Acts 9 God breaks a hard heart - 5th May 2013 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: Acts 9:1-20

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What was Saul doing at the start of the story?

Acts 9:1-2 “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”

What was Saul doing at the end of the story?

Acts 9:20 “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.”

Is that the same thing?

What made the difference?

Acts 9:3-6 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

He met Jesus, didn’t he? He was walking down the road, off to get some followers of Jesus and lock them up in prison, when all of a sudden he met Jesus himself.

Do you think he was happy to meet Jesus? No, not at all! Not at first. It’s almost as if Saul was doing this (show picture of man swatting fly) when all of a sudden this happened (show picture of man swatting fly with enormous fly standing over him). Saul had been attacking Jesus’ followers when all of a sudden he meets the risen Jesus in all of his power and he says “Saul, why are you persecuting me? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” And Saul is terrified.

Jesus is big and scary. Do you know that? I was at a museum the other day and a little boy was there with his dad and he saw a statue of a lady holding a baby, and he said “look dad, it’s Jesus.” Every Christmas we remember Jesus being born as a baby don’t we? We can get used to the idea. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Jesus is a little helpless baby now. Jesus is big and scary now. Jesus is the ruler of the universe now. He’s living and he’s powerful. Saul sees that, and he falls on the floor.

And then what happened, when Saul had met Jesus?

He couldn’t see could he? Actually the Bible says this:

Acts 9:9  For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

Saul meets Jesus and everything stops. He doesn’t eat. He doesn’t drink. He can’t see anything. It’s almost like he’s dead for 3 days. Now, can anyone think of someone else in the Bible who was dead for 3 days?

Jesus and Jonah. Jonah was in the fish for 3 days wasn’t he – he didn’t eat or drink and he was in the dark, and when he came out he was completely changed. Jesus was the big one though wasn’t he? He really was dead for 3 days and then he rose again. It’s like God wants to show us that what happened to Saul is a bit like what happened to Jesus. When he meets Jesus everything stops. It’s like the old Saul dies, and is replaced by a whole new Saul.

Because what happens then? Saul has met Jesus, he can’t see anything, then what happens?

Jesus meets Ananias, doesn’t he? And he tells Ananias to go and see Saul. Well at first Ananias is a bit worried about that – he knows what Saul has been up to – but Jesus insists.

Acts 9:15  But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people ofIsrael.

Jesus has plans for Saul. Jesus is going to make Saul into a missionary, into someone who will take the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. It seems incredible, doesn’t it? Here’s Saul, the persecutor. He hates Christians. But Jesus has other plans for him.

So Ananias goes to see Saul and says “Brother Saul, the Lord--Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here--has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

So Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to Saul and then the change is complete. The old Saul is dead; a whole new Saul has risen in his place. What was he like at the start of the story? He hated Jesus and he hated Jesus’ followers. What was he like at the end? He loved Jesus and he became one of Jesus’ followers. He started off on his journey wanting to stop the message of Jesus going any further. He carried on his journey wanting to take the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. It couldn’t be any more different could it? And the thing that made the difference was that he met Jesus.

And do you know that Jesus still changes people like that? Jesus turns people around. That’s what he does – when someone meets Jesus they change. If you become a follower of Jesus then he will turn you right around.

You’ll have seen this a few times now, especially if you’ve been to one of our holiday clubs, but it’s worth repeating, because it helps us to understand this. When Jesus meets someone he tells them to repent. That’s his message to everyone – repent. And what does repent mean? It means to stop, to turn around, and to go God’s way. It means the sort of thing that happened to Saul.

But look what a big change it is. Following Jesus is not just taking up a hobby. It’s not just change your lifestyle a bit. It’s a really big change. Saul set out doing what he wanted to do. He came back doing what Jesus wanted him to do.

That’s the sort of change that God wants to happen in us. A change from living for me to living for Jesus. Only he can do that.

Song              Our God is a Great Big God

During the next couple of months as we study more of the book of Acts together we’re going to be thinking a lot about our God being a God who breaks barriers. The whole story of this section of the book of Acts is all about God breaking through all kinds of barriers so that the good news of Jesus can reach the ends of the earth. So what can we take from today? I’ve got too applications for you; two things to remember from the conversion of Saul that could really make a difference to you:

The first is this: no heart is too hard for Jesus to break.

Saul’s was the hardest heart around. He was the toughest nut to crack. Every fibre of Saul’s being was against Jesus, wasn’t it? And yet Jesus turned him round.

It’s true that the first step towards changing is actually wanting to change. That’s what Alcoholics Anonymous talk about, isn’t it? If you are going to change you have to want to change, otherwise it’ll never happen. There will be people here who see following Jesus as something that they’d like to do, but they know that deep down they’re not there yet; they’re not really following him seriously yet. If that’s you, then you’re a step on the journey and Jesus can change you.

But Saul was much further back than that, wasn’t he? He didn’t want to change – not in the least. He was totally against Jesus and absolutely convinced that he was right. But Jesus met him and turned him round. Jesus had to make him want to change. So he did. Jesus changes people.

There is no heart so hard that Jesus can’t break it. Perhaps you’re here this morning but there’s someone who you’d love to have with you – a husband or a wife or a parent or a child or a friend who you’d love to follow Jesus. You desperately want them to be saved. You long for them to know Jesus like you do. There is no heart so hard that Jesus can’t break it.

Some of you will have met my dad last week: the story of how my dad became a believer in Jesus is closely linked to how I did, because it was when I saw the change in him that I started to take Jesus seriously. But my dad was a hard nut to crack. He thought Christianity wasn’t for him; he thought he had all the arguments against it, he was a biologist, he knew his evolution and he thought that had all the answers. My mum would drag him to church and he sort of enjoyed it, but only for the intellectual fight. He thought Christians were all really sadly misguided. But then, as he heard the message of Jesus for the I don’t know how many’th time, he met the risen Jesus. Not in a vision like Saul, but he knew that God was really there, that Jesus had really risen and that he wanted him to give up everything to follow him. My dad prayed later that day that Jesus would take over his life, and Jesus did. That was the Holy Spirit working in my dad, showing him Jesus. There is no heart so hard that Jesus can’t break through.

The other thought is this: nothing less than death and resurrection will do.

The sort of changes that need to happen for someone to become a follower of Jesus are not the kind of changes that can be sorted out with a bit of good advice and a bit of effort. The sort of thing you heard about at school – “if you pay attention and try hard enough then you can be whatever you want to be.” That doesn’t get close.

Saul needed nothing less than death and resurrection. He couldn’t just say ‘yes, I’ll include Jesus in my life.’ Sometimes when we talk about ‘asking Jesus to come into my life’ it’s not very helpful, because it gives the impression that when you become a Christian you take Jesus in along with all the other stuff, like a big white blood cell going around swallowing up all the little germs and including them in its body “yes I’ll have some golf in my life and some good food and some Jesus.” Nom nom nom. No. Jesus has to take over you. He has to include you in his body, the church.

That can only happen when the old you - the you which lives for yourself and makes all the decisions - when the old you dies, and Jesus gives you a whole new you. It’s such a big change that the best way of describing it is like a death. So much stops. And then a new life – so much new stuff starts. Only Jesus is able to make that change. But it does mean massive change for you.

Now that really big change, the whole new start, that can only happen once. Saul didn’t have another change quite as big as this one – although it echoed down through the rest of his life. If you’ve not made that change, you need to, and you need to know that Jesus can do it. He can.

If that one off change has already happened, that new start, well don’t forget that that is also the way that you go on in the Christian life. Every day is death and resurrection. Every day we need to be changing, things in our lives need to die off and new things need to grow in their place so that we can be more and more like Jesus. That is the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of a believer – he makes us more and more like Jesus. But is that still happening for you? Or have you got stuck as you are? Christians should be people who are always changing. Are you still changing? What have you given up recently for Jesus? What have you started recently for Jesus?

No heart is so hard that Jesus can’t break it. But only death and resurrection will do.