We Are Damascus Road | Acts 9:1-25
Topic: Stand Alone Passage: Acts 9:1–9:25
Introduction | Names Matter
Good morning! This is our last Sunday in the foreseeable future where we are gathering as one service. Next week we will be moving to two services (9 & 10:45) We are taking this opportunity be reminded about who we are as a church. In the last 9 years countless times people have asked what our name means or straight up gotten it wrong. A visiting pastor from India called us “Doctor Church”. Many have called us “Damascus” some recently have even asked us if we’re a Syrian church or a place for refugees. Names matter because they communicate and define who are to yourself and to others. We are Damascus Road Church. But what does that mean for us and what should it communicate to others? To understand this store we need to know about a man named Saul. Who is Saul? In chapter 8 we see he helped facilitate the murder of Stephen (an early church deacon) by watching the coats of those who stoned him and as a high ranking Pharisees who others would have seen as an authority figure “Saul approved of his execution.” Saul was intentional zealous about his mission. He was radically opposed to Jesus and his people. This was his individual mission in life, but he was also part of a greater systemic culture of opposition Jesus. There was a “great persecution against the church in Jerusalem” and Saul was more than an active participant in this culture. Jesus told his people it would be this way in John 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. If fact we’re told “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” So as we pick up Saul’s story in specific detail, we will see our story in broad strokes.
Verses 1-9 | Saved by Jesus’ Work
Acts 9:1-9 | 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. 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. 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 is so hostile and active in his opposition to Jesus and his people he is “breathing threats and murder” against those who trust and follow Jesus. It is not hyperbole to equate who Saul was in persecuting the church with any modern day ISIS commander who has lead Christians down to the shore to be slaughtered. Later he would write “I am the chief/foremost of sinners” and mean it. He had influence with and access to High Priest and used it to continue his mission of actively reducing Jesus and his people influence in the world. “Give me more authority so I can continue to extend my mission further” While those that followed Jesus were know as part of The Way in verse 3 we see clearly Saul was all about his own way. He is on his own road with his own mission in life. Even if we are not always consciously aware of it each one of us walks down our own way. It may not look as overly hostile as Saul’s but each of us are equally assured of ourselves that our own way is the righteous one. We all think the path we’re on and the work (actions, attitudes) we do and have in our lives are ultimately good, or at least good enough. Our hell is not being our “true selves” so we attempt to “save ourselves” by following our own way and doing our own work. The problem is our way will lead to great pain and destruction for others and ultimately ourselves. Our work is flawed because we are flawed, so we cannot save ourselves. We need to be Saved by Jesus’ work. What does this look like? Saul did not do anything to be saved Jesus did it all.
Confronted by Jesus – Saul wasn’t looking for Jesus but Jesus confronted him. In this case there was a light from heaven “Shekinah Glory”. We know it was noon in the dessert, but this light was even dramatically brighter! Being confronted by God Saul was immediately humbled and fell to the ground. At Damascus Road we hope to constantly show God as overwhelming Glorious
Convicted by Jesus Here is Saul on the ground before the glory of God and Saul is called out by name. “Saul, Saul” and then immediately charged with divine treason. “Why are you persecuting me?” There is no hey do you understand what you’re doing or let me correct you or do you want to explain why it appears you are sinning against God. God speaks and the verdict is guilty of sin. This is part of what we call Gospel Truth. Gospel Truth confronts you with the truth of who Jesus is and who we are. Saul recognizes he is talking to God but he needs some specifics “Who are you, Lord?” the answer “I am…. Jesus.” Jesus goes on to again bring up the mission Saul is on? “Why are you persecuting me?” Jesus identifies Himself with His people. These are my people and when you’re persecuting them you’re persecuting me. God’s first order of business in our lives is addressing our sin because it is our sin that corrupts us and our sin that separates us from Him and who we are created to be. At Damascus Road we hope to find our sin as concerning as Jesus does.
Converted by Jesus Immediately after confronting him and convicting Him of sin what do we see next? We see the Mercy of God in Jesus. By any measure Saul absolutely deserves wrath from God. He’s an accomplice to murder, and now on a self-directed mission of hostility against God and His people all while being diluted into thinking he’s doing God will. God would have be more than justified to strike Saul down at that moment… But instead he tells him “But rise and enter the city and you will be told what to do.” Saul doesn’t get what he deserves. He deserves death, but instead he is given new life. Its life that starts with humility, Saul is blinded he can no longer walk down his own path, his own way without completely falling all over himself. The man who charged ahead boldly from Jerusalem with clear intent is now stumbling into Damascus led by the hand of those with him unable to see anything in the outside world but trusting in the work of Jesus on the Cross for his salvation and the resurrection of Jesus for his new life. He knows there is nothing he can do to get his sight back or find out the course of his life beside trusting Jesus command to enter the city. He has no idea what’s next or his life beyond each step trusting Jesus, his instructions and his work. He arrives and like Jesus in dark tomb for three days Saul cannot see, and is so unsettled he cannot eat or drink. He has no other stimulation but contemplate who Jesus is, what he’s done.
At Damascus Road we are ok with being conflicted and wrestling with the implications of meeting Jesus.
At Damascus Road we have hope for all people, no matter how far or how hostile they appear to Jesus and His people because we know Jesus is more than capable of saving even the most unlikely of “sinners.
Damascus Road is where sinners on a road to destruction are met Jesus and Saved by Jesus’s Work
Verses 10-19 | Changed by Jesus’ Grace
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 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.16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 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; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.
Saul was saved by Jesus on the Road to Damascus. His conversion was individual, but God chose to make his transformation communal. Alone Saul is blind, unsettled, and isolated. Sin separates but the Gospel brings people together. Life with Jesus is not a life of solitude and separation. Saul is not called out to the wilderness to work things out on his own and return ready to engage with his new live and new mission. He’s led into a city and made part of a community of disciples for the purposes of healing and growth.
Community Created by Jesus God’s design for his people is for them to be in community with each other. This is a unique community because its not created or defined by politics, socioeconomic status, race, mutual interests, education it is what we call Gospel Community and it can only be created, defined, and held together by Jesus. Jesus no only intervenes in the life of Saul to save him but he intervenes in the lives of his disciples to call them to help sinners saved by Jesus grow and be changed by Jesus. In this case he has to intervene in radical fashion to allow Saul to become part of God’s people. He has to work on the hearts of his own people to prepare them to receive a new Christian graciously. This was necessary because there is no way Saul shows up to church on Sunday in Damascus and tells everyone he’s met Jesus on the road and now is a Christian, so invite me over for lunch and introduce me to all your leaders and members. “Are you kidding?!” They all know Saul’s reputation, they know he was there when Stephen was murdered, they know he’s a key leader in the organized persecution of the church in Jerusalem, they know he’s been granted authority to go into all the synagogue in Damascus (a city with tens of thousands of Jews) to rally them against the small marginal Christian minority to systematically eliminate the church in this strategic city before it can spread any further. If Saul shows up on his own and everyone scatters. Ananias answers Jesus voice as one who knows Jesus “Here I am, Lord” (ready to serve) but understandably wants some clarification on the instructions. Jesus tells him first “Go.” and also gives him additional information about why he has saved Saul. Saul is going to play a unique and significant roll in Jesus plant to spread the good news of God’s kingdom to the nation of Israel and beyond. Initiated by Jesus and with clarification Ananias obeys Jesus and goes to Saul. When he meets him Ananias greets Saul, the head persecutor of Christians, with his new identity, “Brother Saul.” We are family, you are accepted and received by us because of Jesus work on your behalf, the same Jesus that saved us has saved you and now we are all adopted Sons and Daughters of the King of Kings meaning we’re brothers and sisters in the kingdom all sharing the Holy Spirit the 3rd member of the trinity holding us together not as a collection of individuals but united as one!
At Damascus Road mature disciples who have been walking with Jesus are obedient in initiating and engaging with those who are new to following Jesus or new to our community welcoming them in as brothers and sisters.
Saul is given sight by a new brother who has been sent for his healing. He is then baptized, again into and with a community of other disciples. He then is given food and is “strengthened” His spiritual and material needs are met and provided for in a Jesus loving, obeying, sent Gospel Community. This is all God’s grace.
Damascus Road is where those who have been saved by Jesus’ work are radically changed by Jesus’ Grace.
Verse 19-25 | Living on Jesus’ Mission
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 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. 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.
Chosen by Jesus for a purpose Continuing to be with the disciples of Damascus, Saul got to work engaging with the local synagogues. But this wasn’t his original mission, he had to repent of his former life. He could not say “I’ve been saved by Jesus work and changed by his grace but I am going to live exactly as I would have if I never met Jesus. I am forgiven of sin so I am going to go ahead and keep persecuting the church because that is what I’ve always known, or it’s what I am equipped for. NO! You begin living on Jesus Mission by realizing part of Jesus mission is reclaiming territory in your own heart and life you’ve previously held for yourself. Gospel Living is a life of repentance of our sins in which we once walked and instead beginning a new life a walking out the good works that God has prepared for us. We don’t always know what God’s explicit purpose for our lives are but we do know it always includes rejecting sin.
At Damascus Road we are disciples who recognize joyful life with Jesus includes repentance of sin.
Commissioned by Jesus for a mission Saul quickly goes to work on the mission Jesus has for him. His venue hasn’t changed, he’s still going to the synagogues, but his purpose and mission for being there are radically different. Rather than his own Mission he’s on Jesus mission of His people sharing Jesus is Lord with the world. He can’t stop telling people how Jesus has saved him, how Jesus is changing him, and how he is now living for Jesus. If we’re living on Jesus’ mission we cannot help but be telling others about what Jesus has done, is doing, and will do in our live and our world. This does not always lead to ease or popularity, in fact it will likely lead to the opposite. The hostile environment for the gospel Saul used to be part of hasn’t changed just because he has been converted, because of Jesus he is now on the side of the persecuted, but he is now part of a people who when threatened rally around him and he goes to continue the mission.
At Damascus Road we are disciples who carry Jesus name to the world around us even when it’s difficult.
What is your next step on the road? Have you met or do you know Jesus? If not talk with one of the pastors, if so have you been Baptized? Are you still out on the road alone? Come into the city become part of the community, join a Road Group. Do you have sin that is blinding you and keeping you from living our His purpose? Repent, reach out for help. Need to grow in your understanding of the gospel? Join a Bible Study! Are you still living on your own mission? Are you telling others about Jesus? Serve, give, share, worship!
Damascus Road is where those saved by Jesus’ work, changed by Jesus’s Grace, are Living on Jesus’ Mission.
Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Trust Jesus!