Series: New Testament Encounters
Sun Am 17 November 2019 – Frans du Plessis
Gal.1:15-16; Acts 9:3-6; Phil.2:6-8; 2 Cor.3:6; Heb.12:29.
Many of us in our walk with God are always expecting external encounters. We are always expecting bushes to burn, money to fall, God to talk audibly to us in order for us to see it or be able to testify about it. Many of us often neglect the internal spiritual encounters that God brings to us because they are not always verbal in a language, like English or Afrikaans or many times not in a dream, which we can tell people. When God comes by His Spirit which we know is the way the in which the New Testament operates, it is an internal reality of the Spirit of God in each one of us. We should expect these encounters to be internal primarily. They may be brought about by external conditions and circumstances but are internal encounters with God.
This encounter seems to stand out most of all because it comes from personal experience. I also found that wherever I go, people encounter their “Damascus” (Acts 9) but they do not realise that they are encountering Damascus because they do not ride on horses any more, they do not live in the Middle East, because there was not a physical light that shone in the encounter. It does not mean that Damascus has not come your way before. My aim is to remind you of the Damascus encounter. My hope is that after this morning you will recognise it in your life as something you have worked through and possibly something you are busy working through, and as something that you will invariably at some point have to work through.
When I read the Damascus encounter of Paul, I see it as a picture of things that have happened in my life. I recognised some key points, some key moments in the Damascus encounter that are slightly unconventional. That is why we struggle to recognise it as an encounter from God. Sometimes I find people blaming the devil because they misunderstand the way in which God wants to encounter them. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood (Gal. 1:15-16). Paul saw his calling that God will reveal His Son not to him, but that God will reveal His Son in him. There is a massive difference between toand in andthe Greek word for in meaning in or through, but not to.Paul understood his call very clearly that God was actually forming something inside of him and that the purpose of the coming Jesus, the Word made flesh, was not just that we should know Him and know about Him, whether it be naturally or spiritually, but that He should be formed within us.
Christ in us is a reality that we have to deal with. It is a definite spiritual reality but the work of the Spirit in us is to make it manifest, to make it plain and clear. I am full of confidence that this is where God is heading with humanity. He wants to reveal His Son in us! Simple plan! Paul looked retrospectively and realised that God had called him from the time we was in his mother’s womb. At the end of the road, people would eventually look at Paul and say, “We can see the Son in you!” Not, “Tell us about the Son”. The kingdom of God is really moving beyond just telling people about Jesus but wanting Jesus to be revealed in people.
What lies between the womb and the revelation of Jesus in Paul? In between these two things lies an inevitable Damascus. Paul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, trained with the best, versed in the knowledge of the Old Testament, lawyer of the lawyers. Paul was someone who to the best of his knowledge and conscience was doing what God wanted him to do. It is at this point that I recognised myself in Paul. Many times we find ourselves doing things to the best of our knowledge and in all sincerity; we believe we are doing God massive favours when we embark on certain assignments that are not from God but come from our own zeal. In our mind they are in line with things that God had said, they are in line with the Scriptures, or our interpretation of the Scriptures. But there comes a time in the ministry of a leader, a pastor, a corporate ministry, a church, where our interpretation and our understanding has led us on a path where God has said “I do not want you to go down this road”. For some reasons we find it very hard to negotiate out of that position unless God comes and leads us to Damascus. The Damascus experience really is a place where God waits for us, to say to us, “Here we change focus, interpretation, whatever else needs to change to make sure you are heading in the right direction”.
Interestingly enough Damascus means, ‘Silent is the sackcloth weaver’. We understand what sackcloth and ashes means, and they always go together in the Old Testament. I realised it is God that weaves the sackcloth. God silently prepares places of turning point for us. He is completely silent, He does not say much until He is done and gives you the sackcloth. Where was God when Paul was busy learning as a lawyer? When he became a Pharisee? God was silent because He knew that there was to come a day when God would take all the valuable things you have learned, you have acquired, all knowledge and wisdom you received, “I am going to change your direction slightly”. In these Damascus experiences, if we do not realise that God is the Weaver we start binding the devil.
The last thing Paul expected was that God would come and say to him “You are fighting Me”. Damascus was an appointment by God for Paul and the custom-made sackcloth was waiting for him.
I want to highlight a few key characteristics of the Damascus experience that an individual, a family, a church or even a movement can go through.
The first point: As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven (Acts 9:3). When the light of Damascus hits you, you cannot see. This type of light brings a temporary blindness. It brings disorientation. This kind of encounter causes us to misunderstand God. There is an important reason for this because what we are seeing is not what God sees. This temporary blindness serves in a way for God to actually refocus us completely. In the moment you cannot see, there is a disorientation that takes place. This neutral place is a place where God shuts off the light around you. He uses circumstances, sometimes people, events or whatever it might be to close off your whole world. The great Paul was blind! It feels like God has forsaken us!
The second point: Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). In other words, “Paul you have become my enemy. You have drifted slowly into a completely different direction”. We form traditions, cultures, thoughts, ideas, mind-sets over hundreds years. From time to time God will come to churches, movements, individuals in Damascus encounters to say to us, “I am not in that direction”. You feel like a failure in that moment. It is a confusing place because in your own mind you have been acting out of the best of your ability and conscience. I want to tell you God does not come in that moment to judge you. It is actually a place of mercy! Damascus is the place of God’s mercy.
The third point: “And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” (Acts 9:5). Paul finds himself in a moment of blindness asking the question, “Who are you?” This is an important question for us as people who believe that God is busy revealing Himself in us. We become what we behold. The most important thing to God is that we will see Him for Who He really is. God is interested in showing us His nature of love. Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:6-8).
As a church, as a family, as a movement, as an individual we have to know that God wants to reveal Himself to us. We are on a journey to discover of Who He really is. Damascus brings you to place where you ask and it is ok. It is a place where you feel like you do not know Him, and it is ok. It is only when someone acknowledges and asks that He reveals a portion of Himself. God was about to reveal Himself to Paul in a way that Paul never expected. Scriptures are dead without the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6). You need the Spirit of life and liberty to interpret the Scriptures and to make real to us Who God really is. As a ministry, we also have to ask “God who are you? What do you want us to do?”
The fourth point: So, he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). It refers to a reverent fear of God. In other words, Paul lost his fear of everything else. God had his full attention. In ministry, we are busy with many things. We need Damascus encounters for God to get our full attention. When Damascus comes, God silences you. That is the time to listen to what God wants to say.
Another characteristic is that God said to Paul: “Go”. God sends us to places because He is interested in the process between this point and the next. God needs you to be vulnerable during this process. God is interested between where you find yourself today and the next point where He will reveal Himself to you.
Then we find Ananias. Ananias means ‘given by Jehovah’. Ananias is a picture of people in our Damascus encounter that shows God will not leave us. God will send people that did not look like people that came with you on the way. They are unlikely candidates; people sent from God into our lives. In their company there is strength, there is revitalisation and I pray that we will be able to also be an Ananias that comes though Damascus. The reality is that if you have not been through Damascus you laugh at those that come to Damascus. God needs people that have been to Damascus; those are the ones He can truly trust with the assignments.
The initial symptoms of the Damascus experience are blindness, disorientation, humility; it is a humbling experience. It is as if God becomes silent. When you are in Damascus, do not press for answers; just follow the process, it is ok. It is not the devil; you are not losing your way; God is busy with you. Damascus is that place we have to realise that God is the fire. “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). He will come to you as that. Damascus is not a small experience; this is where your life changes forever! Damascus is where God re-orientates us. The final results of Damascus is improved sight, better understanding, new vision and stronger focus on the thing God wants us to focus on. Changed perspectives; an attitude of mercy towards those around us; great growth; an increase in maturity. God has a plan and dream for all of us and He wants to reveal His Son in Bizweni. Damascus is where God re-orientates our zeal, it is where God helps us to reinterpret our information and our knowledge; it is where He resets our course. It becomes very dark before it becomes very light! I want to say to Bizweni: “The night is far spent but look, the day has already broken!”