Jesus’s Resurrection Appearances | Part 1

For this week following Easter Sunday it would profit us immensely to focus on a number of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances.

    Thomas Jefferson, though a great American statesman, could not accept the miraculous elements in scripture. Because of his bias he edited his own version of the bible in which all references to miracles were carefully deleted. Jefferson closes his gospel account with these words; “there laid they Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulchre and departed.” This is unthinkable. Michael Ramsay the former Anglican Archbishop once said; “for the first disciples the gospel without the resurrection was not merely a gospel without its final chapter – it was no gospel at all.” Our text records how a group of women were the first witnesses to the resurrected Christ. Mary Magdalene was a Galilean, probably from the town of Magdala (on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee). Jesus delivered her from seven demons (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9). Then there was Joanna. Her husband was Chuza, the household manager or steward of King Herod Antipas (Luke 8:3). They were accompanied by Mary the mother of James. In Mark 16 we are told that Salome accompanied them. If you compare Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40 it would appear that she was Zebedee’s wife and the mother of James and John.
    Any unbiased person who reads the description of the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection will be forced to appreciate its authenticity. People like Thomas Jefferson who believe the gospel account ended with Jesus’ burial insist that the resurrection accounts are pure fabrication. They will adamantly declare that the description of the resurrection is the biggest lie ever foisted on humanity. The problem with this is that the description smacks of authenticity. Let me give you three reasons why I say this.

a) Firstly, throughout the gospel accounts Jesus carefully prepared his disciples
for his resurrection. In Mark’s gospel Jesus deliberately drew their attention three times to what lay in store for him in Jerusalem. A cross awaited him and not an earthly crown. We see this in Mark 8:31; 9:31. In Mark 10:30-34 Jesus said; they will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise. If the disciples had fabricated the resurrection story, how do you think they would have written it? Surely they would have put themselves in the spotlight and the record would have gone something like this; “Hey, it’s the third day. Remember what Jesus said about rising on that day. Perhaps we should go and have a look at the tomb.” But nobody says that! In fact no-one is expecting a resurrection at all! In vrs 1-3 the ladies took spices to go and anoint Jesus’ body. They were not expecting a risen Christ but a still dead Christ.

b) In Mark 14:28 when Jesus predicted Peter’s denial he went on to say but after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee. Mark recorded Peter’s account of his time with Jesus. If the disciples had decided to dream up the resurrection using their own fertile imagination where do we expect Peter to be? Since Jesus had told him that he was going to Galilee we do not expect Peter to have been sitting behind locked doors in Jerusalem. We expect him to be in Galilee!!

c) Thirdly, and perhaps most compellingly of all – if the disciples had merely
invented the resurrection accounts they would never, never have made women the first witnesses of the resurrection. To our 21st century minds that may not seem remarkable but in the first century world it surely was. Women were not only treated as second class citizens but perhaps more significantly were not permitted to give testimony in a court of law. Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, mocked the idea of Mary Magdalene as an alleged resurrection witness, referring to her as a “hysterical female . . . deluded by . . . sorcery.” Do you see what this means? If the apostles were simply making up the story of the resurrection they would never have had the women as the first witnesses. They would have put Peter, James or John there at the tomb. But notice the prominence given in our reading today to a little band of women. In Luke 24:10 we are told that Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James and other women who were the first to go to the tomb and find it empty and have angels give the explanation “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee. The angel basically quotes what Jesus had said in Luke 9:22. Notice the prominence given to this little band of women. It radiates with authenticity.

Jesus’s Resurrection Appearances | Part 2

The resurrection lies at the heart of the gospel. Notice how the apostle Paul summarises the gospel in 2 Timothy 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel. Of course there are many other elements in the gospel – Christ’s atoning death, his imputed righteousness, forgiveness of sins, eternal life and so on but Paul chooses to summarise the gospel by saying Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.

    Our reading today is that familiar passage of the encounter between two disciples on the road to Emmaus and the risen Christ. Emmaus was about 11km from Jerusalem. Much ink has been spilled about the identity of these two people. We know from vrs 18 that one of them was called Cleopas. Who was the other? Many men have been suggested. But why should it be a man? Why could it not have been Cleopas’s wife? We know from John 19:25 that Mary the wife of Clopas was at the foot of the cross. Slightly different spelling but not that different!! This Mary is most likely the mother of James the younger (Matt. 27:56 and Mark 15:40) an apostle. If they lived at Emmaus they would certainly not have travelled on the Sabbath. This was their first opportunity to return home. Of course it is mere conjecture, but to identify the travellers as Mr & Mrs Cleopas is as likely a suggestion than many others. What does our passage have to teach us about these two travellers?

a) CONFUSION (vrs 13-24) – There was only one subject that occupied their minds. We see this from vrs 14; They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. Three days ago Jesus was still among them. In vrs 21 they said; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Of course the redemption that they had in mind was more political than spiritual. Then on Maundy Thursday everything spiralled out of control. The Jesus Christ roadshow was derailed. His betrayal, arrest, trial and sentence of death followed in quick succession. All the high hopes of disciples
like Cleopas were dashed. In vrs 17 we are told that they stood still, their faces downcast. I want to suggest to you that this is a picture of everyone’s life without Christ. Speak to them about dying and vrs 17 kicks into overdrive in their lives.

b) EXPLANATION (vrs 18-29) – As they travelled we are told that the risen Christ joined them but according to vrs 16 they were kept from recognizing him. We are not told how. In vrs 17 Jesus asked the question; what are you discussing together as you walk along? He received an exasperated reply in vrs 18 “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” In response to Jesus’ leading question they repeated the previous couple of day’s events in vrs 19-24. If we were Jesus how would we have responded to these disciples dejection? We would be tempted to shout out; “look it’s me! It’s really me . . . I have risen!! The show is back on the road!!” That is not what Jesus does. What does he do? In vrs 25-27 he pointed them back to the Scriptures to explain all the facts as to why things had happened the way they did. What a sermon that must have been? To hear from Jesus’ own mouth how everything from Genesis to Malachi was really all about Him. He would definitely have taken them to Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 and shown them how his death was predicted in amazing detail. He would have taken them to Psalm 16 to explain the resurrection that the women had witnessed that morning. If these disciples were going to encounter Christ they would do so through the Scriptures. That is where a person meets Christ. As Jesus spoke, the fire of their faith that had died out on Golgotha came back to life and burned with that familiar hope, the hope that Jesus was indeed the Christ. Why do you suppose these two people were “kept from recognizing” Jesus for hours (v. 16)? The clue, I think, is in verse 25. Jesus called them “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe” the Scriptures. Their outward inability to recognize Jesus mirrored their inward unbelief of what the Scriptures revealed about him. Now, Jesus fully intended to help them see. But notice the priority of Jesus’ revelation: before he opened their physical eyes, he purposed to open their heart-eyes. Explanation must always precede a personal experience.

c) WITNESS (vrs 30-35) – The two travellers hearts were thrilled with Christ’s exposition of Scripture. In vrs 32 they said “were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” When they got to their homes, Jesus made as if he was going ahead. They were not having any of it. It was early evening and they urged him to stay with them. In vrs 30, 31 we read; when he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. What was the response of these two disciples? In vrs 33-35 they got up and ran another 11km back to Jerusalem. There they saw the eleven disciples and others assembled with them. In vrs 34, 35 they said it is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon. In their excitement they blurted out their good news. Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. In their excitement they hurried back to tell others that Christ had risen. Luke is telling us that the authentic response upon meeting the risen Christ is to tell others. Was this not what the angels told the women who first witnessed the empty tomb? In Matthew 28:6 after first inviting them to come and see the place where he lay the angels instruct them in vrs 7 to go and tell his disciples. Who in your circle of friends or acquaintances do you need to speak to about the resurrection of Christ?

Jesus’s Resurrection Appearances | Part 3

We have been examining a selection of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. During the Second World War there was a very famous atheistic professor of Philosophy at London University – CEM Joad. He was once asked on a radio interview an intriguing question. “Who, of all the past figures in history, would you most like to have met, and what question would you most liked to have asked him?” His response was quite profound. He said; “I wish I could have met Jesus Christ. I would have asked him the most important question in all the world: Did you or did you not rise from the dead?” There came a day in Professor Joad’s life when he assessed the evidence, encountered Jesus himself and wrote a book called, Recovery of Belief. The resurrection of Christ changes everything.

    It is clear that Jesus first appearances following his resurrection were to women, first to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) and the other women (Matthew 28:9-10). He also appeared to the two walking on the road to Emmaus. There was also an appearance to Peter that is not recorded in the gospels (Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5.) On the evening of his resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples (except Thomas) gathered behind locked doors. The following Sunday he appeared again to the disciples with Thomas in attendance. What can we learn from these two appearances?

a) The victory of the cross – In John 20:19 as soon as Jesus appeared to the
disciples he said “Peace be with you.” Thereafter in vrs 20 he showed them his hands and side. They could see the nail wounds an know for sure that it was Jesus. In vrs 21 we read again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!” The connection of peace with his wounds is quite deliberate. In Romans 5:1 we are told that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. The wounds in Jesus’ hands and side were a visual reminder to the disciples of the victory that had been won on their behalf.

b) The nature of the resurrection body – Christ’s resurrection body was real and tangible (John 20:27) and also capable of eating (Luke 24:42, 43). However his resurrection body also possessed properties which was clear evidence of glorification. Christ could appear and disappear as seen from Luke 24. His body could move through solid objects such as the walls and doors of a closed room (John 20:19, 26). However it was still recognisably his body. The glorious hope of the gospel is that Christ’s resurrected body is merely the first-fruits of many more to follow. In 1 Corinthians 15:51we read; listen, I tell you a great mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.

c) Thomas’ niggling doubts resolved – In John 20:24 we are told that Thomas
was not present when Christ appeared that first resurrection Sunday. No reason is given for his absence. When he returned the other excited disciples said we have seen the Lord! Thomas’ response in vrs 25 was “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” The word translated ‘put’ is a little too soft. Thomas wanted to push his finger into the nail prints and thrust his hand into Jesus’ side. I am sure that Thomas was quite insufferable for the next week. Every time one of the others spoke to him about the joy of seeing their master, Thomas would have said “unless I see . . . I will not believe it.” Thomas was a seeing is believing individual. Of course this is quite silly. He was laying down the conditions that God needed to meet if he was to believe. God had to jump through the hoops that Thomas had set up. The same principle can operate today. We hear people saying. I will commit myself to God if he heals my child. I will follow Jesus if he mends my marriage. I will happily become a Christian if God proves himself to me in some tangible way. Not only is this the height of arrogance it is also sheer folly. For what if God chooses not to jump through our hoops. Christianity would still be true but we would have lost out. According to vrs 26, Jesus left Thomas in that state for a whole week. When Jesus next appeared the circumstances were remarkably similar to the previous week, the same house, the same locked doors, the same company, the same appearance. The only difference was that Thomas was present and Jesus directed his full attention to this wide eyed unbeliever. Every demand that Thomas made became a command of Christ in vrs 27; put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. Thomas’ response in vrs 28 was outstanding. ‘My Lord and my God!’ This was a massive claim. Thomas was now as convinced a believer as he had been a confirmed doubter. In vrs 29 Jesus responds to this incredible statement of faith with a mild rebuke. Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. In other words; “Thomas you need to realise that seeing is not always believing. Believing is seeing! The 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm once said in Latin credo ut intelligam which means – I believe in order to understand. I do not have to travel in a space shuttle and look down on the world to believe that it is round. Others have done that and I have sufficient reason to trust their testimony. Neither do I have to physically see Jesus to believe that he has been raised from the dead. Others have seen him and I have good cause to trust their reports. All the evidence that we need to convince a fair minded person that Jesus is God who became man is to be found in the bible. This is what vrs 30, 31 clearly teach; “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Jesus does not tell us. “By the way after reading this you may want some confirmatory proof, so why don’t you search out the nearest Christian gathering and ask them to perform a few miracles for you. Jesus says; “These are written that you may believe.” Jesus would soon ascend to heaven and believers would come to saving faith without the privilege of seeing the resurrected Lord. Jesus pronounces his blessing on such people.

Jesus’s Resurrection Appearances | Part 4

As John 21:14 says this was the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples following his resurrection.

    It is always a moving thing to go back to a place filled with memories. It can be the place you fell in love, or the graveside of a loved one or a piece of music or a smell. Memories can be a happy or sad experience. There are other memories which are so painful that we suppress them deep into our sub-conscious. When a skilled counsellor draws them to the surface it can be a traumatic time. Our passage records one such experience in the life of Simon Peter. There are two things which are geared to dredge up Peter’s painful memories. Firstly, the charcoal fire would have reminded him of another charcoal fire in the High Priest’s courtyard (John 18:18). Jesus’s threefold repeated question would have reminded him of the three times he had denied Jesus. There have been a few people who have quite unfairly criticised the disciples for going fishing as if they were giving up on their mission. I don’t think that this is justified. After all in Matthew 28:16 Jesus had told them to go to Galilee where he would appear to them. What is wrong with doing some fishing while they waited for Jesus to appear? Nothing! What do we learn from this encounter between Christ and seven of the disciples?

a) They are reminded of their calling – vrs 1-14. Peter says that he was going fishing and the other disciples decided to tag along as well. The Zebedee fishing company was resurrected for one night. It is amazing what we fixate on when we read this passage of Scripture. We focus on the number of fish – 153. Much ink has been spilled over the possible symbolism behind this number.

  • The Tetragrammaton (YHWH) allegedly is supposed to occur 153 times in Genesis (I personally have not counted them).
  • Jerome suggested that it represented all the species of fish in the Sea of Galilee.
  • Some Maths fundis argue that 153 is the 17th triangular number, and since 10 (Law) + 7 (grace) = 17, this is a picture of the Law and grace.
  • The 154th got away!!

The exact number of fish merely proves that John was an eyewitness (as he claims in 1 John 1:1-4). To focus on 153 fish is to miss the forest for the trees. Don’t we read vrs 4-6 with a sense of déjà vu? It is as if we have been here before. Or at least the disciples had been here before. Remember Luke 5. A night of fishing on the Sea of Galilee. No fish being caught. Jesus urging the disciples to throw the nets out and a huge catch of fish. It reminds us of Luke 5. How did Jesus apply that miraculous catch of fish to his disciples in Luke 5:10? Don’t be afraid from now on you will catch men? Now something similar happens again. The disciple’s fish all night catch nothing. Jesus calls to them from the shore and advises them to cast the net on the other side and the result – a bumper catch of 153 fish. Don’t you think the Lord is telling his disciples; I still have a mission for you; there are still men to catch. Of course this task will soon be very clearly specified in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). It has well been said that the Great Commission is in danger of becoming the Great Omission.

b) The restoration of Peter – vrs 15-18. As has already been noted this episode
is calculated to dredge up painful memories in Peter’s mind. The fire with burning coals would have reminded Peter of warming himself at a fire in the High Priest’s courtyard (John 18:18 & 21:9 are the only two occurrences of this Greek word in the NT). The second way in which Jesus, the skilled counsellor draws up Peter’s painful memories was the three times he asked the question whether Peter truly loved him. What do you think Jesus implied in vrs 15; “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” When Jesus warned the disciples that they would desert him Peter was quite arrogant in his protestation (Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29) even if all fall away, I will not. The old Peter was saying “I can quite see how the others would abandon you but not me. I am made of sterner stuff!” Now Jesus is inviting him to revise his comments. “Do you really think you love me more than the other disciples?” The new Peter in vrs 15, 16, 17 is more humble. He simply appeals to Jesus’ knowing eyes. “Lord I really can’t say whether I love you more than the other disciples but this much I do know – I really do you love you.” Jesus graciously allows Peter to reaffirm his love three times and then recommissions him three times. Every time Peter tells Jesus you know that I love you Jesus says “feed my lambs” (vrs 15), and “feed my sheep” (vrs 16, 17). Jesus graciously restores Peter. Peter was not the first person to fail the Lord and he most certainly will not be the last. How comforting to know that the same Lord who graciously restores Peter to useful discipleship will do the same for every penitent believer.

Jesus’s Resurrection Appearances | Part 5

A former Archbishop of Cape Town was interviewed and asked a few theological questions. This is what he said; “there are certain tenets of the Christian faith which are important; that Jesus lived, that he died, that he was buried and that he was raised.” So far so good. Then the interviewer asked a more probing question. How do you interpret the resurrection? The answer stunned me. “For me it is not the empty tomb that’s important. The resurrection may not necessarily have been physical. It’s not the evidence of the tomb that matters, it’s the encounter with the living Christ.” Do you hear what he is saying? He is saying that it is not important whether or not Jesus was physically resurrected. But how can we encounter the living Christ apart from a literal resurrection? In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul has no time for such linguistic gymnastics. Look at vrs 12, 13; but if it is preached that Christ has not been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. About ten years ago the Archbishop of Perth was asked. “If we discovered the tomb of Jesus, and could somehow prove that the remains in the tomb were Jesus’ remains, what would that do to your faith?” The Archbishop replied that it would do nothing to his faith because Jesus Christ had risen in his heart. Paul would say; “rubbish, poppycock.” Look at vrs 17 and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. Paul is blunt. If Christ has not been raised there is no Christian faith worth talking about. In vrs 20 he says But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. To prove this Paul points to the numerous post resurrection appearances of Jesus. We will focus on James.

In 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul says that after appearing to the disciples first of all speaks about Jesus appearing to a multitude of witnesses. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Believe it or not one of the proposed objections to the resurrection is that the first witnesses were hallucinating. Of course we all know people who at times and under the right set of circumstances can live in an imaginary world. However it is ludicrous to suggest that Jesus’ disciples and these 500 witnesses simultaneously had the same hallucination! In vrs 6 of our text Paul says that Jesus appeared to 500 other witnesses many of whom were still alive when Paul wrote this letter. “If you don’t believe my testimony about the resurrection ask them!!” Then according to vrs 7 then he appeared to James. Since this James is listed separately to the apostles in vrs 5 he is not the brother of John. This James is the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55) who wrote the epistle of James in the New Testament. We know that James, the brother of John was the first disciple to be martyred around 44 AD (read about it in Acts 12). James, the Lord’s half- brother soon became the leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:9).

How did he become a follower of Christ? We know from the evidence of the gospels that Jesus’ brothers were not convinced by any of Jesus’ teachings or miracles. In Mark 3:21 we are told that when Jesus’ family heard about what he was up to; they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”. At the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry we are given a further snapshot of Jesus’ family in John 7. It was the time for the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. In John 7:3-5 you can sense the dripping sarcasm from his brothers lips. Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. I find great comfort in this glimpse of our Lord’s family life. Not all of us have had the privilege of growing up in believing households. Most of us have a sibling, parent or child who is still in spiritual darkness. They can’t understand our love for the Lord. We pray for them and long for their salvation but they think we are crazy. We are prone to be hard on ourselves; “if only my witness was better. If only I had taken that last opportunity and handled it better.” Be encouraged – Jesus is the perfect Son of God. His witness was always radiant. His words were always full of wisdom. He never squandered opportunities the way that we do and always said the right thing and yet his own family thought that he was mad.

How was James’s sarcasm and unbelief overcome? Our text tells us that when Jesus rose from the dead he appeared to his brother. This is what convinced James that his brother was indeed the Son of God. It was not only James whose life was turned around by this encounter with his risen half-brother but according to Acts 1:14 Jesus’ other brothers were as well. The epistle of Jude was written by James’ brother (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). Those of us who still pray for unconverted family members and who are tempted to despair on their behalf need to take encouragement from this. What they need is an encounter with the risen Christ (not literally but through His word – John 20:29). In our discussions with them we must try and not be bogged down with secondary matters. Christianity is a historical faith. Point them to the resurrection and pray for an encounter with the risen Christ.

Jesus’s Resurrection Appearances | Part 6

If you had to identify the most significant event of your life what would it be? Some of you may choose your marriage. Others may point to a new job opportunity. Some may point to your graduation day. You never thought you would make it but there you were in academic gown collecting your certificate. Others would point to the birth of a child. These are all significant moments in anyone’s life but if we had to ask Paul the most significant event in his life he would undoubtedly opt for the day of his conversion. I would be so bold as to suggest that if you are a Christian the day of your conversion was the most significant event in your life. Everything changed at that moment! When Luke wrote the book of Acts one twelfth of the space is given to outlining Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-19; 22:2-21; 26:12-18). I very much doubt whether any of us had a conversion quite like Paul’s. Some conversion come quite suddenly and others after a long period of wrestling. Some conversions are dramatic and others cannot even give a date, time or place.

In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 Paul outlines Jesus’ resurrection appearances as follows. He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. Christ’s appearance to Paul came several years after the resurrection. When Paul refers to himself as one abnormally born he of course means that he was not part of the original group of apostles. He had not lived with Christ and his entry into the apostolic office was not normal. We will examine the conversion of Saul under three headings.

1) THE MAN HE WAS (vrs 1, 2)
First of all then we see in the opening verses of this chapter the man Saul was. He was a vicious persecutor. This is not the first time we meet Saul in Acts. Our first meeting with him is at the martyrdom of Stephen. In Acts 8:1 we read; and Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. In Acts 8:3 we read but Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Saul was fanatically committed to destroying Christians. If they fled he would pursue them even as far as Syria. And so our text places Saul on the road to Damascus with letters of extradition for any believers in the synagogues.

2) THE MAN HE MET (vrs 3-16)
Secondly, in vrs 3-16 we see the man Saul met. In vrs 3, 4 we read; as he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” In response to this incredible encounter with the risen Christ, Saul says in vrs 5 “Who are you, Lord?” He receives the following answer; “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” Isn’t it interesting that Jesus tells Paul that in persecuting Christians he was guilty of persecuting Christ. Do you think Saul was surprised by the answer he received? I don’t! Saul had violently opposed Christians because he feared that their insistence that Jesus was the Son of God was a denial of his strict belief in one God. How wrong he was. When he gives his testimony in Acts 26:14 Paul adds a little detail which is most revealing. ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ It would appear that Jesus has been pursuing Saul for quite a while. He has been prodding and pricking him to gets his attention. Perhaps seeing the heroic manner in which Stephen and other Christians had died had started to make him doubt his position. They spoke about the wonder of forgiveness from sin and exhibited such joy in suffering that no doubt Saul was secretly starting to doubt his position. He was starting to wonder; “Could these Christian not be right? Might their Jesus have risen from the dead after all?” His meeting with Jesus that day confirmed that it was indeed so.

3) THE MAN HE BECAME (vrs 17-22)
Our conversion will not be the same as that of Saul’s. It is highly unlikely that we will see a blinding light and hear the audible voice of Jesus Christ. There is however one way in which our conversion will be absolutely identical to Paul’s. It must lead to a transformed life. There were three immediate changes in Saul.

a) Firstly, he had a new relationship with God. This encounter with the risen
Christ left him blinded for three days. What was Paul doing for those three days? According to vrs 11 he was praying. Through Jesus, Paul had been reconciled to God and was enjoying for the first time in his life that wonderful immediate access that comes to a believer to enter God’s presence in prayer. He had a brand new relationship with God. This is the experience of any new believer. Prayer and bible reading become new habits not because we think we have to but because we want to.

b) Secondly, Paul had a new relationship to the church. When God first told
Ananias to go and minister to Paul, Ananias hesitated. In vrs 13, 14 he displays a keen awareness of who Paul was. Nevertheless Ananias obeyed. There is something quite extraordinary about Ananias’ first words to Paul. In vrs 17 we are told; placing his hands on Saul, he said Brother Saul. The first words Saul hears are full of family affection. In persecuting the church he was persecuting Christ but in being reconciled to Christ he was reconciled to the church. This is the second responsibility of any new Christian. We must join a local body of believers. In vrs 18 Paul immediately submitted himself to Christian baptism.

c) Thirdly, Paul upon being converted had a new purpose in life. In vrs 15 of our text this purpose was clearly communicated to Ananias. This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. Paul certainly wasted no time in getting to his life’s calling. Look at vrs 19-22. Ananias was also told in vrs 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. For the next 30 years Paul’s entire life would be one of suffering service. The only reason you can give for a leading Pharisee who lived a comfortable life to embrace suffering is if his conversion was real. And the only thing that accounts for his conversion is that Paul really did encounter the risen Christ.

In fact all the other eleven apostles went on to endure great suffering. Ten of them would die by some of the cruellest methods known to man (crucifixion, the sword, stoning). Church tradition tells us that Saul/Paul was beheaded. As Pascal would say many centuries later; “I believe those witnesses that get their throats cut.”


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