The Lord Knows What He's Doing -- Even When You do Not

Acts 8:1-3
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

Acts 9:1-19
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do." The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, 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 come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "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 his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened.

For almost all of us, life takes some very unexpected twists and turns. We think we have the present figured out only to confront an unexpected turn in life and have nothing figured out. We think we are prepared for the future and life takes a twist. The twist changes our future and we feel alarmingly unprepared. It is amazing how we can feel good about our lives and something happen that turns our lives completely around headed in a direction totally strange to us.

  1. Consider Saul (also known as Paul) as an example.
    1. His family sent him from Tarsus to Jerusalem at an early age to prepare for life by being a devout Jew. (Acts 22:3)
    2. Though he was not born in Palestine, he was conservative as a Jewish theologian, he spoke the language of the Jews in Palestine (Acts 21:40), and was accepted to study as a student under the finest Rabbi of his day, Gamaliel. (Acts 22:3)
      1. He was among the most advanced students of his day. (Galatians 1:13)
      2. He was quite zealous in his beliefs and devoted to the Jewish traditions. (Galatians 1:13)
    3. If ever a man knew he was right and was dedicated to his convictions, Paul was that man.
      1. There were certain things Paul knew beyond doubt or question.
      2. He knew God would work primarily through the people of Israel.
      3. He knew any threat to the nation of Israel was a threat against God's work.
      4. He knew that Jews believing in Jesus' resurrection and Messiahship was a serious internal threat to the people of Israel.
      5. He knew that the most important way to defend God's work was to bring an end to people who believed in Jesus as the Christ.
      6. If that meant arresting, imprisoning, and killing Jewish brothers and sisters, that was okay.
    4. At this point in his life, if anyone told Saul/Paul:
      1. He would become the leading proponent of Christianity.
      2. He would work among the gentiles principally as Christ's apostle to the gentiles.
      3. His primary work among Jewish believers would be trying to get Jewish believers to accept gentile believers.
      4. Never, never, never would he have believed or accepted any of that.

  2. What did Paul understand that completely turned his life around?
    1. He certainly understood that Jesus was factually raised from the dead--that was the first thing he understood on the Damascus Road.
    2. He certainly understood that Jesus was the Messiah the Jews had anticipated for centuries.
      1. In his own defense before Agrippa, he said he was told these things by Jesus:
        Acts 26:14-19 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.' So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision ...
    3. I submit to you that Paul saw and understood something else.
      1. It was not something newly discovered, but something newly understood.
      2. He realized that God's intention from the beginning was universal--it was to save all people.
      3. He realized that Israel was only a vehicle God used to achieve his purpose, not a destination for God's purpose.
      4. There was lots of reason for that understanding:
        1. To Abraham, God said:
          Genesis 12:3 "And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."
          Genesis 22:18 "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice."
        2. To Isaac, God said:
          Genesis 26:4 I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed
        3. To Jacob, God said:
          Genesis 28:14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
        4. Centuries later Paul wrote to the congregations in Galatia:
          Galatians 3:8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the nations will be blessed in you."

  3. To make a point, let me share with you one of the most horrible experiences I have endured in my life to this time.
    1. A few months after we returned from West Africa in 1974, I had a serious case of reverse culture shock.
      1. Reverse culture shock is basically a reaction to your own culture to which you return.
        1. You feel like you do not fit in your culture, that you do not belong in your own country, and that your life is irrelevant to your work and your context for living.
        2. There is an overwhelming feeling of unimportance and insignificance.
        3. You feel undeserving of everything and wish to withdraw from life.
        4. You are scared and feel like there is no direction your life can take that will be important again.
        5. While I never felt suicidal, I often thought of how much better off my family and the church would be if I did not even exist.
      2. To give you some idea of how severe this situation was, let me share some very clear memories with you.
        1. It happened on a Sunday evening just before evening assembly.
        2. It was so obvious that something was wrong that an elder who was a close personal friend asked me, "Is something wrong? Is something going on?"
        3. In the space of one hour, I had severe stage fright, was extremely scared, and did not wish to be around people.
      3. The severe aspect of this experience lasted about three months.
        1. I was so depressed that it amazes me that Joyce would be around me.
        2. I withdrew in every way I could.
        3. There were some days I went to the church building in the morning and could not place my hand on the door to go in.
        4. I literally remember being in the pulpit once and consciously deciding whether to continue or whether to walk out the door and disappear.
      4. In no way would I ever wish to endure that experience again!
        1. I would not willingly go back to it under any condition I have experienced.
        2. Yet, I am happy I had the experience.
        3. I could not count the number of times that experience had been of help to others who were discouraged.
        4. I am delighted with the ways it equipped me, but I would not wish to endure it again.

  4. I am not comparing myself to Paul--there is no comparison, but I am confident that Paul would tell you if he could that he never wished to endure the Damascus Road experience again.
    1. That experience made a man who thought that he was committed to God and was right realize that he had not been committed to God and was horribly mistaken.
      1. Instantly he knew he had helped kill people who were devoted to God, people who had understanding and faith.
      2. Instantly he knew that his faith was founded on his knowledge and not his God.
      3. Instantly he realized he had substituted his understanding for God's purposes.
      4. Instantly he knew he was horribly wrong.
      5. Instantly a very independent man became a truly humbled, helpless man--he who doubted nothing for three days became a man who deeply doubted himself
    2. This man who was truly an expert in Judaism by training was selected by the resurrected Jesus himself to be Jesus' principal messenger to people who were not Jews.
      1. How ironic!
      2. The man who wanted nothing to do with people who refused to be Jewish proselytes became the man who in kindness, sacrifice, and patience sought to lead idol worshippers to Jesus!

  5. Let me call your attention to some important lessons.
    1. Lesson one: realize all physical miracles are temporary.
      1. Every person Jesus fed was hungry again--the next day!
      2. Every sick person Jesus healed came to the end of physical life eventually.
      3. Every dead person Jesus raised from the dead died again.
      4. In Jesus seek much more than the temporary and follow him for a greater reason than "what you can do for me right now"
    2. Lesson two: never forget that God can teach us great lessons through bad experiences.
      1. Bad experiences do not mean God has abandoned us.
      2. The only way truly to understand that God is bigger than evil is to place your confidence in God as you endure a bad experience.
      3. Some critical lessons in being God's person can not be taught if we have only good experiences.
    3. Lesson three: some of the most important lessons God ever will teach you will be through your bad experiences.
      1. The most powerful testimony for Jesus Christ you will ever give to struggling people will be in the context of "been there and done that."
      2. If we are genuinely sincere about calling people out of worldliness into Jesus Christ, we must relate to the people we call.
        1. We cannot be a people who have never experienced hardship.
        2. We must be a people who know what struggle is about.
        3. People will not be impressed with a Savior who refuses to involve himself in human struggles.
        4. People will be impressed with a Savior who is not afraid of human struggle and leads people through human struggle.
        5. If you want God to make maximum use of you in this world, (a) accept hardships and (b) never stop learning from your bad experiences.

Paul would tell you God can forgive any sin you can repent of. He would also tell you it is always possible to begin again.

1 Timothy 1:12-16 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

Will you let Christ minister to you?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 21 May 2006

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