The Damascus Road: Making a You-Turn

Scripture: Acts 9:4-19
Date: 05/27/2000 
The second in a two part series on the life of Paul, particularly his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Like Paul we are all saved with a purpose, to share the love of Christ with the world.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Morning. Well I was pleasantly surprised, Pastor Padra’s song. I had no idea he could sing in Spanish. No, really, that was beautiful. Thank you very much, an added benefit. There’s a parable about a man who owned a newspaper in a small town and he had three sons. He was getting ready to retire, had to decide which of his sons would take over the paper. So he offered a little contest. He said, “To be a good newspaper man you have to recognize a good headline. And you need to be able to consolidate a sensational headline in as few words as possible.” And he told his three sons, “Whichever one of you can produce the most dramatic, sensational headline using the fewest words, you can manufacture it if you want,” he says, “he gets the paper.” Well, the oldest son came back to his father and he said, “I think I’ve got it. ‘Saddam Hussein Becomes Christian.’” The father said, “Well that would sell papers, but let’s see what else your brothers have.” And the second son came back, “Clinton Joins Monastery.” The paper went to the youngest son who simply had, “Pope Elopes.”

Now the reason those are so sensational, all three, is because they reflect a dramatic, unexpected change in a person. Who would ever think that Saddam Hussein would convert to Christianity? Or you probably are not imagine President Clinton joining a monastery and becoming a monk or the Pope eloping. That’s how unlikely it was for Saul the Jew to become a Christian. Our study for the next two weeks is going to be The Road to Damascus or The Damascus Road. And it’s the most dramatic conversion that’s recorded in the Bible. Matter of fact, the expression, “I saw the light,” you’d be surprised how many expressions come from Bible stories. “I saw the light,” can be traced pretty much back to the conversion of the apostle Paul when he was still Saul on the Damascus Road. You know when I first started reading the Bible, not having any real biblical background, I was amazed how many modern metaphors come from Bible stories. Like, “The handwriting on the wall.” And a number of others. Of course that goes to the story in Daniel 6. But we’re going to look at the story of Paul or Saul’s conversion. Little background, let me give you some history first. Saul of course was his given name. Back in the time of the Romans, Saul was born in Tarsus. That was the city there in modern Turkey right now formerly known as Tarshish in the Old Testament.

I don’t like to miss an opportunity to tell people that you know I’m half Jewish. My mother was Jewish. The Jews tell me I’m all Jewish if my mother’s Jewish. But it doesn’t make sense to me that I could only have, you know, two parents, I must be 50% if you’re going to work it that way. My mother’s maiden name is Tarshish and the Greek way to say Tarshish is Tarsus and my grandfather teased me and he says we’re related to the Apostle Paul. I love to tell people that. I don’t think there’s any truth to it, but it really is fun for me to tell people that. I think I’m probably more related to Jonah who ran to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. But anyway, so Paul was born there. Paul’s father was a Jew and his mother a Jew, but his father was born as a Roman citizen and he had certain privileges that not every Jew had that Romans had the benefit of. Probably when he was somewhere between 13 and 18 years of age Saul, he later took the Latin name that was similar, Paul, he went to Jerusalem where he was brought up. And he was raised in one of the rabbinical schools led by a Pharisee named Gamaliel. Now Gamaliel was a very godly, dedicated man, gifted in the scriptures. Matter of fact he speaks one time in the book of Acts. He was still working; he had a seat on the Sanhedrin.

You remember it was Gamaliel who said, “If this movement is of God then we can’t fight it. If it’s not of God it’ll evaporate, it’ll come to nothing.” And he was right, of course. It was of God and continued to grow. And Paul received his education at the feet of Gamaliel who was a very bright member of the Sanhedrin and respected rabbi. He was raised in all the Jewish tradition. Well educated; he spoke several languages having been born during the time of the Roman Empire. He spoke Latin. He could fluently read and write in Greek. And of course he spoke Aramaic and Hebrew as well. So he was a linguist. That’s why Paul says in I Corinthians 14, “I speak with tongues more than you all.” That means he spoke more different languages. It does not mean he babbled more frequently. Some people have translated it that way. Now it’s appropriate for us to take some time and to better understand this person, Paul, because half [of] the New Testament is written by him. It’s a good idea for us to understand something about his beginnings. Some have debated whether or not he wrote the book of Hebrews. Incidentally, I probably told you this before, but it bears repeating. We’re going to have a bible study today and for the next two weeks actually. And so you’ll see me chase a few rabbits with an effort of trying to teach a point.

Do you know how the books in the Bible are arranged? I used to wonder what was; you know, the Old Testament books are arranged poetry, books of history, the books of the law and so forth. The Minor Prophets, the Major Prophets. The New Testament books I wondered, “What is the method?” Well you’ve got Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Their not arranged chronologically and I started trying to figure out how they were arranged. Martin Luther is largely responsible for the arrangement of books that we have in the New Testament. And when it came to the books of Paul he put them all together and he started with the longest book and he worked his way to the shortest book. Doesn’t make any sense. They’re not in any chronological order, as you would think they would be. Hebrews is al the end of the list because even though Hebrews is longer than Titus and Philemon and some of the others they weren’t sure that it was written by Paul.

Now inspired writings tell us that Paul did write it and when you understand the language of Hebrews it’s written a little differently because Paul is writing to a different audience. Some wondered, if you read commentaries, if Apollos wrote the book of Hebrews. But I accept that it’s also written by Paul, which means that Paul wrote 14 out of the 29 books in the New Testament. The conversion of Paul is a turning point prophetically and historically. And you cannot study the conversion of Paul without going first to the book of Daniel. Now you probably didn’t think I was going to start there, but turn with me to Daniel 9. You really need to look at the conversion of Paul in the light of prophecy. And we’re going to start with Daniel 9:24. The angel Gabriel is telling Daniel how much more time will be allotted to the Jewish nation to complete their purpose as a people, to introduce the Messiah to the world. The Messiah was to come through the line of Abraham and the line of Judah and the House of David. And the purpose of the Jewish nation was to present the Savior of the world to the world. They were to be a nation of priests.

There were to be 490 years left from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem until their task was done. Let’s read it. “Seventy weeks,” verse 24, Daniel 9, “Seventy weeks are determined for thy people,” the Jews, “and for the holy city, to finish transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the vision,” it would be finished after seventy weeks, “and the prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” All these things would happen in that time period of seventy weeks. [It] Gives the starting period. Daniel 9:25, “Know therefore and understand, that from,” here’s the starting point, “the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until the Messiah the Prince,” that means His being anointed, “shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks.” Sixty-two weeks and seven weeks is how many? Sixty-nine weeks. That’s all, that’s just one week short of the total 490. If you go from the command to rebuild Jerusalem; incidentally, there were three commands that were given. The final command was in 457 BC given by Artaxerxes. You can find it in Ezra 7. The other commands were partial commands to either build just the streets or the wall, but the final ultimate command was given, it’s in the Bible; you can find it yourself, 457 BC.

It’s a thoroughly established date in history. If you go 483 days, or in 69 weeks, a day in prophecy equals what? You go 483 years from 457, you go to where the Messiah would be introduced, He would begin His ministry. That’s the baptism of Jesus. You realize that Jesus lived as a man among men, worked as a carpenter, submitted to His parents, did no miracles, in spite of some of the apocryphal books Christ performed no miracles, up until He began His ministry. He was anointed 27 AD, exactly 483 years after 457 BC. Anointed with the Most Holy. But you notice, 490 years are allotted to the Jewish people. There’s one week missing from 483 years to 490. It tells us about that last week. Now keep in mind, many of my charismatic friends and other Christians, they believe that the seven years of tribulation is this last week of the 490-year prophecy. For a reason that is still a mystery to me they rip that last week off the total, 490 years, and they have it floating down at the end of time somewhere and they stick it down whenever they figure the seven years of tribulation begin. Now there’s no reason for doing that. The prophecy says that it’s one complete piece together. Let’s go back to Daniel 9; you’ll see how this connects with Paul. Speaking of the Messiah, verse 27, “He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week.”

That’s that last seven years. He’s anointed 27 AD then He confirms the covenant that God made with the Jewish people for one week. What’s a day equal? So for one week is seven years? Seven years, now wait a second. How did Jesus confirm the covenant for seven years from the time He was baptized? Who knows how long did Jesus preach and teach before He was crucified? Three-and-a–half years. How many of you know that? And then where did He go after He finished His ministry? He went to where? Well it says He’ll confirm the covenant with many for one week. The key, go to Hebrews. Don’t lose your place in Daniel, but go to Hebrews 2, we’ll be looking at verse 3. And the answer is in this other book written by Paul himself. Hebrews 2:3 he says, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation; which first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those that heard him.” So the first three-and-a-half years Jesus in person confirmed the covenant with God’s people. You notice Christ did not go to the Gentiles. What did I say? Jesus did not go to the Gentiles. His ministry on earth, remember what He said to that woman? She started hounding Him, “Heal my daughter.” He said, “It’s not appropriate to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs.” Sounds like a harsh thing for Jesus to say.

He told the apostles, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Because He was to confirm the covenant that had been made with the Jewish people. Are you aware there’s no covenant anywhere in the Bible made with anyone but Jews? “The new covenant is for Gentiles, right Doug?” No, it’s for Jews. That shocks people, but read it. “A new covenant will I make after those days with the house of Israel.” We’re all saved by virtue of the new covenant because we become spiritual Jews. Paul doesn’t say that the Gentiles are a new tree. He says the Gentiles are grafted into the stalk of Israel. Am I right? It’s important to understand these things in the context of what we’re going to study. Because Paul’s writings and life all revolved over this debate about the relationship between Jew and Gentiles. It nearly got him killed several times. So the new covenant is to be confirmed with God’s people, the Jews, as well; spiritual Jews which could include the Gentiles. So for three-and-a-half years Christ confirmed the covenant with the Jewish people.

Then it says it was confirmed through those that heard Him. That’s the apostles. Now what did Jesus say when He went to heaven? “As the Father sent me, so send I you.” God the Father filled Jesus with the Spirit; He preached and taught, performed miracles, raised the dead to the Jewish people three-and-a-half years. Then He went to heave. He gave the Holy Spirit. For another three-and-a-half years the covenant was confirmed only with Jews. On Pentecost who was baptized? There were, Acts 2, visiting in Jerusalem, “devout Jews out of every nation under heaven.” It was all Jews baptized. Later in Acts 5 when 5,000 are baptized, Jews. The apostles only preached to Jews. That’s why in Acts 10 Peter was mystified when he was told to go to Cornelius. But something happened between Pentecost and Acts 10. It’s the conversion of Paul in Acts 9. The conversion of Paul is prophetically a turning point in biblical history. It’s not just the story of how one more person found the Lord and God used him. It is a prophetic, historical turning point in history. And that’s one of the reasons that God used him so prominently in preaching the Bible.

Now go with me; you cannot study the conversion of Paul without understanding something about Stephen. Turn with me to Acts 6 to start with. Now you remember they appoint deacons and the purpose of these deacons were to minister to the widows and to help do some of the practical things of the church. But the deacons in Bible times were also gifted in the Spirit and able to teach and preach. You see we’ve gone a long way, friends, from God’s original plan. God’s original plan was that every church member was a minister. The idea that just the pastors preach, back in the time of Christ the pastors, the elders, the deacons were all preachers and every member ministered in some respect. You know in our denomination we have something we call Workers Meetings. Who are the workers, typically that go to those meetings? The clergy. That’s a bad name. It leaves the idea that the workers are the preachers. Every member is to be a worker. Amen? We’ve done what they did during the Victorian Age of the church where we’ve separated the clergy from the people. “We work for the Lord. You listen.” That’s not the way it’s supposed to work, friends.

Stephen who was ordained as a deacon not only did some practical work, but he was a preacher. Notice what it says here, Acts 6. Stephen starts preaching so much, not only is he preaching it says in verse 8, “full of faith, and power, he did great wonders and signs among the people.” Now I’m going to suggest to you that Stephen ends up being another type of Christ. He’s the first Christian martyr. He’s martyred at the end of three-and-a-half years of ministry. He’s full of power. Notice also if you turn over to chapter 8. It says in verse, chapter 7 rather, verse 55, “Being full of the Holy Spirit.” So notice that’s chapter 8:55. Notice here it says he is full of faith and power and the Holy Spirit and he does signs and wonders. He’s a miracle worker, full of faith and power and the Holy Spirit. Is that like Jesus? And his teaching ends up getting him persecuted. He starts teaching against some of the libertarians who were preaching this false theology and they got so angry that they could not answer him. Isn’t that a problem they had with Jesus? His arguments and His preaching was so powerful they could not answer Him. They said, “Never a man spake like this man.” Well Stephen had that same gift. “So they,” verse 11, chapter 6:11, “they secretly induced men to say, We’ve heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and God.”

Weren’t those accusations they hurled against Jesus? Verse 13, “Then they set up false witnesses, who said, This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, (the temple) and the law.” Didn’t they ultimately accuse Jesus of speaking against the law and the temple? They said, false witnesses said, “He claimed He’s going to tear this place down.” It’s very important for you to know that he was a type of Christ. Verse 15, “Those at the council, looked steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel.” Just before Jesus died He said to the crowd, “Who do you seek?” They said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He said, “I am He,” and His face shone like an angel. They fell backwards. So we’re seeing an echo. You’re seeing a reflection of the person of Christ now in the life and the teachings and the ministry and even the persecution of Stephen. Notice here, Stephen is brought before the Sanhedrin, as Jesus was. He preaches, now notice this sermon that Stephen preaches. And I wish I had time to go through it with you, but that’s another sermon. The sermon that Stephen preaches in Acts 7 is at the end of 490 years of God waiting for and working with the Jewish nation. He summarizes the leading of God with His people in this one sermon. He is filled with the Holy Spirit and power. He’s before the Sanhedrin.

He’s on trial. And at the conclusion of his sermon he notices that his listeners are becoming restless because they also cannot answer the clarity of his logic. He realizes that they are not going to listen and so he finally becomes very direct. Verse 51 of his sermon. Now before I go any farther, Saul who is later known as Paul was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He was a member of the Sanhedrin you read in the book Acts of the Apostles. Probably one of the youngest members of the Sanhedrin. He had to be at least 30. Paul, calls him a young man, probably about 30 years of age, was listening and watching this whole trial. He was one of the participants in the Sanhedrin, OK? I’ll say one more thing here. Was Paul married, yes or no? Well we know that when he wrote about being single he was not married. Some commentators have wondered if maybe Paul was married earlier and his wife divorced him as the old Jewish law provided or she died because to be a member of the Sanhedrin it was required that you be married. Did you know that? Now that’s something that I’ve heard arguments on several sides of it, but I’m just putting it out there because you’re going to run into it.

It is possible that at one point in his life he was married. Keep that in mind because when he’s giving marriage advice, and he gives a lot of it in his writings, he may have known what he was talking about. He gives very intimate marriage advice. It’s like a lot of these gynecologists telling women about giving birth. The men gynecologists, the women often say, “Well, how do you know what it’s like to give birth? You never have known. You never will know what it’s like to be in labor.” Anyway, so Paul is in the Sanhedrin. Stephen realizes that he’s loosing his audience; they’re not listening and it says finally he changes. He becomes very direct because he’s running out of time. Verse 51, chapter 7, Acts, “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears,” that’s no way to make friends and influence people. That’s no way to talk to your judges. But you notice what? Stephen’s already resolved that his life is lost. He needs to appeal to them; now he’s trying to win them. Bold. “You always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did,” he could see they were resisting his words, “so you do.

Which of the prophets did you fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One; of whom you have now become the betrayers and the murderers.” They betrayed Jesus to the Romans and in effect were guilty of His murder. “Who have received the law as directed by angels, and you have not kept it.” Listen, verse 54, “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart.” At the end of Jesus’ ministry, three-and-a-half years, they were cut to the heart by Peter’s preaching, right? They were pricked in their hearts. “They were cut to the heart, they gnashed at him with their teeth.” I heard one pastor say, “They ran up and chewed on him.” That’s not what it means. You ever see a person become angry and they grit their teeth? That’s what it means.

It’s the Jewish way of saying that they began to grit their teeth in fury. “They gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of,” verse 55, “the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” The first martyr was being reminded, “I’m going through the fire with you.” “And Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, Look, Behold, I see the heavens open,” and now his face is shining brighter than ever, “and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” He used the same phrase for Jesus that’s used by Nebuchadnezzar, “one like the Son of man in the furnace.” “I see the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” That’s where; now who else is sitting in the Sanhedrin? Caiaphas the high priest who condemned Jesus. When he tore his robe he said, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you’re the Christ.” Jesus said, “Hereafter you will see the Son of man coming in the right hand of power.” And now Stephen in Caiaphas’ presence said, “I see Him there at the right hand of power.” And he began to tremble while he was sitting there in judgment of this man. And it says here, “They cried out with a loud voice,” they wanted to drown his voice, “and they stopped their ears.” Friends, this is very significant.

This takes place in AD 34, seven years after Christ’s baptism and He began His ministry. The Jewish highest court plugs their ears after hearing the presentation of the gospel and the Messiah. After being traced all through the history of God’s leading they plug their ears, they shout to drown out the sound, they take the messenger outside the city and they stone him to death as he prays for their forgiveness. Very significant. This was the catalyst for Saul’s conversion. He could not erase from his mind that glowing face of Stephen filled with the Holy Spirit. He could not get rid of the logic that his sermon made. Matter of fact, the Bible, this is where you first find Saul, Paul, introduced. “They him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” Now as they hurled these boulders at Stephen. Oh incidentally, Jesus was taken outside the city and executed.

Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of His executors. It’s a type of Christ. So you see how that seven years work at the end of Daniel? Three-and-a-half years in person Christ does it then three-and-a-half years through those who heard Him. And the same thing happened at the end of that three-and-a-half years. Now, that was the end of time for the Jewish people. What happens in chapter 8? Oh incidentally, I’m not going to rush through this there’s so much here, friends. For them to stone Stephen they took their clothes off. They laid their garments down at the feet of Saul. What did clothing represent in the Bible? Character, sometimes righteousness. They laid theirs aside when they executed God’s anointed. They laid aside their garments. Christ laid aside His garments when He took our sin, didn’t He? All right, chapter 8, “Now Saul,” verse 1, “was consenting to his death. And at that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” You know why this is important?

Christ as He ascended to heaven after three-and-a-half years, He said, “Wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. For you shall receive power,” Acts 1:8. “After the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the uttermost parts of the earth.” Christ not only told where, He gave them the exact sequence that it would happen. This is what it says here. They were scattered from Jerusalem. They went to Judea then Samaria and you get on to chapter 10 and so forth, they go to the uttermost parts of the earth. They began to be scattered after the stoning of Stephen in AD 34 because that was the end prophetically of the time for the Jewish people. I’m not saying that Jews can’t be saved. There’d be no hope for me. What I’m saying is their purpose as a people to introduce the Messiah and to have the covenant confirmed with them was completed in 34 AD. In the midst of that last week Jesus made the sacrifice cease. When He died on the cross what happened in the sanctuary? The veil was rent. The purpose for those sacrifices ceased. But God in His mercy continued to confirm the covenant.

Isn’t that love, friends? Even after He was killed by this nation He would not give up on them. For another three-and-a-half years He filled His apostles with Holy Spirit, said, “Don’t go to the Gentiles yet. You continue to work with the people.” You know why? The richest harvest for the church took place in those first three years among Jews. You know the Bible says many priests accepted the message of the apostles and were converted. Not just thousands of people, but many of the priests. And don’t think the teachings of Jesus; Paul was a contemporary of Jesus. He may have seen Him before he had his vision teaching. May have been there for part of His trial. We don’t know. But Paul was a contemporary of Christ. And he was struggling with these things. And I think that Paul sincerely searching for truth several times went to visit the elders and rabbis he respected and said, “How can this be true? What about the law that we studied and the ways of Moses? And how can we believe Jesus and the apostles?” And he was wondering about these things and they settled his fears and said, “They’re all wrong. They’re a cult.” And when he made up his mind that they were in error he fought them with a vengeance. Now there’s several things I want you to learn from this experience. Paul then ends up becoming the apostle to the Gentiles.

It’s not an accident that his conversion takes place at the end of the 490-year prophecy. Because at that point Paul was then to go to the Gentiles. Let me read you; oh, you know what? That’s in part two. I’ll read that to you later. Let me read you something else. Few of us understand that Paul, how vicious he was against the church. He calls himself the chief of sinners. That was not false humility. He was rabid when it came to killing Christians. Let me read just a few statements to you. First of all Christ foretold this day would come. John 16:2, Jesus said, “They will put you out of the synagogues: yes, the time is coming, that whoever kills you will think he’s offering God service.” Now is Paul one of those who killed Christians thinking he was serving God? He was the first example of that. The first martyr was Stephen. Then Paul is the one who really took up the mantle, he took up the torch of persecution and ran with it you might say. Acts 9:1-2, talking about the conversion of Paul. “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, he went to the high priest, and asked letters from him to go to the synagogues of Damascus, so if he found any who were of this way,” they didn’t call it Christianity yet, “whether men or women,” they thought of them as a cult, “he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”

Notice it says, “breathing threats and murder.” Acts 22:4, Paul gives his testimony. Another reason it’s a good thing for us to study the road to Damascus, it’s the most often repeated testimony in the Bible. It’s there for a reason. It’s given incidentally in Acts 9, Acts 22 and Acts chapter 26. Three times it’s recorded where Paul repeats his testimony. I’m glad it’s given three times. Every time it gives little different aspects. I know how that is. I’ve shared my testimony around the world hundreds of times. Sometimes I get tired of hearing my own testimony so I include things I didn’t share before. Sometimes I make things up, try and make it, no. People have accused me of that. I remember sharing my testimony one time, Karen said, “I’ve never heard that before.”

I said, “Well, I thought I’d throw that in this time.” I knew you had to; my family, my kids have heard my testimony so many times they could give it. But anyway Paul gave his testimony, you know why? The Bible says that that’s the most effective sermon anybody can preach. We overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. If you have been a Christian then you have seen the light and you have a testimony, don’t you? I think we all need to know how to share our testimony. I know Mike was telling me when he went to the evangelism training program, one of the things they did there in Black Hills, they told you how to give your testimony. Right? You could work on that. All right, so notice here, Acts 22 when he gives his testimony, “I persecuted this way to the death, binding and delivering into prison men and women.” He was ruthless. Acts 26:10, “This also I did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints I shut up in prison.”

He didn’t make one trip to Damascus. He was in the business. He was a mercenary, hunting down Christians. And it went on for a while because, “many of them I shut up in prison, receiving authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death,” notice it doesn’t just talk about Stephen. It doesn’t say when one of them died. It says when “they” were put to death. He was participating in the execution of many Christians. Now I want you to have the picture. Saul was so thoroughly convinced he was serving God as Jesus had predicted that he would take his contingent of temple guards that he was allotted and he would charge into the synagogues and he would say, “Who are the Christians here? Who are the ones who believe in this way, believe Jesus was the Messiah?” And you know they might point some of them out just like the communists used to do when Christians were forbidden in their country. And then they’d drag husband and wife with the children crying behind.

Paul would drag them out, have them strapped on the back of horses or in carts and haul them off to be put in prison, or executed if they would not give up their faith. And understand that if they would not renounce it they were executing them. You notice they did not go to Pilate to get permission to kill Stephen. They just killed him. And so I want you to have a clear picture in your mind that Paul, though he was sincere about serving God, his religion was one of murder. “Breathing threats and murder.” But he was absolutely sincere. And we all know that all that matters is that you’re sincere, right? Does sincerity count for anything? Well yes. You know what sincerity what the difference is? I remember one time driving from California to Texas.

I used to be driven to get to my destination. I remember going; it’s a two-day trip and I remember going non-stop driving 48 hours and not sleeping. The day when the sun came up in the morning my eyes were so sore I’d wear three pair of sunglasses, one on top of the other, just to make it dark enough where I could keep going down the road. But I remember one night I was tired, pulled off and got gas. Got back on the road and I went about 10 miles down the road and I started seeing towns and signs that looked familiar. In my confusion getting back on these little clover-leafs on the interstate I had gotten back on going to California instead of Texas somewhere in New Mexico. I was driving along very happy about my progress. I was sincere, but I was going the wrong way.

Now what good is sincerity? Sincerity is not presumptuous sin. I was going the wrong way, but I didn’t mean to be going the wrong way. Now those of you who are parents, your children might not be following your instructions, but if it’s accidental you treat them differently, don’t you? So sincerity does make a difference when it comes to parenting because they might be thinking they’re doing what you want them to do. Well, Paul did this in ignorance. In your Bibles look in Acts 17: 30, “Truly the times of ignorance God winks at;” that sometimes is translated “God overlooked,” “but now commands all men everywhere to repent.” When we know God’s will what does He want us to do? Paul did not know that he was fighting against the truth and once he knew He wanted him to repent. I Timothy 1:13 Paul is speaking of himself, “Although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, an insolent man: I obtained mercy,” why? “because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.”

He did it in ignorance and God had mercy on him. Paul really thought he was serving Jehovah. And God because of his sincerity, even though he was doing the wrong thing, He slapped him and got his attention. Acts 3:17 Peter is talking about when they crucified Jesus. And he says to many of the people, “Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as also your rulers.” Not all of the rulers really knew He was the Christ. It was a handful that were controlling the rest. Just like in the book of Daniel. It was a handful of the politicians that controlled the rest that got the law that threw Daniel in the lion’s den. It’s often a handful of very motivated wicked people that can turn a lot of ignorant people to go the wrong direction. Turn with me now and let’s look at the conversion of Paul. Acts 9:1, “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, he went to the high priest.” Let’s stop right there. Now who is this high priest?

It’s Caiaphas. Paul later stands before Caiaphas being judged by him. Did you know that? He goes to him getting permission, he worked for Caiaphas. A few years later he was being tried by Caiaphas and Paul called him a whited sepulcher. Now let me explain something about the priesthood. There were two religious extremes in Jerusalem during the time of Paul and Jesus. You know what their names were? Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were not fair you see? And the Sadducees were sad you see. The Pharisees were the legalists. And you may have your own definition for what legalists would be in our group. We’ve got them, too. The liberals would be what we call the Sadducees. Every religious institution seems to have those two extremes, right? You’ve got the ones who are falling off the right side of the road and the ones who are falling off the left side of the road. The Pharisees would tithe on their melon seeds. They’d count out ten, one for the Lord.

Count out ten, one for the Lord. Very vigorous in observing the law. Incidentally, don’t be too hard on the Pharisees. Jesus said, “Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now was Christ endorsing legalism? No. What He meant was unless your quality of righteousness exceeds their concept and quality of righteousness you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. But they were very legalistic. The Sadducees on the other hand, they were the ones who did not even believe in a resurrection or angel or spirit. They’re the ones who came to Jesus with that riddle, a woman marries a man, he dies and she marries his brother and he dies and marries all seven. In heaven who is she married to? “There we’ve got you now. There’s no resurrection. Who’s she going to be married to in heaven?” Christ said, “You do err in not knowing the scriptures and the power of God.

For those that are worthy to obtain the resurrection neither marry nor are given in marriage.” And He said, “God is not the God of dead. He’s God of the living.” They didn’t believe in a resurrection or spirit or angel, very liberal theology. They thought, “Heaven and hell’s right here on earth. It’s whatever you make of it.” You’ve heard that one before? That’s the extreme in liberal theology. The Sadducees were the high priests. A family controlled it. They had a monopoly on the priesthood. Annas, who had actually been deposed, but his son-in-law Caiaphas was sitting. That’s why they had to take Jesus to Annas because he was the unofficially recognized high priest and they took Him to the sitting high priest, Caiaphas, who was much younger, but he was the official high priest. They were the liberals. Now you notice what happens in the Bible?

…and the legalists have no problem getting together to crucify Jesus. You notice Herod and Pilate made friends over crucifying Jesus. The Sadducees and the Pharisees were able to get their act together and consolidate and confederate and unite to persecute Jesus. And here you’ve got; Paul’s conversion begins with Paul, a Pharisee, going to the high priest of the Sadducees and they’re agreeing together, “Let’s stamp out these Christians.” You know what friends? That’s going to happen again. There’s going to be a confederacy of the extremes that will work to get rid of the Christians. You know, I chuckle sometimes because some of my friends and contemporaries here in Sacramento say, “Doug, you’re way too conservative.” And some of them say, “Doug, you’re too liberal.” Did you know that? And I figure that must mean I’m right about where I’m supposed to be. You’ve got these two extremes. So he gets letters from the Sadducees and he goes to Damascus.

Now notice where he takes them. He asks, “letters to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Why is he going to the synagogues? I’m looking at the clock here and I realize I’m not making very good headway, but I don’t care because I’m going to do this good or not at all. Go with me to Acts 22. This week I had a little vacation time and I listened to some tapes as I was driving back up in Covelo. I heard a wonderful sermon on spiritual gifts. I just talked about spiritual gifts last week. And I heard this sermon I thought, “Oh, if I could have only heard this sermon before I gave my sermon I could have done such a better job.” So I’ve decided to take my time. In Acts 22 when he gives his testimony he also is going to the synagogues to get rid of the Christians. Why is Paul going to the synagogues? Where were the first Christians meeting?

They did not meet in houses by themselves. Some people say, “Well, they met in the synagogues because they were working on converting Jews.” I would submit to you that one of the reasons they met in the synagogue is they worshipped the same day that the Jews worshipped. They all held the Sabbath in common. They all had the same book they were reading from, which was the Bible. It’s not just that they were trying to infiltrate and steal sheep from the Jews. That’s where Paul went looking for the Christians. Just something I wanted you to keep in mind. “And as he journeyed,” he’s got his back to Jerusalem. What does Jerusalem represent? The City of God. You remember the man who falls among thieves in the parable of the Good Samaritan? He is going from Jerusalem down to Jericho. Here Paul is going from Jerusalem on a mountain down to Damascus, which is a pagan city. He is going away from God physically, thinking he’s working for God and he’s getting further every step.

It’s about a seven-day journey if you have a donkey carrying your provisions. If you’re riding a horse you could make it full speed if you’re going in about three days. But as the journey was reaching its end and he could see the plains of Damascus spread before him he has this vision. The Bible says, “As he journeyed and he came near Damascus,” verse 3, chapter 9, “suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.” I want you to stop there. You know one of the wonderful things about these Bible stories; God doesn’t tell us we have to always go find the light. God in His mercy often brings the light to us. He did that for me. He put it in my way, put a Bible in the cave where I couldn’t miss it. I ignored it for six months. And I thought I’d read the Bible so I could argue with Christians. He brought the light to me. When Peter was in prison, he’s in prison on death row, helpless, God brought light to the prison. Amen?

God in His mercy brings the light to us. It doesn’t mean you’re not to search for light, but I just wanted you to know that God often goes out of His way to bring us light. “And the light shone around him from heaven: then he fell to the ground.” We don’t know whether he was riding and he fell off the horse or if he just got knocked off his feet. But he found himself down on the ground. “And he heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul.” I heard someone say that it’s interesting to note that in the Bible when God speaks to women he says their name once. When he speaks to men He says the name twice. “Abraham, Abraham.” That’s because they’ve got the remote and they’re not paying attention, right? “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And he said, Who are you, Lord?” Now eternal life, John 17:1-3, eternal life is knowing God. Here he thought he was working for the Lord, he was very zealous for God and you notice what he says? “Who are you?” God, His Creator, is speaking to him and Paul, thinking he’s working for God, says, “Who are you?” Have you ever believed something and then found out you were wrong?

I was asking Karen last night/this morning, I said, “Karen, I’m looking for some history, some story of somebody as equally as dramatic as Paul who realized that everything they believed and everything they lived for was diametrically the opposite.” I couldn’t find any example. Closest I came was John Newton. Here’s a man who was a slave trader, an atheist, an infidel. You ever read his autobiography? Boy, that’s some story. I mean, his mother prayed for him for years, but he just became an atheist, a hard sailor, got involved as a slave trader, started out riding on slave boats. Pretty soon he had his own ship. He was going to the western shores of Africa, taking men, women and children out of their homes and putting them like bowling shoes in little cubicles and looking for a phrase(?). Just little cubbyholes, three-feet, square feet, for each human being they said. And filling cargo ships and they just figured there’d be a 15-20% loss en route.

They’d throw them overboard as they got sick or died. He tells in his autobiography how it was the sailor’s prerogative to go rape the women that were in chains. And he was such a rotten person and cursing God that they got on a ship that was sinking, became water logged because it was a wooden vessel. It was not a storm. It got some holes and it began to creak and all the water began to pour in through this old ship that they were all forced to the top deck. And after several days of floating in the open sea just standing in water on the deck of this sinking ship that had become water logged they ran out of food. They still had some drinking water and they said, “We’re probably going to have to eat one of us.” They had no slaves. They were on their way back to the coast of Europe. And they all decided we’re going to eat John Newton because God would understand because he is such a scoundrel anyway. That’s how bad he was.

During this time when he was on this ship the captain’s chest floated to the surface and in it was a Bible. And he now was highly motivated. He started reading the Bible, waterlogged pages. And he experienced a dramatic conversion. So much so that he went back to England, became a preacher where he had been an atheist and God used him to abolish slavery in the British Empire. That’s pretty dramatic turn around. But look at Paul. Here is a person who is killing Christians, fighting Christianity, hating the name of Jesus and suddenly the Lord gets your attention and he says, “Who are you, Lord?” He says, “I’m Jesus.” Talk about having an Ah-ha experience. Finding out you’re completely wrong. You know I was raised believing in evolution.

I thought anyone who believed in creation was a fool. “All the scientists know.” And every now and then when I share what I believe people look at me like I’m a fool. That’s what I thought. “How unscientific to believe in creation, that God spoke something into existence.” And I thought, “All these books must be evidence. All these great minds that have proven the earth is millions and billions of years old.” And one day I had an Ah-ha experience. It didn’t come like the road to Damascus. It came slowly, but eventually I look back and realized I was all wrong. It was a struggle. Paul sees the Lord here and he saw the light. He says, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting: is it hard for you to kick against the goads.” You know when they used to herd animals back in Bible times they had a wooden stick with a sharp point on it. Today cowboys use something called a hot-shock. It’s a long tube that’s got a bunch of D batteries in it and it’s got two prongs in the end and you touch a cow with it and it zaps him. They’re also good for training children. But they use those. Don’t ask me how I know that. They use those. Just kidding.

Someone’s going to call Child Protective Services. I’ve never done that. I’ve thought about it, but I’ve never done it. You know they’ve got these collars for dogs now when they don’t come back when you call them you press a button and it zaps the dog and he comes back. Isn’t that cool? They should make them for children. But I would never do that to a dog. I’m sorry, friends. Anyway, what was I saying? I was talking about Paul, that’s right. Oh, the ox goads. So they used to direct the cows with these sticks with the sharp points on them. But sometimes the cows, when the person directing the cow with this prod, would kick against it and they’d bloody their own feet kicking against this sharp instrument. Where if they cooperate and go the direction of the driver they wouldn’t be hurt. And here Paul was going against his conscience and only Jesus and he knew that. In his heart of hearts he knew Christianity was right. He knew that Stephen had the Holy Spirit. He knew there was something that was driving these priests with pride and they were not the right emotions. And because of that he was just hurting himself, fighting his own conscience.

Notice how tender Jesus is, “Paul, Paul, Saul, Saul,” actually he uses his Hebrew name. Jesus had a right to not only knock him off his horse, but to kill him. Because Paul was on a mission to kill Christians. But Jesus practiced what He preached. He’s overcoming evil with good. And instead He’s going to change his heart through kindness. He said, “I am Jesus whom you persecute.” Paul didn’t know who He was. You know the Bible says that that same light that shone on Paul, that same light shone on those who were with him. Now there’s a little confusion in the Bible record on this. I see the clock and I want you to relax. His companions, you read Acts 9:7, in his testimony there he says, “the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no one.”

Then you go to Acts 22:9 it says, “Those who were with me,” Paul says, “saw the light, and were afraid; but they did not hear the voice of him who spoke.” And hear it says they heard a voice, here it says they didn’t hear a voice. How do you explain that? It’s pretty simple. Those who were traveling with Paul saw a light, but they didn’t see the form of Jesus. They heard a voice, but they didn’t hear what He was saying. You know the Bible that one time the voice of the Father said, “This is my Beloved Son.” Some of the apostles who were following the Lord, they understood. Others said, “I heard something that sounded like thunder. Remember reading that in the Bible? And so it depends on those who are listening. Which means that here he is surrounded with people, he sees Jesus’ face, he sees the light, he hears and understands the voice. Those who were with him, their hearts were not ready, they did not. Which means that you might have a revelation of Christ; you might hear the voice of the Lord sitting in a congregation like this. He could speak to your heart. Those around you could be looking at their watches wondering when the sermon’s going to end.

Depends on what the substance is that you’re made of. Paul’s heart was right. He wanted to know God, but he was fighting his conscience because he was listening to the religious leaders instead of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave him the added impetus that he needed. And He had to get him all the way down before He could change him. Now in our next study we’ll talk more about conversion and what happens there. Jesus is getting ready to turn the world upside down with Paul. But you know what had to happen before that could happen? He had to be emptied of self. He had to find out everything he believed was wrong. He went through a major humbling. You know what the first step is to receiving the Holy Spirit? You need to be emptied of self.

I understand that when Thomas Edison was working on developing the incandescent bulb he tried thousands of things to work as an electric conductor that would glow. One desperate act he snatched out a curly hair from the beard of one of his assistants and he put it between the two electrodes to watch it go up in smoke. He was trying everything. Finally what he did is he dipped a piece of thread in some carbon material and it burned, but it burned up too quickly. It burned brightly, but very quickly. He later discovered the only way to get the light to burn was he had to create a vacuum. You realize a light bulb goes pop when you throw it and break it because it’s a vacuum? It’s not something exploding out; it’s something imploding. There’s no air inside.

In order for the light to burn in your mind and your heart and mine you and I must become emptied of self. We must become a vacuum. The light doesn’t burn when we’re full of other things. And this is what God did for Paul. He brought him all the way down and he’s not all the way down yet. You’ll find out more about that as we continue studying his conversion experience. But what I want you to know is that he saw the Lord that day and he saw the light. Jesus said that He is the light of the world. You can read about this in several references here. Oh, one more thing. Proverbs 4:18-19, “The path of the just is like a shining light, that shines ever brighter until the perfect day. The way of the wicked is like darkness: they do not know what makes them stumble.”

Paul saw the light and then it went out. He went blind. He was leading these people against Christians and then they had to lead him into the city. He was a perfect example of a blind religious leader leading the blind. Until he saw Jesus and he had his eyes opened. Amen? Is it easy to admit you’re wrong? Is it easy to give up your preconceived ideas and opinions? You know if you’re going to be a Christian you have to be open to the Lord showing you new light. In order to do that you need to be willing to follow Christ wherever He leads you. And to lay aside your own preconceived ideas, your own pride, your own conceptions and say, “Lord, I want you to be my teacher. I want you to be my light.” The Bible is the word of God. Jesus spoke to Him that day. That was the light. The word of Christ was the light. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” And if you’d like to be willing to walk in the light as He’s in the light reach for your hymnals, we’re going to sing 515 The Lord is My Light. Let’s stand together as we always do when we sing our closing hymn.

Verse one.

You know I’ve been thinking this week about how photographs are made. They developed this process over a hundred years ago where this chemical plate would quickly be exposed to light. That light would be permanently impressed upon it. It would capture the light and leave a permanent image. I don’t know what your thoughts are on the Shroud of Turin. How many of you have heard about the Shroud? And there’s been all this speculation. They say it is; they say it isn’t. And they’ve done scientific research. One thing that they’re still mystified about, whether it was the grave cloth of Jesus is not the big issue. The big issue was how did that image get impressed on the cloth? Some have speculated that the embalming oils that they put on Jesus, the light that emanated from His body at the resurrection permanently left a photo image on the shroud. Now I’m not saying I know or believe that. I’m saying it’s something I’ve heard others say.

But that day when Paul saw Jesus that image of Christ was permanently tattooed, if you will, on his mind and could never be erased. And that image affected everything he did for the rest of his life. You know the Bible says that we should lay aside every weight and sin that does so easily beset us, looking unto Jesus. Continually looking, fixing our eyes on Jesus. Do you have the picture of Christ stamped on your soul? Have you seen the light on the road to Damascus? Have you been converted? Is Jesus the guiding principle in the magnet of your compass in everything you do? Would you like to have that experience, friends, where God is that light and He leaves that image on your heart? If you do let’s sing together. Number three, verse three in 515.

Verse three.

You know the closing thought I want to leave you with about this story in the life of Paul is how amazing it is that it’s possible for someone to be so thoroughly entrenched in the church and be absolutely wrong and lost. So absolutely convinced he was working for God, in reality he was working against Him. In Sabbath School since he was a baby, taught at the feet of the great leaders, quoting scripture from memory and fighting against Jesus all along the way. That ought to be something for us to ponder that it’s possible for us to go through all the trappings of church and religion and still say, “Who are you, Lord?” And not know the Lord. Do you know Him? Do you really know Him? Do you have a saving relationship with Him?

There’ll be a lot of people who like Paul will hear Jesus say when He comes, “I don’t know who you are. Yes, you’ve been going to church, you’ve been casting out devils, you’ve been preaching, doing many wonderful works, but you don’t know me and I don’t know you.” I don’t want to have the Lord declare that to me. I want to have Him say that He knows me. Amen? That we’ve got a personal ongoing relationship, that I know Him and I’m in His will. There may be some here today who question whether you know the Lord. There may be some here today who have never really given their lives to the Lord. You may have all the church history just like Paul did and still not know Jesus. If you’d like to come to Him just like you are or if you’d like to empty that vessel that the light might shine, I’d like to invite you to come. Pastors will be here and elders to pray with you as we sing the last verse.

Last verse.

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