Sunday June 9th
I heard about a Baptist preacher and his wife who decided to get a new dog. But because of their denominational beliefs they wanted to make sure that the dog was a Baptist too. Finally, they found a kennel owner who assured them that he had just the dog they wanted. The pastor asked, “How can we be sure that he’s a Baptist?” “Watch this” the kennel owner said.
“Fetch the Bible,” he commanded. And the dog ran over to the bookshelf, scanned the books, located the Bible, and brought it to the owner. “Now find Psalm 23,” he commanded. The dog placed the Bible on the floor and turned the pages, pointing to the 23rd Psalm with his paw. The pastor and his wife were very impressed and asked the kennel owner, “Can he do regular tricks, too?”
“Sure he can” the kennel owner replied. He pointed his finger at the dog and commanded “HEEL!”
The dog jumped up on a chair, placed his paw on the pastor’s forehead and began to howl.
The pastor looked at his wife in shock and said, “Oh dear Lord! He’s a Pentecostal!!!”
I chose that joke for 2 reasons. First, because today is Pentecost Sunday, and second, because we have been fasting and praying about repentance for the past 21 days and I knew I would need to repent for telling that joke!
I heard someone say that repentance can ultimately be summed up by these six words: “I was, I am, I will.” These words represent our past life, our present situation, and our future choices.
The word repent is often confused with the word sorrow, and they are related, but they aren’t the same.
2 Corinthians 7:10 tells us that:
“sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
So the right kind of sorrow over our sinful past can lead us to a place of repentance, but sorrow itself isn’t repentance. Repentance literally means “turning around” to head in the opposite direction, and “turning away” from our past lifestyle.
Some people don’t think they’ll ever be able to overcome their past, no matter how hard they try. And truthfully, without the Lord, no one can overcome their past!
But each of us must be set free from the past in order to reach the future that God has prepared for us.
The goal of our fasting and repenting wasn’t to make us hungry and sad, it was to allow God to take us to a deeper place in our walk with Him.
Acts 3:19 shows us the end result of repentance when it says:
Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord
The point is that we don’t move ahead by looking in the rear view mirror. We must learn from the past but not live in the past.
As we will see in today’s chapter, the Apostle Paul was able to use these three elements, his past, his present, and his future, to share the testimony of his repentance with unbelievers, by declaring the difference that Jesus had made in his life.
Let’s look at Acts chapter 22 to see how Paul uses his past to show his listeners how Christ can give them a new future: (starting with the final verse of Chapter 21)
40When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying,
1"Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you."
2And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said,
3"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.
4"I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons,
5as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.
Someone once said that the secret to effective evangelism is to speak, “as a dying man to other dying men!"
In other words, we need to let people know that we are not different from them in the sense of being better than them, we are only different because of Christ. In order to encourage others to repent, we must also acknowledge that we too needed to repent.
Paul emphasizes to these Jewish listeners that he has much in common with them, especially who he once was. He shows this in several ways:
But repentance is not about living in the past, it’s about leaving the past behind. So Paul is about to take these listeners in a new direction. He has told them “that’s who I Was” but now he’ll show them “this is who I AM”
6"But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me,
7and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'
8"And I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.'
9"And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.
10"And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.'
11"But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.
12"A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
13came to me, and standing near said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very time I looked up at him.
14"And he said, 'The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth.
15 'For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.
16 'Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'
Paul summarizes for these listeners everything that happened to him back in chapter 9. He’s saying, “I told you who I Was, but now let me tell you what Jesus did for me to make me who I Am today!”
His encounter with Jesus was an absolute turning point in Paul’s life. Everything that he believed, everything that he valued before Christ was gone. It really didn’t matter anymore. Jesus had offered Paul a brand new start of repentance and Paul took it!
He says, “I surrendered to the call of Jesus, I put my faith in him and what he did on the cross!” For Paul, the happiest moment of his life was when he surrendered to Christ in faith and obedience. Paul asked the Lord, "What do you want me to do?" He was told, "Get up and you’ll be told what to do."
Paul admits that he had to surrender to Christ’s power in order to receive forgiveness and redemption. When we call on the name of the Lord we’re admitting that we’re lost and in need of forgiveness. That’s the first step in repentance. There’s no such thing as accepting the benefits of salvation without allowing Christ to do a redemptive work in our lives. Paul is making it clear that becoming a Christian isn’t just saying a prayer, it’s a life-changing commitment. It’s turning from the past towards a whole new direction in life!
Next, Paul tells them about his future. He tells them, “because of what Christ has done for me, this is what I Will do from now on to serve him.”
17"It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance,
18and I saw Him saying to me, 'Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.'
19"And I said, 'Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You.
20 'And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.'
21"And He said to me, 'Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'"
Notice that Paul’s “I Will” statement is directly based on Jesus’ “I Will” statement. Jesus says, “Go! For I WILL send you to the Gentiles.” And Paul says “If that’s what you want, then I will GO”.
If we want our future to have any value or purpose, our will MUST line up with God’s will!
One benefit of lining up our will with God’s will is that we can leave the ultimate results of our actions up to Him. If we do what He tells us to do, then what happens is His responsibility, not ours. Paul spoke the words that God gave him to speak, and it really didn’t matter what happened next. In fact, in the short run the people reacted very negatively:
22They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!"
23And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air,
24the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.
25But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?"
26When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, "What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman."
27The commander came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?" And he said, "Yes."
28The commander answered, "I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money." And Paul said, "But I was actually born a citizen."
29Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.
30But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.
Paul was probably getting used to this type of rejection by now, but he continued to try to preach Christ, not because the people WANTED to hear about salvation, but because they NEEDED to hear about salvation. This group of Jews, like so many others before them, wanted to kill Paul. And the Romans stepped in and were ready to give Paul another whipping until they find out that he was a Roman citizen as well as a Jew!
Roman citizenship gave a person certain rights that the average person didn’t have. For example, the standard practice of Roman soldiers in handling someone accused of a crime was to beat them first and ask questions later! But they weren’t allowed to beat a fellow Roman. Since they were in Jerusalem, they assumed that Paul was an Israeli Jew.
But although Paul was raised in Jerusalem, he was born in Tarsus, which was a Roman city. So he was both Jewish and Roman. When he points this out to the soldiers, they back off right away, knowing that they could face serious consequences for whipping another Roman.
The leader of the Roman guard is curious as to how Paul could be a Roman citizen and a Jew. He tells Paul that he, the commander, wasn’t born Roman, but paid a lot of money to purchase Roman citizenship. The going rate for that privilege was around $50,000! Paul surprises him by saying, “But I was actually BORN a Roman citizen!”
Think about this; you are a citizen of heaven! That’s what Philippians 2:20 says, “our citizenship is in heaven” And you didn’t have to BUY that citizenship, in fact you CAN’T buy it, not for $50, 000 or for $50,000,000,000! You are BORN-AGAIN into heavenly citizenship when you receive forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ!
And that’s why our testimony says “I Was, I Am, I Will”
I was a sinner with no hope of eternal life. I was destined for a miserable existence on this earth.
I was destined for eternal separation from God. But God in His mercy showed me a better way, a better plan for my life. So I repented, I turned away from my old life and surrendered my future to God.
I am now saved by the free gift of grace and mercy that God provided for me, and I will now live for Him and serve him with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength!
That was Paul’s testimony. What’s your testimony?
How has God set you free from your past and given you a new future?
What part did repentance play in your story?
And is God showing you something more that He has in store for you if you would be willing to enter into a greater level of repentance?
If you’ve gained some insight over these past 21 days of fasting and seeking the Lord, then I would encourage you to come to the altar as we close the service today, not in sorrow, but in true repentance, ready and willing to turn away from whatever has been holding you back, and turn towards the future that God has in store for you!