God used Paul to start churches all over the known world in that day. Paul travelled thousands of miles preaching the Gospel to the lost. He endured terrible suffering for the cause of Christ.
He was beaten, shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, and he spent many years in Roman prisons, all because he was a powerful, faithful preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, 2 Cor. 11:22-28.
Paul wrote at least thirteen books of the New Testament, fourteen if Paul wrote Hebrews. It is not an exaggeration to say that Paul was the great Christian who ever lived.
However, Paul was not always a Christian. Before he met the Lord, Paul was known as Saul of Tarsus.
- Saul of Tarsus was zealous Jew.
- Saul of Tarsus hated the name of Jesus Christ.
- Saul of Tarsus hated the Gospel.
- Saul of Tarsus hated the doctrine of the resurrection.
- Saul of Tarsus hated the church.
- Saul of Tarsus was a murderer.
- Saul of Tarsus was a lost man who was going to Hell because he did not believe the Gospel.
I wonder how many people in the early church believed that Saul of Tarsus would never be saved? I wonder how man early Christians actually took time to pray for Saul of Tarsus, that he would be saved? I wonder how many of those early believers looked at Saul of Tarsus as a hopeless case, as a man who would never come to faith in Christ? Do you think anyone in the early church loved Saul of Tarsus? Do you think anyone in the early church ever called Saul’s name out as an object of prayer? Do you think anyone in the early church held on to the hope that Saul of Tarsus would come to faith in Jesus Christ?
I would imagine that most of them saw him as a man to be feared, but not as a man to be loved and reached with the Gospel. I would imagine those early believers had long ago given up on Saul of Tarsus. Most likely, they believed that he would never be saved.
Some of you have been praying for certain people for years. You may have come to believe they are hard cases for whom there is no hope. You may have become tempted to stop praying for some of those folks. You may have reached a place of discouragement, doubting whether or not they will ever be saved.
If nothing else, Saul’s story should give you hope for the people you see as hopeless cases.
- Saul’s story reminds us that God loves sinners.
- It reminds us that it is never too late.
- It reminds us that as long as there is life, there is hope.
- It reminds us that the God of the Bible is a God of grace, love and mercy, and that He is will save anyone who will come to Him by faith!
- It reminds us that even when we think nothing is happening, God is always working to bring the lost to faith in Jesus!
Let’s look at the story of Saul of Tarsus again today. Notice the elements of his story that teach us there is Hope For The Hard Cases. I want to preach about The Case Of The Hateful Pharisee. As I do, remember that there is hope for your lost family, your lost friends, and for your own lost soul.
- V. 1-3 THE PROBLEM OF SAUL’S LIFE
Like everyone else who has ever lived, Saul of Tarsus had some very real problems in his life. These problems combined to make him appear to be hopelessly lost in the eyes of most Christians.
- Saul’s Self-Righteousness– Saul of Tarsus was a very religious man. He details his religious achievements in 3:4-6; Acts 26:5. In those verses, Saul tells us about all the reasons he had to be confident in his religion. Saul lived a clean life, as far as the Law of God was concerned. In Phil 3:6, he said that his life was “blameless” concerning the Law. That word means “free from fault or defect.”
As much as was humanly possible, Saul of Tarsus kept the Law of God.
The problem with Saul’s relationship with the Law was the fact that he was trusting his obedience to the Law to save his soul. Saul believed keeping the Law would buy favor with God, and that God would accept him, and grant him salvation because he had earned it. The problem with Saul’s thinking is that it is dead wrong!
Most people in our world have the same idea. Most religions are built on the same faulty thinking.
We don’t become sinners when we sin. We sin because we are sinners! Keeping the Law does not change the fact that everyone who enters this world is a sinner by birth, and is condemned before they ever do anything right or wrong, Rom. 3:10-23; Rom. 6:23; Rom. 5:12.
- Saul’s Sinfulness– Saul of Tarsus would have said that he was a holy, righteous man. In truth, Saul of Tarsus was a lost sinner who needed a Savior. He didn’t realize it, but he was guilty of breaking a number of God’s commandments. Saul was guilty of violating the 6th Commandment, which says, “Thou shalt not kill,” 20:13. And, Lev. 19:18, which says, “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.”
Saul of Tarsus thought he was right with God. He believed that his self-righteousness, and his outward obedience to the Law of God were enough to please God and to save his soul. He was wrong! Saul didn’t take into account that his outward obedience to the Law did nothing to erase the sin that was in his heart.
- Saul’s Spite– Religion without redemption always produces resentment. That was the case in Saul’s life. He heard the truth and he rejected it. He heard the Gospel and he wanted no part of it. He refused to believe on Jesus, and he became enraged against those who did believe it. The sin in Saul’s heart made him in a ruthless, cruel man.
Because Saul of Tarsus hated Jesus Christ and the Gospel, he did all he could to destroy the name of Jesus, the preaching of the Gospel, and the church of God. Saul worked as hard at destroying the church as he ever had at keeping the Law.
Notice what he did.
- Acts 7:58– He participated in the stoning of Stephen.
- Acts 8:1– Saul was “consenting” unto Stephen’s death. “Consenting” means “to be agreeable to; to be pleased with.” Stephen’s death pleased Saul and made him happy.
- Acts 8:3– Saul “made havoc of the church.” The word “havoc” means, “to ruin, to destroy, to devastate.”
- Acts 8:3– Saul entered into private dwellings and took believers into custody. “Haling” means, “to drag.” Saul even resorted to violence to accomplish his purposes.
- Acts 9:1– Saul openly “threatened” believers.
- Acts 9:1– Saul murdered believers.
- Acts 9:1-2– Saul obtained warrants from the Jewish authorities authorizing him to harass and arrest Christians.
- Acts 26:9– Saul did everything he could to oppose the name of Christ.
- Acts 26:10– Saul testified against believers and facilitated their murders.
- Acts 26:11– Saul forced believers to “blaspheme” the Lord Who saved them.
- 1 Tim. 1:12– By his own testimony, Saul was:
- “A blasphemer” – One who slandered God.
- “A persecutor” – One who troubles and harasses others.
- “Injurious” – One who speaks and acts harshly toward others.
- An “unbeliever” – One who lacks faith.
- Don’t miss this:
- ‣ Saul of Tarsus had faith!
- ‣ He had faith in his own goodness
- ‣ He had faith in his own self-righteousness
- ‣ He had faith in the Law
- ‣ He had faith in his ability to keep it.
Because of all this, Saul of Tarsus was a man much feared by the early church, Acts 9:13; 26.
His condition and his hatred for the Gospel caused the early church to write him off as a lost cause, as a hopeless case, as one who would never be saved! Even after he was saved, the church wanted little to do with Saul of Tarsus, Acts 9:26.
Some of you are praying for people like Saul of Tarsus.
- They might be rank sinners.
- They might be people who are outwardly good.
- They might be people trusting in their good works.
- They might be people trusting in a profession they made at some point in the past.
People like that are lost. They need a Savior. They are not hopeless cases. The Lord can save them. Watch Saul’s story as it unfolds and you will see that there is hope for the hard cases in your life.
- V. 3-5 THE POWER OF SAUL’S GOD
Saul of Tarsus was in a place where the people of God could not reach him.
- But, while man could not reach Saul of Tarsus, God knew exactly where to find him.
- God intervened in Saul’s life and changed it forever.
- How God Confronted Him – As Paul was headed to the city of Damascus to arrest the believers there, God confronted the bitter, self-righteous Pharisee. A bright light shied on him. He was thrown from his mount. As he lies there on the ground, the Lord speaks to Saul of Tarsus. The Lord confronts Saul about his persecution of God’s people by telling him that attacking the people of God is equivalent to attacking God Himself, v. 4-5.
In an instant, Saul’s life is turned on its ear! The very Christ he has denied, hated and attacked is speaking to him. And he is confronting him about his sins. No one thought Saul could be saved. No one thought Saul could be reached with the Gospel. God can do what we think is impossible. He can touch anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Never count God out! He is able to awaken the dead heart to the saving power of the Gospel. Keep praying for your loved one. Keep talking to your friends about Jesus. When you, and they, least expect it, the light can come on and they can be saved!
- How God Convicted Him – When the Lord speaks to Saul He says, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” The “prick” He refers to there is an “ox goad.” An ox goad was a long stick with an iron point in the end. The man driving the oxen would use it to spur the oxen along when they refused to move or to obey commands.
Like a headstrong ox, Saul of Tarsus had been a stubborn man.
- Saul did these things, but it was not without pain. Every time he consented to the death of a believer, God pricked his heart.
- When Stephen died, God pricked Saul’s heart.
- When he dragged a father away from his family, the cries of the wife and children were like stakes in the heart of Saul.
- Every time a believer died, refusing to deny the Lord Jesus Christ, God used it to touch the heart of Saul.
Saul of Tarsus seemed to be hardhearted and indifferent to the Lord Jesus Christ and to the Gospel, but God was doing a hidden work in his heart. God was bringing him to the place where he would humble himself before the Lord and confess Christ as his Savior. And, that’s just what he did!
- How God Converted Him – One moment Saul of Tarsus is riding high, and the next, he is lying low. God brought him to a place of humble repentance and Saul calls Him “Lord,” v. 5. Saul’s salvation is kind of anti-climactic.
- Some of you are praying for lost people and you don’t see a lot happening in their lives. They seem no closer to the Lord than they were when you started praying for them. Others may seem like they are worse than they were. It can be very discouraging to continue to pray for your lost loved ones when you do not see them coming to the Lord.
- In truth, you don’t know what God is doing. You don’t know how the events of life are affecting them. You can’t see what the Lord is doing in their lives. They might be closer to that moment of repentance and faith than you think they are.
- Keep on praying for them. Redouble your efforts. Don’t stop lifting up their names until they get right with the Lord. “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not,” 6:9–10. The Lord is using the events of life, the secret work of the Holy Spirit, the word of God, your witness, the witness of other believers, and a thousand other things to reveal to them their sin and their need of a Savior. Keep praying and keep believing! You never know when the power of God will break through their death and darkness and He will bring them out into His life and light.
III. V. 6-9 THE PROOF OF SAUL’S CONVERSION
Saul of Tarsus meets the Lord. He asks the Lord a simple question, and from that brief encounter, Saul of Tarsus was born again. What proof do we have? Is there anything tangible in his life that we can point to and say, “That proves Saul of Tarsus was saved?” There’s plenty of proof. Let me show you a couple of pieces of evidence that prove Saul met the Lord Jesus and was saved.
- Proven By His Works – In verse 6, the Lord Jesus gave Saul a command. It was a simple command, but Saul followed it to the letter. He went to the city and was there three days without direction, v. 9. He didn’t waiver. He obeyed the command of the Lord, and God sent him a man to teach him and help him grow in the Lord, v. 10-19. He obeyed the Lord and he did so, without wavering, until the day he died. His obedience to the Lord proves that he was saved, John 14:15.
- Proven By His Words – As soon as Saul gets saved, he begins to serve the Lord by preaching the Gospel, v. 20. Throughout his ministry, Saul, who later became Paul, used every platform he was given as an opportunity to tell the world about Jesus. He told governors, kings, soldiers, and common men and women about Jesus Christ. He told them how Jesus died and rose again to save them. He told them about the love, grace and mercy of God.
- Proven By His Walk – When Saul got saved, he did not stop living for the Lord. He merely stopped trying to live clean to please the Lord, and he started living clean because he loved the Lord.