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One Changed Life

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
April 16, 2024 4:00 am

One Changed Life

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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April 16, 2024 4:00 am

Would you share your faith with someone who hates Christians? Listen as Alistair Begg follows the story of a merciless persecutor who became one of the greatest contenders for the faith! What changed him? We’ll find out on Truth For Life.


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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!


Would you ever share your faith with someone who openly, vehemently hates Christians and Christianity? Today on Truth for Life, we're going to hear the story of a merciless persecutor of Christians who became one of the greatest contenders for the faith.

What led to the change? We'll find out as Alistair Begg teaches from the opening verses of Acts chapter 9. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. In other words, in contemporary terms, he went to the high priest and he got an extradition order so that he could haul these people who had escaped from Jerusalem, having been unable to contain these believers in Jerusalem. A few of them had skipped off to Damascus, and he figures he needs to go and get them corralled and bring them back.

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

Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do. The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless. They heard the sound, but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus.

For three days, he was blind and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus, there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision.

Ananias? Yes, Lord, he answered. The Lord told him, Go to the house of Judas on straight street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

In a vision, he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight. Lord, Ananias answered, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name. But the Lord said to Ananias, Go. This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. Then Ananias went to the house and entered and, placing his hands on Saul, he said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

Amen. I've chosen to read from Acts chapter 9 tonight, because there may be somebody here who, if we were to suggest to them that what is about to happen in this baptismal pool will one day soon happen to them, they would say, You have to be kidding me. They may actually go as far as to say, I don't have the slightest intention ever, any time, of being baptized.

Well, that's fine, and I love that kind of clarity. Of course, it's conjecture on my part. I haven't met anyone who's saying this, but it comes to mind, because in the story that we've just read, we're really introduced to a man who clearly did not have the slightest intention of being baptized. The central character is Saul of Tarsus. He was born a Roman citizen in the Greek city of Tarsus. His parents were Jewish. He was brought up within the framework of strict Jewish teaching. He became a student in Jerusalem in the best of schools and studied under the tutelage of one of the great teachers of the time, a man by the name of Gamaliel.

One of the central tenets of Judaism, Orthodox Judaism then and now, was the fact of monotheism, that there is only one God. And so the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was God was something that just didn't fit within his framework. His religious convictions were strong. They were strong to the point that he was prepared to do just about anything to anyone to ensure their continuance. You have his testimony a number of times in Acts.

Let me just quote to you from what he tells Agrippa at a later point in his life. Explaining to the king his Christian testimony, he said, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and I did so in Jerusalem. I not only shut up many of the saints in prison by authority of the chief priests, but when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues, and I tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities. The hatred that fills the heart of the Apostle Paul – now Apostle Paul, then Saul of Tarsus – was absolutely at the core of his being, and it spewed out of him.

The classic illustration, of course, that we find at the end of Acts chapter 7 and the beginning of Acts chapter 8. Stephen, you remember, was stoned on account of these trumped-up charges of blasphemy. And while the clothes of those who were conducting the execution were laid at Saul's feet, Stephen's face shone like an angel, and he looked up, and he saw the risen Jesus in heaven, and he commended his spirit to him.

And Luke tells us that devout men buried Stephen, but Saul was ravaging the church. Now, Saul of Tarsus had these wonderful characteristics. I mean, if you just think about this individual and what he brings to the table, he was a man of great intellect. He was a man of terrific drive. He was a man of solid determination.

He was a man possessed of peculiar leadership abilities. All characteristics which, under God, were going to be used for the advance of the church and for the salvation of many people. It's a marvelous thought, isn't it? And we know, says Paul later on, that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes. When Paul was saying that, remember what was in his mind, and we know that in all things, God works. Think of what some of the all things were in Paul's testimony. The stoning of Stephen, the casting of his vote at the execution of the followers of Jesus, his vitriolic hatred against those who professed faith in Jesus.

And now he writes, and I know that in all things, the good, the bad, and the ugly, God is actually at work for the good of those who love him, those who love him, who've been called according to his purpose. And soon these very traits are going to be channeled in the opposite direction from which we find him here. He was antagonistic. He found the Christians contemptible. He despised them. He had no interest in the notion of the resurrection of Jesus or his lordship. He was a self-confessed persecutor. And again, I say to you, he clearly had not the slightest intention of ever being baptized.

Well, of course, why would he? Because once he got an inkling of what was involved in this baptism, it clearly would not have been something for Saul of Tarsus. And some of you are here tonight, and you're about to observe this take place, and you're wondering to yourself exactly what's going on. You're about to hear a good variety of people stand up and say a little of their story just very briefly for want of time.

And in it all, you may be trying to put the pieces together. Let me just say a number of things to you in order to set what we now see in context. First of all, we should acknowledge this, that baptism in the New Testament is not a kind of extra.

It's not a sort of added course, an elective if you want to do a little for credit. Saul knew that it wasn't that as he observed these people being baptized, as he realized what it cost them to come out of the baptism pool and say, Jesus is Lord. Secondly, we should know that baptism is not the washing away of sin. This is just ordinary water in here.

There's nothing special about the water. The Bible tells us that it is only the blood of the Lord Jesus that can cleanse us from our sins. So what is actually happening in this baptismal pool is that what is performed by the blood of Jesus is pictured in this water. The third thing we need to know is that baptism is not the way to become a Christian. Now, the only way to become a Christian is in turning from our sin and turning to the Lord Jesus as the Savior for the sin we've admitted. Also, baptism, while not coming to faith in Jesus Christ, is nevertheless a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Well, how would baptism confess faith in Jesus Christ? Well, the Bible tells us that Christ died for our sins, he was buried, and he rose again on the third day. The Bible talks about being buried with Christ and being raised with him to a brand new life. Also, baptism in that respect then is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible change. It is an expression of those who are following the Lord Jesus. Now, all of that involved leads me to say to you that we have here in Acts 9 the record of somebody who didn't have the slightest intention of being baptized. So what changed that? How do we explain the change in Saul of Tarsus?

It's actually one of the great intellectual questions of anybody who does any kind of reading of history. Apart from the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is surely one of the most striking statements with which any serious seeker needs to reckon. If a person is saying, is there any validity to this Christianity?

Or is this just a pipe dream? Or is there anything that actually happens? Is there a transaction that takes place? One of the places to which a person must inevitably look is to this record of the change that was brought about in Saul of Tarsus. Because what happens here is dramatic, isn't it? People talk all the time about how, you know, I haven't had a sudden conversion like Saul of Tarsus, no Damascus road for me. Well, do you think this was sudden?

I mean, the moment in which the transaction took place was sudden, but there was a lot of background to this, wasn't it? Do you remember in the encounter when he speaks to Jesus and Jesus speaks to him, he says, Saul, isn't it hard for you to kick against the gods? A picture of a beast of burden being involved in the plowing and being goaded on and resenting the fact of the position and kicking against it and bearing the impact of the gods in their hindquarters. And Jesus says, that's what you've been doing, Saul. You've been kicking against me. See, Jesus knew what had been going on in Saul's life and Jesus knows what's going on in each of our lives. Jesus knows all the different things that we kick against. Think about the goading impact of the death of Stephen.

Do you think there was a day in Saul of Tarsus' life that he didn't at some point in the day go back to that scene and see the face of Stephen like that of an angel looking up into heaven and declaring that he sees Christ at the right hand of the Father? And instead of turning to say, oh, I wonder if Jesus is real, he kicks against it. His own doubts?

Oh, you see, when a person is this vociferous, when a person is this vitriolic against something, it is almost inevitably tied to a measure of insecurity in their own position. That there's a sneaking suspicion that they like to drive away in the back of their minds, that maybe actually this Jesus thing is true and it goads him and he kicks against it. But the fact of the matter is when Jesus says it's hard for you to kick against the goads, the God of the death of Stephen, the God of his own doubts, the God of his sinful heart, because he knew he couldn't keep the commandments. Even if he was doing good on no images, even if he was doing good on no stealing, even if he was doing well on no adultery, even if he was doing well on not bearing false testimony against his neighbor, how was he doing on covetousness? Because covetousness is not a thing.

Covetousness is an affair of the heart. And Saul of Tarsus would have known in his heart that all of his agendas were not right, that all of his desires were not pure, that all of his longings were not the kind that God would honor. And Jesus says, hey, it's hard for you to kick against these goads, isn't it? But in all of these things, the grace of God was at work in the life of Saul of Tarsus, bringing him to a moment in time when in this great denouement, when this great revelation takes place, in all the drama of the brightness of a light that shines brighter than the noonday sun, than the noonday sun, and he falls to the ground, prostrate at the feet of his conqueror, heading for Damascus with his chest out and his robes flowing and his entourage in place, ready with the orders of extradition to bring more of these silly Christians with their stupid ideas about the resurrection, bring them back to Jerusalem and imprison them or kill them. But how does he arrive in Damascus?

Not as he intended. He arrives in Damascus, we're told, led by the hands of his helpers, a strange sight, humbled and blinded by the very Christ he had opposed. Do you know how Paul put it later on?

He put it in a number of ways. This is what he said, Christ took hold of me when he wrote to the Philippians. And in 1 Timothy 1, he talks of how the grace of God flooded his heart with love. What you have in this story, in the way in which Saul becomes Paul, is a story of the sovereign, gradual, gentle grace of God.

When he is brought to his knees before the risen Christ, you will notice that Jesus speaks to him, involving the use of his mind, asking him to consider things. Why do you do what you do? Saul responds with two questions of his own. Number one, who are you? And number two, what do you want me to do?

Those are two very important questions. Who are you, Lord? Have you worked that one out? And what do you want me to do, Lord? He actually tells that in one of his other testimonies. Here, it's in the direct statement, now get up and go into that city and you will be told what you must do. Later on, he says that that came to him as a result of him inquiring, what do you want me to do? And God said, get up and go into the city and you'll be told what to do. Now, see, that's a problem for many of us, isn't it? We don't want anybody to tell us what to do. Well, you see, you can't be a follower of Jesus unless you're prepared to have him tell you what to do.

And that's the rub for some of us. Now, I want to give you a quote from Surprised by Joy, one of my favorite biographies. You've read, I'm sure, C.S. Lewis and mere Christianity and so on. In his final chapter called Checkmate, which is a wonderful statement of how he finally... Actually, the final chapter is called The Beginning. The penultimate chapter is called The Checkmate. He talks about how he'd been reading G.K. Chesterton's book, The Everlasting Man.

And C.S. Lewis regarded Chesterton as probably the brightest man that he knew. And so it unsettled him when he recognized that Chesterton was also a man of faith. And then he was further unsettled, he says, when early in 1926, the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good.

Now, C.S. Lewis is not a believer. He is running from God.

He's the least likely ever to be baptized, you know. And here, sitting opposite him at the fire, engaging in an intellectual dialogue, one of his key atheist friends opens the door just a crack, saying that it seems to him that the evidence for the truth of Christianity actually seems surprisingly good. Rum thing, he went on, all that stuff of Fraser's about the dying God.

Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once. And here there's a chink in the armor of Lewis. And he talks about how God closes in on him in the climax of our long drawn-out process.

And this is my quote, and we're through. The odd thing, he says, was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of holy free choice. I became aware that I was holding something at bay or shutting something out. Or if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing like corsets or even a suit of armor as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being there and then given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut.

I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty. No threat or promise was attached to either. Though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corset meant the incalculable. The choice appeared to be momentous, but it was also strangely unemotional. I was moved by no desires or fears. In a sense, I wasn't moved by anything. I chose to open, to unbuckle, to loosen the rain. I say, I chose, yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite. On the other hand, I was aware of no motives.

You could argue that I was not a free agent, but I'm more inclined to think that this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most that I have ever done. Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom, and perhaps a man is most free when instead of producing motives, he could only say, I am what I do. In other words, Lewis's discovery was akin to Saul's, namely that it is the grace of God that frees us from the bondage of our pride and our prejudice and our self-centeredness, and enables us to repent and believe. Is there a Saul of Tarsus here this evening?

I wonder. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. Today's message is titled One Changed Life. If you've been listening to Truth for Life for a while, you may have heard Alistair suggest that it's helpful to read the Bible backwards. In other words, read the Old Testament in light of what we find in the New Testament.

Why is that? It's because the second part of the Bible reveals what has been predicted in the first. So if you start by reading the Gospels, you can more readily see how the Old Testament prophecies were pointing to the coming Messiah, and how Jesus is the one who fulfills those prophecies. With this understanding, you can know Jesus more fully and better appreciate the magnitude of what he has accomplished. To help you wrap your head around this idea, we want to recommend a booklet titled Does the Old Testament Really Point to Jesus? This is a brief, easy-to-read guide that will give you all the tools you need to connect the dots between the Old and New Testaments. You'll be able to see how more than 400 pages in the Old Testament scriptures pointed to the coming of Christ. Ask for your copy of the booklet Does the Old Testament Really Point to Jesus? when you give a donation today. You can give a one-time gift at slash donate or arrange to set up an automatic monthly donation when you visit slash truthpartner. I'm Bob Lapine.

Thanks for listening today. As a self-righteous Pharisee, Paul mercilessly attacked and condemned Christians. Tomorrow we'll see a radically different Paul with a radically different response to the idol-worshipping Greeks. I hope you'll join us. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-04-16 07:11:20 / 2024-04-16 07:20:03 / 9

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