I have a story to tell. The news spread quickly. Some new, zealous men declared that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead. However, we had beaten him, crucified him, and buried him. We had believed that our efforts to stop the unlearned, expectant children of Israel from hoping that this Jesus would deliver them from the captivity of Rome had been successful. We had heard nothing for 49 days.
That all changed on the day of Pentecost, our Jewish feast. For you see, this new sect, this new cult came from upstairs downstairs preaching that God had made this Jesus whom we crucified, both Lord and Christ; they said Jesus had risen from the dead with all power in his hands. They said that Jesus had challenged them to spread this good news throughout Jerusalem, Judea, and the uttermost parts of the earth. This new sect declared that Jesus had nullified salvation according to the Jewish traditions and customs; they said that salvation only came because of faith in the message they preached about this Jesus.
I was livid. How could they defame our traditions; the Pharisees and the Sadducees were the only ones qualified to introduce new doctrines into our faith. The Chief Priest and his cabinet were also restless. They met to determine what could be done about these new converts, disciples, followers of this Jesus. I was among them.
Then this man Stephen, one of their deacons began to preach about Jesus. His preaching seemed to contradict all that we had previously believed. He told us we had hard hearts and stiff necks; he told us we had refused to listen to God and that we had ears dulled from sin and shame. The Sanhedrin counsel deemed him a blasphemer, a radical. They needed to deal with Stephen, and I was in full agreement. When they decided to stone him, I consented. I voted to stone him along with the others, and when he died, they threw his clothes at my feet.
Afterward, the Chief Priest gave me legal authority to hunt down these new converts and imprison them. The Chief Priests wanted them utterly humiliated and the group disbanded. We had heard enough about this Jesus. They applauded my efforts to wipe this new church out by destroying its leadership.
However, on the Damascus Road, enroute to Jerusalem to hunt them down, I had a strange, life-changing encounter. This man, Jesus called my name, ‘Saul, Saul, it is hard to kick against the pricks!” He helped me to realize that I had based my actions on pride and stubbornness. This Jesus informed me that he had already tried to introduce himself to me on several occasions, but I too would not listen. Jesus came with such brightness that my horse and those accompanying me were startled. My horse threw me to the ground; the light blinded me. This Jesus sent me to see Ananias, the Prophet who laid hands on me so that I could regain my sight. It was during this encounter, after having leveled all types of threats against these new converts that I too came to faith in Jesus Christ. I was zealous to destroy this band of believers at one point, but through my conversion, I became zealous to spread this good news right along with them. I was an enemy to the Jewish Christians because I had persecuted the church, imprisoned its leaders, and blasphemed against its Christ, all in ignorance. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I was wrong. I repented and God gave me a mission. Little did I know what it would cost me to carry out God’s mission. He touched me, body, soul, and spirit. He changed my name; he called me Paul, and anointed me an Apostle to the Gentiles..
Because I accepted Christ, I made many enemies. Enemies among those Pharisees and Sadducees who did not believe in Christ and enemies among those Jews who did embrace Christ but because of my reputation could not trust my ministry.
Let me interject something here of my own musings: even after you have repented and been transformed by the power of God, you will develop enemies who will try to destroy you. Enemies among your friends who consider you weak or a traitor to the cause and enemies in the church who just don’t believe God could change someone like you. Because of such enemies sometimes your past just will not go away. Your enemies – those jealous and envious of your blessings and the way God uses you – will spend all they have trying to bring you down. No matter how long its been or how much you do to outlive it, your enemies will track you down just to defame your character and hinder your ministry.
Your success causes them great anguish of body, soul, and spirit. The only reason they live is to destroy you and all you stand for. They can’t see what God has done for you because all they concentrate on is your past. They can’t see where you’re going for looking behind your back and stirring up old mess.
The Jews knew me; they knew that I was of the seed of Abraham; they knew that I was circumcised on the 8th day according to the Law; they knew that I came from the tribe of Benjamin, the tribe of the left-handed warriors. They knew I was a Pharisee with unsurpassed zeal for the Judaic faith. I was blameless at keeping the laws and customs of my faith. Notwithstanding, they hated me because of my past. I had persecuted the church; I was an accomplice to murder in cold blood of one of God’s best servants, Stephen. It was for this crime that my Jewish Christian enemies talked about me wherever I went.
Because of these Jewish enemies of mine, I received forty stripes minus one on five separate occasions. Three times these enemies had me beaten with rods; once they stoned me and left me for dead. Because of their accusations, the Roman official sent me to Rome to appeal to Caesar and my ship wrecked. I traveled constantly on dangerous roads that had robbers who sought to take my life. My life was in danger on a regular and routine basis. Often I fasted on purpose and at other times, I hungered and thirst because of hiding away from my enemies. Once Aretas the King, the governor of Damascus was guarding the city of Damascus with a garrison, desiring to arrest me; but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.
I had many enemies; however, none was as dangerous as Alexander the coppersmith and Demetrius, a silversmith, who did me much harm. Hymaneus, and Philetus who once worked with me became my adversaries and spread a false gospel – they were worthy adversaries. When they first attacked me, no one stood with me or came to my defense. Their personal attacks and accusations against me had the effects of a roaring lion. They both stirred up confusion; they were workers of pure evil, incessant in their efforts to defame and destroy my ministry. Alexander was the spokesperson; his words cut like a sharp knife into the faith of those who had heard me preach the gospel. He was an enemy that kept me on my knees, fasting and praying to God Almighty.
God blessed my ministry to the Gentiles despite Alexander the coppersmith’s attack on my ministry and my character. The Lord stood with me and spoke to me in throughout my persecution by these adversaries.
The Lord told me at my weakest point, “My grace is sufficient for you.” “When my enemies had gotten the best of me and I just knew my ministry would fail, the Lord spoke to me. When I asked God repeatedly to get rid of this man and to give me some rest, the Lord spoke to me. The Lord said, My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” That, beloved, is why I can testify to you that all I had was grace.
If you ask me how I kept going when the road got rough and my burdens got too hard to bear, let me tell you “Grace is all I had.” If you ask me how I kept going when I was put in jail, kicked out of town, stoned and left for dead; let me tell you “Grace is all I had.” If you ask me how I kept going when my friends forsook me and no one stood by me, let me tell you “Grace is all I had.” If you would ask me how I preached when my contemporaries kept saying I was preaching a false doctrine, let me tell you, “Grace is all I had.” Yes, Grace, God’s grace was all I had. God’s grace; grace that enabled me to carry out the mission God assigned my hands to do. Hallelujah!
Let me tell you something wonderful about God’s grace. First, God’s grace is unmerited. I didn’t deserve to have a ministry because I helped to murder one of God’s finest soldiers. But his grace……. Hallelujah! I didn’t deserve to have a ministry because whenever I tried to do good, evil was always present with me. But his grace…… Hallelujah!
Not only was it unmerited, but, God’s grace to me was amazing. Just when I was at the end of my rope. Just when I thought all hope was lost, his grace would show up and show out. His grace would strengthen, encourage, and sustain me. His grace would say “Get up Paul, and Get Back in the Race.” His grace would say, “You are my child and I love you.” His grace would pick me up and his grace would start me on my way. When I was stoned and left for dead, his grace was sufficient. Hallelujah! When I was shipwrecked and spent a night and a day at sea, his grace was sufficient. His grace was unmerited and his grace was amazing.
Finally, God’s grace saved my soul. Brothers and sisters remember that we don’t get to heaven based on our sterling record. We don’t get to heaven based on whether we have dotted all the eyes or crossed all the tees. We only get to heaven because Jesus died, on an old rugged cross. He hung there until the ninth hour when he cried out to his heavenly Father, “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.” We get to heaven not only because he died, but we get to heaven because early on Sunday morning, he rose from the dead with all power in his hands.[Power to forgive sins; power to heal the sick; power to raise the dead; and power to save us from death, hell, and the grave.] His grace, his grace was sufficient for me and it will be sufficient for you.
By grace through faith the blood of Jesus had washed me and cleansed me from the sins of my past. This grace will do the same for you. By grace through faith, I have learned how to forget those things which are behind me and I have decided to press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus.
I’m glad that I allowed his grace to work in my life. For at the end of my journey, I could stand and declare, “I fought the good fight, I finished my course, I have kept the faith. And finally, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”
I’m glad that Jesus the Christ is still saving souls; I’m glad that Jesus the Christ is still God’s gift for those who need another chance. I’m glad that by grace through faith, you can rise above your failures and walk into a brand new destiny in God. I’m glad that by grace through faith, you can begin again. Hallelujah!
Regardless of what has gone on in your life,, know that God is calling you. Jesus came into the world that the world through Him might be saved.” Receive Jesus the Christ as Lord and Savior and you too will exclaim “all I ever had was grace.”