Saul, The New Christian
September 25th, 1977 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-25-77 7:30 p.m.
On the radio, the great station of the Southwest, KRLD, there are some of you who are listening in Colorado. There are some of you listening in Florida and South Carolina. There is a multitude of you listening in between. All of you who are listening on KRLD radio, and here in the metroplex of the radio of our Bible Institute, KCBI, you are sharing the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Saul, the New Christian, the new convert. Now in your Bible, we are going to read out loud the background of the message.
In the Book of Acts, through which we are preaching, this morning we preached on the first part of the ninth chapter of Acts, which is the vision of Jesus Paul saw on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-9]. Now, beginning at verse 10 and reading through verse 22, we find here God’s expressed will for the life of the arch persecutor. Reading it out loud, if you on the radio have a Bible where you are seated, turn to it and read it out loud with us; Acts chapter 9, beginning at verse 10, reading through verse 22; all of us together:
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth.
And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints at Jerusalem:
And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Thy name.
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?
But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
What a master miracle! The greatest triumph of Christianity in its history is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. There are two tremendous pillars upon which rest the authenticity and authority of the Christian faith. They are like those columns that Solomon built in front of the beautiful temple in Jerusalem. One he called Boaz and the other he called Jachin [1 Kings 7:21]. One he called "strength," and one he called "glory" and "beauty." There are two great columns upon which the Christian faith rests. One is the resurrection of Jesus Christ [Matthew 28:5-7; Romans 1:4], and the other is the conversion of the apostle Paul [Acts 9:1-18]. If either one of those falls to the ground, the very fabric of the Christian faith disintegrates. There has never been a journey more meaningful – except the journey of our Lord up the hill called Calvary [Matthew 27:31-33; Luke 23:26, 33] – there has never been a journey more meaningful than the journey of Saul of Tarsus from Jerusalem to Damascus [Acts 9:1-3].
Out of all of the men that I could think of, there has never been one a more unlikely prospect for conversion than this brilliant, gifted, dedicated, zealous young rabbi. He was of a long and honorable parentage and pedigree in the Jewish race. He was a student in the school of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], one of the great – one of the seven great rabbins of the Talmud. He was almost without peer in his brilliant scholasticism and in his grasp of godly, heavenly revelation. He was shrewder than Judas Iscariot. He was more ardent than Simon Peter. He was a very volcano of a man. And that he should be converted is like converting an army with banners. It is like converting a nation, a world, this marvelous turn in the life of Saul of Tarsus. He was an apt student in terror and in persecution.
For example, he is introduced to us at the first in Acts 7:58: "and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen [Acts 7:59-60]. That is our introduction to him. Then the eighth chapter, the first verse, "And Saul was consenting unto his death" [Acts 8:1]. And then the third verse: "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, haling men and women committed them into prison" [Acts 8:3]. And then the ninth chapter, verse 1: "And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to the synagogues at Damascus" – in another land, in another country, in another race, in another religion – "that if he found any of this way, whether they are men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem" [Acts 9:1-2]. He grows in his fury: first just presiding over the death of Stephen, then finding himself filled with pleasure and gladness over the execution of that godly deacon servant of Jesus.
And then, taking a two-fisted, two-handed hold of the whole persecuting, terrorizing complex – men, women, children mean nothing to him – beating them, forcing them to blaspheme, seeing the blood run down their backs, and finally, committing them to prison and to death. You know, it is a strange thing about human nature. The taste of blood is not a natural taste. But it feeds on itself. And the man who finds himself in a complex of terror, of persecution, of murder, of blood will find himself increasingly involved in it. So it is with Saul of Tarsus, beginning there in Jerusalem and then persecuting unto strange cities; this apt scholar in terrorism and persecution and bloodshed.
His meeting Jesus in the way was of all things a heavenly intervention. As he is on his way to Damascus, Jesus to him is a man, a dead man – and rightfully dead. He was executed under Pontius Pilate, between two malefactors, two thieves, two traitors, two insurrectionists, two murderers [Matthew 27:38-50], and He deserved to be executed between those fellows. He was a blasphemer, this Nazarene. And this Saul of Tarsus said, "We know God spoke to Moses, but as for this heretic Jesus, He is a deceiver, and He led people astray and He deserved to die. And having been crucified, He is a dead man." That is Saul of Tarsus.
Then, in his fury and in his rage as he journeys to Damascus, there, standing in the way is that dead man – glorified, immortalized, brilliant above the shining of the sun. He stands there, and He asks, "Saul, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" [Acts 9:4]. And Saul replied, "Lord, I never persecuted You. I never cast Thee into prison. I never beat Thee or stoned Thee. I never lifted my voice or my hand against Thee. Who art Thou, Lord?" And the Lord replied, "I am Jesus – that dead man; that executed malefactor and felon who died between two thieves – I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest" [Acts 9:5]. What a remarkable identification! The Lord is one with His people. When they cast stones upon Stephen, the Lord says, "Those stones crushed Me. When they haled into prison the humblest disciple of the Lord, you imprisoned Me. When you beat them until the blood ran down their backs, it was My blood that fell to the ground. And when you put them to death, you were slaying Me. When they suffered and cried, I suffered and cried. Their tears are My tears. And their sorrow is My sorrow." Christ identifies Himself with His people. He still does. He is one with us. We are one with Him. And now, behold this penitent, Saul of Tarsus.
Did you ever see a man change as that man changed? The Book says, and blinded – when he opened his eyes he could not see: they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus [Acts 9:8]. Oh, can you believe it? I would have thought that he would enter Damascus like a conqueror, like a storm, like a – like a general victorious. Instead, he is being led into the city like a blind beggar. I would have thought he would have entered the city with victory with letters of commendation from the chief priests in Jerusalem. Instead, he entered like a poverty-stricken cripple. They led him by the hand into Damascus. Would you ever thought such a thing?
It is one hundred thirty-six miles from Jerusalem to Damascus. The journey was six days long. And I can see that Saul of Tarsus as he urges his company on. His nostrils are dilated with indignation, and his eyes a flaming fire with anger, haling these humble believers in Jesus to prison, to incarceration, to beating, and to death. And now, entering the city of [Damascus], led by the hand, to this humble penitent, the Lord sent Ananias, "Behold, he prayeth, he prayeth" [Acts 9:11]. The lion is lying down with the lamb, this unbelievable miracle. An old salt said to a young sailor, "Son, on board a man-of-war, on board a battleship, it is always just one of two things: either duty or mutiny, either one or the other." So it is when a man meets Christ. It is either, "Lord, what will Thou have me to do?" or it is a rejection of the will of God for your life. And this Saul of Tarsus, meeting the Lord in the way, bowed before Him, "Master, what wouldst Thou have me to do?" [Acts 9:6].
And now, we are introduced to Saul, Paul, the preacher, and the pleader. "And straightway in the synagogues he preached Christ, that He is the Son of God. . . . proving from the Scriptures that He is the very Christ" [Acts 9:20-22]. Look at the turn in that man’s life. What an amazing, miraculous thing has happened! Look at the turn. Not just casually; thathe had been a persecutor, and now he’s a Christian. Look at the kind of a man that he is in his turn. He had been a terrible wolf, ravaging the flock. Now, what does he do? Does he turn to imprison Jews? Does he turn to waste Pharisees and Sadducees? In terror, does he ravage the people to whom he has belonged? No. In his turn, he doesn’t say, "Now I am on their side, and what I used to do to them, I am now going to do to you." No, when he turns, he stands with the scroll of the holy Scriptures in his hand, and he reasons, and he pleads, and he preaches, and he calls men to repentance and to faith in the blessed Lord Jesus, our Savior [Acts 17:30-31].
Isn’t that how unbelief always works? What do you do? says the man of the world, says the man outside of Christ. What do you do with these heretics and these enemies? This is what you do, you stab them, and you stone them, and you imprison them, and you burn them, and you drown them, and you kill them. What does the Christian do? His sword is now the sword of the Spirit [Ephesians 6:17]. His chains are now the chains that bind him to intercessory offers of God [Acts 16:23-25]. And his stones and his iron bars are those that he builds, cemented with the love of Jesus, and encompassing those who find strength and refuge in Him. What an amazing change! Saul was stoned. Did he rise from that stoning in Lystra to cast stones back to those heathen Greeks who dragged him out for dead? [Acts 14:19]. No, he doesn’t stone them. He was imprisoned in Philippi [Acts 16:23-24]. Having been liberated, does he seek to imprison those who imprisoned him? No, "Pray for those who misuse you" [Luke 6:28]. He suffered a long category in the eleventh chapter of 2 Corinthians; he lists them [2 Corinthians 11:23-27]. His reply is one of intercession and glory in his sufferings. "Therefore," he says, "I take pleasure in reproaches, and in persecutions, and in stripes, and in imprisonments: for when I am weak, then am I strong" [2 Corinthians 12:10]. It’s another day. It’s another way. It’s another message. It’s a new gospel.
And now, let me speak of our Christian faith. As the faith developed, and as the story of the church continued – when you turn to the pages of history, you will find them stained with blood by the Inquisition and by the persecutions of the church. They exchanged solicitude for the sword. They propagated the faith with the fire, and the flame, and the fagot, and they enforced doctrines with the gloom of the dungeon. Is this Christian? Is that the Spirit of Jesus? Never! Never. The spirit of the Christian is always one of intercession, of pleading, of prayer, of reason, of persuasion. The preacher is always like the parakletos, the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit – pleading with a man to give his heart and his life to Jesus. "This is the way, walk ye in it" [Isaiah 30:21].
Our reply to the world always is one of grace, and love, and intercession. Just as the apostle Paul, turning from his life of bitterness and persecution; now gives himself to the love for the brethren, love for his people. "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh" [Romans 9:3]. "For I have a great prayer and desire before God and that is that Israel, my people, might be saved" [Romans 10:1]. This is the response of the Christians to the world. And that is our appeal to your heart tonight.
As my predecessor, the great pastor of this church, one time said before a vast congregation, "If I could lift my little finger to force you to be a Christian, I would not lift the weight of my little finger. For the soul is free, the heart. God made it to be its own decision, its its own volitional choice. I am absolutely free before God. I can choose for Him. I can choose against Him. I can crown Him or crucify Jesus. But it has to be out of the fullness of my heart that I decide."
And that is the assignment of the preacher, a pleader, an inviter, an encourager, a reasoner. Come. For Jesus’ sake, come. Eternal life is ours for the having, for the taking. Come. Do it now. Make it now. "Pastor, I have decided for Jesus, and here I am. I am giving my life to Christ, the Lord, and here I come. I am bringing my family into the fellowship of this wonderful church." Come. "I want to be baptized, just as it says here in the Bible, when Saul of Tarsus was converted – immediately he was baptized [Acts 9:18]. I want to be baptized. I want to be counted among those in the kingdom of God and in the fellowship of the church. I am coming, pastor, I am doing it now." As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make that decision, and come now. On the first note of the first stanza, if you are in the balcony, there is a stairwell on either side at the front and the back, and there is room and to spare, come. In the throng on this lower floor into the aisle and down to the front, "Here I am, pastor, I have decided for God. I am on the way." May the angels attend you and the Spirit of God encourage you as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.
SAUL, THE NEW CHRISTIAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Acts 9 records the greatest triumph of Christianity
1. A master miracle
2. Two pillars of the faith – resurrection of Christ, conversion of Paul
3. Meaningful journey of Saul from Jerusalem to Damascus
B. Saul a most unlikely subject for conversion
II. The apt scholar in terror and persecution
A. He made rapid progress in his terrible learning(Acts 7:58, 8:1, 3, 9:1-2)
B. Two-fisted hold of entire persecuting, terrorizing complex
III. His meeting with Jesus
A. To Saul, Jesus was a dead man
B. Yet here He is, glorified, immortalized brilliant speaking to Saul(Acts 9:4-5)
C. Christ identifies Himself with His people
IV. The humble penitent
A. Blinded, he was led by the hand into Damascus (Acts 9:8)
B. Saul, bowed before the Lord (Acts 9:6)
V. The preacher and pleader(Acts 9:20-22)
A. He turns, stands with open scroll pleading repentance and faith
B. Intercession and glory in his sufferings (2 Corinthians 12:10)
C. The moral, spiritual appeal of the Christian faith
1. Story of the church continued – exchanged solicitude for the sword
2. True preaching, true faith of grace, love, intercession
a. As Paul turned from bitterness, persecution to love (Romans 9:3, 10:1)