Pastor Edward Brouwer 10-15-17 “TRUE SIGHT”
Introduction—do you remember when you came to faith in Jesus Christ? Was it a distinct moment that you can recall a specific time and place or was it a more gradual coming to know him? I grew up in a Christian home with believing parents who led me in faith. I don’t remember a time when the story of Jesus was not all around me and faith was in the water I drank (so to speak). But I do recall a distinct time when I heard the voice of the Lord calling “Come unto me”. It was in the fall of 1978, I was starting 9th grade and was 14. I was in the back of a little church in the town I grew up in, and the pastor extended an invitation. I didn’t “go forward” that day but in the quiet of the balcony in the back of that church I quietly surrendered my life to Christ. No fireworks, no fanfare but I do recall two noticeable changes in my life that occurred over the coming months. God’s Word came alive to me. I began to understand the Bible—sometimes it was as if the words leapt off the pages! And I had a growing concern for the lost with a desire to share my faith. Every one who has ever come to faith in Jesus Christ has a particular story, a distinct journey and today we are looking at the Damascus road experience of Saul and his encounter with Christ.
Read Acts 9:1-28 Three ways of Seeing
Former sight–Who is this Saul guy? In order to understand him better let’s review his story up to the time of his conversion. Saul was born into a Jewish family (of the tribe of Benjamin) living in the city of Tarsus, the Roman province of Cilicia, in present-day southeastern Turkey [somewhere around 5-10 AD]. (So for frame of reference, when Jesus started his ministry at the age of 30 Saul was likely in his early 20’s). The city of Tarsus was a well-renowned center of learning and trade (not unlike say Oxford or Philadelphia). One of the city’s great philosophers was the tutor of the first Roman Emperor Augustus—and because of this the Roman Senate had conferred special status on this city such that people born in it were automatically granted Roman Citizenship. At an early age Saul showed promise as a scholar and was either sent to Jerusalem or his family moved there so that he could get the best religious training of the day under the brilliant scholar Gamaliel. Saul by his own description was a type A personality, driven, the top of his class, full of zeal for his faith in the “traditions of my fathers” as he relates in Galatians 1:14. Saul is a polyglot, fluent in Greek, fluent Aramaic the language of Israel and fluent in Hebrew the ancient language of the Scriptures. Saul likely was a member of the very synagogue mentioned in Acts 6:9 (members were from the province of Cilicia) the very synagogue where Stephen argued that Jesus was the Messiah—that got Stephen into so much trouble that eventually led to his death by stoning. At this murder, Luke writes that Saul stood assisting the stone throwers and “approving of their killing of him” (Acts 8:1) Saul is such a zealous man, and so convinced that Christians were a danger to everything he stood for, that he hunted them down, throwing them in jail, and when they were sentenced to death he cast his vote against them (Acts 26:10).
Blinding sight—It was in this capacity that Saul had secured letters from the Jewish Supreme Authority to track down believers in Damascus and haul them back to Jerusalem for trial. On the way there, when they were at the outskirts of the city, Saul sees a blinding light and hears a voice. The light is the glory of the Risen Christ, and Jesus says “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” This diabolical enterprise of Saul was personal to Jesus! He didn’t confront Saul by saying “why are you hurting my disciples”, but no, He asks “why are you hurting ME!?” This is Saul’s “come to Jesus” moment. And as a result of seeing Jesus Saul is blinded for three days. When he opens his eyes he can’t see a thing. He is led into the city by his fellow travelers (who incidentally heard a voice and saw the light but didn’t understand what was said or who was saying it—that is to say, it was a true objective event, but had subjective meaning only for Saul).
Saul fasts for 3 days, and one can imagine that these days of searching repentance and grace would have been a spiritual rollercoaster. Then Ananias enters the picture. He is a follower of Jesus in Damascus and the Lord appears to him in a vision telling him to go to Saul, lay hands on him to restore his sight and pray for him. Ananias objects—really Lord? Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. Wouldn’t you be asking the same question? Here’s the most dangerous man to believers and God is asking Ananias to actively look for him and pray for him?
Real Sight–Saul is prayed for, and something like scales fall from his eyes and he is baptized. I don’t know what the scales were, but in a very real sense every person who comes to faith in Christ has such “scales removed”. The very first words of the Westminster Confession of faith say “our natural understanding (our mind) and the works of creation (the existence of the universe) and providence (the force that upholds everything) clearly show God’s goodness, wisdom and power such that humans have no excuse for not believing in him…however these means alone are not sufficient to bring about faith unto salvation…” In other words, none of us can come to faith using our own intellect (even as much as that points to the existence of God). God by His Spirit reveals the truth of the gospel to us and enables us to believe.
This was personal and always is for each of us. Listen carefully how Jesus “personalized” this to Saul. At three different times in Acts we see Paul sharing his conversion experience. Acts 9, Acts 22 to the crowds and Acts 26 to Agrippa. Luke relays slightly different details each time. I love in Acts 26 where Paul says that after Jesus asked him why he was persecuting me (a rhetorical question!!) Jesus follows up by saying “it is hard for you to kick against the goads”. Goads were spurs that the master would use to press the flesh of an obstinate animal—goading them on. And the more stubborn the animal the deeper the goads/spurs would be pressed. It’s as if the Lord is saying “Saul, you are NOT going to win this! This is not who you were meant to be! Stop doing this to yourself!”
It wasn’t until later that Paul could say in Galatians 1:15 “He had set me apart before I was born (from my mother’s womb), and He called me by His grace and was pleased to reveal His Son to me”…do you see the implication for Paul and indeed for every believer? We who were “just doing our own thing”, trying to find meaning and purpose in our own experience, our own self…that finding the truest version of yourself comes only in surrender to Christ, for only Christ knows you better than you know yourself!
CS Lewis, in commenting on faith and sight said “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun is risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I can see everything else”. I love that, because not only has God revealed His Son to us by faith and we “see” him (Job: I know that my Redeemer liveth!) but also everything in life makes sense to us now through the lens of faith in Jesus Christ. We have purpose, meaning, and new life. Our identity is secure in knowing that we are Beloved Children of God in Christ. Where are you in the journey of real sight? Are you still searching? Jesus invites you today by saying “Come unto me”. Or are you at the place of blinding sight? You have had an encounter with Christ but you are in a murky place, a place of spiritual wrestling, of hungering and thirsting to truly experience Christ in a fresh and real way? (maybe you are struggling with fear, doubt, sickness, depression, heart ache). Jesus says “Come unto me”. Or maybe you are in a place of joyful exuberance in your faith. Praise God! Jesus says “Come to me and keep your eyes on the prize”. Or maybe you are in a place where once you felt the joy and exuberance of fresh faith but now it just seems less real to you, more like you are just slogging it out. Jesus invites you to a fresh and renewed encounter of faith—Jesus says “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”.