Church Empowered – Message 9
November 15, 2020
I. Introduction: We return to our survey of Acts entitled, Church Empowered.
(Acts 9:1-3; C/R: Acts 22:3-21; 26:4-23)
A. The title of today’s message is, Born Again.
- Theme verse: John 3:3 (NLT)—Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” [Presently or in the future after life’s end.]
- This morning, we will focus on Saul’s conversion and examine our own.
- Saul was Jewish by birth, Roman by citizenship (Acts 22:28), with a Greek education.
- He was born in Tarsus, in the Roman province of Cilicia (Turkey today).
- He was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), who studied the Old Testament Scriptures in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, the most respected rabbi of the time.
- As a young man, Saul made his first appearance as a witness against Stephen (Acts 8:1) who watched the coats of other witnesses when they took them off to throw stones to kill Stephen (Acts 7:58-59; 22:20), which Saul agreed with. (Acts 8:1)
- After Stephen’s death, wide-spread persecution against the church in Jerusalem began, apparently led by Saul (Acts 8:2-3); Hellenist believers fled, pursued by Saul.
- Acts 9:1-2 (NLT)—1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. 2He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. [Source: Jesus as “the way, truth, and life.” John 14:6] He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
- But something happened to Saul on the road to Damascus that changed his life!
II. Elements of New Birth… (Acts 9:3-31; C/R: John 3:3; Romans 10:9)
A. #1 - Encounter with Christ. (Acts 9:3-9; C/R: John 3:6-8; Galatians 1:15-16a; Ephesians 2:4-5; Philippians 3:5–9)
- Acts 9:3-4 (NLT)—3As he was approaching Damascus on this mission [about noon; Acts 22:6;26:13], a light from heaven [brighter than the sun; Acts 26:13] suddenly shone down around him. [and his companions; 26:13; 2 Corinthians 4:6] 4He fell to the ground [all fell down; 26:14] and heard a voice saying to him in Aramaic; 26:14], “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting Me?” [‘It is useless for you to fight against My will.’ 26:14]
- Jesus confronted Saul, accused him of committing violence against Him (not followers).
- It was their faith in Jesus that caused the persecution against them. (John 15:18-20)
- As with Saul, God always initiates contact with us, though not always so dramatically,
- Acts 9:5a (NLT)—“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
- Saul’s response reflected recognition that he was speaking to God (deity).
- He knew the Christian gospel Stephen, Philip and the apostles were preaching—that Jesus is the Messiah—a message confirmed with power over disease and demons.
- Saul had seen Stephen die, heard him praying for forgiveness for his killers. (Acts 7:59)
- All Saul had seen and heard made him even angrier because he could not understand these people, couldn’t threaten them into denying their faith and had no way to explain their supernatural feats—so he attacked and punished them even more cruelly!
- Saul knew God’s covenant promises, the redemption history of Israel and the promise of a Messiah who would deliver from sin—he knew, at least suspected, this was Him!
- Acts 9:5b (NLT)—And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!
- The light of truth was confirmed in his soul; he was born again and conversion began!
- We are born again, regenerated, by the Holy Spirit supernaturally, in an instant, when our soul receives spiritual life, though we may not be aware at first. (John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:3)
- Conversion, which results from regeneration, is turning from sin and turning toward God in repentance and faith for salvation; we have become a new person. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
- Jesus immediately gave Saul instruction at Acts 9:6 (NLT)—“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” [Saul humbly surrendered himself.]
- Acts 9:7 (NLT)—The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! [Luke 22:9 says they saw the light and heard, but didn’t understand, the voice. The words were for Saul alone. God speaks to us that way.]
- Saul saw Jesus in all of His brilliance, his companions saw only light. (1 Corinthians 9:1;15:8)
- Acts 9:8 (NLT)—Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus.
- Instead of marching into Damascus filled with pride and wrath to arrest every believer he found, he stumbled into town, blind, broken by God, led by the hand like a child.
- Acts 9:9 (NLT)—He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.
- God left Saul in darkness and hunger, to reflect on the transformation of every aspect of his life—and he would need help getting reoriented into the kingdom of God.
- APP.: Do you remember reorienting to a new life of faith after becoming born again?
Another element of new birth is…
B. #2 - Encouragement from Christians. (Acts 9:10-19a; C/R: Galatians 6:2,7-10; Philippians 2:3–4; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 10:24-25)
- While Saul waited, blinded, not eating or drinking, thinking deeply about what had occurred, God was preparing another man to help him.
- Acts 9:10-19a (NLT)—10Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord!” he replied.
11The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to Me right now. 12I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”
13“But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon Your name.” [“He’ll arrest me!”]
15But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is My chosen instrument to take My message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. [Call to ministry is God’s choice, not ours.] 16And I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
17So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19aAfterward he ate some food and regained his strength. [God used another believer.]
- His baptism openly united with the very people he had hated and persecuted.
- One sure mark of a transformed life is the desire to be with fellow Christians. (1 John 3:14)
- We need relationships with other believers providing instruction, encouragement, comfort, assistance and sometimes, confrontation, to know how to live for God.
- APP.: Are you involved in spiritual relationships with other Christians? (small groups)
A third element of new birth is…
C. #3 - Engagement in God’s service. (Acts 9:19b-31; C/R: 1 Corinthians 9:16-17; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:24-25; 1 Timothy 1:12-15)
- Acts 9:19b-21 (NLT)—19b Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. [Learning to live as a Christ-follower. 1 John 3:14] 20And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”
21All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?”
- Saul shocked the Christians when he was converted, but he also stunned the Jews, who were expecting him to imprison believers, not became one of them!
- He preached in the same synagogues where he had planned to make arrests!
- Like Stephen, he debated the Jews about the deity and Messiahship of Jesus.
- Acts 9:22 (NLT)—Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
- These Jews could not match his knowledge of the Scripture; now that he knew Jesus was the Messiah, he had even greater understanding of the Old Testament.
- Since the Jews could not defeat him in debate, they decided to silence him
- Acts 9:23-31 (NLT)— 23 After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him. 24They were watching for him day and night at the city gate [walled city] so they could murder him, but Saul was told about their plot. 25So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall. [access]
- These believers risked their lives to save someone God had called to preach.
- Acts 9:26-25 (NLT)— 26When Saul arrived in Jerusalem [After 3 years in Arabia; Galatians 1:17-18], he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer! 27Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus. [A respected, believer brought in the outsider. Do you?]
28So Saul stayed with the apostles and went all around Jerusalem with them, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to murder him. [He went from being their ally, to their enemy.] 30When the believers heard about this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus, his hometown. [For his protection. He left for a few years, but continued to preach and establish churches in Syria and Cilicia. Galatians 1:21]
31The church then had peace throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, and it became stronger as the believers lived in the fear of the Lord. [awe, awareness, reverence] And with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, it also grew in numbers.
- If you are born again, you have been made new—with a new heart and new purpose.
- APP.: What new purposes are you pursuing to serve God?
Spiritual practice: In what ways is your life different because of Jesus? What areas need God’s work?
Memory verse: Titus 3:5 (NLT)—he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.