At The Cross

Bible Book: Acts  9
Subject: Cross
Series: The Way of the Cross

INTRODUCTION

Of all the hymns of the Christian faith, few have ever surpassed the great hymns about the cross, and rightly so. In an effort to emphasize the importance of the Doctrine of Creation I have often stressed that if you do not have a Creator at the beginning, you don’t need a Savior in the middle because you cannot have a Judge at the end. Let me amend that, or possibly expand that: if you don’t have a cross, the manger is nothing more than a myth of legend, only a story for what many are now calling the “winter holidays.” Paul professed to know nothing more that Jesus and Him crucified. Of course, we know the crucifixion is pointless without the resurrection, ascension, the intercession at the right hand of the Father, His return, reign, and His eternal kingdom. The cross, cruel as it was, is precious to every born again believer.

 Many years ago, R. G. Lee was standing with a tour group at Calvary, when the tour guide asked, “Has anyone been here before?” Dr. Lee raised his hand, and the tour guide asked,

“And when were you here?”

“Two thousand years ago.”

We must always remind ourselves that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. This we celebrate when we sing:

At the cross where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away,

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day!

Next, we must remind ourselves that Jesus said that the one who professes faith in Him should take up his cross and follow Him. Thomas a Kempis (1330‑1471), a Spanish Carmelite monk is known for his book entitled Imitation of Christ. Of the Cross a Kempis said, "Jesus now has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of His Cross."

I. PAUL CAME TO THE CROSS ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS, ACTS 9.

A. Saul of Tarsus Was Becoming the Most Tenacious Enemy of the Cross.

1) His zeal is described by Luke in Acts 26:9-11). Some of the most intense persecutions in history have been religious persecutions. What makes it even worse is that many of those persecutions have pitted professing Christians against other professing Christians. The battle that raged for so long in Ireland between Catholics and Protestants is but one example. Early Baptists, who were neither Catholic nor Protestant, were persecuted at times by both Catholics and Protestants.

There are fanatics in America. There are also some so-called experts who have all the answers. On March 28, 2006, Geraldo Rivera was asked by Bill O’Reilly about the murder of a Church of Christ minister in Selmer, Tennessee by his wife. The minister, Matthew Winkler, was a fourth generation minister in the Church of Christ, and well loved by his congregation. Rivera lost me when he began explaining the behavior of Pentecostals. The Church of Christ? Pentecostal?!!! It makes one wonder if Geraldo might be as far off base on other issues. A lady who teaches with my sister Linda told her that someone on CNN labeled her church a cult. There is a lot of ignorance about Christian denominations.

To appreciate just how intense religious hatred can be, and how vile, venomous, and vitriolic religious persecution can become, all we have to do is look at Islam. Baptist Press reported (3-28-06) that a man in Afghanistan who had been sentenced to death for converting to Christianity would not be put to death. Over and over, Immans declared that he deserved to die. They wanted him dead because he converted to Christianity.

Now, let’s back up to the first century Jerusalem. A new religious movement in Jerusalem was causing a panic among religious leaders who thought they had solved a problem when they forced Pilate’s hand and had Jesus crucified. The cross should have been the end of their problems. A new religious movement could cause those senior Pharisees and Sadducees to fall out of favor with the Roman authorities. They could lose position, power, respect, comfort, and wealth. The members of the Sanhedrin could lose a lot personally, as well as seeing the religion they loved and served undermined by what they thought was a heresy.

Enter young Saul of Tarsus, a rigid Hellenistic Jew who had been trained in the synagogue in his hometown before moving on to Jerusalem to study at the feet of Gamaliel, the esteemed teacher of the Pharisees. When Paul observed the movement that was simply called “the Way” at the time, and his righteous indignation took over. The young intellectual may well have begun by debating the followers of Jesus, whom they insisted was the Messiah. His zeal intensified until he became a leader in the persecution of believers.

To appreciate just how intense someone like Paul might become, just look at the violence in Iraq, where the Shiites and Sunis have been killing each other for years. Look at Palestine where suicide bombers strap bombs to themselves and blow up Jews. I will not belabor the point, but I would ask you to think of the newscasts in which the streets fill up with angry, young men who shout their hatred for Israel. My old friend, Anis Shorrosh, is a Palestinian Arab who says that when he was growing up his goal was to live to get big enough to kill Jews. When Anis became a Christian and responded to God’s call to preach, he came to America to study at Clarke College, Mississippi College, and New Orleans Seminary. He had top grades until he got to Hebrew. He struggled just trying to pass. Finally, he went in to see Dr. Olin Strange to talk about his grade. In time, Anis said that he came to realize that when he tried to study Hebrew his mind rebelled against learning the language of his enemy. That is when he realized that he had never forgiven them for the death of his father. Anis understands just how intense religious hatred can run, especially after numerous attempts on his life.

With that in mind, picture the fanaticism of this religious zealot from Tarsus, the young Pharisee, Saul. Listen to his own testimony:

“In fact, I myself supposed it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. This I actually did 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 cast my vote against them. In all the synagogues I often tried to make them blaspheme by punishing them. Being greatly enraged at them, I even pursued them to foreign cities” (Acts 26:9‑11).

He raged against believers. Luke writes, “Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord... (Acts 9:1, HCSB).

2) He had sought authorization to carry the persecution to Damascus. Luke, who had carefully researched the events, wrote:

“Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1‑2, HCSB).

Paul had consented to the stoning of Stephen. He encouraged it, and watched the clothes of those who actually stoned him. Before long, Paul would become a leader in the persecution of the saints. “His zeal unabated, breathing threats and murder against believers in Christ, Saul went to the high priest and requested letters authorizing him to take the same kind of persecution he was leading in Jerusalem to Damascus.” You talk about commitment! He was committed. Sanhedrin was given authority over Jewish affairs even in other countries. No doubt, the Roman authorities were more than happy to see them control religious affairs. So, with his companions, he set off for Damascus.

B. On the Road to Damascus Paul Experienced the Most Celebrated Conversion in History.

Saul was suddenly overwhelmed with a supernatural experience, and we are blessed because Luke was inspired to record the incident. Many believers have wished that they could look to a Damascus Road experience for proof of their own salvation. Others simply wish they might have an experience that dramatic for their own edification. Let me assure you of this one thing: if you are saved, you were saved exactly the way God intended you to be saved. You had as much of His presence as you needed. You were saved by the same grace and the same power that saved Paul. And today, you are just as close to the Savior as you want to be. No supernatural experience, not vision or sensational manifestation can bring Him any closer. If you needed that He would no doubt provided it. If you are a born again Christians, the Lord has placed His Spirit in your heart to testify of His existence and guide your understanding of His presence and His will in your life.

II. FIRST, LET US EXAMINE PAUL’S CONVERSION EXPERIENCE, ACTS 9:3-9.

A. Saul Met Jesus, Whom He Was Persecuting, in a Dramatic Encounter.

1) He saw a blinding light. Luke writes, “As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him” (Acts 9:3). God is sovereign and He can get one’s attention any way He chooses. With Abraham God appeared in human form. With Moses it was a burning bush. With Samuel it was a call in the night. With Elijah it was a still quiet voice. With Saul of Tarsus it was a blinding light. This seems especially appropriate coming from the Light of the World. When we see the light, we see the Light!

2) Jesus addressed him by name. “Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Blinded by the light, Paul fell to the earth, overwhelmed by the physiological manifestation of the Lord’s presence. This does not mean that he fell to the ground out of reverence for the Lord at this point, though he may have done just that. He had been stricken blind. A friend told me he had left his wife in their cabin while he went fly-fishing on Toleda Bend. When he returned he heard his wife thrashing around in the cabin. When he went inside he saw that she was totally blind and in her desperation she had pulled over tables, lamps and chairs. Paul was not tripping over furniture, but he may well have tripped over his own feet under the circumstances.

Jesus called Saul by name. There were others there but it was Saul and Saul alone whom the Lord addressed: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Jesus knew Saul by name. He had singled him out, and He confronted him with his persecution. Specifically, He charged Saul with persecuting Him.

B. Jesus Confronted Saul Directly, 9:5-6.

1) Jesus identified Himself. There was no mistaking the One who was speaking to him. Many people have testified that God had spoken to them, as in, “God told me to do thus an so.” Young Saul asked the One who spoke to him, “Who are You, Lord?”

To which, the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” He did not simply say, “I am the Lord”, but “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This was the name he hated above all others. Can you imagine what the young Saul was thinking right then? He had been breathing threats and murder against all followers of Jesus; now Jesus confronts him with his behavior. Do you think Saul may have been wondering if he would ever get up off the ground?

2) Jesus gave Saul a simple order. “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). He has identified Himself as Jesus, whom Saul was persecuting. He knew the inner struggle that must have been going on in Saul’s mind. Surely, he wanted answers, but he would have to wait for the Lord’s time to learn what He had in mind for him.

C. On the Road to Damascus, Paul Found the Highway to Heaven.

1) His response showed that he believed Jesus. More and more people are being deceived by the claim that there are many ways to go to heaven and that one way is just as good as another. In fact, some are convinced that all people will ultimately go to heaven, if there really is a heaven. They are also sure their pets will go to heaven. There is nothing new in this attitude.

I have read everything Louis L’Amour wrote, as far as I know. He was a great writer, and not just a western writer. He was uniquely qualified to write on various subjects and acquainted with many places around the world. He was an amazing storyteller, and gifted communicator. However, it is obvious that he did not know the Lord personally. This comes through in THE WALKING DRUM, in which he favors Islam over Christianity, by comparing the advances in Arab lands to the church of the Dark Ages. Let me share a quote from the WARRIOR’S PATH, which will illustrate his attitude toward evangelical Christianity: “Many are that paths to righteousness, and ours, I think, is but one” (THE WARRIOR’S PATH, Bantam, p. 90). The Bible is very clear: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NKJV).

Paul would point back to this experience on the road to Damascus many times in the future. This dramatic, miraculous experience will be known as long as the world stands as the Damascus Road Experience. We must remember that every salvation experience is supernatural, dramatic, and miraculous. If you are a Christian, you were supernaturally born again. No, you did not have to be stricken with a blinding light, but you did have to place your faith in the Light of the World. You do not have to be blinded by a light to see the Light!

2) Saul was saved on the way to Damascus and called after he got there.

“Now in Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. And the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Here I am, Lord!” he said” (9:10).

“Get up and go to the street called Straight,” the Lord said to him, “to the house of Judas, and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, since he is praying there. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and placing his hands on him so he may regain his sight” (9:11-12).

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And he has authority here from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name” (9:13-14).

“But the Lord said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel. I will certainly show him how much he must suffer for My name!” (9:15-16).

“So Ananias left and entered the house. Then he placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. And after taking some food, he regained his strength” (Acts 9:17-19 (HCSB)

3) This account shows Paul’s willingness to take up the cross and follow Jesus. Paul came to the cross. Then he came under the cross. Then he took up the cross and followed Jesus. It was going to cost Paul dearly to take up the cross and follow His Lord: “I will certainly show him how much he must suffer for My name.” Consider the place of the cross in the life of every believer.

(l) Crucified with Christ ‑ Galatians 2:20

(2) Dead with Christ ‑ Colossians. 2:20

(3) Buried with Christ ‑ Romans 6:4

(4) Made alive with Christ ‑ Ephesians 2:5

(5) Raised with Christ ‑ Colossians. 3:l

(6) Suffering with Christ ‑ Romans 8:l7

(7) Glorified with Christ ‑ Romans 8:l7

(8) Seated with Christ ‑ Ephesians 2:6

III. SAUL WAS CONVERTED EXACTLY AS WE ARE CONVERTED TODAY.

A. Only the Circumstances Were Different.

1) Jesus got his attention miraculously. Believe it or not, He got your attention miraculously. You were not blinded by a light on the Damascus Road, so how can we say He got our attention miraculously? Because no one “finds” God. God finds us. He reveals Himself to us and enables us to believe in Him. That is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Remember, you do not choose Him, He chooses you. You respond to His redemptive love.

 

A desperate twenty-two old man wrote to me from maximum security at the Hinds County Jail in Jackson, Mississippi, “Johnny, I am trying to find God.” I assured him that he would never have been seeking God if the Lord had not sought him first. The Holy Spirit revealed to him his need for the Lord. Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit after He returned to the Father.

“Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don’t go away the Counselor will not come to you. If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; 11 and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:7-11).

2) Saul of Tarsus was a special case, because of the plans Jesus had for him. We should not be surprised that Jesus called Saul to serve Him. He called Noah to build the ark. He placed Joseph in Egypt to provide a place for His Chosen People. He chose Samuel to be the transitional figure between the Period of the Judges and the Period of the Kings. He called Jeremiah before he was ever conceived to bear his prophetic message of judgment. He chose John the Baptist to announce the coming of the Lamb of God.

B. Saul Was Saved By the Grace of God.

He was saved by grace, through faith, just as you and I were, and just as all believers will be saved until the Lord’s return. I would like to share something from my commentary on Galatians. There are three possible theories of Justification. Please follow me:

THREE THEORIES OF JUSTIFICATION

There really are but three theories of Justification. Some groups, or individuals, may not want to be placed in either of these categories, either because they do not want to be categorized, or because they honestly believe they do not belong in either category. But aside from some cultic belief, or New Age claim that you just need to discover that you are God, or that you are the Christ you seek, everyone does fit into one of these categories.

1. JUSTIFICATION BY WORKS

 Paul wrote to the Galatians, "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (Gal. 2:16 NKJV).

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Eph 2:8-9 NKJV)

2. JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE PLUS WORKS

Man is not saved by any combination of grace plus works. Nor, can he be saved by grace and they maintain his salvation by works. Paul was shocked that the Galatians thought they could be saved by grace plus circumcision. He was equally shocked by the implication that one could be saved by grace and then come back and add works later. How could they not see the folly of such a preposterous teaching? He wrote, "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal 3:3 NKJV)

Paul was inspired to reveal to us through the Epistle to the Romans that grace and works are mutually exclusive approaches to God and His salvation. Either, in any measure, cancels out the other. No one is saved by "grace through" plus anything else, be it baptism, good works, or set of rules, regulations, and revelations. Jesus Christ is totally, completely adequate, as John MacArthur stresses in two of his books - Charismatic Chaos and Our Sufficiency in Christ. Here is a key verse for us:

"And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work" (Romans 11:6, NKJV)

3. JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE

1. (Gal 2:16 NKJV) - Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

2. (Gal 2:21 NKJV) - I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.

3. (Eph 2:8 NKJV) - For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.

4. (Rom 5:1 NKJV) - Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

5. (Rom 8:1-4 NKJV) There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

There are three theories of justification and every denomination subscribes to one of these theories. There are people who believe one is saved by good works. A Jewish rabbi spoke to a group at a Baptist college. A student asked him, "What do you see as the main difference between Jews and Christians?" Without any hesitation, He replied, "You Christians believe that all you have to do is believe on someone else (Jesus) in order to have salvation. We Jews believe we have to work for what we get." He couldn't have stated the difference any more clearly. He could see the difference but he was totally blind to truth he spoke.

Many believe in justification by grace plus works. These fall into two categories. First, there some who teach that in order to be saved you must believe in Jesus and be baptized, or believe and do good works , or live up to Biblical standards (or abstain from certain things). Second, there are many who teach that one receives salvation by grace and grace alone. However, after he is saved by grace, he must live up to certain things, or abstain from certain things. Failure to do so will result in the loss of salvation. That is justification by grace plus works; the former group adds works in order to obtain salvation, and the latter in order to maintain one's salvation.

To hold that after a person is saved he must either do certain things, or abstain from certain things in order to keep his salvation is to transfer the saving power of God from Justification to Sanctification. The Christian works (serves, ministers) because he has been saved by grace through faith - unto good works. He works because he is saved, not in order to maintain his salvation. A distinction must be made between the root of salvation (Justification) and the fruit of salvation (Sanctification). To subscribe to this view is like nailing a sign to the Cross that says, NECESSARY BUT INADEQUATE (Essential, but Insufficient).

Fortunately, there are those who hold the third view - salvation by grace and grace alone. As seen above, this is the Scriptural position. Many other passages teach that salvation is by grace and grace alone (pure grace). This theory is scriptural, but there is more. If you accept the doctrine of justification by grace through faith, you can accept the doctrine of security of believers. If you accept what the Bible has to say about security of believers you will have greater assurance of salvation and if you have assurance of salvation, you will find greater joy in your salvation. J. Wilbur Chapman often illustrated God's grace with the testimony given by a certain man in one of his meetings:

"I got off at the Pennsylvania depot as a tramp, and for a year I begged on the streets for a living. One day I touched a man on the shoulder and said, "Hey, mister, can you give me a dime?" As soon as I saw his face I was shocked to see that it was my own father. I said, "Father, Father, do you know me?" Throwing his arms around me and with tears in his eyes, he said, "Oh my son, at last I've found you! I've found you. You want a dime? Everything I have is yours." Think of it. I was a tramp. I stood begging my own father for ten cents, when for 18 years he had been looking for me to give me all that he had." [Bible Illustrator].

C. Compare the Essential Elements in Paul’s Conversion with Yours.

1) He had been the enemy of Christ - so were you.

2) He was convicted of his rebellion - so were you.

3) Paul repented - so did you (if you are saved).

4) Paul wanted to know what was expected of him - you should, too.

CONCLUSION.

Alas and did my Savior bleed.

And did my Sovereign die?

Would He devote that sacred head

For sinners such as I?

Was it for crimes that I had done

He groaned upon a tree?

Amazing pity, grace unknown,

And love beyond degree.

Well might the sun in darkness hide,

And shut his glories in,

When Christ the mighty Maker died

For man, the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face

While Calvary’s cross appears,

Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,

And melt my mine eyes to tears.

But drops of grief can never repay

The dept of love I owe;

Here, Lord, I give myself away,

‘Tis all that I can do.

At the cross where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away,

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day!