Is the Salvation of Jesus For Anybody – Even The Worst Kinds of People? #225
Hello friends and happy Saturday to you! Short intro today because this is the weekend, and we’ve all got massive parties and gatherings to get to, right. Oh wait, maybe we don’t. Nevertheless, let us press on! Today’s Bible readings are somewhat out of order for reasons that will become clear when we read them: Ruth 1, Jeremiah 36 and 45(!), Psalms 9 and Acts 26. Our focus passage is in Acts 26, but you’d better believe we will focus on Ruth at some point, because Ruth was the FIRST whole book of the bible I ever read. My Aunt got me a Bible when I was a wee lad. It was a small Bible with a cover made out of olive wood from the holy land, or at least that is what the inside cover said. I loved that Bible, and wish I still had it, but I do clearly remember reading all 4 chapters of the book of Ruth and being as pleased as punch that I had actually read an entire book of the Bible!
Today we are focused on the villainous Saul/Paul of the book of Acts. As we have discussed before, Saul was his Hebrew name, and Paul his Gentile name, so his name wasn’t changed at conversion, but his heart most certainly was. Saul/Paul was an enemy of the church early on. Got a few pesky Christians you want arrested or even worse? Better call Saul!
We don’t know much about Saul/Paul pre-encountering Jesus on the Damascus road, but we do know a few important things from the Word:
- Saul was the official who oversaw and perhaps even gave official approval to the vicious murder/martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7-8:58 They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. And the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And after saying this, he fell asleep. 8 Saul agreed with putting him to death.
- Saul attacked the church with vigor and oversaw the arresting of men and women. Acts 8: 3 Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.
- Saul not only travelled over 100 miles away from his home base to imprison Christians, he also threatened to kill them! Acts 9:1 Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
To be clear, most Christians know Paul’s story – at least to a degree – but the more we dig into his life before Christ the more astonishing it is that God chose to save Him! Let’s read Acts 26 and hear Paul’s testimony.
Listen to Paul himself describe his attitude towards Christians:
8 Why do any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead? 9 In fact, I myself was convinced that it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 I actually did this in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I was in agreement against them. 11 In all the synagogues I often punished them and tried to make them blaspheme. Since I was terribly enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.
Marvel at the incredible grace of God – and the mysterious providence of God that would choose to save a sinner and enemy such as Saul/Paul…it boggles the mind! When Paul describes himself as the ‘chief of sinners,’ I think we now have a better idea what he meant by that expression. He was a scoundrel and a vile, enraged, impassioned enemy of Jesus, and Jesus chose to save him. It reminds me of John Bunyan’s story. Bunyan was an enemy of God also. Though he didn’t spend his early life attacking Christians and sentencing them to death, he was apparently a man of such blasphemy that others were scared to be around him. Here’s an excerpt from his autobiography, which has the greatest title ever of any Christian book, “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.”
Then breaking out in the bitterness of my soul, I said ‘to myself,’ with a grievous sigh, How can God comfort such a wretch as I? I had no sooner said it but this returned upon me, as an echo doth answer a voice, This sin is not unto death. At which I was as if I had been raised out of a grave, and cried out again, Lord, how couldest thou find out such a word as this? for I was filled with admiration at the fitness, and, also, at the unexpectedness of the sentence, ‘the fitness of the Word, the rightness of the timing of it, the power, and sweetness, and light, and glory that came with it, also, was marvelous to me to find. I was now, for the time, out of doubt as to that about which I so much was in doubt before; my fears before were, that my sin was not pardonable, and so that I had no right to pray, to repent, &c., or that if I did, it would be of no advantage or profit to me. But now, thought I, if this sin is not unto death, then it is pardonable; therefore, from this I have encouragement to come to God, by Christ, for mercy, to consider the promise of forgiveness as that which stands with open arms to receive me, as well as others. This, therefore, was a great easement to my mind; to wit, that my sin was pardonable, that it was not the sin unto death (1 John 5:16, 17). None but those that know what my trouble, by their own experience, was, can tell what relief came to my soul by this consideration; it was a release to me from my former bonds, and a shelter from my former storm. I seemed now to stand upon the same ground with other sinners, and to have as good right to the Word and prayer as any of them…But the next day, at evening, being under many fears, I went to seek the Lord; and as I prayed, I cried, ‘and my soul cried’ to him in these words, with strong cries:—O Lord, I beseech thee, show me that thou hast loved me with everlasting love (Jer 31:3). I had no sooner said it but, with sweetness, this returned upon me, as an echo or sounding again, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.” Now I went to bed at quiet; also, when I awaked the next morning, it was fresh upon my soul—‘and I believed it.’
At another time, I remember I was again much under the question, Whether the blood of Christ was sufficient to save my soul? In which doubt I continued from morning till about seven or eight at night; and at last, when I was, as it were, quite worn out with fear, lest it should not lay hold on me, these words did sound suddenly within my heart, He is able. But methought this word ABLE was spoke so loud unto me; it showed such a great word, ‘it seemed to be writ in great letters,’ and gave such a jostle to my fear and doubt, I mean for the time it tarried with me, which was about a day, as I never had from that all my life, either before or after that.
But one morning, when I was again at prayer, and trembling under the fear of this, that no word of God could help me, that piece of a sentence darted in upon me, “My grace is sufficient.” At this methought I felt some stay, as if there might be hopes. But, oh how good a thing it is for God to send his Word! For about a fortnight before I was looking on this very place, and then I thought it could not come near my soul with comfort, ‘therefore’ I threw down my book in a pet. ‘Then I thought it was not large enough for me; no, not large enough’; but now, it was as if it had arms of grace so wide that it could not only enclose me, but many more besides.
John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 32.
Hebrews 7:25 Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them. Note how, over and over, the Holy Spirit spoke back the Word of God into Bunyan’s heart and spirit!