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 persecute me?”

“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 faith.

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 again--rejoice!

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 overwhelming obstacles.
~ 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.

A. Job

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 God.
 

B. Joseph

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…
 

C. 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 set up."
 

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 existence.”
~ 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 have.”
~ 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 with you.”
~ Charles Swindoll
(American Pastor, Author)

"It’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s how we handle it."

The second lesson is this:

 

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:
 

A. Moses

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.
 

B. Jonah

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.
 

C. Zacchaeus

Anybody remember that old Sunday School song? If you know it, sing it with me:

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 today!”

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 had extorted.
 

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 then on.

But that’s not the way it always works. Some people start off all right and then go the other way.

Samson was destined to be a great man from God, but he got wrapped up in his lusts and desires and failed God.

Solomon was 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
Bible Commentator

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 this way:

Acts 22:4 (NLT)
And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, binding and delivering both men and women to prison.

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 examples:
 

A. Jacob

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.
 

B. Gideon

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.
 

C. Mary Magdalene

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 you.

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.

 

 

 

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