Hi, I'm David Feddes. And this talk is about how the apostle Paul was called by Christ. Before I talk about Paul, let me first talk aboutCharlie. Charlie is a guy who grew up in a Christian home. But at age 18, he decided he wanted nothing to do with Christ and with Christianity. And for the next many years, he lived a very wicked life. He did many bad things, got involved in alcohol and drugs, and was living very far from the Lord. Then when he was in his middle age, he says that one day he was out in his yard, and he had a bottle of alcohol in one hand, and a vial of drugs in the other hand, and suddenly he was forced to his knees by a great power, and he was overwhelmed by the reality of Jesus Christ. Here, he was not looking for Christ living wickedly, and suddenly he was forced to his knees, and overwhelmed with the fact that Christ is real. He began attending church, he began following the Lord. And about two years later, he sensed a  very strong call to go into ministry and preach the gospel. However, by that point, he was in his 50s, he didn't have much money, and he didn't know how in the world, he could get the education to become a preacher of the gospel. Well, one day while he was in his church, there was a guest pastor, and that guest pastor was named David Feddes. 

I was preaching there that day. And I happen to mention that I was involved with a new organization called Christian leaders Institute, which offered free ministry training for those who wanted to preach the gospel. This was in the very early days of CLI when we only had a handful of students. And Charlie was in the congregation that day. And he contacted CLI, and he began taking classes while after you've taken classes for a while he wanted to preach. And he talks to the pastor of the church that he was part of about doing that. And his pastor said, Well, Charlie, too many people know about your past and not sure that you'd be able to preach in our church. And so Charlie asked us what he should do. And we said, Charlie, just start preaching wherever they'll have you. 

So Charlie went to a local rescue mission in the city where he was, and began preaching to people who are drunks and had addiction problems. He began preaching in nursing homes in that area where there were elderly people, and they couldn't get a person to preach. And then after a while, he was preaching with such effectiveness and such power that local congregations began having him as a guest preacher. And eventually, when he finished his training, he was invited by three different churches to become their pastor. And he became the pastor in one of those churches, a church which had been struggling, and was used by the Lord to help that church to turn around and begin growing again. Charlie was called by Christ in a very remarkable way, and then transformed into a preacher of the gospel. And what happened to him was a reminder again of the power of the gospel, and what happened in the life of the apostle Paul, someone who was so far from Christ, someone who was  even against Christ, and yet, ended up becoming a great ambassador of Christ.  

Who was Saul? In his own words, Saul said, I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city of Jerusalem. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. Gamaliel was the greatest scripture scholar in the world at that time, and he was teaching in Jerusalem. So we know that Saul did his learning in Jerusalem with Gamaliel. And he was doing that around the time that a rabbi from Nazareth was going around teaching, and allegedly doing some amazing miracles. Jesus and his apostles were traveling around and it's likely that Saul heard Jesus speak at various times, and that he met with some of Jesus disciples or met up with him not that he got together with them, but that he had heard or knew about them. He very likely was even in some of the meetings that had condemned the Lord Jesus.  We don't know that for sure. But we do know that he was in Jerusalem around the time that Jesus was ministering. And how did he react? He did not say, Wow, I love Jesus teaching. I'm amazed by his miracles. I think these followers of his are onto something. Instead, he says I persecuted the followers of this way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison. 

Saul was an enemy of Jesus, and as the way of Christian living. And so he was on the hunt for people who were believers. He was there at the killing of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Stephen testified that he saw Jesus standing at God's right hand. And he also urged the Jewish leadership to repent, for rejecting Jesus. But they were furious with him, they took him out, and they threw stones at him until he was dead. And just before Stephen died, he said, Lord Jesus, do not remember this sin against them. And Saul heard him pray that prayer. But did that change? Well, not yet. God was going to answer that prayer in his own way in his own time. But Saul went from killing Stephen to wanting to hunt down other Christians and throw them into jail. He went to the chief priests and the leaders, and also got documents to go hunt down the followers of Jesus in other cities. And then he set out from the city of Jerusalem to Damascus, to find some Christians there and arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. 

But while he was on the road to Damascus, and getting near to that great city, he was knocked to his knees. And he heard a voice from heaven and saw a great light and the voice said, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. And Saul said, Who are you, Lord, and the voice responded, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city. And I will tell you more. At that point, Saul was blind and for the next three days, he was blind, and could not eat anything. And he was overwhelmed by this tremendous revelation of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. 

Somewhere during that time, Jesus spoke further. And we find out what Jesus said in Acts chapter 26. Paul says that Jesus told him, I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant, and as a witness of what you have seen of me, and of what I will show you, I am sending you to them to open  their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. So right there at the moment, when Jesus called Saul out of being his enemy into being one of His followers, he also told him what he was going to do, he was going to be a witness for Jesus, and tell other people and turn them from darkness to light from Satan to God, to proclaim to them forgiveness, just as Saul had been forgiven, and a place among those who are set apart by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Saul was to be a servant of Jesus, and a witness for Jesus. 

Once Saul was in the city of Damascus, he had a vision that a man named Ananias was going to come to him and restore his sight. But Ananias had to get the memo too. And so Jesus appeared to Ananias in a vision, and he told him now go to the house of Judas on Straight Street. And there, a man from Saul is waiting for you to come and restore his sight. And he's praying. Ananias said, Lord, are you sure? He said, I've heard of this man Saul, I've heard of all the damage he did to the believers in Jerusalem. And I've heard that he's come to this city to hunt us down. So it may sound a little funny. When somebody's saying, Jesus, Are you sure about this? But it was pretty hard to go to such a scary convert. When you hear that somebody has been converted. You might say, well, come on, how can we trust him? He may be here trying to pull tricks on us. But Jesus spoke to Ananias.  Ananias knew it was Jesus. And he knew Jesus was telling him, this man is my chosen instrument, to carry my name before the Gentiles in their kings, and before the people of Israel.

When Jesus called Ananias to do this, Ananias got up, and he went to the house where Saul was staying. And the first words out of his mouth were brother Saul. That says everything. Ananias was scared to go there. He knew this man had done terrible things to Christians. And yet when he comes to him, he says, Brother Saul, he calls it a brother in Christ. Brother Saul the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here has  sent me so you may see again, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. And then he baptized Saul and Saul ate some food and his strength was restored, and his sight was restored. And they were truly brothers in Christ.

And what did Saul do? At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. There's a sense in which Saul had a tremendous theological and biblical training already. He had studied the Old Testament under the greatest scholar in the world. But now he at last understood how it was pointing to the Lord Jesus. And he understood that instead of fighting the Lord Jesus, he was to honor Jesus as his Lord and Savior. But he already had a tremendous education. And once he saw in the right light, it equipped him to begin preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. And he grew more and more powerful, and he baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. He knew their scriptures, and now he could really see how they pointed to Jesus. 

While he was preaching with such energy and such impact, that it roused some of the leaders in Damascus and they tried to kill him. And so some people helped Saul to get out of town during the night by lowering them over the city wall in a basket, and Saul made his escape and got out of there. When you're reading acts 9 about Saul's conversion and his preaching, in Damascus, then it goes straight from there to Paul showing up in Jerusalem and meeting with some leaders there. But in reality, Luke doesn't tell us about that. But we know that three years actually went by between Paul's escape from Damascus, and his visit to Jerusalem. 

Saul says that he went away to Arabia, when he's writing his letter to the Galatians. He says, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who are apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia, and then later returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him 15 days.  Now, we don't know what happened in Arabia. We don't know if Saul was there telling people mainly about Christ, or if he was there in a part of Arabia, where he was off by himself. Many think that Saul was there primarily alone, in the presence of the Lord, spending time with Jesus Himself. Jesus apostles, had spent three years with Christ on earth before his death and resurrection. And it's possible that Saul spent three years alone with Christ after His resurrection there in the desert, getting to know Jesus better, thinking through even more thoroughly the truth of Jesus, in light of the scriptures that had spoken of Jesus, and just getting things straight. So he spends this time in Arabia. Then after three years, he goes to Jerusalem, to meet with Peter, and he stayed with him 15 days. Now even that's a little more complicated than it sounds in Paul's letter. 

Because we find out that when he came to Jerusalem, that first time, Saul tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. You can imagine how they must have felt, here's a man who’s been hunting down, followers of Jesus throwing him into prison, even killing some of them. And now he claims to be one of them. Well, what better way to find out who the chief leaders of the Christians are, and to identify more of them, than by pretending to be one of them, and then arresting them all. So they don’t trust him, and they don't want to meet with him. 

But Barnabas. Those are two important words. But Barnabas took Saul and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had  spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly. In the name of Jesus. We saw earlier how Ananias was very reluctant to go to Saul. And now the leaders in Jerusalem are very reluctant to welcome Saul. But there's a special guy, Barnabas, Joe, encouragement. You read about him a little bit earlier in the book of Acts His name, His real name is Joseph, but his nickname is Son of Encouragement. He's literally Joe encouragement because he is so great at seeing things and people believing in them when others don't believing in God's work in them, when others may not yet. And so Barnabas takes Saul he vouches for him. He says it's for real. Saul really did see Jesus, he really has preached the gospel in Damascus. You should welcome him and on the word of Barnabas, they did welcome him. So Barnabas is really the one whom God uses to bring Saul into fellowship with the Jerusalem apostles. 

While Saul was in Jerusalem, something happens. He says, When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance, and saw the Lord speaking. Quick, he said to me, leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me. Then the Lord said to me go, I will send you far away to the Gentiles. So part of this visit to Jerusalem is meeting with the apostles. But another part of this visit to Jerusalem is a visit to the temple itself. And there like Isaiah many years before him, he has a vision in the temple. And it is the vision of the Lord Jesus, and Jesus is telling him, it's time to leave Jerusalem, they're going to be against you here. But I've got work for you to do among non-Jewish people far away among the Gentiles. The first vision that Paul had on the road to Damascus calls them into fellowship with Christ and appoints him an apostle. This vision gives him a specific call to go out and preach to Gentiles. 

And so he does go, and he spent some time back in his, the place where he was born Tarsus, and in the district of Cilicia what today is called Syria. And for about seven years, he's there. And he's ministering in various ways that we don't have a lot of detail about. And sometime near the end of that period, he has another vision. And he later wrote about that vision when he was writing to Corinth. He says, I know a man in Christ, and here he's being kind of modest and roundabout and saying it but he's actually talking about himself. He says, I know a man in Christ, who 14 years ago I was caught up to the third heaven. There was heaven, which is our atmosphere, and then the skies were the stars in the third heaven is referring to what we actually call heaven, the abode of God and of the angels. He was caught up to the third heaven, whether it was in the body, or out of the body, I do not know God knows. And I know that this man was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things. Things that man is not permitted to tell. 

He had this vision of heaven that went beyond what he had met of Jesus earlier things in paradise itself. And he wasn't allowed to tell us very many things. We do know; however, you must have seen something wonderful because he later wrote, the things that we suffer now are not worth comparing to the things that will be coming. Our light and momentary troubles, and by then, he had gone through horrible things and sufferings, and imprisonment and beatings. He'd been through all that and he says, our light and momentary troubles aren't worth comparing to the glories that will be revealed in us. So whatever that vision of heaven was, it was something fantastic that put a stamp on in the rest of his life, and made him realize what God has in store for those who love Him. And this energized him even more, to be an ambassador of the gospel, and to be someone who spoke of the things of eternity with great power. Sometimes, people who are a little skeptical of the apostle Paul, or the writing of the New Testament think that they didn't know what they were talking about. The fact is Saul or Paul knew more than he was talking about, he knew more than he was permitted to write. Jesus let him write and guided him to write certain things that are in the New Testament. But he actually knew more that God had revealed to him that nobody is permitted to tell. 

So he's had this vision of Jesus, when he, when he was still an enemy of Christ, he has a vision of Christ, the risen Christ speaking to him. Then he has a vision in the temple of Christ sending him to the Gentiles. And then he has a vision of heaven itself, where he may have been caught up in the body, or at very least in the spirit, and sees realities of heaven itself. Well, after that whole period of, quite a few years have gone by. Maybe a total of 10 or 11 years have gone by, since his conversion. Something happens. 

Way back when Saul was still an enemy of Christ. He had been killing Stephen and persecuting others, and that scattered many of the believers from Jerusalem. And when they scattered from Jerusalem, some of them went to the city of Antioch. And they began telling non-Jewish people about the Lord Jesus Christ, and many of them became believers. Well, when the church found out about that they decided to send Barnabas there to check it out. And so Barnabas went to Antioch. And the Bible says, When he saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. So Barnabas is this good guy, he's just full of faith. He's full of the Holy Spirit. And when he sees God at work, he recognizes it. And he encourages those people to keep on going. That's why he's called Joe encouragement. This is the same man who vouched for Saul when nobody else would believe it was converted. 

And so he's doing this work in Antioch among people who had been converted originally because of Saul's persecutions in Jerusalem and scattered believers over there. And now what does he do? The church is growing like crazy in Antioch and he says, I need help. Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul. And when he found that he brought him to Antioch, and for a year, they ministered together. And so you see how the Lord has His plans and how things work out. Saul's persecutions actually scattered people to Antioch to bring the gospel. And by then Saul's been converted. By then he spent his three years in the desert of Arabia. By then he's been ministering for seven years, and now he's ready. 

And Barnabas brings him in to minister in that church in Antioch, where people are first called Christians. And he's used mightily and just a little note too, Barnabas may have known already then, that eventually, Saul was going to outshine him because Saul had been taught by the great scholar. Saul had such a tremendous experience of conversion; he was such a great genius. And yet, Barnabas was ready to lift him up and to launch him into greater ministry. It takes some man, a man of great faith, and a man who's not all about himself to say, hey, things are going great here, somebody else who might be better than I am, to team up with me. And so he did, he brought Saul in there. 

And then one day, while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to the believers in Antioch set apart for me, Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I've called them. So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. So they're worshiping fasting, praying together. And that's got to hurt when you're a church you have two such great leaders and your, your period of worship, results in sending your two top  leaders away. But that's what God did. He sent them away on their first missionary journey. And they traveled and began those great missionary journeys of Paul that carried the gospel all around the Mediterranean world. This is how the Lord called Saul turned him into Paul and made him the great missionary. 

Let's just look at that sequence of events. Again, in the making of this great missionary. He was converted and called by Jesus Christ, probably within about a year of the death and resurrection of Jesus, so probably the year 34. And then he starts preaching in Damascus till he has to flee town in that same year. He spent three years in Arabia, meditating, spending time with the Lord Jesus, getting more deeply grounded in the realities of Christ and understanding how the scriptures apply to Christ. Then in 37, three years later, meets with the Apostles in Jerusalem helped along by Barnabas, when they don't quite accept Saul, but then Barnabas helps out. And then he in the temple there, he has a temple visions of the Lord Jesus Christ, calling him to go to the Gentiles very strongly, and specifically, and he goes and spends the next seven years back in the town where he was born and in the surrounding region, spreading the gospel to people there. Near the end of that period, he has this vision of heaven, or maybe this visit to heaven, where his spirit or even his body is caught up to heaven, and then brought back again, and he sees somethings that he wasn't permitted to tell. And then Barnabas comes and gets him from Tarsus, and they minister in Antioch. And then the Lord speaks to them and sends them out on their missionary journey. Let me just point out to again that 11 years go by, from the time that he has converted till the time that he has launched on the great missionary journeys, for which he's famous. He did some other ministry in the meantime, but not in this huge way. 

Some of you when you're called, may be raring to go, and that's good. Saul was raring to go as well. He preached right away in Damascus after his conversion and gave testimony. But there was also some more work and some more preparation and some more time before he was just more fully shaped, to do that missionary work to which God had called him. He had to spend some time alone in Arabia. He spent some time with other apostles. He spent some time in ministry that wasn't quite as important or big time. And God was preparing all along. So don't be too impatient with God once he saved you. There may be things you want to do that you want to get going with right away and that's great that you have that zeal. But if God takes you along the slow boat, the slow path to get there, that's okay too, because he's getting ready. He's making the kind of person of you, and he's ready to launch and he's going to send maybe a Barnabas into your life at just the right time to move you on to something else. God knows what he's doing. 

Now, when we think about this work of God in the life of the apostle Paul and the kind of man he is, throughout the book of Acts, a couple of things that I want to highlight. One is the truthfulness, the authenticity of Paul's message. And the other is the tremendous power of the gospel and the reality of the gospel of grace and forgiveness for the worst of sinners. The first just the reality and the truthfulness of it. To the Galatians, Paul wrote, I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it. Rather, I received it by revelation, from Jesus Christ. He saw the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. He heard in the temple the voice of the Lord Jesus, making him an apostle to the Gentiles. He saw heaven, he was in heaven, whether in body or spirit, and saw things beyond what he was allowed to tell. And what he was allowed to tell was written in the Scriptures that it was revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ. So when you open your Bible, and you read the letters of the apostle Paul, just know this, it's not just manmade. Paul didn't make it up. He didn't get it from another human being. He got it from the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. And so when you are reading his letters, you are reading what came from Jesus Christ, Himself. And you can count on it and have full confidence in it. 

Another thing to realize, as we find out how God worked in the life of Paul is simply that God chose him to be a display of grace. Paul was a great preacher of grace. His theology is all about grace and God's free gift of eternal life through Jesus and not through anything we have earned. And it wasn't just the message, but the messenger whom God chose to bring it home with such force. He says, I persecuted the church of God, and I tried to destroy it. I'm the least of the apostles, and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am. He didn't deserve to be an apostle, he deserved to go to hell. He was an enemy of Jesus, and God saved him. That's why it is theology. Paul would speak about election God choosing people for no other reason than that he chose to love them and appoint them for his purposes. Because if God has looked around to say, Who's the most deserving, who's the most likely candidate he would never have chosen, Saul the enemy of the gospel. 

Grace is totally undeserved. And yet God made the Apostle Paul what he was. He knew what he had been, but he says, By the grace of God, I am what I am. Even though I once was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and the love that are in Christ Jesus. So it was wonderful that God had saved him. 

And why did God appoint him to be such a great apostle? Well, he says, there's a faithful saying, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason, I was shown mercy. So the in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience, as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life. When you hear the gospel as Paul brings it, and you say, oh, but I've been so bad. You can’t imagine some of the things I've done. I don't know how God could ever forgive me. I've been so filthy; I've been so wicked. And then you think yourself. But Paul killed the first martyr. He was a butcher of Christians. He was vicious. He was a violent man. And God saved him and forgave him and transformed him and use him, why not me? So he says, Jesus wanted to display His unlimited patience. And so when we hear that gospel, it's not just the doctrines of Paul. It's the story of Paul that lies behind those wondrous doctrines. Jesus chose Paul so that this story that Jesus wanted to tell would be even more believable, the story of unmerited free Grace, mercy for the absolute worst of sinners. 

And so Paul could say to the Romans, I'm not ashamed of the gospel, he was a little ashamed of what he had done to Christians, and he never forgot it. But he was never ashamed of the gospel. I'm not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel or righteousness from God is revealed. a righteousness that is by faith, from first to last, just as it is written, The righteous will live by faith. God chose Paul to be the great ambassador of gospel power, of righteousness of being right with God, through faith in Jesus Christ, with nothing else added, but Christ, who is everything. The Apostle could later say everything I had going for me, I count as garbage compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. He was called by Christ, called not just for salvation called not just to go to heaven, but called to be an ambassador of Christ. 

And so it is when you and I are called, were called out of our sin in our wickedness, and our lostness were called off that path to hell, and put on the path to heaven. And at the same time, were appointed not just to receive that life, but to be bringers of that life, to be displays of God's grace and the transformation He works in us unworthy sinners who become his sons and  daughters. And also to be ambassadors of that gospel power to others. So as you read the book of Acts, and as you read what God did through the apostle Paul, and as you read his letters know again, that the gospel is God's power for salvation.

Last modified: Monday, August 21, 2023, 12:35 PM