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Paul is changed - Acts 9:1-19

This is a family service talk by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 28th January 2001.

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Now this morning I want to begin with a question: "Which King was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine? Was it Henry I, Henry II, Richard I, or Henry V?" It was of course Henry II. And does anyone know where that question comes from? "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" That was the answer that Judith Keppel, aged 58 from Fulham, West London gave to Chris Tarrant on 20th November 2000 to win herself a million pounds. And the following morning after the show was on TV she appeared on GMTV and said that the money would give her peace of mind and that it had changed her life.

Now this morning I thought I would give someone the chance to win a million pounds. So I need one volunteer.
Ask contestant: "What would you do with a million pounds?"
And the question is this: "What was the score between Leeds and Liverpool in the FA Cup yesterday? Was it 1-0; 3-4; 0-5; 0-2?
Consolation prize if wrong / Cheque for 1 million if right!

Now many people believe that winning a million pounds would change their lives for the better. But for many people who have won it has actually made their lives worse. And I have some personal of this. A few years ago, my great aunt won 500,000 on the football pools. Now you would have thought that this would sort out all the problems that the family faced. But actually it caused more. There was bickering over the money, she received loads of begging letters, and in the end the money was more of a problem for the family. OK, they managed to get a few new windows and a few nice holidays, but in the end the money was whittled away, and there is not much left now. And just for the record, I never saw a penny.

Money does change lives, but not always for the good, and it is never for ever. But this morning I want to tell you about someone whose life was changed around dramatically for ever. Our reading for this morning is from the Acts of the Apostles chapter 9, and in this chapter Luke is telling us how Paul had a complete change around. And the reason was he met Jesus Christ, and Jesus changed him for ever. It was far better than receiving a million pounds, and it was a change that would last forever. And over the next few months in the Family Services we’re going to be looking at the life of Paul and seeing some amazing things which happened to him. And we begin this morning with the day when he met Jesus.

 

1) Paul was a Real Rebel

And the first thing we discover about Paul was that he was a real rebel. Acetate 1- titles. Have a look at verse 1: "Meanwhile Saul [which was Paul’s former name until he changed it] was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found anyone there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem." Now I guess if we had met Paul as this stage we might have thought of him as a very respectable man. He was one of the finest Biblical scholars in his day, he was taught by the best in the country, and he was doing well in his job high in the country’s religious circles. I guess he was like one the secretaries to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was doing very well thankyou very much and he was on the way up. He was the sort of person you would have liked to have met at posh cocktail parties in the city to talk about politics and religion. But underneath all that pompousness and pride he was an evil man.

See what he tries to do to these Christians. Acetate 2- Nasty Paul Luke says that he was breathing out murderous threats against the Christians. He hates Christians and he rides all across the country trying to stamp out this new belief. He was probably trying to impress his seniors and he was certainly doing what he thought was right. He believed that Jesus was a common thief. No doubt he was very pleased to see Jesus nailed to a cross. And he believed all Jesus’ followers should be killed and taken out of action. And Paul went about it in a very rigorous fashion. Luke tells us in chapter 8 that Paul tried to destroy the Christian church in Jerusalem and then followed the Christians as they went to different parts of the country trying to escape. Paul hounded them until he captured them and put them in prison or worse. And on this day Paul was aiming to get the Christians in Damascus, a week’s journey from Jerusalem. Acetate 3- Paul to Damascus. So here was Paul going to the other end of his country just for the sake of killing some Christians. He was devoted to his job alright. You could say he was obsessed. Paul was a real rebel. He had completely misunderstood who Jesus was. And Paul didn’t want anything to do with him.

So on the surface Paul was a respectable religious leader. But below the surface he was a cruel, bloodthirsty, obsessive man who would try anything to kill off the Christians. Can you imagine anyone less likely to become a Christian? Of all the people in the world, here was a man that was so opposed to Christianity and Christians that he would happily have killed everyone to get rid of them. But the interesting thing is that you and I are in the same position. Beneath our outward respectability there are nasty thoughts and sins that lurk in our hearts and totally corrupt us, making us, like Paul, rebels against God. Let me explain what I mean.

I have here beside me my trusty assistant Roger. Now on the outside, Roger looks very respectable. He’s wearing a nice jacket and tie and seems to be a very nice person. He speaks in a pleasant way, and is the sort of person you would trust, I guess. But what is he like on the inside? Let’s see inside his heart. What do we find- Roger reveals a filthy Tee-shirt with "sins" written all over it . Well what a sight! On the inside in Roger’s heart are all the things we are ashamed of- evil thoughts, wickedness, lies and deceit. And it’s not just Roger’s heart but all our hearts. Inside tells another story. And it can be very depressing when we look at that picture. We let others down, we let ourselves down and most importantly of all, we let God down. So is there any hope? Was there any hope for Paul as he trundled along on his donkey towards Damascus with his murderous intentions?

 

2) Paul met the real King

Well let’s see what happened next. Paul met the real King. Acetate 1 again- Titles. So Paul is happily going on his journey to Damascus. It was about midday, the time when everyone else was having a nap, so it’s clear Paul meant business. And all of a sudden something amazing happens. Let’s see how Luke tells the story. Verse 3: "Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him: "Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?" Acetate 4- Paul in light. Now this is unbelievable stuff. Paul is thrown off his donkey and falls to the ground as a huge bright light shines around him. Paul is absolutely terrified and hears a voice asking him a question: "Why are you persecuting me?" And so Paul asks an obvious question: "Who are you Lord?" Already Paul knows who is the boss. He calls this person Lord. And then the voice replies and the answer is staggering: "I am Jesus who you are persecuting." You can imagine Paul’s jaw dropping open. You can imagine him thinking: "Jesus, I thought he was dead." But no, Jesus is well and truly alive. And the staggering truth is that when Paul attacked the Christians he was actually attacking Jesus. And when you attack Jesus, you attack God. Paul had got it badly wrong. He had thought that he was doing what pleased God by trying to destroy the Christians, but in fact he was going against God and killing the very people who were the true followers of God. Paul had made a huge mistake.

And so Jesus stopped Paul in his tracks and brought him to his senses. In that one amazing encounter, Paul realised that Jesus was not a criminal, but was actually the true King, the one who he must serve and worship, and most importantly of all the one who could deal with all Paul’s sins and evil. Jesus was the one who had the power to change his life forever. Paul had never deserved to be saved, but Jesus stepped in and saved him from going against God and leading his life without God.

And so Paul is taken by the hand because he’s been blinded by the light, into the city, to a place in Straight Street (Acetate 5- Straight Street) and there he waits for three days. And then a man comes to him called Ananias who heals him of his blindness and tells him that he is forgiven and has been accepted by God and all the Christians. Acetate 6- Ananias and Paul. It can’t have been easy for Ananias. He makes sure that Paul is the one God wants him to go. But when he does he calls Paul his brother and Paul’s life is turned around. Paul has met the real King and life will never be the same again.

And the amazing thing is that life for us will never be the same once we have met Jesus. We too can receive the forgiveness and the fresh start that Paul received.

Let me explain by getting my trusty assistant back here again. You see as we saw, our hearts are full of terrible evil. Even though we may not be murderers like Paul, yet still we are full of the most horrible things, many of which people don’t see. And the question is can we get rid of them? We might try with all sorts of cleaning agents. We might think coming to church will clean our hearts. We may think giving lots of money will help, or we may think doing good things will help. Like Paul we think that we are doing what pleases God. But we may have missed the most important thing, which is that only Jesus can turn us around and give us a new heart. And the brilliant news is that he did it for Paul and he can do it for us too. And so by trusting Jesus’ death (Acetate 7- The Cross) for us we can receive a new heart- Roger reveals a clean tee-shirt underneath. We too can be forgiven and given a fresh start. And that is brilliant news. As Paul went on he realised more and more just what brilliant news this was and he said these words to some of his friends (Acetate 8- verse): "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst." Paul met the real King.

 

3) Paul’s Life was Really Different

But our final question is what happened after that? Did Paul go back to murdering and killing Christians? No, of course not. Rather, Paul’s life was really different. Acetate 1 again- Titles. Let’s see what God had in store for Paul. God says about Paul in verse 15: "This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name". God had a job for Paul to do: It was to tell people about Jesus. Acetate 9- Paul speaking. He would become the most important missionary in the history of the church. He would carry the good news about Jesus all across the Roman empire from Jerusalem to Rome, and he would suffer many terrible things in the process.

So what a transformation! Acetate 10- Paul happy. At the beginning of Paul’s trip to Damascus, he was a man completely opposed to God’s ways and wanting to kill Christians. But by the end of that trip he was telling people about what Jesus had done for him and that Jesus was the real king. And for the rest of his life he would never be the same again. He had undergone a radical change that would last for ever.

And from Paul’s time until now, the same thing has been happening time and again. Jesus has been meeting people and changing people to live for him, forgiven and restored to be his friends. And today here at St. John’s this building is full of people who know and trust in Jesus as the real king. Acetate 8 again- verse. And if God is able to rescue a man like Paul, then he is certainly able to rescue those of us who think we don’t need it, or think we are too bad to be saved. He did it for Paul and he can do it for you, even today. And he is also able to rescue those friends of ours who we think will never become Christians. You see it is very tempting to think of our friends that they will never become Christians. But the story of Paul shows how wrong that thinking is.

As we finish let me tell you about a friend of mine called Peter. Peter was a student at one of the best universities in the country. He was studying law and was extremely bright. He had everything going for him, and he thought he was the bee’s knees. Peter was also very good at arguing, as any lawyer should be, and he was able to argue against anything his Christian friends could throw at him. And when I met him, I thought there was no way this person would ever become a Christian. He is just too set in his ways, he is too bright, he’s too arrogant. Well one day, after Peter had had several long discussions with more friends, he sat down one night to read a book about Jesus. And he read all night. And at the end of that night he gave his life to Jesus Christ. Jesus had met him and turned him around. He had rescued that bright arrogant lawyer who thought he was too clever for Jesus. And now he is a beautiful Christian who seeks to live for Jesus Christ in his office in the centre of London.

You see we might think that money would change everything. But it doesn’t. The only person who can do that is Jesus Christ. He did it for Paul that day, and he can do it for us, and he’ll keep doing it until he comes again. So let’s pray on and carry on the work that Paul started and let’s rejoice again in the grace that saves people like us!

 

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