The Gospel Is For Everyone Pt. 2 Manuscript

SERMON TITLE: The Gospel is for Everyone (pt 2)
TEXT: Acts 9:1-31 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
DATE: 6-15/16-19

WELCOME

It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.

SERIES INTRODUCTION

After a week off, we’re back in our series in the book of Acts — which we’re calling Resistance. If you’re just joining us, in this series we’ve been seeing that for every gospel action there’s a reaction by the enemy. And our enemy loves to disrupt God’s people from accomplishing God’s work. But the resistance I’m wanting us to focus on — is our resistance against the enemy — our ability to overcome because of God’s Word and Spirit.

And we’re in the middle of this mini-series — where we’re looking at how to resist against a tactic of our enemy — where he convinces us that the gospel isn’t as powerful today as it once was.

So let’s turn to our passage for today.

ANNOUNCE THE TEXT

If you have your Bible please turn with me to Acts chapter 9. We’ll be looking at verses 1-31.  

And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions that we answer on our podcast. So if you have a question, you can text it in to the number printed on the bottom of the sermon notes sheet or you can submit it on the Gateway app.

RE-ANNOUNCE AND READ THE TEXT

Here are the words found in Acts chapter 9. Beginning in verse 1.

“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. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." 11 And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." 13 But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name." 15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for 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." 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, "Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?" 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. 23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. 26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:1-31 ESV)

SERMON INTRODUCTION

You’ve probably noticed how we live in a world that judges people based on their past. Now a scary thing — for this upcoming generation — is how there’s not much room left for growing up in our society. Meaning — I don’t know about you — but I’m thankful that I didn’t grow up in a world with social media because — we said some things as a kid didn’t we — that if we’d had the chance to tweet or post those things on Facebook — because we were young — a bit on the stupid side — at the very least immature — and would’ve posted our opinions for the world to see — and now they’d be coming back to haunt us wouldn’t they?

Now I’m not excusing the things we said or did — but there’s a need for growing up and maturing — immaturity doesn’t excuse the things we say or do — but it bothers me — maybe it bothers you too — how college athletes get questioned about something they posted on social media when they were in middle school. How society jumps all over someone for something they tweeted when they were 12 years old. Where there’s an uproar and everyone starts playing judge and jury as if they’re innocent of doing the very thing they’re attacking someone else of doing. Today — if someone’s done something that doesn’t meet society’s standards — they’re marked — they’re past now defines them.

Now the things we do and say should have consequences. If you commit a crime — you must face punishment. If you do or say something hateful — you should seek forgiveness.

But here’s where our society’s judge and jury mentality clashes with the Christian faith. In our culture, there’s not much room for grace. And when there’s no room for grace — there’s no room for redemption. And when there’s no grace and redemption — the only way left to redeem yourself is by your own efforts and works — “I’ll show them that I’m not who they say that I am.” And one way this is accomplished is by the accused becoming the accuser — “well if you think what I’m bad — wait until I let you know what so and so did.”

Yet the gospel teaches us that we’re all sinners in need of grace. Yes — there are very real and painful consequences for the sinful things we do — but Jesus doesn’t tell us to “clean up our act” before he offers us salvation — no — he reaches out to us “while we were yet sinners.” And this means — from our perspective — no one’s beyond the hope of the gospel — or as we’ve been saying — this means the gospel is for everyone because the only prerequisite is to be a sinner in need of God’s grace — and that’s everyone.

And — for those of us who believe the gospel — since the only thing you brought to the table was your need of grace — we ought to be people who are known for our grace.

And this is what we see in the story of Saul’s conversion — we see God’s grace extended and people — who’ve experience God’s grace — extending grace to someone who has a past that God didn’t want to define him. Let’s begin back in verse 1.

SAUL’S SALVATION

“But Saul (remember — Saul was at Stephen’s stoning — he’s mentioned at the end of the story where Luke let’s us know that the murder of Stephen was approved by Saul. And afterward, we saw Saul going around and capturing Christians and throwing them into prison. And now we see that he was...), still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, (and he) 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 ESV)

OK. So let’s talk about Saul — later he’s named Paul — that’s what we’re going to call him — let’s talk about Paul’s past and his salvation. First off, it’s obvious that he hates Christians. He hates Jesus. He hates everything to do with the Christian faith. In fact, listen to how he describes himself when he looks back on this time of his life.

He says things like, “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:13-14 ESV)

He said, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-9 ESV)

And he said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

As one pastor has said, “This is a desperate sinner. This is a mass murderer, a violent persecuting God-hating, Christ-rejecting sinner of the worst possible imagination. So great was the need for grace” in Paul’s life.

Now notice that he doesn’t try to hide his past. He doesn’t try to skirt around his past. If we were going to pick someone who God was going to use to spread the gospel around the world — based on his past — Paul would be the last guy we’d pick. I mean — look at how committed he was on destroying the church.

Damascus was about 150 miles from Jerusalem — that’s a long walk — so he’s pretty dedicated to his rage and hatred towards Christians. The journey would’ve taken about a week — which shows how committed he was to ending the spread of the Way — of Christianity. He wants it to stop. He wants to capture more followers. He’s on a mission to destroy the church.

But because the gospel is for everyone — because the Christian faith includes grace something which no other religion offers — grace — which can transform the most hate-filled, venom-spewing, pain-inflicting, church-destroying of us into the most loving, encouraging, caring, and church starting people to walk the earth. Because of grace — Paul is changed.

So how does Paul view his salvation — this radical change in his life? What does he say happened to him on the road to Damascus? Does he take credit for his faith? Does he ever say things like we tend to say today — like — “On the road to Damascus I made a decision to follow Jesus?” Or “on the road to Damascus I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior?” If you pay attention to the story — it looks like it all comes as a sort of shock, right? “Surprise Saul! I know you don’t want anything to do with me, but you’re mine. Sincerely, Jesus.”

Well here’s how Paul describes his salvation — listen to his words. “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles...” (Galatians 1:15-16a ESV)

He said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV)

He told a young pastor, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:12-17 ESV)

Paul never takes credit for his salvation. He knows what the condition of his heart was prior to Jesus disrupting his plans to destroy the church. He knows the hate he had towards Christians and their God. He’s completely aware that — if it was left up to him — he would’ve never chosen Jesus — it was Jesus’ choosing of him that was the cause of his salvation.

As someone has said, “If we ask what caused Saul’s conversion, only one answer is possible. What stands out from the narrative is the sovereign grace of God through Jesus Christ. Saul did not ‘decide for Christ,’ as we might say. On the contrary, he was persecuting Christ. It was rather Christ who decided for him and intervened in his life. The evidence for this is indisputable.”

Now I know that Christians like to debate this stuff. For some people the words predestination and election are in the same category as words that got your mouth washed out with soap as a kid. But predestination and election are in the Bible — you can’t get around that — and our goal should always be to allow the Bible to define the words it uses.

And here’s why this is great news for all of us. Here’s why words like predestination and election and God’s sovereign plan — are reasons for us to rejoice. Based on what we can see in other people — we have no idea who will believe and who won’t. Just like Saul, there are some people — right now — who are out to destroy the church. And they have no idea what Jesus is going to do in their life. But he’s marked them — he’s claimed them — and they’re going to be awakened — blindsided by his power to transform his enemies into his followers. And though — as Paul’s story shows us — Jesus can just show up in someone’s life — the norm — not the exception — but the usual way Jesus shows up in someone’s life is by his followers sharing the gospel with people who don’t believe in him. And Jesus has entrusted us with his gospel so that — through our sharing of it — others will come to faith. And this leads us to Ananias’ submission.

ANANIAS’ SUBMISSION

Verse 10. “Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." 11 And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." 13 But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name." 15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for 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." 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened.” (Acts 9:10-19a ESV)

Now the work of God — in saving Saul — it doesn’t end on the road to Damascus. God didn’t save him and then leave him to figure things out on his own — in fact — Jesus blinds Saul so he has to depend on others from the moment of his salvation. And look at all that God put in place for Saul. Knowing the exact time and place of his conversion — because he’s orchestrating it all — God has prepared a path for Saul to receive guidance from someone who already follows Jesus — a man named Ananias.

And look at how God describes Saul to Ananias. God tells Ananias that Saul is my “chosen instrument” who will “carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” God has a specific plan for Saul’s life and Ananias was to serve as a bridge between the life Saul was leaving behind — one of rebellion and hatred towards Jesus and his followers — Ananias was to be a bridge between his old life and the life Saul was just beginning to live — one of following Jesus. From a life of persecuting the church to being a leader in the church.

Now — we see that Ananias was hesitant about going to Saul. That’s a reasonable response, right? Paul’s got a reputation that’s not exactly squeaky clean.

  • But does Ananias allow his hesitancy to cause him to disobey God? No.

  • Does he allow Saul’s past define him? No — he goes to Saul.

  • Ananias is committed to the gospel being spread — God’s doing a work in Ananias just like he’s doing in Saul — and Ananias welcomes the former persecutor into the church.

So look at all that God is doing. God stopped Saul in his tracks. God told Ananias where to find him. And it’s God who softens Ananias’ heart towards the former persecutor.

  • Who has God called you to go to?

  • Who has he softened your heart towards?

  • Who is God calling you to serve as a bridge for — a bridge between the life they’re leaving and the new life for God they’re just beginning to live?

  • There are people you know — who’ve been convicted of their sin — they know something’s wrong — but they haven’t found the peace that’s offered to them in Christ. And they need you to come alongside them — like Ananias — to help them grow in their understanding of God’s love for them, the forgiveness he’s offering them, and the grace he has for them.

SAUL’S SHIFT

Let’s keep reading. “For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, "Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?" 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. 23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.” (Acts 9:19b-25 ESV)

Here we see the shift in Saul’s life — when you believe the gospel you can’t stay the same — a shift takes place. Immediately — in his life — we see evidence of his salvation. He starts proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues. Look at the change — from persecuting those who proclaimed Jesus — to showing up in a Jewish place of worship to proclaim Jesus.

And look at how his past — which was once used against Jesus — is now used for Jesus. All of the religious training and education that once blinded him to the truth about Jesus — is now used to tell others the truth about Jesus. God redeems Paul’s past. And I’m confident that — like Saul — God is still in the business of redeeming people’s pasts — including yours.

Yet as God told Ananias — Saul was marked to be one who would suffer — and it didn’t take long for the suffering to begin. The one who once caused Christians to suffer is now a Christian who will suffer. The Jews in Damascus plot to kill him. How quickly he goes from one plotting to kill Christians to a Christian who’s being plotted to be killed.

But don’t miss the shift in Saul’s life because of his faith in Jesus. The shift is obvious. It’s evidence that what happened on the Damascus Road wasn’t some sort of fluke. It wasn’t a hallucination. The persecutor has become the persecuted. The hater has become the hated. The one who once tried to silence the gospel is now a loud voice for the gospel.


What kind of shift has taken place in your life because of the gospel?

BARNABAS’ SUPPORT

One last thing. Verse 26.

“And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” (Acts 9:26-31 ESV)

Other believers are still having a hard time accepting that God’s done a work in Saul’s life — they’re letting his past define him — they’re afraid of him — Luke tells us. And if he’d been left on his own — well I don’t know what he could’ve done to convince other Christians that he was really on their side — his past is working against him — I mean — really — how are they supposed to know it’s not all some sort of deception that will land them in prison?

So through a man named Barnabas — who we met a few weeks ago — a man who’s known for being an encourager — it’s through Barnabas that others would begin to trust what God was doing in Saul’s life. If it weren’t for men like Ananias and Barnabas — who set aside their own concerns in order to obey God — someone has said — “the whole course of church history might have been different.”

I asked these questions earlier — but they’re worth asking again.

  • Who has God called you to go to?

  • Who has he softened your heart towards?

  • Who is God calling you to serve as a bridge for — the bridge between the life they’re leaving and the new life for God they’re just beginning to live?

  • Who have other Christians written off — because of their past — but God is telling you to go to them — “go and see what I am doing in their life — go and help them follow me.”

Saul needed Ananias and Barnabas. He needed them in order to find acceptance into God’s church. He needed them to help other believers see that he really was a believer — that he was called by God. And this is something every believer needs. Every believer needs someone to come alongside them — especially new believers — they need someone to help them understand what it means to follow Jesus. What it means to be part of the church. And why the two — following Jesus and being part of a local church — are inseparable.

Who has God called you to — to come alongside in the faith? Who has God called you to — to help them grow into the calling he has on their life?

CONCLUSION

The story of Saul’s conversion is one of the most detailed stories of someone coming to faith in all of the Bible. It reveals to us what it means for a person to be saved.

  • It shows us the work of God in our salvation and how we respond to a work that he initiated.

  • Saul’s story shows us — those of us who believe — how we’re to submit our lives fully to Jesus and are to be ready to respond when he tells us there’s someone we need to go to — someone’s he’s called — someone who we’re to be a bridge for.

  • Saul’s story shows us the shift that takes place when a person believes — there’s a change. God doesn’t save you and not change you — being saved means you have been changed.

  • And — finally — we’ve seen that all of us need the support of fellow believers. We’re not to live this life of faith alone. Yes — Jesus saves individuals — but he saves us into a family — into a church — into a community of people who are all following Jesus together.

Who are you most like in this story?

  • Are you like Saul when he was an enemy of the church — when he was against Jesus? I’m going to pray that God will open your eyes so you seen Jesus for he who really is.

  • Have you been blindsided by Jesus today and — maybe you can’t believe it — but you believe? I’m going to pray that you’ll understand what it means to believe.

  • Are you like the believers who were hesitant to trust God’s power at work in someone’s life? I’m going to pray that you will have confidence in the gospel’s power to change people today.

  • Or are you like Ananias and Barnabas — coming alongside someone whom God has chosen to be part of his family? I’m going to pray that you will continue to walk in faithfulness. Let’s pray.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for the man named Saul — who was once your enemy — but a man who you called out of darkness — out of hatred towards you and your people — someone whom you had a plan and purpose for — someone for whom the gospel was for even when he wasn’t for the gospel. Thank you that the gospel is for everyone.

Father, for anyone listening who is against you — I pray that you would open their eyes to see Jesus for who he really is. Blind them to the lies they’re believing and save them.

For anyone who came here not believing — but have been blindsided — like Saul — to your truth. Thank you for doing a saving work in their life today. Before they leave, help them to tell someone of the work you’ve done in their life.

For those who believe, but have lacked confidence in the power of your gospel. Give them that confidence — the power to save is in your gospel message — for it is Good News of great joy to all who believe it. It is the power to save.

And finally — Father — for all of us believers. Help us to help one another — especially the new believers — to navigate the journey between the life we once lived — as your enemies — and the life we’re now living — as your sons and daughters. Help us to embrace one another, love one another, care for one another, teach one another, listen to one another, and journey with one another as we’re all heading to our eternal home.

It’s in Jesus’ name that we pray. Amen.

BENEDICTION

May you go believing that the gospel is for you and for everyone — and it is powerfully at work today. Amen.

God loves you. I love you. You are sent.