Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Lesson 11: Paul: Background and Call

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Biblical Missionaries
Lesson 11: Paul: Background and Call
Paul had been a fanatic! A steel armor encased his heart. He tasted the depths of a hellish hatred of the Messiah. Before his conversion, he had fully expended his energies in fighting against God. He actually hated Jesus Christ and His followers, "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, ... so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1, 2).
Combined with this persecuting zeal was a keen intellectual grasp of the theology of apostate Judaism. At this time he was a wild fanatic in the utmost limits of legalism. No one can be further from the Lord than a legalist fanatic who thinks he is holy and righteous because of his legalism. Paul is not just mouthing polite phrases of contrition when he says he is "chief" of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), "one born out of due time, ... the least of the apostles, ... because I persecuted the church of God" (1 Cor. 15:8, 9). He tasted the depths of a hellish hatred of the Savior. Living before the time of the remnant church, no one has ever in anticipation known more intimately the "dragon's rage with the woman [and] ... the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 12:17).
In the heart of the unconverted Saul of Tarsus flared the fires of the great controversy of Satan against Christ; he was wholly devoted to Satan's side. If he had not been converted when he was, he would very likely have authored the most devilish books of anti-Christ teaching. What would have been the teachings of Saul of Tarsus worked out in the dogmas of the Great Apostasy of the Dark Ages which he described to the Thessalonians in his second letter (2:1-10)?
It was divinely appropriate that this intimate cohort of Satan should be converted on that road to Damascus when he "saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? ... I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting'" (Acts 26:13-15).
Just like Jesus confronting the apostate Jews in His Father's house (the Temple) a few weeks earlier, Paul's approach to them after his conversion is totally confrontational. In a flash, all the learning of his Jewish scholarly past came into focus: Jesus of Nazareth is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! That "light ... brighter than the sun" was a vision of the cross of Christ. Every brain cell was flooded with an intensity of brilliant light; decades of distorted, perverted twisting of biblical truth suddenly were clarified. A panorama flashed like a bright video before his soul's eyes--"Christ and Him crucified."
The breath was knocked out of him; he was paralyzed until the heavenly Voice said, "Rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you" (Acts 26:16).
That vision on the road to Damascus explains his life-long obsession with the preaching of the cross. The eleven apostles were of course henceforth richly blessed in ministry, but a new champion who had never seen Jesus as they had seen Him, but who probably perceived Him more clearly through that vision, was now to proclaim Him to the multitudes. And thank God, Christ is proclaimed to us.
The Lord Jesus sought the soul of Saul of Tarsus while he was "persecuting" Him; all the while the Lord made his way "hard" like kicking against goads (Acts 26:12-15). What glorious good news this is for every earth-bound soul. He is seeking for you like the Good Shepherd seeking His lost sheep to save you from ending your life and health too soon. We can see this Good Shepherd idea in Christ's call to Saul, much more clearly as a result of the 1888 message. [1]
The illustration fits, except that Jesus did not tell of a sheep like Saul, fighting the Shepherd when He came to rescue it. Hard to imagine! But that's what we have all done, time and again. That's what it means, to be a sinner--resisting the grace of God.
Saul of Tarsus learned, however, and he tells us, "I do not frustrate [KJV] the grace of God" (Gal. 2:21). He is, at last, "crucified with Christ" (vs. 20). The Good Shepherd seeking His lost sheep and all the prophets and apostles rebuking us for our sin, even giving their lives in being "crucified with Christ" in order to be faithful, are identical with the ministry of that much more abounding grace of God (cf. Rom. 5:20, 21).
The Lord says to us, we "do not know" what we are doing (Rev. 3:17). It's time to become conscious.
By His uplifted cross and on-going priestly ministry, Christ is drawing "all men" to Himself to repentance. His gracious love is so strong and persistent that the "sinner [must] resist this love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist he will be drawn to Jesus; a knowledge of the plan of salvation will lead him to the foot of the cross in repentance for his sins, which have caused the sufferings of God's dear Son." [2]
Why is this true? Because He has given Himself for "every man," yes, He has given Himself to every man.
When He died on His cross, He did more than save good people. He died for "the ungodly." "When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). It may be hard to say it, but that includes the worst sinners on earth!
The idea that Christ is running a special "shop" of salvation, and He stays inside like a shopkeeper until the sinner takes the initiative to come seek Him out, is not what the Bible says! Because--
Christ is the Good Shepherd who does not wait for the lost sheep to try to find its way home again; He always goes in search of it: "I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep" (John 10:11). The lost sheep may be lost out on the hills on a wild, stormy night; no matter. The Good Shepherd leaves His "ninety and nine" and at the risk of His own life goes out in the wildest storm imaginable through the mountains "until He finds it." He goes "after the one which is lost until He finds it" (Luke 15:4). "The Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (19:10).
Don't imagine that you can save yourself, or that you have grown up on the right side so you are naturally almost saved on your own. If the Lord were to leave us to ourselves, we would be hopelessly lost.
When the Lord Jesus Christ gave His life on His cross, He did not die in vain. He truly saved the world. The despised Samaritans were right when they declared of Him that He is "the Savior of the world" (John 4:42). But how can that be when the great majority of humans on earth do not thus acknowledge Him?
Many do not know it because they have never been told, clearly; and many refuse to believe it when they are told. But that does not lessen the truth that by means of His sacrifice, Christ has bought them, thus guaranteeing their salvation if they do not resist and reject Him. The entire world belongs to Him by virtue of His sacrifice of His blood on His cross.
--Paul E. Penno
[1] E. J. Waggoner, "God arrested Saul in his mad career of persecution, because He had chosen him to be an apostle. So we see that the pricks against which Saul had been kicking were the strivings of the Spirit to turn him to the work to which he had been called" (Signs of the Times, Dec. 8, 1898, p. 771).
[2] Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 27.
Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at: 1888mpm.org