I want you to take a Bible.
We're going to study together. Fifth book in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts. Acts chapter 9 if you would please. And we're going to be continuing in our study of the life of the great man, the Apostle Paul.
Acts chapter 9. Now you know when I was growing up, I had this fantasy. I wanted to grow up to be a Marine. And you know the Marines have a saying, it's the few, the proud, the Marines.
Exactly. And in using this little saying, the Marines are trying to convey a very simple message. A message that says, hey, there is a cost to being a Marine.
Not everybody wants to pay it and that's fine, but we just want you to know if you want to be a Marine, it's going to cost you something. Now maybe we never thought about it quite in these terms, but you know God is looking for a few good men and women also. A few good men and women to serve as spiritual Marines. Now he doesn't actually call them that in the Bible. He calls them disciples. And he wants you to be one of these people.
He wants me to be one of these people. But just like being a Marine here on earth, being a spiritual Marine, being a disciple is going to cost you something. And that's what we want to talk about today because we're going to watch as God presents this very same opportunity to the Apostle Paul.
The opportunity to volunteer as a Marine, but there's cost. He tells Paul about it. And we're going to talk about his life and then we're going to extrapolate that and talk about your life and my life. So let's look together Acts chapter 9.
A little bit of background. Remember that last week we looked at one of the most pivotal events in all of human history, the conversion to Christianity of the Apostle Paul. And we said that the Apostle Paul was a fire-breathing, one-man wrecking machine in Jerusalem against the followers of Christ there. He arrested them. He tortured them.
He killed them. And then when he got through brutalizing the church in Jerusalem, he headed to Damascus to go do the same thing while he was on the way, on the road. He got knocked off his horse by a bolt of lightning from heaven. The risen Lord Jesus appeared to him lying there in the dust of the road. And suddenly he realized, uh-oh, this Jesus really is the Messiah of Israel. And verse 8 says, Paul got up from the ground. But when he opened his eyes, he couldn't see anything.
So they led him by the hand into Damascus. He was blind and did not eat or drink anything. Actually, you know, there is medical corroboration of what the Bible says here about the condition of the Apostle Paul.
In 1977, Dr. John Bullock made a speech to the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. It was reported in the Columbia Record. There are two findings about these folks. Number one, that the lightning's electrical charge caused temporary scar tissue to form on the surface of these people's eyes, therefore producing temporary blindness. And number two, the second thing he reported is that the electrical shock from the lightning caused violent, muscular contractions that took days to relax.
And as a result, while these muscles were all tense and spasmed, it was not unusual for people to be unable to eat or drink anything for several days. Very interesting, isn't it? That the Bible's account of the condition of the Apostle Paul is in keeping with the absolute best medical evidence that we have today about exactly what should have happened if somebody was struck by lightning. So instead of the Bible being suspect here, the Bible actually is exactly right.
Now, let's go on and see what happens to Paul. Verse 10. The Lord called him in a vision and said, Ananias, yes, Lord, he said. And the Lord told him, go to the house of Judas on straight street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He's praying. And in a vision, he's seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him and restore his sight. Now, this street, straight street, where Judas lived, where Paul was staying, was the main street that ran east to west through Damascus. In fact, it's still there today, several levels under the modern street, in Arabic it's called Darb al-Mustaqim, which in Arabic means straight street.
That's what it means. And several layers below this modern straight street running right through the middle of the city was the house of Judas where Paul was. God says, Ananias, I want you to go see him. Now, Ananias protests. He says, verse 13, he says, Lord, I'm not trying to tell you how to run your business, God, but Lord, I have heard many reports about this guy and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And I've heard that now he's come here to Damascus to do the same thing with authority from the chief priest to arrest all of us who call on your name. Who was this guy, Ananias? Well, he was obviously a follower of Christ that lived in the city, but I think he was more than that. I think it's very probable that this man was a leader of the church community in Damascus, maybe the leader of the church community in Damascus.
And think about it now. Paul, when he was headed to town, had a 10 most wanted list, and then Ananias' name was right up there on the top. This is one of the guys that Paul most wanted to arrest and drag back to Jerusalem. And now here God is telling him to go visit Paul, and he says, hey, Lord, you've got to be kidding.
You have got to be kidding. Asking me to go visit Paul is like asking Tweety Bird to visit Sylvester. I mean, this is nuts. Well, God says, wait a minute, Ananias, he's not the same man he used to be. Verse 15. This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. And this is what I want you to go tell him, Ananias.
You tell him that I'm going to show him how much he must suffer for my name. He sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And immediately something like scales, scar tissue, fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. And he got up and was baptized.
And after taking some food, he regained his strength. Now that's as far as we want to go in the passage for today, because we have a really important question that we have to answer. And you all know this question, don't you? Yeah?
Okay, ready? Deep breath. Here we go. Give it all you got now.
One, two, three. So what? That's wonderful. Say, Lon, so what?
Say, you know what? I don't see how any of this has anything to do with me. I've never been struck by lightning.
I've never gone three days without eating. Just look at me. So it doesn't have a thing to do with me at all. Well, I think it does.
Let me see if I can help you understand how. I don't know how many of you guys ever watch CNN Headline News. I kind of call it McNews, you know?
But occasionally I watch it. And one thing I've noticed interesting about the format of CNN, in contrast to like the Oscars or Oprah or the Grammys, where you have to wait until the very end of the program to hear the top award or the top guest or the top song, CNN Headline News always puts the top story first. Have you ever noticed that? Now, interestingly, God in this way is just like CNN. Frankly, this is the only way God is like CNN, but God is like CNN in this way. When God has news to give, if you notice, He always puts the top story first when He communicates. For example, when He talked to Adam, what did He say? First thing He said is, Adam, you stay away from that tree.
Don't you eat from that tree. That was the top story. Abraham.
Top story was what? Abraham, I want you to leave your land, leave your home, leave your people, come follow me. First thing God told him. Moses, burning bush. After he took his shoes off, He said, Moses, I'm going to tell you the top story first.
You are going back to Egypt to face your printer. So that's the top story, son, right off the top. And you know, right here in Paul's life, God does the same thing. He sends Ananias to tell Paul the top story first.
And what is it? Well, the top story was not, hey, Paul, you are going to write 48% of the New Testament. The top story was not, hey, Paul, you are going to start hundreds of churches and lead thousands of people to Christ. The top story was not, hey, Paul, you are going to change the entire history of the civilized world, son. Nor was the top story, hey, Paul, one day they are going to put your picture up in churches all over Christendom with a little gold halo around your head, making the sound of Mr. Spock and everybody.
No, no, no. None of those were the top story. What was the top story? Verse 16, and I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.
That was the top story. The top story was, hey, Paul, if you want to come follow me, if you want to come be a spiritual marine and a disciple of mine, if you want to come embrace my will for your life, going around talking to kings and talking to gentiles and talking to Israel, you want that for your life, that is good, but I just want you to know something, Paul, it is going to cost you. It is going to cost you. And I am not going to sucker you into this, Paul, and then drop the cost on you later. That is not how I do business.
I am going to tell you upfront it is going to cost you so you make the decision before you volunteer for this duty whether you are willing to pay that cost. That was the top story. Now, let me stop here and say, just to make sure we do not get confused, that what God and Paul are talking about here was not Paul having eternal life. They were not talking about Paul going to heaven. A little bit later in this book, Acts chapter 16, the Philippian jailer is going to say, what must I do to inherit eternal life? And the same Paul is going to say, you need to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, period, period, period.
That is it. And friend, if you are here and you want to know what you need to have to do to have eternal life, it is the very same thing. You and I simply need to put our trust in what Jesus did for us on the cross to pay for our wrongdoing plus nothing and you have got eternal life. That is not what we are discussing here.
We are discussing here taking it to the next level. We are discussing here taking it to the level of being not just a follower of Christ but a marine, a disciple. See, friends, you can be a citizen of the United States and not be a marine and you can be a citizen of heaven and not be a disciple.
And so we are not talking about what it takes to be a citizen. We are talking about what it takes to be a marine and to be a marine, God says to Paul, which is, Paul, what I want you to do, but I am just telling you, it is going to cost you something. Now, this piece of biblical truth, that there is cost, there is suffering involved in being a disciple of Christ. This piece of biblical truth is about as popular in modern day Christianity as a root canal.
We don't hear this talked about much. We read Philippians 3 10 where Paul says, I want to know Christ and we all go, yeah, me. I want to know the power of his resurrection and we all go, yeah, that's for me. What is this? I want to share in his sufferings, burnt.
What is that? The verse was going really good until we got to that. Man, this verse just went south quick.
I don't want to do that. Oh, but you see, you can't know him and share in the power of his resurrection and be used in a mighty way of God if you don't share in his sufferings. Paul understood that.
Shoot, that's the first thing Ananias told him. You say, well, what kind of suffering are you talking about? I mean, if I want to be a spiritual marine, if I want to be a disciple of Jesus, what kind of suffering are you talking about? Well, let me tell you, there's three areas in which it's going to cost you something. And I want you to do this. We want to find out what kind of marine you are, just so you know. So I want you to grade yourself as we go through this. On each one of these three, you grade yourself one to ten. When we're done, I'll ask you to go ahead and grade each one of them. A ten means, man, I'm here. I've got it. That's me. A one means I'm on a respirator when it comes to this one, all right?
So you grade yourself and we'll see how we do. Number one, what kind of cost is it involved in being a disciple? Number one, there's suffering that comes from putting Jesus ahead of our creature comforts. Luke 9, verse 57, as they were walking down the road, a man said to Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go.
And Jesus said, that's wonderful, but let me tell you something. Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but I don't have any place to lay my head. You want to follow me wherever I go? Well, let me tell you where I'm going. I'm on my way to Jerusalem and I'm not on my way to Jerusalem to stay at the Hilton, ride in air conditioned tourist buses, eat gourmet food and walk to Via Dolorosa with my Nikon taking pictures. I'm on my way to Jerusalem to be vilified, rejected, brutalized, crucified. And in the meantime, I don't have any fancy clothes, nothing fancy to eat, no place nice to stay.
You want to follow me wherever I go? Hey, friend, you better count the cost before you say that. Did the apostle Paul pay this cost in creature comfort?
You bet he did. You know, the apostle Paul was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were the religious elite of Israel.
These were the guys who rode around in limos and stayed at the Ritz in Israel. And yet look at the price and creature comfort Paul was willing to pay to be a disciple of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 11, verse 23, I have been in prison and whipped frequently, Paul says. I have been constantly on the move. I have labored and toiled and have often been without sleep. I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food. I have been cold and naked to this very hour. In fact, I'm in rags and I'm homeless. Did Paul give up a lot of creature comfort to walk with God as a Marine?
You bet he did. And we're not just talking money and material things here. We're talking leisure time, energy output, sleep, comfortableness of your surroundings, emotional strain and drain. But you see for a spiritual Marine, friends, it's all on the altar. God can call on it whenever he wants. Now you say, well, Lon, I'm real uncomfortable with what I hear you saying here, because I think what I hear you saying is that if I really want to be a disciple of Christ, I've got to be poor and barefoot to prove that I'm loyal to Jesus.
No, I'm not saying that at all. Friends, I'm saying God loves, God loves to give nice things to his people. God loves to give creature comforts to his followers, enjoyable things. What I am saying is that there will come a time in the life of every disciple where in order for you and I to complete our mission, in order for us to get the job done, God will ask us to walk away from our creature comforts, to give up our creature comforts, maybe for a little while, maybe for good in order to get the mission done. And a real Marine says, Lord, that's fine. I've been enjoying them, but they've been on the altar the whole time anyway, not a problem. You know, we just got through building this new facility, at least phase one.
We gave $15 million as a church family out of our own pockets to get us here. And friends, the reason that that happened is there are lots of people today driving old cars, sitting on old furniture, wearing old suits, using old golf clubs, walking on old carpet and watching old televisions. We've got some Marines around here who said, hey, yeah, I'd love to have some new stuff, but if what it takes to get the mission done is for me to compromise my creature comfort, I'll do it. That's how God works.
That's how God gets jobs, because he's got Marines who are willing to pay the price in creature comfort. So you grade yourself. How are you doing on this one? Ten, man law, and that's me. One, okay, hold that grade. We're going to total it up a little while. No prizes, but we are going to talk about it.
All right, hold it. Number two, what kind of suffering is involved in being a disciple? Number two, suffering that comes from putting Jesus, second of all, ahead of your family. Jesus said, Matthew 10, verse 37, anyone who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. Jesus said anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Did Paul suffer in this regard?
Sure he did. Paul was married, you know, when he came to Christ. He said, well, I don't see any kind of wife for Paul anywhere in the Bible.
Well, I know you don't. You know why? Because she flew to Coop.
That's why. You say, well, how do you know he was married? Because he was a Pharisee? Because he says in the Bible he was a son of a Pharisee, a Pharisee himself? And we know from Jewish writings you could not be a Pharisee. You were not allowed to be a Pharisee if you were single. You had to be married. And this man was married.
And when he gave his... Can you imagine when he showed up back from Damascus and announced that he now believed in Jesus? What happened? His wife said to him, hey, pal, you know, if you want to do this, that's up to you. But I'm not letting the ladies at the synagogue throw me out the Marjon game on Wednesday. This is up to you. You go do whatever you want to do. But I'm not going with you.
I did not sign on for this. And she left him. I don't know what it was like to walk away from family. You think his dad, who was the leading Pharisee in the city of Tarsus, you think his dad talked to him after this?
I don't think so. And as followers of Jesus Christ, lots of us have had to pay this kind of price. Lots of Jewish believers have had to pay this kind of price. But, you know, lots of Gentile believers have too. There's been lots of young people that are Gentiles, not Jewish people, who come to Christ and then they say, I want to go be a missionary. I want to go into full-time Christian work.
I want to serve God. And their mom and dad say to them, oh, no, you don't. I'll cut off your college money. I'll cut off your car.
I'll cut off your living allowance. You're not going to go throw your life away like this. And they got a decision to make. There's lots of people married to husbands and wives that are not followers of Christ, who that unbelieving spouse says, you're not taking my children to that Sunday school. You're not going to church. We're not reading the Bible in this house.
We're not praying in this house. They got a decision to make. And there's lots of people who, when they come to Christ, leave the Jehovah's Witnesses, leave the Church of Christ, leave the Mormons and their families. Disown them. Won't speak to them again. They got a decision to make. Friends, sometimes saying yes to Jesus means saying no to family and a disciple accepts this cost if it has to be. So you grade yourself. How you doing on that one?
One to ten, put a grade on yourself. And finally, is suffering that comes from putting Jesus ahead of the desires of our sinful human nature. See Galatians 5 verse 17, For our sinful human nature desires what is contrary to God's Spirit.
And the two of them are in direct conflict with each other. Our human nature and the will of God for our lives are playing tug of war 24-7 in our lives. And whenever we decide for God, whenever we decide against the desires of our human nature, it always costs us something. There's always some suffering involved. When we decide that we're going to absorb hurt and we're going to forgive other people instead of retaliating, hey, there's a cost to that. When we decide that we're going to keep it clean sexually and obey God as a dating couple and wait for marriage, hey, there's cost to that. When we decide we're going to return good for evil or when we lose our jobs because we refuse to compromise what God says is right and wrong for our boss, hey, there's cost. When we decide to give up smoking or fight that self-destructive drinking habit, that costs something.
When we decide to stay committed to our wife, committed to our husband, committed to our family through some tough home situations, there's cost to that. When we decide we're going to lose weight for God and we have to walk away from apple pie a la mode, hey, that is suffering involved in that. Did Paul do this? Did Paul pay this kind of price in terms of his sinful nature and its desires?
You bet he did. 1 Corinthians 4, he said, when we are cursed, you know what we want to do? We want to curse back. That's what would feel good, but that's not what we do because God says, no, we bless. When we're persecuted, you know what we want to do?
We want to hurt back. That's what would feel good, but no, we endure it. That's what God tells us. When we are slandered, man, we want to slice people back, but God says not to do that so we answer kindly. By doing what God tells us and by not doing what our human nature feels like doing, we are fools for Christ. We are a spectacle to the whole universe. People laugh at us and make fun of us and think we're nuts because we do it the way God tells us to. And folks, there are going to be times if you decide to be a disciple of Jesus where your human nature is going east and God says goes west and that's going to happen a lot, you got to make a choice.
And it's not always going to be an easy choice. You know, a few years ago, I opened the mailbox one day and in the mailbox was a letter from the IRS. Now generally that's not good news and so very prayerfully I opened this letter. And inside was a check for hundreds and hundreds of dollars and a letter explaining that the IRS had gone back and recalculated my taxes because I forgot to take advantage of a credit that I should have and they were sending me back all this money. Well, actually I knew about the credit. I looked at it when I filed the taxes. I knew I didn't deserve it.
I knew I didn't qualify. It was a mistake and so I knew I wasn't entitled to this money. But I thought it would be fun to make it a teaching tool for my family. So at dinner that night we sat down and I thought we'll make this a family decision. All three of my boys were younger then and so I presented the whole situation and then I said, let's take a vote and see what we ought to do with this money.
Well, all three of my boys voted to keep it. And I said, no, no, no, we can't keep this money. It's not our money. We're going to send it back to the IRS. Have you ever tried to send money back to the IRS?
This is not easy to do, I'm telling you. I called and called and called a toll-free number. I didn't want to cash the check and write a personal check. I was afraid I'd get in trouble. So all I wanted to do was just send their check back.
I couldn't get anybody to tell me how to send the check back. In fact, one of the agents on the phone said, keep it. I said, really? He said, yeah, keep it.
If they catch you, you can pay it when they find out about it. And if you don't find out about it, just keep it. And I said, really? And my human nature said, listen to him.
Listen to him. So I thought, well, that's true. You know, if they ever catch me, I could get his name and say, you know, he told me to do it. So I said, could I please have your name?
And he went, no. So I said, no, no, no, I can't do that. I can't do that.
So finally, I got a supervisor to agree to talk to me. And I said, look, I am really frustrated. All I want to do is send the money back. It's not mine. I don't deserve it. I'm not entitled to it. One of your agents told me to keep it.
But I said, I'm a Christian and I don't feel right about this. Just tell me how to send the money back. That's all I want to know.
Phone was completely silent. And suddenly he said, is this a crank call? Really? And I said, no, it's not a crank call. I just want to send the money back. Well, eventually I found out how I can tell you if you ever get a check from the IRS, I can tell you how to send it back now.
But you know what? I got to tell you, friends, when I went to the post office with that letter, put it in the mail slot, sending free money back to the IRS in light of my heritage, that was suffering. I got to tell you, I hurt that day. I mean it. I needed counseling that day when I did that.
No, not really. But the point is, hey, there are some hard decisions to have to make. My human nature was screaming at me, keep that money. And it was hard.
And those are suffering and costs we have to decide we're going to pay if we're going to follow Christ. So grade yourself. How are you doing on this one? Ten or a one? Now, if you think I should have kept the money, you give yourself a one, okay? But how are you doing on this?
Grade yourself. We're going to total it up in just a minute. You say, but Lon, wait a minute. Haven't you got any good news at all? I mean, I'm thoroughly depressed now.
Well, I do. I have two pieces of good news for you. And that is if you decide to be a Marine, there's earthly good news and there's heavenly good news. Here's the earthly good news. 2 Corinthians 1, verse 5, For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours as Marines in abundance, so also God's comfort is ours in abundance. Friend, if you decide to be a Marine for God and to pay the price, God says, I'm going to comfort you. I'm going to provide a joy for you that's going to rise above the pain and the cost that you're experiencing, a supernatural joy that I'm going to give you in the middle of paying whatever cost I ask you to pay.
Now, you can't define it, put it in a test tube or weigh it on a scale, but it's real. God gives joy and comfort to people who are willing to suffer for Him that is supernatural. And the second piece of good news is heavenly good news. 2 Corinthians 4, verse 17, For our momentary sufferings, our light and momentary sufferings, Paul writes, here in this life are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes, Paul says, not on what is seen, not on the sufferings here, but on what is unseen. God's rewards in heaven for what is seen is temporal. We don't care about that, but what is unseen, the reward God's going to give us in heaven, is eternal. God promises heavenly good news that every single marine, He is going to reward extravagantly when they get to heaven to the point that you're going to look back on whatever price you paid and call it light. You're going to look back on whatever price you paid and call it momentary.
You're going to say it's not worthy to be compared with what God has done to me. You're not going to lose a bit of sleep about the price you paid down here, believe me. As the old hymn says, it will be worth it all when we see Jesus, and it will. So that's the good news. You step up as a marine. God's got supernatural joy for you here and reward beyond your wildest dream on the other side. So let's summarize. We're about done. What did we learn today?
Well, we've learned God's looking for a few good men and women who are willing to put Him above themselves, who are willing to step up and be marines for God. And what's it going to cost you? Well, at some point, it's going to definitely cost you creature comforts. At some point, it's very likely to cost you family ties. And it's certainly going to cost you the desires of your sinful human nature. That's the cost. And the question is, are you willing to pay it?
Am I willing to pay it? How'd you do on the test? Anybody get a perfect 30?
No, I didn't either. But you know what? Hopefully, if you're a marine, you got to 20 somewhere. If you scored in single digits on this test, then we have a problem. And the problem is not these three costs we talked about.
We have a much deeper and more systemic problem. Because, friends, there's only one reason in the world why people agree to be marines. Only one. Only one reason in the world why Paul agreed to embrace the will of God for his life and go out and suffer the way he did. Only one reason that hundreds and hundreds of men and women since Paul have done the very same thing. And I'll tell you the reason. Point blank. Down and dirty. It's because we love Jesus more than we love us. That's it.
There's no other reason to do this. So if you scored really low on the test, and if you did, don't get mad at me. You graded you. I didn't grade you. You graded you.
If you scored really low on the test, you know what that says? That we have a systemic problem here. The systemic problem is you might come in here and sing about Jesus being number one in your life, but authentically, is he really? Because, folks, if Jesus is really number one in our lives, we won't have a problem with this. If Jesus is really first in our life, hey, the only thing that makes any sense is to be a marine for God. If we're really living for eternity and not this world, then there's every reason in the world to exchange suffering here for reward on the other side.
If you're not doing that, I think we have to really ask ourselves a hard question. What's really motivating my life? Me or Jesus? And if you need a course correction, I hope you'll have the courage to ask God to help you make it.
Let's pray. Lord Jesus, thanks for talking to us today right down where we live, because we know that Madison Avenue screams at us 24-7, you're first, your desires are first, what you want is first. It's all about me, me, me. And, Lord, we know that you don't scream that at us, but you whisper in a very small voice, no, no, no, it's all about Jesus. And so, God, we have decisions to make about who's really first in our lives. And by taking this little test today, it helps us to be able to evaluate where we really are, because for people where Jesus is really first, the only logical choice is to be a marine. So, Lord, motivate us today, speak to our hearts deeply, challenge us to go to the next level, not just to be citizens of heaven, but to be marines. And grant, Lord, that we can put together an army of marines here in this city, so that we might rock this place for Jesus Christ. Change our lives, because we were here today, I pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-24 23:18:01 / 2023-03-24 23:31:25 / 13