There are many believers. Many in South Africa profess to be Christians. Close to 80% of South African citizens identify with the Christian religion, however, their lives do not reflect the statistics. Laws that are passed in so-called Christian countries do not reflect Christianity. If God’s children are there, how can such laws be passed? What do Christians say and do when the government passes laws that are contrary to the Bible? Throughout the history of the church, there has never been a period when Christians and the church have been free of persecution.
The Christian message liberates people, outwardly and especially within. A person experiences freedom from bondage. The Word says that if the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed. John 8:36 This is the purpose of Christ’s coming – to break the chains of Satan. If we speak about freedom that ought to be our experience - what we witness, what Christ is doing and what we testify about which is the wonder and sweetness of living a life free from sin.
Satan’s strategy is that the church will become history. Your experience was ‘once upon a time’, but it is no longer a reality. People no longer know what it means to have a true meeting with God. Do not imagine that this is a remote phenomenon. It can happen in your own home. You think you are serving the Lord but, in your home, you are as far apart as the east is from the west. Your viewpoints differ completely. Christians ought to testify to the truth of being set free and being victorious. We must be aware brethren lest anyone in our midst becomes lukewarm and no longer experiences the working of God in their lives, they are no longer on fire for God. Even though we cannot always meet, the fire of God dare not die out in our lives. This is something we should nurture wherever we are. That flame should not die out. This should not be a thing we only hear about – people on fire for God – but it is foreign to us.
If something goes wrong with our lips, we should experience the fiery coal that God brings to burn away the sin. If you read God’s word and it has no meaning, it offers you nothing, surely that is a sign of something wrong in your life. If you read God’s word and there is something in your life that separates you from God, how can God glorify Himself in your life? It is vital that we should have a true meeting with God.
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:1 – 9
This really stirs the heart – a meeting with Jesus. It is strange to see how things converged here – total opposites – the one who did not see had to get to the point where he could. God works in ways we cannot understand or grasp. God’s way of working will always be higher than we can understand. God takes that which is at loggerheads, and He works with it because He wants it to agree. One can ask the question: Was there nobody else in the world that God could use? God wanted Saul who hated the Gospel so much. How would they ever believe and trust him, because he hunted the Christians, threw them into jail and killed them. How would they listen to him who was their enemy? This is God’s way, not our way. Our way will always go against the way God works. We can complain about God using such a person who has such an evil history and bad background, but God says, “Shut your mouth – I know what I am doing.” How many people are there who you do not want to listen to because of something in their lives, but God says, “Shut your mouth – I know what I am doing.” God worked in Saul’s life by becoming personally involved. He did not use a disciple or apostle to intervene. God said, “I will not use anybody else. I will not invite anyone else. I will work and intervene in his life.”
The greatest danger to the church is not the heathen, not those who are outside of the church, but those who are inside, the brethren. When that brother turns his back on you, he can stab you in the back and crucify you. Such people say that they are fighting for the truth and for God, but they are the greatest enemies of the Gospel.
Saul was a very religious man. He was well known and prominent in the synagogue. He saw this message was sweeping the Jews along, away from Judaism. What did hr do? He is zealous in going against this movement and claims that he is fighting for God. That is why Paul could say later, 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1 Cor 15:9 When Stephen was martyred, Saul was there. When the believers were thrown into prison, he was writing letters, discovering where they were and using his education to persecute the church. He was zealous for the law. He obtained letters from the high priest to discover those who belonged to the The Way. In Acts, Luke calls the believers, ‘those who belonged to The Way’ because Jesus said 6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 They walked in the way of truth. If we know Him, He will be our way, our life and our truth.
Saul was zealous to get people out of the way of life and into the way of death. Can you imagine that? A person gives his life to get people out of the way, out of life, out of service to God and into something else. Open your eyes. Do not just accept anybody who comes to you with great zeal lest that person takes you off the way of life and onto the way of death. The Bible tells us that if there is any gift of the Holy Spirit for which we should pray, it is the gift of discernment. If you do not have that you will end up going astray in a dark forest. How many are there who regret decisions they have made? They regret the direction they have taken. Why? When they came to the crossroads, they failed to discern the will of God. Can you discern? How many have led you astray but you still think that you are on the right way, you are fine? How many have related stories and you have swallowed those stories and believed them. You failed to say, “Hang on for a moment, stop right there, thank you for what you have shared – I will go and find out about the other side.” When you have heard the other side, you have the full picture and then you can make your judgement. A green filter makes everything seem green, a red filter makes everything seem red, a black filter makes everything pitch black.
Saul was busy day and night, getting people out of the light into darkness and into his way. It was his way because he had not yet experienced the light and power of God at work. If you are leading people astray and influencing them in the wrong way, repent. Woe to you if you stand before God one day and you must carry the responsibility of all the souls you led astray. Many have gone astray, many are embittered because you came to them with bitterness. How many people have you influenced in this way?
Saul wanted to do things according to the law. He went to the high priest. He got letters of authorization to do what he planned. Although they were under the rule of Rome politically, religious matters were left mostly to the religious leaders which is why they had such power. This religious body had the authority to keep people in line with their way of thinking. Today, there are commissions and everyone must toe their line and woe to you if you do not. Saul got letters of authority to hunt down and imprison those belonging to the Way, the Jews who believed in Jesus. He had authority to get them out of their way and onto the way of death.
Saul travelled about 130 miles from Jerusalem to Damascus, with other men – breathing out threats and murder against disciples of the Lord. Whether they were marching or shouting slogans, we do not know but they were determined to force the believers to forsake their faith and return to their traditional religion, their way of thinking.
Today, no religion may trample on the rights of any other religion. No religion should criticise another religion because all religions are equal. Sexual orientation has also been brought to that level - nobody may speak badly about it. If a person decides that he/she is homosexual, gay or lesbian, that is their right, and no one should say anything about it. Everybody has the right to determine their own gender, no matter how they were created. Everyone else must simply accept that. Do you see where we are headed to?
Saul and his entourage were on their way to Damascus with the official letters. As they approached Damascus, God intervened and worked. The Bible says that a light, suddenly shone around him, a great, brilliant light which struck him to the ground. There is no genius like God who can control all things. God, you can control and limit that powerful, great light so that it had just enough power to strike Saul to the ground, but not kill him. The light was only directed at Saul. He only saw the things that he saw. God said, “Nobody else will be able to bring him to his senses. Nobody else will bring him to see things in his right mind. I will do it Myself. I will bring My powerful light that will strike him down and he will realise this is not the doing of man but God.”
Brethren, what does it mean to meet with God? What does it mean to meet with Jesus? How does one realise that someone has met with the power of God? It is demonstrated here. When a person has a true meeting with God, all your own self-sufficiency, your knowledge, your power and strength end. When this happens to you, you reach the point where you say, “Lord, I thought I knew You, I thought I believed in you but now I realise I did not know You. Unless You have mercy on me, this is my end. Lord, I have reached my end. I do not know how to go forward. I am just mud. I am worth nothing and unless You intervene and have grace on me, there is no future for me.”
If you get up from there, you be a different person – someone through whom God can work. God’s light which strikes a person to the ground must penetrate and change our lives. You must reach a point where you say, “I am ruined. This is my end. I am powerless. I am weak - a worm.” You must reach a point where your pride comes to an end and you say, “Lord, I am nothing.” Which is why Paul testified afterwards, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galations 2:20 That which I was has ended. That which I was has come to nothing. That which I used to love, I no longer love. That which I desired before, I no longer desire. One thing I desire is to be with You, walk with You and know you.
When you meet with God, your request is: Lord, start something new in my life. I want to follow you. I want to serve you and go where you send me. Have you reached that point where your way, your stubbornness, what you want, is something of the past? Now you can say, “Lord, will You lead me, take My hand and guide me into Your will. I want to follow You, I want to learn of You. I want to submit to the will of God and to the Lord Jesus. I want to be taught what it means to follow You.”
Perhaps your will is still very much alive, your way of seeing and doing things. As the wife you always want the last word. Your husband must do what you want him to do. As the husband, you do not want to do the right thing. God’s word says we should get to the place where all things have become new and the old has passed away.
The words of a chorus: There is no way that leads where you want to go. The way that leads to heaven will not go where you want to go. It costs. It does not just cost something but everything. It costs that you become nothing. To be nothing is the last thing people want to hear. People want to be acknowledged for who they are, what they have achieved, their degrees, their CV, but if you want to go this way, it will cost you to become nothing. God cannot work through us if we do not know what it means to bow and submit under God’s powerful hand, to confess and say that you are my God, my Lord, my life.
Young people, where are you today? What are you busy with? What are you listening to? How important is God’s word in your life? How important is Jesus in your life? Do you know what it means to submit? Do you know what God’s will means?
You might be a problem at home. You always have to be reprimanded at the table. There you cannot be self-controlled. Everyone else must serve you. How can you submit to God’s will if you cannot even submit to the will of your parents? If you have not met this way, how will you ever be able to walk on it? If you have not met it, you will never be able to walk on it.
When Saul fell to the ground, he heard a voice saying, “Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” You might see a person in front of you and say that you are fighting against that person but you do not realise that you are fighting against God. On top of that, you think you are fighting for God and do it for Him.
Paul’s fellow travellers heard the voice but saw no one. They also experienced something out of the ordinary. They probably often discussed this experience amongst themselves later. They heard the voice but did not see the One who spoke. He spoke and asked a question that made sense, “Why do you persecute Me?” You may think you are fighting a man, a person, but you are fighting against God Himself. You say, “I want to teach that person a lesson so that they will know who I am.” But the Lord says, “You are not fighting that person, you are fighting Me.” Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” He said, “I am Jesus.” Do you understand whom you are fighting and opposing? You may be doing it every day of your life. You say that you have the legal authority to do it. You say you can do it and you are doing the right thing. But you are fighting against God.
I am amazed at God’s work here. Saul was furiously bent on doing what he wanted to but Jesus intervened. What was the result? Saul had to be led helpless and blind into Damascus. The Lord said, “You wanted to go into Damascus, well, into Damascus you will go.” Saul may have arrived in Damascus with pomp and ceremony like a hero as the great Saul who had studied under Gamaliel. But now the great, learned Saul had to be led into Damascus like a helpless person. God can humble a person. Saul had to go to Damascus where he would be told what to do. Saul had to go to Damascus where he would be humbled and people would ask in astonishment, “Is this the great Saul?” At the place where he thought he would be famous and do what he had planned, he was converted and he had to start learning about the Lord Jesus. When he came to the realisation that he was actually persecuting Jesus, it was a new beginning for him.
What we should learn from this is that when God wants to work, we must get out of His way. Do not stand in His way with your preconceived ideas. Do not come with your ideas and cleverness. Get out of God’s way and say, “Lord, work in any way You wish.” Allow Him to work. You should be able to say, “Lord, I am willing to do whatever you want me to, to go wherever You send me - not according to my way of seeing things, but according to Your way.” God in His wisdom had prepared the way. He had spoken to Ananias and told him to go to a particular place and address, to the house of Judas where there was a man there who was praying.
God spoke to Ananias and to Saul. That which was said to them both was in agreement. This is how God works. You think things are far apart but in the end they unite. When Ananias laid hands on Saul and prayed for him, his eyes were immediately opened. His eyes were blind. We need God to open our spiritual eyes and do His work. It needs a revelation from God for the scales to fall from our eyes so that we can see things as God does. Saul’s eyes were opened and the life of Paul began. Things changed. God had spoken, “This is my chosen vessel.” No matter how evil and wicked he had been, God selected him as His chosen vessel in which God said He would place His treasure.
You may be a great enemy of God and His work of God but you do not realise that God actually wants to work through you. When God starts working through you, it is no reason to be proud. You are just a vessel that contains that treasure from God. The most expensive vessels, plates of gold and golden cutlery will not satisfy your hunger in any way. It is the food that is in the vessels which people will speak about.
Paul was a chosen instrument of God. Paul preached the Gospel, a different message which lead people to the true way, whereas before he had led them astray. Saul was totally transformed into Paul. He saved them from the way of destruction and brought them to the way of salvation. In the beginning the people were wary of Paul thinking it may be a ruse but this did not stop him, he continued to serve the Lord.
God wants to accomplish something and achieve a great work, he wants to use you as an instrument and a vessel that does not realise that it is there for the work of God. “Go to Damascus” leave the place where you are “and you will be told what you have to do.” The Lord will lead you and teach you what you have to do. Leave your murderous ways and lead people to the way of life – that is what God wants to do through you. Paul was totally transformed. He no longer wanted to lead people to death but to salvation, to the way of life. But before he could do that, he had to be dealt with severely. All that which belonged to him had to end. Saul changed to Paul.
God will not work if there is sin in our lives, He will not further His work through us while we live with sin in our lives. We must put off the old man and put on the new man which is created in the image of God. We must leave our old ways and follow His way. It costs to obey God. Do you hear what God says and do you obey? It costs to walk according to God’s will and not ours. Pride and placing yourself on a pedestal must end so that God can work in us.
God’s work could then start through this man. Multitudes were saved. There was peace and quiet in Jerusalem. The chief of persecutors became a preacher of the Gospel. True repentance and conversion was evident in his life. The man who was an enemy of the Gospel became zealous to spread the Gospel. The leading persecutor of the church was the one whom God chose to work through. Where are you? Are you still walking your own way? Jesus is calling you.