Seeing the Light
Seeing the Light
I enjoy reading, and one of my favorite authors is the Russian writer Fyodore Dostoevsky. And one of my favorite novels is Crime and Punishment. It is about a deranged college student who plots to kill a lady, carries it out, and then gets away with it. But you never get away with sin and Dostoevksy paints a chilling story around the suffering of Rodion Raskolnokov and his inner turmoil. But as compelling as his punishment is, so also is the conversion and redemption that takes place at the end.
Rodion begins to see how stupid his actions were. He recognizes his own wickedness. His pride is broken and he is humbled. And in that he begins to change. He confesses his sin of murder, and while sentenced to exile in Siberia he experiences spiritual renewal. As he humbles himself, his thoughts become rational and clear. While in Siberia, breaks down with his girlfriend, and it reads “tears stood in their eyes. They were both pale and thin, but sick pale eyes were bright with the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life. They were renewed by love,”
The last page Dostoevsky reveals the theme of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of gradual regenerations,
We see movies where there are different aha moments for characters. People that come to greater realization of things they have done, themselves or circumstances that empowers them to overcome and conquer.
The greatest realization a person can experience is coming to know the Lord, their maker, and what he has done for them and what their purpose is. In Christianity this is called conversion. Through Jesus we can be forgiven of past mistakes and brought into life as God designed it, but we must make Jesus the center of our life. Going from not having Jesus as the supreme place in our life to have him as the supreme place is conversion. This is the greatest reformation, renewal, self realization a person can experience. It is part and parcel to being a Christian. If you don’t have a moment of trusting in the work of Jesus I want to ask you to pay particularly close attention today.
We have been going through the book of Acts. The apostle Paul had a distinct moment of conversion. It defined him. And he will tell this story over and over again. He had once been a persecutor of the Christian faith, but Jesus appeared and now he was an advocate of the faith he once opposed. He has been saved and brought into life with God, and as he has experienced that he wants everyone else to know it.
Paul is now brought to trial by those opposing his message. We saw that last week. And this week he will speak to defend himself and persuade others. And we will see that his conversion is at the center of how he seeks to persuade others to know Jesus.
As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city. I beg you, permit me to speak to the people.” 40 And when he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language, saying: “Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.” 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. 6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ 17 “When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance 18 and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. 20 And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ 21 And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'” 22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.
(Acts 21:37-22:29 ESV)
- The Longing to Share.
We are looking at a portion of Scripture that is the most repeated statements in Acts. It is Paul telling about his conversion.
A change from what he was to what God intends.
This story is recounted at length three times in the book. Jesus’ call on his life defined him more so than anything else. It was not his hardship. It was not the betrayal of friends, the attacks of enemies, it was not his ministry successes, but his realization of who Jesus is and what he had done for him.
To understand the importance of his conversion, first consider the repetition. The retelling occurs multiple times.
But consider now the circumstances of this telling. Paul is on trial because of his commitment to Jesus. His life is being threatened. He just narrowly escaped death, and that only because the Roman police showed up to stop it. He now has a chance to defend himself and it is about God’s work in his life!
21:39 He more than asks. He begs. This word is used of a demon possessed person asking/begging for Jesus to heal him. Paul asks to say a word to the people.
Will you speak to save your life and tell them all the reasons you do not deserve to die? That is not his primary concern. His focus is on Jesus and the work that has been done in his life.
Paul is so consumed with this that it is not until v22:25, as they are stretching Paul out to flog him, that he reveals his Roman citizenship (Ace of trump). It is not legal for this to be done to a Roman citizen. They are about to flog him with a whip containing bone and other spurs that would rip a person’s flesh off. Many people that underwent this inquisition did not survive. Those who did would be scarred for life. If Paul had said this sooner he probably would not have had a chance to address the crowd.
*Opportunities to escape or opportunities to obey. *
*Not what has happened to you
but your response to what has happened to you.”
Paul knew the risk of going to Jerusalem and he went. Paul knows what happens in Jerusalem. He says he has taken people there to be tried. He had people beaten (flayed. Make your skin a purse). Now Paul is the one on trial.
All this that others might know Jesus, what has happened to him.
- He Saw the Righteous One
Jesus is the hero of the story. Not Paul. Jesus is the righteous one v14… The one who washed his sins away v16.
God changed him. God gets the glory we appear small. I was trained in the greatest philosophers and while contemplating the existential and metaphysical realities of life I came to the conclusion that Jesus is the truest and most noble expression of them all and I made the decision to worship him and him alone.
Paul is opposing Jesus. He gets knocked off his horse and picked up blind. He is at the mercy of Jesus! Height of stupidity is opposing Jesus.
He sees the righteous one. The one who is righteous and who knows the right way to live (moral/forensic sense pure/judicial sense in knows what is right). Paul has a dramatic change. He submits to Jesus as his Lord. Jesus says go and he rises and goes (v10).
Some people call Jesus Lord, and then never take time to hear what Jesus is calling them to do (kids pretend to not hear).
Paul wants others to know Jesus changed him. And he wants them to know this so they can know Jesus.
He saw the light! V6. CS Lewis
- Do you remember when Jesus opened your eyes and heart?
I did. I trusted. I knew… It’s what Jesus has done.
My story. I grew up in a dysfunctional family. There were a lot of good things that I am grateful for. But there was a lot of stuff going on that I didn’t know how to deal with. And the pattern I saw with my family and older adults is that you deal with hard things by drinking lots of alcohol. Some people would go to church on Saturday night so they didn’t have to wake up early on Sunday. If I couldn’t find friends to party with I would hang out with grandfather or uncle.
I was lost. I thought that partying it up would make me somebody. One day the darkness I lived in scared me. I remember one day that changed me. I was at a friend’s house, and we had been drinking and smoking pot all day. We left late at night to go get something to eat. I don’t know what happened but the girls we were with who drove left us at the Waffle House. They were gone. Probably the best decision of their life! My friend and I didn’t want to go home so we decided to go back to the party. Neither were in any condition to drive. But never fear, I came up with a plan. I decided we would go outside and walk on the yellow parking line and whoever walked the best line would drive. We went outside and attempted to walk. My friend told me to go first so I did and I was all over the place. He laughed and I said to him “it’s your turn.” He took one step and fell flat on his face, and then looked at me and said I guess you are driving. I said get in. I’ll never forget. I turned on the car’s ignition and looked up and a police car pulled in. It went right on by. I pulled out and got onto the highway. I don’t know what happened but once I got on the highway and realized I couldn’t see the road I started to worry. I started to worry about my friend, hurting someone else, myself. I began praying. Asking God to help us get to where we were going. I started praying for him to help me change.
We got to the house where we were going, and when everyone else there saw it was me and my friend they ran outside to see who was driving. They knew neither of us were in any condition to drive. I turned off the car, relieved, and thanked God for getting us there. My friend opened the door, fell flat on his face into the bushes. Someone on the deck asked, “who drove you???” My friend looked up from the bushes and said, “God drove us.” That was the only time in high school I heard anyone mention God.
Those words pierced my heart. I went into the house and began praying. Praying for God to help me. Praying for God to change me.
Long story short. I felt powerless to change and just before I went to college I prayed that I would find God when I got there. Weeks later I moved into my dorm, had trouble unlocking the door and had to ask my RA to help me. He literally helped me open the door, and then turned and asked, “Would you like to come to a Bible study I lead.” I was dumbfounded. I had never been invited to a Bible study. I went to that Bible study, and I heard the gospel for the first time.
I started to hear how holy and perfect God was, and that he is righteous in all of his ways. I started to hear there was a different way to live, a right way. Then I was blown away to discover all of my mistakes could be forgiven. I realized there was a better way to live. I realized there was a way to forgive my family, others, myself. And I was challenged to who the Lord of my life would be. A friend asked me that. And I said Jesus. I want to live for him.
I tell you that story 1) when you see people partying and doing stupid stuff don’t envy them. It’s empty and they are confused and searching for something. 2) don’t think God can’t intervene in people’s lives.
I saw the light! I found life. I discovered that my desire to be cool, to be respected, was leading me to death. Jesus wasn’t just a myth in a book, he was real, active and my source of life!
I believed. I trusted in him. I wanted to do nothing but follow him. Doing my own thing had not gone well. I made Jesus number 1 in my life.
*The thing in my life. Not just another thing. The thing.*
That was my conversion. It defined me. And let me say this. I did a 180 and started taking my studies seriously. Started making A’s, hitting honor roll each semester. And it was God’s grace that kept drawing me out of death. Because my same desire to be somebody, to be cool and to escape through alcohol kept leading me to want to find my identity in my work, to get all A’s, to make lots of money, and I kept needing the righteous one to show me to put my studies down and go to church, make time for friends, to care for the needs of those around me.
Paul’s story is my story. I have seen the light.
- Idolaters can become worshippers.
- The blind can see.
- The dead can live.
- Selfish can become selfless
- Merciless become merciful
- The purposeless find purpose
- The weak find power.
How has the holy and righteous one changed your life? How has the washing away of your sins given you peace and hope.
Are you amazed at who Jesus is and the light he has shined on you?
*do this… marvel at this*
Do you care that others know that? If you are not excited about sharing, just take some time to reflect on where you were or would be without jesus. Reflect on what he has done for you.
- There is power in telling people what Jesus has done for you.
Story is compelling. We can debate truth. We can debate philosophy. It’s harder to debate when you tell me God showed up in your life. It’s hard for me to debate what you say is the source of the change in your life. When you tell me something brought you life and you are willing to die for it.
I have realized this last year how powerful it is to tell people what God is doing in your life. I have also realized how encouraging it is. For me and others. Do you think I ever run into people worn out and falling apart because they are trying to be somebody in life. Greg has helped and challenged me a lot in this area. I have learned a lot from him. I’ll say something about God working in my life and he’ll say, “say it again.”
It tells people our God is living and active. Most people live with a belief in God but not an experience of God. As Christians, we know God is with us, he indwells us, and he shakes us up. We should talk about our relationship with him. Paul shared it. Longed for opportunities.
*We want to be spiritually obvious people but not spiritually obnoxious.*
Can you articulate what it was like to realize God’s holiness and righteousness? That he is absolutely perfect and holy. And that he also forgives you of your sin? Can you articulate it? Are you still amazed by it?
Let his praise always be on your lips! Has God saved you from anything at all???
Share it with others. You don’t need a stage in an auditorium. Let your stage be at the water cooler, let it be at lunch, let it be at the mail box.
moment of decision. a moment of confrontation. Follow him as Lord. Everything that is assigned for you. Not just a pray and lock it in now. Burial plot.
There was a time when I was …. But I trusted in Christ/I made him number one, and now I am ….
Why is this so important? I’m a business woman. I run a business. I need to lead people. It is sharing the most important thing in your life. The biggest thing God can do in your life. It is coming alive to God. It is what should stir you to serve God, to do what he calls you to do. If you are bound to share this you are going to be bound in fear to so many other things. Fear what others think. Fear of losing your job, income. There is so much more to live for that what others think, so much more to live for than money. You can serve the Lord. You can know the way to righteousness. You can help others find the path. You can help your coworkers and friends and neighbors know who God is, what he has done, and how they can experience that light and life.
What are you willing to give you life for? What are you willing to lose everything for? You may be giving yourself to the wrong thing. It may be going against God, and we have just heard from one of the most brilliant and highly trained persons who ever lived that that does not go well. But there is another concern. If you are not willing to give your life for something you don’t have a compelling purpose for living. Is our church gathering because we are willing to risk it all for Jesus. How hard are we going to go to get people into a Discovery Group?
I don’t know if God will make my words effective, but let me not stay silent.
I don’t know if God will use me, but don’t let me ignore people.
When you have seen the light of the righteous one you want others to see it to.