This morning, I want to begin by telling you the story of a man named Saul, who later was known as Paul. It begins in Acts 7, as the first Christian martyr, Stephen, is stoned to death.
Acts 7:56-58 And Stephen said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
The young man Saul watched approvingly at the violent death of Stephen...
Acts 7:59-8:1 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem...
Saul, at this point, is an enemy of the Lord Jesus. But it gets worse...
Acts 9:1-2 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Not happy to eradicate Christianity from Jerusalem, Saul is set at murdering Christianity where ever this plague has spread.
Saul’s life is about to take a drastic U-turn.
Acts 9:3-5 Now as Saul went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Wow... Saul realizes he is on the wrong side of right. The last thing Saul sees is the convicting face of Jesus!
Saul tells his story, again, in Acts 26, to King Agrippa...
Acts 26:9-15 "I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’”
I love the metaphor of kicking against the goads. A goad is a sharp stick used to poke animals.
--Saul should have known better.
--Saul, an educated Bible scholar, should have recognized their Messiah.
--Saul, while witnessing the death of Stephen should have been convicted.
--Saul should have known the truth of Jesus!
Instead, kicked against the goads... until, Jesus slapped him down to get his attention.
“Tim is there a point somewhere? I thought we were working on the God pyramid thing.” I’m getting there. Listen to what happens next.
Acts 9:7-9 The men who were traveling with Saul stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So, they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Saul is blind. Saul expects to be blind for the rest of his life. He has been busted by the one he opposed. Saul assumes, because of his murderous persecution of Jesus that all is over but the crying. But that is not the case...
The story shifts to a man named Ananias.
Acts 9:10-14 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name."
Not the kind of assignment you expect; a bit scary. Now, we get to the point.
Acts 9:15-16 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go, for Saul is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."
This morning, the point is... God’s purpose will be accomplished. God has a plan. God’s will cannot ultimately be thwarted. God’s will for earth will be done!
To that end, the Lord Jesus violated Saul’s freewill. “What? You just said we have freewill.” I believe that. But occasionally – I going to say, rarely. – God violates an individual’s freewill. I suppose Saul could have said no to Jesus when he was struck blind. Seriously, that is unlikely. Bam, Saul was knocked down. Bam, Saul was blinded. Bam, he saw Jesus. Saul had little choice. Saul was to be a chosen instrument to carry the name of Jesus to the world!
God chose Saul to accomplish his will. Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, became one of the biggest influences in Christianity. Paul took the name of Jesus to his world! Paul became one of the greatest instruments of God’s Gospel!
Here is my point... just to be clear... I believe the future is open. We have freewill. But I also believe, very strongly, that God will accomplish His endgame. God has always wanted a people who love Him. God is moving His world toward that end.
Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
God knew he would send his Son. God knew that when the time was right; when humanity had reached the perfect moment, he would send his Son. His will on earth would be done!
Romans 8:18-23 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
The creation is waiting for the situation to be right so that God will restore all! God’s will is going to happen, perhaps the “when” is uncertain, but not the ultimate conclusion!
That is my point... God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The future may be open or not. But God knows the conclusion of that future.
Now, listen, as many years later, Paul reflects upon his conversion. Paul remembers that moment on the Damascus road.
1 Timothy 1:12-17 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Christ Jesus looked into Paul’s heart. Jesus judged Paul as faithful. Despite his insolent opposition, Jesus appointed Paul to be his chosen tool. Paul, then, becomes an example of the Lord’s patience.
NJB 1 Timothy 1:16 If mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the leading example of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who were later to trust in him for eternal life.
Paul is exhibit #1 as proof of the Lord’s inexhaustible patience.
We have been working up the theological pyramid.
Level One... God is Love. The starting point of my theology is 1 John 4:16.
1 John 4:16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
Level Two... God is Three.
God is One and Two and Three. We think like Scripture. Sometimes the Scriptures talk of one God, at other times there are two and occasionally three.
2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Level Three... God is Holy.
Jesus demonstrated holiness flows downhill. Sins are forgiven. Impurity is cleaned. Evil is eradicated. God’s holiness changes us!
Isaiah 6:3 "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
Level Four... God is Father. I am going to change the word “open” to the word “Father”. Let me reframe the concept of open to a more familiar concept... God is our Father! As the ideal Father, God listens to his children. As the perfect Father, God is responsive to our requests. But, as the ultimate Father... God knows best. God gives us free will. Our choices are real. We can choose to love Him or not.
But His choice will ultimately be done.
Matthew 6:9-10 Pray then like this: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
God, as our Father, bumps us up the pyramid to level Five... God is Patient.
Level Five... God is Patient.
God is love and God is Father. Therefore; God is patient. God is going to accomplish his will! God is going to have a people who love Him, without doubt! The end is known from the beginning. God is going to use chosen instruments to accomplish that will, like Paul.
Here is the fifth level... God has inexhaustible patience in accomplishing his endgame.
Listen to 2 Peter 3...
2 Peter 3:8-9 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
The early church expected the Lord to return soon; in their lifetimes. Jesus, himself, expressed that he did not know the date of His return to this planet. No one in the early church would have guessed it would be over 2000 years before the Parousia. Why has it been so long? Why is God slow to fulfill his promise? What’s going on?
God’s inexhaustible patience is going on. It has been two days of God’s time because he is patient toward us. God will ultimately accomplish His purpose of having a people who love Him. I suspect, He is waiting, with inexhaustible patience, for us to spread His love across the WORLD!
February 24, 2019
Los Alamos Church of Christ