Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. Locked up for two years, Paul was on the way to Rome, knowing he faced almost certain death, but not before getting the gospel to the heart of the world's dominant empire. He pled his case before Rome's King in Israel, seizing the moment to make sure the gospel was understood. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line.
Pastor Lutzer, I'll bet you'd like to have watched Paul as he debated with Herod Agrippa. Dave, that would have been a wonderful experience, but I need to emphasize the fact that we too must enter into the debates that are taking place in our culture. That's why I've written the book No Reason to Hide, because we have no reason to hide. And we cannot avoid the culture, but we must confront it. Let me ask you another question, why is social justice so controversial?
Well, after this message, I'll be explaining that very briefly, but meanwhile, for a gift of any amount you can receive this book No Reason to Hide, go to rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. And the voice says, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.
A goad is a stick that was used to prod cattle. And so what he's saying is, Paul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to resist my will and also I am goading you in an entirely different direction and it is hard for you to resist it. Parenthesis, I believe that the apostle Paul, when he was putting Christians in prison, when he was trying to get them to renounce Christ, when he was in cahoots in killing them, when he stood there at the stoning of Stephen and the Bible says that they took Stephen's clothes and they laid them at the feet of the apostle Paul, I think that Paul had moments of deep disquiet in his conscience. You know, when you find violent people, you have to understand that one of the reasons for their violence is because they are so interested in defending their faith. But the other reason is to cover a very troubled conscience.
People are not willing to take the time to follow their conscience where it leads. So Jesus said to him, it is difficult for you to kick, he says, against the goads. And he said, who are you, Lord?
Talk about a revelation right there. And the Lord said, I am Jesus, who you are persecuting. I get the magazine of martyrs.
There's a magazine that comes out periodically that is the magazine of the martyrs. And I don't read it as often as I should, but as I look at those pictures of people in places such as Sudan and elsewhere, Saudi Arabia, when I think of young men asking to dig their own graves so that they can be buried in those graves, here's a verse of Scripture. It is Jesus whom they persecute.
It is Jesus in that grave digging it. It is Jesus in that jail when people persecute believers. Well, Jesus revealed himself to Paul. And then Jesus said, rise and stand on your feet because I have appointed you. Now we've talked about his conversion and I need to explain that and it'll become a little clearer as we now look at his commission. God says, Jesus said, I'm sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. That's verse 18. That's Paul's commission.
Boy, we have to stop here now, don't we? Because this is New Testament conversion. What Jesus is saying is, Paul, I am commissioning you to preach a message that is going to take people from darkness into light.
Why is it that the gospel is light? We're talking about the fact that people without Christ live in moral darkness. They live in moral darkness and they live in moral darkness and they manage their sin.
See, one of the best ways to witness to a person like I did a rugby player in Europe when I was flying over there a few months ago, the best way is to ask people about how they manage the failure in their life and how they manage sin. And immediately you're getting to their conscience. So the average person, you see, because we are desire driven, our desires say, I want to do this. And then we enlist the mind and we say, mind, use all the power that you have to justify what I want to do. So we rationalize it. He's doing it. I'm not as bad as somebody else. Other people get by.
This is best for me and on and on and on. The mind is used to justify the evil that the heart wants to do. So people live in moral darkness. When you come to the light of the gospel, suddenly you see God. I don't mean that you see Him physically, but you begin to understand Him and the Holy Spirit reveals the likeness of God to you and suddenly you are humbled because of your sin and it is actually coming into the light. Back out in the farm in Canada, we had a very dingy basement and all of the bugs and the vermin and everything else that was down there was very, very content, very content until you turned on the light and you put a heavy flashlight on them.
And suddenly they began to scurry and they were so uncomfortable. That's the way the world is, content. Like a young man said to me on the plane, he said, I don't need Jesus. I'm going to do okay in the day of judgment.
You're going to do okay on your own record, standing in the presence of a God who is so holy that if you were standing next to Him, it would be like being incinerated by the sun and you're telling me that your record is going to do it, blindness. The Bible says that men love darkness because obviously they need to cover it rather than light. But Paul is going to preach a message of light, first of all, and secondly, preach a message that will take people from bondage to Satan to the freedom of God.
Do not ever underestimate. Do not underestimate the power of the devil in false religions. He keeps people bound oftentimes by fear, by fear.
You can't convert. You can't change your mind about these things, and of course there are some religions that say that if you do, we might actually kill you. And so what happens is people are in bondage to fear, they're in bondage to Satan, and Paul is going to be given a message that turns them from darkness to light. That is his commission, and that's why Moody Church exists for many reasons.
But one is to help people to understand how they can come from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, and that can only happen through the gospel and the deliverance of Jesus that he brings through faith in his name. Paul actually is giving this address, and lo and behold, he gets cut off. And you'll notice that I don't think he was finished, but Festus couldn't take it anymore. It says in verse 24, and as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, you're out of your mind.
Your great learning is driving you out of your mind. You're mad, Festus shouts. Now, if I'd have been Paul, I'd have said, now sit down because my sermon isn't finished. But Paul was speaking to a king, and so he deferred to him and said, well, what did Paul say?
We have to read it. But Paul said, I'm not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I'm speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, for I speak boldly. I'm persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, and that this has not been done in a corner.
Oh, this is so, so full of meaning. It's not been done in a corner. Did you know that Christianity is not done in a corner? It's not some little hidden thing out there. It's exposed to the light.
It's been investigated by the best of investigators. You know, the Bible, they always say, well, you know what we're going to do? We're going to take the Bible, and we're going to have a funeral. But somehow the corpse never stays put.
It is always there. Now what does King Agrippa think of this? Paul says, King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.
Remember Agrippa. I told you about him. He claimed to be Jewish. You believe the prophets. And Agrippa said to Paul, in a short time, will you persuade me to be a Christian?
Paul says, whether it's short or long, I'd sure like to. This has been sometimes misinterpreted by a translation that says, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. That's probably not what is meant. A better translation is the way I just read it here in the ESV, where it says, do you think in a brief time you're going to convince me? Probably very sarcastic. What he's saying is, Paul, do you really think that in this brief time, I'm going to become one of those hated Christians?
Are you serious, Paul? You don't really expect that, do you? And so that was the response. And then they have a little discussion afterwards. The king and the governor, they get together.
And Bernice is there, too. We're talking now in verse 30. And the conclusion is, this man has done nothing to deserve death or imprisonment. If he wouldn't have appealed to Caesar, he could have been let go. But of course, Festus wouldn't let him go because of the political fallout. And that's the amazing story of the Apostle Paul.
Couple of things. First, first, notice how God uses injustice. Two years, Paul is in prison for something he didn't do in Caesarea. Felix leaves him there to please the Jews.
What you have is discussion about him because he hasn't broken any laws. And so the question is, what do we do with him? He appeals to Caesar, and that becomes the means for him to get to Rome. Was there any doubt in Paul's mind that he was going to get to Rome?
I don't think so. Listen, if there was doubt in Paul's mind that he would get to Rome, he was living in unbelief. Because if you look in chapter, and I'm going to find it here in chapter 23, Paul comes to Jerusalem, and the Lord has stood by him, chapter now 23, verse 11. It says, the Lord stood by him and said, take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.
But here's what is great. How does God get Paul to Rome? He gets him to Rome by a governor whose too weak will to do what he should. He gets him to Rome by a situation with a king who comes and listens to him, and still doesn't have anything to write about him on the way to Rome, but Paul has appealed to Rome and so eventually ends up there. He gets to Rome because there was a mob in Jerusalem that tried to kill him, but God didn't let it happen. And that's just like God, in the midst of human messes, injustices, there he is weaving his own pattern, doing his own thing. Joseph chapter 39 of Genesis, don't turn to it, but just remember that it's there. Joseph the Bible says becomes an assistant to Potiphar, and it says, and the Lord was with Joseph and blessed Joseph.
Isn't that wonderful? He gets falsely accused by Potiphar's wife, falsely accused of attempted rape. He gets thrown into prison, no attorney that can defend his wrongs, the wrong that has been done, no attorney, nothing there to give him any idea that any day is going to be any better than the one before it. You know what it says, same chapter, and the Lord was with Joseph in prison and gave him favor in the eyes of the jailer. Isn't that beautiful? God is with us in our promotions, and God is with us in our demotions, and he is with us in our injustices, and he's with us in our justices. But God always sticks with his people. God always sticks with his people. Where you find yourself today, if you're a believer, God is with you.
There's a second lesson. I love this conversion story because it is indeed God at his best. You know, we can pray for people that they might be healed, but the fact is that only God, only God can take a bad man and make him good, and let me explain why. Because you see, behavior modification, where you take people even through counseling and so forth, you can say, now, here's why this behavior isn't good. You have to start to do that behavior and that behavior. But in the end, when the guy has freedom, he ends up doing what he wants to do because his desires remain unchanged. To change behavior is one thing. To change desire is well nigh impossible, and remember, you and I are desire-driven. Whatever the heart wants, in the famous words of Woody Allen, whatever the heart wants, the heart wants. We're desire-driven. So the question is, where do you get this change of desires?
Where do you get this new heart? Where do you get a guy who was insolent? That is to say, sadistic, cruel, trying to blaspheme Jesus and Jesus Christ's followers, on the way to Damascus, understands that Jesus is the Lord, is the Son of God.
He has his eyes opened from darkness into light. And by the way, you know, it may well be the reason that Jesus appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus and didn't send an Ananias or somebody else to go witness to him. Hey, nobody wanted to witness to this guy. I mean, really, were you witness to Paul who kills Christians? Hey, Paul, I'm a Christian. Let me tell you why you should be a Christ follower, too. Jesus looked down and said, there's nobody on earth that has the faith to witness to this guy, so I'm going to have to go do it myself.
And he did it upright, didn't he? Praise God. Now, the point is this, that only God can do that. We pray that somebody will be healed from cancer, and they are healed of cancer, and that is a wonderful work. But to take a bad man and to make him kind and good is a more wonderful work.
To take a tongue that perhaps has disease and Jesus heals the tongue, that is a wonderful work, but to take a tongue and to heal it so that a cursing man now speaks pure speech, and a lying man becomes a truthful man. Now there's God at his best doing a miracle that only God can do to take people and to turn them from darkness into light and from the power of Satan to God. Does Son of Sam mean anything to you, 1977?
Most of you were born back then, by then. Here in New York is terrorized by him, killing people. Thirteen months later they arrest a postal worker, David Berkowitz, and lo and behold, they put Son of Sam in prison for life. An inmate witnesses to Son of Sam. He gets on his knees.
He receives Christ as Savior. Just talk to Jim Cymbala about him, because he and Pastor Cymbala have an ongoing relationship. David Berkowitz is now an assistant to the chaplain in the jail.
He's never asked for parole because he knows that the crimes that he committed were so terrible that he would not even ask for parole and deserves all of the time in prison that he has coming to him. David Berkowitz says that during the days of his crimes, he was like Mark, chapter 5, the demoniac driven by demons, driven by evil. The more evil, the better.
The more pain he could inflict, the better. Jesus came to deliver him. Now that is God at his best.
Don't you think that it is? God at his best. John E. Erickson, Tada, I absolutely love her writings, and they're up here somewhere. I want to just read a paragraph.
She is the one who's a quadriplegic. She says, God is an intruder. He encroaches, presumes, invades, infringes. He crashes the party, tears curtains aside, throws open locked doors, hits the light switch in dark rooms, pulls the fire alarm in a stuffy, sacrosanct hallway. He intruded primeval chaos and brought forth light, beauty, order, and life.
Well, we could go through all of these. And in the end, he will once again intervene in history, judging the nations, banishing sin and death, setting his throne upon earth even as he rules in heaven. And then she says, God is a glorious intruder into my life, my thoughts, my pain, my sorrow, my brokenness. The Spirit of the Lord even invades me taking up residence in my very body. His word is a razor-edged sword piercing my complacency and dividing my soul and spirit. He boldly intrudes into my sin, calling it what it is, challenging me to leave it behind. God is an intruder. And when he saves sinners like you—and I mean you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, me—it's God at his best.
Let's pray. Father, we thank you so much for the conversion of the Apostle Paul, and it's possible that today there are people listening who feel that they are beyond hope, people who look at their sin and say there just isn't enough grace in God's heart to forgive me. We ask, O Lord, that they will see that if Jesus saved Saul, who became Paul, he can save them too.
Become an intruder in their lives even now. If you've never received Christ as Savior here at the Moody Church today or watching or listening on radio or the Internet, why don't you say, Jesus, turn me right now from darkness into light, from the power of Satan to God? Would you pray that to him? No sinner has sinned too much for God's grace. You can't out-sin the marvelous grace of God.
Believe him right now. Father, do your will, we pray, and in those in whose hearts you are working may they not be like Festus and Agrippa or Felix, but we pray in the name of Jesus that you will open their hearts to the truth, and may they let you invade their lives. Do that, Lord, because we are needy, we pray in your name.
Amen. Isn't it tragic to think that in many evangelical churches today, the gospel is no longer preached, but rather there is a gospel of social justice? Now, we as believers should be involved in justice issues, obviously. What's wrong with social justice? Well, every theory of justice is built on a worldview, and if you don't have a biblical worldview, you're going to have theories of justice that run counter to God's word. Here's one of the most important verses regarding justice. Isaiah chapter 59 verse 14, justice is turned away and righteousness stands afar off because truth has stumbled in the public square. Well, these are the kinds of issues I discuss in my new book entitled No Reason to Hide, and I need to say that we're coming to the end of making this offer.
For a gift of any amount, it can be yours. Here's what you do. Go to RTWoffer.com.
That's RTWoffer.com, or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Mature Christians know that God's will is not a flower-strewn pathway. Paul was determined to go to Rome, knowing it was a one-way trip. He would take the gospel to the highest levels of government, but while en route, a shipwreck would slow the journey. Next time on Running to Win, troubles on the way to see Caesar.
It's no secret that America is in crisis. Peter's book, No Reason to Hide, Standing for Christ in a Collapsing Culture, will be sent as our gift to you when you give a gift of any amount to support Running to Win. Just call us at 1-888-218-9337. That's 1-888-218-9337. Online go to RTWoffer.com.
That's RTWoffer.com. Or right to Running to Win, Moody Church, 1635 N. LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you understand God's road map for your race of life. Thanks for listening. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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