For several days he [Saul/Paul] was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, "He is the Son of God." And all who heard him were amazed, and said, "Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests." But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
In preaching through the book of Acts last year I arrived at the story of Paul's conversion in chapter 9. Then came the summer and our move to the new sanctuary and all the special focuses we have had since last spring. Now I feel very strongly led to pick up the series again.
Resuming the Series on Acts
The more I thought and prayed about it, the more convinced I became that to preach from the book of Acts during the last year in our old sanctuary and the first year in our new sanctuary would drive home the point of last week's message, namely, that the authenticity of worship in these buildings must prove itself in how we spread the praise of God outside these buildings.
And the book of Acts is the inspired story of how the praise of God was spreading in the first century. So it is a great model and a great incentive for what worship should move us to do. It's true that worship is the ultimate aim of all the universe and all our ministry as a church. But it's also true that as long as there is sin and pain and lostness in the world, worship will not only be the goal but also the fuel of ministry and missions.
So if God uses the book of Acts in worship to ignite the fires of ministry and missions, then our worship will be vindicated, and the memory of our old sanctuary will be honored, and the purpose of our new sanctuary will be realized.
The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus
You recall that Saul was a Pharisee utterly devoted to stamping out the new Christian movement. But Jesus sovereignly intervened in his life and utterly shocked and stunned him with a bright light on the Damascus road. Paul was blinded and didn't eat or drink for three days as he watched his whole world turn upside down.
The Jesus that he thought was dead was not dead. And not only was he not dead, but he was the living Lord of the universe. Jesus was able to make light shine into the world, and speak audibly to humans on earth, and strike a man blind, and give visions in prayer, and send a man named Ananias with the word that Saul was Jesus' chosen instrument to spread praise to the nations. So Paul's whole worldview collapsed in Damascus. And was rebuilt with the great, unshakable, stone pillars of truth about Jesus.
The Heart of Saul's New Worldview
For several days he spends time with the disciples in Damascus (v. 19) and then, incredibly, he starts to preach and debate in the synagogues. And Luke tells us in two crisp statements what was at the heart of Saul's new worldview. Jesus, the hated, rejected, crucified criminal, is the Son of God and the long hoped-for Messiah. Verse 20: "And in the synagogue immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, 'He is the Son of God.'" And verse 22: "But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ [which means Messiah, the anointed one, the fulfiller of all God's promises to Israel]."
Isn't it amazing that the last words we hear coming out of Saul's mouth before his conversion are, "Who are you, Lord" (v. 5); and the first words we hear coming out of his mouth after his conversion are, "Jesus is the Son of God" (v. 20)? Surely Luke wants us to see that this is foundational to being a Christian and foundational to the rest of Paul's life as the greatest missionary who ever lived. "Jesus is the Son of God."
What I am praying will happen now in this message is that God will reveal his Son to you in new ways so you can enjoy fellowship and life in him.
What Does It Mean That Jesus Is the Son of God?
1. Jesus Is God
It means that he is God.
Paul said in Colossians 2:9, "In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (cf. 1:13, 19). He said in Philippians 2:6, "Though he was in the form of God he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself." Hebrews 1:2–3 says, "In these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of [God's] glory and the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power." Hebrews 1:8–9 says, "Of the Son [God] he says, "Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever." And John writes, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth" (John 1:1, 14).
When Paul said that Jesus is the Son of God, we understand him to mean that Jesus is God. He is not a mere man or a high-ranking angel in human form. He is truly man and truly God.
When we call him Son of God, we mean that he is of the same nature as God. Fathers create things unlike themselves, but they beget sons like themselves. C. S. Lewis puts it like this:
When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers, and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make (or create), you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, and man makes a wireless set (or a computer) . . .
So when we say that Jesus is the Son of God, we mean that God has begotten his Son in his very same divine nature, nothing less, from all eternity. Begetting is a metaphor, a picture, that tries to hold two truths together: (1) God the Father is not God the Son and God the Son is not God the Father; they are distinct persons, distinct centers of consciousness, and can relate to each other. But (2) the Father and the Son are one God not two Gods, one essence, one divine nature. From all eternity, without any beginning, the Father has always had a perfect image of himself and a divine reflection or radiance equal to himself, namely, the Son.
So the first thing we mean when we say, "Jesus is the Son of God," is that he is God.
2. God Has a Unique Love for Jesus
The second thing it means is that God has a unique love for Jesus as his Son.
In Colossians Paul describes Jesus as the Son of God's love, implying that the love for his divine Son is utterly unique from the love God has for all his human children by adoption. "God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of his love."
And two times in the earthly life of Jesus—once at Jesus' baptism and once on the mount of transfiguration—God the Father broke in and said, "This is my beloved Son." And in Ephesians 1:6 Jesus is simply called God's "loved one."
So when we call Jesus the Son of God, we should have in our minds the truth that he is God and that there is a relationship of infinite love between God the Father and God the Son that is different from all other loves.
Why Is This the First Thing Saul Proclaims?
But let's ask why this was so crucial for Saul and for Luke that they put it right at the front of the ministry. The first thing Saul proclaims is, "Jesus is the Son of God." Why?
Consider these four truths about the Son of God and see if you don't think the truth of Jesus' Sonship deserves first place.
- 1 John 5:12 says, "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life."
- 1 John 2:23 says, "No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also." So to have a relationship with God the Father and to have eternal life you have to confess Jesus as the Son of God and "have" Jesus as the Son of God—that is, be in fellowship with him (1:3; 1 Corinthians 1:9).
- Galatians 4:4–5 gives the foundation of all this hope: "When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son . . . to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." The Father sent his one and only divine Son so that he might have many human sons by adoption. "We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10).
- Finally, Galatians 2:20 says that we "live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us."
So it was the coming and the dying of the Son that gave us the gift of adoption. So if you confess the Son, you have the Father also—have him as Father. And if you have the Son and the Father, then you have everlasting life. And not only for the ages to come, but right now the Son of God works for us so that our lives should be described as living by faith in the Son of God.
So it is not surprising that Saul and Luke would put this truth at the very beginning of Paul's missionary preaching: "Jesus is the Son of God."
It Must Be at the Front End of Our Lives Too
It needs to be right at the front end of our Christian lives too. It needs to be one of the central pillars in our understanding of reality. Jesus is the Son of God.
I want you all to know the Son of God and to have personal, intimate, hour-by-hour, trustful, saving fellowship with him; and to have the Father with him; and to have life in them; and to enjoy the exalted place of adoption through the Spirit of the Son; and the gift of redemption and reconciliation and conformity to the Son; and the power of victory over the devil. "The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).
How Do You Come to Know the Son?
I want all this for you. So how do you come to know and have the Son like that? Jesus said in Matthew 11:27, "No one knows the Son except the Father." So how will I ever come to know him? Then in Matthew 16:15 Jesus asks the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Do you remember how Jesus responded? "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Knowing Jesus as the Son of God is not something that happens by the mere mental and emotional powers resident in human nature. There must be a divine work of grace beyond flesh and blood, so that in and through and behind the Bible and the preaching and the miracles we see the glory of the Son. We taste the divine reality and know him supernaturally.
Is it an accident that Paul describes his conversion like this in Galatians 1:16, "When God was pleased to reveal his Son to me ["reveal"! the same word Jesus used to describe Peter's experience], in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood . . . but I went away into Arabia"? Just like Jesus said to Peter: "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven."
So how do you come to know Jesus as the Son of God and to have fellowship with the Son and walk by faith in the Son and have life in the Son?
There does have to be intelligible preaching or teaching or witnessing about the biblical story of Jesus. Our text says (Acts 9:22) that Saul "confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ." An intelligible, valid presentation of Jesus is essential. But persuasive words alone do not open the eyes of the heart. They tried to kill Paul in Damascus. "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, Simon, but my Father who is in heaven."
"The God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).
How then do you come to know and to have and to fellowship with the Son of God? You listen to his Word, his story (Luke 9:35). And you pray for the revelation of the Father—the eyes to see the glory (Mark 9:24). And by grace you believe and triumph. "Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:5).