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Steve Mickel: The Worst of Sinners, Acts 9

May 8, 2023

Audio Recording

Saul’s conversion represents something that is almost unbelievable: not that a sinner can find grace, but that judgmental, religious minds can be transformed by an encounter with Jesus. Like Ananias, can we overcome disgust for the self-righteous and extend hope for them, too?

New Endings for Old Stories Sermon Series at Westside Church
New Endings for Old Stories
Steve Mickel: The Worst of Sinners, Acts 9
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Sermon Transcript:

:00 You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

00:06 We're in a series about the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit messes with us. He will not allow us to stay where we are, especially when we do not represent Jesus, who He does. If we're somehow just holding the racket just a little bit wrong or we just don't quite understand how to keep score, the Holy Spirit's gonna come alongside you as a Christ follower and say, you're not doing it right. I wanna do something in you. I want to adjust some paradigms, some mindsets that you have about this world, about God, about yourself. So the Holy Spirit comes in, and He, he's aim changer, he messes with us and so prepared to be messed with today. All right, so I'm gonna tell you four stories. We're gonna read quite a bit of scripture today in Acts chapter nine and 10. I'm gonna share four visions, consecutive visions that took place, one after the other that Luke, records in his, book, called The Book of Acts to help see some of the things that the Holy Spirit wants to do in us today.

01:11 And so I'm just gonna quickly kind of read through it, give you a little background information about each of the four, stories, and then we're gonna apply it today. Okay? Everybody ready? Here we go. Acts chapter nine verse one. First one is Saul. Saul. Saul. Some of you might know him as Paul. He was, he became Apostle Paul. He was, the leading evangelist of the non-Jewish world of the first century. God used him more than anyone else to reach the non-Jewish, world. And he ended up writing nine of the books, nine books of the New Testament. And he's considered just one of the stalwarts of our kind of faith, one of the founding fathers of our faith. And, and, and this first vision is with Saul. And it says, meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord's followers, .

02:00 He wasn't always a Christian . So he went to the high priest and he requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the way he found there. He wanted to bring them, both men and women back to Jerusalem in chains. As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shown down around him, and he fell to the ground and he heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Notice that Jesus is very personal to about who Saul is persecuting. He doesn't say, Saul, your, why are you persecuting my followers? He says, why are you persecuting me? And Saul asked, who are you Lord? And the voice replied, I am Jesus the one you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you'll be told what you must do.

02:59 This vision is so important in the narrative of Acts. It's repeated two more times in the Book of Acts where it's just reference back. Paul references back this moment, this kind of like a conversion moment, for Paul. And he's deeply religious. Did you catch that? Saul is deeply religious, so it's kind of funny when he responds to the vision, who are you? And he's probably quite shocked to find out that you, oh, you're the guy I've been persecuting, and you're God, the one that I've been following, he doesn't recognize him. Isn't that interesting that someone who given their life to this religion, and many, even many of his peers were, were, were following Jesus. And he, he was so like zealous for his religion that he missed this moment. And it makes you wonder how often our religious zeal keeps us from seeing Jesus.

04:11 All he's so religious that he did not believe it was possible that God's presence, would be with these new, this new movement, the way of Jesus. He just didn't think it was possible. Matter of fact, he thought that this group was, that they were misrepresenting God. And so he took it on himself to become God's emissary. he saw himself doing God's work, and then God knocks him off his horse and, and wrecks how he views the world. And he completely destroys Saul. I mean, at one moment, Saul's thinking this way, and then the next moment he's thinking this way because of an encounter through the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. All right, that's Sauls. Here's, let's keep going. So there's this guy named Ananias. Now, Ananias is hardly mentioned in scripture. He's only ever mentioned in the Book of Acts, and that's because he's part of this narrative, this vision of Saul.

05:05 That's the only reason that he's mentioned and included, we don't really know much about Anais except for the fact that he's the guy that God calls to talk to Saul. So let's look at Ananias. So verse 10, chapter nine. Now, there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision calling Ananias Yes Lord. He replied. So I guess he recognized him, right? And like Saul, the Lord, say, Lord said, go over to straight street to the house of Judas. And so, Damascus had this long, long, straight street running right down the middle. Guess what? It was called? . Straight street. super creative. And when you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. This is at the point where Anani, now his brain has engaged and he's starting to think I know that name.

05:55 He's God goes on. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named an Anais coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again, , Anais does not say yes Lord. He says, what? But Lord, , but wait, wait, wait, wait. I'm putting everything together here. You know, I'm, I'm okay. You're talking about this soul, right? He says, but Lord, explain to Anais, I've heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem, and he's authorized by the leading priest to arrest everyone who calls upon your name. He's coming here to arrest me. That's what Anai is thinking. He's like, this guy is not a good guy. This guy is an enemy to the way of Jesus. But the Lord said, go for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings as well as to the people of Israel.

06:49 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my namesake. And anai held onto that last sentence, really strong. Like, oh, good. Oh good, just if you're gonna use him, make him suffer. . So Anai went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him. Should say gently there, that's the tone. And said, brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Instantly, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Imagine what an and I is feeling when he gets this vision and he is starting to put two and two together. Have you ever had somebody come to the door that you really don't wanna talk to, and they knock on that door, they ring the doorbell, you kind of see through the window who it is, and you're like going, I'm not answering that.

07:37 And so you duck down or whatever you do, right? Is it, is it just me? Am I the only person that does that? Dave, don't tell me that. I know some of you do that. I'm so dysfunctional. I'm like, I'm not gonna open this door. But Anais, God actually calls him to go to this house where Saul's at, and he doesn't know which Saul he's gonna get. For sure. Am I gonna get the angry zealot, or am I gonna be the one that I, that supposedly has been transformed by you, Jesus, in a moment? I mean, which 1:00 AM I gonna get? he must have felt very uncertain about reaching out to this person.

08:20 So two things that I think the Holy Spirit does in these visions, and you can write these down if you're taking notes. Here's the first one, two common works of the Holy Spirit that we see in these four visions. The first is that the Holy Spirit often challenges old paradigms. And the second thing is, the Holy Spirit often illuminates new pathways. They go hand in hand. The Holy Spirit's going to confront some old paradigms to you today, but then he's also going to open up new pathways to live differently. So here's one of the old paradigms. You guys ready for this? Here we go, everybody take a deep breath. One of the old paradigms that I think the Holy Spirit confronts today from the narrative that we just read, is the idea that we need to fight for God.

09:06 So you can feel in this, in these narratives, the pull away from, a Jewish foundation of faith. You can feel like this way you're starting to welcome in this other group of people, and, and you don't have the same requirements for them as you have over here. It would be a tension point in the early church that would continue on where, like, don't they have to, they have to be circumcised if they're gonna be Christians. And Paul says, no, that's Jewish. It's not Christian. And it's just like this, this like con constant battle. And so what you see in the early church for decades is Jewish Christians trying to keep, like, trying to go back and fight for traditional values. A sense of like, this is who we are. This is who we've always been.

10:04 We can't let, we can't change. We've gotta protect, we gotta defend, we gotta fight back. But what happens, you guys, what happens often today is what happened here is that we end up fighting against what Jesus himself is trying to do. We end up fighting the wrong battles in the wrong ways. A common reaction in this day, by Jewish Christians, when they began to feel this tension rising, this pulling away towards Gentiles, was, a nationalism. So the Jewish faith is very nationalistic. So it's the, they believe the, the Israel is God's chosen people. And so there's this kind of, this sense of like, this nation is God's chosen nation. And so there's this kind of this, all of that wrapped up into this narrative. And so what you see is a retrenching back to what was once, what once was in order to control.

11:09 So when like Peter goes and tells a group of, of Christians, Jewish Christians, cuz all Christians back then before this kind of movement in Acts 10 were Jewish. And he tells them what's going on? You know, guess what kind of response he gets? His initial, the initial response when Peter shares this story is like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, we respect you, Pete, but man, that that's not right. man, you must have ate something non kosher to have that vision. You know what I'm saying? That's what they're thinking. But that's not, but that, but there's this tension because they have, like, they, they feel it and they're like, Peter, this can't be real. This vision that you had, there was so much fear that caused the Christians in that day, day to double down. Well, we are God's chosen people, and there are certain rules like circumcision that have to be followed. So they became more and more exclusive. And Paul, as he begins, his mystery becomes more and more inclusive. And you can just see how this begins to cause conflict in the early church, and it causes conflict today.

12:18 Some of us are so angry right now about where the world is going. You need Jesus to knock you down. There's no other way to say it. You need a fresh vision of the cru, of the crucified and resurrected Jesus coming to you and putting you on your back and saying, stop persecuting me. Your anger is getting in the way of what I'm trying to do. You're pushing people away from my gospel, not drawing them to it. We need to get off our high horses and meet Jesus again and open ourselves up to what he's doing in the world. But for those of you who feel it's your God-given calling to fight back against the culture, I am also convicted by Ananias who welcomed an angry religious man.

13:29 And you get well, he was angry. You know, he was angry before Jesus got ahold of him. But it's like Anani, Anais doesn't know that. He's not like, well, Paul's, I'm sure Paul's a sweet, sweet Christian fella now, you know, I'm gonna go see him and Z Oh, great, he had this conversion on the road to Damascus like three hours ago. I'm gonna go say hi to him. No. He's like, God, you're man. It's, it's a risk to go to Saul. And the first words out of his mouth are, brother, this one's hard for me because, if you look at it, sometimes people will think Saul more is more representative of a culture, a secular culture that's trying to stamp out Christianity, but that's not, Saul really represents a religious establishment that lost its way and, and, and is, and is is within the group, but fighting against what Jesus is doing. And that's, that's how I see Saul. and, and he reminds me of people in Christians, in our churches around, around Central Oregon and elsewhere who misrepresent Jesus, you know, hard line, fanatical, ultra nationalistic people. And I gotta be honest with you, I don't, I don't wanna forgive them. I certainly don't want to go knocking on their door. And they, they're, they're hurting people. But God doesn't need my anger either.

14:53 I need to be ready in my heart to go where God calls when he calls to people I don't agree with, with his love. So if he asks you to talk to someone, you gotta trust him and go talk to them and do it. Like Ananias who went to Brother Saul and laid his hands on him and prayed for him. You need to be, like Peter who went and, and, and was welcomed into this gentile home and ate with them and fellowshiped with them. And, and they were, they became family that day. God doesn't need any of us to fight for him, but to love with him. Everybody, okay? It's really quiet in here. second paradigm that I think we see that the Holy Spirit confronts in this narrative, and I think he wants to confront in us, is the idea that he only works in the religious establishment.

15:58 Do you notice a theme in this narrat, in these narratives that God seems to keep coming to the enemy? . I mean, he keeps like calling his people to reach those, to welcome those who are not part of the group. Saul, a religious zealot who's out to kill Christians, Cornelius, a Roman soldier. I mean, who does God think he is? Call in these people. So we inadvertently stand in the way sometimes rather than being part of a new pathway of what God is doing that's not unique to this moment. I don't know if any of you were alive during the Jesus people movement. I I was born in 1970, so I kind of missed it. But, but do you think the traditional church was happy about what was happening among the young people in the seventies? They had difficulty seeing how Jesus could be involved in that era. And, you know, with all the debauchery and sex and loose morals that were going on around then. And then Jesus shows up in that mess. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. He shows up in our churches where everybody's wearing a suit and tie, but the Holy Spirit does what he wants when he wants where he wants. And we, if we're not careful, could find ourselves fighting against the very move of God's spirit.

17:28 when we lived in Croatia, back in the, early two thousands, there was still quite a bit of animosity between the Protestants and the Catholics, and so we're Protestant. And so I worked in a church, and man, there was just no grace for the Catholics in Croatia. And there was no grace from the Catholics to the Protestants. They still considered Protestantism to be a, a, I was gonna say a fad, but that's not it. I'm looking for a cult. A cult. And so there was just this animosity. And then we moved to Zagreb, the capital city, and we start, and we, and I was just walking down this street one day, and I, and I heard, some young people talking about the baptism of the Holy Spirit speaking in tongues. God's doing a new thing. I mean, it was just this powerful, like, they were so excited. They were like, they were like overflowing with joy and just woo. They were just so excited. And, and so I stopped and did what's very unusual for me to do. I said, Hey, my name's Steve. I'm a missionary here, can I sit with you? And they just, they began to tell me their story. Guess what? Who they were charismatic Catholics, .

18:34 And I was like, Ooh, I can't wait to get back until my Christian friends, my Protestant friends, . I mean, there was this move of the Holy Spirit erupting in Croatia, and now there's tens of thousands of charismatic Catholics in that country worshiping Jesus. And, and they're, they're just, they're more evangelistic than any other group. But, but initially we're like, mm, know, I don't know. Oh, was Catholics Speaker 4

19:05 ?

19:07 Oh, you guys, Jesus is doing such a, an amazing work among so many different groups of people that you probably have tuned out long time ago, or maybe you disagree with certain things about their lifestyles, but then you see, but then you begin to hear like Jesus is doing something. Jesus is doing something, huh? Young people are hungry for God. They're not hungry for religion, the religion of their grandparents. Nothing wrong with the religion of their grandparents. It's not the, it's not gonna be what draws them in. It's gonna be a fresh move of the spirit and not another Jesus people movement. It's gonna be something fresh and new that the Holy Spirit does. And let's not get in the way of what Jesus is doing. Maybe even fan it into flame.

19:57 Well, there's one thing that each of these stories share besides, besides all of them have something to do with a vision. They all require action. an anai has to go to Saul, Saul has to go to Damascus, to Judi's house and wait. and then he is gotta go suffer and preach to the Gentiles. And then you got Peter, he's gotta go to Cornelius. Cornelius, he's gotta send some people to Choppa. I mean, there's just, there's always something. I've gotta take a step. I'm, this doesn't, life just doesn't happen to me. The spirit doesn't, just doesn't happen to me. He invites me in to participate with him. And it usually begins by him confronting old paradigms.

20:44 So what are those for you today? Are you angry? Are you angry at the culture? Are you angry at Christians who are angry at the culture? Would you with me, get off your horse and have a fresh vision of what Jesus is doing in our world? We're gonna take communion together in just a moment. I wanna finish by telling you one last story. And, there's, ushers will be going around as I'm telling you this story. If you aren't comfortable getting up from your seat and going to the communion tables, they can give you a kind of an individual element. But I'd encourage you, if you're able to physically, to, go to the communion table, then please do that. But I want, I wanna tell you a story. I, I call it, bud in a bar in Weezer, Idaho. That's the name of the story.

21:38 So, two weeks ago I was in Ontario visiting my nephew at Snake River Correctional Facility, and I stayed in Weezer. It was the only place at Hotel, hotel that night that I needed. And so, I'm in Weezer, Idaho, and I don't know, there's 2000 people in Weezer. I don't know. But I, I went to a, I went to dinner that night, at the one restaurant that's in town. And so I had dinner, and then, I do something I don't do, and I, and I sometimes do it, but I never do it by myself. I never do it by myself. You have to believe me, I never do this by myself.

22:13 But there was a bar across the street from the restaurant and I thought, I'm gonna go on the bar. Now, I'm not saying this is evangelism strategy 1 0 1 for everybody in the church or something like that. It's just a story about paradigm shifts. And so I'm not comfortable in that space. but I walk in and, I go up and I sit at the bar and I pick a seat that's, chairs away from other people. So there's at least one or two chairs in between me and other people. And so, I'm just sitting there thinking about, I'm in Weezer, Idaho, and tomorrow I'm seeing my nephew, and I'm just kind of thinking about that and that conversation or whatever. And then this guy sitting, this old guy, this one chair across two chairs from me, and he, he turns over and says, Hey, my name's Bud.

23:01 Hey, you know, I'm, I'm a pretty big introvert. And I'm like, Hey, bud, you know, how can I get out of this conversation? And, bud says, where are you from? I'm not from Weezer . And he says, I know that , I dunno, was it the way I was dressed? I don't understand. But anyways, I said from, I'm from Bend, Oregon, what you doing here? And he's talking really loud, and I realized that he can't hear very well. And so, so I'm yelling pretty much. So , the conversation I'm gonna describe to you is with the entire Bar , it's not just with Butt, but I, so I said, I'm from Bend, Oregon. What you doing here? I'm visiting my nephew in prison. Well, that goes from over here, sits, moves right to the chair next to me. And I'm like, oh yeah, we're in this.

23:46 All right, let's go. And so I fully embraced it, and I'm like, this is, this is why I'm here. Must be why I'm here. And so Bud says, yeah, that's really amazing. You're visiting your nephew. People don't do that much. We got a lot of people that work at the prison here in Weezer, and there's not a lot of people that go visit. I'm like, yeah, no, he is. I just want, you know, blah, blah, blah. You wanna do that, whatever. And then he starts telling me his stories as an, he was an accountant for 20 years in Weezer, made a good living, lost his son to overdose. And then I'm starting to put, put it all together, like, that's why I'm here. So when it was appropriate, I said, yeah, but I lost a son too,

24:36 And told him a little bit of this story. And then I said, yeah, I actually wrote a book about it. , you would've think nobody's ever published a book in Weezer. I he says, you are a, you're an author . I didn't have the heart to tell him, you know, nobody bought it, but yeah, yeah, I'm an author, self-published, yeah, who? . But I didn't tell him. I just let him believe it to this day. He believes that I'm this some big author, you know, whatever. So I said, wow, he, this is, he's, I can't believe I'm sitting next to an author who lost a son.

25:10 And then I, I waited and just kinda waiting for the moment. I said, yeah, I'm a, I'm a pastor. That just , I mean, completely. Like, I mean, he didn't ask, what are you doing here? But everything was like, what are you doing here, ? Why are you in a bar in Weezer, Idaho, ? And I said, yeah, I'm a pastor. You're a pa. And then he just like leans in, like, he's like, keeps leaning in. By the time we're done, we're like this close. He's like, so you're a pastor from Bend, Oregon who lost his son and has written a book and you're sitting here in Weezer, Idaho in a bar next to me.

25:52 I was like, yeah, God works in wonderful ways, bud. And then we started talking about religion and faith and all of that. I tell you that, all of that story, just to say that it was not comfortable for me to walk into this space. It was certainly not comfortable. But for me to, to have a yelling conversation with Bud , it was not, it was awkward talking about the death of our two sons publicly in this space. It was just awkward. It was what it is. But I was like, this is what the Holy Spirit does. He just wants us to step outside of our comfort zone now and again to, to, like, if he says, go talk to that person. Go talk to that person. If he says, go and, and offer forgiveness or ask for forgiveness, then go do that. When the Holy Spirit moves in your life, it will not be comfortable. But are we willing to put down old paradigms and old ways of thinking and to embrace the move of God's spirit in our generation? As we come to the communion table today? I can't think of a better symbol of a new pathway. Born out of an old paradigm.

27:13 God came to us in our brokenness, in our messes. He left what was comfortable and made his home with us. Peter, if you think it was hard walking into Cornelius's house, it was nothing to what Jesus did coming to us. So as we come to the communi table, would you let it be a reminder of what God did for us, and an inspiration to you to say yes to God? God, whatever you want, God, whatever you want, we are yours, holy Spirit, would you use us? Would you break down old mindsets and old paradigms that have restricted your gospel from flowing freely through us to our world?