suddenly, unexpectedly, by the sovereign grace of Jesus.

Third, God uses the blood of his believers to build his church. The stoning of Stephen was no mistake. It led Saul down the Damascus road, down the road towards transformation, paved the way through severe suffering so the seed of the church and the saving message of Christ could reach you and me. A few months ago, I met a gathering of MBB believers in North Africa who suffered immense persecution, public humiliation, loss of jobs, and separation from family all for the sake of coming to Christ. Their perseverance has led to the birth of a vibrant church among an unreached people group.

It is okay to be a fanatic as long as you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. By definition a fanatic is a person filled with obsessive enthusiasm and single-minded zeal. This kind of passion is necessary as a follower of Christ since the Way is not easy. Jesus does promise forgiveness, but He also promises a rocky road filled with temptation and suffering. Are you ready to walk down the road of Golgotha bearing your cross, dying to self and living for Christ?


[1] Saul is the Hebrew name for Paul.

[2] Stephen was the first recorded martyr of Christianity [Acts 7:54-8:3].

[3] Paul did get to carry Christ’s name to King Aggripa [Acts 25:13ff] and Caesar [25:1-12]