LIFE’S ROCKY ROAD
Acts 9:9-19 PRINCETON CHRISTIAN CHURCH 25 April 2021
There is a very real and dangerous misconception which has been taught for some time among denominational church folk. The teaching is that Jesus will make everything all right, that no matter how bad our lives are at the present time, if we will only invite Jesus into our hearts as Lord and Savior and pray the “sinner’s prayer”, then our situation will change. I am convinced that our situations will change, but I'm not convinced that our lives will change in the way we might hope.
For many people, their image of Jesus is that of Walt Disney, Santa Claus, and Grandma rolled into one. Jesus is the One who will make life fun and carefree. He is the one who will take away every struggle and strain, and the One who will give us exactly what we want. But, the reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus has not come to make us live a carefree life, but rather He has come to be our Comfort in the struggles of life.
It is ironic that as much as we long for this utopia of ease, the stories we tell of the heroes of our faith are men and women who have suffered, struggled, and strained all the days of their lives. One such person was Isabella Baumfree. Isabella was born a slave to a Dutch master in 1797. She was a deeply religious woman. With all odds against her she accomplished much for the Kingdom and for the King's people during her life. If Isabella were here speaking to us this morning she would tell us that that the force that brought her from the horror of slavery into the limelight of public advocacy was the power of the Holy Spirit. Without a doubt, it was Isabella's faith in Almighty God in the midst of her suffering that transformed her from Isabella, a domestic slave, into Sojourner Truth, a hero for every generation to come.
During her years in slavery Isabella watched helplessly as her children were sold to different masters. She was the object of severe physical abuse. The Civil War was a defining moment in her life. She was a staunch champion of the Union cause and spoke at meetings wherever she was invited. Her grandson, James Caldwell, entered the all-black 54th Massachusetts infantry (the unit immortalized in the 1989 movie Glory.)
This woman of remarkable faith was mobilized to rise above her situation and make a difference for the Kingdom of God because of her deep sorrow and her deep trust in the power of God. She became an advocate for women's rights, temperance, and championed her people to depend on no person, no government, but on God alone. Not only was she to become a legend in her own lifetime, but many today consider her to be one of modern America's founding mothers.
If Sojourner Truth were an isolated case of a follower of Jesus experiencing deep suffering then we might be able to genuinely consider the question of why we struggle so, even those who trust deeply in God. Sojourner Truth and the struggles she endure, is not the exception, she is, in fact the norm.
There is no greater illustration of this truth than the story we will look at today found in Acts 9:9-19. Before we take a look at that Scripture let’s review what has happened in the Book of Acts up to this point.
Saul was getting ready to go to Damascus to harass and eliminate the followers of Jesus and bring in as many of them as possible for prosecution by the authorities. Saul was seeking to eliminate the adversary to the faith, and the adversary as far as he was concerned were those men and women who were still clinging to the belief that Jesus was the anointed Messiah sent from God to bring salvation to all of humanity.
On his way to Damascus Saul was confronted by Jesus Himself who blinded Saul and gave him directions as to what he was supposed to do. As we come to our Scripture for today we see what the future would hold for Saul. Read: Acts 9:9-19.
The life of ease and comfort idea I spoke of in the beginning is difficult for me to understand where that concept came from. Because so frequently in God's Word we read of the sufferings and struggles of God's people. But, we have to understand that the deep longing of the human heart is for comfort, ease, and a life without struggle. But that is never taught in God’s Word.
You and I find it hard to believe that anybody who has ever lived under a Communist regime would ever even entertain the idea of going back, but all we have to do is remember the words of the Hebrew slaves who left the stability of slavery in Egypt to make their way to the Promised Land, a land they were uncertain of since they had never been there. As they wandered in the desert the slaves spoke up to Moses and said, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." (Exodus 16:3 NIV)
God provided food for the people, He met their needs as they made their way to their destination, but the people were never satisfied with God simply meeting their needs. In Numbers 11:5-7 they complained because the food was not good enough. The people said, "We remember the fish we ate for free in Egypt. We also had cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"
Those on their way to freedom in the Promised Land had all too quickly forgotten that they were slaves in Egypt! They didn't have all they wanted, They had what they were given. They were at the mercy of Pharaoh while they were in Egypt. In the midst of their struggle for freedom the Hebrews had convinced themselves that being at the mercy of a tyrannical ruler like Pharaoh was better than being at the mercy of Almighty God in the midst of struggle. How could that be? They were able to convince themselves because in Egypt they had something they could depend on – even though it was the constant oppression laid upon them by Pharaoh. While struggling through the desert on the way to freedom they could depend on nothing but the promises of God, promises which were not realized - yet. When they woke up in the morning they had no idea what the day would hold, but back in Egypt they knew each morning that their day would be filled with tromping mud, and if Pharaoh was in a good mood, mud and straw.
Can we see ourselves in this? Would we rather have the constancy of tromping in mud for Pharaoh than following God into the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land. For some, things have not changed from the days of the Hebrew slaves have they?
Today let’s take a long hard look at the long hard road of discipleship which lies ahead for those of us here who truly desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We can begin our study right here in Acts 9. This passage serves as a springboard to the rest of God's Word and the struggles of His people.
Before we get to Saul and the struggles of his life, let's begin with a look at the man God used to restore sight to the blinded Saul. Ananias is an interesting man. The only other place we hear of him is when Saul remembers him while testifying before the Jewish people in Acts 22:12-16
Ananias was a godly man, a man who Saul says, "Stood by him," but that courage was not very prominent when Jesus first gave Ananias his orders. When Jesus appeared to Ananias and told him to go to the Street called Straight and lay hands on Saul so that he might receive his sight, Ananias balked. Acts 9:13-14 - Ananias said, "Lord, haven't you heard about this guy? Everybody knows what he is up to - haven't you heard?"
Evidently there were some believers who had heard that Saul was on his way to Damascus and they ran ahead to alert the folks of his coming. Ananias had heard all about Saul and he wanted nothing to do with the man whom he had heard was coming to persecute the followers of Jesus.
Biblical accounts like this one are intended to encourage us in our Christian walk. Who among us hasn't felt God's nudge to do something, say something, or get involved in some way, but when we have stopped to really consider, to rationally mull things over, we conclude that Jesus has confused us with someone else. The Bible doesn't hide the fears and frailties of God's people and God is not caught off guard by our fears and apprehension either. You may be afraid to get involved, to take on responsibility that you don't feel competent to carry out, but if God is calling you to leave your comfort, the constancy of Egypt, get up and go - He will be your competency when you feel incompetent or afraid.
Let’s turn our attention to one little section of Scripture found in Acts 9:15-16. When Jesus is convincing Ananias that he needs to go to Saul, Jesus says: "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."
There are two very important lessons we need to pay special attention to if we want to come to understand the long, hard road of discipleship. If we miss these lessons then we can be assured that the long, hard road will wear us out.
First, we need to notice that Saul's life was going to be a life of suffering. Jesus says, "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." Though I don’t consider The Message as Scripture, author Eugene Peterson's translation of this verse is worth mentioning. He says this: "Don't argue. Go! I have picked him as my personal representative to Gentiles and kings and Jews. And now I'm about to show him what he's in for - the hard suffering that goes with this job." (Acts 9:15-16. The Message.) The primary lesson for you and for me is this - if we are willing to carry the name of Jesus we will carry the hard suffering that goes with the job. Let's get honest for a moment. Jesus promises no easy walk with Him. He does not promise us comfort or every convenience to enhance our lives. What He does promise is that it is going to be a long, hard road.
The road is long and hard, difficult by all means, but the road leads somewhere. There is no dead end on the road He offers us. We are not wandering aimlessly through life, we are destined. We have a purpose. If we are destined we will most certainly arrive!
Why is it that when suffering comes, and come it will in many forms and fashions, that we automatically question, "Where is God?" "Why has God forsaken me?" and we claim "The devil is attacking me." The Bible teaches us that there is purpose in suffering, struggle, and trials.
Remember what James said about trials and unwelcome situations: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV)
Paul, the man once named Saul, wrote in Romans about the purpose of suffering. Paul saw that we need not simply endure suffering, but we can rejoice in our suffering if we know that we are suffering for a purpose. Suffering with no purpose is a sentence of death, but suffering with purpose securely set in our hearts and minds initiates a process of growth, the development of strength and character, and the hope of the glory of heaven. Paul writes in Romans 5:1-5
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:1-5 NIV)
When we suffer persecution, sickness, financial ruin, death, or family turmoil we too quickly rush judgment and blame Satan. That’s the easy way. But, in doing so we miss God's divine purpose for trials and sufferings. It is too easy to play the blame game. Has that ever benefited anyone? Of course not! When we blame, we lose; when we look to Almighty God we gain direction and hope.
Look at some of the heroes of the faith and the suffering they endured for the cause of Christ. John the Baptist knew persecution, but God had a purpose. Paul had an affliction he asked for God to remove, but God said, "When you are weak I am strong" - God had a purpose. Job knew financial ruin, but God had a purpose. Mary watched her little boy hang on a cross and cry out in agony, but God had a purpose. David knew family turmoil; (just read a few of his Psalms), but God had a purpose. When trouble comes we must resist placing blame and, instead, look for the purpose God has for your suffering.
When we do that we can eliminate the notion that life owes us something. It is then that we can begin to live with purpose for each new day. When we come to the conclusion that God does not owe us anything, but that we are totally dependent upon Him for our very existence, then we can begin to journey down the long, hard road. When we come to the conclusion that we are not above suffering and struggle, and when we resign ourselves to the simple truth that we been given life to bring glory to God and nothing else, only then can we live with the purpose God has intended, only then can struggles and suffering be understood for what they are -- opportunities to trust in Almighty God more than we trust in ourselves and to bring glory to His holy name.
If we will surrender ourselves completely to Almighty God and see His hand at work in our suffering and struggles, then the pressures of life can serve as the fertilizer of our soul. Fertilizer, as you know, promotes healthy growth.
Most of the Psalms were born in difficulty. Most of the Epistles were written in prisons. Most of the greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers of all time had to pass through the fire. John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress from jail. Florence Nightingale, too ill to move from her bed, reorganized the hospitals of England. Semi-paralyzed and under the constant menace of apoplexy, Louis Pasteur was tireless in his attack on disease. During the greater part of his life, American historian Francis Parkman suffered so acutely that he could not work for more than five minutes at a time. His eyesight was so weak that he could scrawl only a few gigantic words on a manuscript, yet he contrived to write twenty magnificent volumes of history.
We need to notice that Saul was chosen by Jesus Himself. Jesus told Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." (Acts 9:15 NIV) It was no accident that Saul found himself in the situation he was in or for that matter, any situation he would ever find himself in. Saul was chosen by Jesus himself! And here is the great news for all of us: you all have been chosen by Jesus too.
You may ask, "What difference does that make in how I react to the struggles I am going through?' The answer is: It makes all of the difference in the world. If I am daily struggling just for the sake of struggling, then there is no difference. I don't know anyone who enjoys struggling of any kind. Nobody enjoys being sick. Who gets really excited about being persecuted, maligned, and lied about? We don't really look forward to the pains that seem to come our way. If I did not know that I was chosen by God, that He knows full well what I am going through, and that He will more than see me through, that He will enable me to bring glory to His name, then I would have no reason to live. I know that I am chosen by God. He knows my name, He's got my address memorized, and He is completely steeped in the intimate details of my life. Knowing that, our struggles take on a different light. They do not hurt any less, the tears still flow, but we can determine that we will not stop serving our King! We can be confident that because He has chosen us, our suffering and struggles will be used by Him to bring glory to His name, not glory to me. We can also be convinced that if we continue to serve our King, one day we will look back and see the meaning and His purpose.
The great writer, Malcolm Muggeridge, who converted to Christianity late in life said, "Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness." (Malcolm Muggeridge, in Homemade, July, 1990)
This morning God maybe has spoken to you. Maybe you have been resisting His voice. Resist no more. Choose Jesus as Lord of your life and allow Him to work through your life to bring glory to His name and purpose to your life.