A Church on a Mission: Hope for the Hopeless

by | Jan 29, 2023 | Podcast, Sermons

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Preacher: Pastor David Ball

Scripture: Acts 9:1-22

The conversion of Saul was the product of the the inward working of the Holy Spirit long before his experience on the road to Damascus. Our journey to faith was the inward work of the Holy Spirit long before we ever made a decision for Christ. The conversion of Saul teaches us that there are no hopeless people in the world who cannot find redemption in Jesus Christ. 


So I have to tell you uh here it says homily and I’m hoping most of you don’t even know what homily means um uh in Anglican tradition homily means usually just a shorter sermon uh but I make no claims to that this was a misprint um we’ll go on as the as the Lord leads yeah yeah today is an exciting day at our annual meeting of the church it’s always a fun and important time for the the church to gather together to hear about the past year to make important decisions about the leadership for our Vestry focus on what the Lord’s calling us to in 2023 it’s a time to celebrate What the Lord Has Done in and through his church and his time for us to put our faith in what he’s calling us to in the future and so I hope you’ll be able to stick around after this service of morning prayers we begin that meeting at 10 o’clock but before we even get to the annual meeting it’s important to ground ourselves and Jesus is Calling to his church we are the body of Christ in this world we’ve been called by Jesus to continue his mission to Proclaim that the kingdom of God is here that Jesus is King over all Heaven and Earth We’re called to invite people to repent and return to Jesus to a relationship with him by sharing how Jesus rules with grace and truth and how that has transformed our hearts and Minds filling us with a hope and a joy and a love in ways that we could never expect in miraculous ways we are a church on a mission and that’s what this series and the book of Acts has been all about that we began back in uh in the fall of 2022. we’ve learned so much about the mission we’re on as we’ve studied these first Believers of the church everyone who may be with us for the first time we’re in the midst of this series uh we’ve heard how Jesus after his resurrection for 40 days met with his disciples and he opened their hearts and their minds and they might understand the scriptures and how all the scriptures have been fulfilled by him we’ve heard about the outpouring of the power that Came Upon uh the disciples on Pentecost says the holy spirit filled them with a boldness and a courage to to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who were gathered there in Jerusalem we’ve heard about the healing power of the Gospel that it’s been at work in people’s lives it’s accompanied the gospel Proclamation we’ve learned of the dangers of spiritual pride in the mission that we’re on that being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean that we’re always going to be safe our spiritual forefathers and mothers experience persecution for their faith in Jesus even death as we’ve learned and read about our first martyr Stephen but at the same time we’ve learned that through it all that Jesus continues to Reign Over All the persecution and martyrdom didn’t snuff out the mission of the church at all it only served to actually spread the gospel further out into the world how Philip a man who was so transformed by the gospel that he went to Samaria he went to the most hated people group that the Jews could imagine and he preached the good news of Jesus Christ to them and we’re told they received it with joy then how God called him South we looked at last week to share the gospel of Hope with a desolate Ethiopian eunuch who was desperately searching for Hope and meaning and purpose in his life and through that encounter we learned that in Jesus Christ by faith than him alone there’s nothing that prevents us from coming to God and that message that began last week it continues this morning as we now focus our attention on a man who by every conceivable notion was the last person who would ever we’d ever believe should or could or would hear the Gospel of Jesus and actually receive it in his own life acts 9 verses 1 through 22 teach us that there are no lost causes there are no hopeless people in this world there is no one as one of our liturgical prayers that we’ll pray in this morning prayer service later that’s beyond the saving reach of our loving saviors embrace this morning we turn our attention to Saul you know we were first introduced to Saul a couple of weeks ago in Acts 7 during the stoning of Stephen we were told and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul and then we were told in Acts 8 how Saul approved of Stephen’s execution and the Soul was ravaging the church and entering house at their house he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison The Saul was not a good dude he was without a doubt an enemy to all Christians and he was an enemy to Jesus himself but who exactly was this guy uh what what do we know about him well we know from the book of Acts and from his letters uh quite a bit about him uh we know that he was born in the city of Tarsus he was educated the feed of Gamaliel in the city of Jerusalem Gamaliel was a well-respected uh Pharisee and a member of the Jewish Council in Jerusalem so he was kind of the best of the best and Saul’s uh and so Saul learned under him and studied under him Saul’s own account of his life to this point uh in Acts 9 he was a PR he told he was a persecutor of Christians he was an injurer of Christians he said he was a Hebrew of Hebrews a Pharisee who was exceeding all of his contemporaries according to Philippians 3 Paul said this about himself that he was circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel of The Tribe of Benjamin a Hebrew of Hebrews as to the law of Pharisee as to Zeal a persecutor of the church as the righteousness under the law blameless so I was a proud man and he had good reason to be so he came from good stock he was a pure Hebrew he was well educated by the best uh he was fully sold out for the cause he was so dedicated to God and His law that he was willing to defend the truth and to defend the righteousness of God with the utmost Zeal and dedication by rooting out this heretical group of Jews who claimed this guy Jesus Christ as their Messiah you know I think it’s easy knowing uh what we know about Saul uh to lose sight or perspective uh on who he really was before but to be honest I think if we were Jews living in Jerusalem at the time we most likely would have admired this guy we would have respected where where he was coming from at least uh there would have been this part of us this part of us that wished that we were as sold out and as dedicated as he was now we might not have wanted to invite him to over for the dinner party uh because I’m pretty sure he was Captain no fun uh but but deep down we would have thought you know if I were just really just a little bit it’s more sold out as much as just a little bit of what this guy’s got his his just his his Zeal for God his righteousness and we were just had a little bit of that then man God would be really really happy with us that’s a little picture I think of who who Saul was uh there’s more there’s much more and we’re going to learn more about them as we work through uh the series on acts but for now let’s turn to the first two verses of Acts chapter nine and this is what we’re told but Saul’s still breathing threats and murder against the Disciples of the Lord went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if you found any belonging to the way men or women he might bring them bound to Jerusalem so Saul was breathing threats and murder against the Disciples of Jesus well what exactly does that mean what what is it uh well it does not mean that he was just merely speaking this way uh he wasn’t just speaking violence uh against them it means this idea of threatening and murdering Christians uh it was the thing that was giving him life he was Finding life in it uh means that he was uh it was the very Heir that he was breathing it was the oxygen uh that was feeding him and keeping him alive it was fueling him giving his life purpose and meaning and Hope now mind you uh it was the idea of murder that was giving him such purpose uh and hope murder the word that’s used here means exactly what you think it means it’s this intentional unjustified homicide never mind of the law of God says you shall not murder because Leviticus 24 to gives the provision that whoever blasts means the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death all the congregation shall Stone him and so Saul certainly would have believed that he was justified and only being zealous and more righteous than everybody else and what he was doing he was doing it for God’s sake and for his own righteous standing before God it wasn’t enough just to have dispelled the Christians from Jerusalem Saul was on a mission that he believed was uh was was the mission from God but this wasn’t uh The Blues Brothers kind of mission for God right uh Saul’s mission was to completely eradicate these Heretics and blasphemers from the face of the Earth you know I think it’s fair therefore to conclude that Saul was uh was in no way seeking Jesus in this moment and he was he was in no way open to hearing more about Jesus in his own life uh he was in fact an enemy of Jesus and saw Jesus and his followers is the evil that needed to be eradicated from the Earth which makes the verses that follow not only just remarkable absolutely miraculous verses three to six says now as Saul went on his way he approached Damascus and suddenly a light from Heaven Shone around him and falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him Saul Saul why are you persecuting me and he said who are you Lord and he said I am Jesus whom you are persecuting but rise and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do and pain there you have it the rest of the verses tell us about what happened next but but there’s no mention of an act the actual conversion moment at least not where Saul made his personal commitment and decision to follow Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior but from that moment on Saul went where Jesus told him to go and Saul did what Jesus told him to do Saul was perhaps the most unwilling convert the to Christ the world has ever known you know C.S Lewis referred to himself as the the most reluctant convert when he finally uh became a Christian the most reluctant convert in all of England uh but Saul has got him beat by a long shot here this was nothing short of a miraculous conversion the greatest enemy of Christ and what seems like an instant becomes a fully submitted follower of Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior so much so that he’s willing to immediately go into those synagogues where he was preparing to go drag them all out the prison that when he found Christians in there to actually arguing Christ and convincing them that Christ was it is Lord and savior of all you know Tim Keller wrote in his commentary on this conversion Saul’s conversion proves that everyone is equally unlikely to believe since really every conversion is a miracle and therefore everyone is equally likely to believe therefore there’s hope for everyone

but before you think that this was just a sudden and an instantaneous conversion of Saul to Faith in Jesus there was more going on here there was more going on here and I think it’s important for us to understand when it comes to conversions there’s always more going on than we understand or we can see more than just that moment of decision there’s often years sometimes even a lifetime of work the God and the Holy Spirit has been doing in that person’s life where they come to this moment of decision a decision to follow Jesus you see this isn’t the only time we’re given an account of of Saul’s conversion uh Saul tells other times he tells his own uh conversion story in Acts 26 uh which we’ll get to a long time from now uh Saul gives his uh his own account uh of what happened uh and he tells us what he heard from Jesus in a little bit more detail uh it’s not that this acts 9 is wrong it’s actually he just gives more detail about what he heard and this is what we’re told in Acts 26 verse 14 that he heard Saul Saul why are you persecuting me it is hard for you to kick against the goads it’s hard for us probably to get what in the world is that talking about right uh and what but what this is telling us is that God is telling him I’ve been working in your life for some time now Saul this wasn’t their first encounter this was for sure the most dramatic uh in the final straw that uh that broke Saul’s back of resistance uh but goes were just sharp sticks that were used by by farmers in order to to get the animals to obey and to do what they were supposed to do to poke them all into the right way and so what this tells us uh what Saul is telling us was that God had already been working on him God had already been at work in his heart the Holy Spirit have been actually preparing him for this dramatic Damascus Encounter With Jesus so much so that when the moment finally came Saul put up no resistance at all he didn’t fight back because all his strength of resistance had been worn away already he simply obeyed by faith he went where Jesus told him to go and he did what Jesus told him to do but but how had Jesus been poking him and preparing him because acts 9 doesn’t really tell us well in Romans 7 verses 7 through 8 Paul gives us an idea of the way that God had been working in his own life this is this is what Saul revealed uh that Jesus had been doing through the holy spirit in his own heart before this moment he wrote this yet if it had not been for the law I would not have known sin for I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said You shall not covet but sin seizing an opportunity through the Commandment produced in me all kinds of covetousness covetedness I can never say it right covetousness whatever uh Saul uh Saul in this in this moment of honesty and is writing to the Romans and full vulnerability gave a glimpse into what was actually going on in his own heart before this Damascus moment salt was a Hebrew of Hebrews he was zealous for the righteousness of God he was obedient or at least trying in every way to be obedient to God’s law but he had a problem and he said it he the law says do not covet and he knew it he read it but as much as he didn’t want to he was just full of that word again covetedness is whatever which means that Saul’s desire in his longing uh he longed for and desired that which didn’t belong to him he longed for what others had and that he perceived he did not he lusted after other people and the things that they had and possessed which meant if he was longing for something more would other people’s hat people had it means that despite being the Hebrew of Hebrews despite having everything going for him being the head of his class in every way coming from the right families Saul knew that he was not at peace with God and it wrecked him he knew inside that there was no peace I don’t have enough he wasn’t content with what he had his obedience to God’s law it wasn’t getting him to where he longed to be as much as everyone on the outside probably looked at him as the beacon of all righteousness in the and the most wanted the word was the most committed to God Saul was Restless in his own heart he needed more he wanted what others had and thought that if he had it then it would finally be content that he would then find that peace with God and with himself he’d finally be at rest you know we’re not told this exactly but but it stands to reason that this was what fueled Saul to breathe threats and murder against Jesus’s disciples because if he could have just proven himself to God as being more bold being more committed to him than everyone else than maybe just maybe he would feel like he had earned enough finally of God’s approval and then finally there’d be peace there’d be peace with God see Saul before this moment ever came he was already becoming aware of his own failure

through this internal struggle and this Relentless insecurity that he had and then in the midst of that internal struggle and this insecurity that he had with God uh think about this he would have been there to hear Stephen’s speech about Jesus and the gospel while he’s quietly internally struggling with his own failure to be able to live up to the law and the expectations that it demanded where he heard Stephen Proclaim you stiff-neck people uncircumcised and hardened ears you always resist the Holy Spirit as your fault as your fathers did so do you you who received the laws delivered by angels and did not keep it

anger would have been a dagger to Saul’s heart to hear those words that he was already knowing in himself they must have caught him to the heart even if his only reaction at first was in anger and a lust for after murder he was reacting still and then even when that lust was satisfied and Stephen was dying with with his last breath Saul would have would have heard Stephen say behold I see the heavens open and I see the son of man standing at the right hand of God

can you imagine what a man who’s got no peace who can’t find it who’s Restless inside of him

who’s trying so hard to be good trying so hard to be righteous and he sees this man this blasphemer who even in debt has a piece about him that he can see the throne room of God

and then mag pattern is even worse the very last words that Stephen said Lord do not hold the sin against them words of forgiveness

this man who’s been killed who’s been killed for his blasphemy against the law this Blasphemous man he saw the throne room of God which meant that even death he had peace with God and he had love for those who had killed him something that Saul was was looking for but something that Saul couldn’t find all he was filled with and his failure to be able to live up to God to live up to God’s law all he was filled with was anger and wrath trying to destroy those people that he thought were blasphemers Friends by the time Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus the Holy Spirit had done an incredible work and Saul’s heart and in his mind he had prepared Saul for this incredible miraculous moment he had broken down Saul’s will of resistance you know as I’m reading the story this week I can relate to Saul’s conversion on such a personal way I was I was born in the church I’d been taught about God and about Jesus my whole life I learned the Commandments I’d memorized the Nicene Creed I’d been baptized in it as an infant I have been confirmed even as a pre-teen but my heart wasn’t satisfied and I was not at peace with God I wanted more I lusted after more I thought I could find it and and success or popularity or just recognition of some kind but when I got to the place where I had found all the success and popularity and recognition that I thought that I wanted I found myself just as empty as I had ever been my heart and soul were restless Within Me but from that moment the Holy Spirit showed me this emptiness it would still be months it would still be months before someone actually shared with me the gospel that Jesus died on the cross for my sins that in him I was forgiven that I was clothed in his righteousness and him I was accepted and I was loved by God and when I heard it then in that moment all resistance was gone all I could do was surrender and accept Jesus is my Lord and Savior so what do we learn from Saul’s conversion about ourselves about the people around us what do we learn about God and our neighbor well first of all we learned that there are no such thing as hopeless people who are beyond the saving Embrace of Jesus we’re all equally as unlikely to receive Jesus as uh Tim Keller and said in that quote I read earlier but at the same time therefore we all are as equally as likely to receive him even those we perceive as being the greatest enemies to the faith secondly we learned that God is the one who is at work through the Holy Spirit and the hearts and minds of those that he is calling into a personal relationship with Jesus I think sometimes and and the quest to fulfill our call to be Witnesses for Christ uh we can lose sight of that and we can think that we’re the ones we have to share we’ve got to have the right words we have to bring them to that place we’ve got to have all the right arguments to counter all the doubts that they have

or else they’re not going to make a decision to receive Christ but that’s not what Saul’s conversion teaches us and Jesus said in John 6 44 no one can come to me unless the father draws him and Jesus said in John 15 16 you have not chosen me but I have chosen you and appointed you to go and bear fruit if you’ve come to Faith in Jesus take no pride in your own decision instead rejoice and give thanks for the work that God did in your life to bring you to that place of saving faith the way that he broke down your will of resistance to draw you to the Cross of Christ if you haven’t yet come to that place of decision in your own life know this God’s at work in you he is moving by his holy spirit he’s breaking down your resistance because he loves you and he wants you to be reconciled to him forever through his son friends on this annual meeting Sunday we are a church on a mission on the mission that Jesus began the mission to reach the lost sheep to Rejoice with him for every lost sheep that is found Jesus said some pretty convicting words to us in our Gospel reading from Luke 15 verse 7. he said just as I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents that over 99 righteous persons who have no need of repentance we were all once Sauls in this world probably a little more subtle than Saul but in our sin we’re equally as guilty and equally we were in enemies with God but by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit he rescued us and reconciled Us by faith and his son Jesus Christ that’s the work that we’re called to the cheers of Heaven are not for how righteous we are and how we’re doing all the right stuff and standing up for the truth the cheers of Heaven are for those who were lost but have been found by the grace of God that’s the mission that we’re on that’s what God has called his church to the mission for the Lost and may God give us the outpouring of his holy spirit that we may truly become a people who are fueled and motivated for this mission amen

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