A Message from Paul

Scriptures: Psalm 3; Galatians 1:11-24

Guest speaker: Larry Fletcher

This message is entitled “A Message from Paul,” and we heard who Paul was earlier, when the Scripture was read. I’ll get to him in a minute.

One of the things that I read about was a noted theologian who said, “What we have is a lot of numbers, but we need more Christians.” When I prepared this, I thought to myself, I’m going to speak to people who are here, who are Christians. This part of the message may be to those who are not here. So don’t think I’m – what is the term? – preaching to the choir.

A lot of people choose a church, or choose Jesus, the same way they would buy a new suit or a fancy pair of jeans. If they fit right, if they look good, I think I’ll go there, I think I’ll take care of that. Jesus is maybe just one option of things that you could choose to live your life by. But what we need to know is – and we do know – that He offers the only way to really live.

Now, some church members feel that, well, I go to church, and then they think, well, I can skip this Sunday. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it. And of course, going to church every Sunday does not make you a Christian, does not get you into heaven.

But after a while, people think, well, I’ll get to Communion. Maybe I’ll get there for Easter and Christmas, and that’ll be enough. But we know that that is not the way it is. We need to take our responsibilities as Christians more seriously.

Our Lord had no doubts as to the commission of his church. Following his resurrection, and before his ascension, Jesus met with his disciples. He told them that he could no longer be with them. But he would be with them in spirit.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (This is from Matthew.) The awesome responsibility to carry on our Lord’s earthly mission was not really what those disciples wanted to do.

It would have been much easier if Jesus would have stayed with them. If he would have done the bulk of the preaching, the teaching, the healing of the sick. But now Jesus was saying that he wanted them to go forward, go forward in his name.

They should trust him to give them the boldness to preach his word when the crowds told them to be quiet. Jesus would give them the power to heal when people told them it wouldn’t happen. He would give them courage when the world became hostile to them.

Looking at Scripture, we can see that God has always called on men and women to go forward in bold, almost fanatical ways. Throughout, we see that God calls His people in faith to be bold, for His sake, not ours.

Moses received God’s call to lead the people out of Egypt. As they stood at the Red Sea, when the sea parted, and the Egyptians were coming behind them, the people grumbled.

“I don’t know, Moses. I think we should stay. We don’t know what’s on the other side of the Red Sea. Maybe not a good idea. In fact, some of us think we’d have been better off staying as slaves, because we don’t know what’s up ahead. We should never have listened to you.”

If you remember, Moses told the people to stand firm, and see the salvation that God would work for them that very day. The Lord would fight for them. They only had to be still and to be prepared, and to listen and wait.

Then God told Moses, “Get those people out of there.” Not to let them stand still, but to go forward, and begin.

In the New Testament, the greatest example of moving forward is Paul. Paul was the greatest missionary, the greatest theologian, the greatest teacher of the New Testament. He moved God’s church forward, in spite of the setbacks and threats to his life.

Many of you know the story, but in speaking of his career, Paul said, “Three times I was given the thirty-nine lashes. I was beaten with sticks. I was shipwrecked. Once I was adrift in the ocean for a day and a half. I was run out of town. I was stoned and left for dead.”

He was jailed. He was spit upon. And still, he went forward. Paul was a man who literally staked his life on the new understanding of God that he had found through Jesus. It said that Jews and Gentiles would be molded into a new unity in God through Christ.

Paul truly believed that in Christ there was no East or West, no worst or best. Paul realized that, thanks to the Son of God, who came to seek the lost and save them, condemned by the law, we can never justify the use of the phrase “God-forsaken.”

You’ve heard that: “a God-forsaken place.” Well, stop and think about it. There should not be any of us, or any place that is God-forsaken. Because God is with us everywhere.

But Paul was a hunter of Christians who became the hunted. He was a persecutor who became the persecuted. He was a teacher of the Law, if you remember, but he became a preacher of the Gospel.

Paul was born into a devoted Jewish family in the city of Tarsus. His father was a Pharisee and was a teacher of the law. We know the family was dedicated to the strict observance of the Jewish laws of that time.

He was named, of course, Saul, who was the first king. We know how he later became Paul, on the road to Damascus. That was in the Scripture that the liturgist read, how he was converted.

At the age of thirteen, he went to Jerusalem to study under the guidance of the best rabbis. He was bow-legged. He was of small stature, dark-complected with a big nose. But he had a brilliant mind. And he was very devoted to his religious practices.

At an early age, he heard about the crucified Nazarene who claimed to be the Messiah. He heard about the followers of this Jesus, who had claimed to be dead and rose. And he hated them. He wondered how heretics like this Jesus got as far as they did. He dreamed of putting an end to this Jesus nonsense.

Paul had heard stories about a young Christian named Stephen, who preached stories about the Galilean Christ, and Paul had a great hatred for him. Well, you know what happened. Stephen was arrested, and the crowd wanted to condemn him to death by stoning. Paul held the cloaks of those, and cheered them on, as the first Christian martyr was killed.

Paul decided that his calling was to kill as many Christians as possible. In fact, he became so good at persecuting them, he became somewhat of a bounty hunter. That was why he was traveling to Damascus, when Jesus told him He had a better idea for his life.

In his teachings and in his career, Paul tells us three things that I want to share with you this morning, that will be the basis of what we’re going to learn, I guess.

First, he says that without God’s grace, we are lost. No matter what we have said, no matter what we have done, God’s grace and His forgiveness and His love and His mercy are there for us. Indeed, he told the Christians at Rome, that he was convinced that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.

And secondly – I like this part – Paul likes sports. Do you remember that? He would enjoy, maybe, television today, with all the sports. But he was always comparing athletes and the training. He compared boxers training for a big fight, as how dedicated they were and how determined they were.

He used the image of running a race, as hard and as long as we can, to be a witness to our faith. That was the second thing. Determination and training and pursuing the end, our faith.

And thirdly, he says the followers of Christ can and must make a difference in our world. How do we make a difference in our world?

I’ve got a little story. Not a parable. Maybe it’s an illustration. It’s not true, and you will know it when you hear it. It’s a story.

Three of the most famous preachers/evangelists/leaders of our time… And I look around, and everyone here would know. I thought if I told this story to a youth group, they wouldn’t probably know who I was talking about.

But it appears that Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, and Robert Schuller all passed away on the same day. And they were transported up. When they got to the Pearly Gates, Saint Peter said, “I’m sorry, fellows, but we didn’t plan on you getting here this early. We don’t have any rooms ready for you.”

One of them said, “Well, what are we supposed to do? I mean, we’re here.” Saint Peter said, “Well, it won’t be too long, but we’re just going to have to send you down for a little while.” Billy asked, “You mean we’re going to have to go down to hell?”

“Yes, but it’ll just be for a short time.” So, a short period of time went by, and Saint Peter’s telephone rang. (Great story, right?) It’s Satan. He said, “Would you hurry up with those rooms? We’ve got to get these guys out of here.”

Saint Peter said, “What do you mean?” Satan said, “Well, Oral Roberts is healing the sick, Billy Graham is preaching the Gospel and evangelizing to everybody down here, and Robert Schuller is raising money to air condition this place.”

Paul is the same. He truly is the model for godly living. He shows what happens when we allow God to work in our lives. What that story is, is those three men, who you knew what they did here on earth, they were continuing to do what they could do.

And that’s all we need to do. Everyone can’t be an evangelist. Everyone can’t raise the money that Robert Schuller did. (Only I think the Crystal Cathedral isn’t any more, but that’s beside the point.)

When you and I do our Lord’s work, we cannot always tell what will happen. We don’t know how the people that we tell, how they will react. Jesus has challenged us to bring His message to all of God’s people. Christ has entrusted His Gospel to us. He wants His message to be more than just words on a page, and He wants to be more than just a historical figure.

If you are a Christian – and that’s what I’m speaking to – you were prepared to do His work, however large, however small. We are here to do His work.

Amen.

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