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The Pursuer Becomes the Pursued

March 3, 2024

The Pursuer Becomes the Pursued

Passage: Acts 9:17-31
Service Type:


The Pursuer Becomes Pursued

Rodney Gehman – March 3, 2024 – Acts 9:21-31


[ 001 ] If you’re a guest with us today, we’re going through the book of Acts verse by verse, chapter by chapter, with the goal of learning what Jesus continues to do and say in and through the newly formed Spirit-empowered Church as they proclaim in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and then to the end of the earth, what they have seen and heard from Jesus with regard to the kingdom of God. 

In Acts 1:8 these new disciples are told by Jesus that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on them, and this power has a purpose. That purpose is to be witnesses for Jesus locally, regionally, and then to the end of the earth.   

[ 003 ] So here’s a little recap of where we were at last week – Saul, lead persecutor of the Christians, those who believe Jesus is the Messiah – is on his way to a city called Damascus to arrest and round up Christians, and oversee them being beaten and imprisoned, perhaps even exiled. And what we saw last week is that Saul was almost to the city with his posse when a bright light in the middle of the day knocked him off his feet, and a voice came from the light saying “I am Jesus – why are you persecuting me?” 


Saul and the Lord have a short conversation, and when Saul stands up – his eyesight is gone. The Lord told him to go into town, and he ended up at the house of a guy named Judas (not the same one that betrayed Jesus, obviously). Meanwhile, the Lord also appeared to a guy named Ananias in a vision, and told him about Saul. Told him to go, pray for Saul, and that when you do, Saul will get his eyesight back and be filled with the Holy Spirit. 


Now Ananias is a Christian; he’s a disciple of the Lord. Which means, he was the target of Saul’s persecution. If I’m Ananias, I’m thinking, Lord, can we just let Saul be blind for a while? I know what he came here to do, and I’d be okay if he couldn’t see me. Ever. Lord this one of your commands that I’m just not all that excited to do. 


But the Lord doesn’t always call us to follow him where it’s easy, does he. He doesn’t always call us to follow him where it makes perfect sense. [ 004 ] But Ananias seemed to understand that there is no such thing as faith without obedience. It doesn’t exist. You can wear the tshirt that says Faith over fear, and that’s great. You can stencil paint “Faith” on your living room wall. You can say faith is your number one priority in life, but if God never has access to your life, where you will believe in him as long as he doesn’t ask you to do something uncomfortable with, then you don’t really have faith. It’s just a Christian word that makes you feel good, but it’s not real. 


Now, we all have those times where we let pride or fear get in the way, and we sin against God by disobeying. I’m not saying if you have faith you’ll always get it right. But if your faith is real, obedience is not optional.


Ananias demonstrates his faith by being obedient even when it wasn’t comfortable. [17] Ananias went and entered the house. He placed his hands on [the very person who came to drag him out of the city] and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, 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." [18] At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. [19] And after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some time. [20] Immediately he began proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: "He is the Son of God." 


So that’s where we landed last week – the lead persecuter of the church is now proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God. As you might imagine, that ruffled a few feathers for the Jews who lived there. These synagogues weren’t churches per se, but they are Jewish houses of worship. Saul came to Damascus with the plan of going to these Jewish synagogues asking for the name and address of all the Jesus followers… but now he’s walking in, preaching Jesus instead! And the Jews in those synagogues are like, WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW? [ 005 - 1 ] [21] Isn't this the man in Jerusalem who was causing havoc for those who called on this name [ 005 - 2 ] and came here for the purpose of taking them as prisoners to the chief priests?" 


Why is he now proclaiming the very name he spent so much time and energy preaching against!? Saul would have spent a lot of time studying the scriptures so that he could preach against Jesus. Saul was as religious as you can be. He had the Scriptures memorized. He already knew all the facts about sacrifices and the law and blood and Passover and prophecy about the coming Messiah – he knew all of it already.


But now that he had seen the risen Christ, he finally had the missing piece that pulled everything together! Up to this point, he had everything BUT Jesus. But now that Saul has met the resurrected Savior face to face, he is starting to see how all the scriptures he’d ever taught were pointing to Jesus all along. And the more he studied, the more…  


[ 005 - 3 ] [22]...Saul grew stronger and kept confounding the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. 


He kept growing stronger in his knowledge of how Jesus fulfills the law, and how Jesus is the Messiah; the suffering servant, who carried our sins and our sorrows. God took Saul’s past life of studying the scriptures for the wrong reasons, saved him by grace, and now Saul’s past is redeemed – used for good, and a very important part of his understanding of the gospel. As a result, Saul argues more and more effectively, preaching Jesus and arguing that he is the Messiah. 


Jesus can redeem your past, no matter how messed up it looks in the rear view mirror, and make it part of his grace to you. 


Saul’s past actually made the gospel very clear, he argued persuasively for Jesus as the Messiah, And that didn’t go over well, because, [ 006 - 1 ]  [23] After many days had passed, the Jews conspired to kill him… It appears the Jews got tired of being confounded! They got tired of being proved wrong, so they tried to kill Saul. [ 006 - 2 ] Try started watching him day and night, verse 24 says, and were looking for a way to just “mysteriously” have Saul’s body turn up in the middle of the night. 


[ 006 - 3 ] [25] but his disciples took him by night and lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the wall. And he heads for Jerusalem. Galatians 1 tells us that somewhere between Saul’s conversion story, and this overnight escape in a basket, three years have gone by.  So as Saul heads back to Jerusalem now, the very city where he had led the charge on persecuting followers of Jesus, I wonder if he’s hoping that time has healed old wounds. 


[ 006 - 4 ] [26] When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. 


This makes a lot of sense, though, doesn’t it? It’s been three years since Saul was dragging people out of homes here in Jerusalem, and now he shows up again, and this time he’s saying, “I’m on your team now!” And the disciples are like, yeah, whatever! You hauled off my parents. You hauled off my friends. You ransacked our house! They took my dad to Rome where I’ll never see him again, because of you. So forgive me when you ask if you can join our small group and I say NOPE. 


You would think the new converts in Damascus would have sent word to the church in Jerusalem that Saul was on their team now, and maybe they did. But Saul’s past has followed him all 135 miles back to Jerusalem and the disciples are afraid.  


I’m guessing there are some of you in this gathering this morning who know what it means to say your past follows you everywhere you go. Maybe it’s something physical – an injury, or health concern. Maybe for others it’s emotional or mental or some relationship you can’t get away from – maybe, like Saul, it’s just an old reputation. People knew you in high school or college or at your first job or whatever, and might even say about you, there is no way she’s a Christian today. You gotta be kidding me. 


Last week, we talked about how it’s not about how bad we were in the past – all of us start at the same place: dead in our sins. There are no levels of deadness. We were all born hopeless and separated from God in our sins. But people act out that deadness in a lot of different ways, some way worse than others. And for those of you where that was your story – where you ran away from godliness as far as you could go and have a past full of regrets, let me give you some good news. 


Saul himself wrote in 1 Corinthians 6. [ 007 - 1 ] He says, “don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, males who have sex with males, [ 007 - 2 ] no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.” Maybe your past includes some of those things. And the enemy points out the verse and says, see – you’re not getting in. You’re on the outside looking in. I wouldn’t welcome you into my small group either. 


But look at the next verse. [ 007 - 3 ] Verse 11 and some of you used to be like this. That is who you “used” to be. But you were washed of those things, you were sanctified meaning you were set apart and counted as holy, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God meaning legally, in the courtroom of heaven, none of those sins that should have kept you out of the kingdom of God will ever be counted as evidence against you. Never. Your past definitely has an affect on who you are today, but it does not define you moving forward. The Triune God of grace who saved you, washed you, set you apart, and cleared your record of sin with the blood of Jesus defines you. 


So you know how Saul handled his past? He talked about it often. As we go through the rest of Acts, and even into the New Testament letters, you’ll see Saul saying, I held the coats while they murdered Stephen and I approved of it. I dragged Christians out of their homes and ravaged the church. He’ll say, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I’m the President of the sinners. I’m the chief sinner of the whole bunch. But God called me by his grace, I have been crucified with Christ. I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me! (Gal 2:20)


  1. If you’re a new believer and you have a past you’re not proud of, that’s true of you too! You have been washed, sanctified, and justified through Christ. You have full access to the Father. You have the right to be a child of God, through Christ. You don’t have to hide from your past or hide behind it. You are loved by God, approved by him no matter what you’ve done, because Jesus paid your sin tab. 
  2. But now on the disciples' side, We as a church have to be careful that we are not like the disciples in Jerusalem, who act as if God can’t change a sinner. We have to admit that sometimes we forget that WE were saved by grace too, and too often those disciples in Jerusalem speak for all of us. I read a quote this week that said churches are like mountains – they are beautiful, but they can kill you in 20 different ways. And church hurt is often some of the deepest kind.
    1. So if that’s you – where you’ve experienced rejection from a church… I’m really sorry. Thank you for even showing up here today. John’s gospel says in chapter 1 that Jesus came into the world, to the very people he created, and yet his own people did not receive him. Know that Jesus sees you, he knows, and he is right in the mess with you.
    2. Secondly, We as disciples of Jesus have to be on guard against our own judgmental criticisms and pride, and open our arms to people who have stories they aren’t proud of – no matter what we may have heard, or how they may have hurt us. 
    3. Now, please hear me on this – in matters of abuse, this is not a “forgive and forget” kind of approach. That is not what I am advocating for today. There are very real situations in the church where wisdom needs to be applied and distance and separation are necessary, or extra caution and care is necessary. So, this isn’t forgive and forget all across the board. But generally speaking, we need to be on guard against our own judgmental pride, and instead move toward people in love. 


And here’s what that looked like for Saul: the disciples were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple. [ 008 - 1 ] [27] Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road [ 008 - 2 ] and that the Lord had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 


If you flip back to Acts 4 you find that Barnabas is this guy’s nickname. [ 009 ]  Joseph is his real name. but they call him Barnabas because that name means “Son of encouragement.”

Saul was coming back to the city he had ravaged three years ago, and tried to join the very people he hurt. No one would give him the time of day, until he ran into Barnabas and his unexpected grace. “Yeah dude, come on in! Man, I’ve heard you’re a follower of Jesus now – welcome to the family, brother! Can’t wait to get to know you better! Tell me your story – you say it was on the road to Damascus – tell me about the light. Did the guys with you see the light? Yeah? But didn’t hear the voice? No way. How was it being unable to see for three days? That freak you out a little? Tell me about Ananias praying for you – that had to be incredible, huh? You know what… I’ll take you to meet some of the guys, and tell them your story. They’re going to love this.”


Romans 12 lists several spiritual gifts, and one of them is exhortation or encouragement. [ 010 ] The original language for this uses the word “paraklésis” which means “to call to one’s side.” The idea of, get over here, come with me, let me help you get whatever you need. Barnabas “took Saul”, meaning he “took him under his wing,” and brought him to the brothers. 


I love that. Saul is probably kind of bummed out because these people are supposed to be his new family and his past keeps getting in the way – until he met Barnabas the encourager who took him under his wing, showed him around, and believed his story of conversion. That is a unique gift of the Holy Spirit that is an important part of the church. 


Some of you here in this room have that gift. You always think the best about the people you’re with; you give people the benefit of the doubt. You take a chance on people that others have pushed away. You have compassion for others, sympathy, understanding, etc and you’re always looking for ways to build people up and walk with them along the way, or connect them to other people who can care for them. I want to encourage you to step into that in the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t be shy about it. We need you all more than ever these days. 


Again Galatians 1 gives us a little more information that the apostles Barnabas introduced Saul to were Peter and James. And apparently, they believed his story, and welcomed him as a brother in Christ, because…


[ 011-1 ] [28] Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. And guess where he wants to start? Guess who he wants to take the good news of Jesus to first? [29] He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews – These are some of his old buddies. He’s back in his old stomping grounds, back with some of the same guys who ganged up on Stephen and stoned him to death. Saul goes right to them, and starts debating them. [ 011-2 ] But that didn’t go over so well either, and once again, they tried to kill him. [30] When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 


Where he will stay until chapter 11 when Barnabas will go back to catch up with him again. 




[ 012 ] Listen, the reason River City Church exists is because there are a lot of people like Saul in our world, in our communities today. Like Saul did, they have gifts, intellect, character, personality, energy, drive, and courage. Like Saul they are sincere in their efforts, but they are sincerely mistaken. They are spending their lives traveling away from God’s presence (Jerusalem) instead of toward it. You might be sitting here this morning and instead of thinking of someone at work, or school, or in your family – you would have to admit that it’s you. You’re still on the road moving away from the presence of God. 


Maybe you’re running away in stubborn fanatical rejection of Jesus, maybe simply in ignorance or apathy. And today I hope you hear that God is a God of mercy and grace to anyone who will meet you right where you are on the road. Don’t worry about cleaning yourself up – he’ll take care of that. Don’t worry about having an answer for every question – he’ll take care of that. He paid the bill for your sin debt already there on the cross. He rose again, he’s been interceding for you, and right this moment he is ready to fill you with his Spirit. Just call out to him in repentance, and let him transform your heart by his grace. 


And maybe what we in the church need is to repent of our lack of faith, where we look at someone like Saul as he ravages the church, or popular leaders, actors, government officials, musicians, public figures, athletes, or classmates, coworkers, etc, and we say, “no way he/she will ever come to Christ.” 


Maybe what we need is to ask the Lord for more imagination and expectation, where we start to picture them being saved and what an incredible testimony to Jesus that would be, which will lead us to pray for them. If we’re going to be the church Jesus has established here on this earth – if we’re going to be the kind of church here in Riverside that Jesus has called us to be, we must have a faith that is obedient to Christ.


It starts with us being like Ananias who simply say Here I am, Lord! However you want to use me, I want to be available – even if that means it’s uncomfortable or even risky. The Lord may already be starting to give some of you the courage to go into hard places to do hard things. Some of you are right now being called to something that’s outside of what you’re comfortable with. That might mean leaving this church to start a new one in a new city. For some of you, that might mean you fill out the paperwork to adopt a child. Maybe it means changing jobs, or even joining a missions team to go somewhere else in the world. Joshua 1:8 – haven’t I commanded you – be strong and courageous, why? Because I am with you wherever you go. Jesus himself was surrendered to the Father’s will, even when his “here I am, Lord” meant going through the cross. 


Others of you aren’t the ones who go – Like Barnabas,       you’re the ones who welcome. For us to be the church Jesus invites us to be, he has already given some of you the gift of encouragement. Matthew 25 says that when we welcome the stranger, the poor, the vulnerable – we are actually welcoming Jesus. 


Others of you, God is maturing into Philip’s, like we saw in chapter 8, who have the gift of teaching, expounding God’s word to people so they can understand it. 


But in the end, as we all step out in obedience as the Lord leads us, stepping out in the unique gifts the Spirit has given us, we’ll be a church like verse 31 that has peace amongst ourselves, where we are being strengthened and built up to see Jesus in all of scripture, strengthened in our ability to proclaim the good news of Jesus with boldness, and         encouraged by the Holy Spirit as we live in such a way as to bring honor and glory to Jesus in all things.  



  1. Praise Jesus for his grace! Thank him for saving people like Saul, people like yourself. 
  2. Confess – we haven't always been welcoming, bold, obedient. Have mercy on us. 
  3. Spirit, strengthen us for the work of this week. The conversations, the interactions, response to difficult things… strengthen us, encourage us, fill us with boldness.