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August 18, 2020 8:00 am
He watched the killing of Steven, the first martyr. He went on to do everything he could to stamp out the newly formed Christian church. We would not expect him to become a convert and missionary and an apostle. But that's exactly how God used Paul.
Welcome to the Bible study, our radio and Internet program with Dr. James Boyce preparing you to think and act biblically repetitions in scripture are important. So when Luke tells of Paul's conversion three times in acts, we need to pay attention.
Paul's conversion is a powerful story of how Jesus reached down and touched the heart of his persecutor and made him a new creature. Let's listen. Is Dr. Boyce teaches from acts on the conversion of Saul access in a very long book.
Although by the other books of the New Testament, it's relatively long, 28 chapters. Yet it's significant, isn't it, that a book of such limited length as arcs covering so much material as it does showing the expansion of Christianity from small beginnings in Jerusalem shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ or religion that filled the whole empire, that a book that is relatively short, that seeks to present such an expansive picture, nevertheless tells this story of the conversion of the Apostle Paul not once, but three times. You find it here in the ninth chapter, it's Luke's own account, as I said, you find virtually the same thing again, twice more once in Chapter 22. And a third time in Chapter 26. Now, it's true that in each of those incidents, it's handled somewhat differently, it's obviously the same story, but it's being presented to different audiences and therefore different things are emphasized here.
I suppose the emphasis is upon the ministry of Anan, EIAs to the apostle Paul, how God came to him, called him and sent him to this apostle to establish a bridge from the very beginning, said something about the unity and fellowship within the Church of Jesus Christ. And the twenty second chapter of acts, Paul is speaking to a Jewish audience in Jerusalem.
There's just been a near riot and the soldiers have intervened to protect him and put him in protective custody.
He's asked for permission to address the crowd and he does. And he tells the story of his conversion. And the emphasis seems to be upon the intervention of God in his life.
The revelation that he received from heaven, obviously with great point, because the Jews believed in such things and claim to having heard a voice of God from heaven was no mean thing that had to be taken seriously. And they gave him very serious attention until he came to what proved to be the end of the address.
Mentioned that this God who spoke from haven't told him that he was going to send him to the Gentiles and that the word gentiles, they were so fanatical that they began to break into noise again. And that was the end of the speech.
But that was the emphasis. And then in the 26 chapter, we have Paul again telling the story of his conversion. This time he is before Kings. It tells us in this story that he is going to appear before kings and bear witness before them. And that's what he does before Festus and Agrippa to Gentile Kings. And here when he tells his story, the emphasis now it's the same story seems to be upon the commission to go to the gentiles, which, of course, makes sense. That's what he wants to show. God gave him a revelation and the message and told him to go to the Gentiles, just like Festus and the grip. And we know that he got a good hearing on that occasion.
Well, as I say, there are three different emphases in these three different stories. And all of that makes perfect sense that we understand it.
But still, it is very striking, isn't it, that in the book of this length. And Luke would tell the story, not summarizing it, but telling it in full, tell the story of the Apostle Paul's conversion three times.
Obviously, it means that Luke considered that very, very important.
He saw it as a watershed event. A turning point in history is significant, if you can understand it in its own way.
As the resurrection of Jesus Christ himself.
Very interesting historical demonstration of that story, which I have told before generally at Easter time, because it concerns the resurrection that surrounds these two men who lived in the 19th century, Lord Lyttleton and Gilbert West. They were good friends. They moved in literary circles and they were both unbelievers, strong in their unbelief. They were lawyers and they had, as they thought, very good reasons for not accepting Christianity. They said to each other one day in conversation, you know, this matter of Christianity really stands upon a very unstable foundation, really are only two things that stand behind it. The alleged resurrection of Jesus Christ and the alleged conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Why? If we could just disprove those, which should be a rather easy thing to do. Christianity would just collapse like a house of cards.
So they said each other in this conversation, let's do it.
Why don't you write on one and I'll write on the other? Gilberg West said, Well, all right, I'll write on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And Lord Lyttleton said, I'll write on the conversion of the Apostle Paul. You show why Jesus could not possibly have been raised from the dead. And I'll show that the apostle Paul could not have been converted. As the story says, he was by a voice from heaven and a revelation on the road to Damascus. And so they went off to write their books. And sometime after that they came back together. And one of them said to the other, you know, I have a confession to make as I have been looking into the evidence for this.
Remember, they were lawyers and they had very good minds.
He said, I've begun to think that maybe there's something to it.
And the other one said, well, you know, the same thing has happened to me, but let's investigate it and see where we come out. So they did. And when they met, finally, they had kept in touch. Being friends over the period of their work, when they met, finally each had to confess to the other that in the end they had come out giving exactly the opposite conclusion than they thought they were going to have when they went in. Gilbert West wrote a great book on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That's its title. And or Lyttleton wrote a great book on the conversion of the Apostle Paul.
And those books are available in our library. My own version, an old one, has both of them bound together. And in these two great books bound together, there is a flyleaf and on the flyleaf printed the words blame not until thou hast examined the truth. It's interesting, though, isn't it, that both of them concern the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
And as I said, in its own way, by treating the resurrection of Jesus and the conversion of the Apostle Paul rightly, I think as two great pillars of Christianity, they were saying that both are important.
And that if the apostle Paul was not really converted as the ninth chapter of Acts says he was, and as he himself said he was on these two great testimonies, both before the Jews and Gentiles, then Christianity loses one of its most able theologians and certainly a very great defender of the faith and as weakened as a result.
Well, this man, Saul, is interesting.
He's already been introduced to us at the very beginning of the eighth chapter, really the end of the story of a stoning of Stephen that we have in Chapter seven. Luke is a great historian and he writes well, and he slips in at that point. Saul was there giving approval to his death. Saul has not been mentioned to this point, but everybody who read this would know exactly who saw was. And now here in Chapter nine, he begins to tell his story.
Saul had a remarkable training. He had the best possible education a person in that time could have.
And the next question is, was it a secular education or a Christian education? The answer was, was a secular education.
Overtly secular in his home town of Tarshish. It had a Greek education and he gives some indication of that. He didn't put a great deal of store by that. But he gives some indication of that because in his writings from time to time, he'll quote one of the Greek poets. So he must have learned that or studied that at one time in his youth. But he also had what in that day would have been called a religious education. But part of our point of view was a secular religious education. He went to Jerusalem and studied under Gamaliel. It would be like going to Harvard University and registering in the religious department. There would have been a study of religion and it would have been very thorough. Indeed it was. And he knew the law and he knew all the traditions of Israel. But it wasn't a spiritual thing. And Paul gives every evidence of that in his life.
And his heart really was untouched by the spirit of God.
That was Paul.
We ask a question at this point, what would Paul, before he met the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, have thought of Christianity? He knew about it, of course, because he was persecuting the church. He was out to destroy Christians and he had been in Jerusalem for some time. You've studied the Gamaliel. That's where Gamaliel had his school. And certainly, although he wasn't in Christian circles, Jerusalem wasn't all that big. And he certainly knew what was going on. He'd heard the stories and was acquainted with Christianity. Later, he begins to summarize all the basic doctrines of Christianity. Does it in First Corinthians, a great chapter in the resurrection. And he says there that he received from others all these basic truths, saw that Christ was crucified according to the scriptures and buried and rose the third day, according to the scriptures, and that he was seen. And he begins list all the witnesses and the very act he says. And last of all, by me, as one born out of due time, these things would have been known to Paul.
And so he asked out with his knowledge of Christianity, this new religion, the sect, as they call it, of the Nazarene's beginning to thrive in the city, the central city of Judaism.
What would Paul have thought of the new faith?
Well, he would have thought it was wrong, of course.
That's clear enough. He was a monotheistic Jew. Here were people saying that Jesus was God. He would have regarded that as polytheism. Jesus is God. That's a denial of the God of Israel. He didn't understand what Christians do understand. But he would have thought it was wrong. For that reason. And so that's clear enough.
It would have been something which was incompatible with his religious traditions. And he understood that Mengele would have been more to it than that. Not only would Paul have considered Christianity wrong, he would have considered it to assumptive.
Guys, you see it make great claims that claim that Jesus was the son of God and that he had proved that by his resurrection from the dead and that Christianity was wrong.
Jesus had not risen from the dead and therefore was not God. Then those who were going about to say that he had been raised from the dead and he was God were obviously and consciously trying to deceive the rest of the Jewish community.
Moreover, there's this matter of the empty tomb that was in Jerusalem. Frank Morrison, who writes that classic little book, Who Moved the Stone, calls a great deal of attention to this, saying that here were the early Christians, the apostles, especially preaching or resurrection.
And they are in the very city in which they were preaching. There was the tomb in which Jesus had been buried, but which was discovered by the priests as well as by the early Christians to have been empty.
If the enemies of the gospel had been able to produce the body of Jesus Christ in those early days, they would certainly have done it because I would have destroyed Christianity at its roots.
That they couldn't do it meant that it was a great embarrassment to them, but they would have tried to explain it.
You see, that traditional explanation that's reflected at the end of Matthew's gospel is that the disciples came and stole away the body. If Jesus was not really raised and something like that must have happened. That's the only explanation there could be. The disciples must have common stolen the body and then they must have gone about saying that Jesus was raised from the dead in order to establish a religion when knowing perfectly well he had not been raised from the dead and they had stolen the body.
And that's what Saul must have thought. You see, it's not just a question of Christianity being wrong.
It was a damnable deceit.
It was leading people away from the truth, the truth, which was the way of salvation. And that explains Saul's attitude when people say about Saul.
Well, he was just one of those people that likes to go around killing people.
I guess there are people like that. But I don't think that explains Saul.
That isn't the way explains it himself. He's ready to confesses Sin when he tells a story, always says how wrong and how sinful he was. But he always explains it in terms of his zeal for the tradition of his father's. It wasn't just that he didn't like these people, he thought they were really doing something bad. And if he needed some sort of justification for it, he could find it in the Old Testament, the story of Phineas, who killed a man and the woman in the tent with a spear in order to stop the plague.
And God ordered Phineas when he was a great man. He's praised. This was what Saul was trying to do. So having been very active in the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem and hearing that the sect of the Nazarene's, which in the story now is called The Way and begun to spread and was taking roots in Damascus. He got letters from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to the synagogues in Damascus to go there. And if he found any, you were followers of the way to seek them out and to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial.
And it was on that mission that God stopped him.
There's some interesting things that are connected with this. For one thing, when one of the stories is given, the Lord is quoted as having said to Saul, Saul, Saul, it's hard for you to kick against the pricks of Godes. That means that he was bothered and his conscience. And when we recognize that, we begin to say now what was his state of mind and why was he bothered in his conscience? Explanation of that comes from the context, the story way Luke is telling it. We are told the first time that we find reference to Saul that he was there when Steven was martyred.
And just think of that now in the context of what we know about Saul and what he must have been thinking about.
The church remembered how he thought that these Christians were not merely wrong, but they were deceivers.
And now you see for the first time in the trial of Stephen and his martyrdom, he had come face to face upclose.
One of these Christians and what an impression it must have made on a man like Saul.
So I was educated. So is Steven.
Steven perhaps didn't have the same advantage of a secular education, at least not a Greek secular education as Saul did. But when Steven stood up to give his testimony before the Sanhedrin, he certainly demonstrated a knowledge of the scriptures that was equal to that of the Apostle Paul, effortlessly, it would seem. Steven, rehearse the great peaks of the history of the people of Israel.
And he was able to do that with ease and make his points, namely that God was no respect for the persons, that he revealed himself to Gentiles as well as to Jews, and that down through their history, those who were favored by a special revelation had resisted the truth and had martyred the prophets and now in the end had killed Jesus.
Certainly a man of Saul's intellect and training would have been impressed by that. I think, too, he must have been impressed with Stevens dying words.
See, as Stephen was dying, he looked up to heaven and he said, I see Jesus standing at the right hand of the father.
Now, he could have been lying, of course, but really in those circumstances, the moment of his death soon to appear before the judge of all.
You mean to tell me that in circumstances like Vyatta, a man would carry out that deception to the very end, saying to those who were the appointed earthly judges of the people that he saw Jesus when he really didn't see them?
See if this was a deception. It was certainly a deception of a remarkable order. And so all being Mamani wasn't having the mind. He did have must have been impressed with that. And then, too, there was the way in which Stephen died. Stephen died. He repeated the words of his master. He said, Lord, forgive them, they don't know what they do. I wonder if Sol didn't ask himself at that point whether he saw could die like that. Did he die with that kind of faith? Could he die or that peace of mind and heart and that nature that would give forgiveness, ask for forgiveness, even a moment when he's being killed?
Well, prejudices die hard. He may have been kicking against the goals when he was kicking against them.
And so it's in that frame of mind that he set out, as I said, to Damascus, and it was on the road that Jesus met. I think there must be an irony in the story at this point. An irony, perhaps, that Lucas calling to our attention, you see saw was very concerned that this religion was spreading was bad enough, that it was there in Jerusalem and he was doing everything he could to stamp it out there. He must have been fairly effective because it says that the Christians scattered when all the areas round about. So he had probably broken up the assemblies. As far as we know, the disciples were still there. The apostles. But the others were scattered, many of them at least. And he must said, why? We're doing all right here. But he heard rumors. You see that this was taking root in Damascus, Damascus. Now, remember was a gentile city in Syria. We've been reading how the gospel spread to some area that was half gentile and half Jewish.
But you see now it's gone. Even beyond that, it's gone the whole way to Damascus. I was a hundred and twenty miles to the north.
It's almost have been worried at that point. But as I say, I think there's an irony here because the story we've just been told in the chapter immediately before this concerns Philip and the Ethiopian and I'll get the geography and mind, Saul, is they are very concerned that the gospel spreading north has gone to Samarian.
It's gone beyond that to Damascus. And so he's on his way out there to Damascus to arrest those Christians and bring them back so he can try them and stamp this thing out while he's making his way north. God picks up Philip from some area and leapfrogs over him, as it were, and sends him down on the road by Gaza, going to Ethiopia.
And by the grace of God, he's instrumental in converting the Ethiopian and say Saul is trying to stamp it out in one direction and God is spreading it in the other.
And it wasn't long before it spread throughout the whole world. Funny that the opponents of Christ have tried to stamp out Christianity all down through history. All the Roman emperors tried to do it, it was a crime even to possess the scriptures. And people are trying to do it today. Communist countries tried to do it all different ways of trying to stamp it out. We're trying to stamp it out in this country, too. Goes by the idea of the separation of church and state. It's to say you can't be visible with your faith. We have our own way of doing it. But what folly that is, we think we're stamping it out in this way.
But the Lord of history, God himself, just spreads it for his people.
And that's what was happening.
Well, on the way to Damascus. The Lord Jesus Christ stopped Paul in his tracks.
Suddenly, a bright light from heaven. He says, Who art thou, Lord?
Primacy saw a vision of the Lord. He certainly heard the voice.
And the conversation is a classic, classic conversation, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Saul said, Who are you? Lord. Same verse, first five, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.
What a thunderbolt. And the spiritual and intellectual experience of Saul.
Here he was so sure. Oh, yes. Resisting those Golding's of the facts. But nevertheless, he thought of himself. He was so sure that these Christians were wrong and they were out to deceive people and then suddenly out in a remote place as remote as the area where the Ethiopian was traveling on his way to Damascus without a Christian anywhere around.
Suddenly there's a light from heaven and God speaks and God is Jesus.
What a turnabout. What a turmoil for soul.
Because unless he was utterly deceived and unless he was hallucinating, it proved, you see that Jesus was alive because Jesus was speaking to him to prove that Jesus was God. Because this was a theater phony. This wasn't a man he met walking along the way. This was a voice from heavens was God.
And moreover, this Jesus was alive and who was God was identifying himself with a very people. Lietzau was persecuting.
I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
You've done it under one of the least of these, my brother. You've done it under me. If you've done them good, you do it to me. If you do them evil, you do it to me.
That's the way Jesus was speaking.
The store was just overwhelmed. First seven. You see what a understatement. The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless. Saul himself certainly was.
He was blind as a result of the revelation that led him into the city.
And when he was there in the city, spent three days, he was praying. He was seeking the will of God. And while he was doing that, God came to this man and and EIAs, who figures very strongly in the story and said, Stan and EIAs, now there's a man here in the city, Saul. He's seen a vision. He's had a vision, sense of a man named that. An eye is coming to him to explain these things. And I just didn't need much more explanation than that. He knew very well who this was.
Oh, he said, I've heard about him. Lots of reports are circulating about him, not just in Jerusalem. I know I was here. He's come to arrest people like me, carry me off to Jerusalem and do to me what he did.
Steven, the deacon. But the Lord said to him, no, no, that isn't what's happening. I'm doing something here. This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel and I will show him how much he must suffer. My name. You know, I like verse 17 and Elias went to the house and entered its.
They when God spoke to Antonius and an EIAs low, he knew about Saul and knew what he was up to, was strong enough in the Lord to believe God and do what he said and trust God for the consequences.
He might have said, I guess in these circumstances we might have said at that point, oh, no, Lord, you're mistaken. Many people you may have been able to convert, but Saul is certainly not on that list. However, there was an unconverted all enemy.
It's as bad, Saul. What a God said he was converted and an ice was willing to believe that. And he went. I wonder if you have faith as strong as this great man from Damascus. You know, many of us pray for people. Sometimes it's Assad or a daughter. Sometimes a parent. Sometimes a friend. Sometimes a husband. Sometimes a wife. We pray and we ask God to do something and change their lives, to work in their lives. So they're born again. But we don't really believe it. And we don't think God can. We say, oh, I know you do it with other people, but I really wonder if you can do it with that individual.
God, can you see God saved Saul and he turned this great persecutor into this great missionary. Amanda is doing the most in these days to harm the church. He turned into the man who did the most build it up.
God can do that today to save you. You have a son or a daughter that you're worried about and is off somewhere not serving the Lord. You keep praying for them because God can yet do something remarkable in their lives and their promises that concern our children, that we can claim. At any rate, here's what God did for this man. Now, how do you explain this conversion? This is what Lord Middleton wrestled with in his book. He said they're only certain ways. You really can't talk about it. He said if this didn't really happen the way it's described here in X, then this man, Saul, must have been an imposter or an enthusiast. That is one who got carried away with himself virtually out of his mind, or he himself was a deceiver, are deceived by others. And then in his legal way, with relentless logic, Lyttleton began to examine these things. He said, Do you have to ask, was Saul an impostor?
This is Luke telling the story. But Luke got it from Saul. They were friends. Maybe this is the way. All told it to Luke and this is the way Luke wrote it down. But, you know, it was just a big put on. Paul was just pretending to something that never really happened. Well, he said if that's the case, you have to ask for the motivation. If he was going to the lengths that he did tell this great story, that was no true story, why in heaven's name would he possibly do it? And he began to say, well, you know, advance certain reasons. He some people might do something like that to think that they would get ahead. It's a way of impressing people and making a mark for yourself. People do that in the church sometimes today. They pretend to have faith they don't have because they think, well, it's a good thing to be a member of a church and be highly Bolla. But, said Lyttleton, that was hardly the case in Paul's day. Paul had a future all right, but his future was certainly not with the persecuted Christians. He was doing very well in Judaism himself talks about it. He said, I have excelled among the most excellent blacks company of my people. I was a Pharisee of the Pharisees zealous. Moving ahead, why? If anybody was to make a name for himself and be successful in Judaism, it was Paul.
So little does and so's you can explain it by saying that he was doing it to get ahead. Matter of fact, the opposite happened. Humanly speaking, you got anything. But I have suffered many, many things by throwing in his lot with the Christians. He said, sometimes, you know, people will do that. Claimer revelation from God in order to excuse some behavior, some sin that they want to commit. They'll say, well, God told me to do it. I just had this vision and God said, do it. And it's all right. That's supposed to be an unimpeachable argument.
Well, he said, did it all do that, is that the way he lived? Did he use the story of this revelation to indulge himself?
The answer is anything but. This revelation, this call from God imposed upon him. What? Physically speaking, was the greatest of hardships as he became a ambassador for Christ throughout the world, suffering many, many things for the sake of the name. So that doesn't explain it. How about being an enthusiast in the 19th century? That meant one who was virtually out of his mind. Does that explain, Paul?
Did he just get carried away with the idea the way some people do and was so excited about it he just couldn't stop talking about it all? He was zealous. All right. But that's not the same thing.
Lyttleton said, so no, here was a man.
You have to understand, this was not a Sanyasi. You didn't believe in the resurrection. This was a Pharisee who didn't believe in the resurrection. And we'd heard the stories of Jesus resurrection, but did not regard that as a valid story.
That's not an enthusiast.
It's a man who says, I have lived in this world a long time and there may be a resurrection. The Bible says so it's coming at the end of time. But people do not rise.
So it must be a deception. That's exactly the opposite of what that explanation would suggest. Perhaps he was deceived. That's the third possibility. Well, hardly. Who would have deceived a motive had to have been the Christians. But could they even have thought of that? I mean, let's start at the base.
They even a fond of the possibility of concocting something that would deceive their great enemy. Hardly. But they were trying to do is stay as far away from him as they could.
They weren't capable of that. Or even if they were. How could they possibly have carried it off? Bright light from heaven. Voice.
Lietzau questionably recognized as the voice of God. How could they possibly have done that then to get an and EIAs to comment further?
It just is impossible. So.
Lyttleton said when he came to the end of his examination, if. The story of the conversion of Saul is not the result.
Of Saul being an imposter. Or result of Saul being deceived or as a result of Saul being an enthusiast? It must be because there was a genuine revelation followed by a genuine conversion on Paul's part.
And that's the way people are converted. By that which is genuine, there are non genuine conversions. People who pretend to something that hasn't really happened. People who profess to fight but later drift away. All true conversion as a result of the work of the same Jesus Christ who said, I know my sheep. I call them by name and I lead them out and they become mine and they're mine forever. Christianity doesn't rest on a foundation of sand. It rests on the word of God. And that's what happened in the case of saw that happen in your life. Jesus Christ made himself known to you producing his life in you, calling you by name. So that you become his and say, as the apostle Paul and the other ambassadors of the Cross undoubtedly said, I would rather die than deny what Jesus did for me. That's the case. Then you belong that I'd great company. And if not, you need to seek Jesus out while.
He may be found. Let's pray. Our father.
To bless these words. This story, these truths to our hearts.
We are such sinful, imperfect, wayward, resisting people. But you are the God able to reclaim the wandering sheep and break down the resistance of the soul.
And so win and draw, those who are drawn to you become utterly different men and women pray that you would do that in our midst, do it in a great way. Beginning now. We pray in Jesus name.
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