Lessons on the Road to Damascus
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
September 26, 2004
Show video clip – The
Transformation at end of Disney’s “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST”
The Beast certainly went
through quite a transformation – from being so ugly that people were
terrified of him to being a handsome young man. But you know, there’s
someone who went through an even greater change. But his change wasn’t
just cosmetic… it wasn’t just what’s on the outside. He was changed
from the inside out. And we read about him earlier in the service.
We know this man by two
different names: Saul and Paul. Saul was his Hebrew name, and Paul was
his Latin name. So for the sake of simplicity, we’ll refer to him as
Paul here this morning. Paul was a Pharisee, one of the religious
leaders in the Jewish community. And he absolutely hated Christians. In
fact, his goal was to completely eradicate them. He had already taken
care of most of the Jews in Jerusalem by arresting them, killing them,
or chasing them into hiding, so he decided to expand his territory. He
had heard about a growing population of Christians in Damascus, so he
requested permission from the Sanhedrin who ruled over the Jews to go
there to extradite any Jewish Christians there, received that
permission, and set out.
[Map in PowerPoint]
Damascus was about 250
kilometres from Jerusalem and it would have taken up to a week to
travel that far by foot. But he was finally approaching Damascus,
salivating at the prey of Christians who lie ahead, when his life was
transformed. A light from heaven flashed around him, and he fell to the
ground blind just in time to hear a voice say, “Saul, why do you
“Who are you,” he asked.
“Jesus,” came the reply.
And then Jesus proceeded to tell Paul to go into the city and wait for
a man He would send to him. Paul did what Jesus said, Barnabas came and
restored his sight, and Paul went on to become a great ambassador for
Christ. In fact, he wrote several letters, 13 of which are included in
our Bibles today.
Three Lessons On The Road To Damascus:
This morning I want to
look at three lessons we learn from Paul’s experience on the Road to
Damascus and the transformation that occurred in his life. The first
lesson is this:
1. It’s not
what happens to us that matters, it’s how we handle it!
"If your bread
goes dry, make croutons."
Saul was stopped dead in
his tracks, blinded and knocked to the ground. And this was just the
beginning of the sufferings that would follow him throughout his life.
He would experience beatings, stonings, hunger, shipwreck,
imprisonment, and eventually he would even be killed because of his
He could have become
wrapped up in his problems. He could have become bitter. He could have
become angry at God. But he didn’t. How did he handle it? Well, let’s
look at some of his writings and find out:
2 Corinthians 4:9 (NLT)
We are hunted down, but God never abandons
us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.
One time when he was in
prison, he decided to write a letter to a church in the city of
Philippi. This is part of what he wrote:
Philippians 4:4 (NLT)
Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it
And later in that same
letter he wrote:
Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT)
Not that I was ever in need, for I have
learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know
how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the
secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach
or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help
of Christ who gives me the strength I need.
Paul knew how to handle
the problems life threw at him.
In 1962, Victor and
Mildred Goertzel published a revealing study of 413 “famous and
exceptionally gifted people” called Cradles of Eminence. They spent
years attempting to understand what produced such greatness, what
common thread might run through all of these outstanding people’s
lives. Surprisingly, the most outstanding fact was that virtually all
of them, 392, had to overcome very difficult obstacles in order to
become who they were. But the key wasn’t that they faced obstacles, it
was how they decided to respond to those obstacles. Would they be bound
by them, or would they grow through them?
A hero is an ordinary
individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of
~ Christopher Reeve
About the only value the
story of my life may have is to show that one can, even without any
particular gifts, overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable if one is
willing to face the fact that they must be overcome.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt 1884-1962
American First Lady, Columnist, Lecturer, Humanitarian
We’ve already looked at
Paul. Let me give you three other Biblical examples of people who knew
how to handle whatever happened to them.
In the Old Testament a man by the name of Job lost his fortune, his
family, his fame, his health, everything. He could have blamed God. But
how did he handle it?
Job 1:22 (NLT)
In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming
Joseph was hated by his brothers who threw him into a pit and then sold
him to slave traders who carted him off to Egypt. While there he was
falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. Years later, he was
reunited with his brothers. He could have sought revenge, but this is
what he said instead:
Genesis 50:20 (CEV)
You tried to harm me, but God made it turn
out for the best…
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
They were three Hebrew boys living in a land where the king signed a
law stating that all the residents of the land had to bow down to a
statue of himself and worship it. But Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
broke the law by refusing to bow down and worship the statue. Even when
threatened with death, they would not compromise their worship of God
by worshipping the statue of gold. This is what they said:
Daniel 3:16-18 (NLT)
"O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to
defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace,
the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your
power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn't, Your Majesty can be sure
that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have
Stephen Hawking is an
astrophysicist at Cambridge University and perhaps the most intelligent
man on earth. He has advanced the general theory of relativity farther
than any person since Albert Einstein. Stephen Hawking is also
afflicted with ALS Syndrome (Lou Gehrig’s disease). It will eventually
take his life. He has been confined to a wheelchair for years, where he
can do little more than sit and think. Hawking has lost the ability
even to speak, and now he communicates by means of a computer that is
operated from the tiniest movement of his fingertips.
How has he handled what
has happened to him? Well, Omni magazine has said of Dr. Hawking:
“He is too weak to
write, feed himself, comb his hair, fix his glasses--all this must be
done for him. Yet this most dependent of all men has escaped invalid
status. His personality shines through the messy details of his
~ Omni Magazine, describing Stephen Hawking
Hawking said that before
he became ill, he had very little interest in life. He called it a
“pointless existence” resulting from sheer boredom. He drank too much
and did very little of value. Then he learned he had ALS Syndrome
(Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and was not expected to live more than
two years. The ultimate effect of that diagnosis, beyond its initial
shock, was extremely positive. He claimed to have been happier after he
was afflicted than before. How can that be? This is how he explained it.
“When one’s expectations
are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything that one does
~ Stephen Hawking
Instead of believing
life owed him something, instead of resenting what life had dealt him,
instead of simply giving in to death, he has decided to live with
purpose every new day.
“I am convinced that
life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is
~ Charles Swindoll
(American Pastor, Author)
"It’s not what
happens to us that matters, it’s how we handle it."
The second lesson is
2. It’s not
what we’ve done that matters, it’s what we do from now on!
From now on. That’s
really the attitude that Paul had. From that moment on the Road to
Damascus, his new life had begun. Up until that point, Paul had
murdered and persecuted the followers of Jesus. He wanted to completely
wipe them from the face of the earth.
Then he had his encounter with Jesus. And this same man who at one time
was an enemy of the church became one of its greatest champions. He did
more to spread the news about Jesus Christ throughout the world than
anyone else. His life completely turned around. He put his past actions
behind him and made sure that whatever he did from then on was
honouring to God.
Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT)
No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still
not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one
thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I
strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which
God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.
That’s Paul. Let’s look at three other Biblical examples:
Moses had seen an Egyptian beating an Hebrew, and he murdered him for
it. And God knew all about it. But when God called him to lead the
Israelites out of captivity, the actions of his past were put behind
him and what mattered was that he obey God from then on.
Jonah was a prophet who ran away from God. God wanted him to go to
Nineveh and preach, but he refused. Instead he headed in the opposite
direction. And God had to go to great lengths to get him turned around.
He actually had him swallowed by a great fish and then vomited up
again. Jonah kinda got the message after that and became the catalyst
that turned city of Nineveh back to God.
Anybody remember that old Sunday School song? If you know it, sing it
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee
little man was he,
He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see.
And as the Savior passed that way, He looked up in the tree,
And He said “Zacchaeus, you come down! For I’m coming to your house
Who was this Zacchaeus? Zacchaeus was a tax collector who collaborated
with Rome to tax his own people. It was kind of an interesting set up
they had… Zacchaeus would get as much money from the people as he could
get, pay Rome a set amount, and keep the rest. So he cheated his own
people. But after he met Jesus, he was willing to give away half his
own possessions and to repay the people four times the amount what he
Jonah, Moses, Zacchaeus
and Paul were all able to turn their lives around. They understood that
their wrong and evil actions of the past could be left there in the
past if they experienced the forgiveness of God and lived right from
But that’s not the way it always works. Some people start off all right
and then go the other way.
destined to be a great man from God, but he got wrapped up in his lusts
and desires and failed God.
greatly blessed by God and was in fact the wisest man who ever lived.
But he allowed other things to come between him and God and he turned
to worshipping false gods.
Judas was one
of the chosen 12. He walked and lived with Jesus for three years. But
there came a time when he decided to give in to his greed and he sold
out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
Your past, whether good or bad, is behind you and can never be changed.
But you can determine this day how you will live from now on.
“The Christian is a man who has ceased to do what he wants and who has
begun to do what Christ wants him to do.”
~ William Barclay
Will you live in obedience to God? Will your desire be to please Him?
Will you act in ways that bring him honour? The choice is yours. How
will you live from this moment on?
Lesson number three:
3. It’s not who
we were that matters, it’s who we are now!
Up until that time on
the Road to Damascus Paul was a murderer and an enemy of the church who
had no regard for the person of Jesus Christ. Paul described himself
Acts 22:4 (NLT)
And I persecuted the followers of the Way,
hounding some to death, binding and delivering both men and women to
He was an evil man and
an enemy to God. But after his encounter with Jesus he became an ally.
He became selfless, he bravely shared the good news about Jesus, and he
was changed to the point that he was even willing to lay down his life
for his faith in Jesus.
The change was so
drastic that everyone was amazed and astonished. After all this was the
fire breathing dragon from Jerusalem. But he was not beyond the
capability of God to transform.
I tried to think about
who we might compare Paul with. The best I could do was this. As far as
the early Christians were concerned, Paul was their Hitler. He may not
have wielded quite as much power, but he had some similar goals. Hitler
aimed to wipe the Jews from the face of the earth, Paul aimed to wipe
Christians from the face of the earth. Paul may not have been bent on
world domination, but as far as the early Christians were concerned
they feared him as much as Jews feared Hitler.
That’s who he was. So
who did he become? Superman. He became the hero of the early church.
Here are three more
Jacob was a deceiver and a liar. He even cheated his own brother out of
his birthright. His very name meant [“he grabs at heels”] or
“deceiver”. But God worked in his life and he became obedient to God
and gave up his deceptive ways. So God actually changed his name from
“Jacob” to “Israel”, a name that his descendants still use today.
Gideon wasn’t a bad person. He simply wasn’t much of a person. He was
the youngest of his family in the weakest clan of Manasseh. Not a very
important position. That’s who he was. But he was chosen by God to
become a military hero and a spiritual leader who would deliver the
Israelites from the oppression of the Midianites. That’s who he became.
Mary Magdalene was a servant of Satan possessed by 7 evil spirits but
she became a faithful servant of God.
How would you describe
yourself in the past? Were you dishonest, deceitful, lazy, selfish,
arrogant, hateful, or vengeful? Were you meek, ashamed, timid, weak,
resentful, or bitter? You know what? It doesn’t matter what you were in
your past. Who are you now? Who are you becoming? That’s what matters.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6;
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NLT)
Those who indulge in sexual sin, who are
idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves,
greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers--none of these will
have a share in the Kingdom of God. There was a time when some of you
were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away, and you
have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because
of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)
What this means is that those who become
Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the
old life is gone. A new life has begun!
Some of you this morning need to put your past in the past and leave it
there. It may mean you need to ask God’s forgiveness, it may mean you
need to make things right with someone else, it may mean you need to
break off some friendships that are destructive in your life, it may
mean that you just have to let go. It will mean that you focus your
life on Jesus and move ahead with Him.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a
huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every
weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders
our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set
before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith
depends from start to finish.
I’m going to ask that
you close your eyes and I’m going to give you an opportunity to respond
to what God may be saying to you this morning.
First, perhaps you’ve been trying to put your past in the past and live
for Jesus, but your past keeps creeping back up and you keep messing
up. If that’s you, I want to pray for you. I won’t mention you by name,
but I would ask that you just slip up your hand for a few seconds so I
can see who I’m praying for.
Second, you haven’t made a decision to live for Jesus but you know that
you need to and you’re not going to put it off any longer. You’re going
to put your past in the past and allow Jesus to transform your life and
make you new. If that’s you, raise your hand so I can pray for you.