Allen Jackson - Saul Of Tarsus - Part 2
Look in Galatians. Galatians 4 and verse 19. Again, listen to the motivation, "My dear children for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone because I'm perplexed about you". The letter to the Galatians is a corrective letter. There's a problem with the Galatian crew. They're abandoning their faith. Paul said, "What's happened to you? You're running such a good race but you've lost your way, you've broken your stride, you've lost all your momentum. You're wandering now". And his language is interesting. "Children, I'm again in the pains of childbirth for you". Aren't you glad that's a one-time event, folks? Never done it, but I've watched a lot of things be born. Imagine, every time your kids misbehaved, mom, you had to go through childbirth again. That's what he is saying to the Galatians. He says, "What are you doing? I've been through labor for you once. Are you gonna put me through that pain again"?
Again, he's been a difference in that community. He's made a difference in the lives of those people. Philemon is a little different. Philemon is the story of an escaped slave whom Paul meets while he's imprisoned. The man's name is Onesimus and he serves Paul, he's a help to Paul, and a strength to Paul, and he too becomes a believer in Jesus. So Paul agrees to write a letter to his former slave owner that he might find life again. And it just so happens that Paul knows the man that he has been influential in his own spiritual journey. So Philemon is the letter written to that same man, said, "Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love".
You gotta love Paul, he's got a little edge to him. He will bite. So he's saying to this man, "You know, this is something you should do just because of the generosity of your heart, and the truth is, I could order you to do it, you owe me but I'm not gonna order you. I'm just gonna point out that I could". "I then, as Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became a son while I was in chains". Paul's making a difference in another life, making himself vulnerable.
See, again, the question is, how do we understand our faith? Is it about, you know, adopting as a set of vocabulary words or a beverage list or a dress code so that we can secure a seat in some eternal place that we might think would be advantageous? Or do we imagine our lives have a meaning and a purpose within the context of the kingdom of God? Or do you think you hire people like me to do that so that you don't have to sully your hands with it? You can take your time and your resources and your energy and do whatever you would like because that's not really your assignment? I think that's an unfortunate idea.
Now, I've got like a few minutes left. I wanna add one more layer to this from Saul's life and the message he gives us. You see, in the New Testament, in the Book of Acts and following, there's really two initiatives that are advocating for Jesus. Not competing with one another, very much supporting one another, but they're two different initiatives. The first is centered around Jerusalem, starts in the book of Acts in the first chapter with Jesus giving some instructions to his closest friends, and he only really breaks into the open in Acts chapter 2, on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is poured out, and Peter addresses the crowd and thousands of people acknowledge Jesus is Messiah and a baptized publicly.
In the next chapter, there's a man that is healed and the whole city is stirred and the religious leaders that thought they had eliminated the threat with the elimination of Jesus are back at the table of plotting and scheming, but it can, it grows beyond them to the cities and villages around Jerusalem. The Jesus's story is gaining a lot of momentum and Peter and James and the crew that you know so well are really at the center of that. Christianity began very clearly, as an overwhelmingly Jewish initiative. It started as one of those sects within Judaism in those early years, it was of the majority, it was a Jewish initiative, and there were a few non-Jews who were included on the periphery but they were very peripheral.
And then we get to Acts chapter 9, and Saul of Tarsus a Pharisee of the Pharisees is recruited to be the apostle, the messenger to the non-Jews. And there's a new initiative that is started. If Jerusalem is centered around Peter and James and that crew, this new initiative is centered around Paul, but it's not just Paul, there's Luke, there's Demas, there's Titus, Aquila, Priscilla, Silas, Timothy, Barnabas. There's a whole host of them and several other names, and they're all listed in scripture, we just read pretty casually. See, I I'd like to invite you to a little different imagination. I want to be certain, I wanna be really clear on this. I don't believe the apostle Paul, Saul of Tarsus got out of the dust of the road to Damascus, brushed himself off and it was immediately transformed into a rockstar soloist for the gospel.
That's an inaccurate reading of scripture. His story is very much about a group of people coming together for the purposes of the gospel. They yielded their lives to the cause of Christ, they worked together, they traveled together, they were imprisoned, threatened, and together they experienced the power of God. I can demonstrate it with just a casual glance at scripture. I gave you some of the portions, Colossians 4, in verse 14, "Luke, the dearly beloved physician," he's Paul's constant traveling companion. And in most cases, Paul needs somebody to stitch him back up. And Demas, Demas travels with him too. Apparently Paul and Luke liked Italian foods, so they kept Demas with them a lot. 2 Corinthians 8:23. You're watching this from another city, you have no clue of what that means and I apologize.
2 Corinthians 8:23. "As for Titus, he is my partner and coworker serving you, as for our brothers, they are the messengers of the church". Titus is a partner and a coworker. Titus 1, "To Titus, my true son in our common faith. The reason I left you in Crete," I bet Titus wonders why he got left in Crete, that there's something that's gonna emerge as we read through this though, it's not like they join to work with Paul because of his rockstar status and they just want to be with him then bask in the glow. That's not what's happening at all. They're a team of people and there's a set of needs that emerge and they have different strengths and abilities and opportunities based on seasons and you watch them work together as they kinda hopscotched their way around the Mediterranean from one center of influence to another with the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And he's met Titus and he calls him a coworker, and then they get to Crete and he says, "You know, you're gonna need to stay in Crete a while, there's still work to be done because the reason I left you in Crete was you might straighten out what was left unfinished". Acts 16, "He came to Derby and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek". He meets Timothy, Timothy's a young man. He's got a Jewess mother and a Gentile father, not fully trusted, I'm quite confident by either community and he agrees to assist while he enlist to be a part of this ministry team. Timothy already has a life and a plan and a purpose and dreams so do his family, and Paul rolls into town and Timothy said, "You know, I'll be a part of that, I'll engage in that".
I'm sure it caused his mother some angst and his father some angst probably for different reasons but angst nonetheless. And Timothy signs up, he forfeits the future, he'd imagined to accept a new one that God has put before him, he's been recruited. In Acts chapter 18, it says, "After these things, we left Athens and we went to Corinth. And Paul found a Jew named Aquila, and a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife, Priscilla". It's a husband and wife, Aquila and Priscilla, they've come from Rome. "Because Claudius had commanded all of the Jews to leave Rome". Claudius wasn't a mean landlord, Claudius was Caesar in Rome from 41 to 54 AD, and he had the Jews expelled. Anti-Semitism is not a new thing, and unfortunately, neither is it an old thing, it's very prevalent in the 21st century. But the story that most of us don't know, is through the centuries and the millennia, it's been very common for the Jewish people to be blamed for natural disasters, for epidemics, for economic failures, for crop failures, for anything that was unpleasing.
Oftentimes, the Jewish people would be punished, expelled, abused, mistreated. If you've watched "Fiddler on the Roof," you've seen one representation of that from one point in history, but as far back as the, you know, 40 or 50 years after the death of Jesus. The Jews are being expelled from Rome and Aquila and Priscilla have had to flee, they've made their way to Corinth. And Paul says, "Because of this, we had the same trade, I stayed with them and we were working, for by trade we were tent makers". And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade the Jews and the Greeks. It's his habit, he's back in another city, he's going to the synagogue, he's reasoning until they finally put him out of the synagogue and he'll step into the broader community.
In Acts 18, "Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. He left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila". He's recruited two more, now they're traveling with him. Says "They arrived at Ephesus where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila". He left Titus in Crete, he's left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus. You get this idea of this group of people with an agenda, a mission to take the Jesus's story, to see it initiated in community after community, in city after city, and when there's a need met, some will stay and nurture it and see it pushed forward, but they keep moving the initiative forward. You don't get the sense that it's just like a group picnic.
Romans 16, we've been looking at the Book of Acts, it tells us the story more chronologically. The Book of Romans is a letter written to the church at Rome, but in the chronology of the New Testament, it comes after the Book of Acts. So Paul's writing to the church, there he says, "To greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risk their lives for me. Not only I but for all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them". By Acts...by Romans 16, I'm sorry, Aquila and Priscilla are back in Rome, not Corinth, not Ephesus, they're back in Rome. You see, a new Caesar came to power and the Jews were allowed back in. It's the reason in the Book of Romans in chapters 9, 10, and 11, there's a discussion about the Jewish people. Paul said, "Did God reject the Jews"?
Why would you put that in the New Testament? Well, the church in Rome like the church in most other places, started as a primarily Jewish initiative. It started in the synagogues with the Jews, they believed Jesus was Messiah. So the leadership in the church in those early years was predominantly Jewish. When Claudius is expelled the Jews, those vacancies were filled by non-Jews, by the Gentiles. They came to power, in authority, in leadership, and a handful of years later, when the Jews ware invited back, there's an immediate conflict because the people that are in those places of power and authority and influence don't intend to yield to the returning Jews. So rather than say, "I like power, we'll formulate a theology that excuses our bad behavior," not really a new thing. And the idea that was put forward is God rejected the Jewish people.
So in Romans 9, 10 and 11, Paul picks that up. He said, "Did God reject the Jews"? He uses the strongest expletive in the Greek language. "God forbid," he says. Quite to the contrary, we're indebted to the Jewish people. Without the Jewish people, we have no scripture, we have no prophets, we have no law. Without the Jewish people, we would have no Messiah. God didn't reject them, we owe them a debt. And Aquila and Priscilla are back laboring for the cause of the gospel in the city of Rome. Not everybody that started the journey with Paul finished, we read about Demas a minute ago, Luke and Demas traveling with him. In 2 Timothy 4, it says, "Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me". Not everybody finished the course, some were sidetracked.
Now, I wanna close today a little differently. We started with Paul before Agrippa, and Agrippa said, "You've almost persuaded me". I want you to think with me how different Agrippa's life would've been if he would've said, "I'm in". Imagine if Agrippa had responded like Timothy did, or if he'd responded like Priscilla and Aquila did, and he said, "Paul, I'll join you in this initiative. I'll use the influence God has given me, I'll use the resources God has entrusted to me, I'll come alongside you, we'll do our best together to lift up the name of Jesus. You can leave me at Crete if you need to". Imagine how different his life would've been. Imagine how different his eternity would've been. He say, "Yeah, but he was powerful and influential". He was but it's pretty short-term stuff. Agrippa said, "You almost persuaded me".
So I don't want anybody almost persuaded. So I brought you some real simple proclamations about persuasion, these are my almost persuaded proclamations. And the first one's taken out of first Corinthians 6, "Do you not know that your body's the temple of the Holy Spirit, who's in you, whom you've received from God? You're not your own, you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. Don't you know"? Anytime the Bible says, "Don't you know," you're safe to assume the reader don't know. Bad grammar, but you get the idea. Why wouldn't they know their body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? Well, for more than almost 1,000 years, there was a temple in Jerusalem and it was broadly understood that the spirit of God dwelt in the innermost part of the temple. And for hundreds of years before there was a temple, there was a tabernacle, similar construction.
In the innermost part of the tabernacle is where the spirit of God dwelt. So for well over a millennia, it was broadly understood amongst the people of God that the spirit of God dwelt in a specific place more than 1,000 years, and now with the...when Jesus died on the cross, remember what happened? The curtain into that Holy of Holies was torn in two. And now Paul is saying, "You are the temple of the living God". And the people are struggling to reimagine and reassemble their understanding of what that means. We treat the temple with deference, we worship in a place but to imagine that the spirit of God is within us and I have a responsibility that my body is a temple of living God. How I take care of myself, where I take myself, what I do with myself, what I offer my body too is an expression of my value and reverence for the spirit of God.
Don't you know that you're...it'd be like me saying to you, "Don't you know that Jefferson Memorial is in your backyard"? "No, Pastor, I'm pretty sure it's in Washington D.C". "Well, I mean, I know it's been there for a little while, but now it's in your backyard". Be going, "I didn't see it this morning". I'm telling you that's an easier adjustment for you than for them to believe they are the temple of the living God. Paul said, "Don't you know why do you know you were bought with the price? There was a tremendous price paid for you. Therefore, honor God with your body". Forget honoring the temple, honor God with your body. He's reorienting every part of their life.
Now it's a 24/7 thing, not just when you visit the temple, I believe we should show respect to the place we worship, but you show respect to God by who you are 24/7. Now I'm meddling. I'm persuaded to honor God with my life with all my heart, mind, soul, and body. I'll invest my time, my treasure, and my talent as an expression of honor to my Lord and King. Would you like to make that proclamation with me? You wanna read it with me? Let's read together. "I'm persuaded to honor God with my life, with all my heart, mind, soul, and body. I will invest my time, my treasure, and my talent as an expression of honor to my Lord and King". Then in 2 Timothy 2, Paul says, "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier". And he bookends it by saying, "Now there's in store for me a crown of righteousness, but not only to me, but for all who have longed for his appearing".
There are two very different ideas, endure hardship like a soldier. I've never served in the military, but I've talked with many who have, I've learned this that when you have enlisted, you forfeit most of your rights to self-determination. You go to sleep when you're told, you wake up when you're told, you sleep where you're told, you eat what you're given. If you're not given anything, you don't eat anything. And after you're trained up, you're gonna be deployed probably someplace to some forward position closer to the enemy. Imagine a newly enlisted recruit that's been deployed for they were frontline and they call home and say, "The most awful thing happened to me today. I met this mean person that wanted to harm me". Right? I don't know how to break it to you, but that was the point of enlisting, that's what this soldier thing was all about.
So when Paul says endure hardship like a good soldier, there's a presupposition that it's gonna be difficult, that there's gonna be an adversary who isn't gonna cooperate, who's gonna resist, try to diminish even to destroy. That's the nature of the assignment, folks. We get toed when somebody sits in our seat at church. We get unhappy if somebody parks in our parking place, we'll just park illegally. If somebody took my place so I can just break the rules and park closer this way. In fact, I'm enduring like a good soldier. Not unless we tow your car, you're not. I'm persuaded, I will endure, persevere, complete my course, and receive the reward which the Lord, the righteous Judge will present. Would you like to make that proclamation with me? Together, "I'm persuaded: I will endure, persevere, complete my course, and receive the reward which the Lord, the righteous judge will present".
And finally, in 2 Corinthians 2, "Thanks be to God who leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him". A triumphal procession is not the winning of a great victory, it's the celebration of a victory already won. When a Roman General would conquer our people our nation or some location from time to time, he would be granted a triumph through the streets of Rome and he would be put in a chariot and driven through the streets of the city with the spoil of his victory on display like a parade. The peoples that were captured, the plunder of the nation that he had taken, the wealth, the art, the extravagance of that so that it was a demonstration of the power and the might of Rome and the victory that the general and the legion had won.
It's the image that Paul is using for you and I. He said that, "God leads us in a triumphal procession in Christ". We're celebrating a victory that Christ won. It's his victory, his victory through the cross, his redemptive work on our behalf and we are the spoil of the victory. We've been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light. We've been set free and liberated, we have a new future because of the victory that Christ won. And it says, "Through us, God is making this known everywhere," this aroma of Christ, this remarkable victory. So there's one last proclamation, "I'm persuaded that God has made complete provision for my life in time and eternity. In Christ, I've been given everything I need to overcome to be victorious and to demonstrate the faithfulness of my God".
Would you like to make that proclamation? All right. Together, "I'm persuaded: God has made complete provision for my life in time and eternity. In Christ, I have been given everything I need to overcome, be victorious and demonstrate the faithfulness of my God". I wanna give you a little homework if you'd like. Take those three proclamations, don't leave them at church today, take them with you. I would save over my life every day, if we can read all three together it won't take a minute and a half, but make those statements over your life every day this week, it'll make a difference. I don't wanna be almost persuaded and neither do I want you to be. All right, just stand with me, I'd like to say a brief prayer.
Hallelujah. Father, thank you for this day. Thank you for your goodness and your mercy. Holy Spirit, we invite you into our lives, I pray that we will hear your voice saying to us, follow me whether not one of us would fail to recognize your invitations before us. We choose to give you our best to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. But, we're not asking you to bless our provisions, we're asking intentions. We're asking you to open our hearts to your own, that we might use our lives and our strength, all that you've entrusted to us to make a difference in our generation. I thank you for it. Holy Spirit, we look to you, you are our helper and our counselor give us listening ears. In Jesus's name, amen.