God Saves Us and Uses Us to Save Others

Sermon by Robert Cannada on April 3, 2005

Acts 9:1-25

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The Lord’s Day
Morning

April 3, 2005

Acts 9:1-25

“God Saves Us and Uses Us to Save Others”

Dr. Robert C.
Cannada, Jr.

Turn in your Bibles now to Acts, chapter nine.

And as you’re turning to Acts 9, let me thank you on
behalf of all of us at Reformed Theological Seminary. This community and this
church in particular birthed RTS in 1966. We started with 14 students in that
White House on the other side of town on Clinton Boulevard. This year we will
have over 2500 students taking class with us somewhere: one of our three main
campuses in Jackson, Orlando, or Charlotte; or one of our three extension
campuses in Atlanta, or Washington, D.C., or Boca Raton, Florida; or one of our
three international programs in Korea, or Scotland, or Brazil; or, perhaps,
through our “Virtual Campus”, where we’re offering courses now live over the
Internet, literally around the world. We’re one of the twelve largest
seminaries in North America now, and we are so grateful for you for your
continued prayers, and encouragement and support. The Lord is good.

Now let’s turn to His word together. And this is a
story with which we’re all familiar. It’s the story of the conversion of the
one here called Saul. His name later was changed to Paul, the one whom we know
as the Apostle Paul. And it’s a story that is very familiar to us–in fact, I
think it’s one we’ve heard so often; it’s so familiar we forget how amazing it
is. It’s a story actually that is detailed three times in the Book of Acts, and
referred to on several other occasions in Paul’s writings. It’s obviously a
very important story, and I say a story of amazing grace. Consider that now as
we look to the word of God together, beginning in Acts 9:1.

“Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples
of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the
synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men
and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And it came about that as he
journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed
around him; and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul,
Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And He
said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise, and enter the city, and it
shall be told you what you must do.’ And the men who traveled with him stood
speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. And Saul got up from the
ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by
the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight,
and neither ate nor drank.

“Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named
Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ And he said, ‘Behold,
here am I, lord.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go to the street called
Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul,
for behold, he is praying, 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.’ But Ananias
answered…”

[‘You’ve gotta be kidding,
Lord!’ No, that’s not exactly what he said, but that’s what he was thinking.
Here’s what he said…]

“‘…Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your
saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind
all who call upon Your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen
instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons
of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.’ And
Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said,
‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you were
coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight, and be filled with the
Holy Spirit.’ And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales,
and he regained his sight, and arose and was baptized; and he took food and was
strengthened.

“Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at
Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying,
‘He is the Son of God.’ And all those hearing him continued to be amazed, and
were saying, ‘Is not this he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this
name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the
chief priests?’ But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews
who lived at Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

“And when many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do
away with him, but their plot became known to Saul. And they were also watching
the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; but his disciples
took him by night, and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him
in a large basket.”

I say that is an amazing story…an amazing story of
God’s amazing grace, isn’t it? It’s such, again, a familiar story, and a clear
story…not going to go into a lot of detail about the story, but I do want to
mention a few things.

Again, Saul…Paul, was doing everything he could to
stamp out Christianity. He was breathing murderous threats against the
Christians. And they weren’t just threats–he’d been involved in killing
Christians. The previous chapters there in Acts, Acts 7 and 8, tell about the
death of the first Christian martyr, a man named Stephen. Saul was there. It
says that they who stoned Stephen put their coats down at the feet of a young
man named Saul, and that Saul was “consenting to the death of Stephen.” He was
probably involved in the killing of other Christians, as well.

It’s amazing, then, that that kind of man is
converted, and converted in such an amazing way.
The Lord Jesus Himself
appeared to him on that road to Damascus. And then, blinded, he goes into the
city, and the Lord tells Ananias (apparently one of the leaders among the
Christians there) to go and see Paul, and…I know that’s what Ananias was
thinking: ‘Lord, You’ve got to be kidding! I mean, he’s come here to find people
like us! We’re hiding from him! You want us to go to him? You
want me to go see him?’ But he went.

And then it gets even more amazing. What does
Ananias call Paul? Did you see it? He says, “Brother Saul….” And after he’s
converted, not only does Ananias accept him, but the other Christians do, too!
And that’s amazing! Certainly many of them would have had friends and perhaps
relatives who had been imprisoned by Saul (or Paul), who was going after men and
women, and some of them would have had friends and relatives who had been killed
because of Paul. And now here they were accepting him, forgiving him, and
protecting
him when now the Jews (as he’s preaching the gospel) want to kill
him, and they have to help him escape–letting him down over the wall, and out of
the city.

It is, isn’t it, a story of amazing grace?

I want to stop and say to perhaps some here who
are not in the family, who are not followers of Christ, who are not committed
Christians.
Perhaps you’ve come with a friend or a relative here today, and
you have been without hope because of some of the things you’ve done and said
over the years. Perhaps because of, like Paul, fighting against Christians and
Christ you’ve felt hopeless, but you’re not! The Lord could forgive and save
and use Paul, who murdered Christians; He can forgive and save and use you as
well, and I urge you to stop fleeing from Him and flee to Him, to Jesus as your
Savior.

And for all here who are in the family, who know
Christ, who seek to follow Him, I want to encourage you this morning with two
things:

I. God saves us.

First, God saves us. What better
example could we have than this one, the conversion of Paul? God saves us. He
was not seeking the Lord. He was seeking to do everything he could to kill
those who followed the Lord, to stamp out Christianity, and yet the Lord sought
him and converted him. The sovereignty of God in our salvation!

But some of you are sort of saying, “That sounds
like predestination….” Yes, it does! And we see that subject that comes up
all through the Scriptures. We see it here in the Book of Acts, for instance,
when Paul himself goes out on his first missionary journey. In Acts 13:48, all
these Gentiles are converted, and Luke reports to us, “As many as were
appointed
to eternal life believed.”

Now, why? Why did they believe? Were they
smarter, better than others? No. It says it’s because they were appointed
to eternal life that they believed
. Or we can see it in Acts 16, when
we see there the first European convert to Christianity: a lady named Lydia.
Paul is preaching the gospel, there were some ladies there…why did she believe
and not the others? What was the difference? Was she smarter than the others?
Better than the others? It says in Acts 16:14 “the Lord opened her heart to
respond to the things spoken by Paul.”

Now, I grew up in this church, and I memorized
The Child’s Catechism
, and I memorized The Shorter Catechism, and I
learned about predestination. But I didn’t think as deeply about it as I should
have until I went away to college, to Vanderbilt, and there was a campus
ministry with Christians from all kinds of backgrounds. And when they found out
I was a Presbyterian they said, “Oh! You’re one of those…one of those that
believes in predestination.” And the more I thought about it more deeply, I
wasn’t sure I believed it, and I was pretty sure I didn’t like it. But as I
read through the Scriptures, my own devotions…I had a blank page in the front
of my Bible and I started putting down the references every time I’d come across
a verse on the elect, or the chosen, or predestination. And pretty soon I’d
filled up the whole page with these references and started on another page!
Verses like Ephesians 1, where it says “we were chosen in Him before the
foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him in
love. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons, through Jesus
Christ, to the glory of His praise.”

And so I saw it over and over again in the
Scriptures. It was confirmed that this is true; it’s what the Bible teaches. I
believe it, but I still wasn’t so sure I liked it! The Lord had to work on me
with some attitudes. There were some questions I had, many questions about this
and other truths we won’t get answered until we get to heaven, I’m sure; but two
in particular, that I found out as a pastor over the years, many people have
these same questions, these same two questions. Not everyone. Some people get
to this deeper truth and it makes sense and they just move right on.

But most of us have these similar questions, and one
of them is this: If this is true, that God chooses some for salvation and
passes by others, it just doesn’t seem…what?
What? It doesn’t seem
fair!
I had that question. Many do. But as I studied, I found, for
instance, in Romans 1 that we’re all sinners, deserve God’s judgment, are
under His wrath and curse
. It’s true of the Gentiles, He says there,
[that] even though they didn’t have the written word of God, they still knew
enough about God through creation and their own conscience to be without excuse
before Him in their behavior. And then he goes on in chapter two to talk to the
Jews and say, ‘You even have more information, the written word of God, and yet
you don’t live according to it.’ And so he sums it up in Romans 3 and says we’re
all sinners, and we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God.

But it’s not just that we’re sinners. He
goes on to say that none of us even seek after God, that there’s none
good, no, not one…that we’re all unrighteous
.

Not only that: the depth of our sinfulness. Does
the Bible teach that we’re sick in sin or dead in sin? We’re dead in sin,
doesn’t it? Ephesians 2 says ‘even when you were dead in your trespasses and
sins, God made you alive together with Christ.’ Now, what can a dead person do?
Can a dead person hear? Or see? Or speak? Or smell? Someone said to me one
time, “They can smell….bad!” But they can’t smell themselves! A young person
in a youth group I was teaching years ago really got the point. His father was
a medical doctor, and he finally raised his hand and says, “I see it. A dead
person can’t even call out for the doctor.” And isn’t that true? If we’re dead
spiritually, we can’t even call out for the doctor!

That’s why Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let
him hear.” Because we don’t have ears until God has done something in our
hearts to open up our ears. That’s why Jesus says we must be born again, born
from above, born by the Holy Spirit. Think of the illustration Jesus uses!

How much did you have to do with your physical
birth? Nothing. How much do we have to do with our spiritual birth? Nothing.
It’s not something we do; it’s something God does in us. The cry of a newborn
baby…does it cause him to be born? No. It’s the evidence that he has been
born. And our cry of faith, does it cause us to be born again? No. It’s the
evidence that we have been born again, that the Lord has opened our ears and our
eyes to the truth and drawn us to faith in Christ. God saves us! He must
work in our hearts and lives
.

One of the clearest passages on this subject in the
Bible is Romans 9-11. It’s not really that difficult to understand, but for
some it’s difficult to accept.
I actually know of preachers who preached
through the Book of Romans, and when they got to those chapters, they just
skipped them because they thought they were too difficult. And basically, those
chapters are answering one question: Romans 1-8, Paul has been explaining the
gospel: Jesus died for our sins; we’re to believe in Him; faith, justification
before God comes through faith in Christ alone. And then he comes to chapters
9-11 and seeks to answer this question: “Well, if all this is true, why did so
many of the Jewish people not believe in Jesus?” And his answer essentially in
those chapters is this: They didn’t believe because they were not chosen.

For instance, he used the illustration of Ishmael
and Isaac, and says Isaac was chosen and Ishmael was not…even in the Old
Testament. Then he talks about the illustration of Jacob and Esau, and here’s
what he says…very specific…he says they were twins, and before they were
born, before they’d done anything good or bad, so that it would be absolutely
clear that it was only God’s choice that made a difference, it was said of those
two, “The older will serve the younger. Jacob have I loved, Esau have I
hated.” How could you be any clearer than that?

And yet, what is our response? What’s the question
that wells up in us? “It doesn’t sound…” What? Fair. You know what Paul’s
very next verse is? Is there any unfairness with God? Is there any
injustice with God?
He knows exactly what we’re going to be thinking! And
you know what his answer is? ‘God forbid! Of course not!’ But God says,
“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom
I have compassion. So it doesn’t depend on the man who wills or the man who
runs, but on God who has mercy
.”

Some of you are thinking, “What kind of an answer is
that!?!” But it’s a great answer, and particularly because it keeps repeating
one word. What is that word? “Mercy.” That’s the key to
it all: mercy
. The point is we really don’t want fairness in a sense of
strict justice, because if God is going to be fair in the sense of justice, what
should He do? Send us all to hell! We want something other than that kind of
fairness. In justice we want…what? Mercy! Our only hope when we stand before
God is not merit–we don’t have any of our own–but only merit through Christ. We
want mercy! Whatever you think about the Pope and his person and his position
and his life and accomplishments, his only hope before God right how is not
merit, but mercy! And that’s our only hope as well.

I love what Jim Kennedy says about this: “What we
want…what the Lord grants us…is super-fair! It’s beyond fairness.” Mercy
and grace…and yet the question comes to our minds–it just does–“Well, that’s
true; we all deserve His judgment. He’s chosen some for salvation and showed
mercy upon us.

Why didn’t He do that for everyone?” And I
don’t know the full answer to that. We have hints of it right there in Romans
9, about God’s justice and displaying it. But that’s not the question
ultimately that I think we ought to be asking. We’re asking the wrong question
when we ask why didn’t God choose to save everyone. The question we ought to
be asking is
…what? “Why did God decide to save anyone? And especially
me? That’s the amazing thing!”

His amazing grace…wasn’t that sort of the impact
that we see in the life of the Apostle Paul? Who is it that talks more about
predestination than anybody else in the New Testament? Isn’t it Paul? And who
is it that praises God more completely than anybody else in the New Testament?
Isn’t it Paul? There are times he couldn’t even wait until the end of the
letter; for instance, there at the end of Romans 11 he breaks out in benediction
and praise. He can’t wait till the end! “For from Him and through Him and to
Him are all things. To God be the glory forever. Amen.”

You see, if this is true, how much do we owe to
God for our salvation
? Fifty percent? Ninety percent? Ninety-nine
percent? How much? A hundred percent! It’s all of grace! We owe
Him all the praise and honor.

And what this did in my life the more I understood
it, rather than causing me to question God, to doubt God, it’s caused me to
praise God more than ever before, and I trust it will with you, too. God saves
us!

II. God uses us to save others.

But secondly, I want you to see from
this passage that God also uses us to save others. Now, that’s amazing, too.
It sounds like a contradiction, perhaps, to some of you; but, not at all.
See, one of the other questions that I had, as so many people have about this
subject, is that if this is true, that God has His people out there, and this is
His…He’s going to reach out to them and save them, why bother with…what?
Evangelism and missions.

As I began to think about that subject, I realized
that God had not only chosen the ends, but He’d also chosen the means to the
end, and the means to the end was using us to preach the gospel. And so I felt I
needed to be obedient as a Christian to do that. I mean, He didn’t have to use
us, did He? He could have done it another way. I’ve often said through the
years, if He wanted to He could get His gospel message out by arranging the
stars in such a way, like a big banner in the sky…they’d just spell out the
words, “Jesus saves.” He didn’t have to use us, but He chose to use us, and so
if we’re going to be faithful we need to do evangelism. But I thought, “At least
this will cut down my zeal for evangelism, because if I don’t preach the gospel
to them, He’s going to use somebody else.” And that’s true. If you don’t do
it, if I don’t do it, He’s going to get the gospel to His people some way, and
we’ll miss out on the privilege.

But it should not dampen our zeal. Think about Paul,
the one who talks so much about predestination. Did it dampen his zeal? No, he
was the greatest missionary ever! And he says rather than dampening his zeal,
it is this very doctrine that encouraged him and caused him to be zealous.
That’s what he says in II Timothy 2:10. He says, ‘Why do I do all this? Why do I
even go to the point of imprisonment for the gospel?’ He says, ‘I do it for the
sake of the elect, that they may have the salvation that’s in Jesus Christ.’

You see, what drove him and what should drive us is
knowing God’s people are out there, and that this is His means of reaching them.
No one is too far from His gospel. He can change their hearts. If I thought it
was all left up to me to try to convince my friends and relatives (some of whom
are so far from the Lord), I think I’d give up before I started. But if I know
God’s people are out there and this is His means of reaching them, and He may
have laid them on my heart because He’s going to use….I mean, I’m encouraged!
I don’t care who they are, the Lord can change their hearts. It ought to
encourage our zeal rather than dampening it.

I love what J. I. Packer says about this in his book
Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Some of you have read it, and
love it and appreciate it like I do. But he says Christians that disagree about
this subject all agree, actually, in one place, in one position: when we’re on
our knees. You see, we preach the same gospel everybody else does: Jesus died
on the cross for sinners. If you believe in Him, you’ll be saved. Whosoever
will may come. But we know when they do come, to whom to give the credit. We
don’t pat them on the back and say how smart they were to choose Jesus; we
praise God for working in their hearts. And when we are on our knees, what do we
do? Do we tell God, ‘I sure am glad I was smart enough to choose You’? No! We
praise God for working in our hearts, and if you have a friend or a relative
who’s far from the Lord, what do you do? Just try to convince them? No! What
do you do? You get on your knees, and you plead with God to change their hearts
and to draw them. Instinctively when we’re on our knees, we know that God is
sovereign in our salvation.

But what a privilege it is not only to understand
more about His amazing grace in our salvation, but also to understand how He
uses us to reach others. He used Paul, didn’t He? But He used others to reach
Paul. You know, we often think he was just sort of isolated with Jesus on that
road to Damascus; but remember he was there and saw Stephen. We see it described
there: when Stephen was stoned to death, it says his face was like the face of
an angel, and he prayed that God would forgive those who were stoning him to
death. Don’t you know that Saul/Paul remembered that? And how many other
Christians had he imprisoned and killed witnessed to him, wondering if he would
ever hear, and died thinking their witness perhaps had failed. But Paul
remembered.

We saw on that road, when Jesus appeared to him he
didn’t have to wonder who it is. He says, “Who are you, Lord?”

I graduated from Murrah High School here in 1966,
and at our tenth high school reunion Bo Bowen and Charles Waterloo and a few
others did a prayer breakfast the next morning after that event the night
before. And they did it at the twentieth, as well. I didn’t get to the tenth
or twentieth, I was a pastor in other states, couldn’t get away for the
weekend. By the thirtieth I was with the Seminary and was able to get away for
the weekend and came. It was a special time–fifty or sixty of us crowded into
Bo’s living room.

Johnny Ragsdale shared his testimony. Johnny had
been through a couple of divorces, drug and alcohol problems. He had come to
the twentieth prayer breakfast because he thought it was a joke. He heard that
this prayer breakfast was being sponsored by Bo Bowen? And Charles Waterloo? He
knew what they were like in high school! He thought it was a joke. He came
over with a hangover the next morning, though ‘this is going to be a hoot.’
Found out it was for real. Lake Speed was sharing his testimony. He’d been
through one marriage, soon another, alcohol problems…and the Lord had changed
him marvelously–converted him. Lake shared his testimony at that reunion,
Johnny Ragsdale was converted; he came back at the thirtieth sharing his
testimony…now not a drug addict, but a drug counselor. Amazing grace!

But one of the things that happened that was very
special at that reunion just happened spontaneously. Some of those who had not
been Christians in high school began to speak up and thank those who had been
Christians in high school for their witness. They said, ‘We laughed at you, we
made fun of you; but we heard and we saw, and we remembered. Will you forgive
us? And we thank you for your acceptance that now we’re part of the family,
too.’

You never know…we won’t know until we get to
heaven the full impact of the little things we do or say here. That subject,
“God Uses Us and Uses Us to Save Others”, so clearly portrayed, I think, in a
song I want to conclude with now. The words of this song…I first heard them, I
was driving in the car and I had to pull over alongside the road because of the
tears. I couldn’t drive any further. It’s a song some of you know called
Thank You
, by Ray Boltz, where he says this:

I dreamed I went to heaven and you were there with me.

We walked upon the streets of gold beside the crystal sea.

We hears the angels singing, then someone called your name.

You turned and saw this young man, and he was smiling as he
came.

And he said, “Friend, you may not know me now,”

And then he said, “But wait.

You used to teach my Sunday School when I was only eight,

And every week you would say a prayer before the class
would start,

And one day when you said that prayer, I asked Jesus in my
heart.

Thank you for giving to the Lord.

I am a life that was changed.

Thank you for giving to the Lord.

I am so glad you gave.

Then another man stood before you and said, “Remember the
time

A missionary came to your church and his pictures made you
cry?

You didn’t have much money, but you gave it anyway.

Jesus took the gift you gave, and that’s why I’m here
today.”

Thank you for giving to the Lord.

I am a life that was changed.

Thank you for giving to the Lord.

I am so glad you gave.

One by one they came, far as the eye could see,

Each life somehow touched by your generosity.

Little things that you had done, sacrifices made

Unnoticed on the earth, in heaven now proclaimed.

And I know up in heaven you’re not supposed to cry,

But I am almost sure there were tears in your eyes

As Jesus took your hand and you stood before the Lord,

And He said, “My child, look around you. Great is your
reward.”

Thank you for giving to the Lord.

I am a life that was changed.

Thank you for giving to the Lord.

I am so glad you gave.

Let’s pray together.

Father, amazing grace that You gave Your Son, our
Savior, to die on the cross for our sins; and further, You by Your Spirit
reached in our hearts to draw us to faith in Him. How we praise You; and further
amazing grace that You give us the privilege of sharing that gospel and being
part of the salvation of others coming into Your family. Encourage us to be
more hopeful, to keep praying, to keep sharing, and to be part of bringing Your
precious gospel around the world and to our neighbor next door. For we pray in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

And now may the amazing grace of our Lord and
Savior, Jesus Christ, the everlasting love of God our Father through Him, and
the comforting and encouraging and empowering presence of God the Holy Spirit be
with us all. Amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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