(5/24) I. Stories of Unlikely Conversions.
Do you know of anyone that you would say, "He or she will never become a Christ Follower? NBC will soon start a show called, The Age of Aquarius, and it appears to be about Charles Manson and the brutal murders that he led a group to commit in the late 1960ís. Two of the murderers, Susan Atkins and Charles (Tex) Watson, committed their lives to Christ
in prison. So has David Berkowitz the demonic son of Sam killer that terrorized New York.
The 18th century had John Newton. John was as depraved a human being as has ever lived. John Newton became the captain of slave ships. In 1743, while returning home from Africa, his ship ran into a violent storm, and Newton cried out to God, and the ship made it safely to the coast of Ireland. John Newton began to read his Bible and became an Anglican
pastor, and would later write Amazing Grace. He described himself in that song as lost, blind, and a wretch. He knew the depth of his sinful life and the greatness and awe of Godís grace.
The 1970ís had another unlikely candidate for a Christ follower. His name was Charles Colson, called Richard Nixonís hatchet man. He did whatever Ďdirty work,í the President needed done. Someone once said, "Colson would run over his own grandmother to get the job done." In 1973, a very tired and worn out Colson, headed for jail for his involvement with
the Watergate scandal, met with friend Tom Philips and was led to faith in Christ. Everyone wondered, is it real? When outspoken Democratic Senator Harold Hughes was asked by Daniel Coe, the organizer of the Washington Prayer breakfast to meet with Colson and perhaps mentor him, he hung up the phone uttering some un-pleasantries. He would not believe such a man as Chuck
Colson could have become a real Christ-Follower. However, the Senator realized that, this is not what Jesus would do and so he called back and agreed to meet Colson, but only late at night and only in a secluded place. The two met and after 20 minutes or so of Colson sharing his need of Jesus, the two embraced as Senator Hughes said, "We are now brothers for life."
Chuck Colson did his jail time and when he got out, he started one of the biggest prison ministries in the world called, Prison Fellowship. He went on to become a prolific writer and one of Christianityís biggest advocates of the late 20th and early 21st century. Chuck Colson died in 2012.
Now there are many, many more unlikely conversions, but perhaps none more surprising or dramatic than that of the religious terrorist named, Saul. BTW, there is a principle here. No one is hopeless! Letís meet this man called Saul.
II. Saul of Tarsus
We first meet Saul as a young man, perhaps the same age as Jesus, in Acts 7:58, and 8:1, as he cheers on those who killed Stephen and guarded the coats of those who stoned him. Just 2 verses later in 8:3 we find him making havoc or destroying the church, dragging both men and women to jail. Whatís going on? Why all this anger and hatred for Jesus
people? Letís take a moment and try to get inside his head.
Saul was born in Tarsus, a well-known merchant city in Cilicia, just west of Syria on the north eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea. By his own testimony in Philippians 3, he was a pure breed Jew, and since Tarsus was a Roman city, Saul was not only a Jew but a Roman citizen. It is implied that his family was influential, for following his
bar-mitzvah, he was sent to Jerusalem to become the student of perhaps the most renowned Rabbi of the time- Gamaliel. Saul was destined to be a Pharisee. A protector of the faith, laws, and traditions of Israel as given to Moses.
I know that we are hard on these guys, but they began as good guys around the time of Nehemiah and Ezra. Knowing that Jews had been influenced by Assyrian and Babylonian culture and later by Greek and Roman culture, certain Jews decided to return to fundamental Judaism. They wanted the people of God to be pure and Holy. They started by wanting their
nation to get back to the Bible. The problem is, as we know, that keeping laws and traditions soon became more important than worshipping the God who gave the laws. Hence, when Jesus came along, He was seen by most of the Pharisees, not as one who was fulfilling prophecy, but as one who was breaking the laws and traditions of Israel and Moses and if He wasnít stopped, He
would lead all of Israel away from their heritage.
Saul was on a fast track to become one of the youngest members ever of the Jewish Sanhedrin or Supreme Court. Galatians 1, tells us that He was way ahead of most of his contemporaries in his knowledge of the Scriptures and traditions of Israel. Unless he went home for the holidays, Saul may have been among the ones who condemned Jesus.
He felt now, that it was his duty before God, to stop this infectious cult called the Way, or followers of the Nazarene, before it corrupted the whole of Judaism, both in Israel and abroad. With the High Priestís blessing, Saul of Tarsus, began His reign of terror. Breaking down doors, he imprisoned both men and women. He had them publically flogged
and some stoned to death. He is the guy that Jesus spoke about in John 16:2, "He that kills you will think that he offers God service." He caused others to curse Jesus to save their lives or the lives of their wives and children. When he learned that Christians had left the city for other countries, he determined to go there and bring them back in chains. He was determined to
stop and destroy the church of Jesus Christ. Letís read two of His own accounts. Turn to Acts 22:3-5; and then to 26:4, 9-12.
"I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathersí law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, 5 as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the
council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.
"My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. 5 They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a PhariseeÖ.. "Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10
This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
12 "While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
III. Seeing the Light Ė (Watch This)
Now letís return to Acts 9:1-4. We know from ch. 22 and 26 that it was about noon, when the sun was its highest. But the light of the Glory of God outshone the sun and was blinding to Saul and then He heard a voice. By his testimony, the others saw the light but did not hear the voice. Notice, the Q. Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Saul
responded with his own Q. Who are you Lord? The word Lord here does not mean God, it is more like our word "sir." Who are you, sir? Answer, I am Jesus who you are persecuting.
Here is a second principle. When anyone persecutes you or when you speak out against Godís servants, it is Jesus who is being assaulted. And He takes everyone very personal. Isaiah, reminds us that in all your affliction He is afflicted. He told us in John 15:18, that, "if the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hate you."
And then, our Lord makes this statement, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads!" While not all versions have that here in 9:5, all have it in 26:14.
IV. Stinging Goads
This is a statement that I have always just skipped over. However, it is highly significant to the story of Saul. A goad was an early cattle prod. It was a long stick with a sharp pointed end that farmers and cattle men would use to encourage their oxen, or other cattle to move where they wanted them. A stab in the rump was painful and often caused the
ox to kick to try to remove the pain giving goads that would keep coming until the ox did the farmerís will.
So, I ask, what were the stabbing, stinging goads that Saul was trying to kick away, but couldnít. What was God using to prod Saul into submitting to His will? I think I know some. These were Saulís Christmas Carol ghosts, haunting his mind as his rage drove him to assault Christ.
A. The O.T. Scriptures. Saul knew the scriptures as well or better than anyone in Israel. Scriptures like Isaiah 53 that speak of a suffering and dying Messiah. Then, there is Psalm 16:10 that speaks of a resurrected King. The prophecies of healings when Messiah comes and prophecies of a pierced God in Zechariah. I believe Saul knew these and as much
as he tried to convince himself that they couldnít refer to Jesus, he couldnít get them out of his mind.
B. Jesusí life and ministry. Acts 26:4 tells us that Saul lived most of his life in Jerusalem. He may have heard Jesus, or saw Him heal on the Sabbath day. He may have cast a vote on his death, and watched Him be crucified. He may have heard Him say, "Father, forgive themÖ" and, "into your hands I commend my Spirit." Jesusí knowledge of the scriptures
and influence on the people wouldnít leave Saulís mind.
C. Gamalielís counsel in Acts 5:34-39. Gamaliel was his mentor, his teacher, and rather than consenting to the death of the Apostles, he urged the council to leave them alone unless they found themselves fighting against God. Saul probably felt a little betrayed. This man taught me everything I know about the scriptures and now he says we should leave
these people alone that we could be fighting God. I believe those wordís haunted his mind like a goad.
D. Stephenís diatribe and death. Stephen is said to be, a man full of faith and the Spirit. No one was able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spoke (Acts 6:5, 10). Stephenís words were accurate and true and no one could argue with him. His words cut deep and that is why they killed him. But as he was being dragged outside the city and
condemned to die by stoning, he never once begged for his life or for mercy. Instead, his face shone like an angel and, like Jesus, he committed his soul to God and asked that God not hold his attackers accountable. He died just like Jesus. Men donít die that way. And this was a stinging, stabbing, haunting jab in Saulís mind.
E. The Courage and Commitment of Christ-Followers. These Christians they faced their arrests, imprisonments, beatings, and even death, with courage, praying for their accusers, and praising God, haunted Saul. The more he tried to destroy this Way, the more it grew, and that, I believe, haunted Him. Did some recant and blaspheme? Yes! But only to
protect their loved ones from torture or death because of Saulís cruelty.
F. The Unexplainable Empty Tomb. Saul was smart enough to know that the body wasnít stolen or moved. But the only option was that it was moved or Jesus is alive. He would not allow his mind to consider that possibility, but he could not escape it either. Much like today, many knowing that the possibility of our existence by evolution is slim to none,
still embrace it rather than accept the alternative of Divine Creation.
Goadís all. Saul could not stop the haunting jabs to his mind. He could not kick them away. He couldnít stop the stinging, or the barking of the Hounds of Heaven. And now, there was this blinding light of the glory of God and the voice of Jesus, who is un-mistakably alive. Saul submitted his life to the will of God (v. 6). The rest, as they say, is
history. The Churchís great persecutor would become Christianityís greatest promoter of all time. He would write about half of all our New Testament, and establish our theology and doctrinal beliefs and would suffer greatly and die as a martyr for Jesus.
Perhaps God used goads in your life to bring you to surrender to His will or faith in Jesus. Are you remembering those goads, or haunting ghosts, that made you finally say, "What would you have me do Lord?"
V. Supplying Goads.
Listen carefully. Our Lord wants us to live in such a way as to cause our words and actions to be goads in the lives of others. But this is not to be in a holier than thou, or in an overbearing way. It is to be graceful. Consider these words by our Lord:
A. Matthew 5:16, " Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. He had just finished with 8 character traits that God approves of. We call them the Beatitudes. Humble, grieving over sin, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for doing right. If
you read the rest of Matthew 5 you will see Jesus is telling us to be different. Quick to admit wrong, true to our spouse, honest in our speech, praying for our enemies, loving those who do us wrong, going the extra mile. All of these and more are different than the way the rest of the world normally operates. When you practice Christlikeness, It sticks in peopleís minds and
can sometimes haunt them to know what is different about you and why.
ē 1 Peter 2:11-12, "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation." The works in this case is a submissive
spirit in every God ordained institution. Obeying and honoring those in authority. Responding to mistreatment as Jesus did; not by retaliating but by committing Himself to God. He says in chapter three, that wives can influence their husbands better with a quiet submissive spirit than with Bible verses and preaching. That gentleness is a goad that can be haunting. Husbands
likewise can have an influence in their wives lives by knowing their love language, and their temperament and treating her like a priceless vase and not as servant, or your mother.
B. 1 Peter 3:8-17, "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;[a] 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For "He who would love life And see good days, Let
him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit. 11 Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." Suffering for Right and Wrong 13 And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousnessí sake, you are blessed. "And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled." 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be
ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Our Lord allows the persecution and mistreatment of His children to draw attention to grace. This in turn provides a goad that is haunting and shows the peace and difference that Jesus makes in the lives of His followers. God uses the goads that your life and words produce to bring a person to the point of repentance and salvation.
Saul couldnít get over what he had seen and heard in the lives of Christ-followers and when confronted with Jesus, he repented and became a follower.
VI. Simple Principles.
A. No one is hopeless
B. When Godís Children are persecuted, Jesus is persecuted
C. It is God who saves. We show and tell and provide the goads. Be Faithful.
D. Your past doesnít have to determine your future. Ask John Newton, Chuck Colson, or Saul of Tarsus.
Are you kicking against the goads? Stop and ask Jesus, what He wants you to do.
Wondering why God is allowing trials and difficulties in your life. It might just be because He is trusting you to respond in such a way as to goad those who watch you struggle. He shares His pain with those He trusts.
Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman