ACTS9v1to19: THE CONVERSION OF SAUL OF TARSUS.

(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

The conversion of Saul is a wonderful story that every Christian thrills to. In it we see the grace of God, the mercy of Jesus and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Paul was a chosen instrument. He, more than any other, put the church on the right track and has kept it there.

(B) Saul needed to change.

Most people would agree that Saul needed to change. He was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. v1. Paul was behaving like an enraged bull.

On the Queen's Golden Jubilee I was on a sponsored walk raising money for Brockley Cricket Club. We traipsed up hill from Hawkedon into a meadow full of cows. One of the cows stood up - except that it wasn't a cow - I could tell from the ring in its nose! The bull gave one warning snort as if to say, "Don't you mess with me." One half-hearted snort was enough for me. I had no intention of calling the bull's bluff!

Saul was pawing the ground, tossing his head and snorting with pent up rage. He just couldn't wait to get at the Christians. Of course he needed to change!

But did he? Saul was a very patriotic Jew. He was proud of the special status of his people. He was highly moral. Saul took the law of Moses seriously and kept it meticulously. He believed in God and pursued what he thought to be God's interest with energy and enthusiasm.

The British are on the whole suspicious of enthusiasm and tolerant of lethargy. I used to teach an intelligent girl who was super keen on Geography. She kept interrupting the lessons with her observations. I found her a handful. Sean was just the opposite. He never answered a question. He never raised a sweat. His work was remarkable only for its brevity. But he was easy going, placid and benign. I found it much easier to cope with Sean. He didn't stir me up and I didn't stir him up.

God is not like me! He smiles upon the enthusiastic. This is because he, too, is enthusiastic. We see this in his creation. He didn't make just one species of gull - in Europe alone there are 20 varieties. In Britain there are 60 different sorts of ladybird and 16 types of thistle.

God was not displeased by Saul's zeal. This was a quality God admired. He needed to change because he was wrong - wrong about Jesus. Saul thought that Jesus was an imposter and had been guilty of blasphemy for which he deserved to die. He had been crucified to death and dead he remained. The Christians were spreading lies.

Many of my countrymen need to change because they, also, are wrong about Jesus. I suppose the prevailing attitude is one of indifference or apathy. The majority in England are less than enthusiastic about Jesus.

Fairly recently the Daily Telegraph contained a picture that I enjoyed very much. It was of the German model, Claudia Schiffer! She was about to present a cup to, and kiss Prince William for, winning a polo competition. Prince William looked very bashful. I, myself, would have looked eager! However, it was Claudia Schiffer's expression that caught my eye. There was a girlish look of pleasure upon her smiling face as she anticipated, with enthusiasm, the prospect of kissing the future King of England.

Claudia Schiffer was enthusiastic about giving an earthly prince a fleeting kiss. Do we get excited about a life long, loving relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of all?

(C) Saul was changed for the better.

The mad bull, snorting with rage and kicking against the goads of conscience, became as a little lamb. He was led into Damascus by the hand. When Paul spoke those words: "What shall I do Lord?" (Acts22v10) Jesus got the victory. Paul submitted and Jesus took control of his life. Has Jesus had the victory over you?

Paul came to know Jesus. It was knowledge more precious than rubies. He assured the Philippians: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ ..... Phil3v8. Paul lost so much. He lost his reputation as an up and coming man; he lost friends and status; he forfeited home life and creature comforts; eventually, in a Roman jail, his freedom was taken away; finally he lost his life. Paul claims that all these things were so much garbage compared to the incalculable value of knowing Jesus.

I occasionally play cricket for Clem's eleven. He is a humble, honest man who is the carrot king of East Anglia. If you buy a carrot or a parsnip from Tescos or Sainsburys it is likely that Clem grew it. The profits roll in. He enjoys a private pension of 1000 a week. He told me that he has so much money he doesn't know what to do with it. Every year he takes a luxury cruise. He shoots pheasants with the stars. Yet, it is all garbage compared to the immense privilege of knowing Jesus.

Paul is not universally popular even among Christians. I can almost hear a reader say, "I don't think he changed so much. He still sounds like a fanatic to me. He did more harm than good. He made Christianity so complicated." Nonsense! This is what Paul writes to Timothy: I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man. 1Tim2v13. After his conversion he was never a violent man again. He abandoned persecution for persuasion. He tells the Corinthians: Though I am free and belong to no man I make myself a slave to win as many as possible. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all means I might save some. 1Cor9v19to23.

Millions have submitted to Jesus and been changed for the better. In the summer I attended the celebration of fifty years of Pioneer Camp - the Christian camp at which I was the sports organiser for 20 of those years. Folk love to reminisce on such occasions. Robin Percy said, "I remember Bonzo..." I was called Bonzo at Pioneer Camp because I reminded a little girl of the family dog! I always wince when I hear those words, "I remember Bonzo.." Sure enough Robin continued, "...when Susan Sanderson was stuck up a tree and you left her there and went off to tea." What Robin seemed to forget was that I had tried for an hour to rescue her from the tree with no success. Indeed, I nearly managed to hang her with the rope I had tied around her waist. I could also see that Susan was much more likely to co-operate with one of the younger men that were swarming around the tree desperately anxious to rescue a damsel in distress. So I left them to it. I looked at Robin Percy and said, "It is a pity that people only remember disreputable things about me."

He replied, "What can you remember about me, Bonzo?"

"I can remember you hitting me over the head with a sledge-hammer," I retorted. So I could - and the way he whimpered, "It was only a little tap," after I had slapped him. There is no such thing as a little tap with a sledge hammer!

Afterwards I regretted what I had said. The thing I remembered most about Robin was the change that occurred in him when he became a Christian. He attended our camp as an unbelieving teenager. He was rather awkward and a bit against us. He seemed to have a chip on his shoulder and I did not like him very much. After he submitted to Jesus he was helpful, cheerful and enthusiastically on our side. Today he is a leader at Pioneer Camp. He is just one of the countless many who have been turned round for Jesus.

(D) How Saul was changed.

    (a) Saul saw Jesus in the lives of others.
    Saul saw Stephen die with courage and confidence. He heard him say, "Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Lord Jesus receive my spirit. Acts7v56,59. I don't think Saul could forget the way Stephen died. The Holy Spirit used the martyr's vision of Christ to prepare him for the Damascus road experience.

    F.W. Boreham was a well know Christian author during the first part of the twentieth century. In his autobiography he describes an incident from his boyhood that strongly influenced him. F.W. Boreham attended church as a boy. He enjoyed the services. He knew all the familiar Bible stories. F.W. Boreham was not hostile to religion but he could not see the use of it.

    In his parent's bedroom was a framed text: Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. It hung there for fifty years and F.W. Boreham could remember the day it first appeared. His parents were going through a very troubled period and the home was a gloomy place until the day that text appeared and then things were brighter. F.W. Boreham asked his mother for an explanation.

    His mother told him that one morning she was in the kitchen and so burdened with anxiety that she could not work. Such was her distress that she picked up the baby for comfort and began to pace back and forth with him. As she did so her eye caught the text on the wall calendar: Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. That was God's word for her. She took fresh heart and trusted anew in God's goodness. When F.W. Boreham's father returned home from work his wife told him what had happened. He carefully cut the text out of the calendar, framed it and hung it in the bedroom.

    This is what F.W. Boreham says of the experience: My eyes were opened; the whole world seemed changed. He had witnessed, for the first time, that Christianity works. He could see the use of it!

    I, too, became a follower of Jesus because I saw how real he was to my parents. There was no reason to doubt their integrity. I could see that Jesus walked with them and talked with them and lived within their hearts.

    (b) Saul saw Jesus for himself.
    Paul wrote to the Corinthians: and last of all he appeared to me... 1Cor15v8. When Paul lay blind on the Jerusalem to Damascus highway he heard the words, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" In response to his question: "Who are you, Lord?" He received the answer: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." He knew then that Jesus was alive and that he was wrong and must change.

    Not very many have Saul's experience but we all have to see Jesus for ourselves if we are to become his disciples. John Bunyan was greatly influenced by the Godly conversation of three poor women in a Bedford street. He writes: I was struck all a-dumb at their wisdom, yet it was sweet to me, like the droppings of the honeycomb. Bunyan bought a Bible, began attending church and changed his way of life. However, he sensed something was lacking and one day asked his wife: "Wife is there such a Scripture as 'I must go to Jesus?'" His wife replied, "I cannot tell." After thinking for a few minutes he remembered what was written in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews:Ye are come to Mount Zion ..... to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Testament, and to the blood of sprinkling. Then with joy he told his wife, "Oh, now I know, I know!"

    John Bunyan writes of this experience: That night was a good night for me; I have had but few better; I longed for the company of some of God's people, that I might have imparted unto them what God had showed to me. I could scarcely lie in my bed for joy, and peace, and triumph through Christ. All my former darkness had fled away, and the blessed things of Heaven were set in my view. These words have oft since that time been great refreshment to my spirit. Blessed be God for having had mercy on me!" John Bunyan saw Jesus for himself.

    The great nineteenth century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon describes his conversion in his famous autobiography: I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was: "Look unto me, and be ye saved all the ends of the earth."

    When he had gone on and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, "Young man, you look very miserable." Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, "and you always will be miserable - miserable in life, and miserable in death, - if you don't obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved." Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin' to do but to look and live." I saw at once the way of salvation. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, "Look!" what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them of the precious blood of Christ, and simple faith which looks alone to Him.

    C.H. Spurgeon saw Jesus for himself. So did my mother one evening at a gospel rally conducted by Alan Redpath in Duke Street Baptist Chapel, Richmond. She was made aware of the love that Jesus had for her. She was conscious that she could accept it or reject it. My mother chose to yield to it.

    I never had a dramatic conversion like any of the above. Nevertheless, I did come to see Jesus for myself. I admired Jesus and recognised that he was worthy of honour - as the altogether lovely one. I believed along with Paul that: the Son of God ... loved me and gave himself for me. Gal2v20.

    (c) Saul gave Jesus a chance.
    Saul had been resisting the Holy Spirit and kicking against the goads but when Jesus appeared to him he said, "What shall I do Lord?" Acts22v10. As soon as Saul spoke those words and submitted he gave Jesus the opportunity to change his life. He then received some mundane advice: "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." And he went.

    We find it hard to submit. Carl was a very difficult boy to teach. All he wanted to do in my Geography lessons was sit amongst a group of female admirers and hold court. Much to his disgust I eventually isolated him from his fans. He sat alone and seethed with fury. Lesson after lesson he sulked. One day he said, "Why do you always pick on me?" I said, "Why don't you try to behave for a fortnight and see what happens. You never give me a chance." From that moment he changed. He submitted. After a fortnight I let him move back amongst the girls. We were reconciled and he never transgressed again. It seemed like a miracle at the time!

    The first and most crucial step toward reconciliation with God is submission. This is what C.S. Lewis famously did on top of a double- decked bus. He became aware that in his struggle against God he could: shed his defences, leave his shell, take-off the protective clothing. C.S. Lewis quietly submitted.

    Charles Colson was one of President Nixon's closest advisers at the time of the Watergate Crisis. During this troubled period he visited a friend who read to him the chapter on, 'Pride,' in C.S Lewis', 'Mere Christianity'. Colson writes in his book, 'Born Again:' That one chapter ripped through the protective armour in which I had unknowingly encased myself for forty-two years. Of course, I had not known God. How could I? I had been concerned with myself. Colson drove away from his friend's house but pulled into the side of the road after going less than 100 yards. There he made his first real prayer: "God, I don't know how to find You, but I'm going to try? I'm not much the way I am now, but somehow I want to give myself to You." I didn't know how to say more, so I repeated over and over the words: "Take me." That's all - but it was enough!

    So few will submit. See story: He couldn't do it. Yet it is such a simple thing to do. Some might ask, "How can something so simple lead to such a profound change?" Well, turning on a light switch is simple but what a change that makes - from darkness to light.

    (d) Jesus showed mercy.
    Paul was aware that he owed his salvation to Christ's mercy. He writes to Timothy along these lines: I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.1Tim1v16. Writing to Titus he says: But when the kindness and love of God, our Saviour appeared he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done but because of his mercy. Tit3v4and5.

    Every Christian has to say, "I was shown mercy."

            'Tis mercy all, immense and free
            For, O my God it found out me.

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