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Saved by Grace

February 25, 2024

Saved by Grace

Passage: Acts 9:1-20
Service Type:


Saved by Grace

Rodney Gehman – Feb 25, 2024 – Acts 9:1-20

Let me ask you a question to get us started into the scripture for this morning – What was the moment you knew? [ 005 ] Beyond a shadow of a doubt, you knew that Jesus had found you? Where his presence was so real to you that there was no more, well, I think so, no more, I believe he loves me… but it became: “I know for sure that I am no longer lost, but I’ve been found.” 

For me it was a few weeks shy of my 18th birthday. I was in a morning chapel session in high school, and that was the first time I really remember hearing God’s voice. It wasn’t audible. I didn’t hear it with my ears, but I heard it with my heart. It was a very distinct feeling or sense or awareness that what I was experiencing in that moment was God calling me to something much higher than the thoughts I normally had during high school chapel: This is boring; when will it be over. This girl sitting next to me that keeps trying to get me to sing is kind of annoying. Those were my normal thoughts. 

The sense that I had that day went like this, ‘are you going to keep pretending to follow me, or are you actually going to give me your life?’ The only thing I remember about the chapel service was that the song that was playing over the speakers said “I am crucified with Christ and yet I live” and the question I believed God was asking me that day was, “are you in or are you out? No more games.”

I knew all the right answers up to that point, I’d grown up in church and youth group, my parents were in ministry – but that was the moment I knew that God loved me. He saw me. I knew, because He was pursuing me right there in row G. He was asking for my allegiance, asking for my heart, calling me to himself. There were no bright lights. No audible voice. No sunbeam out of heaven with angels singing. No falling on my face. He didn’t call me to a specific job or ministry or missions – and he didn’t make me any promises about how my life would turn out. He just called me to follow him.

Now, here’s question number 2: [ 006 ] Do you remember who/what you were when Jesus found you? For some of you, this is an easy one – maybe even a question you’d rather I didn’t ask because you don’t like to think about it. For others, you’re like, uh, I was 6. 

Where/When did Jesus find you? Who/What were you before he did? [ 007 ] Hang on to those two questions today as we dive into chapter 9 of Acts. We are in the middle of three powerful conversion stories here in Acts: In Acts chapter 8 we followed a disciple named Philip as he interacted with an Ethiopian man who was reading God’s word in his chariot. As Philip explained the scriptures to him, he was converted and baptized, and the gospel reaches Africa. In Acts 10 in a few weeks, we’ll get a front row seat to the conversion of the first Gentile. 

And today, Acts 9 reunites us with a character that is going to be a major player for the rest of the book. [ 008 ] We first met Saul back in Acts 7:58 where, as the first Christian martyr named Stephen was being stoned, the people throwing rocks laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul, and in 8:1, we read that Saul was very much okay with this murder.

We learn in 8:3 that Saul’s new favorite pastime became ravaging the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women and putting them in prison. Now, as we catch up with him in chapter 9, here’s what he’s been up to:

[ 009-1 ] 1 Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Get this picture in your head there – is breathing out murder against the disciples of the Lord. It’s the idea of a clenched jaw, clenched fist, heavy breathing… This is a fierce rage (1). 

He went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, [ 009-2 ] so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way (that’s just an early name given to the first Christians), he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 

That’s Who/What was Saul when Jesus found him. He was breathing out murderous threats against the disciples of Jesus, and he’s willing to go to great lengths to round them up. Damascus isn’t exactly next door to Jerusalem, where Saul lived. Damascus was around 135 miles away. That’s from Riverside to Decorah. Or if you go the other direction, from here to Hannibal, Missouri. That’s a 2 hour drive today, but that was a 3-4 day walk back then. 

Saul was so determined to round up every believer he could find and drag them off to prison, that he went to the high priest and asked for the authority to search out the  synagogues and round up the Jesus followers who worshiped there. Then he would drag them back to Jerusalem where they might just be sent on to Rome as troublemakers (2). That’s who Saul was when Jesus found him. 

So back to the original question: Who or what were you when Jesus found you? I guarantee most of us start to answer that question by trying to recall how bad we were. When a young child, 7-8-9 gets baptized and starts telling their story, we’re all thinking, well this won’t take long. There’s not much they could have done wrong yet, right? That’s because we think sin makes us bad. So we have to recall the bad things we’ve done, and then “accepting Jesus into your heart” is basically us asking him to make us “good.” And since we think sin makes us bad, people say things like, I know I’m not perfect, but at least I’m not like so and so. We compare our “bad sins” to someone else’s “bad sins.” And we may even look at Saul’s history here and go, well, nothing I’ve done is on that level. 

But scripture lets us know, it doesn’t matter how “bad” you think you were. It doesn’t matter if you were addicted to heroin, strung out 5 nights a week, incarcerated or not, church kid or not, adulterous, blasphemous, you name it. [ 010 ] It doesn’t matter. Ephesians 2:1 says it’s way worse than you think: “you were dead in your trespasses and sins…” Dead. It doesn’t say you were “bad”. It says in your deadness, [ 011 ] you carried out whatever desire your body wanted, whatever your mind wanted, whatever your emotions wanted. You followed whatever came naturally to you; today we call that “being your true self”, but God calls it being spiritually dead in sin.  

According to scripture, this is where all of us were when Jesus found us. Dead in our trespasses and sins, beginning with the fact that Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden was applied to you before you were born. When your mother welcomed you into this world, you were spiritually stillborn. Under the wrath of God without hope in the world. That’s the starting gate and the finish line for every human being, unless God intervenes. And he did for Saul in verse 3:

[ 012-1 ] 3 As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. When Saul tells the story later in Acts, he will recall that this was not blinding because it was a bright light on a dark night, like the angels that appeared to the shepherds – Saul says it was midday or around noon, and that this light was brighter than the sun.  [ 012-2 ] 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? ” [ 012-3 ] 5 “Who are you, Lord? ” Saul said.  “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting,” he replied. I think it’s safe to say that wasn’t the answer Saul expected. He might have thought, wait, we killed Jesus. Or he might have remembered Stephen as he died, saying “I see the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand!” Either way, this isn’t the first time that Jesus himself is linked to bright light. 

  • John 1 comes to mind, that says Jesus is the true light that came into the world and that darkness has not overcome. 
  • Matthew 17 and Luke 9, a few of the apostles were with Jesus on a mountain top hike when all of a sudden, Jesus’ clothes started to glow, and he was transformed. Then it says that a bright light surrounded him and the apostles fell on their faces, similar to what Saul experienced here. 
  • Lastly, you can fast forward to Revelation 21 and it says that heaven does not need the sun or the moon to give it light, because the glory of God illuminates it and its lamp is Jesus. 

So it stands to reason from those other verses that Saul, persecutor of the church, has come face to face with the glorified, resurrected, King of kings and Lord of lords, exalted over all of creation – with the name that is above every name, far above all rulers, powers, and authorities – including the authority of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, and the powers of darkness that are trying to stamp out the church. 

I would think that would have been terrifying for Saul. Not only that, Jesus doesn’t ask Saul why he is persecuting the church, He says to Saul – why are you persecuting me! This is great news for us. It means:

  • We are so joined to Christ by faith that we get to participate in what Jesus is doing. We are seated in the heavens with him right now, Ephesians says. 
  • But at the same time, he is so joined to us that he participates in what we are doing…including persecution. He feels the sorrow, he feels the loss, the betrayal, etc.

So if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are facing hardship and loss and persecution because your allegiance is to Jesus, you can take heart. Jesus is not just watching you from a distance, helpless to do anything, hoping you make it. He is right there in it with you, so much so that he can say in verse 5, I am Jesus, the one they are persecuting. 

And right then and there, as I imagine Saul feels like he’s about to die, he hears Jesus say....  

[ 013-1 ] 6 “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” [ 013-2 ] 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. [ 013-3 ]8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. [ 013-4 ]9 He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.

Think about how bizarre this whole moment is! Saul, possibly armed, at least with search warrants, is coming into town with his posse. Everyone knows they are coming to arrest Christians and drag them away. But All of a sudden, the guy everyone is afraid of is being led into the city by the hand like a child – into the very city he was going to ravage – and now he is completely helpless and powerless and dependent. 

Notice it does not say Saul was blind. In those days, blindness was considered judgment or punishment – so Luke weighs his words carefully as he writes that Saul’s not being able to see is not punishment for persecuting the church – it is simply a result of being face to face with the glory of Jesus! His eyes are open, but they are seared by the blinding glory of the risen Christ. 

The irony is – even though he couldn’t see for three days, he was starting to see better than he’d ever seen before. He had been spiritually blind and physically able to see on his way to town, but now he is the opposite: physically unable to see, but spiritually starting to see better than ever.

But Saul wasn’t the only one who had his plans interrupted that day.

[ 014-1 ]10 There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision,“Ananias.” “Here I am, Lord,” he replied. [ 014-2 ] 11 “Get up and go (He got the same message Saul did) to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him,“to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there. [ 014-3 ] 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so that he may regain his sight.” [ 014-4 ] 13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. [ 014-5 ] 14 And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

And the Lord hears Ananias and more or less replies, yeah, I know. Great argument there – I will not deduct any points. But, you don’t know the story I have written for this man. And neither does he. So,  [ 015-1 ] 15 … “Go, for this man is my chosen instrument to take my name to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites. [ 015-2 ]16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Now here's where our humanity kicks in. We look at verse 16 and think “good! Make him suffer!”  I think of movies like Double Jeopardy. The Count of Monte Cristo. The TV show Prison Break, where they finally catch up to the villain, and instead of taking them out, they say death is too easy for you – I want you watch you suffer like you’ve made me suffer. 

Is that what Jesus is saying? You persecuted me, and oh boy, I’m going to make you suffer. Humanly speaking, that’s often what we’d like to see, isn’t it? Payback. What goes around comes around, Saul. But what God is calling him to right here is that the very name that Saul hated and intended to destroy is now going to be the very name he gives his life for; a name he will be honored to be persecuted for. 

So, Ananias obeys the Lord. [ 016-1 ] 17 Ananias went and entered the house. He placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, [ 016-2 ] who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” [ 016-3 ] 18 At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. [ 016-4 ] 19 And after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some time. [ 017 ] [20] Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: “He is the Son of God.”

The very Jesus that Saul had been persecuting now lives inside of him! The very Jesus that could have taken Saul out on that road, has now given him the right to refer to God as “Father” – seated Saul in the heavenly places with Christ, and every sin has been washed away in the blood of the lamb! This is the scandal of grace! Maybe you look at this story and think it can’t be that easy. Not for someone who has done what Saul has done. You can’t just flip a switch and a guy with that kind of past is suddenly in the family of God without doing anything. And yet that’s what grace is! Grace doesn’t look for bad people and then makes them good “if and when” they do what they should. 

Grace finds dead people and brings them to life. It’s scandalous! 

Saul’s story here is the most famous conversion in the whole Bible, but every one of us can find our own story in his. You may have grown up in the church, like Saul did. You knew all the answers to the Bible trivia. You memorized the books of the Bible, knew scripture inside and out, and stayed away from all the major sins – didn’t get involved with the people who made a habit of sinning. 

Now those things are all awesome! To be raised in the church is a beautiful, beautiful thing! Saul is proof that religious activity, religious passion and dedication in itself is powerless to save anyone. Saul wrote later in scripture that he had all the religious pedigree you could ever want. Part of the chosen nation. A purebred Hebrew, so to speak. A strict teacher of the Law of Moses, zealous to protect the traditions of Judaism, and absolutely perfectionist when it came to following the Law. If the law could save you, Saul was IN. No question. But, Saul would go on to say all of that is garbage compared to knowing Christ. None of it counted as a credit to his account. [ 018-1 ] Saul’s story shows us you can never be so religious that you don’t need to be transformed by Jesus. 

But Saul, in his own words, was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. He pursued, arrested, and dragged Christians out of their homes in the name of Yawheh in order to send them to prison and destroy the church of Jesus! Some of you can identify with that part of Saul’s story. Maybe not literally, but you grew up as far from God as you could be. You carried out whatever desire your body wanted, whatever your mind wanted, whatever your emotions wanted. You followed whatever came naturally to you and were arrogant enough to think that God would never intervene in your story, or hold you accountable for your actions. [ 018-2 ] But Saul’s story also proves that you can never be so lost that even Jesus can’t find you or pursue you

The good news of Jesus says [ 019 ] there is a But God in our story too! But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love that he had for us (not because of the great love we had for him) , MADE US ALIVE TOGETHER WITH CHRIST even though we were dead in our trespasses. YOU ARE SAVED BY GRACE! 

  1. Jesus lived a perfect life so that you don’t have to be afraid of making one too many  mistakes and bam you’re out of the family. He lived a perfect life so you don’t have to wonder if you’ll ever be good enough for God to accept you. You don’t have to wonder if you’ve done so much wrong that God says, uh, nah, just forget that one. If you are joined to Christ by faith, then his perfection is applied to your deadness! 
  2. And at the cross, your deadness was applied to his perfection!! Jesus endured the wrath of God that you and I deserved. He took on all of our sin debt that we owed to the Father, and he wrote the check for it with his abundant righteousness through his own blood. 
  3. And on the third day, God raised him from the dead to prove that there was enough perfection and righteousness in Jesus’ account to clear every. single. Sin. Past. Present. Future. for everyone who would call on his name for salvation! 
    1. Church, the cross worked! Our greatest needs have been met in Christ!
    2. And then God welcomed Jesus back to the heavens where he sits at the right hand of God the Father, and he fills new believers with his very own Holy Spirit, which is the downpayment of what’s coming for those who believe!  

We are saved by grace! You didn’t do anything to earn that grace, and you don’t have to do anything to keep it. The God who rescued you by grace is the God who secures you by that same grace. We are saved by the mercy of God who comes looking for you long before you even think you need to look for him! 

And you have one of two responses to that truth today as we participate in the Lord’s Supper –  

[ 020-1 ] Who are you, Lord? If you don’t know the Lord Jesus yet, we are so glad you’re here! If you don’t know Jesus, just in your own mind, your own words, ask him to show you who he is. Maybe he’ll do it in a blinding light like he did for Saul or a vision like Ananias, but most commonly he’ll do it as you read his word and interact with other believers, like he did in Acts 8 last week. If you don’t know where to start, come find me or someone with a lanyard after we close and we’ll point you in the right direction. 

  1. But if you have not trusted Christ yet, and you’re not ready to do that today, when the folks bring the bread and cup to you here in a minute, we just ask that you don’t participate in this part. 
  2. That’s not meant to single you out or embarrass you, it’s just that this small meal is a significant moment for those who have trusted Christ, where we once again marvel at our Saviors’ body broken for us, his blood poured out so that our sins would be forgiven….where our lostness was applied to him, and his “found-ness” was applied to us, not by anything we’ve done to earn it but by his grace. So if that’s not you right now, just pass the elements on by, and pray that first prayer on the screen. 

Some of you have already met Jesus one way or another, and you’ve been walking with him for a month, a year, 25 years, 50 years. [ 020-2 ]And for you, the prayer simply is to say Here I am, Lord. Where do you want me to go? What do you want me to say? What do you want me to do? Please fill me with the courage I need. Help me to trust your Spirit’s leading like Ananias did. 

If you’re a guest with us today, and you have been united to Christ – you’ve trusted his life, his death, his resurrection as your only hope to be washed of your sin and reborn into his family, then you are welcome to participate today whether or not River City is your home church. Parents with young children – if that is also true of them, that they have made a credible profession of faith, and you’ve seen evidence of a change in them… they are also welcome to participate, that is on you. 

But if they have not, or you’re here today and you have not yet trusted Christ, again, we’re glad you’re here, but we encourage you to just pass the bread and cup on by.



  1. David Brown, A. R. Fausset, and Robert Jamieson, A Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical, on the Old and New Testaments: Acts–Revelation, (London; Glasgow: William Collins, Sons, & Company, Limited, n.d.), VI:56.
  2. Bock, Darrell L., Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), p. 354

All Scripture quoted from Christian Standard Bible, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020)