An Unexpected Encounter
Richard Connell, in his famous story, The Most Dangerous Game, describes his lead character, Sanger Rainsfield, as being a world renowned celebrated big game hunter. On one occasion, he was heading to the coast of South America to hunt and he was driving…or as he was leading and directing his yacht, he came across a bumpy patch of water. He was ejected form his yacht. He managed to swim to shore because he was a good swimmer. Now, as he was swimming, he noticed this island in the distance and he realized that it was inhabited because he had heard gunshots ring out during the night. So he came to this island and he made his way over to a little hut and he came in contact with a Russian General named General Zaroff. The General welcomed him into the hut and invited him to dinner. They started to talk and over dinner he had told Rainsfield, the General did, that he was hunting a new kind of animal on the island. Rainsfield inquired about the animal. The General said, “It supplies me with the most exciting hunting I have ever had. No other hunting compares with it for an instant. Every day I hunt, I never grow bored, for I have someone with which can match my wits.” Rainsfield was confused about the species and so the General went on. “I wanted the ideal animal to hunt, so I asked myself the question, what are the attributes of an ideal animal to hunt. And the answer was, of course, it must have courage. It must be cunning and above all else, it must have the ability to reason. Rainsfield said, “There is no animal that has the ability to reason.” “My dear fellow, there is one that can.” “But you cannot mean…” “And why not,” said the General. “You have got to be joking, General, there is no way you mean that. You can’t be hunting that kind of animal!” He said, “Yes, I am. I am speaking about hunting, aren’t I?” You see, what Rainsfield realized is that he, as the big game hunter, had now become the hunted.
Friends, in Acts Chapter 9, what we are going to see this morning is the Apostle Paul, the pursuer, becoming the prey. The hunter, Paul, who is hunting down Christians, is now being hunted by God.
And as we read Acts Chapter 9, it is the testimony of the salvation of the Apostle Paul, we could easily insert our lives into Paul’s life because this is what happened when you and I came to the Lord. Now if you are an unbeliever in here today, I want you to know, this is exactly what God has been doing in your life. He has been pursuing you, as one poet said, as the Hound of Heaven would. If you are a believer in here today, this is how we came to know the Lord and we should be grateful as we hear a sermon about Paul, but it should resonate with our own lives.
If you have your Bibles, and I hope you do, turn with me to Acts Chapter 9 and we will be considering most of this chapter in sections. Acts Chapter 9 Verse 1. If you are there, say “word.” The Word of the Lord.
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and he 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.”
Father, we pray the blessing that You would bless the reading and the preaching of Your Word, for Your glory, that we would leave this place different than the way we came in, conformed to the image of your Son. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. And everyone said, Amen.
Let me tell you about Paul’s life. And I want to start by making you aware that Paul and who he was before he came to Christ. Who was Paul before he came to Christ? Well, his name in this text is Saul. That is who he was prior to coming to Jesus. After that, he is referred to as Paul and in the majority, if not all, of his New Testament Epistles, he refers to himself as Paul. He was opposed to the new movement of Christ, as we see early on in this text. So much so that he was breathing threats against those who followed Jesus. And he even was involved in the murder of some of those individuals.
Now, let me give you kind of an overview from Paul’s account as to who he was, just taking a quick cursory journey through the book of Acts. So lets look at Acts Chapter 7 Verse 58 and we won’t be able to read these, but I wanted to give them to you if you are taking notes. You can always go back and study further later. Acts Chapter 7 Verse 8. Paul participated in the stoning of Stephen. Then we move to Acts Chapter 8 Verse 3, Saul ravaged the church. He would go into the homes of people, men and women, he would drag them out and put them in prison. Acts Chapter 9, he was breathing threats against the disciples. He even was a part of the murder of some of the believers. Acts Chapter 9 Verse 2, he was obtaining warrants and authorizing to harass them. Acts Chapter 26 Verse 9, Paul said that he did everything in his power to oppose the Christians. Acts Chapter 26 Verse 10, Paul testified against believers in the courtrooms facilitating their murders. And then in Acts Chapter 26 Verse 11, Paul even forced believers to blaspheme God. So he has got a laundry list of issues in his life and he was against believers. In his mind, he believed he was doing the right thing.
Now we have the rare privilege this morning of hearing from Paul about his own resume of his past that he wrote himself in Philippians Chapter 3. So if you have your Bibles, turn with me to Philippians Chapter 3 and I want you to hear from Paul about his own past. When you are there, say “word.”
Verse 4 of Chapter 3, “If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more.” Paul says, if you guys want to get in a match, in a debate about who has more credentials, he is talking against the Judiazers at this time. He says, “I have more. I was circumcised on the eighth day.” Now why does he say eighth day? Because what he is saying is, he is differentiating his circumcision from that of the Gentiles which would have been circumcised later as adults. And he says, “I was circumcised as a Jew, according to the tradition of the Law. Of the nation of Israel.” Why of the nation of Israel? Because I am part of God’s chosen nation, right? I am one of the Chosen Ones. “Of the tribe of Benjamin.” We know that Rachel and Jacob’s chosen son, their favorite son, was Benjamin. Joseph, obviously, but Benjamin. But he says, I am of the lineage of Benjamin. “But I am a Hebrew of Hebrews.” Paul says, I am the poster child for the Jewish faith. When you think of the Jewish religion and if would have seen posters or billboards on the side of the street as Jew of the Year, Paul says, I was the guy. I was THE guy in that form and fashion of Judaism.
But then he goes on. That is his ancestry, if you are taking notes. That is who I was. Let me tell you about my achievements. That is his ancestry. Here are his achievements. Notice what he says. “Regarding the law, I was a (what?) a Pharisee.” Saul was born and raised with Hebrew parents, but he had the privilege of being raised and reared in a Hellenistic town called Tarsus. He knew Hebrew and Greek at the same time. He had duel citizenship. He was also a Roman. And his parents had the privilege and prestige, for some reason, to acquire the great Gamalial to teach Paul. Paul was discipled, if you will, by the great Rabbi Gamalial. And we know about Gamalial in Acts Chapter 5. Under Jesus, he was probably one of the renowned rabbis of that time. It was a great privilege to be able to study under him. And so Paul probably was inducted into that formal sect, that religious sect of the Pharisees under the tutelage of Gamalial.
And so what he says, “I was a Pharisee.” Now what are Pharisees? They are a religious sect that followed the Sabbatical Laws that followed the religious laws and the purity laws of Judaism. They followed the Law so much that they actually invented new laws not to break the other laws. Right? They put fences around the laws not to break the laws.
So Paul says, “As for righteousness, I was a Pharisee.” Now look at what he says secondly. “Regarding zeal, I was a persecutor of the church.” Now, we don’t know exactly what the word “zeal” is talking about. He could be talking about zeal or passion for the Lord. But I think what he is talking about here, watch this, is zeal for the Law. I get that because that word “zeal” is book ended under the two sections regarding the Law. He talks about the Law here and then he talks about the Law here. And so we have to believe that he is talking about zeal for the Law. What was zeal for the Law? He was trying to protect Judaism. And he realized that Christianity was an attack against Judaism and Paul was going to do everything in his power to decimate the Christians.
Now, what Paul is doing is, he doesn’t know this, but he has zeal to persecute the Christians, but all the while Jesus Christ is pursuing him! The hunter is becoming the hunted.
And then finally, notice what he says, “As for righteousness to the law, I am (what?) blameless.” That word there means to be perfect. Now Paul is not talking about sinless perfectionism here. For we know that is unbiblical. But what he is saying is, I am striving for holiness. He didn’t believe in his mind that he could be perfect, but he strived for perfection, right? He lived upright in an upright manner because it was the right thing to do.
Paul is basically saying, if I ran for a political office, you would never be able to dig up any dirt on me. So that is who he was before Christ. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews. He had every box checked. He was the epitome of what it meant to be a Jew, right? A torah observant Jew. That is Paul’s life before Christ.
Secondly, lets look at Paul’s response to Christ. Paul’s response to Christ. Look at Verse 3 of Acts 9. “As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” “Who are You, Lord?” he said. “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting.” He replied. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. Then 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. He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.”
Paul is walking on the roadside. He didn’t expect this to happen. He didn’t want this to happen. He wasn’t looking for Jesus. Jesus came looking for him. And he sees this light that blinds him. Now, in the Bible, the light is always connected with God. We see this on a number of occasions. I could give you many. Let me give you two. Psalm 104:2. God wraps Himself in light as with a garment. He stretches out the heavens like a tent. I Timothy Chapter 6 Verse 16, “Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light? It is God whom no one has seen or can see.”
So we understand this light is a connection to God. It is the presence and the power of God. And when Jesus comes to Paul, He repeats to him the same phrase two times. Why? Because Paul, like us, is slow to learn. He says, You are persecuting Me. Who am I persecuting? You are persecuting Me. Well, who are you, Lord? And what it shows us is something interesting. When Jesus says, “You are persecuting Me (active tense), it shows us that Jesus is alive, raised from the dead, ascended into heaven and is real today as He ever was. Friends, I want you to know, Jesus Christ is as real today as He was 2000 years ago. How do I know that? Because what Jesus is doing here is He is connecting Paul’s persecution with His presence. And this is what He is saying. He doesn’t say, why are you persecuting the church, which you would expect Him to say. He doesn’t say to Paul, why are you persecuting My people? He doesn’t even say, why are you persecuting them? What He says is, “Why are you persecuting (who?) Me?” And this is a great encouragement for us as believers. Why? Because when someone attacks you, don’t miss this, as a Christian, they are actually attacking Christ. Did you know that? When someone has something against you for standing up for the Lord, it is not against you, it is against the One in whom you serve, right?
And what Jesus says is, I have such a great union with My people that when someone attacks them, they are actually persecuting Me. Now when this happens, Paul’s traveling companions are speechless. They stood there in silence. That word “speechless” in the language of the New Testament (get this) is the word for frightened or frozen. You can’t blame them. If I would hear a voice from heaven and not see the person speaking, I would probably be frozen in my tracks, too. And so they are speechless there. They don’t know what is happening.
I don’t know if you know this through history, but another instance, very similar, it literally parallels this account, happened a hundred years later. I mean, almost word for word what happened here for Paul happened for a man named Polycarp. In the mid-second century, Polycarp was a follower of Christ. Now he wasn’t an original disciple, but he was discipled by John the Apostle and he lived throughout Asia Minor and some of the other areas. And the Romans had heard about his belief in Christ. On February 23, 155 A.D., they drug him into the Roman Coliseum and they asked him to renounce Christ and live.
Now we know exactly what happened on this occasion because the early church fathers have preserved a letter entitled, The Letter to the Simernians, or the Account of the Life of Polycarp. It is like a gospel letter, only preserved. It happened many years later but they preserved it. So I want to read to you word for word what happened when Polycarp was brought into the coliseum and asked to renounce Christ. Chapter 8 Verse 2. “And when he was met by Herod, the captain of the police and his father, Neketes, who also removed them from their carriage and tried to prevail upon them, seating themselves by his side, and saying to him, What harm is there in saying that Caesar is Lord and offering incense?” So what the Roman General is doing, he is pleading with him saying, why don’t you just renounce Christ. It is just words. Just say renounce Jesus and light incense and you will live, man. You are old. Just do this.
Notice what happens. “But he had first gave them no answer. When however they persisted, he said, ‘I am not going to do what you counsel me to do.’ Then they, failing to persuade him, uttered threats against him and made him dismount the carriage with speed. And in addition to that, he bruised his shin as he did so. And without even turning around, he went on his way promptly with speed as if nothing happened to him, as they took him into the stadium.” Listen to the scene there. “There was in the stadium such an uprising that no man’s voice could be much as heard.”
Now I want you to imagine. He is in the Coliseum and there are hundreds, if not thousands of people screaming and yelling, right? But as Polycarp entered into the stadium, Chapter 9 and Verse 1, “a voice came from heaven. Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man, or be the man you are. And no one saw the speaker, but all of those people who were present heard the voice.” Is that eerie how similar that was. He is brought into the Coliseum. He is about to be killed and they hear a voice, but no one sees the speaker and everyone hears it that is in attendance.
Now Polycarp’s reply echoes throughout history. They say, renounce Jesus and live. Polycarp says, “Eighty and six years have I not served Him and He has done me no wrong. Can I revile the King that saved me?” We will throw you to the beasts, the Roman Centurion said. He did not respond. Then I will have you burned. Polycarp simply said, “You try to frighten me with fire that burns for an hour and you forget the fire that will burn for eternity.” And with those words, he was burned to a crisp. His body would turn to ashes in one hour and his soul would go to be with the Lord.
It is amazing how similar the Apostle Paul and Polycarp’s experience is. Paul hears a voice. They don’t see a speaker. Polycarp hears a voice. He doesn’t see a speaker. Why are you telling this, Robby, today? Because Jesus Christ is as real today as He was back then.
Friends, you have to understand something. Jesus is still speaking to us today loud and clear. Now I know what you are saying. If Jesus would just come and speak to me, then I would believe. If I heard a voice from heaven just like that, then I would believe, right? Well, guess what? You have a voice from heaven and it is as real as if Jesus was speaking to you verbally. It is called the Word of God, right?
Now I used to be a part of a group of guys, of a different denomination, and they always used words like this or phrases like this: they said, we need a fresh revelation from God. We just want to hear a prophetic voice from heaven today. And what they were saying is this, we want God to speak directly to us about our situation. Now the problem with that thinking is, it is a slippery slope of danger. Here is why. Because whenever you need something beyond the more sure word of the Lord, then what happens is, you try to graduate beyond the Bible and you always want to hear something from God. Listen, God doesn’t need to say anything else more than He has already said because He said enough in His Word. And friends, we have got to get this out of our mind that we need a fresh revelation from God. Listen, the Word of God IS fresh. Why? Because the Bible says, it is living and active, it is sharper than any two-edged sword. It pierces even to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. And what means is, it goes deep, it goes in as deep. And it discerns the thoughts and intentions of our heart.
Friends, you have a fresh revelation from God. It is in His Word. So here is the question, are you coming to the scriptures every morning, opening the text and saying, God, speak to me today. Your servant is willing and open to hear. Because we should be, right? The Word of God is as real today as if Jesus Christ was with us.
Paul has this amazing transformation experience on the Road to Damascus. He is blinded for three days and now he is sent away. Now, a new man is introduced into the story and I don’t have time to read the entire section about Ananias, although it is a good one, but I want to take a snippet and I want to start in mid-account.
Verse 15. Notice Ananias’ commission from Christ, if you are taking notes. Ananias’ commission from Christ. Verse 15, Acts 9. “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go! For this man is My chosen, (he is talking about Paul here), this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to the Gentiles, kings and Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!’ So Ananias left and entered the house. Then he placed his hands on him and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up (watch this) and was baptized.” The very first response to the free gift of salvation from Paul is what? He is baptized. “And after taking some food, he regained his strength.”
Now Ananias, we see two instances in his life that are important for us. The first one is this. Ananias is given a mission. What is the mission? The mission is, he is going to tell Paul about Christ. More attention…I don’t know if you see this…more attention is given in this story convincing Ananias that Paul is a Christian than God devoted to showing us that Paul was converted. God has to spend so much time convincing Ananias that Paul is a Christian. Why? Because you have got to understand, he is not just going to any man here. He is going to Paul, the Christian slayer. I mean, this isn’t a friend here he is going to talk to Jesus about. It isn’t just a co-worker here. This isn’t even just a lost person. This is Paul, the man who enslaved Christians and now God says, I want you to go talk to him.
But then He gives him an easy message, right? He gives Him a mission. This is a pretty easy message right? Hey, just go to Paul and tell him his life is going to be a bed of roses. Is that what He says in the text? Look at it. “Go tell Paul that is my chosen instrument to suffer.”
I tried to imagine this week what it would be like, like what could be something we could wrap our minds around and this doesn’t even compare. But it would be like God telling you to go to Hannibal Lector and saying to him, hey, listen, God has chosen you, Brother. And by the way, you are going to have an easy life. You are going to suffer for the rest of your ministry. God bless you. Have a great day. That is what it would be the equivalent of, right? My friends, this isn’t your best life now. This certainly isn’t every day is Friday. This is just the opposite.
But the beautiful thing about this message is, he gives him this mission and this message to go. And Ananias has a front-row seat in seeing the Apostle Paul literally changed before his eyes. He goes and prays for him. He is filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Now watch this, follow me here. The very first thing he does is he follows through with baptism. Now we know that it is water baptism because the very word “baptism” means to immersed under water. It means to be submerged. There is no way you can be submerged unless you descend under the water. We know from Romans 5, baptism is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. You have to go down and you come up as a picture of Christ.
But, Robby, I thought salvation was enough for me. I thought that being filled with the Holy Spirit was enough for me. I am a Christian. You are right. It is enough for you. You don’t need to do anything to be saved. But after you have received the free gift of salvation, the very first response to that gift should be baptism. It is an outward display of an inward desire that you have to follow Christ. Is it really important? Well, it was important enough for Paul. Was Paul a baby here? No, he was an adult. If it is important enough for Paul, I think it could be important for us, right?
Now here is the question that I think begs to be asked. Why does Paul have to wait three days before he sees again. In essence, before he is saved completely. And I love this process because we see the picture of salvation is both a punctiliar point in time but it is also a process. People say, Robby, am I saved? Was I saved? And will I be saved? And the answer is what? Yes, all of the above. You were saved, you are being saved and you will be saved.
But why in the world would Jesus make Paul wait three days? It is a great question. I have thought about it this week and I think the reason is this: Paul has just had the rug pulled out from under him. And for three days, God has a captive audience. Paul doesn’t have television or internet or the radio to distract him. He is blinded, in isolation, and what I think is going on in his mind…watch this…he is replaying everything he knows about Christianity. He is replaying everything he knows about Judaism and he is asking himself the question, how did I miss it? Where in the world was Jesus in the Old Testament? It would be the equivalent, and I know this illustration breaks down, but it would be the equivalent of you going to one of the national parks of our country for a trip. You are going to go walking. It is a long hike. As you enter into the gate, the Park Ranger hands you a map and he says, here is a map of the terrain. You will notice there are campgrounds, there are reservoirs, there are waterfalls and there are stop offs. And here is the map of the place. It is a large park, so follow the map or you will get lost.
You take that map and you follow it to the T. You walk down the road and you are going to visit one of the reservoirs. You walk and you see nothing but a hill. You look at the map and you think, this isn’t a reservoir. Then you walk a little further. You are looking for one of the waterfalls, but all you see is the backside of a mountain. You think, where is the waterfall? And this carries on for the rest of the day. At nightfall, it is getting dark. You see a fire in the distance. You walk up to some of the men who had camped out for the night. You show them the map and you say, I don’t understand what is going on. I tried to go to the reservoir. It wasn’t there. I tried to go the waterfall. It wasn’t there. One of the guys walks over to you. He takes the map and he turns it right side up. He says, your problem is, you are looking at the map wrong. North is south and south is north. Everything on this map has to be documented again.
That gives us a small glimpse of what happened to the Apostle Paul. You have to understand, he has arrived in Judaism. He is at the pentacle of being a PhD in Judaism. What happens is, Jesus comes to him and wrecks his life. He has gotten all the awards. He has achieved all the accolades. He has got all his names, all the degrees, all the letters after his name and Jesus says basically, it is worthless in Me. And that is why Paul says, after he lists that section, I was a Hebrew of Hebrews, I was of the tribe of Benjamin. I was circumcised on the eighth day. And this is what he says next, But, Verse 7, Philippians 3, “But whatever was to my gain, I now count as lost for the sake of Christ.” Indeed, I have counted everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, in whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as what, Paul? Rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.”
You see, Paul had gotten to the place where he realized he had to rethink it all. And he is probably rethinking his Old Testament. He is probably rethinking all the teachings of Gamalial. He is probably rethinking even the speech of Stephen that he had just heard moments earlier. And I imagine this is probably kind of similar to what happens when a person goes from Mormonism and becomes a Christian, right? You have to relearn a lot of things. When a person goes from Islam to Christianity. On a similar note, it happened to me when I went from Catholicism and I became a believer, right? Because there are some things that are similar but there are lot of things that are different. And so I had to, in essence, relearn. I had to forget some things that I thought were right and I had to relearn some things. That is what is happening to Paul on an infinitely greater scale.
So we see Paul’s life before Christ. We see Paul’s commission from Christ. Or we see Paul’s response to Christ, I am sorry. Ananias’ commission from Christ. Finally, we see Paul’s ministry for Christ.
Look at Verse 19b. “For some days he was with the disciples in Damascus. And immediately, (that is the key word there) and immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues saying: ‘He is the Son of God.’ And all who heard him were amazed.” That word in the language of the New Testament, that word in our language, means their minds were POW, blown. They are just blown.
The guy who just formerly, probably killed men in the city, was speaking to the widows about Jesus, the one who just killed their husbands for believing in. The one who just drug people out of their homes and imprisoned them for following Jesus is now back preaching Jesus. Can you get your mind around this, right? They were amazed and you can’t blame them. They said, Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on His name and has he not 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. “
Immediately after he is baptized, Paul goes out and preaches the gospel to those he intended to persecute, right? Paul doesn’t wait to share the gospel. Now what does he preach? Simply this…Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Any questions? Pretty simple message.
Now we have to believe Paul probably preached his testimony as well. He probably said, hey, I was once blind…no, I really was…and now I see, right? And so Paul says, that is my testimony. And this is the point I want to make to you and I can’t overstate this enough. Paul goes to the places that he was already going in life to preach the gospel.
Some people are thinking about the Great Commission. It should say, “Therefore, as you go through life, make disciples,” right? You don’t have to go to a different place, but as you go, although we need to go to a particular place at time, but as you go, make disciples.
So Paul is going back to the town that he was going to persecute people and he is sharing Jesus. I just want to share with you, he is no super-apostle at this point. There is nothing really special about Paul in the realms of Christianity. He is just an average guy from Judaism who now knows a little bit about Christ and he is already preaching the gospel. That should be encouraging to you and to me. Why? Because I think the greatest disservice that has ever been done, one of the greatest disservices is the chasm that leadership in churches, particularly years ago in the early centuries, created with the chasm between the pew and the pulpit, right? Now follow me for a second. This idea that you cannot do ministry unless you are standing on a platform and you have a degree and you are a trained minister of the gospel. This is where ministry happens. Unless you are on staff, you can’t do ministry. That is a lie from the devil.
Friends, I want to submit to you, the greatest ministry that happens during the week is from 8-5 at your work place. Why? Because you are able to get into places that I will never get into. When I walk into a room and I can’t hide very much because of my height anyway, but when I walk into a room, they know I am a pastor. They know what I am coming for. The greatest mission field is where you work. So why would I take you out of the mission field when I could keep you in a mission field. And I want to submit to you, there is probably more ministry that goes on in your work place than on the pastoral staff in some churches. So listen, you are my heroes. You guys are doing it, right? So what my job as the pastor, what our staff’s job is, not for us to do all the ministry. We want to help you do the ministry for the gospel, right?
So what do you do? Where do I go, Robby? Just go where you are already going. You are going to go tomorrow to work, to the cooler, you are going to go to the coffee station, and you are going to see people lost and they need to hear about your testimony. Well, I don’t know much of the gospel. Share your testimony. It is almost impossible to argue with a changed life. You see, when people saw Paul, they saw him as a visual example of the grace of God. He was a trophy of mercy. And they saw him and they thought, wow, look what God is doing.
Now here is another lie that people say. But, Robby, I can’t go to my family. Family are the hardest people to witness to. Have you heard that before? That is a lie. Family should be the easiest people to witness to. Why? Because your family knew you before you came to Christ and so they knew what you were and now they see what God is doing and as you live a life worthy of the gospel, they start to say, Wow, if God can change Robby, I wonder what He can do with my life. Right?
What about your neighborhood? God has placed you in your neighborhood for a purpose. What if we lived on mission to reach our neighbors with the gospel. What about the places you eat? What about the places you shop? What about the places you do business at? This is our mission field, folks. And I just want to say, recently I have been convicted about this as your pastor. There was a time when I was literally passionate and on fire just sharing the gospel everywhere I went. Praying for lost people all the time. But what happens is, when you come into the church, you get institutionalized, right? When you become a member of the church for a season of time, you get isolated from the world, right? We get into the Christian bubble and we forget we have a whole world around us that is dying and going to a Christless eternity. Who are you sharing the gospel with today? And better yet, who needs to hear the gospel from you today?
I think Paul would have gone to the same people that he was persecuting. And you talk about tough! I mean, this guy was going to be laughed at. They weren’t going to believe his message. But Paul did it anyway.
And I think, as I sum up this message, I want to leave you with this. What is the purpose of this passage in this part of Acts Chapter 9? I believe it is for this. It could be a couple of reasons but this is the main one. The Apostle Paul’s life being changed is a testimony of how God can save anyone! Remember this, write this down. No one is beyond the reach of God. You may have an antagonistic co-worker who repels the gospel and criticizes you all the time. Guess what? They are never beyond the reach of God. You may have a neighbor that laughs at you, hey, this is holy roller. You don’t want to drink, you don’t want to party with us. That is fine. You may get laughed at all the time, but listen to me, that person is never beyond the reach of God. You may have a friend that has gotten caught up in a cult or propagating false teaching at one time, they are never beyond the reach of God. No one is beyond the reach of God. Why? Because God is relentless in His pursuit of His own, relentless.
A man who epitomized this well was Francis Thompson. Francis Thompson was a believer who just couldn’t get a break. His entire life was plagued by one mess up after another. Thompson decided he wanted to go into the priesthood, but they let him go shortly after because he couldn’t complete the course. Then he decided he wanted to get into the medical industry. He flunked out. Then he decided, hey, let me try something different. I am going to go join the military. They fired him after one day. We don’t need you. So he just couldn’t get a break.
But in the midst of this, he realized that God was pursuing him. He got a series of bad events. He got addicted to opium. Back in England, London, you could go over the counter and buy opium and he got addicted to opium many years ago. And in the midst of his despair, someone recognized God’s hand on his life and his ability, his artistic ability to write poems. And Thompson decided to pen the words of this now famous poem called “The Hound of Heaven.” You may have heard of it. The Hound of Heaven.
And he talks about how even though he was poverty stricken, even though he was in despair, even though he had one set-back after another, God did not give up on him. Aren’t you glad? That in his despair he wrote these words as he rejected God continuously.
He said, “I fled God. Down the nights and down the days, I hid from Him. And under running laughter, I sped from those strong feet that followed me, followed after me.”
Thompson said that Jesus’ love was unrelenting, that He never gave up on him. He talked about in the Hound of Heaven how Jesus pursued him with unhurrying chase. How He pursued him with an unperturbed pace. How he had deliberate speed and majestic urgency in his life.
John Stott, the great Anglican preacher and author, said that it was Thompson’s poem that energized and encouraged him. He cites it in his autobiography and what he says is this. He says, “It wasn’t the instruction of a Sunday School teacher that led him to the Lord. It wasn’t the investment of his parents that turned him to Christ, although he had good parents. And it wasn’t even his own decision to follow Jesus. He says it was the Hound of Heaven who continuously and persistently followed him. Listen to Stott’s words: “My faith is due to Jesus Christ Himself, who pursued me relentlessly even when I was running away from Him in order to go my own way. And if it were not for the gracious pursuit of the Hound of Heaven, I would today be on the scrap heap of a wasted and discarded life.”
If you are believer in this place, aren’t you glad Jesus pursued you? Aren’t you glad of that? That He was persistent when you weren’t, that He was focused when you weren’t and He came after you? And that is the picture of our own lives of salvation, that God came after us when we weren’t looking for Him. You have to understand. Paul was not thinking of Christ when Christ intersected his life on the road to Damascus. And that is what happened to all of us in our testimonies.
Now I know in a group this size, there are some of you who are saying, Robby, I don’t know the grace of God. I have been running from God. In fact, I can hear His call. I can sense His presence. But I have actually been running from God. You know the easiest thing to do to release that burden in your life of sin and transgression, do you know what it is? It is to simply stop running.
Jesus says, My burden is light and My yoke is easy. Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Friends, would you stop running today? Turn your life to Jesus. Repent of your sins and enjoy the abundant Christian life. It may not be easy. Paul’s life definitely wasn’t, but it will be worth it. It will be worth it.