Saturday, April 19, 2014

Paul - A Murderer Turned into a Missionary

Acts 9:1 "Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest."

We explored several days ago how the post resurrection appearance of Jesus Christ changed the very first eyewitness of His post-resurrection glory - Mary Magdalene.  We noted how as a result of her encounter with the risen Christ - Mary Magdalene was changed from a mourner to a missionary. Her desperate situation of mourning was altered by a direct encounter with the risen Savior, resulting in a definite change - whereby she was able to proclaim: "I've seen the Lord!" 

In today's post we turn our attention to the eyewitness account of the post-resurrected Jesus by Saul of Tarsus who later became Paul.  We see Paul's testimony of his encounter with the risen Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:8 "and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also."  In three places in the Book of Acts we find Paul's testimony (Acts 9; 22 and 26).  We will confine our study mainly to Acts 9, with Acts 22 and 26 supplying additional details to complete the full picture.  
As we saw in Mary Magdalene's transformation: there was a desperate situation, a direct encounter and a definite change.  We will use these same headings to describe Paul's situation.

1). Desperate Situation: A Murderer persecutes the church
2). Direct Encounter of Paul by Christ
3). Definite Change: A murderer becomes a missionary

In explaining Paul's dramatic change by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, we will note two reasons for noting the significance of this event: Such power is available today and such power is necessary to live effectively for Jesus Christ.

Desparate Situation: A Murderer persecutes the church Acts 9:1-3
Many people tend to nearly forget what Paul's life was like before Jesus.  However by his own testimony the evidence is overwhelming with regards to his desperate situation as a murderer - that is to say - as one who was responsible for the deaths of many Christians. Acts 9:2 begins - "and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." As we dig further into the other occassion where Paul testifies about his pre-conversion days - the picture becomes darker.  In Acts 22:4-5 we read - "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons 5 as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished." Acts 26:10-11 paints the darkest picture - "And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 "And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities."  Make no mistake about it - Saul of Tarsus was the last man anyone would had ever expected to be the greatest missionary for the cause of Christ.  In his spiritually dead, uncoverted state, Saul was the church's public enemy #1.  This man was desparate and in need of a resurrection from tomb of religious rebellion and unbelief. 

Definite Encounter by the risen Christ - Acts 9:4-9
As Saul of Tarsus was on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, the suddenness of Jesus' appearance to Him results in Paul being knocked off of his horse onto the ground.  Acts 9:4 records Jesus telling Saul: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Note how He does not say: "Why are you persecuting my church?" Truly its as Jesus said in his days here on the earth in Matthew 25:45 "Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me." 

Now in short order we can detail through Acts 9 the elements of Jesus' post-resurrection encounter with Saul that led to him becoming dramatically changed.  These elements also explain what takes place in the conversions of people today who go from being sinners apart from salvation to saints in salvation. Please note the following:

A. Call             Acts 9:4-5 
Like Paul, every sinner must first be engaged by the call of Christ to their hearts. John 5:24-25 spells this out, with Jesus describing salvation as beginning with Him spiritually raising the sinner from the tomb of unbelief by means of His voice. This miracle call is brought to us by the Holy Spirit as described in Romans 8:11 "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."

B. Quickening  Acts 9:6
The call of Christ brought by the Holy Spirit leads to the quickening of the human heart by the Spirit. (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3, 23)  If you have ever gotten a splinter in your finger and responded with a quick pulling back of your hand - then you know what it means to be "quickened". Or better still, the word "quickening" is still used today to describe the first movement of a baby in a mother's womb - whereby she feels the "first signs of life" within her - i.e "quickening". If I were to call your name - you would look my way.  If I did not call your name, there would be no response.  The Bible connects the quickening, or the work of regeneration to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:18 (KJV) states - "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." Ephesians 2:1 (KJV) "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins."

C. Conversion to faith. Acts 9:7-9
The quickening, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit simulaneously brings about faith - in which the sinner excercises saving faith and repentance.  Paul testifies that when He had been encountered by Jesus in Acts 26:19 "So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision." We know Paul is speaking of His response to Christ by faith because from true saving faith proceeds the fruit of obedience as so described in Paul's opening statement about the Gospel in Romans 1:5 in the phrase: "the obedience of faith". 

We know that this call, quickening and conversion was not caused by just a mere vision.  This was a literal, direct encounter with the post-resurrected, post-Pentecost Jesus.  In all three testimony accounts (Acts 9,22,26) wee witness all of Paul's companions seeing the bright light and hearing a voice.  Only Paul of course was able to understand the words. Such physical phenomena, witnessed by others, makes this experience out to be a genuine encounter with Christ. 

Definite Change: A murderer becomes a missionary - Acts 9:10-22
In the whole sequence of events that follow from Paul's dramatic encounter to his eventual preaching of Jesus, the calling of Jesus on his life bore fruit.  Following his time of recovery in Damascus under the watch care of an obedient Ananias (Acts 9:10-16) we see the healing of Saul and his being filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 9:17.  In obedience to what had occured from His conversion to saving faith, Saul is baptized (Acts 9:18) and having been strengthened by the partaking of physical food is ready to serve the Lord. 

Acts 9:20-22 records the outcome - "and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?”22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ." As Paul testifies in Acts 26:18, Jesus told Him to proclaim the following message - "to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me."

As we have considered yet another person changed by resurrection power - the Apostle Paul - we noticed the following:
1). Desperate Situation: A Murderer persecutes the church
2). Direct Encounter of Paul by Christ
3). Definite Change: A murderer becomes a missionary

In explaining Paul's dramatic change by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, we noted two reasons for noting the significance of this event: Such power is available today and such power is necessary to live effectively for Jesus Christ. It is wonderful to think about how such power and the Person of Jesus is brought to us by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:11; 1 Peter 1:3)  Truly salvation is a miracle that can change any sinner into a saint with a message of hope about how Jesus can change any life at any time. 

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