Acts 9 – Story of the Paul’s Damascus Road Conversion.
A life with God is a series of conversions.
Yes there’s one initial conversion of us coming to Christ. But there’s this sense of being blind, then receiving sight happens over and over again.
The illustration of being able to see everyone on the planet from head to toe, front to back, with one exception: Ourselves.
Something that’s really interesting in the NT, is the people who are the most blind, don’t think they’re blind.
Remember the scribes and pharisees. Thought they had the whole God thing figured out. Well come to find they were the MOST wrong.
And really in a lot of ways, I think that Christianity, among other things, is a way of seeing. A way of seeing God, a way of seeing yourself, a way of seeing others.
When we come to Christ, nothing about the world immediately changes, the way we see the world changes. And it’s not just something that happens one time, if you’re really following after God, you sight is constantly being corrected.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest (Acts 9:1)
and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:2)
Great to see that kind of gender equality. He would imprison and kill men OR women for following Jesus.
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. (Acts 9:3)
He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4)
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. (Acts 9:5)
“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6)
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. (Acts 9:7)
Just so we’re perfectly clear. “Saul” was Paul’s original name.
So here in Acts 9, we have two different ways of seeing,.
The first is Saul at the beginning of the story and the second is Saul at the end of the story.
He’s on his way to Damascus, to find more Jesus followers to imprison.
Funny enough, it doesn’t actual say he was on a horse. Who here picture’s Saul on a horse here? So do I. And so does the Christian art of the last 2000 years.
So let’s assume he’s on a horse.
Which is a great metaphor for Saul at this point in his life: He’s riding high, he’s successful, he’s educated, he’s well-known.
He’s devoted to God. This isn’t a man who hates people who believe in God, HE believes in God. He does NOT believe in Jesus, and he’s trying to put a stop to it.
He is absolutely confident in the way he sees the world.
Until the bright light comes and knocks him to the ground.
And he of course physically becomes blind. But of course the truth here is that he’s always been blind. He just didn’t know it. You know what I mean?
Try to see yourself in that.
The assumption that you know more about God than you actually do.
You have your theological system down pat. You’re positive that other people are right only to the extent in which they agree with you.
- The assumption that you know yourself better than you actually do.
- The assumption that you understand other people more than you actually do.
- The assumption that your way of seeing the world is the right one.
And then comes the bright light.
And then comes you falling on your face.
If pride goes before the fall. This is the fall that comes after the pride.
This is always painful. Who likes to be knocked on their butts on the way to Damascus. Nobody.
Especially when you’re used to being strong and confident and successful. Being struck blind is not the way you were wanting your day to go. And that can be embarrassing, and humbling.
But the thing is, the bright light, it’s GRACE.
Whatever is bad for the ego is good for the soul.
Like I’ve started saying a lot: Grace is strong medicine.
Sometimes Grace comes and reveals to you things about yourself that are really painful.
But it’s all in service of giving you sight.
The only way that God can bring us sight is to first show us our blindness.
Flannery O Connor – Revelation
Shortstory / Free on the internet
About a lady named Miss Turpin.
Old Fashioned, southern lady. Very proper, very proud of her good deeds.
And she has absolutely no respect for Black People and what she calls ‘white trash’.
So she’s in a doctors waiting room and she’s basically eyeballing everybody, like she always does and putting people into categories.
And she noticed a young college student : “Mary Grace”
And she noticed a young college student. She’s reading a book and she has really bad acne.
Miss Turpin internally starts making assumptions about this young girl.
Out of nowhere the girl, who’s named ‘Mary Grace’, throws her book at Miss Turpin and it hits her upside the head and lays her out flat. When she wakes up, she sees Mary Grace with hatred in her eyes, choking her. And the other people in the waiting room and pulling her off Miss Turpin.
And when Miss Turpin looks into the young girls eyes, there’s something ancient and mysterious, as if the young Mary Grace knows something about Miss Turpin.
So Miss Turpin yells out: “What do you have to say to me?”
And the young lady with hatred in her eyes says to Miss Turpin: “Go back to hell where you came from you old wart hog.”
Later when Miss Turpin is back at home on the farm, she’s tending to the pigs and she has a vision of a bridge extending from the earth all the way up to heaven.:
On the bridge : “a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of negros in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics (all the people she considered as less than herself) shouldering and clapping and leaping like frogs, and finally a whole tribe of people just like herself marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.”
I think that story is a lot like Paul’s conversion.
She’s going along, convinced she sees the world rightly, when BAM, she gets clocked and laid out.
And that’s the beginning of her true sight.
And that wouldn’t have happened without the book. Imagine the story without the book: A racist woman has a vision of heaven. That’s boring. The point of the story is the flying book.
And as weird as it sounds, I actually think that’s sometimes how God’s grace works.
I don’t think God comes and throws a book at our head, but I do think we tend to get knocked off our high horse, which makes us aware of how blind we are.
And that’s the first step in getting true sight.
Whereas before we were convinced that we saw the world exactly right, and then we realize ‘I don’t see anything!’ And that clears the way for true sight.
Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. (Acts 9:8)
For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9:9)
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. (Acts 9:10)
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. (Acts 9:11)
In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” (Acts 9:12)
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. (Acts 9:13)
And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:14)
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. (Acts 9:15)
I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:16)
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17)
Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, (Acts 9:18)
So at the beginning of you story you see arrogant, cocky Saul. Convinced that the way he sees everything is right.
And now at the end you see Saul blind, feeling around, depending on other people to lead him to go anywhere.
You could say it like this: In the first half of Sauls life, all his sentences ended with a period. He was certain, he was arrogant, he was always right. Now in the second half of his life, Saul is driven by questions.
Now all of a sudden he’s asking : “Who are you Lord?” And some translations include : “What do you want me to do?”
All of a sudden, Saul doesn’t have all the answers. He recognizes his own blindness.
And only after Ananias comes to him is his sight restored.
So here’s the question: Is this just a once in a lifetime encounter, and once you receive you sight, can you see perfectly for the rest of your life? Or is the Christian life marked by lots of Damascus road experiences?
On one hand, this only happens to Saul once.
But if we look at his life, you can see his life is marked by knowing, unknowing, knowing, unknowing.
Paul in his gospels seems to brag about weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, difficulties, being weak,
Here’s something that has been something I’ve been coming to grips with over the last few years for me: As I’ve grown in my Christian life, there’s MORE mystery, not less.
The more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.
I’ve been in full time ministry for a decade. And I was really expecting to have more solid, concrete answers than I do. But the more I dig deep into the Christian faith, the more I learn that I’m just scratching the surface. I actually say ‘I don’t know’ MORE now then I did 10 years ago. And I wasn’t expecting that.
Brainy. Especially for someone like me who in a sense can be very brainy. I find learning to be very energizing. And so I really would have thought that at this point in my Christian life and pastoral calling, that there wouldn’t be as many question marks as there still are.
As you climb up the mountain, the sky doesn’t get clearer, it’s gets cloudier.
And even after you’ve been following Jesus for decades, the truly believe that the honest is still comes back to ‘Who are you Lord? What would you have me to do?’
Wouldn’t you like to just be able to ask that question one time, when you first come to Christ and from there on out, everything is completely clear? You know exactly who God is and you know exactly what he wants you to do.
Ex: Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh.
Keep in mind that this a mature, seasoned Paul, has been following Jesus for years at this point.
He’s probably the most prolific spiritual teacher in the history of the world.
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. (2 Corinthians 12:1)
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. (2 Corinthians 12:2)
And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— (2 Corinthians 12:3)
was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 Corinthians 12:4)
So evidently Paul has a friend who had this incredible spiritual encounter. Saw things that no one else was allowed to see
I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:5)
Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, (2 Corinthians 12:6)
or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
We don’t know what the thorn in the flesh is. LOTS of theories. Some people think it’s a temptation, some people think it’s a physical issue, other people think he’s talking about a person, think HEKCLER that follows him around. That’s not the point right now.)
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. (2 Corinthians 12:8)
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
This is amazing. Here Paul is saying that there’s something in his life that he doesn’t like, and he asks God to take it away from him. To which God replies ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’
My point is that there’s this Goliath in the faith named Paul and even he has things about his Christian walk that he doesn’t understand.
Still things about God that he’s blind to. He’s already written a good deal of the NT at this point, and he’s still blind to certain things.
When Paul was YOUNG, he was arrogant, self-confident, understand absolutely everything, or so he thought. Anyone remember this phase of life?
But as he gets older, he realizes that there’s plenty of things he doesn’t understand.
As he grows in God, it’s not LESS mystery, it’s MORE mystery.
Question: If it’s true for the Apostle Paul, do you think it’s possible that you don’t understand everything? Is it possible that there’s still blindness in your life?
The problem with not knowing is that we don’t know what we don’t know.
We often don’t realize the areas we blind in. And just get comfortable in that.
That’s really a part of what I want Outlet to be. Our mission statement here is to reach the unchurched, the alienated and the seeking.
Not all of us are unchurched, not all of us are alienated, but my hope is that we would all be seekers.
The Mystical Theology of Dionysius
There’s this great essay that was written in the 6th century.
Was very influential in Christianity.
Still is in the east. Less so in the west.
Western Christianity is much more concerned about wrapping all our theology up in a nice neat package with a pretty bow. Eastern Christianity is much more comfortable with mystery and not-knowing.
It’s essentially about Moses ascending Mount Saini and how as he gets higher, it doesn’t get brighter, it gets darker. And he uses this as a metaphor for the unknowing that will always exist in the life of the honest Christian.
I’m just gonna warn you, it was written in the 6th century and it SOUNDS like it was written in the 6rh century.
But just try to hear the heart of it.
Through these, Its incomprehensible Presence is manifested upon those heights of Its Holy Places; that then It breaks forth, even from that which is seen and that which sees, and plunges the mystic into the Darkness of Unknowing, whence all perfection of understanding is excluded, and he is enwrapped in that which is altogether intangible, wholly absorbed in it that is beyond all, and in none else (whether himself or another); and through the inactivity of all his reasoning powers is united by his highest faculty to it that is wholly unknowable; thus by knowing nothing he knows That which is beyond his knowledge.
That’s one sentence there folks.
Sounds like someting Yoda would say in a swamp.
I updated the verbiage just a tiny bit:
Through the incomprehensible Presence which only shows itself at the top of the mountain; the seeker is thrust into the Darkness of Unknowing.
There, all perfection of understanding is gone, and he is surrounded by that which is completely intangible.
The seeker comes face to face with things wholly unknowable.
Then, by knowing nothing, he knows that which is beyond knowledge.
But that’s started to mean a lot to me: To know God in a way that is outside reason.
Where it’s not just taking place in your head.
Where not only do we recognize that we don’t understand everything, but where we’re not even trying to understand everything.
Something that I missed for a long time with this Damascus road story:
Paul was not the only one to receive sight in this story.
emember Ananias. He’s the Christ follower who goes and restores Saul’s sight.
And I love this exchange between him and God:
- God: “Go to this man named Saul and lay hands on him to restore his sight.”
- Ananias: “God, not sure if you really have your finger on the pulse here. I’m very familiar with this Saul guy, and in case you missed it, he kills people like me.”
- God: “Shut Up and do it anyway.”
So not only is Saul receiving his sight, Ananias is given the ability to see Saul in a new way.
As opposed to “I know his kind.” No, he’s forced to get out of his old way of seeing people and see Saul in a new way.
Which I think is very instructive for those of us who have followed God for a long time.
That just because you see some thing, doesn’t mean you see everything.
- Just because you know some things doesn’t mean you know everything.
- Just because you’re right about some things, doesn’t mean you’re right about everything.
Without humility, there’s always a sense in which you’re blind.
But to Ananias’s credit, he was still open.
He was still open to God surprising him.
Some of us can’t hear God anymore because we think we already know what he’s going to say.
Prepare – Communion
Part of what happens when we let God shape the way we see is we start to see other people with eyes of hope.
I’m sure you guys have heard the term ‘Discernment’.
Well I used to think of that always as God warning you about stuff.
“That guy gives me the creeps.”
And to be clear, I think that DOES happen.
But I also know that I don’t need God’s help to feel creepy about someone. I can do that just fine on my own.
There is ANOTHER piece of discernment that is God causing you to see people with eyes of hope.
Ananias goes to Saul, the killer of Christians, lays his hands on him and he says ‘Brother’. THAT’s when the scales fall from Saul’s eyes.
I can think of multiple examples of people that had NO hope, until someone goes to them and sees them not for their failure, not for their sin, but from a place of hope and love. And how that makes God’s future for them possible.
In this room : People – feel rejected Christian community.
There’s plenty of people in this room that have been rejected or have felt rejected by the Christian community at large, but it’s your (all of you guys) embracing and loving and caring for people like that that has opened up a whole new future for them.