How I was before I met Jesus
?How I met Jesus
?How my life is different since I met Jesus
This morning we’re going to study the person we know as the Apostle Paul. The story of Paul is a story of redemption in Jesus Christ and a testimony that no one is beyond the saving grace of the Lord. However, to gain the full measure of the man, we must examine his dark side and what he symbolized before becoming “the Apostle of Grace.” Paul’s early life was marked by religious zeal, brutal violence, and the relentless persecution of the early church. Fortunately, the later years of Paul’s life show a marked difference as he lived his life for Christ and for the advancement of His kingdom.
Each of us in this room who claim to be Christ-followers have a similar, if not so dramatic testimony, a story about our interaction with and relationship with Jesus. No matter who you are, if follows a basic outline: ?
How I was before I met Jesus?
How I met Jesus?
How my life is different since I met Jesus
Think for a moment how you would answer those 3 questions. And of course, if you can’t answer those last 2 questions, you’re still a seeker (explain), but not a genuine follower of Jesus.??Before we dig into the Scripture, let’s do a little background on this guy.?
• Paul was born a Roman citizen to Jewish parents, who were a part of the class of Jewish leaders called Pharisees. His given name was Saul. He shared the name with another prominent Benjamite, the infamous King Saul.
• He was born in Tarsus (which is today in modern Turkey) in about 6 A.D. This made him and his family a part of the diaspora: Jews dispersed throughout the known world. Because Tarsus had been granted freedom decades earlier, its citizens were granted Roman citizenship.
• He was sent by his parents at a young age to Jerusalem to study the Torah under Gamaliel, one of the most prominent Jewish scholars of his time; still revered among Jews to this day.
• He was so astute in the torah, the laws of the Jewish people, that he was eventually admitted to the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling group of Jewish leaders, kind of their Supreme Court. If you were a part of the Sanhedrin, your ruled over Jewish life and religion and you were the most zealous of the most zealous to maintain the Jewish law.
• Because Saul/Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, he would have been present when Simon Peter gave his defense in Acts 5 because he was preaching the good news of Jesus in the temple complex. In that particular case, the Sanhedrin decided to turn Peter loose thinking that this whole Jesus movement would die if they just let these guys alone.
• But the Jesus movement didn’t die, because those leading it had seen the resurrected Jesus. And one of the followers of Jesus, a young man by the name of Stephen, was arrested for preaching Jesus, hauled in before the Sanhedrin on the trumped up charge of blasphemy. His incredibly eloquent and biblical defense infuriated the Sanhedrin to the point of frenzy.
That’s where we pick up the story in Acts 7:54-8:3.
Comments: ‘standing’. Jesus is seated right now, but He stood to receive this martyr. Martyrs in the world… I suspect Jesus stands for each one of them. ? ‘scattered’: remember what Jesus’ last words were? “Go into the world..” but they didn’t go. They stayed in their holy huddle so God scattered them into the world. Note to us: God takes serious his command to go into the world…?? And so we see this man has turned into a religious terrorist; a precursor to extremists Christians who burned the reformers like William Tyndale, Islamic terrorists, and of late, Hindu terrorists in India.? This was Saul’s background; this was his life. But something happened to him that changed him forever. Turn to Acts 9:1-19 (on screen)? Comments: since so many Christians had scattered, apparently Saul had run out of Christ-followers to persecture, so he hears a bunch of them are in Damascus. So he gets permission to go there, 220 miles away, to chase them down, so filled with hate he was for these infidels.
‘persecuting Me’: want you to notice this: who was Saul dragging to prison and persecuting? Christ-followers; the church…
v.18 Damascus road experience: remember I said that every genuine Christ-follower can relate a story about how they came to know Jesus and follow Him. Sometimes it’s dramatic like this; sometimes it’s not. But there is a line out there where each of us has the opportunity to step across and proclaim our faith and trust in Jesus alone to save us. Have you crossed that line? When was it? What were the circumstances. (call on 2 per service to stand and give a 3-4 sentence testimony). If you can’t answer that question, then today can be the day of your salvation.
As a result of this experience with Jesus and the relationship Paul had with Him, Paul’s life changed dramatically. Acts 9: 19-25 (on screen) He’s saying Jesus is God. He stoned and killed countless others for saying the same thing. ? Much of the rest of the book of Acts chronicles the life and journeys of Paul—he goes on 3 mission trips throughout the Mediterranean; jailed, beaten, stoned, imprisoned—where he writes nearly half of the N.T., including the great treatise called Romans, where he definitively makes the case that it is by faith alone that we are justified before God. Faith alone. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be smart or rich or beautiful. You only have to place your faith, however small, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Eventually Paul is martyred for his faith. Instead of being a radical against Jesus, he became a radical for Jesus.? If you call yourself a Christ-follower, are you a radical for Jesus? How has your life changed?
And if you don’t yet know Jesus, if you haven’t decided to follow Him yet, let me tell you about how Jesus deals with our past. Paul was a wicked man; persecuting, beating, jailing, killing men, women and children simply because of their faith. He testified to his darkness in the book he wrote to the Christians in Rome: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23 (NLT). Sin simply means to fall short of the mark; to not be able to meet the standard. God’s standard is moral perfection. No matter how good a person you are, you fall short of that standard of moral perfection. ? The news gets worse: Paul writes a bit later in the same letter: “ For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 6:23. What that means is that our willful choices to disobey God and our inability to be morally perfect leaves us spiritually dead. Alive physically, but dead spiritually. Left unchanged, the result the wages of our wicked past will keep us separated from God for eternity. I can’t imagine anything worse than being separated from all that is good and experience all that is bad for eternity.? But now the good news: Our wicked past doesn’t have to determine our future. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This idea of knowing Jesus and being delivered from the penalty and consequences of our moral imperfection is extraordinary: it is a gift!! A gift! If someone gives you a gift for Christmas or your birthday or anniversary, you don’t pull out your wallet and try to pay them do you? No, it’s a gift. They purchased it for you! Salvation is a gift, purchased by Jesus with His precious blood shed on that Roman cross 2000 years ago. And when Jesus said on that cross “It is finished” –he used a term that means, PAID IN FULL. Jesus paid for your sinful past—yes, but that payment, his blood covers you for all eternity! That Greek word for paid if full is tetelesthai, and the thai on the end of it makes it an infinitve. Jesus paid for the consequences of your moral perfection once and for all.? I talk to people all the time who think wrongly that because of their past, Jesus could never accept them: adultery, theft, cheating, addiction to pornography, child abusers…murderers like Paul. But this is what is so amazing about grace. It covers us—period. And out of gratitude, we want to live for Him to please the One who gave Himself for us.??
Believer, are you still dwelling on your past? If you are a Christ-follower, Satan will try to get you to doubt the sufficiency of the blood of Christ. Either His blood is powerful enough to save you from that or it is not. Listen, when Jesus died, ALL your sins were in the future. So all your sins were forgiven that you would ever commit. Believe in that. Trust in that REST in that. And life that life of gratitude and let him do amazing things IN you so that you can live a radical life FOR Him. We’re going to fail—but let’s fail forward, walking in the light and grace of Jesus.