How are you going to stand with Jesus when vast numbers of other people are moving away from Him? Pastor Colin talks about what it takes to have a faith that lasts.
Ananias… laying his hands on him… said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 9:17
There are three accounts in the New Testament of what it is like for a human being to be in the presence of the glory of the Lord.
- The transfiguration (Matthew 17)
- The vision of the exalted Lord given to John (Revelation 1)
- The story of Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9)
We saw last time that they all have one thing in common.
- At the transfiguration, “they fell on their faces and were terrified” (Mat. 17:6).
- In the book of Revelation, John says, “I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17).
- Here on the road to Damascus we see Saul “falling to the ground” (Acts 9:4).
But I want you to notice something else that these three stories have in common. Matthew tells us: “The disciples… fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear” (Mat. 17:6-7).
Christ lifts them up and they have nothing to fear in the presence of God. This is what the risen Lord Jesus Christ is able to do for all who put their trust in him. He allows you to stand without fear in the presence of a holy God.
You find exactly the same thing in the book of Revelation: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18).
And you find the same thing here on the road to Damascus. Saul of Tarsus has seen the unveiled glory of the Lord, and he is down in the dust, but he hears the voice of the Son of God say, “Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:6).
When Jesus shows you that you are a sinner and that your only hope is to cast yourself on his mercy, his purpose is not to leave you groveling in the dust. He will lift you up and send you out to fulfill his purpose in the world. “You will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:6).
Let’s follow the story. Saul went into the city of Damascus and for three days he gave himself to prayer and fasting (Acts 9:9, 11). “Lord, have mercy on me. Lord, show me what you want me to do.” I want you to notice that the answer to Paul’s prayer comes through a person – a man by the name of Ananias.
Here’s why this is important: Saul came to know the risen Christ without the witness or even the presence of a single Christian believer. He came to faith through a direct encounter with the risen Lord. God broke through the pride and prejudice of this man’s heart by a direct intervention – no one else was involved.
Saul says, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” And the Lord says, “Rise and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do.” It’s as if the Lord says to him: “You have been awakened to who I am and to your need of mercy by my direct intervention in your life, but that is not how it will normally be.”
God’s normal way is to work through his people. Christ is the head. We are his body. And it is through the body that the will of the head gets done.
So here is the principle that I want us to grasp this morning
Jesus Christ Works through Means
“He is a chosen instrument of mine…” (Acts 9:15).
This wonderful phrase, “chosen instrument” tells us two things:
God uses us
An instrument is the means by which a particular task gets done. The scalpel is an instrument in the hands of the surgeon. When the surgeon goes into the operating room, he has multiple instruments by which he is able to perform the surgery. The operation will not get done without them.
We depend on God
What can a scalpel do? Nothing, unless it is in the hands of a surgeon. Christ says of Saul, “He is a chosen instrument of mine…” (Acts 9:15). In other words, “He will be in my hands, and I will do my work through him.”
How will the name of Christ be carried to “the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel”?
The answer is that God will do it! But how will God do it? He will do it through his chosen instruments.
Saul is not the only chosen instrument. We see here that Ananias is one too. Later on (Acts 9:26ff) we see that Barnabas is too. There is a pattern here. Saul is not unique.
“Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias” (Acts 9:10). The Lord spoke to him in a vision and told him to go to the house where Saul of Tarsus was praying. Saul knows that Jesus is the risen Lord, but he is waiting to be told what to do.
Ananias did not want to go to Saul, and you can hardly blame him. If Ananias had seen him three days earlier, Saul would gladly have taken his life. “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem”(Acts 9:13).
God will call you to do things that will scare you. You will find yourself saying, “I can’t do that. It’s too difficult. It’s too dangerous. I’m willing to do some other thing, go some other place, speak with some other person, but I can’t do this!” That’s where Ananias was.
But the Lord said to him, “Go…” (Acts 9:15). And thank God that he did! Then we read: “So Ananias departed and entered the house” (9:17). Ananias had to overcome his fear so that Saul would be overcome by grace. Thank God that is what happened.
Think about what happened as a result of this man overcoming his fear and obeying God. Saul is welcomed into the church. And because Saul is welcomed into the church, he is sent out by the church. Because Saul is sent out by the church, the gospel comes to the Gentiles. It is because the gospel came to the Gentiles that most of us here are in Jesus Christ today.
So don’t forget to thank Ananias when you get to heaven! God works through means. It was through Ananias, one of the forgotten heroes of the early church, that Saul was established as a believer and welcomed into the church. That changed the history of the world.
The Ministry of Ananias
i. Surrounding a person with love
Saul was blind. For three days had had been sitting in complete darkness. His entire campaign against Christians was based on the conviction that God is a God of vengeance, and now he has discovered that he is the one who deserves the vengeance of God.
Saul has been killing disciples of Jesus, and now a disciple of Jesus arrives and places his hands on the blind man’s head. It must have been a terrifying moment –What’s he gonna do to me? But the first words he hears from the first Christian he meets is: “Brother Saul…” (Acts 9:17). Saul, my brother! Ananias surrounded Saul with love, forgiveness and grace.
Who can you reach out to? Who needs to be surrounded with your love? Your presence? Your words?
ii. Grounding a person in the gospel
Saul’s blindness had a particular purpose. It was a sign of the judgment of God. And when Ananias prayed for his sight to be restored, it was a sign to Saul that God’s judgment had been taken away. It was as assurance that Christ had shown him mercy, and that he had been brought into an entirely new relationship with God.
For who might you do that? Who do you know that needs to be restored to God? Who needs to know about the forgiveness and mercy that are available in Jesus Christ?
iii. Preparing a person for the work God is calling him or her to do
You will “carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
And Ananias prepared him for that ministry.
Where God is at work in the life of a person, we are to embrace them as a brother or sister, we are to ground them in the gospel, and we are to help them to see how God can use them, and prepare them for that work.
This was the ministry of Ananias, and Christ uses this ministry to turn outsiders into insiders and to turn enemies into friends.
When Saul was awakened to his need for Christ, the first Christian he met loved him, forgave him, prayed for him, baptized him, fed him, guided him, and prepared him.
God works through means: Paul prayed and the answer came through a person. It was through this ministry of Ananias that Saul was welcomed, discipled, taught, and filled with the Holy Spirit.
This principle is foundational to the ministry and to the mission of the church. Of course God is able to transform a human life without any other person being involved. But he chooses to work through his people. We are his “fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). He is the head. We are the body.
William Carey was a young minister in England during the late 1700s. He lived at a time when many Christians and churches had become focused on themselves, but Carey was gripped by the needs of the world in his day.
On one occasion, when he was arguing the case for sending missionaries overseas, he was interrupted by an older minister: “Sit down, young man,” he said. “You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without consulting you or me.” That was the prevailing idea among many Christians at the time.
Carey responded by writing a book called: An enquiry into the obligations of Christians to use means for the conversion of the heathen. It is a marvelous book that shows how God’s work gets done through means – praying, giving, going and proclaiming the gospel.
From this conviction that God works through means, Carey launched a missionary society, and at its first meeting in 1792 he called people to “Expect great things from God, and attempt great things for God.” That comes right through his understanding of how God works through means.
Within a year he sailed to India where he served, at great cost and with great effect, for more than 30 years, translating the whole Bible into 6 languages, and parts of the Scripture into 209 other languages and dialects.
A whole generation followed William Carey and his two conviction to the mission field – that God works through means, and that the greatest privilege of our lives is to be God’s chosen instrument.
God works through means. His people are the chosen instruments by which his work gets done in the world. That is why we invite and welcome new friends to church. That is why we meet in life groups. That is why we start new campuses. That is why we give to the Thrive campaign. That is why, in the last year, nearly 100 members of our church have served on short-term mission trips. God works through means!
And that is why we have people visiting prisons, caring for the homeless, translating sermons, and coaching young people. This is how God’s work gets done in the world. There is no greater privilege than to be an instrument in the Redeemers hands.
Christ works through means. But in all of these means, we must never lose sight of the message.
Jesus Christ Himself is the Message
For some days, [Saul] was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:19-20).
His ministry is clear from day one. Saul proclaimed the person who changed his life. Notice what he proclaimed about Jesus: He is the Son of God. He is God with us, God in the flesh.
Notice how he proclaimed Jesus: Saul “confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 9:22). (“the Christ” is the deliverer who was promised throughout the Old Testament Scriptures)
This can only mean one thing: Saul spoke about Jesus from the Bible. He opened the Old Testament and he showed how it all points to Jesus.
This is exactly what Philip did with the Ethiopian he met in the desert. Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with Isaiah 53, “he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
And this is exactly what our Lord himself modelled on the road to Emmaus, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
Here is the ministry of Saul of Tarsus, and it is our ministry today. It was the ministry throughout the New Testament, and it was Jesus’ own ministry.
Saul proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues saying, “He is the Son of God.” He did this by opening the Scriptures and showing that he is the Christ. And he did this in the power of the Holy Spirit, as a chosen instrument in the hands of his risen Redeemer.
I want you to see that proclaiming Jesus Christ is the clear and unchanging ministry that pervades the New Testament and is given to us today. Let me give you 15 examples!
- In Damascus: “He proclaimed Jesus… saying, ‘He is the Son of God’”(Acts 9:20)
- In Lystra: “They continued to preach the gospel” (Acts 14:7)
- In Derbe: “They… preached the gospel… [and] made many disciples…”(Acts 14:21)
- In Macedonia: “We sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10)
- In Thessalonica: “He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ’” (Acts 17:2-3)
- In Athens: “He was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts17:18)
- In Rome: “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Rom. 1:15)
- In Corinth: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…” (2 Cor. 4:5)
- In Troas: “I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ…” (2 Cor. 2:12)
- In Galatia: “[God] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…” (Gal. 1:16)
- In Ephesus: “This grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…” (Eph. 3:8)
- In Philippi: “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18)
- In Colossae: “Him we proclaim… that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28)
This emphasis on proclaiming Christ was not only pervasive in the ministry of Paul, but Peter, writing to the church, says that it is our ministry too.
- In 1 Peter: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9)
And John, writing to the churches, says that the proclamation of this gospel is for every nation, tribe, language, and people.
- In Revelation: “Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people”(Rev. 14:6)
Saul did not sit down and say, “Now what are the issues that need to be addressed in the Roman Empire?” He did not set out to change the world. He set out to proclaim the Christ who had changed him. And through his proclaiming of Christ, lives were transformed, churches were planted, and the world was changed.
Here is how God’s work gets done in this world: We are the means. Christ is the message. The work of God gets done by his chosen instruments who act in obedience – even when they are afraid, who are filled with the Spirit, who know and love the Bible, and are able to open it and point others to the Jesus who can change the world.
© Colin S. Smith
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