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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Are you a Tool?  audio

Acts 9:10-30 

I have a great collection of tools in my work shed. Most of them came from my father and grandfather though some I’ve bought for myself. Of course the fact that I have them there doesn’t necessarily mean they get used; or get used well when I do use them. But the ones I do use and can use well are the ones I value the most.

But we’re not here today to talk about my hobbies. We’re here to talk about witnessing to the gospel. So what have tools got to do with that? Well, as we’ll see in a moment God’s tools are people and interestingly he chooses to use the most unlikely of people as his tools in that task of sharing the gospel. 

I mean, who could be more unlikely than Saul? He didn’t have a clue did he? We read the story last week of his mission to Damascus to round up the Christians there and how Jesus appeared to him to give him a new mission. I think we skipped over the bit about him becoming blind. But of course he was blind long before that wasn’t he? Although he was so well taught as a Pharisee he couldn’t see that Stephen was right; that Jesus was in fact the Messiah that they’d been waiting for and that opposing the Christian faith meant he was opposing Christ himself.

But as we’ll see in a moment, there are actually three people in this short passage who acted as instruments of the gospel, as examples of the sort of tools that God uses to shape the world.

Picking up the story from last week, Saul has discovered that everything these Christians have been saying is true. Jesus is risen. He is alive. And he has a job for Saul to do.

I’m sure Saul had no idea at this stage just what would be involved in this task of his. All he knows is that he’s to go into the city and wait for further instructions. It’s a bit like “Mission Impossible”. Except that there’s no explosion as the message self-destructs. He doesn’t need an explosion, because he’s already had a blinding light all around him.

He’s led into Damascus where he spends three days fasting. This may be a response to what he’s just experienced, this revelation of God in Jesus Christ. It’s what Moses and Elijah experienced. A miraculous vision of the living God. So his fast may simply be a response to that. Or it might be in preparation for a further revelation to come; for the revealing of God’s plan for his future. But whatever the reason, he spends 3 days fasting and praying, at the end of which he sees a vision of someone coming to his assistance to help him see again.

At this point the second of God’s instruments comes into play. This man is a Christian. His name is Ananias. And he’s heard all about Saul. He protests: “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.”

Jesus is asking him to do a very courageous thing isn’t he? Here’s Saul, in Damascus to try to root out the followers of Jesus. So this could easily be a trap. Ananias is being asked to walk right into the lion’s den. But maybe it’s a sign of his maturity as a Christian that this danger doesn’t stop him from doing what Jesus tells him. We’re told he goes and enters the house. Even that phrase has a sense of menace about it doesn’t it: he enters into the enemy’s lair.

Yet through this act of courage, Ananias becomes instrumental in the major work of the gospel in the first century, in the spread of the good news to the Gentile world. Saul, he’s told, is to be “15an instrument, [a tool,] whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” That’s the sort of thing you’d say about an ambassador isn’t it?

But Saul’s task isn’t quite as glamorous as a modern day ambassador’s. No need for a tuxedo where he’s going! Jesus says “16I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Here’s the complete turnaround. Saul has been bringing suffering on Jesus’ followers, and now he himself will suffer in Jesus’ name.

And notice the gracious way Ananias greets him when he gets there. What does he call him? “Brother Saul”. Do you find that amazingly gracious? I’m not sure we would have been that gracious would we?  He knows exactly what Saul is like, why he’s come here. Yet he accepts him as a Christian brother even before he’s laid hands on him and baptised him. If Jesus has accepted him, extended his grace towards him, then that’s the least Ananias should do.

I guess that’s an important lesson for us to learn as well isn’t it? If God has shown his grace to someone by bringing them to us, how can we not show the same grace to them? Who knows if showing them God’s grace and mercy in the way we welcome them might be the breakthrough that brings them to faith in Christ.

For Saul the fruit of that grace soon becomes apparent. As Ananias lays hands on him he receives the Holy Spirit and his eyes are opened. We’re told by Doctor Luke that it’s as though scales fell from his eyes and his sight was restored. Then we see the full impact of his encounter with Jesus. We’re told “immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” They’re astounded to say the least. I guess the bush telegraph had prepared the locals for his arrival but now he’s doing the exact opposite of what they were expecting. Instead of arresting the Christians, now he’s taking their side. And then we see just why God has singled him out for this task of taking the gospel to the Gentiles. “Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.”

While his conversion may have been sudden, in the blink of an eye, as it were, it certainly hasn’t come out of the blue. God’s been preparing him for some time. Just a few chapters earlier we see how Saul was present as Stephen gave a most eloquent exposition of the gospel. That must have had an impact on him. But even before that he was one of the pupils, in fact the star pupil, of Gamaliel, one of the leading rabbis of his time. So when he was converted, he had all the training, all the theological education he needed. That, combined with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the fact that he was teaching what God intended to be understood from the Scriptures all along, meant that no-one could stand against him. So much so that the Jews decide to resort to assassination to rid themselves of this adversary. But their plot is discovered and Saul escapes via a basket lowered from the city wall.

The next thing we know, Paul is in Jerusalem and our third hero pops up. This is Barnabas: the “Son of Encouragement.” We’re not told that he received a vision like Ananias. It seems he just hears that Paul has arrived and looks him up, listens to his story and is wise enough that he’s convinced by it. And so he takes him to the apostles and speaks for him. This of course is the beginning of a lifelong friendship and partnership in the gospel. In a few chapters’ time Saul and Barnabas will be set aside by the Church at Antioch to go on their first missionary journey together to take the gospel to Asia Minor.

Barnabas has a good enough standing in the church that they listen to him and Saul is accepted as one of them. And again he goes out into the marketplace, arguing, this time with the Hellenists, a group of Greek speaking Jews, that Jesus is Lord.  And again he’s so successful that he’s in danger of being killed by his enemies. So he leaves Jerusalem and sails for Tarsus from where Barnabas will later call him to come to help with the new Gentile converts at Antioch.

And again the Church is at peace. They enjoy a period of consolidation as the gospel continues to be proclaimed and the number of Christians increases.

It’s a great story isn’t it? But is it more than just a good story? What does it say to you and me?

Do you remember what Jesus said about Saul? “He is an instrument [a tool] whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” He’s an instrument, a tool in God’s hand. If you’d asked the Christians in Jerusalem or Damascus what sort of person might be a good tool for doing God’s work Saul would have been way down the bottom of the list wouldn’t he? Very little potential there! But that’s from the perspective of ordinary human beings. From God’s perspective he was ambassador material. All he needed was the filling of the Holy Spirit and suddenly he was a gospel force to be reckoned with. Similarly, Ananias was ready to listen to God’s calling, to take a risk in helping Saul. And of course, Barnabas: his nickname says it all doesn’t it? He was someone who was always ready to encourage other believers, even if, as in Ananias’ case, it required him to take a risk. They’re great examples of people who were God’s instruments, God’s tools, in building his church.

But these three aren’t the only ones that that’s true for are they? Each one of us could be one of those instruments that God uses to bring others into his kingdom. Even if we’re just ordinary people, with all the faults and weaknesses of normal human beings, we’re people who are given a great responsibility, a great privilege of representing Christ to the world around us. You may not be a great preacher like Saul was, but you could be a person of grace and mercy and kindness like Ananias, or a person of encouragement like Barnabas, someone who prepares the ground for your non-Christian friends so they don’t need to encounter that shining presence of Christ before they’ll believe.

The light of the gospel comes to people in lots of different ways, some spectacularly, some quietly and gradually, but it mostly seems to come through someone who tells them about Christ or who introduces them to a community like this where they’ll hear about him in a variety of ways.

So let me finish by asking: are you ready to be a useful tool for Christ? Are you being useful to God in your everyday life? Let’s pray that God would enable us to be just that.

Contact Details

Phone: 0422187127
 
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