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Converted by the Resurrected Lord

March 31, 2024 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 22:1–21

Converted by the Resurrected Lord – Acts 22:1–21

Please open your Bibles to the passage that pastor Rich read earlier, Acts 22:1-21. It’s resurrection Sunday, so we could have chosen a resurrection-specific text, but this one we’ve come to in our study of Acts is quite perfect because Paul is recounting when his life was changed forever by an encounter with the resurrected Lord. And as Paul gives his own testimony of conversion, it provides us with excellent opportunity for clarity on the gospel for an Easter Sunday.

LET’S PRAY and then dig into the details of Paul’s testimony.

Because we are studying a narrative (which is what Acts is, a narrative), much of our application comes in the form of following the example we find in these earliest followers of Christ. What we should see most plainly today then is that we can follow Paul’s example of giving our own testimony as a defense of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We can defend the gospel with clear testimony of Christ converting us.

Here is Paul’s testimony in simplest form, which is also his defense to this audience:

I was just like you.

But then Jesus intervened.

He has changed me completely.

So I obey him entirely.

Now a second application, even more foundational, is to know for certain whether or not this has happened in your life. That you were going one way (right in your own eyes), but then Jesus intervened by his own achievement on your behalf, which has changed your life completely, and now you strive to obey him with everything that you are and have. 

In vv. 1-5, Paul opens this first defense (of several such defenses in this final section of Acts) by connecting with his audience of fellow Jews. 

I was just like you. (vv. 1-5)

He is speaking to a crowd who are persecuting him and want him dead because they are zealous for the law, and he has come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and Savior of not only the Jews but the Gentiles as well.

-Although they have made false accusations against him, Paul deals with some of that only indirectly, instead focusing on Christ’s intervention in his own life.

-But in his approach, he establishes a common connection with his audience. - He switches from Greek to Hebrew. He had been speaking to the tribune of the cohort in Greek, but now with his fellow Jews he switches to the native tongue spoken in Palestine. (Luke almost certainly uses “Hebrew” here as a loose expression for Aramaic.)

-Paul addresses them as brothers and fathers, which is not only respectful but also serves his purpose in this introductory section to show how he is more like than unlike his audience. He continues with his pedigree as a Jew: born in Tarsus, but then raised in Jerusalem and trained at the feet of Gamaliel, an extremely well-known Mosaic law teacher (of the Pharisaic tradition), who was held in honor by all the people (Ac 5:34). In other words, Paul followed the strict manner of not only the law but also the rabbinic traditions, “as zealous for God as all of you are this day.”

So zealous was I in fact, [review vv. 4-5].

-See, Saul (Saul being his Jewish name and Paul being his Gk name) thought that the whole resurrection of Jesus thing was a sham and that he wasn’t the Messiah but some imposter who had rightly been put to death. But these followers of Jesus, sometimes called the Way, insisted that Jesus is the Messiah AND that he rose from the grave after being crucified, and had appeared to many. So Saul thought he was right to persecute the Way.

But Paul’s point becomes clear: I’m just like you. I was once was exactly as you are now, so I understand you well. In fact, I was as zealous for God and his law as any Jew among us. I even persecuted men and women of the Way to the death, because I thought that I was defending God’s honor from this false Messiah, Jesus. (Saul was soon to know differently.)

Application: Being right in your own eyes does not make you right with God. In fact, God the Son came precisely because you could not be right with God without him. -Paul would ask you at this point: What if you’re wrong in your assumption that God doesn’t really exist? What if you’re wrong about being good with God because you try to be good more than bad? What if you’re wrong that all religions lead in the same direction? What if you’re wrong that you can achieve a right relationship with God by being one of the most religiously fervent people on earth?

Again, you see what Paul is doing here, establishing commonality with his audience, which is particularly easy for him with this group of people. But that isn’t all, he’s setting up what changed.

I once was as you now are. I was right in my own eyes. And then I was interrupted by Christ himself. - I thought I was doing God’s will. I was just as you are now, so I totally understand how you are thinking and what you are doing. But something happened to change my understanding, to interrupt my basic assumptions.

I was just like you, righteous in my own sight…

But then Jesus intervened. (vv. 6-11)

How did Paul learn that his righteousness (and religious fervor) was insufficient? Saul’s self-righteousness was interrupted by the resurrected Jesus.

On the way to Damascus, the resurrected Jesus physically appeared in all his glory. Saul found out just how wrong he was about this Jesus. The bright light from heaven, which was brighter than the sun’s own light at noon (cf. Ac 26:13), was the glory of God. Well, that bright light of glory was enough to scare Saul down on his face. But then there also came a voice, who knew his name: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Notice the association of persecuting Christians as actually directly opposing the Lord himself.

Saul finds out that this Lord of glory appearing to him is none other than Jesus of Nazareth, whom he has been persecuting. What is supposed to be abundantly clear is that Saul as been dead wrong about Jesus. Jesus is in fact Messiah and Lord, the Savior of the world, who died for sin and rose again on the third day.

And there were other witnesses with Saul who can testify to the occurrence, even though they only saw the light and heard sounds, but didn’t see Jesus or understand the words he said. For some reason, this was exclusively for Saul. (Perhaps there is symbolism here that although we will not all have an experience like Saul, each of us much individually respond to Jesus, who died on a cross to take our sin and rose again to credit us with his righteousness… if we respond to him in faith.)

Having his entire life now interrupted and upended by Jesus, Saul asks, “What shall I do, Lord?” … And the Lord answered (Notice Paul keeps calling Jesus “the Lord.”) - Christ told him that in Damascus he would learn more clearly what all of this would mean for him.

The glory of this appearance of the resurrected Lord had blinded him, so Saul was led by the hand into the city.

Remember, Paul thought he was right in his zeal to persecute those belonging to the Way. But he finds out that he was turned around… Paul was going the wrong way. Paul was zealously running in the wrong direction. - We can be zealous for God in the wrong direction. Being right in our own eyes is exactly the opposite of being right in God’s sight (right with God).

But Saul was interrupted by the resurrected Lord, who completely changed the way he perceived God, himself, and others. - Without submission to Jesus, your zeal for God, your religious fervor, is misguided. You cannot be right with God apart from the righteousness of Jesus on your behalf.

The subsequent interaction with Ananias gives Paul a clear understanding of what this encounter with Jesus would now mean for his life. 

He has changed me completely. (vv. 12-16)

Ananias became God’s instrument to help direct Saul’s understanding of his conversion and commission (vv. 12-16). 

Ananias was another Jew pious according to the law, but who had come to be a follower of Jesus. (This is yet another connection for Paul to be saying to this audience that there are pious Jews like himself recognizing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, the Messiah promised by the Prophets, and Savior of all peoples.)

According to chapter 9, Ananias was initially hesitant to interact with Saul when God told him to do so because Saul’s reputation for persecuting Christians preceded him. Ananias would have been one of Saul’s targets in Damascus. But God reassured him, and through Ananias God’s power restored Saul’s physical sight.

Ananias then explains, God appointed you (or chose you) to know his will, to see the Righteous One and hear a voice from his mouth. To see and hear become so important in this context because Saul thought he saw clearly God’s will, and he thought he heard rightly what the Scripture taught. But now he can see the truth of God’s will and understand the voice of God through the person and work of Jesus.

And again, that Jesus is THE Righteous One is incredibly significant for the life of Paul and for all those listening to Paul’s testimony this day in particular. They are right in their own eyes, zealously persecuting a follower of Jesus, which means they are persecuting Jesus. And yet it is Jesus alone who is the uniquely Righteous One, who lived sinlessly and therefore could be a perfect Lamb without blemish to take away sin and to forgive sin, once and for all… who believe in Him. He alone can grant his righteousness to our behalf so that we can be right with God.

Let’s talk about an important application here: The self-righteous cannot enter God’s kingdom. It seems obvious to us that the unrighteous will not enter heaven. But you must also understand that your own righteousness will never be enough. The law cannot save because we cannot keep it perfectly. And a perfectly holy God cannot just let us into his presence with doing some good deeds, even more good deeds than evil deeds. We are fundamentally depraved in our natures and in need of Christ’s perfect righteousness.

But the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus is completely sufficient to forgive sin and put his righteousness to your credit. That’s the significance of Paul quoting Ananias that Jesus is the Righteous One. These listeners remain right in their own eyes, just as Paul was right in his own eyes before Jesus intervened and changed him, turned his life around.

The change in direction for Paul would also mean that he was not only “called out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9), but also that he was called to be a witness for the Righteous One to everyone (all mankind) of what he had seen and heard. So Paul was literally doing right now, at this very moment, in speaking to this crowd who wanted him dead… even as he also defended his call to preach the gospel among the Gentiles as well. (which is at the root of the current controversy)

But before further development from Paul on that front specifically, Ananias tells Paul to not wait but immediately identify himself fully and publically with Christ by being baptized in his name. Admittedly, this verse (16) might sound confusing in terms of the purpose of baptism, especially the way we’ve rendered it in English.

Besides the fact that these are separate commands, what gives more clarity is understanding baptism as a whole. Consider the baptisms from John the Baptist. Was the act of baptism the same thing as the repentance itself, or was it outwardly symbolic of the inward truth that a person was repenting and committing themselves to God? (In other words, you could in theory go under and come up and not really be repentant.) Just so, water baptism in the NT is meant to picture what Christ has done in us by His Spirit, that through our faith in him he is washing away our sins and causing us to rise to new life in him. The act of water baptism is a public proclamation of the truth you believe, identifying yourself with Christ and his people. So it is an incredibly important act of obedience, but it is grace through faith in Christ that saves, not dunking in water. (Baptism pictures both being made clean from sin and given new life in Christ.)

One thing more before we move on: Here again in this section is application for us from Paul’s example. Paul’s life was redirected through a clear understanding of his calling in Christ. (No conversion is legitimate which does not result in a change of direction. Every convert has ceased to trust in their own merits and begun to trust in the righteousness of Christ. - So too… No conversion is without a commission. Every convert is commissioned by Christ to be like him and to be his witness. There are no exceptions.)

Conversion results in a change of direction (a new way of life) and a new commission for life. 

What comes next in Paul’s testimony then makes perfect sense.

So I obey him entirely. (vv. 17-21)

What Paul tells them about his vision in the temple takes place some three years later, after he immediately proclaimed Christ in Damascus, then had to escape, and proclaimed Jesus as the Christ for three years in the northeast of Palestine, Nabatean Arabia.

The point about Paul’s vision in the temple, though, is not only that it took place here in this very temple (which the Jews viewed as sacred, holy ground) but also especially that Jesus himself warned him about the response in Jerusalem and told him specifically to go to the Gentiles with the gospel.

Paul even sort of makes a case to the Lord (19) that surely the Jews would listen to him who had zealously persecuted the way, and even approved of Stephen’s stoning. Paul thought that would mean he would have some kind of credibility with such an audience. Nonetheless, Jesus knew they would oppose him, and told Paul, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”

Unaccepted in Jerusalem, Paul was sent to testify among the Gentiles. Paul is saying, it is out of obedience to God that I proclaim Jesus as Messiah and Lord among the Gentiles. Now it turns out to be this very thing that rouses the ire of the crowd again, and they start shouting for his death (v. 22).

But from Paul’s testimony we should see that a Christian defense is ultimately that we are obeying the supreme Lord, who has changed our lives and given us a new direction, because he himself has intervened in our lives and made us right with God by his righteous life, atoning death, and resurrection power. Without him, we are all equally unholy before God. Without him, even our religious efforts are in vain. We are merely right in our own eyes, which is far from being right in God’s sight. 

(But if we have been made new through Jesus, like Paul) We can defend the gospel with clear testimony of Christ converting us.

I was just like you.

But then Jesus intervened.

He has changed me completely.

So I obey him entirely.

Conclusion: What is your defense?

Whose righteousness are you counting on to be right with God?

1 Pet 3:18a “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.”

Paul explains in Romans 10

Romans 10:1–4 ESV

1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Romans 10:8–13 ESV

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Have you called on the name of the Lord to be saved? Would you do so today? Let Jesus be your righteousness. Faith in him is the only way to be right with God.

Christians, will we be like Ananias and Paul? Will we be obedient to Christ and proclaim him as Lord and Savior, ready to give a defense for the unique hope that is in us? (1 Pet 3:15)

PRAY

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