Saul’s life begins with unbelievable grace, and the result of that is unbelievable glory.
Saul was this terrible, wretch of a man who was the greatest persecutor of the early Christian church. But Jesus took hold of his life in powerful and undeniable ways, leading to his conversion from enemy to ally. After Saul’s conversion, God moved and his glory was shown in 3 ways that we’ll talk about tonight, but one thing to note is that Saul was now referred to as Paul. So though there are two different names, this text is referring to the same person. Saul is Paul.
This weekend we defined grace as unearned kindness and undeserved forgiveness.
God gives us grace. He pours it out on us. Freely and when we don’t deserve it. He pours out forgiveness. It’s out of control and it never ends. And that’s hard for us, because we are taught to earn and work for success. We are taught that we are defined by our successes and our failures. We are taught that we need to fight to be good.
But grace changes all of that. Grace comes in and sweeps all of our notions of what is deserved away. We have trouble with grace because we think WE need to be GOOD. But Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.
Grace didn’t take a bad man and make him good. Grace took Saul, a dead man, and caused him to live. And that’s amazing and humbling and such a gift.
We then talked about glory with this:
“Grace and glory differ very little. One is the seed, the other is the flower. Grace is glory militant, and glory is grace triumphant.”
Grace is glory militant. Grace is glory in action. It’s glory in the fight. But glory, glory is grace triumphant. Glory is when grace has won. Glory is grace’s trophy of victory.
So last week we saw the first part: grace is glory militant. We saw grace in the fight for Saul’s heart. Saul’s wretched life was taken over and Jesus said, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
So grace reigned in his life. And Ananias prayed over him, and Saul was baptized and believed. And the result was glory. But glory looks different than what we may assume. Because when you read about the life of Paul, and the things he endured, and the life he lived, you wouldn’t immediately see triumph. You wouldn’t immediately think victory. But I want to walk through tonight how God was glorified in Paul’s position, his pursuit, and his persecution, and how that translates to your position, pursuit, and persecution.
Saul was one of the most powerful men of his times. He had nearly complete rule and reign in his area. He had approval from the chief priests to do whatever he wanted. He had money and power and prestige. He had power in his position. So what happens when one of the most powerful men, known for persecuting the church, suddenly goes from enemy to ally?
People notice. People take note. Remember, Ananias’s first response to Jesus was “Are you sure about this? I’ve heard who this man is.”
After Saul’s conversion, he spent days with the disciples in Damascus. (Keep in mind, this is the place he was headed toward to arrest and throw in prison the people who were following Jesus.) Acts 9:20 says, “Immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is this not the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon his name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”
Paul’s position made this all the more intriguing. These people knew his power and his reach, and he knew it too. So whenever Paul had the chance, he got up and spoke. In Acts 13, he stood in front of the rulers of the synagogue and proclaimed Jesus. He spoke these words: “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” Now this was legendary. This man, who lived his life defending the law of Moses, who had the first 5 books of the Bible memorized, who imprisoned, persecuted, and killed to defend these laws, is now acknowledging that this old law was not able to set them free from their sin.
It would have been understandable for Paul to be weary of proclaiming Christ to the people he ruled over. He had been so set in his ways, so firm in them that he killed for them. But Paul saw the opportunity and he took it. He understood his position wasn’t just given to him when he was an enemy, but that he could still use it as an ally. He stood up for the gospel and used his position to reach the people around him with this good news.
Glory came in Paul’s pursuit. Paul is widely known because of his pursuit of getting the Gospel out. Getting the knowledge of Jesus out to everyone and everywhere. Really, from the moment Saul went from enemy to ally, he immediately proclaimed Jesus. He would teach in the synagogues, to the people, and then move along. He spent time with the disciples learning, and then he would immediately go out and preach what he knew to be true. Acts 9:31 says “And walking in fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the church multiplied.”
Paul was so obedient in every way. In Acts 13, while worshiping, the Holy Spirit said “Set apart for me Saul for the work to which I have called him.” Remember, back in Acts 9, Jesus said that Saul was a chosen instrument of His to carry His name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. Saul was to carry the name of Jesus outward, to the ends of the earth. He knew the call Jesus left is Acts 1:8, for his name to be proclaimed in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth, and he pursued that fully. He went from region to region, taking disciples with him, preaching the word, starting churches, and proclaiming Christ. People were converted. Lives where changed. Acts 13:49 says, “The word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.” He spoke in a way that both Jews and Greeks believed. People who had spent their whole lives living one way were transformed by the grace of God and were giving their lives to Jesus. From kingdom to kingdom, Paul pursued his calling. He learned from and with the disciples, and then went out and proclaimed what he knew to be true.
These books in the New Testament? 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, these are all letters to churches that Paul started. All over the region, from Europe to Asia, Paul was traveling and sailing and walking and taking the Gospel to these places.
And take note on this: we are here today because these things happened. We are here tonight because Paul took the call in Acts 1:8 seriously, to take the message to the ends of the earth. We are here because these things happened.
God’s glory also showed in Paul’s persecution. It’s interesting that Saul went from being the greatest persecutor of the church to being one of the most persecuted of the church. Everywhere Paul went he received opposition. When he first went from enemy to ally, Jews plotted to kill him, and the disciples had to sneak him into a house by lowering him in through an opening in the wall. In Acts 14, Paul was interrupted during his preaching, dragged out of the city, and stoned until they thought he was dead. But the disciples got around him and found out he wasn’t dead, and Paul “rose up and entered the city.” Verse 21 says he “preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in prison. They’ve been once again seized and dragged in front of people, and they were beaten and jailed. So starting in verse 25:
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
COME ON. This is insane. They’re in prison. After being beaten. And I can just imagine them singing these songs, loud enough that all the other prisoners can’t ignore it. And the prisoners are listening to the words and hearing these men pray together. Even in their chains, they’re praising God. And an earthquake comes, aka Jesus shows up, and their doors are opened and their chains are loosened.
But do these guys run? Do they flee? No. They stay put. They use this as an opportunity. So this prison guard wakes up and sees that he blew it, and is about to take his own life. But Paul speaks up. And this prison guard encounters grace in that moment. And glory follows: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
In Paul’s position, his pursuit, and his persecution, grace is triumphant.
Paul goes on to spend his life traveling to the ends of the earth preaching the gospel. People try to kill him many times; he is arrested many times, and ends up living out his days in prison. But none of these things keep him from praising Jesus and proclaiming his grace. Paul’s final days were spent writing letters to the churches he started, pleading with them to give their lives to Christ. The grace that was poured on him resulted in glorious victory for Jesus’s kingdom.
Glory is grace’s trophy of victory.
We each have positions in life. We each have places in our lives where our position is valuable, and is an opportunity for the Gospel to be shared. And we always have two options: to share the grace of God with others, or to keep it to ourselves. No one lives a life where they are not valued, and where you are valued, you are heard. Use your position to reach the people around you with the Good News.
Let God’s glory be grace’s trophy of victory. In your positions and in your pursuit. Pursue him. Life is not flat terrain; it’s an uphill climb. If we’re not in pursuit, we’re rolling backwards.
And let God’s glory reign in your persecution.
Your pursuit of Jesus will not always result in a pat on the back. It will not always result in praise. And there’s a good chance that it won’t result in imprisonment like it did for Paul. But it will result in hardships. And trials. And tough conversations. But in those situations, God’s glory shines. Those situations are tough and difficult and trying, but they are grace’s trophies of victory.