May 26, 2019
Pastor Alan Smith
When you read a book or you watch a movie, there’s always a key character involved. The villain. We are all familiar with the villain. You have a protagonist, who in the story is the person that we’re kind of hoping wins or rises to the occasion. But there’s also the antagonist. Every story has an antagonist. This is the person who’s trying to thwart the plan of, or undermine, the protagonist. But the beauty of an antagonist is, they kind of help move the story along. If you don’t have a good antagonist, then sometimes the stories fall flat. Well, this morning I want to show you a few villains we are familiar with in the stories of our life, and just see if you get the idea of what a villain is.
What about this guy? Darth Vader. He’s a villain. Now, as a child, one of the first movies I ever saw in my life was Star Wars with Darth Vader. “I am your father.” -the greatest surprise moment in history (at least up until however old I was at the time). Darth Vader, he’s a villain. He is the antagonist. He is trying to counter whatever Luke and all those guys were trying to do, right? He’s the bad guy; he’s the villain.
What about this guy? Now there are lots of Jokers that have been played, but personally, Heath Ledger’s Joker is by far the best. But where would Batman be without Joker, right? I mean, you if you don’t have the Joker, the villain, the Caped Crusader is not quite as impressive with what he’s able to do. Or Thanos. I mean, if you’re a Marvel fan, Thanos is the villain of villains. He’s the guy that caused all the problems, right? He moves the story along, and he has an important part of the story. Or where would little Simba be without Scar, right? I mean, if Scar hadn’t done what Scar did, then Simba would not have left the Pride Lands. And who knows? We wouldn’t have had Timon and Pumbah. The story would not have been nearly as good, right? The villain in the story makes a difference.
Or…this is Christian Laettner, and if you are a fan of college basketball, especially if you are a UK fan (props to my father-in-law), if you are a UK fan, or if you’re just a college basketball fan, the fact that he’s wearing a Duke uniform is enough for him to be a villain, right? Or I’m telling you, the Yankees…villains. There are many baseball seasons where I, as a Braves fan, in recent years have been like, “Oh, man, we’ve lost! Why? Well, because the Yankees have done what the Yankees do, right? But what about this guy? A villain. Steve Spurrier, right?
Villains are important. They allow us to have this sort of thing that moves the story along. It allows us to get passionate about something. It allows us to get excited about things because of the work of the villain. In our story of Acts, there’s been a villain, and up until about a week or so ago, the villain has been behind the scenes. And if you’ve paid attention to our video bumps that we’ve been playing, you’ve seen this guy. This is Saul. He’s been in there. He’s been watching. And as we we have studied the book of Acts, we have seen this guy in the background. We’ve seen him paying attention to things. We’ve seen him beginning to have some involvement in things. Saul.
We have been studying the book of Acts, and today we’re going into Acts chapter nine, where we get to experience the key villain/servant in the book of Acts. So, if I were to try to summarize the sermon, what we’re going to talk about today, what I really want you to get from our time together today is this: Jesus can turn a villain into his servant.
As we look at Acts and we look at the life of Saul, it is important for us to understand a little bit about who he is. He is the antagonist. He has been the key figure that has kind of helped move the story along. He’s been a key figure that has caused the Christian community, those of the Way in Jerusalem, to begin fleeing for their life. If you’ll think back weeks ago, if you want to flip over to Acts chapter one, there’s a moment where Jesus looks at this disciples before he ascends, and he says to them, “Look, you are going to be my witnesses. You are going to be the ones who are going to share the Gospel to all the world. And you’re going to start in Jerusalem, and then you’re going to go to Judea, Samaria, and then you’re going to go to the uttermost parts of the Earth. It’s easy to stay at home; that’s convenient.”
And so, what God has done, God has used Saul, a villain of the Way, to help move the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the Earth. He is a key figure. This is not something that’s taken God by surprise. As a matter of fact, Saul’s villainous activity is part of God’s plan. God’s sovereign plan in dispersing the message of the Gospel was to use the villain of Saul.
1. Villains can have good intentions
Here’s the thing I want to look at first: The first point this morning is that villains can have good intentions. Villains don’t consider themselves to be villains, you know. I mean, Darth Vader wasn’t like, “Hey, I know they don’t like me and all. I am the villain of this thing.” To him, he’s the hero of the story, right? The villains have good intentions. Acts chapter nine, beginning in verse one:
1 Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
Saul has good intentions. You have to understand; let’s look at this for a moment. Who is Saul? Saul is a devout Jew. As a matter of fact, if you were to continue looking at the stories that Saul tells about his life (Acts 24 and 26. In Philippians, there’s a variety of places where Paul begins to describe when he becomes Paul), Saul grew up in Jerusalem. He was well known in the community. He was one who wanted to abide by the law as much as he could. He was devoted to following the law. He was a strict adherer to the law. And it was not so much that he just did it by himself; he was a follower of Gamaliel, who was one of the leaders in the synagogue. If you go back to Act chapter five, we see that Gamaliel was one of the guys in the city, the guy that said, “Well guys, wait a minute. I know that we’re not really big fans of this Jesus of Nazareth, and the things that his disciples are doing, we find offensive.” But Gamaliel says, “Look, if this is of God, you aren’t going to stop it.” And he says, “And if this is of man, it’ll fizzle. Just leave it alone.”
This is Gamaliel, and Saul was Gamaliel’s disciple. Saul was a Pharisee, which meant he was a strict adherer to the law. Saul was passionate, zealously passionate, about following the law. The difference between someone who’s passionate and someone who’s zealous is that a passionate person will tell you how passionate they are. A zealous person will force you to be as passionate as they are. Saul was zealous for the law. He was passionate about it. He wanted not only himself to be a good Jewish man following and adhering to the strict regulations of the law; he wanted everyone to be a strict adherer of the law, because it was right thing to do, according to Saul.
As a matter of fact, the thing that got Saul all riled up and why he was vehemently casting out these people and wanted to kill them and murder them, it’s because of what the law said. Leviticus chapter 24, verse 16 says, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death.” In other words, as far as Saul was concerned and as far as the law was concerned, if you claim to be a follower of Jesus and not a follower of Jehovah, Yahweh, you were blaspheming, which was a capital crime, which meant if you were a Jew and you renounced your Judaism to be a man of the Way or a woman of the Way, Saul says, “Leviticus tells me I must kill you. You must die.” -which is why we see him standing by while Steven is being killed. -not any remorse, not any sadness, but feeling justified as the villain of the Way. He is trying to zealously, passionately pursue what he believes is the right thing. He has good intentions. He saw the followers of Jesus blaspheming, according to him, and he brought the full force of the law against them.
As a result, the Jews in Jerusalem began to flee. They began to run; they began to scatter. They began to go all over the place. We see in chapters seven and eight, we see them begin to find themselves. Philip, remember the story of Philip? He’s now teaching in Samaria, and as he goes along the way, he’s telling more people in Judea and Samaria. We find him going and talking to the Ethiopian eunuch, right? We begin to see the Gospel is being spread because of the work that Saul is doing in Jerusalem. People in Jerusalem are scattering (Acts 1:8), “You will be my disciples in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria.” And Saul is a ringleader in Jerusalem with good intentions. Man, he has good intentions!
So, what does Saul do, not willing to let the blasphemers continued to blaspheme God? He goes to Caiaphas and says. “Caiaphas, give me a warrant. Give me some letters. I’m going to Damascus. There are a lot of people who have fled from here to there, and there are a lot of our brothers, fellow Jews in Damascus, who need to understand the truth. Give me what I need. Give me the people I need; we’re going. Caiaphas gave him what he wanted, and he went. He went to Damascus. He pursued after them to bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. And if he had anything to do with it, to kill them, because they had blasphemed God. He had good intentions.
The work of Saul, the reason he’s a good villain is because he is passionate about what he’s doing in a way that is consistent with the way he views the world. But he’s wrong. He’s out of whack. He hasn’t heard the Gospel in such a way that he’s responded to it. Here’s what I think is helpful for us to understand here: What some mean for evil against you, God means for good. Do you have villains pursuing after you? What some mean for evil, God means for good. Don’t allow the events of our life, the problems of our life, the physicalities of our life, the limitations of our life, the whatevers of our life, don’t allow those things to determine our view of God’s future for our life. Don’t allow the Sauls of our world to distract us from what God has in store for us.
2. Villains can have divine interruptions
Sometimes the villain has good intentions, but the villain can have a divine interruption. He could have a divine interruption. Acts chapter nine, verse three says:
3 As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul said. “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one.
This is an amazing event in Saul’s life. He is having an encounter with the living Christ. Notice that Saul was seeking to persecute people, but was in fact persecuting Jesus. He says. “I am Jesus, the one that you are persecuting. Those of us who are believers, those of us who have placed our faith and trust in Christ, we are the bride. We’re his body. And when his body is persecuted, it’s not individuals being persecuted. It’s Christ who is being persecuted. We see in the Gospels where he says several times, “If you do this to them, you’ve done it to me.”
If you think about persecution, I don’t know if you’ve been following much of this, but the church globally is under immense persecution. The church is under attack. More correctly, Jesus is under attack. The persecution of our church is a persecution against Christ. Jesus looks at Saul and says, “Saul, what are you doing?”
Saul says, “Whoa! Who are you?
“I am Jesus. I am the living Christ. I am the one you are persecuting.”
“I’m not persecuting you. I’m trying to track down these people.”
“No, no, no. They are people of the Way. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
Jesus is the Way. When we are followers of the Way, when persecution happens, they’re persecuting Christ. When you think of a few weeks ago, of the bombing in Sri Lanka, the people that were hurt and killed in churches, this is an attack on Christ. We are his body. The question is, are you part of it? Are you part of that body? You see, when God created everything, God designed everything intentionally so that you and I could have a relationship with him; we could fellowship with him.
When he made Adam and Eve, our original parents, he put into them the image of God. They were made in his image, and he walked in the cool of the day with them. It was fellowship with God. And God says, “Everything that’s here, I’ve given you responsibilities and even authority to do what I want you to do. But of this tree, don’t eat of this tree, because on the day that you eat of this tree, you will die.” And Adam and Eve, being deceived (Eve being deceived; Adam taking of the fruit) ate. And in that moment, sin came into this world. And as a result of that, there was separation between man and God, and the demand for sin is death.
We know from Romans chapter three, the wages of sin is death. Adam and Eve deserved to die. They deserved to die. They violated the command of God, and death is the consequence. Well, I just thought lying... Yes, lying is a death penalty. Stealing is a death penalty. God says that if we sin, we deserve death. But in Genesis chapter three, the beauty of that story is that although Adam and Eve deserved death, God in his grace and his mercy placed that punishment on a sacrifice, on a propitiation, on an atoning, substitutionary land animal. And he took the skins of that animal to made clothes for Adam and Eve. He said, “Now, go your way.” But I thought sin calls for death. It does; it was death that took place, and the consequence of that has been passed on to you and me.We are descendants of Adam and Eve, and the sin that they did, we suffer as a result of it. It is ingrained in who we are as human beings.
As Michael read this morning in Romans, we find that God in his goodness and in his graciousness, in his love for us, while we were still enemies, while we still viewed God as the enemy, God died for us. And here’s what he did when he died on the cross: His death on the cross said, “Man deserves death.” And God says, “I will stand in his place.” And God poured out his wrath. “I will cause the sin of man to be paid for by crushing my Son.” And he died. God killed him. He died.
But he was buried, and if he stayed in the grave, we would be men most miserable. We would be lost in our sins. Without his resurrection, we would still suffer the consequence of sin, which is death. But because three days later he rose from the grave, death no longer reigns. So now Saul has had an encounter with the Gospel. He has had an encounter with the living Christ. “Yes, I know he was crucified. I was in Jerusalem.” Saul was in Jerusalem when he was crucified. Saul was there. “I know he was crucified. I was with the religious leaders when they went through this process.” Whether he was there or not, we don’t know. But we know that he was involved in some capacity because of how we find him in Acts. He was there. He heard. He saw.
Now he’s having an encounter with the living Christ. You have an opportunity to have an encounter with the living Christ today. He died for our sin, and he rose from the grave. And in doing so, he has said, “I will give to you my righteousness so that you no longer have to worry about sin and its consequences. -because I’ve taken care of it.” God has redeemed us. God has called us out to separate us, and we will live with him, no longer having to worry about death. We don’t have to worry about this because we have his righteousness. Saul has experienced a divine interruption. Is today that day for you? Are you willing to engage with what God has done? Will you surrender your life to King Jesus?
3. Villains can have changed identities
Villains can also have changed identities. Acts chapter nine, verses eight and nine:
8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. 9 He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.
An encounter with the living Christ results in a changed identity. Charles Spurgeon, writing about Saul’s Damascus Road experience, put it this way: He said, “So the proud persecutor who is going to Damascus as a conqueror to crush the saints of God was himself led into the city as a captive to be forever afterward, the slave of Jesus Christ.” Jesus can turn a villain into his servant.
Here’s what’s interesting to me as well: The sovereign plan of God, the work of the villain, is done. The villain’s work has been accomplished. “Saul, your zealous, passionate activity has caused the church to disperse. It’s no longer just in Jerusalem. It is now in Judea and Samaria, and I now have another plan for you.” The work of the villain was done. The sovereign work of God through the villain of Saul has been completed. It is now time for a new identity.
The Gospel left Jerusalem, and it has begun to spread, and it was time for Saul to begin a new life, to begin a new way of thinking, to engage this world differently. Through the sovereign work of God, Saul has become the servant who will play a key role in the third phase of Acts 1:8. -to the uttermost parts of the earth. Saul becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles. As we continue reading, going through the book of Acts, Saul is going to become a key character. As a matter of fact, at some point he’s going to change his name to Paul, and we’re going to know him for the rest of the story of the Gospel as Apostle Paul because of the events that happened in Damascus.
The sovereignty of God has caused the villain to become his servant. Saul (well, Paul) in Philippians chapter three summarizes his Genesis story. In Philippians chapter three, Paul says this: “But everything that was gain to me (the fact that he was a Pharisee of Pharisees, from the tribe of Benjamin in Judah), everything that was gain to me,” he says, “I have considered it a loss because of Christ. More than that, I’ve considered everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. Because of him, I have suffered the loss of all things and considered them as dung so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, because and based on faith.” -his Genesis story. This is the moment where Saul’s life changes. He encountered the living Christ, and as a result, he has a new identity, a new way of thinking, a new view of the world, a new mission, a new passion, a new thing to be zealous over.
Are you a villain? Are you in working rebellion against the work of King Jesus? Have you had a divine encounter? -because if you have, you have a new identity. Have you responded to that? Will you be transformed into the image of his son through the amazing work of the Gospel? Will you live that? Like Paul says, “I’ve considered it all worthless, like a dung pile, because of what Christ has done.”
• Today, I realize I am a villain in need of a changed identity. I submit my life to Christ and accept him as my Savior for the first time today.
– I feel like I have a villain after me. Pray I will find my strength and rest in Jesus.
+ Pray I have the courage to share Jesus with a villain in my life.
- Is sin “comfortable” and/or “enjoyable” to most before they hear the Gospel? Why?
- Does God only seek the “good,” “worthy,” and/or those who are deeply “spiritual”?
- How does God redeem a person’s past for the purposes of the Kingdom?
- Read Ephesians 2:1-10:
a. What did/do we all deserve as a result of our transgressions and sins?
b. What is the gift God gives to those who believe in Him?
c. How does one receive that gift?
- What is the result of placing one’s faith in Christ, and what are we therefore called to do?
- Who do you know in your day-to-day travels that needs to hear the Gospel?
- Pray for the church, its leadership, and to have at least one Gospel based conversation this week.