A young man was born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany, about 120 miles southwest of modern-day Berlin. His parents, Hans and Margaretha, were both domestic workers. Shortly after the birth of their son, the family moved to Mansfield where his father found work in the copper mines. Hans was a very driven man and his Type A personality paid off at work as he quickly climbed the ladder of success and became part-owner of several mines in the area. Hans wasn’t content to simply expend all of his energy on the mining business. He also ran for public office in the little town and became a member of the city council.

Hans’ “hands on” approach may have worked well at the office, but it proved detrimental at home. Hans and Margaretha’s young son found living under their roof difficult as a young boy. He suffered from physical abuse from both of his parents. He was beaten by both his mother and father in truly frightening ways. He became so estranged from his father on one occasion that Hans sought his forgiveness. Later on, the young man would say of his father that he knew he meant well, even if what he did was wrong. Hans couldn’t settle for any thing less than perfection for either himself or his son and his drive to be best proved almost fatal when it came to relationships.

The Luther family was not a very religious family. Margaretha, Luther’s mother, shared the common superstitions of the time. For example, she blamed the death of one of her sons on a neighbor, whom she regarded as a witch. The family’s relationship to God was more of a magical good luck charm instead of a walk of faith. Hans sought special indulgences at the local parish church. As a youngster, Luther’s religion was one in which one had to work for future salvation just as one had to work for material survival.

Hans wanted what he thought was best for his son so he sent the boy to Latin school and finally on to the University of Erfurt. In making this farsighted decision, Hans was ambitious not just for his son, but also for the entire family. If he succeeded, young Luther would become a lawyer, who could then provide financially for both parents and his siblings.

Luther, the youth who left home before his fourteenth birthday, proved to be extraordinarily intelligent. He earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the shortest time allowed by the statutes of the University of Erfurt. He proceeded directly to the faculty of law. He proved so adept at disputations (public debates that were the principal means of learning and teaching) that he earned the nickname “The Philosopher.” Hans was so pleased that he gave his son the costly gift of the central text for legal studies at the time, the “Corpus Uris Civilis.” Unfortunately for Hans’s plans, the fledgling law student began to have doubts about the status of his soul and the career his father had securely set before him.

In 1505, when Luther was not yet 22, he took an officially sanctioned, yet unexplained, leave from the university. Young Luther was searching for meaning in life and he wasn’t finding any “real” answers in law.

On his return to Erfurt, as Luther fought his way through a severe thunderstorm, a bolt of lightning struck the ground near him. Luther was thrown from his horse and cried out, “Help me, St. Anne!” Luther screamed. “I will become a monk!” After his vow to St. Anne, the familiar patroness of miners, Luther spent several weeks discussing his decision with friends. Then, in July 1505, as was the requirement upon entering monastic life, he gave away all his possessions–his lute, on which he was proficient; his many books, including the “Corpus Juris Civilis”; his clothing and eating utensils–and then he entered the monastery of Augustinians.

As was customary, he endured more than a month of examining his conscience and being interrogated by the appropriate authorities before proceeding to the novitiate (a further year of scrutiny before becoming a friar).

For the remainder of Martin Luther’s life he sought God with all of his heart and he learned that heaven can’t be earned, but that it must be received as a free gift of grace from the hand of Almighty God. God used Martin Luther to lead what was called the Protestant Reformation which completely reshaped the Church. Most of us who are here this morning call ourselves, not Catholic, but Protestant, the legacy of Luther’s quest to stand for Truth, even in the face of threat of death from the religious authorities who tried to do everything they could to kill his spirit and determination.

To think that the turning point in Luther’s life started with a bolt of lightning a little too close to the horse he was riding. I’m thankful Martin was paying attention.

Not everyone is paying attention. I remember when I was a kid and the Western Open Golf Tournament was taking place just outside of Chicago. Three professional golfers were injured in the thunderstorm which hit the golf course. A bolt of lightning struck too close to the golfers and they were rushed to the hospital. One of the golfers was Lee Trevino. A few weeks later, after Trevino had recovered, he was on a t.v. talk show when they asked him, “What was it like to be so close to a lightning strike?” Trevino said, “Well, I learned a couple of things from the experience. First, I learned that whenever the Almighty wants to play through you better let Him. I also learned that from now on, whenever I am caught out on the course in the middle of thunderstorm, I need to raise my 1 iron above my head.” The interviewer said, “Why in the world would anyone hold a metal rod above their head in the middle of a thunderstorm?” Trevino said, “Even God Himself can’t hit a 1 iron.”

Two lightning bolts. Two different responses to the terrifying experiences. One man leaves his occupation and God uses him to carry the message of “Salvation by grace alone” to generations to come. Another man leaves his experience with the lightning bolt and carries a message of humor to a t.v. talk show. I don’t mean to suggest that Lee Trevino should have quit the pro tour and joined the monastery, but neither do I mean to suggest that Lee Trevino should not have quit the pro tour and joined the monastery. I have no idea what the lightning strike in Lee Trevino’s life meant, and I’m not concerned that I understand. What I do want to know is, “Lee, were you paying attention?”

Have you ever noticed how people can experience almost exact happenings in their lives and yet respond to them in totally different ways? Some things that push some over the edge are the catalyst to cause others to have their eyes opened, bare down, and knuckle under. The loss of a boyfriend can send some young ladies into complete despair, even to the point of contemplating suicide, while others will see that the relationship was not what God has planned for them. An accident can cause some to ask, “Why me Lord?” while others see God as seeking to show them something in their life. A death of a loved one can cause some to come to a complete stand-still while others learn how precious relationships are and how they should be treasured while there is still time. A run-in with the law can cause some to talk about how they got caught and how they are going to get off, while for others it is a sign from God that their life is spinning out of control. Dissension in a church or family can cause some to throw up their hands and walk away while for others it is an opportunity to seek God’s healing. A narrow escape with the jaws of death can cause some to laugh it off and talk about how lucky they are while others take a long, hard look at where their life is heading. The list goes on and on…

I have come to the conclusion that a big determining factor in how we react and respond to the events taking place in our life is whether or not we are paying attention. I want to ask you this morning, “Are you paying attention.” Are you paying attention to the events that transpire in your life everyday? If so, what do you see taking place? Are the events which take place mere happenstance or coincidence? Is there a reason why the things that happen are occurring, and if so, Why?

I have a feeling that lightning bolts are striking around us and we are getting up from the ground, wiping our brow, and saying, “Whew, that was close,” rather than falling on our faces before Almighty God and seeking His heart for our life and future.

It is amazing what can happen when one man pays attention to the events taking place in his life. Take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in Acts 9:1-9. In the Scripture you will find that Saul was paying attention.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest {2} and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. {3} As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. {4} He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” {5} “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. {6} “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” {7} The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. {8} Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. {9} For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9:1-9 NIV)

For us to really understand just how keenly Saul was paying attention, we must understand where Saul came from. During the closing years of Caesar Augustus’ reign, a boy was born to a Jewish family in Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, in modern-day Turkey. The family traced its heritage from the tribe of Benjamin, and they named their son after the most famous person in their family tree: Saul, the first king of Israel. Even though the boy was Jewish, he also enjoyed the benefits of being a Roman citizen. His Roman citizenship implied that his family owned property. It also carried with it privileges-the right to a fair trail, exemption from degrading punishments like whipping, and the right to an appeal.

Early on in Saul’s life he learned to cross cultural barriers which would prove highly beneficial to his future work. Though born in the center of Greek culture, Saul was sent to school in Jerusalem where he studied the Jewish Scriptures and religious law under the renowned rabbi Gamaliel.

Saul’s teacher taught him moderation when it came to dealing with people from other faith groups. When the Sanhedrin wanted to kill the followers of Jesus, Gamaliel spoke with a more tolerant voice and asked that they only be punished and let go.

Saul did not follow in his teacher’s steps. He was highly intolerant of anything he thought out of step with the Pharisee way. Saul joined the growing number of Jewish leaders who steadily harassed and even killed followers of Jesus. Saul could not help but be zealous in his defense of Judaism. He had devoted his life to the study of the Jewish Bible and the traditions of the Pharisees. He saw the followers of Jesus as the number one threat to his faith, and as a result he set out to silence them.

During one meeting of the Sanhedrin, a follower of Jesus, a young man named Stephen, appeared before the council. His responses to their questions infuriated them. They began taking off their robes and picking up rocks to kill him. Saul volunteered to watch their robes while they pelted the young man with stones.

The death of Stephen did not quench Saul’s passionate thirst for the silence of the followers of Jesus – he wanted more. Stephen’s death proved to be the smell of blood for a hungry wolf driving him harder and making him even more committed, but then again God had said of Saul’s ancestors, “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder.” (Genesis 49:27 NIV)

Saul asked for special permission to go to Damascus, a site where he had heard many of the Christians who had fled the persecution of Jerusalem had traveled for safety. Damascus was, and is, the world’s oldest city. The city was a transportation and commercial hub for Palestine and Egypt to the south, the Tigris and Euphrates River valleys to the east, and Antioch and Asia Minor to the north. It sat at the intersection of the two main international highways of the ancient Near East; the Way of the Sea and the King’s Highway. Damascus was located about 135 miles north of Jerusalem, about a seven day journey. With every step Saul took his heart beat a little faster, the fire in his eyes grew a little brighter, and he grew more and more anxious to find the hated Christians and bring them in.

Saul’s sole mission in traveling to Damascus was to bring in every Christian he could find — to try them in a court of law and execute them. Luke writes, “and (Saul) asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” Saul was an equal opportunity persecutor. He didn’t care whether it was a man or woman, if a person professed faith in the One who was undermining the ways Saul’s forefathers in the faith – He would deal with them and deal with them harshly.

As he was coming upon the final day of his walk into the city of Damascus, suddenly something happened. Luke tells us,

{3} As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. {4} He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” {5} “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

Some of us may say, “Well, if I heard a voice like Saul did I would respond to God’s call upon my life as well.” I really question that statement. We have all kinds of ways to explain things away today. “I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. I didn’t really hear what I though I heard. Did somebody say something?” These are some of the responses we might offer, but there is even a more crucial issue at hand. My friend, we’ve already heard the voice of God. God has given us His Word that calls us to obedience, to surrender our lives to Him, and to be His messengers of Good News in the world today and yet we have neglected God’s Eternal voice that calls out to us.

Saul had every reason to deny what was happening to him. First, he had rejected Jesus. Jesus was no Messiah, He was no Savior, He was the Adversary, the One who was seeking to undermine the mission of the Pharisees. Why would Saul want to listen to the One whom he was working against? Second, Saul was on a mission. He had charted his course. He had made the trek from Jerusalem to Damascus to bring back the offenders. He was doing everything he could to preserve the traditions of his forefathers. Why would he listen to someone wanting to dismantle everything that was familiar to him?

I have a feeling that the reasons Saul could have given as to why he would not listen to Jesus are being clung to by many of us today. As a result, we are missing out on God’s best for us. Oh, we won’t come out and say it, we won’t stand up and say, “Jesus is not the All-Powerful, Supreme Authority, and only hope for humanity,” but we certainly live that veiled confession whenever we continue to place our decisions and opinions above that of Jesus. Rather than call Him Master and submit to Jesus as His servant, we try to make Him our slave as we seek to use Him however we choose! We cling to our traditions and the way we’ve always done things with no regard for what He is wanting to do right here and right now. We miss out on God’s best for us as we cling to the past, not paying attention to what is doing in the present to bring all people to Himself.

Saul was willing to pay attention to the call of Jesus because Saul was a genuine seeker of Truth. You have to understand that Saul was a genuine seeker of Truth. He was working so passionately against the cause of Christ because Saul believed in his heart that He knew the Truth. When Jesus revealed Himself as the Truth of God, Saul’s life was forever changed.

Have you come to know Jesus as the Truth of Almighty God? Has Jesus broken into your world of facades and thin veneers and revealed Himself to you as the Truth of God? If so, what is holding you back from totally surrendering your life to Him as Lord and King? Could it be the fear of the unknown? That is a very real fear my friend. I am continually amazed at how God’s revealed plan for His servants consists of simply faithfulness and trust, rather than a detailed sketch of the rest of their life. That was God’s plan for Philip as He told him to leave Samaria and go to the desert road. God didn’t tell him why, He simply told him to go. That was God’s plan for Saul as he was told, {6} “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Jesus already knew what He would have Saul to do. Jesus already knew that Saul was going to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles around the world. Jesus already knew that Saul was going to suffer greatly for proclaiming the name of Jesus. Jesus knew the mission He would give to Saul. Saul’s mission was revealed to Ananias, even though it wasn’t revealed to Saul. Take a look at Acts 9:15-16.

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. {16} I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. (Acts 9:15-16 NIV)

Jesus knew all of this about Saul, but he didn’t tell him. Saul could have bargained with Jesus and said, “Listen, I’ll make a deal with you. If you will tell me what you’ve got planned for me then I’ll pray about it and get back with you in a week, but I can’t make a decision with no facts before me.” Saul didn’t do that, but I’m afraid that is what many of us are waiting for before we make a decision to seek God’s purposes for our life with no reservation. Because we want to know what the future holds for us we miss out on God’s best for us. I will promise you that if God would have given Saul a pencil and paper and said, “Write out what you want from life,” Saul could not have planned a more fulfilling, satisfying, challenging, and productive life for himself. God wanted His best for Saul and Saul responded in obedience even though he didn’t have a clue what was about to take place.

The men traveling with Saul heard the sounds, but they didn’t know what to think. Luke tells us they stood there speechless. Take a look at verses 7-9.

{7} The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. {8} Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. {9} For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

It is interesting to see that in Acts 22:9, Saul gives his own version of what happened on the road to Damascus. He says, “My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.” (Acts 22:9 NIV) Many skeptics take a look at the two accounts of Saul’s conversion and say, “There is a real problem here. The two accounts don’t agree. Was Luke right when he said that the men heard the sound, or was Saul right when he said the men did not understand the voice of Jesus when He spoke?” Why does one have to be right and the other wrong? The verb that is used in this sentence, “avkou,ontej” (akouontes) means, (1) to indicate sense perception hear (AC 9.7); (2) to indicate understanding of what was said hear (AC 9.4); (3) give a hearing, grant a court trial (JN 7.51); (4) of being informed about something; learn or hear (of) (MT 14.13); (5) it is reported (1C 5.1); (6) of discipleship listen to, pay attention to, obey (LU 9.35); (7) of inner comprehension understand, be aware of, listen to (GA 4.21).

The men traveling with Saul heard the sound, but they couldn’t make any sense of it. The voice of Jesus was directed towards Saul, he was the recipient of Jesus’ call, not the others. They didn’t have to understand, but Saul understood clearly. It is not important that others hear the voice of God calling you my friend, but it is imperative that you understand clearly what God is trying to say to you. God is calling some of us this morning to make a commitment to Jesus as Lord of our life, to surrender to His call to follow Him. Don’t wait for others to respond to the call – they may never come, but you come while you hear God calling.

The last thing I want us to look at this morning is found in the very last verse. Luke tells us that Saul was in a crisis in verse 9 when he says, {9} “For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” Isn’t it amazing that the greatest day of Saul’s life was being experienced by Saul, but he was in a state of shock, a crisis of his soul. This was the day that would change his life forever, but Saul couldn’t eat, he couldn’t see, he couldn’t drink, he was a zombie wondering what in the world was happening to him. Everything he had ever believed was being ripped from him. Everything he had ever stood for was crumbling at his feet. Everything he had ever dreamed of accomplishing was now being shown to be worthless. It was a crisis of mammoth proportions for Saul, but it was a new birth, a new beginning.

Do you feel that way? Do you find yourself being stretched to the limits? Does it seem that everything you’ve cherished in the past is now being challenged? Does it appear that your life has been turned upside down? Have you ever thought that you may be right where God wants you? This may be the day of new beginnings for you…if you will only pay attention.

Are You Paying Attention?
Acts 9:1-9