Robert Jeffress - The Greatest Conversation In History
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to "Pathway To Victory". Can you remember the moment when you first trusted in Christ as your Savior? Perhaps it happened when you were a child, during Sunday school or at home with your parents, or maybe you came to Christ much later in life. Today I wanna tell you one of the most dramatic coming to Christ stories in the entire Bible. My message is titled "The Greatest Conversion in History" on today's edition of "Pathway To Victory".
Lord Lyttelton and Gilbert West were two scholars who lived in England during the 18th century. Both of them were avowed unbelievers. One day they were having a conversation and Lyttelton said, "You know, Gilbert, Christianity really stands on a very unstable foundation. It all depends upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the alleged conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. And if we could disprove both of those events, Christianity would fall like a house of cards". They both agreed that they would make their life purpose to disprove those two events. Gilbert West would take the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lord Lyttelton would seek to disprove the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus.
After a few months, they met up together and Gilbert West said somewhat sheepishly, "You know, Lyttelton, I've been doing some research and there may be something to this resurrection thing". And Lyttelton said, "You know Gilbert, I've discovered the same thing about the conversion of Saul but let's don't give up, let's keep investigating". Many years later, each man wrote his book, Gilbert West, wrote the book "The Resurrection Of Jesus Christ" showing why Christ's resurrection was indeed a historical fact. Lord Lyttelton wrote his book, entitled "The Conversion Of St. Paul" proving the Damascus Road experience of St. Paul and both men became believers and followers of Jesus Christ in the process.
You know, you have to hand it to both men even as unbelievers they understood that next to the resurrection of Christ himself, the most important event in the history of the church was the alleged conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. And that is the event that we've come to today in our study of the Book of Acts. Take your Bibles and turn to Acts chapter 9, as we look at truly the greatest conversion story in history. When we come to Acts 9 we find the gospel still spreading like wildfire this time to the North, to Damascus and he uses a most unlikely instrument to take the gospel everywhere. Today we've come to Paul's dramatic conversion and it's found in chapter 9, beginning with verse 1, "Now, Saul," that was the Hebrew name for Paul, "Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord".
Still after the stoning of Stephen that he presided over, he still was on a rampage. "And he went to the high priest, asking for letters for him to the synagogue at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way," that's what Christianity was called in the early days, "The Way". Jesus said, "I am the," what? "The way, the truth and the life". Both men and women, he might bring them down to Jerusalem. Saul heard that there was a revival of Christianity taking place in Damascus and he wanted authority to extradite those Christians from Damascus and bring them back to Jerusalem and put them on trial.
Now, who was this enemy of the cross? Saul of Tarsus. Was we look at scripture there're five important facts about Saul that emerge. First of all, he was from Tarsus. We find that in his testimony in Acts 22. Tarsus was a metropolitan center. It was home to the third greatest university in the world, the first being in Athens, the second in Alexandria, the third in Tarsus. And from the fact that he spoke and read Koine Greek, we can assume that he attended this secular university. He was from Tarsus. Secondly, he was a devout Jew. He tells us that in Philippians 3:4 through 6, he could check all the boxes when it came to Judaism, he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews as he called himself.
Thirdly, he was a student of the rabbi known as Gamaliel. Apparently Saul's parents were devout Jews and they felt like God had a purpose for him, and so when he reached the right age as a young teenager, they sent him from Tarsus to Jerusalem to study under the great rabbi and scholar Gamaliel. Fourth, Paul was a Roman citizen. You didn't get to be a citizen simply by being born in a Roman province. Saul inherited that from his parents who were citizens of Rome. This becomes important in his story. He would constantly stand up for his rights as a Roman citizen to go wherever he wanted to go and to preach whatever he wanted to preach. And the most important thing that people miss about Saul is, he was sincere in his faith.
Now listen, Saul was not some Satan worshiper or he was not some sadomasochist who enjoyed torturing people. He really believed he was doing God's work in stamping out what he believed was this new heresy called Christianity. In his testimony before King Agrippa in Acts 26. Look at verses 9 to 11 Paul says, "So then, I," that is Paul, "Thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prison, having received authority from the chief priest, but also when they were being put to death, I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even the foreign cities".
What does he mean? He forced them to blaspheme? It means that he wanted them to denounce Christianity. So if he was gonna force them to denounce Jesus, he used force to do it. He would take a woman, a wife, and torture her in front of her husband, causing him to recant. He would do unspeakable things to children to make their parents denounce their Christian faith. That's what Saul did. And he did it in his service to God, he thought. By the way, have you ever heard people say, "Oh, it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're sincere about your belief"? Well, Paul was sincere about his Judaism. He was sincerely wrong though, and he discovered that in a most dramatic way in verse 3, his divine encounter with the risen Christ.
Look at this, verse 3, "As he was traveling, he was on the way to Damascus," to do what he thought was God's work. "It happened that as he was approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him". Paul says in Acts 22, "It was at noon day, it was a flash of light that was brighter than the sun, and it knocked him to the ground". Verse 4 says, "And he heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'" Just as thunder usually follows lightning. In this case, it was a thunderous voice that came from heaven, "Saul, Saul". God was using Saul's Hebrew name. "Why are you persecuting Me"? Saul knew it was God speaking to him, but he was perplexed. "What do you mean persecuting you, God, I'm serving you. I'm getting rid of this Christian heresy".
So it caused Paul to be confused and he asked in verse 5, "Who are You, Lord"? "You're not the God I serve," "Who are you"? And He answered, "And said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.'" That name Jesus, must've struck Saul like a thunderbolt from heaven. "I am Jesus". "What do you mean you are Jesus? He's dead, he's in the grave until his disciples stole the body". But when he heard this voice identify himself as Jesus, suddenly it all came together. Jesus Christ was really raised from the dead. Christianity was really true and Saul had been on the wrong side the whole time of this Christianity thing. Now you know, we find in Acts 22 that when he picked himself up, his first question to the Lord was, "Lord, what shall I do"? And Jesus told him to go to Damascus and that he would meet a man named Ananias who would tell him further what to do.
You know, what I love about God is, he's a multitasker. He can do more than one thing at once. While God was working in the life of Paul, he was also working in the life of another servant named Ananias. Right now, God's not only working in your life, he's working in the lives of people you will meet one day who will play an important role in your life. That's what we find here. Now, look at Paul's encounter with Ananias. Verse 10 through 12. "Now, there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, 'Ananias,' and he answered, 'Here am I Lord?' And the Lord said to him, 'Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias," that would be you, "Come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight". "And I, Ananias," verse 13, "Answered and said," "Are you out of your mind Lord? Go to Saul"?
You know, that would be like God appearing to a Jew in 1940 and say, "I want you to go to a house there's a man there waiting for you, his name is Adolf Hitler. Would you go and pray with him and lay hands on him"? That's the kind of reputation Saul had. He wanted to exterminate Christians. "Lord, I've heard many things about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem". First time the word saints is used in the Bible to describe Christians. "How much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem and here he has the authority from the chief priest to bind all who call on Your name, and you want me to go talk to him"? Verse 15, "But the Lord said to him, 'Go, for He is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and the Kings and the Sons of Israel".
When I read that, I can't help but think of something that happened to me nearly 15 years ago. It was a Thursday afternoon in May of 2007, and I was in my office in Wichita Falls and Carolyn put through a phone call. It was from the pastor search committee chairman of this church. And we had been talking for several months about the possibility of my coming to be the pastor and Larry said that afternoon, "Our committee has prayed and we believe you are the one God has chosen to be pastor and we wanna sit down and have an in-depth discussion with you". And I said, "Well, I would love to talk to you, but I'm leaving the next morning, tomorrow morning on a two week trip to Greece. I'm leading a tour over there to retrace the Apostle Paul's second missionary journey from Acts 16 but we will visit when we get back".
And so we set out on that trip the next day and I would spend two weeks on that trip thinking about and praying about the possibility of coming here. And you know, to be honest, I knew I was supposed to come, I knew that was God's plan for my life, but there was a part of me that resisted that. There was a part of me that was fearful of that. Part of me said, "This is just too easy it makes too much sense. Surely God's will can't make any sense, can it"? And so I was praying about it. The first full day of our tour, we were in Philippi where Paul had that great ministry, and our tour group was huddled around and we were listening to a Jewish guide talk about the life of the apostle Paul.
And she made a statement I will never forget. She said, "God used every part of Paul's life, even the part of his life before he was converted, his growing up in Tarsus, his education at the university, his discipleship under the Rabbi Gamaliel, his Roman citizenship everything in his life was preparing him for the great assignment God had toward him". And when she said that it was like a thunderbolt from heaven, God speaking to me and said as clearly as I've ever heard him speak, he said, "Robert, when you go to Dallas, people will say you became pastor because you grew up in the church, but the truth is just the opposite. I planned for you to grow up in that church so that you could become the pastor".
God spoke clearly to me that day. God was using everything in my life to prepare me for my future assignment. And ladies and gentlemen, that's true in your life as well. God doesn't waste experiences in your life. Psalm 139 verse 16 says, "In God's book, were written all the days of our life before we lived one of them". Everything in your life, the good and the bad, the part of your life before you were saved and after you're saved, it all works together for you to fulfill God's plan for you.
Look at verse 17, "So Ananias departed and he entered the house, and after laying his hands on Saul, he said, 'Brother Saul,'" I love that he welcomed him into the fellowship. "'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' And immediately there fell from Saul's eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and he was baptized". There it is, "He believed and he was baptized".
We see Paul's early ministry it begins right there in Damascus where God sent him after spending several days recuperating and then fellowshipping with the very Christians he had come to destroy and imprison now he's a part of their fellowship. After a few days, he immediately started preaching in the local synagogues in Damascus. Look at verse 21, "And all those hearing him continue to be amazed, and were saying, 'Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priest?'" And then the Bible says in verse 23, "When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do with him".
I want you to underline that phrase, many days. Those many days actually were about three and a half years. Did you know Paul spent about three and a half years, first of all in Damascus, but after Damascus he made a side trip to Arabia. How do we know all of that? From what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:15 through 18 and giving his testimony again, he said, "When God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach to Him among the Gentiles. After I was saved, I didn't immediately consult with," other people that is, "Flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to the apostles who were before me; but instead, I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Three years later, I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter and stayed with him for 15 days".
After many days he came back to Damascus. And notice what happened, when he got back he learned about a plot to try to kill him. Now how did he respond to this plot to take his life? Did he say, "Oh Lord, my life is in your hands and if you desire me to die, I will die. If I perish, I perish". That wasn't his attitude at all. Look at verse 25, "His disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket".
When he heard people wanted to destroy him, he got away from them. He escaped to Jerusalem. He gets to Jerusalem, verse 26. And what happened in Jerusalem? Did they have a big ticker-tape parade for Saul of Tarsus? The disciples didn't wanna have anything to do with him. They thought maybe he was plotting to try to destroy the church by infiltrating the church. But notice what verse 27 says, "But Barnabas took hold of him". Remember Barnabas, the son of encouragement that good old Barnabas comes alongside Saul, disciples him and brings him to the apostles and described to the apostles how he had seen the Lord on the road and that he had talked to him and now at Damascus, he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus and he was with them, that is, Saul was with them moving freely in Jerusalem speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.
What a transformation. It's a transformation that can only be explained by an encounter with the risen Jesus Christ. Outside of the Apostle Paul in my lifetime, the greatest conversion story I know of is the conversion of Charles Colson. Remember Charles Colson? He was special counsel to President Richard Nixon. He was known as Nixon's hatchet man. He infamously said one time, "I would run over my own grandmother to get Richard Nixon reelected". Remember Colson was imprisoned, he was found guilty for participating in the Watergate cover-up. He was sentenced to prison and shortly before he began serving his sentence, an attorney friend of his led him to faith in Jesus Christ.
The headlines, "Colson Claims Conversion" made many people skeptical. "Was he really converted or was he just saying that"? But even the severest critics became believers in the legitimacy of Charles Colson's conversion when they watched what he did with his life after he was released from prison. For decades through his ministry prison fellowship, he would minister to prisoners and families of prisoners sharing with them the hope that is in Jesus Christ. One of the greatest privileges of my life was to go with Colson into one of those prisons as he ministered and led many to faith in Christ.
In his book, "Loving God" he describes one of those services he held in a prison on an Easter Sunday morning. And the revelation he had from God as he ministered to those prisoners he wrote, "My life had been the perfect success story, the Great American Dream fulfilled, but all at once I realized that it was not my success God had used to enable me to help those in prison or in hundreds of others just like them. My life of success was not what made this morning so glorious. All of my achievements meant nothing in God's economy. No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation being sent to prison was the beginning of God's greatest use of my life. He chose the one experience in which I could not glory for His glory". What God did in the life of Charles Colson, what he did in the life of Saul of Tarsus, he's willing to do in your life as well. God will forgive anyone who asks for forgiveness. God will use anyone who surrenders to his will.