The De-Masking of Saul of Tarsus
October 31, 2021

The De-Masking of Saul of Tarsus
Acts 9:1-22

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KN9fbsYohMQ

Today’s message kind of goes along with this holiday that finds millions of Americans, along with others around the world celebrating, that which is known as Halloween. It’s a holiday where masks and costumes are worn that give the illusion to those wearing them, and to those who see them, that they are something different than who or what they are.

Well, this is exactly what was going on in our study today as we look at the de-masking of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Or, as I like to say that Saul is getting de-masked in Damascus.

As we are in our series looking at those who encountered Jesus, and the reset that happened in their lives, like the Samaritan Woman at the Well, Nathanael, Simon Peter, and Nicodemus. But there is one more name that I’d like to look at before we enter our special series next week on getting our lives reset, reignited, and refueled.

And the person’s name is Saul of Tarsus, or as most know him today as the Apostle Paul. Some have even gone so far as saying that this is the greatest reset of them all, that is, from Saul of Tarsus into Paul the Apostle, and that is because Paul is responsible for 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament, or about one-third of what was written. But not only that, but Paul was called by Jesus at his reset to take the gospel into the Gentile world.

Saul grew up a Pharisee. He was taught the life of a Pharisee as he sat under the teaching of Gamaliel, the most influential Jewish teacher of his day. Gamaliel was a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling religious court in the land, and he was the one who told the Sanhedrin to leave this small group of Jesus followers alone. He said that if this was a move of God, then there was really nothing the Sanhedrin could do to stop it. If it wasn’t, it would soon die out on its own.

And while we’re starting out in Acts 9, Saul of Tarsus is actually mentioned earlier at the stoning death of the disciple Stephen. It says in Acts 7:58 that the Jews took Stephen outside the city of Jerusalem and stoned him. And those who executed him laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

And in Acts 8:1 it says that Saul was in hearty agreement with putting Stephen to death. While he wasn’t a member of the Sanhedrin, it says that he consented to Stephen’s death, which meant that he gave his permission for it to happen, and what that means is that he most likely was the Sanhedrin’s representative as he sat as a witness to his death.

And then in Acts 8:3 it says that Saul began to ravage the church, entering into houses and dragging Christians off to prison. And this is where we pick up our story about the great conversion, the great de-masking, the great reset that happened in his life.

Now, if anyone has been a Christian for any length of time, the story of this transformation, or reset, is well known, as to what happened to Saul on the road to Damascus, as he was on his way to arrest and bring back to Jerusalem Christians to stand trial.

“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2 NKJV)

Why didn’t Luke call them Christians, or Disciples of Christ? Why did he use the designation, “The Way.”

The word, “way” is used to suggest a course or path, that is, a way of life that is definable and distinguishable from something else. For instance, there is a “way of wisdom,” and the “way of the ant” (Proverbs 4:11; 6: 6). The Bible also uses the word to describe God’s way in contrast to the way of man, or false ways.

And so, those of “the Way,” would be those who followed the way of Jesus. Plus, the word Christian didn’t come into the vocabulary until later and was given to those who were followers of Jesus in Antioch.

And so, as I have mentioned, Saul was in need of a reset which came when He encounter the risen Jesus on his way to do what he considered to be the will of God.

“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’” (Acts 9:3-5 NKJV)

As Saul approaches Damascus, a flash of light knocks him down and he heard a voice ask, a question, “Why do you persecute me?” And when Paul asks who it is, the voice says, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Saul was confronted by the Light, which was Jesus Himself, for He said that He was the light of the world (John 8:12). Saul had the confrontation of his life. You see, he thought he would confront the followers of Christ in Damascus, but instead Jesus confronted him.

Some suggest that the light was Saul experiencing a heat stroke and thus became lightheaded and fell to the ground. Others say it was lightening, and as such it dazed him, and again causing him to fall. And then there are those who believe that Saul had an epileptic seizure, again causing him to fall to the ground and hear voices. Now, I have always like what Charles Spurgeon said how he wished that everyone would have such a seizure as Saul.

But what we see, once again is man trying to explain away the supernatural with natural explanations, and that’s because it makes everything so nice and neat, so that we can walk by sight and not by faith.

Now, when Jesus said that Saul was kicking against the goads, what that means is that he was going against the promptings of God. A goad was a long sharp stick that was used to get cattle to go where their owners wanted them to go. And so, Saul was fighting God, not doing what God wanted, even though he thought he was.

What I see this as saying is that God was trying to get Saul’s attention even while Saul was busy for God.

And so, it was on the Damascus Road, Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, looks full into the glorious face of the resurrection, that is, the resurrected Jesus. It was the risen Jesus who confronts him, and the reset takes place, and it is here that Saul of Tarsus became a follower of Jesus and became the Apostle Paul.

And I say that because later, on his first mission trip when he and Barnabas were on the Island of Cyprus that it says, “Saul, who also is called Paul.” And it was the light of Jesus that removed the masks that Paul wore, masks of his own making that he wore to be something that God never created for him to wear. And it is these masks that I’d like to explore with you today, and these are masks that many people wear today, which include those within the church.

The Mask of Religiosity

Now, this mask of religiosity for Paul, like so many was a mask of love covering the face of hatred. And we see this in the stoning death of Stephen.

But let’s go back and look at this mask in Paul’s life.

“A Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee.” (Philippians 3:5b NKJV)

He grew up a Pharisee. The word Pharisee means “separated ones.” Pharisees separated themselves from the everyday life of society to study, teach, and live their lives based upon the Law of Moses, and their interpretation of it.

Their goal was to live a life of formal observance of the Jewish religion, which also included an entire list of laws and traditions not listed within the Torah. The only problem is that their life was not lived out as a relationship with God, that is, it was not a spiritual walk with God.

As such, Saul knew all the laws and ordinances of Judaism, where we could say that Saul’s god was the Law of Moses and the Jewish religion, which he zealously tried to protect.

Paul may have been on a mission for God, but he didn’t really know the God whose mission he was on. Here was a person, and he’s as righteous as they get, in need of a reset.

You see, there was a problem with Saul’s faith. Saul had a wonderful religion, but he missed out on having a wonderful relationship with God. And that’s because he was fighting against the Lord God, who was far greater than any religion.

Notice again how Jesus answered. He said, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting,” and “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Paul realized this was not the God he had known, nor the God he’d been serving. God, until this moment, had simply been a list of do’s and don’ts for Paul. But in a sudden flash of light, Saul encountered the living Lord Jesus.

When Jesus said that Paul was kicking against the goads, these were nothing less than the testimonies of all those Christians that he had arrested, persecuted, and put to death. But Paul refused to change, and so on the road to Damascus, Jesus removed this mask of religiosity, and his life was reset, and he now came into that personal relationship with the Lord Jesus.

Now, behind this mask of religiosity is another mask, what we might call, a sub-mask.

The Mask of Tradition

Traditions are those customs and beliefs that are passed down from one generation to another, and within religion these traditions take on divine authority, even though they are not listed anywhere in the Bible.

Now, traditions are not always bad, especially when they lead us, and point to, the Lord God of the Bible. The problem becomes when people substitute the tradition for a relationship.

Jesus makes it clear that those who hold their traditions higher than God’s word are hypocrites, who tend to use their traditions for an excuse for not loving people.

Matthew 23 speaks to this. In verse four it says that they “bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” And in verse 14 they “devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers.”

And of the traditions themselves Jesus says in verse 23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23 NKJV)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:25 NKJV)

Unfortunately, we often find ourselves in the same boat. What happens is that we become defined by the rules and regulations of religion, where we wear the mask of tradition, and what lies behind this mask is often feelings of inadequacy, and so we hide in these traditions, and cover up our feelings by attacking others through these rules and regulations that we don’t even follow.

Can I just say that when our rules and regulations define who we are, rather than lead us into a deeper relationship with Jesus, then we’ve put on the mask of traditions, and this is why Jesus had to de-mask Saul in Damascus.

The Mask of Righteousness

For Paul, his relationship with God was based upon his own perceived righteousness.

“Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5-6 NKJV)

Paul was considered among the righteous, and he was on a mission for God. But while Paul may have thought he was on a mission for God, in truth he didn’t really know God. Here was a person, as righteous as they come, and he was in need of a reset, and that’s because in God’s eyes he wasn’t righteous enough.

King David in Psalm 14 revealed this truth, and one that Paul would have been well acquainted with.

“The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one.” (Psalm 14:2-3 NKJV)

After the reset, and in his letter to the Roman church, in Romans 3:10-12, Paul quotes this very verse. Now, look how he begins.

“As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one.’” (Romans 3:10)

And then he goes on to say in verse 21 that the righteousness of God, that is, the righteousness that counts, comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul then says that the reason is because all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, that is, they have fallen short of God’s holy and righteous standards for life, which is what Paul tried to live his life by, but failed, because again, all have sinned.

Again, this was something Paul should have known, which is brought forth in another Psalm of King David where he said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5 NKJV)

And so, it was then on this road to Damascus that Saul was de-masked, with his mask of righteousness being removed. And so, now he could see clearly, even though his physical sight was removed for a few days.

He became what he proclaimed to the Corinthian Church, saying, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)

Blinded, his eyes were opened, and the mask was removed, and now with it removed He saw himself as a new creation, the old had passed away, and the new was now evident.

The Mask of Power

This Mask of Power came as he sought for himself a greater position amongst his order, which is seen in how he got to study under one of the greatest and most influential Pharisee of that day, Gamaliel.

Saul of Tarsus, as we have seen, was a Jew among Jews, and in according to the Jewish religion he was considered to be blameless, that is, righteous according to the law, and as a Pharisee, he had a great zeal for the Jewish religion and its traditions. He was also quickly advancing up the ranks of his order, and was well ahead of others, as he was the Sanhedrin’s witness to the death of Stephen.

And as we have seen, this is how we are first introduced to him, as he was holding the robes of those who stoned Stephen to death. And our text begins by reminding us that he was breathing out threats and murder against the people of The Way and was holding warrants for their arrest.

But God wants to strip away these masks of power so that we will rely on His power and not our own. And the one thing we know about both position and power is that they are here one day and gone the next.

Throughout the world, people are scrambling to get into positions of power, influence, and authority, and will do just about anything to keep them, because the hope is that once they’ve achieved them, they will get what they’ve always wanted and desired.

But it’s an illusion. Because in reality we really have no power, which again this is something Paul should have known.

In Psalm 62, King David writes, “God has spoken once, twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God.” (Psalm 62:11 NKJV)

And so it was, that all the power that he thought he possessed, was nothing when he encountered the risen Lord, Jesus.

“Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.” (Acts 9:8 NKJV)

In his position of power, given to him by the Sanhedrin, He was on a mission, but not for God, and it definitely wasn’t a mission of mercy; rather it was a mission of persecution, punishment, and pain.

He believed that he is doing God’s work, but he soon discovered that he is completely out of God’s will. What he found there on the road to Damascus as he was de-masked is that the very thing that he was fighting was the Lord God Himself.

Paul was blind to the real work God was doing. Paul was blinded by his zeal, his passion, and his position of power. Maybe this is why the Lord blinded him physically, in order that he would see just how blind he was spiritually?

Further, although he was not willing to change, he would be changed in ways far greater than he could ever imagine. The fact became that while he openly challenged the beliefs of those who followed Jesus, trying to force them to change, he would instead have his own beliefs and faith challenged and changed by Jesus.

And what a change it was. He was changed from being an enemy of Christ to being one of Jesus’s greatest advocates to the world.

Conclusion

We are living in a time unprecedented in recent history. And the world is looking for answers and a hope. And the church is in a unique position to give this world that has lost hope, a hope that will last, because it is the eternal hope of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

But what needs to be done is that, like Paul, we need to take off all these masks that we’ve been wearing. In other words, we need to let the Lord de-mask us, and then refuse to put them back on once things get better or smoothed out, by trying to keep alive the very things that has turned the people away in the past.

I believe that the Lord is bringing us out into the open, into His light, and to bring light to all our spiritual warts and blemishes so that we will change, because the world is watching us in how we heal and how we love others as Christ has loved us.

And so, this de-masking has the potential of being a testimony of God’s power, but only if we keep our hearts tender and right before Him. You see, God is sending out an invitation through this de-masking process for not only ourselves but also for the world to have a fresh encounter with our risen Lord.









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