Scripture: “And he said, Who art thou, Lord?” Acts 9:5.
Stream or download An educated man’s confession of a fatal ignorance!
I want to consider the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, better known by his later name, Paul the apostle.
Two men in the mid-18th century, both lawyers, Gilbert West and Lord Lyttleton, were determined to destroy the basis of the Christian faith. West was going to demonstrate the fallacy of the resurrection and Lyttleton was going to prove that Saul of Tarsus had never converted to Christianity.
But both men came to the opposite conclusion and became ardent followers of Jesus. Lord Lyttleton writes: “The conversion and apostleship of Saint Paul alone, duly considered, was of itself a demonstration sufficient to prove Christianity to be a Divine Revelation.” He concluded that if Paul’s years of suffering and service for Christ were a reality, then his conversion was true, for everything he did began with that sudden change. And if his conversion was true, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, for everything Paul was and did he attributed to the sight of the risen Christ. The works of the two men were published in 1747.
Undoubtedly, the conversion of Paul was an event of major importance. That is emphasised by the fact that three times in the Acts of the Apostles mention is made of it, chapters 9, 22 and 26, not to mention Paul’s many references to it in his epistles, 1 Cor 15:8-9; Gal 1:13.
Paul was undoubtedly a very learned man. He spoke of his education and that before a hostile mob of Jews who would have been quick to contradict him if what he said was false.“I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God,” Acts 22:3.
Paul was a linguist. He could speak perfectly in Hebrew and Greek. Acts 21:37, 22:2.
His intellect has been acknowledged by all on the basis of the epistles he wrote and which are still amongst us and which have been the fountain of so much good in this world.
Having said all that, I want to point out that this intelligent, learned man was once grossly ignorant of that most important of all knowledge – HE KNEW NOT GOD! When he saw Christ he didn’t know Him!
His ignorance is that of all men by nature! “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe,” 1 Cor 1:21.
I. PLEASE NOTE THAT DESPITE ALL HIS RELIGION HE KNEW NOT CHRIST!
1. Paul lists his religious upbringing. Php 3:4-6.
2. He puts no value on his ‘religiosity’ in the light of the gospel truth. Php 3:7-8. ‘Loss’ = ‘that which is damaging.’ ‘Dung’ = ‘utter waste, utterly distasteful!’
3. He spent his life trying to show people that mere religious acts would not save! “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified,” Galatians 2:16. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them,” Galatians 3:10.
II. BUT PLEASE NOTE ALSO THAT PAUL WAS AN ENEMY OF CHRIST!
“And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Acts 9:4.
Saul persecuted Christ. Just what was Christ calling Paul? “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” Matthew 5:44. Those words serve to highlight natural man’s attitude to Christ.
1. Remember: all the time he thought he was doing God’s will.
2. How wrong man can be about this most vital of matters. Romans 3:9-20.
3. This why men refuse and oppose the gospel. It is contrary to all they think! “But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear,” Zechariah 7:11. “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. . . . . Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord,” Acts 7:54, 57.
III. BUT IN A MOMENT ALL THAT WAS CHANGED.
1. The Saviour revealed Himself. “And the Lord said, I am Jesus . . . ” Acts 9:5. See John 9:35-38. Here is the light that all sinners need!
2. His sins were all pardoned. “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief,” 1 Timothy 1:13. All his religious works had not brought forgiveness BUT Christ can forgive. “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins,” Acts 13:38.
3. That wonderful mercy became the centre of his message. Acts 26:13-18.