12 July, 2011

Revolution in Damascus: The Transformation of Saul of Tarsus

I had the opportunity on Sunday, July 10th to present this message at Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas.  You can see the message here.

Here are my notes.

Main Point: When God speaks… listen, confirm, adjust and move.


  • Paul is a pivotal character of history. You can even say that no one, aside from Jesus Christ himself, has been so influential for the movement of Christianity.
  • Why was Paul first called Saul?  Saul was his Jewish name.  He was also a Roman citizen, having been born in Tarsus and his Roman name was Paul.
  • Saul was educated in Jerusalem in the ways of Judaism and became a strong, young zealot of the Jewish faith, his discipline even earning him the distinguished honor of being a designated a Pharisee.  
  • The Pharisees were the law keepers.  It has been said that that Pharisees were so careful to avoid breaking God's commandments that they built a fence around them. They added 248 commandments and 365 prohibitions to insure they never got close to breaking the original ten.
  • This was the culture of Judaism in which Saul was raised.
  • When Scripture first introduces Saul of Tarsus to us at the end of Acts chapter 7, the biblical record says he was as a witness to the death of Stephen, the church’s first martyr.  Acts 8:1 says that Saul “consented” to his death (Acts 7:58; 8:1). 
  • We’re not sure exactly when Saul began his bloody mission of savagery and persecution of the church – It could have been the stoning of Stephen, but one thing is for sure.  Saul was zealous, brutal and relentless. He was the wolf that stalked the fold of the Lamb.  
  • Later he would write “… you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.” (Gal 1:13)
  • SAUL’S MINDSET – Saul’s training and discipline had convinced him that he was doing God’s will  – He saw Christ and His followers as a massive distortion of the Jewish faith.   He needed to end that to keep his religion pure. 
  • Saul was a bad dude.   His mission?  Exterminate Christianity from the face of the earth.  
  • He was a MIGHTY foe of the church
  • Right up until he met the ALMIGHTY CHRIST! 


  • The book of Acts for has three accounts of Saul’s encounter. 

  • First, there is Luke’s initial historical narrative in Acts 9 and its primary function is to give us the basic details of Saul’s conversion to Christ.  Time  has proven out that the good Doctor Luke was quite good at giving us an accurate historical record.

  • Second, in Acts 22, we find Paul before his Hebrew kinsmen defending his life change from persecutor to promoter of Christianity.  His goal was to show that Judaism was the foundation for Christianity.
  • Third, in Act 26, Paul’s account of his transformation before Festus, a Roman procurator of Judea and King Aggripa. His goal was to show that Christianity didn’t compete against the Roman Empire.  Pauls’ defense of his transformation there was so effective that King Agrippa considered declaring Christ!



  • Here, the Lord Jesus revealed himself to Saul with an amazing display of His power and glory.   Why?  Because that’s what it took to rock Saul’s world enough to hear Him.   

  • God reveals Himself or speaks to us in many different ways:
  • In the days of old, God spoke directly with Moses, Abraham and others.  
  • In the New Testament, God spoke through Jesus to the disciples.  
  • Today God speaks through His Holy Spirit to us.  He also speaks to us through His Word, through prayer, through the church and through our circumstances.
  • For me, the first time I recall it was when I held my first child in my arms moments after Dana had brought Alison to me.   I’m looking at that face and God says, not an audible voice but to my Spirit, “You had very little to do with this.”
  • God’s Omniscience gives Him the ability to reveal the right amount of truth about Himself to get your attention.

  • For Saul, it took crisis… A crisis of belief.


  • CRISIS OF BELIEF – Imagine you are Saul here.   The resurrected Christ has revealed Himself, in person with unprecedented power.  
  • And in order to slow this highly focused, highly motivated, massively passionate man down long enough to think about what just happened, Jesus took his sight.  Now, that’s a crisis.  
  • The word “crisis” comes from a word that means “decision.”  And Saul was, as author/pastor Henry Blackaby would say facing a crisis of belief… a turning point where something must be decided.  Saul didn’t eat or drink for three days.  This spiritual man was seeking the Lord sincerely. 
  • I think this is where many of us get tripped up.  God reveals something to us and we blow by it.  Not taking the time to dwell on it.  
  • Dazed and confused, Saul needs to know what to do.


  • RESPONSE OF FAITH -  Can we talk for a moment about Ananias’ faith?  Come on!  This guy needs some kind of award!  Immediately he goes to Saul and tells him what God has told him He wants to do through Paul.    That’s courage and faith in my book!

  • Now, back to Paul… I think when he was struck blind, his old way of life ended in a moment.   And when these scales fell from his eyes, a revolution has taken place.  He is a completely new person, a new creation!   It was an INWARD REVOLUTION.

  • He would later write to the Corinthians, ““Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
  • Here’s our problem:  If we don’t BELIEVE that the Christian faith is an INWARD REVOLUTION, our tendency is to try to add Christianity to what we already are.  
  • It’s like signing up for a self-improvement course that helps us make better moral decisions. Having come to Christ for forgiveness, we fall short of an INWARD REVOLUTION, hanging on to this, hanging on to that.  
  • We clean up our act, make some new friends, add some new disciplines, all designed to help us become a better version of the person we once were.
  • But like Paul, once God has revealed Himself to us, and we respond with REVOLUTIONARY faith, we will never again be the person we once were. We were “into” our selves;  Our agenda; Our purposes; Our will.  
  • But when INWARD REVOLUTION happens, the foundation we’ve built is destroyed and a new one is built by a Heavenly Builder! 
  • We are now the residence of the Holy Spirit… we are children of God! Everywhere we go and everything we say and do, the way we influence the world, comes from a change that is rightly described as new birth. 
  • The challenge is to not believe anything less than that. However much we might feel as if we are still who we once were, we are not.   
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.


Five weeks ago today, June 5, 2011, at 4:25am, my 44 year-old sister Mary left a voice mail that said, "Mike... I'm tired, I'm through, I'm finished.  I need you to make arrangements to come get my stuff."   Never good.  My return calls to her were to no avail.   Good reason.  Mary had taken an intentional overdose.   She had lost all hope.  Her roommate found her lying in the kitchen floor... unconscious.   Later that day, Mary was in Intensive Care at Johnson City Medical Center in East Tennessee.  Doctors had no hope for a recovery.  Intubated, she showed no brain activity, abnormal heart rhythm and the likelihood she would not survive.  But God had a different plan for her.  A day later, Mary began to recover.  Miraculously, two days later, she was moved from ICU to a regular bed.  By Thursday, she was transferred to a psychological evaluation center where she was diagnosed with drug addiction, Bi-Polar Disorder and depression.  With no job and no insurance, things didn't look good.

When Mary was released, she literally had no place to go.  Her roommate's decision to evict her was what we believe the tipping point for her.  She doesn’t remember.  To further complicate the matter, my sisters and I were navigating family tension created by years of irresponsibility and Mary's poor decisions.  The options before us were limited.  There was a lack of unity as to where to place her.  We cried out to God to show us what to do.  And that's just what He did!

I recalled conversations I had enjoyed with Jennifer Harrison about a place of rehabilitation and restoration in New Orleans -  Bethel Colony Transformation Ministries.  She and Jon were partners with the organization and had seen God do amazing things through the people there.  Bethel Colony was established as a men's program but they had just launched a women's campus!  In desperation, I wrote to one of their staff pastors, Greg Cleek, and within a matter of hours, Mary had been accepted in to Bethel Colony's Women's program. God made a way where there seemed to be no way!

Mary‘s Crisis of Belief came when she realized what she had done.  Today, one month into the program at Bethel, she is full of hope and promise and a strong desire to change. She is on the road.  My prayer for her is that she would continue to allow God to break her... crumble her to dust... so that He can take that dust, add the moisture of Living Water and re-form her into the person He wants her to be.

Isn’t that what God did to Paul?  Knocked him off of his high horse, crumbled him to dust and added the Living Water of Christ to it.

Then God took this hugely flawed man and sends this message to all who will listen.

12 “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” – 1 Timothy 1:12-16

Don’t ever think your sin too heinous for God to forgive.  The only thing greater than God’s mercy is his love for you!  It’s as deep and wide as the sea, and it can cover up a great mountain of sins!


  • If there was anything that could have stopped Paul’s progress of faith it would be the wrong perspective of his past sins. 
  • There had to be times when he faced a father or mother or sister or brother of someone he had jailed or worse.   How could he move through those moments of shame and guilt with victory?  
  • I’m sure in the earliest days of his ministry there were those who thought he was a turncoat spy.  The Scriptures show that some of Paul’s greatest opposition came from within.   
  • How did he process it? (1 Timothy 1:12-16 & Philippians 3:13-14)
13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  - Philippians 3:13-14


  • Maybe you’re like Annanias – The Christ Revolution has occurred and Jesus is Lord of your life.  When He says move, you just do it and God uses you!
  • Maybe you’ve had the revelation of Christ but there’s been no revolution?  Christ is “resident” in your life but not “president” in your life.  Maybe you’ve let your past control your future.   I encourage you to forgive yourself, make Jesus Lord and press forward.   
  • Maybe you’re like my sister Mary.  You’re in the middle of a Crisis of Belief.  You can trust God.  He is fully trustworthy and loves you greatly!
  • Maybe you’re like King Agrippa – Almost convinced that Jesus is the Christ, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life and died in your place to restore you to God Himself.   When that happened, here’s how Paul responded “I pray to God that either in a short or a long time that not only you but all those listening to me today could become such as I...

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