The Lord's Day Evening
July 31, 2011
“Born Again! — Now What?”
The Reverend Dr. Guy Waters
It is a privilege and a pleasure once again to open the Word of God before you this evening. Our Scripture may be found in the book of Acts. We’ll be beginning in the middle of the ninth chapter, the second half of verse 19.
In the year 1976, in the height of the presidential campaign, Newsweek magazine published a cover story, and the content of which has been largely forgotten, but the title has endured. Newsweek declared 1976 to be the year of the evangelical. That was the year in so many respects that evangelicals and evangelicalism came into public prominence in the United States. And I suppose if we were to identify one Scriptural teaching in folks’ minds most closely associated with evangelicals and evangelicalism it would be the new birth. And so it has been a bit distressing to read polls and surveys taken over the last ten years of self-identified evangelicals — men and women who claim to have been born again. These surveys and these polls show that their beliefs and their lives are distressingly similar to the non-Christians around them. It's a sober reminder to us that it's one thing to claim the new birth; it is another perhaps to have experienced the new birth.
Where do we go to learn the marks, the evidences of the new birth? We go to the Scriptures, and I suppose if there is any individual in the Scripture best known for his having been born again, made new by God, it is the apostle Paul on the Damascus road. We see a clear instance of the new birth in the opening verses of our chapter. He is an undeserving sinner, saved by the sovereign grace of God. He is brought from darkness into light, from rebellion to submission, from death into life. And it's our Scripture this evening that we see the new life wrought by God in this man, coming to expression. What does a man born from above, born again, look like? Be thinking about that as we read our Scripture. We’ll begin in Acts chapter 9 verse 19 and we’ll continue down to verse 31.
Before we read, let us ask the Lord's blessing in prayers. Shall we pray.
Our great God and our heavenly Father, we do thank You for Your Word. We pray now that You would open our eyes and unstop our ears that we might see and hear the things that You have spoken. We pray that in seeing and hearing, we might believe, and in believing to obey, to the glory of Christ, in whose name we pray, amen.
Acts chapter 9 beginning at verse 19 and continuing down through verse 31. Hear now the Word of God:
“For some days he (that is, Saul, Paul) was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ 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?’ But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded by the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
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. 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. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned of this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
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.”
Thus far, God's holy Word.
We have here the early days and weeks and as we’ll see, years, of Paul's Christian life. He's known at this point in the Scripture's record as Saul. We know him later as Paul. And what we learn is that this man's religion, as a Christian, was personal but it was not solitary. He lived his Christian life before the people of God and before the world. And Luke takes us to two places where Paul was active early in his Christian life. He begins with Damascus, the very place he had gone to persecute Christians. And we learn three things about Saul's life here in Damascus as a Christian. We’re told in verse 19 that “he was with the disciples,” surely introduced by Ananias to the church at Damascus. And then in verse 20 he proceeds to “proclaim Jesus in the synagogues as the Son of God,” verse 22, “proving that Jesus was the Christ.” And then third, we learn that he suffered for that witness. He is brought out, verse 25, by night through an opening in the city wall, lowered in a basket to the ground to escape detection.
And then Luke takes us to Jerusalem. Now Paul tells us in the first chapter of the epistle to the Galatians that he had spent time, some three years, in Arabia. But Luke passes over that to tell us of Saul's ministry in Jerusalem afterwards. And when he comes to Jerusalem we see him doing the same three things that we saw him doing in Damascus. Verse 26, “he attempted to join the disciples,” and then verse 28, “he preached boldly in the name of the Lord.” Verse 29, “he disputed against the Hellenists.” And then we're told that they sought to kill him. The believers sent him down to Caesarea, verse 30, “and sent him off to Tarsus.” We will not see Saul for two more chapters. A full ten years will pass before Saul re-emerges on the pages of Scripture. And what we see is a disciple of Christ joining with other disciples of Christ and living in the service of Christ. Born again Paul lived the life of a disciple.
The disciple loves the people of Jesus
What does the life of a disciple look like? And that's what Scripture wants you and me to see this evening. Three things for us in the Scripture in answer to the question, “What does the life of a disciple look like?” and the first is that the disciple loves the people of Jesus. The disciple loves the people of Jesus. Paul has been a persecutor of the church; he is now a participant in the church. How did we meet Saul a chapter before? We’re told in chapter 8 verse 3 he “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” When we meet him at the beginning of this chapter, Scripture says he was “breathing out threats and murder.” As you and I exhale carbon dioxide, he breathed out threats and murder against the church. It came to him that naturally.
But then this great change, the grace of God on the Damascus road, and God sends this disciple Ananias and what is the first word that Christian Saul hears from a Christian mouth? Verse 17, “Brother, brother Saul.” He is part of the family. He is a disciple of Christ. He has taken Christ as Savior and Lord and he has taken His Church as well. And I want you to see two things about Saul's participation in the church of God. First, notice his priority. Did you see that in each case when he goes to Damascus and when he goes to Jerusalem, the very first thing that he does is to join with the disciples in that city? You see that in verse 19; you use it in verse 26. And it's not simply that he associates with them, that he spends time with them. The word used in verse 26 is that he joins them. That's used back in chapter 5 verse 13 to speak of a formal association with the believers. It was Paul's priority to join the church of God.
But notice as well Paul's patience. You know, Paul is a convert of God and he is not given the red-carpet treatment in the church. He doesn't go on the conference circuit. Look at this man converted by God. He doesn't get book contracts. He is met with reserve and skepticism on the part of the church. And it starts, you remember, in the passage before what we read this evening with Ananias. Jesus tells Ananias, “Go to Saul,” and you know Ananias’ response — “Lord, do You know who this fellow is?” And Jesus tells Ananias, “I most certainly know who this fellow is and you go!” And he goes. And he comes to Jerusalem. Did you see the way Luke put it? “He attempted to join the disciples,” verse 26. Paul has a hard go of it, but there's a reason they were all afraid of him - verse 26, “for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” You can imagine why these men and women in the church of Jerusalem would be apprehensive of Saul. There were women in that room whose husbands had been dragged off to prison. There were men in that room whose wives had been dragged off to prison, and some of whom had been sentenced to death. And Saul, he tells Agrippa in chapter 26, had cast his vote for execution. You can imagine their fear. “Who is this man? Where did he come from? Is this a spy? Is this a plan? What's going on?”
But you see Paul's patience. You can imagine Paul would have been stung by this. He had already preached Christ; he was now coming into Jerusalem, his old city for the first time, he was ready to join with the people of God and they’re afraid of him. But you see, in God's mercy, He provides a Barnabas, doesn't He, to bring him to the church, to bring him to the apostles. And what do they say? Verse 27, “He saw the Lord and he has preached boldly in the name of Jesus.” Jesus has forgiven this man. He has turned from his former ways and he wins the confidence of the church. So in the next verse, verse 28, “he goes in and out among them.” He has free course in the church at Jerusalem.
What does this have to say to us tonight? Well, at least two things. First, Christians must join the church. That is part and parcel of the life of the disciple. A disciple joins the church of Jesus Christ. That is the pattern for Saul. It is the pattern for believers throughout this book. It is the pattern for disciples such as you and I. Have you joined, have you committed yourselves, to the church of God?
And we see something else. We see a sweet spirit of forbearance in the church. You see it on Paul's part. Here's Paul and he is a true man of God and he has been preaching Christ at great personal cost and the believers are giving him the cold shoulder. And Paul shows patience, not wrath. And if we ask the question, “Why is Paul's patience, how is it that he waits for a Barnabas to make the introduction?” you need only think of what he wrote Timothy in 1 Timothy chapter 1. “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.” He knew Christ's patience with him and he would show patience with His people. But then the Jerusalem Christians — here was a man who had done them great harm and he is standing before them ready to be received into their fellowship and they’re not ready to receive him. But they’re won over; they’re won over.
Now I wonder if there's anyone this evening who can identify with Saul or with these Jerusalem Christians this evening? You haven't experienced something as traumatic as this. Perhaps you, like Paul, you've not been treated the way you ought to have been by a believer, perhaps in this fellowship. Or perhaps like the Jerusalem Christians, there is someone in this fellowship who has done you great harm and they have approached you and they have sought your forgiveness and you’re finding it hard to give. What do you do? Friends, your calling is the same. It is to look to Christ. As Paul looked to Christ and remembered His patience with him that he would show patience to others, so these Jerusalem believers, they sought grace to forgive and persuaded that this man was penitent, persuaded that this man was a disciple of Christ, they received him into their fellowship, and they do it because they love the people of Jesus. So that's the first thing — the disciple loves the people of Jesus.
The disciple bears witness to Jesus
But the second thing we see is that the disciple bears witness to Jesus. Saul the persecutor is now Saul the proclaimer and that in the very synagogue where he had gone to round up Christians and drag them back to Jerusalem. See the change. And what do we see about Saul's witness in these verses? You see at least three things. Notice first of all that it is to Christ that he bears witness. It is a Christ-centered witness. So in verse 20, “he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues,” the one who will save, the one who has saved His people from their sins. And then verse 22, “he confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ,” He's the Messiah promised of old and now in the fullness of time, God has sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those under the law. This Christ, Saul proclaims, and he proclaims Him the Son of God. He proclaims Him the Son of God, God incarnate, the Son of David. You see the focus? He bears witness to Jesus Christ, the majesty of His person and His work for the salvation of sinners. It is a Christ-centered witness.
But notice secondly that it is a rational witness. Verse 22, “he proved that Jesus was the Christ.” Verse 20, “he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists.” You see, there's demonstration; there's back and forth. He's responding to the counter claims. Now look at the change. Here was a man who had breathed violence and he had put away persecution and he had put away violence. He is going to conquer through argument. He is going to conquer through argument. Now that may strike you as a little strange, I mean, didn't mom and dad tell you growing up, “Don't argue”? Well, you remember what Chesterton said. “The problem with a quarrel is that it gets in the way of a good argument.” Quarrelling is forbidden but Paul is arguing. He is reasoning.
And then notice that his witness is persistent and it is passionate. My son is four and a half. He learned to whistle this week. He is telling everyone he can meet. He's told his grandparents, he told his Sunday school teacher, he told our hosts for lunch; he may have told you. He is passionate about this new-found ability, and Saul, to a greater degree, is passionate to proclaim Christ. And you see, he goes — and this will be a pattern for his ministry — he goes to the synagogues, verse 20, verse 22, verse 29, and on and on. To the Jew first he will bring the Gospel. And he opens his heart to the Romans in the ninth chapter. He tells the Romans, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart for these my kinsman according to the flesh. I could wish myself accursed and cut off from Christ for their sake.” He loves them deeply; he wants to see them saved. It will only be through faith in Christ. It's a man whose witness is persistent and passionate.
Now how does this apply to you and to me? Well, not every Christian, in fact most Christians, are not called to be preachers, but every Christian must be prepared in the providence of God to bear witness to Jesus, to tell others of who He is and what He has done for sinners, to reply to objections when they come and to do it out of love for the souls of men and women. That's what Peter said in 1 Peter 3 verse 15. “In your hearts regard Christ as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” Do you know this hope? Can you give a reason for that hope? You know one of the reasons that God has given you this pulpit is to equip you to be able to explain that hope to others. Do you take advantage of the Bible teaching that you hear Lord's Day in and Lord's Day out? Oh, but you say, “I'm too timid. I'm not like Saul. I'm not bold.” Well you know Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for boldness for him. He knew that he needed the grace of God to make him bold and to bear witness. And did you see in verse 22 how “he increased all the more in strength and confounded the Jews”? And what have we read back in verse 17? He is filled with the Holy Spirit. This, you see, is a strength not his own. It is a strength supplied by God Himself. And if you’re a believer, the very same Spirit who indwelled and strengthened Saul, indwells and can strengthen you. You ask Him for that strength, Christian.
But then see also this — did you notice how the disciples advanced the Gospel? You see it again and again in this book. It is by argument and not the sword. The Gospel is not advanced by suicide bombings. The Gospel is not advanced by social pressure. The Gospel is not advanced by elections. The Gospel is advanced by making Christ known, His person and His work, and pressing those claims upon those who need to hear it. Great reformed theologian B.B. Warfield put it beautifully. “It is,” he said, “the distinction of Christianity that it has come into the world clothed with the mission to reason its way to dominion. It will put all its enemies under its feet.”
The Washington Post sponsored a forum online this past week and it asked the question, in reference to the horrific Norway attacks we've been seeing in the news, it posed this question: “Is the Norway attacker a Christian terrorist?” Now if you read some of the postings that followed it was a disappointing discussion; like so much on the web, it was neither here nor there, but as a Christian, your response should be immediate and brief. A Christian terrorist is a contradiction in terms. We see Saul renouncing that very life to advance the Gospel by the preaching, by witness to Jesus Christ. So the disciple bears witness to Jesus.
the disciple suffers for Jesus
But then third and finally, the disciple suffers for Jesus. The disciple suffers for Jesus. The persecutor is now the persecuted and he is persecuted by the very ones that he had called his fellows, his partners in crime. The very one who had inflicted suffering and shame now experiences suffering and shame at their hands. And so you see in verse 23, “the Jews plotted to kill him,” and he's lowered out of the wall in a basket at night. This made a tremendous impression on Paul. Many years later when he's writing the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 and he is briefing the Corinthians on his suffering as an apostle, what caps the list is this very event. It must have been a profoundly humiliating experience. And then again, because there's more to come, in verse 29 he spoke, he disputed against the Hellenists, and what is his reward? They were seeking to kill him and he is whisked away to Caesarea and to Tarsus. But in all of this, he is suffering for Jesus’ sake. You remember what Jesus said to Ananias in verse 16 of this chapter? “I will show him how much he will suffer for My name.” And Saul is suffering for the name of Jesus Christ, and Saul would tell the disciples later in this book in the fourteenth chapter at the twenty-third verse, “It is through many tribulations that we all must enter the kingdom of God.” This isn't just for Saul; this is for each believer to be prepared to suffer for the name of Jesus.
What do we learn from this? We learn first, every disciple of Christ must be prepared to suffer for Christ. What Paul wrote Timothy, “Everyone who wants to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And your temptation and my temptation is to be surprised when it comes, to be swept off our feet when it happens. And that's why Peter wrote, in 1 Peter 4, he said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you as though something strange were happening to you.” You know even when you’re doing right, even when you’re in the way of your Christian duty, God may call you to glorify His Son by suffering for His name, and that was a lesson that Saul learned very early on. And it was a lesson that Saul would take with him through the course of his ministry and to his grave.
But look as well, this Scripture tells you Christian how to read your suffering. You know, on the face of it, this is an inauspicious beginning to Saul's ministry. Remember he's off the scene for ten years. On the face of it, he is a failure, a colossal failure. He has been driven out of two synagogues; he is living in obscurity; it seems that the Gospel's enemies have carried the day. Now if you’re tempted to conclude that, you need to read on. Look at verse 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.” God gives His church peace, respite, and she flourishes. She's growing in number; she's growing in maturity. And the Scripture tells you why the church is flourishing. It is as she walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it multiplied. You see friends, what Scripture is saying to you this evening, the church does not flourish simply because she is in easy times or because she is in hard times. She flourishes by the grace of God; she grows as she walks in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. And in the hard times and in the easy times, God is at work calling His disciples to grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You may be in one of those hard times this evening, Christian, and this Scripture presses two things on you, two things you need to know. First you need to know that God is sovereign. The church was persecuted by the sovereign will of God. The chief persecutor, in an instant, was converted on the Damascus road. Don't think it was outside the power or the purpose of God that the church suffered as she did. God is sovereign and you are where you are, not in spite of the wisdom and the power of God, but it is God's wisdom and God's power that has placed you where you are. And your calling, second, is to grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in the place where God in His wisdom has set you to grow. And that's what the church did. That's what the church did throughout this book. In the hard times, in the easy times, she grows, and that's what disciples do.
Well it may be that you are not a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and if you’re not a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, you don't love His people, you don't bear witness to Christ, and you don't suffer for Christ's sake, but you do suffer. You do suffer; and is there anything to be learned from that? And there is, because these sufferings and hardships friends, these are harbingers of a wrath to come. And I have good news to proclaim before that day. That is, that the one who will judge angels and men, the Lord Jesus Christ, came into this world to save sinners like you and like me, and that if you turn from your sins and you come to Him in the way of faith and in the way of repentance, if you cast yourself on His Word, if you receive by faith His righteousness, His satisfaction to the justice of God, His perfect obedience to the law of God, and if you own Him as your Savior, then you will know that you can say, “I am not condemned.” You may and you will be called to suffer still, but after you have suffered a little while, you will enter into the glory of Christ, whom to know, now and then, is life eternal.
Let us pray.
Our great God and our heavenly Father, we praise You for this Scripture picture of the disciple of Christ. We pray by Your grace that this picture would be evident in our lives. We pray for strength and help to live to the glory of Christ. We pray if there be any who are not disciples of Christ that by Your grace You would make them so. How grateful we are that You can take one like Saul of Tarsus, breathing threats and murder, and make him a trophy to Your grace. Father, may that be an encouragement to us this evening, and may we draw near to Christ in light of that encouragement. For we ask this in Christ's name. Amen.
Now please rise, receive the benediction, after which we’ll respond with stanza four of our hymn.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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