The Power of His Resurrection

Acts 9:1–22 – Holy Week
Easter Sunday  – April 1, 2018 (am)

We’ve been studying Philippians together. In c.3 of that brief letter, the Apostle Paul talks about the privileged position he held in Judaism before he met Jesus. He was at the top of the heap—part of the religious ruling council, and sought-out even among them. No one was more zealous for the religion of his fathers. And he was blameless under the law (Phi.3:6). If anyone thinks he has reason for confidence (before God), Paul wrote, I have more (Phi.3:4).

But, all of that was preliminary to his saying something truly remarkable: whatever gain I had—whatever status I enjoyed that I might have used to my own advantage—I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss (compared to) the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… and the power of his resurrection (Phi.3:7-8, 10). Paul would turn his back on every privilege in this world—position, power, wealth, influence, comfort—in order to know Christ more intimately, to fellowship with Him more personally, to experience the power of His resurrection more deeply.

There was nothing in this world Paul wanted more than to engage the resurrected Jesus more fully. But that’s not where he started. Before Jesus opened the eyes of his heart he was dead-set against the Christian faith, including Jesus’ resurrection. He hated it all with a passion! But then something happened—something that displays the truth and power of his resurrection, still today, beyond all question. And that’s what we’re celebrating here today.

Now, some people don’t believe that Jesus’ resurrection really happened. But, the biggest problem there is that the weight of the earliest historical evidence actually argues in favor of it—hard as that is for many to believe. Let me spotlight just three pieces of that evidence.

First, the tomb was empty. It’s that simple. And there’s no way someone stole the Body, or that every-one went to the wrong tomb. This was a high-profile case. The tomb was sealed, and a Roman guard was posted (Mat.27:66). But on Sunday morning the seal was broken. The grave clothes were still wrapped, but they and the tomb were empty. These are the simple facts!

Second, many people saw the risen Jesus. And He wasn’t limping around, beaten and bloodied, like you’d expect. The women saw Him at the gravesite, alive and well. The disciples saw Him in a locked room (Joh.20:19) where they ate with Him (Luk.24:43), and then again on the seashore (Joh.21.12). And Paul said more than 500 people saw Him at once—people still alive as he wrote about it (1Co.15:6). So, he couldn’t have lied!

Third, and this is a big one, lives were changed. After Jesus’ death the disciples were cowering behind locked doors. Following a teacher who’s executed for blasphemy puts you in pretty grave danger, and they were scared to death! But what happened after they saw the resurrected Jesus? They were out in the streets of Jerusalem preaching the gospel to thousands at the Feast of Pentecost—Jerusalem the same city where Jesus had been crucified and buried just fifty days earlier! They were changed men! Their lives were changed forever! And the Apostle Paul is just one more example. His story is told by Luke in Act.9 (22, 26). It’s surely one of the most significant conversion stories in history, and it explains his passion to know Christ.

Let’s turn to Act.9917 and look at Paul’s story together as further evidence of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, and further demonstration of its power to change lives.

Luke gives a little snippet of an introduction to Paul back in cc.7 and 8 suggesting that he’d be a central figure in this story. He was present and approving at the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (7:58), causing the persecution that scattered the church throughout Judea (8:3-4). Here in c.9, similar activity was continuing. Saul (the Hebrew name for Paul) was seriously intimidating Christians, like a fire-breathing dragon spewing out vicious threats and menacing schemes—even murder (1). He was a terrorist! Remember the overwhelming mix of outrage and fear we all felt as the reports were coming in on 9/11? How far was this going to go? Where would it end?

Like many terrorists of other religions today, Saul had sought and received high priest-approval to go to another city (Damascus from Jerusalem) in another region (Syria from Judea) and round up anyone who was following after the Way, as Christianity was being called at the time (2). It wasn’t enough to terrorize people at home, he wanted to take his act on the road! The Way was a blasphemous offense to Judaism, as he saw it, and it had to be stopped!

The letters (2a) he sought were likely letters of reference to assist his chasing down of dispersed Christians (cf. 14). And when he was arresting and shackling these people, he didn’t care if they were men or women! (2) He was ruthless!

So, Saul was headed to Damascus with permission in hand to do whatever seemed right or necessary to stop the Way in its tracks. But something happened. He and his group (3) were interrupted along their way (3) by a bright light from heaven (3) that blinded only him. He (fell) to the ground (4) and was immediately interviewed by a voice only he could understand (7; cf. 22:9). But the address had to surprise him; it was so direct and personal: 4 … Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?

Note, first, the double-mention of his name—a sign of intimacy in the Hebrew culture. When Jesus was looking at the city of his eventual death, and grieving over their sin, he said (Mat.23): 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! And on the last day, Judgment Day, when people are convinced that God must have misunderstood what good people they were, they will cry (Mat.7): 22 … “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” 23 And then will I declare to them, said Jesus, “I never knew you. …” They assumed a relational intimacy that just wasn’t there. And this oversight holds tragic implications, eternal implications!

Second, note also the personal nature of the message: Why are you persecuting me, not (my church)? Who is this Person speaking to Saul? That’s exactly what he asked: 5 … Who are you, Lord? … And the answer had to rock his world: … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. So, He’s alive! Jesus then gave him some very simple instructions: 6 … Rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do. Any question Who’s in charge here?

Blinded by the light, then, Saul was led by the hand the rest of the way to Damascus (8)—quite a change from the fury with which he’d left Jerusalem. Evidently, he then spent some time pondering his circumstances; v.9 says he neither ate nor drank for three days; and down in v.11 we see that he was also praying —not a bad response when you’ve been interrupted by God!

A man named Ananias was God’s appointed helper for Saul. In a vision (10-12), God told him to go to Judas’ house on Straight Street there in Damascus and restore Saul’s sight. We know from c.22 that 12 … Ananias was a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there. But he was initially reluctant to help Saul (13-14). And who could blame him? How much compassion do we have for members of ISIS? How much sympathy have surviving Jews had for German prison camp guards from WWII? But God reassured Ananias by saying: This is my appointed man. 15 … He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. This statement was more than enough for Ananias, who went directly over to Judas’ house (17), laid hands on Saul, and even called him, Brother (17)—what must that have taken? Then he was used by God to enable Saul to regain (his) sight, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit (17). Luke records that something like scales fell from (Saul’s) eyes (18) and he could see. Then he got up and was baptized (18). And finally he ate something to regain his strength (19).

And don’t miss this dramatic irony: having planned to persecute Christians in the synagogues of Damascus (2), Saul actually ended up preaching Jesus there! (20-22) Now, there’s a little taste of the truth and life-changing power of the resurrection! It turned Saul’s life on a dime!

So, Saul of Tarsus, the first century terrorist, was transformed into the Apostle Paul, preaching a message and modeling a faith that’s rooted in Jesus’ resurrection, and as he himself wrote, Christianity is meaningless without it (1Co.15:12-19).

And he and the disciples were not the only ones, you know. There are many others over the centuries whose stories may not have been so dramatic, but their changed lives are equally undeniable—proving the truth and power of Jesus’ resurrection.

In the fifth century it changed Saint Augustine from being an arrogant, lust-driven, sexually addicted young man into a champion of Christian doctrine and theology.

In the sixteenth century it changed Martin Luther from being a fearful, self-analyzing neurotic into a keen discerner and bold defender of the pure, NT gospel.

In the eighteenth century it changed John Newton from being a vile, thrill-seeking sinner and slave-trader into a compassionate, tender shepherd of God’s people. He is the one who composed the poem: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

In the twentieth century it changed Charles Colson from a pitiless, power-hungry politician into a passionate, tireless evangelist, especially among the most outcast element in our society. Colson was Special Council to President Richard Nixon and was imprisoned for his role in the Watergate scandal. But after his life was changed, he told in his book, Loving God, how the Watergate conspiracy had convinced him of the truth of the resurrection. As it became evident that the cover-up would fail, government officials began running for cover to make sure nothing illegal got pinned on them. He compared that to the behavior of the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ resurrection and saw just the opposite: men standing firm against the threat of persecution and prosecution, unflinching and prepared to die if necessary! They knew the truth and were ready to stand for it, no matter the cost. Their lives were changed in undeniable ways, proving with clarity the truth and power of Jesus’ resurrection.

The power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the power of his resurrection, is not just the focus of an annual celebration about this time every year. It’s the essence of the work that the true and living God is doing among His creatures. It is the literal embodiment of the gospel, the living, breathing illustration of God’s promise of eternal life to all who receive His Son as Savior, Lord, and King.

Isn’t it time for you embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, Lord, and King? Isn’t it time that you tasted of the power of his resurrection to steer your life in the direction God designed to go, rather than the direction you’ve determined yourself? No matter your struggle, you have evidence from the stories of history how the gospel is sufficient to save you from them all—from sexual sin and addiction like Augustine, or from spiritual and emotional struggle like Luther, or from vile sin and rebellion like Newton, or from pursuit of political and personal power like. It can even deliver you from the consequences of believing wrong things about what is right, like Paul, who was seeking to approach God as He had prescribed in His law, but by rejecting Christ he was missing key parts of the story. Christ can save us from all of this, and more! His sacrifice is sufficient. And His resurrection proves it! Isn’t it time for you to embrace Jesus Christ as Lord?

If so, there are just two things you need to understand about the grace of God that is ours by faith in Christ. First, no sin is too small to fracture our relationship with God. Anything at all that makes us less than perfect (mea-sured by the standard of God’s own character, His perfections) and we’re estranged from relationship with Him—eternally separated in judgment. But, second, no sin is too great to be cleansed by the sacrifice of Christ. Anything (any sin we’ve committed) that is confessed to Him in humble repentance and faith can be cleansed, removed, and replaced by the power of his resurrection to enable our obedience, our eternal life.

Because Jesus was raised from the dead, every one of us now has a choice to make: receive Him as Savior or reject Him. There’s just no third option.

So, which do you choose?