Summary: Message given to graduates encouraging them to keep their eyes on Christ. It demonstrates how God could transform a persecutor of the church into a preacher for Christ.
From Persecutor to Preacher
Pressing Toward the Mark…
Last week, we started a series on the Apostle Paul. If you will recall, prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was one of the most feared person within the Christian church. He, being a Pharisee, sought to persecute this new faith thriving amongst the people, particularly the poor, and threatening those occupying positions of power and prestige—the religious rulers. We know from Stephen’s stoning in Acts 7 and the summons served in Acts 9 that Paul was ruthless and relentless in his pursuit to squash out anyone who professed Christ as Savior.
So hostile and hateful was Paul towards Christians that in chapter 9:1 of the book of Acts we read:
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest
Let me just pause for a moment and draw your attention to the meaning of breathing out threats and murder…it means that every time Paul spoke of the church or of Christians, he did so maliciously. In other words, just the mere thought of Christ and His followers was enough to make Paul’s blood boil—so much so that he made it his life’s mission to murder as many Christians as the chief priest permitted him.
However, despite Paul’s best efforts to pursue and persecute the people of faith, Christ had other plans for him. Paul having been struck down by heaven’s light stands before the Lord bewildered and blind. Though he knew he was standing in the presence of the Lord, he was completely unaware as to the Person to whom he speaking too—it was none other than the person to whom Paul was persecuting—Jesus! It is interesting to note that upon seeing the risen Lord, Paul immediately relinquishes his life as a persecutor only to replace it for a life as a preacher.
There are some things worth noting. First, notice the means, measures, and methods used to stop Paul in his expedition to eliminate the Christians faith in Christ, thereby extinguishing their flame within the culture. A bolt of heaven’s light suddenly strikes him. So brilliant and bright was the light that Paul was blinded. Isn’t that amazing? Paul had to literally lose his sight in order for him to see. So wrapped up was he living his life to the letter of the Law that he lost the true significance of the Law—that was to lead people to learn about the love of God.
For our graduates—as you journey through life, please learn this lesson—do not become so legalistic that your love for God and for others lessens. Accept people for who they are: not where they have been or what they have done—recognize they are not any more perfect than you. Acknowledge they share the same common desire as you—to love and be loved.
Similarly, remember that regardless of your past, you can still play a vital part in Christ’s plan. Ananias, when summoned to restore Paul’s sight, was quite reserved and reluctant. He, like so many others, was fully aware of the reported rumors concerning Paul’s crusade against Christians. In Acts 9:13-14, we read of Ananias’ response to Christ’s request:
Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.
To reassure Ananias of his reservations and to reaffirm him of Paul’s recruitment, Christ says to Ananias:
Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.
Despite Paul’s painful past as a persecutor, Christ had plans for Paul. Of all the people Christ could have picked to proclaim the gospel before the Gentiles, the kings, and the children of Israel, it was Paul—this persecutor. Talking about grace—that’s it! If ever there is a time and place where the power of God’s grace is demonstrated, it is here. How God can transform a persecutor’s hatred into a preacher’s heart is beyond comprehension.
Let me just say to those soon to set sail on life’s sea—there is no mistaken it, somewhere along the way you will find yourselves failing, faltering, and falling. You should expect it, but never should you encourage it. Maturity is often gained by our mistakes, mishaps, and misfortunes.
And if you should happen to fail, falter, and fall, permit me to offer you some words of advice. Get back up on your feet, brush the dust and dirt off from your knees, and learn from the mistakes behind you. Character is not so much so defined by the conditions surrounding you in as much as it is dictated by the choices you make to change them.