Date: 14 May 2023
Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Text: Acts 9:1-30
10 years ago, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, who have won 16 Grammys between them, collaborated to perform the song “Everything has changed”. It’s a love song about how your life is flipped upside down when you meet someone new.
The chorus goes:
'Cause all I know is we said, "Hello" And your eyes look like coming home All I know is a simple name And everything has changed
All I know is you held the door You'll be mine and I'll be yours All I know since yesterday Is everything has changed
I have no idea how she won a grammy. It sounds like a diary entry of a secondary school kid. Still, so many love songs are written in that same vein, albeit more creatively. But the point is made, meeting someone new, falling in love with someone, is a life-changing experience.
Those of you who are married can testify to that. If you had not met your spouse, if you had remained single, your life would be vastly different from the way it is today.
If you marry a non-Singaporean, there is every chance you might settle down overseas. If you married a billionaire, perhaps you wouldn’t be working in your current job, or living in your current house. Some of you are worshipping in Hermon because you married a Hermonite.
It’s not just spouses though. Our bosses at work have the power to greatly affect our lives as well. How much time you’re able to spend with your family, how much stress you endure on a daily basis, how supported or targeted you feel at work, all these depend on what your boss is like.
If you are a parent, you know this, your children shape so much of your life as well. Life before and after having children, are completely different pictures. How much sleep you get, how much yelling you do, how you spend your holidays, nothing is the same before and after the birth of your child.
That’s what it means to have someone new in your life. Spouse, children, bosses. The fact is this: the significant relationships in our lives, have the potential to completely change our lives.
How significantly did Jesus change your life? How much of your life changed as a result of coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ? What difference did your conversion make in your life?
This morning, we will hear a conversion story. The conversion of a man known as Saul of Tarsus. And we will witness how meeting the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus changed everything in his life. We will see how his conversion, his new relationship with Jesus, transformed his commission – his purpose in life, as well as his communion – the community with whom he shares his new way of living.
3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
Now I want to notice three things about Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
First, Saul was called by name.
Unlike the blinding light from heaven, this experience of being called by name is not unique to Saul. From the Gospels, we see that when Jesus calls someone to follow him, typically, it is not a general summons to faith, it is a specific call to an individual to trust. He looks at them, and he says to them, “follow me”. In other words, the call to follow Jesus is a personal call.
Which means that true conversion possesses a personal quality. It is not sufficient to be intellectually persuaded to the truth of Christianity. Intellectually conviction is a necessary element of conversion, but not sufficient in and of itself. There must also be a sense that Gospel was preached to you. That Jesus died not for the world in general, but for you in particular. That the sins which held him at the cross, is not some vague nebulous notion of universal evil, but the sins that you committed in your life, for which you are personally guilty.
There must be a sense that Jesus is calling you. Almost, as it were, by name.
And so we sing the words of the hymn.
Why have You chosen me Out of millions Your child to be You know all the wrongs that I’ve done Oh, how could You pardon me And forgive my iniquities, To save me you gave Jesus, Your Son
It is necessary that the call to conversion is a personal call because what qualifies us to enter the kingdom is not whether we can ace a theological exam, or whether we can recite the apostles Creed of whether you can lead a good bible study. No.
That which qualifies us for the kingdom is one thing alone: do you know Jesus; rather, does Jesus know you? In other words, are you in a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ?
The personal quality of conversion cannot be underestimated because ultimately, we are called by a person to a person.
I said there were three things I wanted us to learn about conversion from these verses.
First, Saul was called by name. Conversion is a personal call.
Second, Saul was called by a name. Conversion is a personal call to a person.
4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
Saul understood that he is not speaking to a “divine light”, he was speaking to a person. Not least because Jesus asked a personal question. Why are you persecuting me. Who are you Lord? I am Jesus. This person has a name. His name is Jesus.
Jesus of Nazareth who walked the earth, died on the cross and was raised to life again. This Jesus is calling Saul. He’s not a power, not a force, he’s a person with a name. I am Jesus, he says.
One more piece of textual evidence points to the personhood of the voice.
7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.
Which implies, that Saul did not merely hear the voice, but saw someone.
We have established two points so far.
First, that conversion is a personal call, it is a personal encounter.
Second, that conversion is a personal call to a person. It is a personal encounter with another person.
But who is this person? Unless we can answer that question, we would not know how to relate to him.
If someone calls you on the phone, you would respond very differently, depending on whether that someone in the other line was insurance cold caller, or if it was your wife.
At least I hope it would be different. “Not interested.”
So who is this Jesus? Saul calls him Lord. And Jesus certainly assumes that identity.
And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Jesus initiates the relationship with Saul with a rebuke. Why are you persecuting me? And in the very next breath, issues him a directive.
So Saul addresses Jesus as Lord, and Jesus behaves as though he is Saul’s Lord.
And that’s the third point we want to note about conversion. It is an encounter with a Lord.
To sum it up, conversion it is a personal encounter with a personal Lord. That’s the defining characteristic of the call of the Gospel. It’s not so much a call to respond to, or a decision to make, no, it is a command to obey, because the one who calls you is none other than the Lord Jesus. The Lord of Lords, the Lord of all.
And this means that conversion brings you into a new relationship which affects the course of your life. Because now there is a Lord. That means that you no longer chart your own path, you are no longer the captain of your ship, no longer in charge of your life.
If you have a Lord, then you are a follower. You are subordinate to another. Your will is subject to your master’s. You now take instruction, you receive directions, you obey commandments. That’s the new relationship you have with the Lord Jesus Christ, upon conversion.
And this brings us to our second point.
Conversion leads to Commission. the new relationship forged at conversion results in a new orientation of life.
I want us to notice what happens to Saul as an immediate consequence of encountering the risen Christ.
8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Saul was blinded for three days. He had to be led by the hand into the city. Imagine going blind after seeing Jesus.
That’s upside down. That’s not supposed to happen!
He heals the broken-hearted And sets the captive free, He makes the lame to walk again And causes the blind to see.
Did Jesus not know of this Sunday school song? What’s going on.
What’s going on is an acted parable. The man who has come from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute the followers of “The Way”, is now unable to find his own way. He cannot see, he does not know where he’s going, he can no longer carry out his original mission. He must surrender his way, his plans, his path in life, and submit to the guidance and leading of another – namely, the Lord Jesus.
I teaching Ruby Catechism last Sunday and the first lesson was on the topic “What it means to be a Christian”, and I gave her an analogy, I said, “Do you play any instruments? Being a Christian is like picking up a new skill. You show up to class, and you go, “I have no idea what to do, please show me, please teach me.”
And Ruby said to me, “I know what you mean. I take akido with a friend, and at the start of every lesson, we greet the teacher with a Japanese phrase which in English means, “Guide me”.
That, in a nutshell is what it means to follow Jesus. It’s going I have no idea how to live. I can’t find my way in the world. I am blind and I need you to guide me, I need you to lead, to show me the way.
17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.
When we think you can see, the grace of God blinds us, so all we see is our need for him. But when we come to blind and helpless, the grace of God grants us sight, and by his spirit grants us light.
And so conversion is the experience of coming to see the world with fresh eyes. As though seeing it for the first time. We see the world differently than before, because we see it more clearly, we see the truth of it more deeply.
We now see Jesus Christ for who he is – the risen Lord, and he has a royal mission for us, which is to proclaim the good news of his kingdom to the ends of the earth.
Having the Great Commission as our life mission makes no sense, prior to a personal encounter with the risen Jesus. Try telling a non-believer to expend his life on the mission of Christ and he will look at you as though you are crazy. It makes no sense.
But when we have come to know Jesus as Lord, and so come to see his forgiveness as truth and his kingdom as real, then carrying out the Great Commission is the only way to live that makes any sense at all. Because there are consequences to living in contradiction to the truth of reality.
When COVID-19 hit, there are so many statements released by healthcare professionals to assure us that the threat is real, that social distancing is required, and masks should be worn and hands should be sanitised, that staying at home for an entire month during circuit breaker is necessary and that vaccination is the way to end the pandemic. We lived through that. It was not a fun time. Weddings were postponed. Holidays were cancelled. Schools had to close. Christians couldn’t gather on Sundays to worship. If COVID was real, its an insane way to live. It’s so difficult, it required so much sacrifice, it imposed so many restrictions. But COVID was real, and so it was only to live that made sense. Because it was a matter of life and death. Lives were at stake, and so those hard days, the surrendering of our freedoms, the sacrifices we had to make, they all made sense, they were worth it. The fact that COVID was real, changes everything.
Friends, if at conversion, your eyes have been opened to see that Jesus is the risen Lord of all, and that there is no other name under heaven by which man may be saved, and that his coming kingdom is the one true eternal reality, then that must change everything. Because lives are at stake. It’s a matter of eternal life and eternal death.
And so true conversion must effect a new mission, a new orientation of life. Which what happened with Saul.
13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
Saul’s life took a complete U-turn. He was once a persecutor of the Christians, and now he is to be proclaimer of Christ.
When we met Saul prior to his conversion, this was his original mission:
1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
But once he met Jesus and once his eyes were opened, this is what we see him doing:
20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
True conversion leads to a re-orientation of life. It calls for new life mission – namely, to fulfill the Great Commission.
And one side-effect of conversion is confusion. I don’t mean the new Christian is confused, his new orientation of life, his new mission in life, confuses those who knew him before his conversion.
And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews
For an onlooker, witnessing the new life of a Christian is amazing, its confounding, its confusing, because the Christian so different from before. The convert’s new way of life demands an explanation, which is none other than “I have met the risen Jesus”.
As someone once said, our lives as Christians must raise a series of questions for which “Jesus” is the answer.
Confusion is one way of confirming that conversion took place! You see those diet advertisements online? The before and after pictures are radically different, the difference between them is major, it’s obvious. The intent is for you to go, “Wow, something happened here. Something made a massive difference. What could be the cause of it?” And then the advertisement gives you the answer, “It’s the Keto diet, it’s Paleo diet, its intermittent fasting, etc”. The point is this, it is the difference that demands a reason.
If the before picture is of a 80kg man, and the after picture is of the same guy, this time 78kg. That wouldn’t be a very good advertisement would it. You go, who cares what that guy ate? Whatever it was, it’s pointless, it’s doesn’t matter, for all you know, it’s a scam.
It is the difference that proves it works. And that is true of every true conversion. How do you know it happened? Well, there is difference, there is a change, and the only explanation is Jesus.
Now this change, this difference, is new life mission, might not be what you are expecting.
I have heard preachers say something to the effect of, “Come to Jesus, bask in his love, remain in the centre of his will, trust in his power, and you will have victory over your circumstances, you will see breakthrough in your obstacles, you will experience favor with all people”.
That’s not the quite the message that Jesus gave to his disciples, nor to Saul in our text today. Hear the will of Jesus for Saul:
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
And we see this come to pass.
23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. Anybody wants to sign up for the Great Commission now? The point is this, conversion leads us to the Great Commission, which results in suffering.
This is a teaching consistent throughout the Bible. At some point in church history, the cross became an accessory that we wear around necks, that we plate with gold and encrust with jewels, and it’s a lovely, brilliant thing to behold, we lost sight of what it truly is – an emblem of suffering and shame, which Christians are called to carry.
The point is this, conversion brings us to the great commission, which brings us suffering in this world. Christianity was never meant to be easy, never meant to feel comfortable, it was always about following a crucified Christ.
So, if you are a Christian, are you ready to suffer, are you prepared to suffer for the sake of the gospel?
Friends, without a willingness to suffer, we cannot fulfill our mission as Christians. We know this to be true. If we’re unwilling to suffer, we can never excel at our jobs. Without a willingness to suffer, we can never be good husbands, or good fathers, our good children for that matter. Without a willingness to suffer, we likewise cannot be good Christians.
Is bringing the family to Henderson at 9:30am on Sunday to worship in person easy, no it isn’t. Is hosting CG gatherings in your home stress-free? No it isn’t. Is rushing down after a full day’s work to attend a church conference two weekdays in a row, convenient? No it’s not. But when has comfort and convenience ever been considerations for the Christian? Because, lest we forget, they were never considerations for Christ.
And one thing for which we must willingly suffer is for the church. Because true conversion which leads us to the Great Commission brings us into a new Communion with the church.
26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.
Saul wanted to join the disciples, and when he did, the text says, “he went in an out among them”, which is the way of saying, he did everything, he did life together with them.
Coming to Jesus and entering into a relationship with him, necessarily entails entering into a community of believers – that is, the church. Which is the reason why baptism (signifying one’s union with Jesus) is at the same time membership (signifying one’s commitment to the church).
Why? Because Jesus identifies himself with the church.
4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?”
And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
The bible does not allow us to practically distinguish between our vertical relationship with Jesus and our horizontal relationship with the church. Saul never once laid hands on Jesus, but Jesus accuses Saul of persecuting him. Because Saul was persecuting the Christians, and as far as Jesus is concerned, that is him. Jesus identifies himself with the church.
So coming to Jesus is joining a church. Loving Jesus means loving the church. You cannot separate the body (which is the church) from the head (which is Christ).
So, how does Jesus heal Saul’s blindness? He sends Ananias. Couldn’t Jesus have healed Saul himself, of course he can. But he does it through Ananias, because when he calls Saul to himself, he is calling Saul into fellowship with Christians.
17 So Ananias departed and entered the house.
And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
And Jesus appeared to Ananias in a vision to allay his fears about Saul’s mission in Damascus.
But how does he allay the fears of the disciples in Jerusalem? He uses Barnabas.
27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
He could have appeared to the Jerusalem disciples in a divine vision as well. But he uses Barnabas, who will become a gospel partner with Saul later on. Because Jesus’ healing, and grace, and love, and fellowship is ordinarily mediated to Christians through other Christians.
And that my friends, is story of Saul’s conversion. It is a Conversion that lead him to a the Great Commission, and brought him into a new Communion with the saints in Christ.
May the same story be told of our conversion as well.