|Lost Causes | My Past is a Lost Cause (Paul)|
|January 14, 2012|
Part 2 of 3 | January 15, 2012
What’s up, ACC? How’s everybody doing? My name is Mike Edmisten, and I’m the Sr. Pastor here at ACC. If you’re here with us for the first time, we’re so excited that you’re here.
Today is the second week in a series of messages called called Lost Causes.
In Psalm 88:4, the Message paraphrase says, “I’m written off as a lost cause, one more statistic, a hopeless case.” (Psalm 88:4, The Message)
All of us have been there. Some of us are still there. We feel like a lost cause.
Last week we talked about our inadequacy. We explored an encounter between God and Moses, and we saw how incredibly and completely inadequate Moses felt to pursue God’s call on his life.
So many times, we feel the same way. We just feel so incredibly inadequate to face the challenges in our lives. We feel so inadequate to do the things that God has called us to do and to be the people that God has called us to be. And the truth is, we are. We are inadequate. But our inadequacy is surpassed by God’s sufficiency. God doesn’t just make up the difference. God is the difference maker.
Today, in the second message in this series, we’re going to talk about our past. For a lot of us, we feel like our past makes us a lost cause.
Today, we’re going to explore the life of Paul. The Apostle Paul. The greatest missionary in history. The one who wrote a ton of the New Testament.
But there is something else that we need to know about Paul. Paul had a past. A dark, dark past.
Let’s pray and we’ll get into the Word of God.
We’re going to start in Acts 7 today. A man named Stephen had been arrested because he was preaching boldly and powerfully about Jesus. This was a huge threat to the religious leaders’ power, so they stirred up a mob to arrest him. They produced false witnesses who lied about what Stephen was saying and doing.
In Acts 7, Stephen appeared before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the highest court in Judaism. It was the most intimidating, frightening experience you could imagine in that culture, but Stephen stood his ground. He took the opportunity, not to plead for his life, but to preach about Jesus. That didn’t go over too well.
Starting in verse 54, “When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
And Saul approved of their killing him.” (Acts 7:54-8:1a, NIV)
The first thing you need to know is that this man named Saul would become the Apostle Paul. Saul is the Hebrew form of the name Paul. This is the man who would be the greatest missionary in history. This is the man who would write book after book in the New Testament. This was how he got his start…by overseeing the execution of a man who loved and preached Jesus.
The Bible says that people laid their coats at Paul’s feet while they stoned Stephen to death. That could mean that he was the highest ranking official at the execution. It could mean that he is the one that gave the final order to kill Stephen. Whatever it means, the Bible is very clear that Paul completely approved of the killing of Stephen.
But it wasn’t just Stephen. Later on, in Acts 26, here’s what Paul said about himself. He said, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities.” (Acts 26:9-11, NIV)
Paul was a serial killer. It wasn’t just Stephen. In Paul’s own words, he had MANY of God’s people imprisoned and executed. He chased them. He hunted them down. The Apostle Paul got his start as a terrorist. I know that’s a super-charged, emotional word in our culture, but seriously, what else would you call him? He was so obsessed with crushing the gospel of Christ that he pursued, imprisoned, and killed every Christian that he could.
That’s what makes this next part of the story so illogical. In fact, it sounds absolutely ridiculous.
Acts 9, starting in verse 1. “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:1-15, NIV)
Do you see how ridiculous this is? This is one of the most improbable, illogical statements in all of Scripture. Paul…this man who was a murderer, a butcher, a religious extremist, a terrorist…was chosen by God. God chose this man to take the message of the gospel to the far reaches of the known world. But the fact that God would choose this man would preach the gospel also reveals the heart of the gospel.
The heart of the gospel is revealed in the next verses in our story from Acts 9.
Starting in verse 16, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:16-19a, NIV)
God sent Ananias to Paul for one reason…to take the blinders off.
That’s a picture of what we’re called to do as the church. Take the blinders off. Let people see Jesus. Because once people see Jesus, the rest just falls into place.
Ananias didn’t go to condemn Paul because of his horrible past, which by the way, wasn’t exactly the distant past. Paul had set out on his mission of murder just three days prior. But Ananias wasn’t sent to condemn Paul for his past. If it was three days ago or three decades ago, the past was the past. Ananias was sent to take the blinders off so Paul could see Jesus in the present.
When the church does that…when we lift the veil…when we take the blinders off…when we show people Jesus, that’s when the full power and beauty of the gospel is realized.
Notice what Ananias didn’t do. Ananias didn’t tell Paul, “Man, you’re really messed up. You really need to go get things straightened out in your life. You’ve really got some work to do. I’m not so sure you’re ready for this commitment. I really think you need to attend our 101 class before you commit to Christ.”
Ananias walked in, took the blinders off, showed him Jesus, and baptized him on the spot. Immediately. No questions. No classes. No second guessing. No condemnation.
This is so simple. It boggles my mind how many times the church has messed this up. This is the simple beauty of the gospel.
The beauty of the gospel is what Paul later wrote in 2 Corinthians 5. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV 1984)
The moment that Ananias took the blinders off, the moment Paul was baptized into Christ, his past was gone. Dead. Never to be resurrected. Paul didn’t have to get himself cleaned up. He allowed Jesus to clean him up.
And the same thing happens with us. Paul isn’t the only one with a past, is he? There is someone in this room who has never gotten over their past. You have never believed that your past could truly be erased. You have never believed that Jesus’ death on the cross is actually enough to pay the price for your ENTIRE past. It sounds too good to be true.
Or maybe you’ve been to a church where you were fed a steady diet of self-righteous, unbiblical, religious baloney. Maybe you were told that you had to get yourself straightened out first. Go clean yourself up, then you can come to Christ. Then you can be part of the church. Do you realize that telling someone to get cleaned up before they come to Christ is like telling someone, “Go get clean so you can take a bath?” It’s counter to everything the gospel is about.
Maybe you were told that you weren’t welcome because your past was just too dark and too sinful. You didn’t fit in with church people. Church people don’t have a past like you do.
I hope you have to come to realize what a load of garbage that is.
Paul wrote in Romans 3, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:23-25a, NIV)
All have sinned. Everyone. If this is your first time at church ever in your life, you are on equal ground with the person that has been here for 60 years. You’re a sinner. So are they. So am I.
And we are all justified freely by the grace of God. Freely. Not because of anything we have done. Not because of anything we can do. But only because of the redemption of Christ. Only because Jesus did what we couldn’t do when He died for our sins. And we simply receive it in faith.
That’s why Ananias didn’t ask Paul a million questions. That’s why he didn’t drudge up Paul’s horrible past. Paul believed in Christ. That was enough. And because of his faith, Ananias baptized him into Christ on the spot. And in that moment, Paul’s past melted into oblivion, because we have a God that has a beautifully terrible memory.
In Isaiah 43, God said, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25, NIV)
When you come to Christ, your past isn’t just forgiven. It’s forgotten. How does an all-knowing God forget? I don’t have a clue. I don’t know how He does it, but I know that He does it.
So can I ask you a really simple question? If God has forgotten your past, why in the world are you still dwelling on it?
A couple of weeks ago, Nicki decided it was time to clean out our closet. So we pulled out all kinds of stuff that we didn’t need anymore. Clothes we don’t wear. Old receipts and financial records that we don’t need anymore. And then she found the box. It was a box with a bunch of stuff from our dating days.
Nicki and I were high school sweethearts. In fact, I gave Nicki an engagement ring as her graduation present. We were young, to say the least.
She pulled out this box and started looking through it. Then she started smiling. Then she started laughing. She had found some old love letters that I had written to her in high school. I had no idea she had saved these things. But the worst part was that she wanted to read them to me.
I listened for about 10 seconds and then I just couldn’t listen anymore. These notes made me sound like an absolute moron. Seriously. I thought I was so smooth and suave when I wrote those things 17 years ago. But hearing those same words today, I realize I wasn’t smooth. I wasn’t suave. I was stupid. I just couldn’t listen to it.
Now, before the women all want to tar and feather me, I’m not anti-romance. In fact, I’m very pro-romance. It’s just that, after almost 15 years of marriage, I’ve actually learned a little bit about what romance is. I actually know a little bit about what I’m doing. These notes are just a record of the idiot that I was in the past, and I don’t want to remember that anymore.
A lot of times, remembering the moron that you were in the past is no fun, is it? Some of you know it all too well, because you’ve never moved on. You still live in the past. There are still things that remind you of the mistakes you made. The people you hurt. The ways you failed. The sins you committed.
Let me show you a couple of verses that are game changers. In 1 John 4, the Bible says, “God is love.” (1 John 4:16b, NIV)
Love is not what God feels. It’s not what God does. It’s who God is. God is love. He is the living definition of love.
And in 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible says that love “keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:5b, NIV)
If God is love, and love keeps no record of wrongs, then God keeps no record of wrongs. Have you ever heard a more amazing, more life-altering truth than that?
Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross and in His resurrection, God forgives and then God forgets. Once you give your life to Christ, the box that is filled with your past is emptied.
That’s why, in Isaiah 43, God said, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19a, NIV)
I believe this Scripture is going to change someone today, so I want to read it again. This is the Word from God for you today. Your Heavenly Father is begging you, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19a, NIV)
God is doing something in your present, but you keep living in the past. God is doing something new, but you keep dwelling on the old. You don’t even perceive the work that God wants to do because you’ve never let go of what you have done.
Today can be the day when that changes. Forever.
In Galatians 2, Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NIV)
If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have been crucified with Him. Your brokenness, your sinfulness, your past has been put to death. And now, Paul reminds you that you have been given a new life. It’s a life of faith in the Son of God. Not faith in what you can do. Faith in what He has done. He loved you. He gave Himself up for you.
Your past has been crucified…but you’ve got to be willing to let it die.
If you don’t let it die, it won’t let you live.
A couple of years ago, I forgot to take the trash out to the street on Monday night. The garbage truck came and went, and I missed it. Not that big of a deal, right? Wrong. A couple of years ago, we still had a baby in diapers. Guess where all those dirty diapers went? In the trash can that was sitting in our garage. When you’ve got a garbage can full of dirty diapers, missing the garbage truck becomes a big deal, doesn’t it?
So we had, not just one, but two weeks worth of dirty diapers piling up in our trash can. And it was August. Our garage was like 150°. We had a trash can that was filled with two weeks worth of dirty diapers. You can imagine the pleasant environment that was created in our garage.
I’ll tell you this…I didn’t miss the garbage truck again. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve never missed it since then.
It’s crazy to live in this kind of stench when you don’t have to. This didn’t have to happen. There is a big ol’ truck that drives through my neighborhood every single week, and it’s sole purpose is to take my garbage. All I have to do is give them my garbage, and they take it away.
Can I tell you something? All you have got to do is give Jesus your garbage, and He takes it away. But a lot of you are choosing to live in the stench. You’re choosing to remain in the filth. You’re choosing to hang onto your garbage instead of letting it go.
In Psalm 103, the Bible says, “[God] does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:10-12, NIV)
God wants to take your past, your sin, your garbage, and He wants to remove it from you as far as the east is from the west. But God needs a willing partner. He wants to take your garbage, but it’s up to you set the trash can out. He wants to take your sin and erase your past, but you’ve got to be willing to give it up.
But when you do give it up, when you surrender your past to Jesus, something incredible happens. He changes you from the inside out.
Let’s go back to Paul. We know all about his past. In Acts 8, the Bible says, “But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3, NIV)
Paul was so committed to destroying the gospel that he went from house to house, dragging Christians off to prison where they would be executed. That’s quite a past.
But now, check this out. In Acts 20, Paul said, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.” (Acts 20:20, NIV)
Paul is still going from house to house, but instead of persecuting, he’s preaching.
What changed? The blinders came off and Paul saw Jesus. That’s what changed.
The only difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is Christ. That’s it. Jesus is the game changer. Jesus is the difference maker. Jesus is the one who puts our past to death and gives us a new life.
One more Scripture. And yes, it’s one more that Paul himself wrote. In Philippians 3, Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14, NIV)
Forgetting what is behind. Paul had a lot to forget. So do I. So do you. Not only is our past broken and dark and sinful, but we also have an enemy that constantly reminds us about it. How many times have you heard, “God couldn’t love you. Look at what you’ve done. I know he’s up there talking about forgiveness and grace, but you’ve got to know that’s not for you. Somebody else, maybe…but not you. Look at you. Look at what you’ve done. Forgiveness? Grace? Don’t count it.”
Forgetting the past isn’t easy…but it is essential. It can be a daily struggle. Paul said, “One thing I do. I forget what is behind and I strain toward what is ahead.” It’s a strain. It’s a struggle. It’s a fight.
But we push ahead toward the goal. We strain toward the prize that God has called us to. That prize doesn’t lie in our past. It’s grace that lies in our present and eternal life that lies in our future.
|< Prev||Next >|