God Amazing Grace: The story of Paul
God’s Amazing Grace To The “Chief” of Sinners
[The Story of Paul]
How many of you had childhood ‘heroes’ when you were growing up? My heroes? They were all comic-book characters:
Superman, Batman and Spider-man topped the list. But alas, when I became an ‘adult’ I “put away childish things.” But at age 27 I found a new Hero—or should I say—my new Hero found me! I am, of course, talking about the Lord Jesus Christ. But as I began to read the Bible—I found all kinds of other heroes—Moses, Jeremiah, Peter…But, I must admit that next to my ultimate hero—J.C., I must say that my favorite hero would have to be—The Apostle Paul. As I have preached through 2nd Timothy, my admiration for Paul has only grown! I know a day is coming when I will be just-like-Jesus [at His return] In the meantime, until that day comes when Christ returns & brings me to complete perfection…Well, when I grow up…I want to be like Paul.
You know, its very easy for us to put a man like Paul on a pedestal. I mean—talk about a “Superman!” [except, of course, for the flowing cape and the bright red boots]. And as we have explored 2nd Timothy—its easy to get the impression that Paul was indeed a “Superman!” Even languishing in the dark-dank-damp Maritime Prison awaiting beheading by the order of Nero, Paul’s overcoming spirit exhibits and expresses itself in almost every verse of 2nd Timothy. However…lest we succumb to the hero-worship of Paul, we need to step back and get a more ‘complete’ picture of Paul’s life. For Paul was not always a Christian “Superman.” In fact, before meeting Christ, Paul was a rather nasty, vicious, cruel, vindictive, mean sort of fellow. And so today, I want to look at—As Paul Harvey says—“the rest of the story.” Thus, today’s message is entitled “…”
I. Paul’s Life ‘Before’ Christ—The Very ‘Worst’ of Sinners
We are first introduced to Paul in Acts 7—at this time, however, his name is Saul [named after the 1st King of Israel—and, incidentally, exhibiting the same murderous spirit as King Saul]. Stephen has just finished preaching a very in-your-face sermon. Let me read Stephen’s closing words—Read Acts 7:51-53 “…”
A. Introducing Saul/Paul [Attending and Participating in the stoning of Stephen—The first Christian martyr]
- Acts 7:54-8:1 “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death…” [NASB95]
B. Paul’s Raging Hostility towards Christ and the Church
I want us to take some time to examine Paul’s “dark-side”—before he came to know Christ:
- Acts 8:3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. [NASB95]
**Interesting to note that the word “ravaging” was a word used to describe an army ravaging a city, or of one being mangled by a wild beast.
- Acts 26:9-11 “I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene. Indeed, I did just that in Jerusalem. Authorized by the leading priests, I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities. [NLT]
- Galatians 1:13 You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. [NLT]
- Acts 22:4-5 And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the Christians from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished. [NLT]
· Acts 9:1-2 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. [NIV]
Get the picture? I mean this guy was a perfect candidate for some “anger-management” classes. He’s just ‘seething’ with anger!
He’s boiling with such seething anger and rage that he’s ready to walk 160 miles to Damascus to hunt down/capture Christians.
But then…it happened—[read Acts 9:3ff]
II. Paul’s Conversion Due to God’s “Amazing Grace”
Acts 9:3-19 As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink. Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord!” he replied. The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.” “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.” But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength. Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. [And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!” [NLT]
III. Paul’s Radical Transformation: From “Arch-Enemy” to “Arch-Advocate”
So much more could be said…but because of God’s Amazing Grace Saul—the ‘Arch-Enemy’ of the Church is transformed into Paul—the ‘Arch-Advocate’ of the church. I mean this man was “on fire” for the Lord! But its in Paul parting words to the elders of the church in Ephesus that express and reveal just how ‘on-fire’ Paul’s heart was for the Lord:
- Acts 20:22-24 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. [NIV]
And Paul, tirelessly and relentlessly, did indeed carry out “the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” One scholar I read estimates that Paul traveled some 10,000 miles taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the entire Roman Empire!
Question: What would drive a man to travel 10,000 miles…experience every kind of suffering…and ultimately give his life for the sake of testifying to the gospel, the good-news of God’s grace?
Answer: Having experienced God’s Amazing Grace…Paul wanted others to also experience God’s Amazing Grace!
And Paul knew that he was uniquely qualified for the task of testifying to the good-news of God’s grace:
- 1 Timothy 1:15-16 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. [NLT]
***I think now is a good time for all of us to reflect upon the “Amazing Grace” God has shown to each of us who have received Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. Go back in time…think just for a moment…of those things you are most ashamed of…
- the sins of your youth…
- the sins you committed against other people…
- those sins that to this day, you still can’t believe you committed…
Now, reflect on this: All those things that came to your mind…have ALL been forgiven—covered by the blood of Jesus.
Conclusion: Praise Chorus written by Kurt Kaiser back in 1969—“Pass It On” [It could have been written by Paul]
It only takes a spark…to get a fire going,
And soon all those around…can warm up in it’s glowing
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
You spread the love to everyone,
You want to pass it on.
I wish for you my friend…this happiness that I’ve found
You can depend on Him…it matters not where you’re bound
I’ll shout it from the mountain top—PRAISE GOD
I want the world to know,
the Lord of love has come to me,
I want to pass it on.