We finished reading at verse 23 where Paul describes the resurrection of Christ. I want you to look at the reaction of Festus in verse 24: Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!” That is the reaction of many to the resurrection story. It was the reaction of Paul. He thought the Christian teaching of Christ’s resurrection was preposterous. But that skeptic Paul was convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that Christ had indeed risen from the dead. In verse 25 Paul responds. But he said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. Paul is saying that the doctrine of the resurrection does not require a blind leap of faith. It is a most reasonable teaching that is grounded in truth. In fact, it is so reasonable a doctrine, that Acts 1:3 says there are many infallible proofs of the resurrection. Many infallible proofs.
They are such persuasive proofs that even unbelievers have acknowledged the resurrection of Christ. When I was in California, a Jewish professor said that he had become convinced by overwhelming evidence that Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead - somehow. Now he wasn’t a believer. He went on to say that many other strange things have happened in this universe and He does not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. But he said that he could not deny the reality of the resurrection and be intellectually honest.
And so today I want to move beyond the proofs of the resurrection, and look at the testimonies of skeptics, ministers and transformed believers who have experienced the reality of the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. You see, Resurrection Day does not just celebrate a doctrine to be believed. It is a doctrine; a very important doctrine. But it is also about the ongoing ministry of a risen and powerful Savior who is present in this building today. And because of His ministry, skeptics continue to believe and be transformed.
The Testimony of Skeptics Like Paul (vv. 12-15)
Skeptics Who Have Been Stopped In Their Tracks (vs. 12-14)
Actually, Paul was more than just a skeptic. He was a vigorous opponent of Christians. In verses 9-11 he stated how he fought Christ and denied His existence with a passion and a fury. He was responsible for putting Christians to death. And then in verses 12-15 he explains how he was stopped in his tracks and converted from an opponent to a proponent. Let's read that. Verses 12-15. While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.
He found it pretty hard to argue. And down through history there have been many hostile skeptics who have been stopped in their tracks. Some have been shaken up with a supernatural event like Paul was. My Dad told the story of a missionary who was surrounded by a hostile tribe and about to be killed. The missionary didn’t know what to do, and without thinking blurted out “My God can move mountains and cast them into the sea.” The tribal chief laughed and said, “If your God can move that mountain, we will not kill you.” The missionary lacked faith, but apparently those with him did not, because as he prayed, an earthquake shook the earth and half the mountain slid into the sea. The entire tribe was opened to the Gospel. And there have been numerous supernatural events showing the reality of Christ’s presence to skeptics.
Let me tell you one that happened in 1995. These skeptics believed in the supernatural, but didn’t believe in Jesus.
Jesu Das is an evangelist in India. When he arrived at one village in early 1995, he was horrified by the incredible demonism manifested in the village. There were no believers there so he started preaching in the marketplace. As many came to know the Lord the priests became outraged and warned him that if he did not leave the village they would call on their gods to kill him, his wife and their children. But Jesu Das did not leave. After some weeks the witch doctors came back to him asking him of his secret power. And he was kind of puzzled by this, but they said this (and let me quote from the K.P. Yohannan's magazine.
“This is the first time that our power did not work. After doing the pujas, we asked the spirits to go and kill your family. But the spirits came back and told us they could not approach you or your family because you were always surrounded by fire. Then we called more powerful spirits to come after you- but they too returned, saying not only were you surrounded by fire, but angels were also around you all the time.”
Jesu Das told them about Christ. The Holy Spirit convicted each of them of their sins and of judgment to come. And with tears, they repented, renouncing ther gods and idols and became Christians. As a result, hundreds of villagers followed suit. Skeptics, stopped in their tracks by a realization that Christ is alive, and He is the King of this universe. Amen?
But Paul also speaks of the intellectual dimension which convinced Him. In verse 25 he said, I speak words of truth and reason. And there have been many, many skeptics down through history who set out to intellectually attack the Bible and ended up being converted. Did you know that the author of Ben Hur actually started writing the book to refute the idea that Christ was God? The agnostic, Ingersol challenged Wallace to use his lawyer’s mind to strip Christ of His divinity and paint him as a man; to write a romance story on the subject. Wallace took him up on the challenge and initially wrote Ben Hur to present Christ as a mere man. His study of the Bible so gripped his heart that he became first convinced of the truthfulness of the account and then that Christ was God. He finally became a Christian and wrote Ben Hur from a Christian point of view.
Frank Morrison, set out to write a book disproving the resurrection and was so overwhelmed by the evidence that he became a Christian and wrote the classic defence of the resurrection, Who Moved The Stone? Sir William Ramsey thought the Bible was fraudulent and and did extensive research in Asia Minor and Palestine to discredit the Bible. And through his research submitted His life to the risen Lord and wrote numerous books on archeology showing the truthfulness of its record. Giovanni Papini was an Italian atheist who wrote the Life of Christ to discredit Christianity. His study convinced him of the resurrection, the truthfulness of the Bible and He was converted and transformed. And there are numerous skeptics who came to agree with Paul, I speak the words of truth and reason.
Skeptics Who Have Unsuccessfully Resisted Conviction (vs. 14)
But Paul goes on and talks about the work that Christ had been doing inside of his life. Paul had been fighting conviction, a conviction that Christ had been bringing. In the last half of verse 14 Christ said, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Cattle goads were sharp instruments that prodded cattle in a certain direction. And long before this experience Christ says that He had been pricking Paul’s conscience; goading him in a certain direction. Paul had been resisting, but there came a time when he could resist no longer. And there are many skeptics who have given similar testimony. They have deep down known the truth, and been uneasy about their resistance to Christianity, and had resisted and resisted until Christ had finally been too much for them, and they cried uncle.
Let me quote at length from C.S. Lewis, since many of you are fond of his writings. If you read his letters, you can see antagonism to Christianity, turning to conviction turning to conversion. In March 31, 1928, Lewis wrote a letter to his father in which he mocked Christianity. He said, “There is a religious revival going on among our undergraduates... run by a Dr. Buchman. He gets a number of young men together... and they confess their sins to one another. Jolly, ain’t it? But what can you do? If you try to supress it, you only make martyrs.”
Two years later he complained to a friend, Owen Barfield, that his conscience was bothering him terribly. He said, the “...‘Real I’ is showing an alarming tendancy to become much more personal and is taking the offensive, and behaving just like God. You’d better come on Monday at the latest or I may have entered a monastery.” Later C.S. Lewis relates his conversion story. He first became convinced of the existence of God. He said, “I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England... a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.” (#252) Later he became converted to full orbed Christianity. He says, “To accept the Incarnation was a further step in the same direction. It brings God nearer, or near in a new way. And this, I found, was something I had not wanted. But to recognize the ground for my evasion was of course to recognize both its shame and its futility. I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion.” (#254)
Perhaps you, like Paul and C.S. Lewis, have been like a cow, kicking against the goads, convicted, but unwilling to submit. Christ will have His way with you, and it is better to submit early than late. I love the story of the man converted to Christ in a tree. I told it last Wednesday evening, but let me repeat it for the rest of you. This man had been resisting the conviction of Christ for years, but was curious to watch George Whitefield when Whitefield was in the area. He had heard so many unusual stories about him, and had heard that hundreds of thousands came out to hear him, so out of curiosity he climbed a tree to watch for a few minutes. But, fooling himself into believing that he was just wanting to be objective, he put his fingers in his ears so that he wouldn’t hear what was being said. A fly kept landing on his nose and he tried to shake his head and blow it off, but the persistant fly kept landing. Finally, he removed a hand from one of his ears and swiped at the fly only to hear the words of Whitefield booming out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. And Christ broke through into his life and claimed him. In God's good timing skeptics cannot resist His conviction.
Skeptics Who Have Seen Their Lives Prepared By God (v. 16)
But Paul went on in verse 16 to say that even while he had been a skeptic, Christ had been moulding and preparing him. Christ here says, But 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 reveal to you. Christ had been preparing him to be a witness. I think of the story of Leja Messenger. She was once a Russian baroness with a 300-room castle, who in later years lived in Michigan. The ex-baroness met God in a remarkable way just before the Russian revolution. One day during World War I, the baroness admitted stretcher bearers carrying a young boy, about 15, covered with bloody rags. A shell explosion had exposed both his skull and lungs and it seemed a miracle that he was alive. The bearers placed him in the great ballroom and the baroness knelt beside him. Realizing that he was dying, she asked if he had a last message. "No last message, lady," he said, "but would you help me pray?" The baroness panicked. Not knowing how to pray herself, she looked around frantically for a priest but saw none. She thought of the Lord's Prayer but could not remember the words. "Too late," he moaned. "I'm lost. I'm lost." He kept repeating the words. As the baroness remembered in her memoirs, "I felt I was dying too. Then suddenly as if my brain cells were saying words I didn't recognize at first, I was saying the words of John 3:16 [a nun had taught her this verse in a girls' school]. God was prompting me." The boy's face lighted briefly, then he moaned again. "Too late. I'm lost." As if in a trance, the baroness heard herself speak. "Didn't you hear? Whoseover believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. You must believe before it is too late." While she begged the boy to believe, her own heart was changed. Now she says, "He died believing in Jesus Christ. I lived believing. God came to me at that moment and revealed Himself."1
If Christ were just a doctrine, these things would not happen thousands and thousands of times over. But Jesus is the risen Lord and Savior and He continues to control events in our lives to draw us to Christ. The testimonies of skeptics cannot be explained away. They were hostile to Christ, yet came and acknowledged him as Lord and Savior.
The Testimony of Ministers (vv. vv. 16-18)
Their Encounters With Christ (v. 16)
But we can move on to the testimonies of ministers. Paul was set aside as a minister, and many times he gave this testimony of his personal encounter with Jesus. On another occasion, Jesus visited him and told him not to be afraid since he had many converts in that particular city. And I as a minister can beseech you to bow before Christ because I know Him, and I know that without Him you will perish. He died and is risen for your salvation. I could recount many stories of my personal encounters with Christ, but let me tell you one short one by Bishop Lajos Ordass of the Hungarian Lutheran church. He has told of the years he spent in a communist jail. He said, “They placed me in solitary confinement. It was a tiny cell, perhaps six feet by eight feet, with no windows, and soundproofed. They hoped to break down my resistance by isolating me from all sensory perceptions. They thought I was alone. They were wrong. The risen Christ was present in that room, and in communion with him I was able to prevail.” And countless numbers of ministers who have been imprisoned behind the iron and bamboo curtains have told similar stories of Christ’s powerful presence with them, sustaining them, comforting them and giving them joy. This whole past week Christ Community Church has put the marvelous play of the Reformed pastor whom God used to bring that nation to its knees.
If you have not experienced a personal union and communion with Christ, you can. It is not just the heritage of preachers. In verse 14 Christ said,, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? To persecute any Christian is to persecute Christ. In verse 15 Christ said, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Christ is so close to His people, that anything done to one of us He says is done to Him. In Matthew 25 Christ says that when you feed, clothe or in other ways minister to believers, you are ministering to Christ. Have you experienced that kind of closeness with Christ? If not, it may be that you are professing Christ, but do not have the reality. Christ invites you, If you seek Me with all your heart, you shall surely find Me.
Their Personal Transformation For Ministry (v. 16)
Countless stories could be used to illustrate point B, of how God has transformed the most unlikely of characters into ministers. John Newton was a slave trader, a drunkard, a murderer, a blasphemer. Yet God pulled him out of his mess and made him a minister like he made Paul a minister, and Newton blessed the lives of thousands in his lifetime and of millions through his writings and his hymns.
Miraculous Provisions (v. 17)
In verse 17, Christ tells Paul that he will be able to give many stories of deliverance and protection until his ministry would be done. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you. If Christ is a far and distant person to you, then you need to start reading biographies of the stories of ministers and missionaries. The story Peace Child by Don Richardson has made me weep with joy at Christ’s powerful working through ordinary men and women. And there are hundreds of such stories that can increase your faith in our risen Lord. But I want to end by looking briefly at the kind of life transformation that Christ can produce in the most hardened of people.
The Testimony of Transformed People (v. 18)
If opponents of the Gospel want to argue with Christ, then they need to be able to account for transformed lives. Dr. Harry Ironside was walking down a San Francisco street in his early ministry and the Salvation army was holding a street service. The captain recognized him and asked him to preach. Ironside gladly obliged. After the sermon, a well-dressed gentleman stepped up to Dr. Ironside and handed him a card on which he had been writing. On one side was his name, Arthur Morrow Lewis, the well known agnostic lecturer. On th eother side he had written, “Sir, I challenge you to debate with me the question, ‘Agnoticism versus Christianity’ in the Academy of Sciences Hall next Sunday afternoon at 4 pm. I will pay all expenses.
Dr. Ironisde read the card aloud and replied. “Mr. Lewis, I already have an engagement for next Sunday at 3 o’colck, but, if necessary, I think I could cancel it. I am disposed to accept your challenge and will if it is really worthwhile. But in order to prove that you have something worth debating, I accept on these conditions: First, that you promise to bring with you to the platform next Sunday one man who was once an outcast, a slave to sinful habits, but who on some occasion heard you or some other infidel lecture on agnosticism, and was so helped by it that he cast away his sins, became a new man, and is today a respected member of society, all because of his unbelief. Second, that you will aslo agree to bring with you one woman who was once lost to all purity and goodness, an abandoned female sunk in the depths of depravity, but who can now testify that agnosticism came to her while deep down in sin and implanted a new hatred of impurity in her poor heart, putting a new power into her life and delivering her from her base desires, and making her now a clean, chaste woman, all through disbelieving in God and the Bible. Now, sir, if you will agree to these conditions, I will promise to be there with one hundred men and women who were once just such lost souls as I have described but who heard the precious gospel of the grace of God, who believed it and ever since have hated sin and loved righteousness and have found new life and joy in Christ Jesus, the Savior Whom you deny. Will you accept my terms?:”
Arthur Lewis shook his head and turned away while the crowd applauded. You see, even religion does not make that kind of change. It is evidence of a supernatural power. Verse 18 summarizes the Christian life with six short phrases. It says first:
Blind Eyes Opened (v. 18a)
to open their eyes. How many countless individuals have spoken of their blindness to the Gospel being taken away in one day. I think this blindness is especially remarkable with Jews who read Scriptures repeatedly which describe Christ, and yet cannot see Him. 2 Corinthians 3 speaks of the blindess of the Jews. Paul says, But their minds were hardened. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. I think of the testimony of Manny Brotman who was converted from Judaism to Biblical faith. He had read the Old Testament over and over again. He knew all the prophecies of the Messiah, but did not know the Messiah. It suddenly dawned on him that only one person had ever looked like the Messiah, Jesus. He said,
“It was like being in a dark room and somebody suddenly turned on the lights! God who had been a million miles away, all of a sudden came closer than my mother, my sister, my hands or even my breath! I really found the peace and the purpose and the joy and the reality for which I had been seeking!!”2
Blind eyes opened.
Turned From Darkness (v. 18b)
Paul goes on to say, and to turn them from darkness to light. Having grown up in Ethiopia, the term darkness is a very meaningful description for me. We saw such darkness of ignorance and sinful filthiness that when these men and women were converted, the immediate transformation was remarkable. You could see the light on their faces, and they certainly spoke of the light on their souls.
Liberated From Satan’s Power (v. 18c)
The next phrase which shows this remarkable power: Paul said, and from the power of Satan to God. How can you explain a demoniac calm, clothed and in his right mind upon receiving the Gospel? There is no power known to man that can tame such people, except for the Gospel of Christ. I have told you many stories of Christ’s power being far greater than the greatest of Satan’s power, but let me give you one more. In 1996, Manjula, an Indian holy woman who had been dedicated to certain gods since childhood, was converted. She had previously had quite a following of people who relied on her power for healing. But one day she found herself paralyzed and unable to move. She figured that an evil spirit must be assailing her, so she had her friends appeal to her gods, Kali, a goddess requiring blood sacrifice and Durga, a god of destruction, to drive away this spirit. She carefully explained all the procedures to them, which they followed through on. However, when they came back from the temple, she was no different. She concluded that the spirit was more powerful than her gods and sought out other gods. Her hopes faded when after three years her gods were still unable to help her. She was totally dependant upon other people to feed, bathe and care for her.
In 1996, Simon Kujur, a graduate of Gospel for Asia’s Bible school in Bihar, India, went to that village to do evangelism. He heard about Manjula and felt that God was sending him to her. As he entered her room, he was stirred with compassion and told her what Jesus could do for her. At her request, he rebuked the demon in Jesus name and immediately Manjula could move her body. Overjoyed she prayed the following prayer: “Dear Jesus, I was blind and under the bondage of demons and idol worship. Now I realize that you are the living God. I believe in you. Please forgive my sins and come into my life.” When she finished, her whole being overflowed with tremendous joy and asurance that Jesus had forgiven her and saved her. Twenty people gave their lives to Christ after witnessing this.
Assurance Of Sins Forgiven (v. 18d)
Story after story could be told of the assurance that Christ gives of sins forgiven. Of the new power and resources that the redeemed have in Christ, and of their sanctification. Paul ends by listing those three ministries of Christ in our lives. he says, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me. That is Christ’s purpose in every believer’s life. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places with Christ, says Ephesians 1. Yet how many of us live like paupers? We have an inheritance, yet we neglect it. Does your Christianity merely remember what happend on that first resurrection day, or have you experienced the reality of the risen Lord in your life. Let me end with one more testimony. This time it is the testimony of men who were made ready to die. And as I tell this story, I want you to ask if your life is described by verse 18. If it is not, you need to turn to our risen Lord as these men did.
Rich Resources Tapped (v. 18e)
Growth In Grace (v. 18f)
This story happened during the Finnish-Russian war. It was witnessed by a Finnish officer who came to Christ through what he saw. Let me read the account as told by Robert Coleman.
After one of the battles, a number of Red prisoners were placed under [this Finnish officer’s] guard, seven of whom were sentenced to be shot at dawn the next day. Confined in a cold basement room, the condemned men, with unrestrained anguish, swore and beat on the walls with their bleeding fists.
However, the officer, standing alongside, noticed one prisoner, Koskinen by name, who was different from the rest. While the others raved and cursed, he sat quietly on his bench. Then, after a while, in a wavering voice that grew stronger, he began to sing:
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast,
There by His love o’er shaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.
Over and over he sang the words. When he stopped, a wild-looking man erupted, “Where did you get that, you fool?”
The man looked at his comrades with tear-filled eyes and replied, “You ask me where I got this song? It was from the Salvation Army - I heard it three weeks ago. My mother sang about Jesus and prayed to Him.”
He paused a moment, as if to gather courage. Then, rising to his feet and looking straight in front of him, he said, “It is cowardly to hide your beliefs. The God my mother believed in is now my God. As I lay awake, I saw mother’s face before me. It reminded me of the song I heard. I prayed that Christ would forgive me and make me ready to stand before Him...Since then, this verse has been sounding within me. I can no longer keep it to myself.”
“You are right,” said one comrade. “If only I knew there was mercy for me, too, but I have reviled God and trampled on all that is holy.” Sinking to the floor in despair, he groaned, “Pray for me, Koskinen.”
The two Red soldiers went down on their knees and prayed for each other. It was no long prayer - but it reached heaven. A door seemed to open to another world, and everyone sensed the nearness of an unseen hallowed Prescence. Before long, all the prisoners were on their faces before God. As they prayed and wept, an indescribable change took place. The Spirit of God filled the room, and the conversation turned to spiritual things - truth hidden from kings and queens, but revealed to babes.
Occasionally they would break into singing, not only the favorite song of Koskinen, but verses and choruses of others long forgotten. The soldiers on guard united with them, for the power of God had touched them all. The angels must have joined in, too, as Zion’s praises resounded through the crisp early-morning air.
At daybreak, as the first rays of light came over the horizon, the condemned men were marched out to the place of execution. Standing before the firing squad, they asked that the usual covering not be placed over their heads and that they be allowed to sing, for one last time, Koskinen’s song. Permission was granted. So before the command to fire was given, the seven men lifted their hands to heaven and, with uncovered faces, sang with all their might:
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast,
There by his love o’er shaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.
Hark! it’s the voice of angels,
Borne in a song to me,
Over the fields of jasper,
Over the crystal sea.
The story doesn’t tell if they were able to finish the hymn before they were shot. But the hymn goes on to tell how you can know Jesus in this personal way as well. It says
Jesus, my heart’s dear Refuge,
Jesus has died for me
Firm on the Rock of Ages
Ever my trust shall be.
Here let me wait with patience;
Wait till the night is o’er;
Wait till I see the morning
Break on the golden shore.
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast,
There by His love o’er shaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.
Jesus calls you this morning, and all the angels of heaven becken you to come to the risen Savior. Put your trust in His finished work of redemption. Tell Him that you now believe that His death is sufficient to save you from your sins. Tell Him that you are resolved to follow Him wherever He may lead you. As you do, He will give you a joy unspeakable and full of glory; a joy that passes our understanding; a joy that will make you want to enthrone Him on your praises. We will give you an opportunity to sing of His majesty in a moment, but let’s go to Him in prayer and commit our lives to Him.
For our missions spot today I want to give an illustration of the power of Christ’s ministry today. It is understandable when a religion like Isalm spreads because of the sword, or when peer pressure keeps people from changing religions. But mere sociology cannot explain the spread of Christianity in the most hostile of environments, or the transformation of the most notorious lives. In our sermon today we will be seeing that every day of every year there are living testimonies to the power and presence of a living Savior. Let me tell you about a man in Nepal who has taken his stand against great odds. In 1960 there were only 25 Christians in that country. Christianity is absolutely forbidden in that Hindu country. Now there are 100,000. Let me tell you how this success story came about. An unbeliever from Nepal was studying in the states and was converted and discipled before he went back to Nepal. Christians here had taken seriously a University Ministry with foreign students. When this man went back he planted a church and was imprisoned for his faith along with his congregation. His fellow prisoners asked him what his crime was. He told them it was for preaching the gospel. They asked what that was. He told them and people came to Christ. He planted a church in that jail that grew strong in their witness. He was transferred during the time he spent in prison to 14 different jails and planted 14 churches representing every language and ethnic group in Nepal. He was finally sent to an insane asylum. While there the Lord used him to cast out many demons and to heal many diseases. Another church was planted. Today there are 100,000 believers in Nepal. Here was a man who saw himself as part of an army, and whatever post God transfered him to he stood strong in the Lord.
God can use us as well.