Summary: Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future could have been written about Saint Paul.
Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future. Those words were penned over a hundred years ago by the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde but they could very well have been written about a young man named Saul who came to a pivotal point in his life where he would have to choose to live in the past or to live in the future.
This is week two of our Down the Road series. This summer we are travelling with Paul on his journey from an obscure reference in a tragedy involving the first Christian martyr to his becoming one if not the most influential voice in Christianity. Paul wrote the majority of the New Testament and developed and shaped the theology that would make Christianity distinct among world religions. And over the next ten weeks or so our preaching team will be your tour guides along the road travelled by Paul and his companions. I think W. Russell Maltby might have been thinking of Paul when he wrote “Jesus promised His disciples three things: that they would be entirely fearless, absurdly happy, and that they would get into trouble.”
Last week we looked at the death of Stephen, one of the leaders in the early church. Stephen had been appointed by the apostles to assist them in their ministry duties within the rapidly expanding church in Jerusalem and we are told in Acts 6:8 Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed amazing miracles and signs among the people.
And it was because of these miracles and signs that Stephen came to the attention of the religious authorities and he was brought before the High Priests under the false charges that he had blasphemed against Moses and God. And it was while he was being questioned by the high priests that Stephen preaches the longest sermon recorded in the book of Acts. Which was really to be expected, after all they gave a preacher the floor to speak. I’m not sure this is what they were expecting though. Stephen had been brought to them charged with blasphemy. And then the High Priest asks a fairly simply question, we find it in Acts 7:1 Then the high priest asked Stephen, “Are these accusations true?”
Now that sounds like it could be answered in only one of two ways a) “yes they are” or b) “no they aren’t”. Instead Stephen reaches back to the Old Testament and begins with the story of Abraham. But ultimately his message had the same recurring theme that all the sermons in the first part of the book of acts had. “God sent his son, you killed him, say you’re sorry.” And the account of Stephen’s message concludes with these words, Acts 7:57-58 Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. Let me reiterate, if I ever preach a sermon that you really disagree with, just tell me.
But what links last week to this week are those words at the end of this section His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. And then the story concludes with the first verse of the next chapter where we read, Acts 8:1 Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen . . . This is the same Saul that David read about earlier in the message, the Saul who came face to face with Jesus on the Road to Damascus.
But, then there is nothing more written about Saul in that chapter, instead we read how Philip went to Samaria and preached the gospel and we read about the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch and how when they came to a source of water Philip baptized the man. And then chapter 8 concludes with these words Acts 8:40 Meanwhile, Philip found himself farther north at the town of Azotus. He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.
Sounds like Philip is doing an awesome job spreading the gospel, maybe he will be the one who will see Christianity taken beyond the borders of Israel? But no, the next time we read about Philip is in Acts 21:8 The next day we went on to Caesarea and stayed at the home of Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven men who had been chosen to distribute food. Looks like Philip got as far as Caesarea and settled down.
And chapter 9 begins with these words that were read for us earlier Acts 9:1 Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.