Summary: Paul is a fascinating person in the life of the early church. This sermon is part of an introduction to the book of Galatians, focusing on the uniqueness of Paul’s conversion to Jesus Christ.

Sermon for CATM – June 20, 2010 – A Drastic Change of Heart

How would you feel if Osama Bin Laden walked into this room right now, sat down beside you and began listening to what was being said?

Or what if he had come in earlier during our time of worshipping in song and had stood beside you with hands raised, singing songs of praise and adoration to Jesus? Would you be weirded out? I would be!

Now what if Bill Ryan, who spoke here last week were to walk in, sit beside Bin Laden and then vouch for him, that he was sincere in what he was saying and that he actually did believe in Jesus?

Most of what I know about Bin Laden is based on his reputation, and it’s not good. He’s known to consider Christians infidels worthy of killing. He’s known to have been the key person behind 9-11. He’s known to have trained many to be terrorists.

He’s known, frankly, as a guy you’d rather not hang out with. And if Bill was to vouch for him, well, he’d be putting her own reputation, his own neck on the line, big time.

But what if…what if he were to come in to this gathering and begin worshipping God in Christ? What if…what if this walking threat of a man became a leading evangelist, the good kind, in Toronto?

By thinking about this scenario, we begin perhaps to appreciate the challenge that both Paul of Tarsus and the early church faced.

Last week Pastor Bill gave us a great overview of the book of Galatians, which we will be looking at over the summer in our Sunday gatherings. Today I thought we’d start with a look at the author of the book.

Paul, the author of Galatians and of much of the New Testament, had first been known to the early church as its chief persecutor, a hunter and murderer of Christians who felt really, really good about his job; who felt he did God a great service by imprisioning and eliminating people who followed Jesus.

He was deeply satisfied in his life, he thought that he was leading the best kind of life.

The book of Acts, a book that we’ll be looking at in some depth next year, describes in chapter 7 the stoning of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen as he is known in our history.

He is testifying about Jesus, giving a brilliant recounting of how God had worked in the history of His people, despite how stiff-necked and stubborn the people were.

Acts 7:54 begins describes what then happens to Stephen: “When the people heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.

“And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.

Not the kind of fella you’d be eager to invite here on a Sunday, eh? But something happened to Saul. Something happened to this man who took delight in persecuting our earliest brothers and sisters in the faith.

Show “Conversion of Saul” video. []

Saul became a changed man. Saul became a new man. Saul became Paul. And now…now we’re ready to look at today’s passage of Scripture, where we hear the voice of this changed man.

11I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when God, who set me apart from birth[a] and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

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