Why Romans Matters (Part 2)

Romans 1:1-7

Tom Pennington  •  April 6, 2014
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I invite you to take your Bible with me and turn to the book of Romans as we begin our verse-by-verse study through this magnificent letter, or, in the interest of full disclosure and honesty, our word-by-word study of this great letter, at least here at the beginning. Let me just warn you we will pick up speed. We'll go a little slowly here at the beginning because this is the foundation. The foundation is laid in these early verses that really sets our understanding for the rest of the letter. So understand that it's not going to be 15 years before we make it through Romans, I assure you of that.

Just to bring you back up to speed, let me remind you that Paul wrote the book of Romans from Corinth, at the end of his third missionary journey. He was in the middle of a huge transition in his ministry. He was concluding 25 years of missionary work in what we refer to as Eastern Europe and he was about to begin, at least his plans were to begin, a new ministry to reach Western Europe with his base of operations being in Spain. It was against that backdrop that Paul wrote to the Romans. It's very important to remember that Paul did not found the churches in Rome; in fact he had never visited Rome or the churches there, and that's what makes his letter to the Romans unique.

So, why exactly would Paul write churches he didn't found and had never visited? Well, as we saw last time, there were primarily three reasons Paul wrote this letter. In reverse order to what we learned last time, first of all, he wrote to glorify God and to exalt Jesus Christ through his proclamation of the gospel. This is what drove Paul. He begins in 1:5 saying, 'I preach the gospel for His sake.' He ends the book of Romans by saying, 'I want all the glory from the gospel I preach to go to God.' That's what motivated Paul, that's why he wrote, that's why he proclaimed the gospel.

Secondly, he wrote the letter to the Romans to establish the Roman Christians in his gospel. As he ends the book of Romans he says 'I want to establish you, for you to be established in the gospel,' and that's what he wants for us as well. And thirdly, he wrote to encourage the Roman Christians to be his sending and supporting churches as he planned to begin his new ministry in Western Europe. In fact, turn to Romans chapter 15. Romans 15:23, he says, "…but now, with no further place for me in these regions…" In other words, he had exhausted his missionary outreach in Macedonia, and in Greece, and in Asia Minor where he'd served for those 25 years. There was no new territory where the gospel was not known. "…since I have…for many years a longing to come to you [and here's where he'd planned to go] whenever I go to Spain [That was going to be his new ministry, his new base of operations. But on my way there, he said, verse 24]…I hope to see you in passing, [and here's the key] and…be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while." Paul wanted the churches in Rome to become to his ministry in Western Europe what the church of Antioch had been to his ministry in Eastern Europe.

The reason Romans is so much longer than his other epistles, and the reason it reads more like a theological treatise, is that if the Romans were going to support Paul they deserved to know the gospel he preached. Leon Morris put it so well, and I shared this with you last week. He says "Paul clearly regarded it as important that the Roman church support him on his Spanish mission. If they were to support him it was not unreasonable that they should know what he preached. Accordingly, he sets forth a clear but profound statement of the essential message of Christianity as he proclaimed it. This will show the Romans where he stands." And Morris concludes, "The result is one of the most important Christian documents ever written." You see, Paul here in the letter to the Romans provides a concise and yet complete presentation of the gospel he preached. And we are so much richer because of the circumstances that prompted him to write this letter.

Now with that broad overview, let's go back this morning and drill down on that opening section of the book, the opening to the letter in 1:1-17. This section consists of three simple paragraphs. First of all, in the first seven verses you have the typical greetings in a first century letter, 'from Paul to the Romans.' Secondly, in verses 8-15 you have Paul's thanksgiving and prayer for the Roman Christians, this was also not uncommon in Paul's New Testament letters. And then in verses 16 and 17, he closes this opening section of the letter with a formal statement of the letter's theme. It's about the gospel. Now this morning, I want us to begin our exposition of Pauls' greeting in the first seven verses. The first seven verses are really one long, complex sentence in the Greek text. Let me read it for you. Romans 1:1-7:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans is Paul's longest New Testament letter and so it's not a surprise that this opening greeting is by far the longest as well. It's also not surprising when you remember that Paul was writing to a group of people he had never met, who attended churches he didn't found, who lived in a city he'd never visited. He needed to establish his credentials as an apostle of Jesus Christ.

Now, this is a typical way, in many ways, to begin a first century letter. Just to give you a little background, first century letters were typically written on one of two materials, either on papyrus which was a reed that grew near water sources and the reed was cut down, cut into small pieces, and then laid crossways against each other and pressed under weight until it hardened. Once, the reeds that had been pieced together had hardened, the surface could be smoothed, and it made for a reasonably good writing surface. If the document were more important in the first century, then they would use parchment, which was vellum, or animal skins.

Regardless of the material that was used, when you finished your letter you would have rolled it into a scroll shape. That was typical in the first century. That made it very important that the first information on the scroll as you began to unroll it was from whom the letter came, and to whom it was addressed. That's why it always comes first in New Testament letters and not last, as it does in our letters. And you understand why this is important because you still do this today. You go out to the mailbox to get your mail and you walk back toward the house with your mail in hand and you're sort of thumbing through the mail. And what is the first thing you're doing? You're looking at the return addresses; you're sorting through who the letter's from. So first century letters began with the sender and the recipients because you would have begun not by looking at an envelope, but rather by unrolling the scroll. That was usually followed, then, by a basic greeting.

So understand Paul's letters follow the basic form of the letters of the first century, but Paul does so much more. Paul wasn't merely following a style and substance. When I was in seminary I spent six months translating papyri and many of those were letters and essentially you would have the person's name from whom it was coming, to whom it was addressed, and then one sentence greeting. It was just sort of a formality to get passed, to say what you really wanted to say. Paul doesn't do that. He uses the opening of his letters as a means to communicate Christian truth. Neither Paul nor the Holy Spirit wastes words. You need to understand that. These opening verses are absolutely crucial and foundational to understanding this letter. Let me just encourage you at a personal level as you read on your own the New Testament letters, or as we study this letter together, don't let yourself be in a hurry to sort of skip over all the preliminary stuff and get to the good stuff down in verses 16 and 17.

In reality, here in Romans verses 1-7, is Paul's explanation of why this letter is so important. In this initial greeting, we are going to discover that Paul gives us three reasons why Romans matters, and why it should matter to you, and why it's a good thing to invest as long as we will invest in studying this letter together. So, let's look at these three reasons why Romans matters. The first reason is found in verse 1, it's because Paul wrote it. Now in the first verse, Paul identifies himself, obviously, initially, and then he gives his credentials, three credentials to be specific. He was telling the Roman churches why they should pay attention to this letter, and he's telling us why we should as well.

Now first of all, he begins simply with his identity. He begins the letter simply, "Paul…" Now the chief impact of any letter lies in the importance of the person who wrote it, either because of their closeness to you as a family member or friend, or just the importance of their position and their status. I mean, think of how differently you respond to the constant, sort of ubiquitous credit card offers you receive in the mail versus a personal letter from a family friend. Think about how differently you respond to a bulk mailing from a political candidate versus if you were to receive a certifiably personal letter from the governor of this state or from the president of our country. Think about how differently you respond to those constant flyers from the local seeker-sensitive churches that fill up our mailboxes, versus if you were to receive a true, personal letter from one of the spiritual leaders of our times. The person who sends it matters a lot in how important the letter is to us.

When Phoebe, the woman that Paul tells us in Romans 16:1-2, was going to deliver this letter, finally arrived in Rome, and unrolled just the first inch of that scroll and showed the church's leadership that it was Paul's name there, that alone would have created an immediate interest in the importance of this letter. 'It's from Paul, it's from the Apostle!' You see, Paul and his story were already widely known in Rome. If you've had the chance to read through the book of Romans, and if you haven't yet I encourage you to do that as we embark on our study. In chapter 16, you'll find again and again Paul is greeting people in Rome that he knows. Even though he hasn't been there, there are people there who know him and whom he knows. And so his story was widely known there.

In fact, his story is widely known still today, isn't it? Think about the remarkable fact that a man who should have died in obscurity in the first century, is known and believed today by 2 ½ billion people on this planet, to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, writing on His behalf. And many of those people believe that Paul not only wrote his words, but the very words of God Himself.

How did this happen? Who was this man, really? It's been seven years since we began Paul's letter to the Ephesians, when I laid out a brief biography of the apostle Paul. Many of you have joined our church since that time, and, also, I doubt that those of you who were here at the time remember a lot of what I said seven years ago. I'm a realist. I understand that. And so, I want to take a few moments this morning and I want to lay out a sort of enlarged biography of the Apostle Paul, this remarkable, remarkable man.

So let's take his life in its segments, beginning with the early years in Tarsus. Paul was probably only a few years younger than our Lord. Most scholars estimate that he was born around 2 or 3 B.C. Although he was clearly Jewish, he was also born a Roman citizen—according to Acts 22:28—which means that his father had been a Roman citizen before him. Practically, what that meant is that within 30 days of Paul's birth, his birth had to be officially registered in the record of that part of the Roman Empire, and then his father received a copy certified by witnesses that he was in fact a Roman citizen. Paul was almost certainly born into a wealthy, influential family. We know this in a couple of ways. We know from secular history that Roman citizens in Tarsus were required to pay an annual poll tax that was equal to 18 months' wages for a typical working class man. So every year, Roman citizens in Tarsus, as Paul's family was, had to pay the equivalent of 18 months' wages for a working class man. In addition to that, even though Paul's Jewish family lived in what is modern-day Turkey, they wielded enough influence in Judea that they were able to secure a position for their son as the pupil of the greatest rabbi of their times in Jerusalem—a wealthy, influential, Jewish home.

His Jewish parents gave him the Hebrew name Saul, a name which means "asked for." Undoubtedly he was named after the first king of Israel, the most famous person from the tribe of Benjamin, Paul's family's tribe. But because he was born a Roman citizen, Paul also at birth received a Roman name which always consisted of three parts. There was a formal name, a clan name, and then a family name. An example from secular history would be the name, Gaius Julius Caesar. That was his official Roman name. Paul would have received, similarly, a Roman name with three parts. We only know one part of that, probably Paul's family name, Paul, which simply means "small." He may have been given that because he was physically small in stature, or it may simply be that his parents liked it because it sounded a lot like his Hebrew name, Saul. In Latin it's Paulus, in English, Paul. Until his conversion, as you know, he used his Jewish name, Saul. But beginning in Acts 13:9, no one in the New Testament again refers to him by his Hebrew name. Instead, he is from that point forward always known by his Roman name, which is very appropriate for a man who's called 'the apostle to the Gentiles.'

Now, Paul tells us something of his upbringing in Acts 22 where I want you to turn. The context here in Acts 22, you remember, Paul takes his gift—this would be after the book of Romans was written—to Jerusalem, which he mentions he's going to do in the book of Romans. While he's there he goes into the temple. Well, earlier some of the Jewish opponents of Paul had seen him in the city with people from Ephesus, who would clearly have been Gentiles. When they see him in the Jewish portion of the temple they assume that he has brought those Gentiles past the Gentile line, into the Jewish quarter only, and a riot breaks out. The Roman commander has to seize Paul to save his life. And as he's taking Paul out of the temple area, he allows Paul to address this crowd that has almost taken his life. This is the context. Acts 22:1. Paul says to them in Aramaic, "'Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.' And when they heard that he was addressing them in the [Jewish Aramaic]…dialect, they became even more quiet; and [this is what] he said, 'I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia…'" So his hometown then, was Tarsus, a huge, ancient city we're told of more than a half a million people. It was in the territory that today is Turkey. It was second in Greek culture only to Athens and Alexandria, Egypt. Now it might seem strange to have such an orthodox Jewish family living outside of Israel, but remember that by this time in history the Jews were scattered all over the Roman Empire.

How did Paul's family get to Tarsus? Well, we don't know for sure, but Jerome repeats an earlier tradition that Paul's family originally lived in Galilee and they fled from Galilee to Tarsus during the Roman conquest in 63 B.C. If so, it would have been Paul's father, or more likely his grandfather, who moved his family from Galilee to Tarsus, where they had now lived for at least a generation or two. Unfortunately, many of the Jews who scattered, the Diaspora as they're called, had been influenced by the prevailing Greek culture, or Hellenized. You may recognize that from your history classes. This was a trend that started with Alexander the Great. 'Let's export Greek culture, and Greek language, and all things Greek, and do our best to make the whole world like that.'

And so Paul's family was at the influence of this, and yet, those Jews who refused to compromise with the culture, who remained committed to their own language and their own culture were often referred to as Hebrews. Do you remember what Paul said in Philippians 3:5, when he gives his testimony there? He describes himself as, "…circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin,[and then he says this] a Hebrew of Hebrews…" What Paul meant was that his parents and his home were steeped in all things traditionally Hebrew—the Hebrew language, the Hebrew culture. Paul was thoroughly acquainted with the Greco-Roman culture, but he was uninfluenced by it.

And a lot of the reason for that was Paul's education. Paul was taught the scripture from the time he could speak in the home. In addition to that, Jewish law required that Jewish boys begin their study at the age of five in the local synagogue. So not only would he have learned at home, but he would have begun synagogue school at the age of five, and he would have begun by learning large portions of the Pentateuch, memorizing large portions of the first five books of our Bible. At the age of 10, he would have begun to study the teaching of the rabbis, the oral tradition that was communicated. In addition to his classroom studies, he would also have learned at an early age the nobility of manual labor. The rabbis taught, it's recorded in the Jewish writings, 'whoever does not teach his son to work teaches him to steal.' So it was probably in those early years while still in Tarsus, that he began to learn his skills as a tentmaker, using the goat's hair that was named for the city where he lived and where it had originated.

All of this encompassed Paul's younger years. It was a life mixed with the synagogue on Sabbath, the synagogue schools during the week, studies at home, as well as working a skill to begin to earn a living. At 13, a major transition would have occurred in Paul's life. He would have become a bar-mitzvah. Now we use that phrase a little differently today, but bar-mitzvah literally means a "son of the commandment." So at thirteen he became a bar-mitzvah, a "son of the commandment," he came of age, he came to be treated as a man. Typically at that age, the brightest students were directed into the rabbinic schools with the best teachers. Josephus comments on his own instruction as a Pharisee when he says he began his at the age of 14. Sort of an advanced education began at that point in Paul's life.

That brings us to the second phase of his life, the years in Jerusalem. Look back at Acts 22:3. He says to them, "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city…" And he says that remember, on the temple mount in Jerusalem. So it was probably around 13 years of age that Paul's parents sent him away. They arrange for him to live in Jerusalem. It's very likely that Paul stayed in Jerusalem with his married sister who is mentioned in Acts 23:16, living in Jerusalem. Remember it's her son, Paul's nephew, who tells him about the ambush and saves his life. So Paul relocates to Jerusalem as a teenager. He was very close in age to Jesus; remember Christ was, at most, three years older than Paul. So Paul was likely in Jerusalem during those annual trips that Jesus and his family would take from Nazareth down to the city of Jerusalem for the feasts. Although, it's possible Paul was in Jerusalem even during the time of the ministry of Christ, there's no indication that they ever met.

Now, why did Paul go to Jerusalem? I mean, after all, Tarsus had a great university. It's because Paul's parents had other plans. They wanted only the best for this son of theirs who showed such promise. They also wanted him there for another reason. Turn over to Acts 23:6. This is Paul before the Sanhedrin, and notice what he says about his heritage. He "…began crying out in the Council, 'Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son [and notice the plural] of Pharisees…'" Paul's father clearly was a Pharisee, but likely Paul stood in a long line of Pharisees. In fact, it's likely that they were Pharisees when they still lived back in Israel because the Pharisees as a movement began in the period between the Testaments. And so Paul was a multi-generational Pharisee and Paul's father, as a Pharisee, wanted him brought up and trained as a Pharisee. And so they sent him to Jerusalem.

Why would that be important? Well, notice Acts 22:3, "'I was…brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.'" Paul studied in Jerusalem to be a rabbi. He sat at the feet of a man here simply called Gamaliel; he was Gamaliel I, the greatest teacher in Israel in the first century. This man is referred to even by his contemporaries as the "beauty of the Law." Later when the Mishnah was written, referring back to Gamaliel, they write this, "When Rabbi Gamaliel the elder died, the glory of the Law ceased, and purity and abstinence died." This was a brilliant, committed Pharisee, the greatest teacher of the first century and Paul was his student.

It would have been an intensely demanding education. In addition to rigorous training in the content and meaning of the Old Testament, he would have had to study all of the oral tradition of the rabbis which was eventually codified in the Talmud and the Mishnah. It would have been his textbook—the oral tradition—all that Hillel and Shammai and the two schools of the rabbis had taught about the scripture. In addition, Paul learned three languages. Aramaic was probably his primary language and the one spoken in his home, the primary language of Palestine. In fact it's the language he addresses the crowd with here in Acts 22. It's the language Christ addressed Paul with on the road to Damascus.

In addition to Aramaic, Paul also obviously knew Greek; all of his letters are written in class A Greek. In addition to that, he could read the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul had an absolutely brilliant mind. He quickly became one of Gamaliel's best students and Judaism's brightest lights. This is how he described himself in Galatians 1:14, "…I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions." Paul says, 'I was at the top of the class. I was one of the best students Gamaliel had.' In fact, I am convinced that if it were not for the Damascus road and the conversion of Paul, we could look back in history and a man named Saul would be one of the greatest Jewish teachers of the first century. That's what engaged his life during the years of training in Jerusalem.

That brings us to the next movement in Paul's life. Let's call it, Paul the Persecutor. Look at Acts 22:4. "'I persecuted this Way…'" and he's using that obviously as an expression of Christianity. Jesus said, "I am the way…" and because of that, Christianity became known as the Way. He says, "'I persecuted [this Way] to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. [For] From them I…received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.'" This is Paul, the Persecutor.

The first time we actually meet Paul in scripture he's no longer a boy, he's no longer a teenager, he's in his mid-thirties. It's just a year or two after the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord. Go back to Acts chapter 7.You remember, of course, Stephen, one of the deacons who was used so powerfully in the Jerusalem church. He preaches this sermon, this magnificent sermon in Acts chapter 7 before the council, before Caiaphas the high priest who had overseen the death of Christ. And you remember how it ended, verse 58, "When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul."

This is the first time we encounter him and here we find him in his mid-thirties with the witnesses who would stone Stephen laying their coats at his feet, which may mean that the stoning of Stephen was under Paul's authority. It's very possible that at some point Paul became a member of the Sanhedrin the ruling Jewish body of 70 men. Notice chapter 8:1, "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death." We can't be sure, but that phrase can mean he basically voted for his death, and only the Jewish Sanhedrin could impose the death penalty. Later in Acts 26:10, Paul says of the Christians, "'I cast my vote against them.'" It's possible that he became a member of the Sanhedrin, we can't be sure. Regardless, as a rabbi, which he clearly was, Paul set his theological sights on this sect called Christians or called the Way. Notice 8:1, "And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were…scattered…" Verse 3, "…Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison."

Perhaps Paul learned through the ministry of Stephen in the synagogue that Paul himself attended, just how dangerous the followers of Jesus Christ were. In fact, look back at chapter 6:9, I'll start at verse 8, "…Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what was called [now here the Greek is unclear. We may be talking about one synagogue, or we may be talking about three synagogues. Some men from what was called] the Synagogue of the Freedmen,…both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some [note this] from Cilicia [Paul's hometown] and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen." Apparently, Stephen had a ministry in either this one Jewish synagogue or in the three different Jewish synagogues, one of which Paul himself attended when he was in Jerusalem. And "…they were unable [verse 10] to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking…" And so therefore they solicit false witnesses, verse 11.

So it's possible that Paul came to understand just how dangerous the Christian faith was as he heard Stephen preach, as he heard Stephen teach. But what really angered Paul was what he described in 1 Corinthians 1, it was the "stumbling block" for the Jews. What was it? A crucified Messiah. How can you say our Messiah has been hung on a tree and left to die? Because Deuteronomy says that means He's accursed of God, and a Messiah accursed of God was unthinkable to Paul, to the one who would eventually become the apostle.

Paul paints a deeply troubling portrait of his life before Christ. In Galatians he said "I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it…" In Philippians 3, I was "…as to zeal, a persecutor of the church…" But notice how he describes his persecution in detail over in Acts chapter 26. Here Paul is before Agrippa giving his defense, explaining his life story, and notice how he describes what he did to Christians in verse 9. Here's how he thought, he said, "'So then, I 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 prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them.'"

Paul says, listen, 'I was behind the execution of people whose only crime was professing Jesus as the Messiah.' But he goes on, verse 11, "'And as I punished them often in all the synagogues…'"What is that describing? It's describing the typical synagogue punishment which was the 39 stripes that Paul himself would eventually receive on a number of occasions; this is what he did to Christians. And while he was having them beaten, notice verse 11, "'I tried to force them to blaspheme…'"About stripe 15, Paul began to say, 'listen, this can stop you know. All you have to do is deny that Jesus is the Messiah.' Verse 11, "'…being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.'" That's who Paul was. His religious life is described by himself in Romans 10 when he says, I can tell you what the Jews are like, "they have a zeal for God", but not according to knowledge. Not understanding the righteousness which comes from God, they have set out to pursue a righteousness of their own. That's who Paul was.

But all that changed just outside Damascus, where we enter the most important phase of Paul's life: Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus. The New Testament provides us with three accounts of Paul's conversion. We'll touch on them as we work our way through the book of Romans. Let me encourage you to read them. The first one is the historical record found in Acts 9. The second is in Acts 22, Paul's testimony to the Jewish mob that we've been looking at some this morning. And the third one is found here in Acts 26, where we've just looked –Paul before King Agrippa at Caesarea. Read those three conversion accounts, the historical facts.

Galatians 1:23 says that this is what the churches in Judea were hearing about Paul from others.

Galatians 1:23 says that this is what the churches in Judea were hearing about Paul from others.

Romans

Chapters 9- 11?

Romans

Chapters 9- 11?

And that's exactly how it happened in your life as well. The circumstances may not have been as dramatic as Paul's. The turn-around may not have been as outwardly dramatic as his. But if you're sitting here this morning in Christ, it's not because you were better or brighter than the people around you, you had more sense to come to the conclusion of who Christ was; it's because Christ was seeking you even when you weren't seeking Him. John 6:44, "'No one can come to Me…'" Jesus says, "'…unless the Father…draws him…'"

I love the story of Zacchaeus, a story that's frankly ruined for most of us by early flannelgraph. It is a profound story. Listen, Zacchaeus is not the hero of that story. He climbs up the tree because he's short and he had a curiosity about who's coming by and who this person is. Jesus stops at the tree, says, 'Zacchaeus come down, salvation is coming to your house, today.' And he goes to his house and Zacchaeus is dramatically converted. And how does the story end, what's the punchline? It ends with this: The Son of Man has come to seek, to pursue and to rescue, those who were lost. That's the story of Paul's life, and if you're a Christian, that's the story of your life as well.

There's a second implication. Paul's conversion reminds us that God can save anyone. You ever wondered why God didn't save Paul sooner? Why not when he was a boy? Think of all the trauma God could have spared Saul. Think of all the trauma God could have spared those Christians whose lives were wrecked by his persecution. Why not sooner? The answer Paul gives to us,1 Timothy 1:13 he says, "…I was formerly a blasphemer…a persecutor…a violent aggressor." Notice verse 15, "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am…[the chief] Yet [here's the key] for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the [greatest sinner]…Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life." Listen, God waited to save Paul so that He could give you a powerful illustration that absolutely no one is beyond the reach of God's grace.

I am always aware that there are people who attend our church who are made to come, perhaps kids by their parents, perhaps a spouse brought here by your spouse, you don't really want to be here. Maybe your heart has grown hard toward the gospel, toward Jesus Christ. Maybe you've already begun to sin so much and so badly that you feel there's no hope for you. Listen, every time you open the pages of the New Testament you are confronted by God's design with a man named Paul who tells you that no one is ever beyond the reach of God's grace. To everyone who will repent and believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ, the grace of God is always greater than our sin.

There's a third implication. Paul's conversion is a powerful testimony to the historic fact of the resurrection. Think about this: the one man who was the greatest enemy of Christ in the first century suddenly became its greatest proponent, its greatest teacher, its most gifted writer, its most profound theologian. What produced such a radical change? The answer of course is the miraculous power of the Spirit in regeneration. But the question is: what did the Spirit use in Paul's case? Paul saw the resurrected Christ and it changed everything. There is no more profound personal illustration of the reality of the resurrection than what happened on one day, to Christianity's greatest enemy. He said, 'It's because I saw Him.'

There's a fourth implication. Paul's conversion underscores the transforming power of the gospel. You say, did Paul hear the gospel? Absolutely, Paul heard the gospel. He heard it from Stephen when Stephen spoke in his synagogue. He heard it from Stephen when Stephen gave that famous sermon that's recorded for us in Acts 7. He heard it from countless, unknown Christians as he dragged them out of their homes, and out of their synagogues to torture them and to kill them. That's why he can say in the beginning of this book, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God… [unto] salvation…[unto] everyone who believes, to the Jew first [including a persecutor like me] and also to the Greek."

Listen, the gospel is the power of God to produce spiritual rescue in the lives of sinners, in your life, if you've never experienced that rescue. The good news of what Jesus did on the cross, dying, enduring God's wrath for sinners so that everyone who believes in Him can have eternal life, can have forgiveness of sins. That contains the power of God to rescue sinners. It rescued Paul, if you're a Christian, it rescued you, and through you God can use that message to rescue others. Listen, don't ever be ashamed of the gospel, don't ever be ashamed to sow the seed. Those Christians who shared the gospel with Paul may have died thinking that he would forever be the church's greatest enemy. But they sowed a seed which on the Damascus road was brought to full fruit. Sow the seed of the Gospel in the lives of the people around you. You see, all of us were born as slaves to sin and Satan, but now many of us, by a sovereign act of God's grace, can say what Paul says in Romans 1:1, Tom, Bob, whatever your name is, 'a slave of the Messiah, Jesus.'

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for the profound lesson from the life of this remarkable man. Thank You that he's not the hero of the story. You are, Your Son is. To rescue sinners like that. Thank You for the illustration of how profoundly Your grace can change a life. Thank You for the illustration in many of our lives. Help us never to be ashamed of the gospel. Thank You for Your sovereignty in salvation. Thank You that You can create such a radical change. Thank You for all that you produce and that You showed us in the example of this extraordinary man. Father, may we learn these lessons well, may we embrace the gospel he embraced, may we never be ashamed. I pray for those here this morning, Father, who need to experience Your power in the gospel. May You be drawing them even this morning to Yourself, by a sovereign act of Your grace, even as you did Paul, and even as you did us. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.