The Damascus Road
April 26, 2020

An Easter Journey

“The Damascus Road”
Acts 9:1-19

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In our series on roads leading up to and following Easter, roads and journeys we all must take, today we’re heading down our last road, or the Damascus Road.

We began this journey looking at the Narrow Road that Jesus tells us all to take to make it into eternal life in heaven. We looked at the road Jesus took into Jerusalem, and this was followed by the road to Calvary that led to Jesus’s sacrifice for our sins upon the cross. And then last week we looked at the road two of Jesus’s disciples took towards the town of Emmaus.

And while all of these roads lead in different directions, they all have the same destination, and that is, the risen Christ.

The same is true with this last road and the man we find traveling upon it. His name was Saul of Tarsus, and the road was the one leading towards Damascus.

Saul was born in the city of Tarsus in the province of Cilicia (Sy-LIS-ee-uh), which is located near Antioch in Asia Minor, or modern day Turkey. Saul was the son of a very prominent and wealthy Jewish family, and because Cilicia was a Roman colony, Saul could claim Roman citizenship.

Saul was a bright child, and was sent off to Jerusalem to study under noted Rabbi Gamaliel. He was instructed in all the laws and traditions of the Jewish faith, and was very zealous for it. In fact, he was advancing in Judaism to a far greater degree than his peers.

So Saul was born a Jew, grew up a Pharisee, held Roman citizenship, and lived and studied in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. Like the other religious leaders he probably expected that the enthusiasm and teachings that marked Jesus’s followers would soon die out with Jesus’s death.

But that did not happen, instead not only did the believer’s enthusiasm grow, so did their numbers, and so Saul took action and persecuted them, putting them either in prison or death. It was at the stoning death of Stephen that we’re first introduced to Saul as he held the garments of those throwing the stones.

Soon Saul found himself going from synagogue to synagogue punishing those who believed, until they began to leave Jerusalem, but even this was not enough for him. He got letters from the chief priests and followed the believers wherever they went. And this is where we pick up our story as Saul was on the road leading to Damascus.

Read Acts 9:1-19

Saul was a man full of hatred and bitterness. He was on a mission, but not for God, nor was it a mission of mercy, rather it was a mission of persecution, punishment, and pain.

He was on a mission to confront and get rid of all those who followed Jesus, those he described as belonging to “The Way.” Now, in the Hebrew language this means a person’s walk, that is, the way or the manner of life they lived. In other words, Christians stood out wherever they were or in whatever situation they found themselves in.

These first followers of Jesus walked the talk; they lived, as Jesus would have. Paul described what that looks like in his letter to the Philippian church.

“That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15 NKJV)

In other words, they stood out. So it really wasn’t hard for Saul to find them. They literally left a trail of new believers in their wake.

And so, Saul was on a mission to confront and get rid of these pesky believers, and nothing on this earth would change his mind. Yet, little did he know that while on this road to Damascus he wouldn’t confront the followers of Jesus, but rather Jesus would confront him.

Further, although he was not willing to change, he would be changed in ways greater than he could ever possibly imagine, and that he wouldn’t challenge the beliefs of Christians, but rather he would have his own beliefs and faith challenged by Jesus.

So, this Damascus road is a road of confrontation, change and challenge. Let’s look at the first.

1. A Road of Confrontation

Traveling down this road from Jerusalem to Damascus only intensified the situation in Saul’s mind. Damascus is about 150 miles northeast of Jerusalem. By today’s standards this isn’t far at all. It’s about a three-hour drive. But back in those days it took the better part of a week. So, Saul had plenty of time to set his mind and heart toward the confrontations that would take place.

Either these followers of Jesus would return to the Jewish faith, or they would be taken back as prisoners and convicted of the crime of blasphemy. But a confrontation was inevitable.

But instead of Saul being the confronter, he was the one ‘confrontee’. There on the road to Damascus a light from heaven confronted him.

There are many suggestions by scholars and critics as to what this light might have been.
• Some suggest that Saul experienced heat stroke and the light was merely Saul becoming lightheaded.
• Others say that it was lighting, which was a common occurrence in that area, and that Saul became dazed and only thought he heard a voice, but that doesn’t explain why the others heard the sound of the same voice.
• And finally they say that Saul had an epileptic seizure, which would cause the fall and his hearing voices, but again it doesn’t address the others hearing the sound of that same voice.

You know what I find amusing is how when we are speaking to God we’re praying, but when God is speaking to us we’re crazy! Charles Spurgeon remarked that if Saul indeed had epilepsy, then he wished that all men would have epilepsy just like that.

But the truth of the matter is that humanity has consistently been trying to explain away the supernatural of God with natural explanations.

People are more comfortable with explanations that they can grasp and understand with their natural mind, rather than that of the supernatural, because now we are dealing with faith. And humanity has always had the propensity of walking by sight, not by faith.

In Saul’s case this wasn’t a bolt of lightening or heatstroke. It was nothing and no One less than the Light of the world, Jesus Christ.

The Apostle John describes Jesus as the real light of life

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:4-5 NKJV)

And Jesus said the same thing concerning Himself. He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NKJV)

In fact, we know that this light that confronted Saul was Jesus, because the voice that came from the light said, “Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” and when Saul asked, “Who are you Lord,” the voice replied, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”

All this time Saul thought that he was zealously serving God in persecuting these followers of The Way, but in truth he was persecuting Jesus, the Lord God Himself.

And so, in the blink of an eye the confronter became the confronted. The hunter became the hunted. The accuser was now the accused. Saul thought he had the authority and power, but in that single moment he realized that he was powerless when he heard the true voice of authority.

What voice did he hear?
• He heard the Voice that spoke in the dark and created the light
• He heard the Voice that spoke to Adam and Eve
• He heard the Voice that spoke to Moses from out of the burning bush
• He heard the Voice that spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
• He heard the Voice that spoke to the prophets, and
• He heard the Voice that cried out from the Cross, “It is finished.”

And all Saul could do was to bow his face to the ground and yield to the only true authority, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, there was no way Saul was going to say, “Well, how do you do, I’m Saul, nice to make your acquaintance,” what I mean by that is that we have to stop emphasizing who we are and start emphasizing who Jesus is. And when we do, it’ll change everything.
• He is the Creator and our Savior.
• He is the risen Lord, and He is alive.
• He is the giver of both abundant and eternal life.
• He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
• He is our righteousness and the only Son of God.
• And He is the soon coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Now, the goads Jesus referenced were sticks used by shepherds to prod their livestock to get them moving the right direction. The goad Jesus was speaking of was none other than the Holy Spirit who had been trying to get Saul’s attention and change him from the path he was taking.

The first goad that the Holy Spirit used was his teacher Gamaliel. When Peter and John were brought before the high courts of the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel warned not to touch the followers of Jesus, because if this wasn’t of God then it would die out, but if God was behind it, and if they were trying to overthrow it, then they would be fighting directly against God Himself, which is exactly what we see happening with Saul.

Another goad would have been Saul’s witness of Stephen’s death, where instead of pleading for his life, and then cursing his accusers, Stephen asked the Lord not to charge them with this sin. And then there were all those that Saul had persecuted and imprisoned. How could these people go so quietly? They didn’t fight or curse him. They were most likely praying for him.

Maybe this whole idea of fighting against the goads describes you. Maybe you have been kicking against the leadings and promptings of the Holy Spirit, either as He has been placing in your path those who have been telling you of your need to know Jesus as your Savior and Lord, or maybe you’ve been kicking against the Holy Spirit leading you into new avenues of ministry and faith.

Don’t be like that guy who was drowning and refused help from several boats and even a Coast Guard helicopter saying, “I’m trusting in the Lord to save me.” Eventually he drowned, and when he got to heaven he confronted Jesus saying, “Lord, I trusted you to save me, but you let me drown instead.”

Jesus replied, “Why didn’t you accept the help from the two boats and the helicopter I sent?”

2. A Road of Change

Sir Isaac Newton tells us that the first law of motion is that everything continues in a state of rest unless it’s compelled to change by forces impressed upon it. Saul wasn’t going to change unless Jesus confronted him, and once confronted, he changed.
• His name was changed from Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle.
• Jesus whom he had hated was now the One that he adored and called Lord.
• He became a member of the very fellowship he had sworn to destroy.
• He changed from being the persecutor to being the one who would be persecuted.

He was so transformed and changed that he said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)

What I find interesting is that after this remarkable change he became the most unpopular man on the face of the earth. The believers didn’t trust him, and the Jews wanted to kill him. But Paul was now a different person. He was now a part of The Way, and regardless of the consequences he went out and preached Jesus in the synagogues increasing in faith and power.

Saul, now Paul, wasn’t like that Civil War soldier who tried to stay neutral to save his life. You know the guy. The one who wore Yankee pants and a Confederate shirt? The only problem is that when he went outside both sides shot him.

Saul was now Paul, and was the first missionary of the church, and wherever he went he started new churches. And not only that, he wrote nearly one third of the New Testament.

How did this change or transformation take place? It was by meeting Jesus, the true Living Word, and allowing His word to come alive in his heart, which is the same way we change, by allowing Jesus Christ, the Living Word to become alive in our hearts.

Saul knew the word, he knew the Scriptures, top to bottom, frontwards and backwards, but it didn’t change him, and that’s because he never knew personally it’s Author. He was a Jew, he knew the law, but he never allowed the law and the word to come alive within him. To Saul it was merely a set of rules, a set of traditions to follow, but it wasn’t something that was alive and breathing in his life. So, Saul met with the Living Word, Jesus, and now the two became as one within him, and he was forever changed.

It takes both if transformation is going to take place. There are people who say they believe in Jesus, but they rarely if ever open up their Bibles. The Bible and the words written within are foreign to them and these people never stand out, that is there’s no difference between them and the world, because they don’t know God’s word for their lives. Paul tells us of this reality.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2a NKJV)

We’ve had years of false and wrong information forced upon us through the educational system that denies the very existence of God. To counter this we must allow God to change us from the inside out, which is what transformation means. We need to replace the worldly wisdom with God’s wisdom, and we do that through the continual study of God’s word.

And so this Damascus Road is first a road of confrontation, and then it is a road of change, and finally, this road to Damascus is a road of challenge.

3. A Road of Challenge

From that time forward Paul no longer challenged other’s faith in Jesus, but instead allowed faith in Jesus to challenge his life.

However, whenever we talk about the Damascus road, Jesus and the Apostle Paul are our main focus, but there was another disciple that’s like many of us that stepped up to God’s challenge to greater service. His name was Ananias.

God called Ananias, and Ananias response was, “Yes Lord, here I am.” And then the Lord proceeded to tell Him that Saul of Tarsus was at a house on the street called Straight, praying. God wanted Ananias to go to Saul, lay hands on him and pray that he would receive his sight.

And Ananias answered the Lord in those same solemn tones and religious voices we all use when the Lord asks us to step up to the challenge of following Him in the same way.

“Are You out of your eternal mind? Saul just got finishing whacking Stephen in Jerusalem and is putting believers in jail wherever he goes. And you want me to lay hands on him and pray. I lay hands on him he’s going to lay hands on me, and not in a good way.”

But God set Ananias straight because Saul was a chosen vessel to bear His name to the Gentile world, and that he, that is Saul, would suffer because of it.

Ananias was called and challenged by God to greater service, just as God calls you and me, and God is indeed faithful and will equip us with everything that we need to accomplish the task He has set before for us.

And God does so, most often, through His word.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16 NKJV)

Conclusion

There are many today who are walking down a similar road, a road of drug and alcohol addiction, crime, hatred, bitterness, unforgivness, greed, and lust.

Please know that Jesus wants to confront us today with the light of His truth, with the light of His presence, and His desire is for all of us to quit kicking against the leadings of the Holy Spirit and come into the fullness of His light and presence.

Yes we’ve all done some really stupid things, but God still extends to us His grace and mercy. In fact, God’s grace and mercy are new to us each and every morning.

And so, as we close our time together, let’s take a moment and look long and hard at our lives. Do we like what we see; is there something there that we would like to change?

God is in the life changing business, and he will change you. Allow the light of Jesus to shine upon your life today, and allow God’s word to come alive in your heart.

So let’s stop fighting against God and what He has for our lives, and instead let’s take the challenge start following Jesus to an even greater degree, and this we will look at in next week’s message about going further in with Jesus.









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