Sermon: A Former Enemy of the Church Preaching Christ (Acts 9:20-31)

A Former Enemy of the Church Preaching Christ

Acts 9:20-31

Introduction

Saul has been converted by the Lord Jesus from an enemy of the church, a violent aggressing persecutor to a faithful preacher.  We’ll see how the persecutor has become the persecuted.

Luke shows us a pattern of Saul’s preaching…it goes, Preaching, Plot to Kill Saul, and Saul’s Escape.[1]  Notice with me the cycle that takes place.  Children look to your handouts as I review the cycle and fill in the blanks.  Preaching, Plot, and Escape.

TT- Saul’s conversion results in Gospel proclamation, intense persecution, and Holy Spirit empowerment.

Human need met by text

We as Christians often suffer from a lack of faith in the power of Jesus to save and to change people.  We would all; no doubt, acknowledge the fact that Jesus saves.  We would even acknowledge the fact that Jesus changes people.  We all would affirm those truths and yet do we really believe that Jesus can change people?  If we truly believed these truths, the drug companies and secular counselors and self help publications would probably go out of business.  Too often will Christians turn to other sources seek help and not to Jesus and the Gospel.  We need to trust that our Lord and His Word are sufficient for change.

Let’s look at what radical change that Jesus brings about looks like…

Acts 9:20-31 (ESV)
20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”
22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him,
24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him,
25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.
29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him.
30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

1.  Proclaiming Jesus in Damascus

20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”
22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him,
24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him,
25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
Notice that Saul began preaching immediately at the very synagogues in which he set out to use as a trap for Christians.  Remember that Saul had gone to the Chief Priests in Jerusalem and secured letters granting him access to the synagogues and giving him authority to rid them of any Christian he could find.  Now, because of his encounter with the risen Christ, Saul goes in to the same synagogues and declares boldly that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and the long awaited Messiah.

There is some confusion over the chronology of Paul’s early ministry.  Most believe that when Luke stresses that immediately after Paul’s conversion he began to preach. We also look to Paul’s own statement in Galatians…

Galatians 1:11-24 (ESV)
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.
12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.
14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.
15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,
16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.
19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.
20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)
21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.
23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
24 And they glorified God because of me.

In order to harmonize the events, it could be that Paul did immediately preach in Damascus, as Luke reports, and then went to Arabia to be alone with Jesus for three years.  There, Paul received direct instruction from Jesus and was then able to call himself an Apostle of Christ, seeing and being taught by Jesus.
After that time, he returned to Damascus preaching more and then to Jerusalem preaching that Jesus is the Son of God.
In Paul’s early preaching he had a simple straightforward message…20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
Later when he was recounting his life before Agrippa, he stated that…
Acts 26:20-23 (ESV)
20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.
21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.
22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass:
23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
What is vitally important is that Paul’s Gospel message and the church’s today must be the same.  When we proclaim the Gospel it must be the very same as what Paul preached.
When he proclaimed that Jesus is the Son of God everyone who heard him was astonished.

Why do you think the people were astonished?  They were not astonished at Paul’s polished delivery or his commanding presence in the pulpit.  What they were astonished about was the fact that this was the same man who days before was trying to destroy the church and denying that Jesus was all He claimed to be.

21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name?

Their amazement was centered around the fact that this was the man they were hiding from and seeking to avoid.  This was their enemy and this is the same man Jesus Christ overpowered and defeated with just a Word.  They were amazed at the change that occurred in Saul and the power of Christ to bring that change about.

Can Jesus change people today?

Before we move on to the next point, I want us to see the structure of Luke’s point.  Paul proclaimed the Gospel in Damascus (20), the unbelieving Jews there plotted against him (23) and Paul escaped (25).

When those who are the enemies of Christ cannot argue or reason their way out, they often resort to violence.  We see that in our world today and we see it in the Bible (Steven).

2.  Proclaiming Jesus in Jerusalem

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.
28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.
29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him.
30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
Here again, we see a process that results in church growth.  It’s not the modern day method of prizes and balloons but a biblical method that God orchestrates.  Here we see that persecution results in church growth.
Acts 8:4-8 (ESV)
4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.
5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.
6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.
7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.
8 So there was much joy in that city.

We see this same principle in our text today.  Paul preaches in Jerusalem (28), The Jew plot to kill him (29), and he escapes (30).

Luke goes out of his way to show us this pattern for church growth.  In both cases there was bold Gospel preaching in the cities.  In both cases, the Jews could not refute the wisdom of Saul so they began to plot against him.  This is what they did to Jesus, Steven, and even the prophets of old.  When man cannot argue successfully his position on religion he will often resort to violence.  Third, Luke reports that Saul in both cases escaped death…clearly showing us that Jesus’ Words are coming to pass almost immediately, I will show him how much he must suffer for My name.

In the midst of the fear surround this new convert; there is one man that takes a step of faith.  Much like Ananias who visited Saul as the Lord commanded so too, Barnabas steps out in faith and extends the right hand of fellowship to Saul.
26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.

How encouraging this must have been to Saul.  Everyone was still afraid of him but Barnabas steps out and brings Saul in and goes with him to the Apostles sharing all that had taken place and how Saul was now a faithful preacher.
Barnabas must have known that if the Apostles could be convinced of Saul’s faithfulness then the church would be too and accept Saul as a brother.  That is exactly what happened.

Because of Barnabas’ courage Saul of Tarsus had the support of the Apostles and the church in Jerusalem.

 

 


[1] Peterson, Acts of the Apostles from Pillar Commentary Series pg. 311

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