If you work with any gathering or group of people, there will be one who seems different than the rest of the group. You know the one. Maybe you are the one. The one who is different is deemed a “basket case”, someone to stay away from, gossip about, while not listening to them. There is truth to what the basket case has done in their past that keeps you from going to near them. But then Jesus changes everything in the one. How is the changed life treated now? Pretty much the same, because we are “don’t believe it ‘til we see it” kind of people. We humanly judge and mistrust people by their past mistakes, not by their new transformational beginnings. We people are funny like that. Maybe we are all basket cases until Jesus comes along to change our minds, hearts and souls. Jesus changes everything.
Saul, known as the zealous persecutor of the new believers in Jesus, who held the coats of those who stoned the beloved Stephen, has been changed by Jesus Christ. Jesus met him on the way to inflicting more terrorism in Damascus. Jesus stopped him cold with blindness, but with keen hearing Jesus sent him to his knees with, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Jesus changed everything in Saul’s thinking and believing. This strong, driven, Jewish scholar who thought he was working for God, met His Son. The Son, Jesus changes everything.
God then acts through His Holy Spirit and sent Saul to be healed. The healing happened through the hands of the Spirit-led believer, Ananias. To be sure, Ananias was skeptic, no doubt, but Jesus changed him so he believed Jesus could change Saul, so he obeyed. Saul came right into the “enemy’s camp” of believers he was charged with persecuting! Instead, he found healing and salvation. Jesus changes everything.
But, because of Saul’s past life of being a warlord of sorts with his gang of thugs who maimed and threw believers into jail, the “church”, the group who had also been changed by Jesus, were apprehensive to take him in as one of their own. Can you blame them? But, Jesus changes everything! If it were not for Ananias, and later Barnabas, standing up for Saul, testifying about how Jesus changed Saul, he would not have a chance to fulfill his new mission to preach Jesus. Saul became a basket case.
The new believers were afraid of Saul because of his past but most soon warmed up to him because they began to see what Jesus saw in Saul—drive, passion for the mission, untiring tenacity, and a never quit attitude. Complacency was not in Saul’s vocabulary or DNA before or after salvation. Take note, Jesus used Saul’s same abilities for persecution and used them to point people to Him, Jesus, Savior and Lord. Yep, Jesus changes everything—even basket cases!
The heat was on in the community of believers. There was one group who refused to accept Saul and his preaching, even though the preaching was about the One who saved them! This group wanted to get rid of Saul as much as Saul, before Jesus, had wanted to get rid of them. So, in the dark of night, those who now loved Saul and believed in what Jesus had done in him, put him in a basket and lowered him over the wall of the city. This basket case was sent back to Jerusalem but the Hellenists didn’t believe the changes in Saul either. So, the disciples, led by God’s Holy Spirit, got him out of town and shipped this basket case off to Tarsus.
Yes, Friends, Jesus changes everything. This “basket case” become a missionary and a church planter, beginning in Tarsus where he was exiled! Everywhere Saul/Paul goes, Jesus is preached to Gentiles and Jews alike—which was the original commission as we recall from Jesus to his disciples…
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 19-20, NIV
We basket cases, saved by grace, will face opposition because of our past, our drive and our passion to preach only Jesus who changed everything about us. We need to remember, like Saul, what others think about us doesn’t ultimately matter. God sees the hearts of His created. We merely preach Jesus who saved us. We tell our testimony whether people believe it or not. We are not driven by fear but by the Name of Jesus who gives us fearless confidence. This is the secret, Saul/Paul will later write to the believers of new churches:
“God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you. This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.
So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” Colossians 1:25-29, NLT (Emphasis mine)
Saul, the basket case, became Paul, the Apostle. Same drive. Different mission. Jesus changes everything.
ACTS—God’s Acts through His Disciples
Acts 9:19-31, The Message
Plots Against Saul
19-21 Saul spent a few days getting acquainted with the Damascus disciples, but then went right to work, wasting no time, preaching in the meeting places that this Jesus was the Son of God. They were caught off guard by this and, not at all sure they could trust him, they kept saying, “Isn’t this the man who wreaked havoc in Jerusalem among the believers? And didn’t he come here to do the same thing—arrest us and drag us off to jail in Jerusalem for sentencing by the high priests?”
22 But their suspicions didn’t slow Saul down for even a minute. His momentum was up now and he plowed straight into the opposition, disarming the Damascus Jews and trying to show them that this Jesus was the Messiah.
23-25 After this had gone on quite a long time, some Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul got wind of it. They were watching the city gates around the clock so they could kill him. Then one night the disciples engineered his escape by lowering him over the wall in a basket.
26-27 Back in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him. They didn’t trust him one bit. Then Barnabas took him under his wing. He introduced him to the apostles and stood up for him, told them how Saul had seen and spoken to the Master on the Damascus Road and how in Damascus itself he had laid his life on the line with his bold preaching in Jesus’ name.
28-30 After that he was accepted as one of them, going in and out of Jerusalem with no questions asked, uninhibited as he preached in the Master’s name. But then he ran afoul of a group called Hellenists—he had been engaged in a running argument with them—who plotted his murder. When his friends learned of the plot, they got him out of town, took him to Caesarea, and then shipped him off to Tarsus.
31 Things calmed down after that and the church had smooth sailing for a while. All over the country—Judea, Samaria, Galilee—the church grew. They were permeated with a deep sense of reverence for God. The Holy Spirit was with them, strengthening them. They prospered wonderfully.
ONE LAST THOUGHT…
When we basket case believers follow the Holy Spirit of God and give all we have to Jesus, life changes for ALL of us. The closer we get to Jesus we cannot help but get closer to each other. It’s impossible not to—try it physically. Put someone in the middle of the room and tell others to put their hands on that person who represents Jesus. Then look around, you are closer to each other than ever before!
THIS is church growth! Read the last words of this passage again—slowly, prayerfully and thoughtfully… “All over the country—Judea, Samaria, Galilee—the church grew. They were permeated with a deep sense of reverence for God. The Holy Spirit was with them, strengthening them. They prospered wonderfully.”
Yes, Jesus changes everything. God acts through us. Everything grows!
Thank you for saving my soul and changing my life and the lives around me.
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen. Yes, I believe.