How Saul Met the Father

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. As he was traveling, it happened that 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 are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 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.

Acts 9:1-9

The story of Saul’s conversion from persecutor of the Christian faith and somebody who wanted to see the movement of The Way wiped out to one of the greatest evangelists of the Christian faith in human history. The originally and true “come to Jesus” moment. Isn’t it funny that that term has become so flipped on it’s head. When we think of ‘come to Jesus’ moments, they’re typically difficult moments of confrontation that we hope will change the course of a relationship, right? It’s said with some fear and dread instead of awe and wonder. For me, a true come to Jesus moment reminds me of one that my own father had.

I was born a Texan and my entire family are Texans, but my dad’s job caused us to move out of the state when I was very young and we moved around a lot in the early years of my life. We started in Dallas and then moved to Iowa. From Iowa we moved to Mobile, Alabama and after a short period of time we found ourselves in the Garden State – New Jersey. Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking and yes, most of that is true, but we lived in the prettier part of Jersey. Not Newark and the giant parking lot/New York City dumpster that is the Northern part of that state, but the southern part of the state where there are nice suburbs and greener pastures. We lived closer to Philadelphia and I have great memories of going and seeing the history of Philly and attending baseball games. Never an Eagles game though. My dad was much too loyal a Cowboys fan to stand for that kind of blasphemy. But, I actually loved living in New Jersey. After a few years in Burlington, my dad was offered a position back in Marshalltown, Iowa again and I think he was a little torn on it. He was a little torn because I was happy at school and in my life, we had a good church we belonged to, and we had a nice little life even if it was far away from home in Texas. The other part of it was that he had promised my mom when they moved away from Dallas that it would only be for a short amount of time. I think he had hoped that the next time they moved, it would be back home to Texas. Finally, he had the opportunity itself. An opportunity to run the largest manufacturing plant that Fisher Controls had in North America and in the same town as the corporate headquarters itself. It was a big opportunity for our family and so he found himself at the crossroads of all of these different factors into the decision. I think it was hard. It was stressful and no matter the decision he made, there was going to be a sacrifice somewhere else. Doing what he always does, he needed to talk to my mom about it and make a decision together because they have always been a team. So, he picked up the phone and called the house and instead of my mom picking up the phone it was me. I picked up the phone and I said, “Yo, hello?”…. And in that moment my dad’s decision was solidified, because he may have moved his family away from Texas and made sacrifices to live further from home, but he darn well wasn’t going to raise kid who was starting to sound like an extra on one of the episodes of the Sopranos.

I joke a little bit here – not the story, that is all factually correct as told – but in equivocating that moment or any of the moments we call ‘come to Jesus’ moments as true come to Jesus moments. Those beautiful moments where Jesus pierces our heart in the same way that he was pierced for our sins and we are left with this beautiful mark on our souls.

In Paul’s case, his experience on the road to Damascus is incredible and the incredible number of things Jesus does here in this moment are so vast that one sermon is really difficult to capture it in, but I’m going to do my best and I promise I’ll still try to leave some time for communion at the end of service.

To truly understand this moments, like all moments this big, you have to have a true understand of who Saul was. Saul was a Pharisee. He was born and raised in Tarsus which was a hub of education, philosophy, art, and politics of the day. Debate and scholarship were held in high regard and so the pharisees that came from that region were zealous in their beliefs because they had to defend them so aggressively. And, the Pharisee’s were far on the legalistic end of the spectrum. You had the Sadducees on one end of the Jewish belief at the time who wanted to adopt Hellenism and take a more secular approach to their faith, and on the other end you had the Pharisees. The Pharisees looked at the written and oral traditions of the Torah and determined that the reason that the new Kingdom had not been established and the Gentiles had not been defeated was because the Jewish people had not held up their end of the bargain. They had not obeyed the law and in doing so, they were preventing Heaven from coming anew. This would continue until all of Israel gave into the law and followed it with strict adherence to the Levitical law of David. Saul was a Pharisee from an ancestry of Pharisees and you now get this picture of why this movement being called The Way at the time was such a danger to their beliefs. Not only were people not following their interpretation of the law, but they were now idolizing this man – Jesus Christ – who called himself the son of YHWH and was speaking blasphemous things in their eyes. They had to squash it out with reckless abandon and Saul was one of the best and most faithful. He persecuted the followers of Christ and he was one of the main antagonists that led the martyring of Stephen in Jerusalem. That martyring scattered the apostles into the regions around Jerusalem and that’s where we meet Saul on the road in this moment.

And this moment is probably one of the most important moments, if not the most important moment, in post-resurrection Christian faith. In this moment we get to see the true power of the Holy Spirit. The justifying flames of the Holy Spirit and the act of one dying unto themselves so they can be born anew in Christ. Christ surrounded Saul in a blinding white light. He took away all of his senses and made his voice, his presence, and himself the only thing that Saul could comprehend.

And first he asks Saul a question. He asks him a question of repentance. He says, “Saul, Saul… Why do you persecute me?” It’s a question of repentance because in acknowledging the question, Saul is coming to the understanding that whatever has done this thing and whoever is speaking to him now is Lord and in calling him Lord, he knows that he has been on the wrong side of his salvation. But, he immediately jumps to that acknowledgement of “Lord”.

In that acknowledgement of Lord, we see 3 things happen:

1) Repentance and acceptance of who this is talking to him. He asks Jesus to confirm who he is and Saul never asks another question. He follows the commands of his Lord and he knows exactly what he has done. He knows that this Lord had the ability, opportunity, and reason to destroy him in that moment that he met him on the road to Damascus, and instead he spoke to him and gave him guidance and instruction. He offered him grace where Saul would have never offered somebody so much as forgiveness or even mercy if the role was reversed. He knew God to be an almighty, vengeful God who would destroy him for his sins. Yet here he was, defenseless on a road in the desert in front of his sworn enemy. On his knees, blind, and defeated and Jesus offers him grace. He doesn’t just forgive him for his sins or absolve him of his sentencing. He shows him love with his vary presence. He gives him guidance and instruction, and he reveals inside of him the living presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

2) Humility. Paul was a strong personality and he knew he was right. He knew God’s law intimately and he lived an incredibly righteous life by all accounts. He was earning his way into heaven in big ways and he was doing what he felt he needed to do to win this world for God. How often do we let our pride get in the way of God’s way? How often do we bend God to fit our mold of who we need him to be? How often do we mistake the words ‘thy will’ for ‘my will’ in our hearts?

Paul was no different, and Jesus sat him down on a road, took away all that he had, all that he knew to be true, and all that he believed and left him there listening to Jesus’s voice and knowing that he, Saul, was not the answer to how the kingdom was going to come. Jesus was the answer. Jesus is the answer. Saul learned to take a back seat and allow Jesus to take charge. He let the victor have his victory. He allowed Jesus to be magnified in his heart and occupy the space that he himself once claimed.

3) Finally, we see Saul meet the Father. We see Saul come to know his Father in all 3 parts – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We see a grace-filled-awe-swept transformation of Saul into Paul. It’s beautiful because we don’t just get to see him in this moment as the climax of his story, but just the beginning of the works he would go on to do. And he would go on to do some incredible works. He would be the spark that created the conversion for most of our ancestors, because meeting the Father isn’t something you should be quiet about.

It’s like eating the best thing that you’ve never had before. Let that sink in for a second and I’ll help it make sense. It’s like the best thing that you’ve never had before because if you’ve never had… a perfectly cooked Texas-ranch raised ribeye before, you don’t know how much you would want one. You don’t know how good it is, so you’ve never walked around saying, “Man, I really wish I had a ribeye, I bet they taste amazing!” But, once you’ve had it. Once you’ve had that perfect bite – and you can picture here whatever it is that makes your stomach flip – you cant wait for the next time you have it. Not only that, but you go around telling everybody, “I had the best steak at Payton’s house the other night! It was incredible. It was rich and flavorful and the sear was perfect and he made this horseradish sauce…” Once Saul had that beautiful flavor of Christ’s love in his heart, he never wanted to shut up about it. He never wanted to shut up about it and he spent the rest of his life doing whatever he could to grow as close to that flavor as possible.

Saul’s conversion is so deep and rich in its lessons and assurances for us, and I think it can be personal for each of us in different ways depending on what Jesus means for each of us individually. But today, I want it to be a reassurance for some of us. A reassurance because I know that as I’ve been telling these “How I Met the Father” stories that some of you have wondered if you’ve ever really met the father? You’re asking yourself if you have had that conversion moment in your life or if you just believe out of a fear of death or if you just are trying to earn your way into heaven. I want you to hear this. If you’re desiring that flavor of God. If you feel yourself longing for him in your life and wanting to feel him more and more, then you’ve met the father. You’re soul has tasted that wonderful flavor of the Holy Spirit, and like Paul, we should endeavor for the rest of our lives to try and get as much of that flavor and share as much of that wonderful flavor as possible.

Let’s Pray.

About Pastor Payton

Payton splits his time and calling as the Head Pastor at New Hope Methodist Church and Macedonia Methodist Church in Waller, TX. Both churches are members of the Global Methodist Church denomination, and Payton is currently working towards his ordination as a Deacon in the GMC.

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