Over the past four weeks, we’ve been talking about obstacles. They’re challenging and difficult to maneuver. They cause us to slow down and at times they’ll make you want to give up and just throw in the towel or not even try at all. And sometimes obstacles keep us from drawing near to God.
In other words, there are valid reasons that some of us keep God at arms-length. There are questions or experiences you’ve had with the church, that you just can’t get past. And I’ve tried not to discount the importance of your questions or your bad experiences, but the truth is . . .
When it comes to Christianity, most of those who have chosen to follow Jesus did not do so because every question they had was answered but because something happened that made it very personal and the reality of Christianity became so undeniable that they were willing to carry with them into that relationship some things that they would admit are absolutely unexplainable.
But as we wrap up this series, I want us to consider two questions I think we should wrestle with; Who is and what happened? If you are willing to wrestle those two questions to the ground, it’ll put all your other questions into a completely different context.
What happened? The reason this is important is because, unlike all other religions, Christianity is not grounded in philosophy, or a world view, or morality (although it’s easy to believe that it is). The foundational truth of Christianity is based on something that happened in history. There are events that started this whole ball rolling and we’re going to look at one in just a minute.
The second question is the preeminent question. This is the one that trumps all the other questions. Who is Jesus?
These are the questions that make it personal.
Today, we’re going to look at story that you should be familiar with. It takes place a few months after Jesus was crucified. Rome and the Jewish people who were a part of his crucifixion thought, “We finally got rid of this wannabe Messiah, Game over”.
But instead of things getting back to normal, a group of Jewish people kept talking about Jesus. Not about theology, or philosophy, or morality, but about an event; the resurrection of Jesus.
And within a few weeks, there was this explosion of interest and thousands of Jewish people began to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah all because of this group of people said something happened, “Jesus rose from the dead and we saw it.”
Now, this first group of believers were not called Christians. These were just Jewish people and for them, Jesus was an extension of everything they believed and so they would hang out at the temple, drinking coffee and talking about Jesus.
One of the people talking about Jesus was a guy named Stephen. He spoke boldly about his faith in such a way that if anyone challenged him, they just looked foolish. So, the religious guys had him arrested.
They paid people to say things about Stephen that weren’t true and at the end of their charges, Stephen gives a defense, and his defense takes his Jewish audience from the Old Testament all the way through current times to explain that Jesus is in fact, the Messiah.
Well, it doesn’t go over well. They dragged him outside the city and stoned him to death. And in this moment in history, we are introduced to a guy who becomes a household name.
He is in charge of watching over the coats that people had taken off to make is easier to throw rocks. And as he’s watching Stephen being stoned, he’s going “Rock on! This guy needs to be put to death because we’ve got to shut down this movement. This cult. This parasite to Judaism.”
We’ll pick up our text from here: READ ACTS 9:1-18.
Saul is the guy who we know of as Paul and would eventually make the biggest impact in this movement but here, Saul had a difference mission; to put an end to this movement once and for all.
For three years, he was a one-man wrecking machine going from house to house arresting, torturing, and killing Christians.
But as he persecuted the church, the church continued to spread. Basically, he would kick over the anthill, and the ants would scatter
After three years of kicking over anthills, he decides to take it to the next level and goes to the high priest to get official paperwork giving him authority to continue his mission in Damascus. I guess he wants to be given a badge he can flash as he continues his work of ending this movement.
As he’s on his way to Damascus, a light from heaven flashed around him and he fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Let’s pause here . . . Shouldn’t the voice be saying, Saul why do you persecute the church? Why are you arresting, torturing, and killing those people, those pastors, and those leaders?
Saul was probably thinking the same thing as he asks, “Who are you?” The answer to this question trumps all the other answers to all the other questions you may ever ask in your life.
The voice replied, “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting”.
This is important because what Jesus has just said to Paul is what you do to my people, you do to me.
In other words, this isn’t about philosophy, ideology, morality, or even an extension of Judaism. The battle isn’t between you and ideas, it’s between you and Jesus because this is personal.
The story continues . . . Saul realizes that he’s been blinded by the light, so Jesus tells him to go to the city of Damascus and wait.
Later, in the book of Acts, he tells this story again, but he gives another detail. He says, “We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying, ‘Saul why do you persecute me? - here’s the added detail – It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’”
Now there’s a word we don’t use, but a goad was a long stick that people would use to poke animals to get them to move. And it was futile to resist a goad because they would keep getting goaded and goaded and goaded until they finally moved.
And so, in this moment, God said, “Listen, Saul, it’s pointless to resist me. You can track down my people. You can torture and kill them but, in the end, I am going to win.”
Meanwhile, there’s another guy in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision and told him to go find Saul. Ananias is thinking, “Um, I’m pretty sure he’s looking for me, so he can arrest, torture and eventually kill me, so I’m not so sure it’s a good idea for me to be looking for him.”
This is where the story gets really-rich.
The Lord said, “Go, this man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles.”
This was not only a Jewish message. This was not something just for those who grew under Jewish law and were looking for a Messiah. This was for the entire world. And God chooses the most unlikely candidate to be the mouthpiece of the gospel to the Gentiles.
So, Ananias agrees, and he goes and finds Saul and he lays his hands on him and something like scales fell off his eyes, and he was able to see again, and immediately he got up and was baptized.
Now wait a minute Saul, you are going a bit too fast. Don’t you have some questions that need to be answered first? I mean, you can’t go from, “I’m going to kill them” to “I want to be one” without getting some questions answers. Don’t you need to work through those big obstacles before you just haul off and get baptized?
To which Saul would say, “No because those aren’t obstacles any longer. I still don’t know the answers to all my questions, and I may never get them but I’m telling you what happened on the road to Damascus made this really personal for me and now, I’m all in.”
Then, for nearly 15 years Saul essentially disappears in order to get an education. He began to study and learn and spend time with Jesus’ followers - just to absorb all he could about the life and teachings of Jesus.
Then after this time of preparation, he launched out on what we term Paul’s missionary journeys. For the next ten or so years, he traveled throughout the known world, stopping in cities along the way and planting churches.
Meanwhile, the apostles are huddled together in Jerusalem just trying to get one church right. It’s as if he said to the apostles, “You guys take Jerusalem; I’ve got the rest of the world.”
And over and over, Paul would go into the Gentile regions and say, “Even if you are not Jewish, even if you’ve never read one word of the Old Testament, here’s the thing you have to understand. Here’s the take-away. Here’s the bottom line. Here’s the answer to the big question that trumps every other question you might have in life.”
In 1 Corinthians, he gives us the synopsis of this message, the takeaway, the bottom line, the thing you can’t ignore.
It’s four simple statements; Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised, and he appeared.
Sure, you may have a lot of questions and you don’t really understand scripture and sometimes it feels like the obstacles are too big to overcome, but Paul is saying, “Ok, I get it, it took me 15 years of studying but here’s the thing you just can’t ever lose sight of; Christ died for our sins, he was buried, he was raised, and he appeared.”
That’s it. That’s the answer to the most important question you can ask. That’s the gospel. That’s the thing you wrestle with.
If you want to wrestle with whether Christianity is true, don’t look at Christians who disappoint you, don’t attend a church that makes you feel guilty and doesn’t preach the gospel of grace, don’t get caught up in whether there were 7 literal days to creation or how Noah fit dinosaurs on the ark.
Paul says, all that stuff is a distraction. If you’re going to wrestle with Christianity, if you are going to wrestle with the truth of the gospel, wrestle with this one thing; Who is Jesus and What happened?
Did Christ die for your sins, was he buried, was he raised from the dead, and was he seen?
That’s the gospel. That’s the foundation. That’s what it’s all about. And that’s how you overcome your obstacles.