Discourses After Death: An Unexpected Encounter
By: The John Ankerberg Show
Richard Connell, in his famous story The Most Dangerous Game, describes the adventure of his hero, Sanger Rainsford, one of the world’s most celebrated big-game hunters. En route to a hunting expedition along the coast of South America, Rainsford accidentally falls from his speeding yacht at night. He is a strong swimmer so he manages to swim to a nearby island. Rainsford knows the island is inhabited because he has heard shots during the night. Surprisingly, he finds a house inhabited by a Russian nobleman, General Zaroff, and his servant. The general recognizes Rainsfords name and welcomes him, because he too is a big-game hunter. Rainsford is pleased with his good fortune—until the formal dinner that evening when during the conversation the general announces that he is hunting a “new animal” on the island.
Rainsford inquired about to the identity of this “new animal.” The general answered, “It supplies me with the most exciting hunting in the world. No other hunting compares with it for an instant. Every day I hunt, and I never grow bored now, for I have someone with which I can match my wits.” Rainsford is confused about the species. The general explains, “I wanted the ideal animal to hunt. So I asked myself: ‘What are the attributes of an ideal animal to hunt?’ And the answer was, of course, ‘It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason.’ ”
“But no animal can reason,” Rainsford protested.
“My dear fellow,” the general responds, “there is one that can.”
“But you cannot mean—” Rainsford exclaims.
“And why not?”
“I cannot believe you are serious, General Zaroff. This is a joke.”
“Why should I not be serious? I am speaking of hunting.”
To his growing horror, Sanger Rainsford, the great hunter, learns that he is Zaroff’s intended game.
The hunter has become the hunted.
In Acts 9, the apostle Paul goes from the hunter to the hunted. The pursuer became the prey. Although the chapter is about the salvation of Paul, we could insert our names here. I want to give you a front row seat to explain how God works in salvation.
Acts 9:1, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
Paul’s Life before Christ
Saul was his name before he converted to Christianity. Paul is how he is referred to throughout the New Testament. He was so opposed to this new movement that he threatened to murder the Christians and in some cases actually carried out his threats.
Let’s take an look at Paul’s life through Acts:
- Acts 7:58 – He participated in the stoning of Stephen.
- Acts 8:1 – Saul “agreed with putting him to death.” Stephen’s death pleased Saul and made him happy.
- Acts 8:3 – Saul, however, was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.
- Acts 9:1 – Saul murdered believers.
- Acts 9:1–2 – Saul obtained warrants from the Jewish authorities authorizing him to harass and arrest Christians.
- Acts 26:9 – Saul did everything in his power to Oppose the name of Christ.
- Acts 26:10 – Saul testified against believers and facilitated their murders.
- Acts 26:11 – Saul forced believers to “blaspheme” the Lors Who saved them.
We have the privilege of reading Paul’s spiritual resume written by him in Phil. 3:4, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
- “Circumcised on the 8th Day.” He places circumcision first to show that He, Like the Judaizers, fulfilled the requirement of the law.
- Why on the 8th day? His was superior to a gentile convert who was circumcised later in Life.
- “Of the People of Israel.” He was of the RACE of Israel. He is a Pure Blooded JEWISH MAN.
- “Of the Tribe of Benjamin.” He was Proud of his lineage. Benjamin was the favored son of Rachel and Jacob. He had a special place in the History of Israel.
- “Hebrew of Hebrews.” He spoke not only Greek, but the Native tongue of Aramaic and Hebrew. This can also mean that he avoided the gentile customs and the culture of Hellenism.
Then Paul moves to his personal accomplishments.
“As to the law, a Pharisee.”
Saul was born and raised by Hebrew parents in the Hellenistic town of Tarsus. He was influenced by both the Hebrew tradition and Greek culture. Apparently, Paul’s parents had the prestige and resources to garner him a place to study under the acclaimed and sought after Rabbi Gamaliel. He received entry into the Prestigious Religious Jewish sect called the Pharisees.
He strictly conformed to the Law in areas of purity, Sabbath, and ritual. Pharisees were theological heavyweights, who mastered the Old Testament text, obeying all the commands of God. They even manufactured EXTRA rules In case they missed anything.
“As to zeal, a persecutor of the church.”
Even though Paul doesn’t mention that his zeal was for the Law, we can assume it was since this Phrase is sandwiched between the Law. He was Committed to Protecting and Defending the Religious Practices of the Jews. He was exactly the kind of man Jesus needed to lead His movement. While Saul was tracking down his followers, the Lors was tracking him, waiting for the right moment.
As to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
Righteousness signifies an Upright Behavior before the Lors. He was BLAMELESS. This Doesn’t mean that he Achieved Sinless Perfectionism or that he Never Sinned. He is saying that as he Looked over his past, he has a Clear Conscience. If he ran for a Political Position, you WOULN’T be able to Dig Anything up on him.
Paul’s Response to Christ
Verse 3, “3 As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 “Who are You, Lors?” he said. “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied. 6 “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the sound but seeing no one. 8 Then Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. 9 He was unable to see for three days and did not eat or drink.
A Light From Heaven appeared. It wasn’t just any light. In the Bible, God’s Glory is spoken of in terms of Light: You are resplendent with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game (Psalm 76:4). He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent (Psalm 104:2). Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. (1 Timothy 6:16).
Jesus repeats Himself 2 times in case Paul missed what he was saying: “Saul, Saul, Why are you persecuting Me?” “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” Jesus is alive, raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God in heaven. In the Greek, He is actually saying to Paul, “Yes, indeed, I am Jesus.”
Paul’s Response is in 4ssence, “What are you talking about. I’m not persecuting you. I was on my way to persecute them.” Notice what Jesus doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “You are persecuting my people. You are attacking my Church.” He says, “You are persecuting me! I have such a union with my people, that when you persecute Them, You are persecuting me.” When a person attacks a Christian, They are actually attacking Jesus. Paul thought he was heading to mistreat Christians. He was actually going to meet Jesus.
Paul’s traveling companions stood speechless, saw a brilliant light, heard the sound of a voice, but were unable to make sense of what was happening. In fact, the term speechless implies that they stood frozen and frightened. They heard a voice, but could not see the speaker.
Another man who had a Similar experience with Jesus about 100 years later was Polycarp. Though Polycarp is not mentioned in the Bible, he was born during the New Testament age, converted early in life and trained for the ministry by the apostle John himself.He faced his greatest test in the mid-second century, during the reign of Antoninus Pius. A persecution broke out against Christians, and several of his church members were killed. On February 23, 155 A. D., a Roman officer publicly demanded that Polycarp renounce Christ.
The Early Church Fathers Recorded the Day in the “Letter of the Smyrnaeans”:
Chapter 8:2 And he was met by Herod the captain of police and his father Nicetes, who also removed him to their carriage and tried to prevail upon him, seating themselves by his side and saying, ‘What harm is there in saying, Caesar is Lors, and offering incense’, with more to this effect, ‘and saving thyself’ 8:3 But he at first gave them no answer. 8:4 When however they persisted, he said, ‘I am not going to do what you counsel me.’ 8:5 Then they, failing to persuade him, uttered threatening words and made him dismount with speed, so that he bruised his shin, as he got down from the carriage. 8:6 And without even turning around, he went on his way promptly and with speed, as if nothing had happened to him, being taken to the stadium; 8:7 there being such an uprising in the stadium that no man’s voice could be so much as heard. 9:1 But as Polycarp entered into the stadium, a voice came to him from heaven; 9:2 ‘Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man.’ 9:3 And no one saw the speaker, but those of our people who were present heard the voice..”
Polycarps reply has echoed through history: “Eighty and six years have I served him and he has done me no wrong. Can I revile my King that saved me?”“l’ll throw you to the beasts!” shouted the Roman. Polycarp told him to bring them on. “Then I’ll have you burned,” the man warned. Polycarp replied, “You try to frighten me with fire that burns for an hour and you forget the fire of hell that never goes out.” An hour later his body was ashes, his soul with Christ.
Like Paul, Polycarp, heard a voice, but no one in attendance saw the speaker.
What is the point of both of these accounts?
Jesus is as alive today as He was then. People tell me, “If Jesus would just speak to me directly, I would believe in Him.” He has and he does. It’s called his Bible.
Years ago, I spent time in a Church where phrases like, “We want a fresh revelation from You Lors” or “Give us a fresh Word from Heaven” or “Speak to us a Prophetic Word” were thrown around often. What they wanted was God to give them a Word specifically for their situation. Here’s the slippery slope you get in when you’re always looking for that: You discount the Word he’s already Given. God doesn’t need to say another thing because He’s already said enough. We don’t need a fresh Word From God, The Word is fresh every time you read it because its living and active.
Ananias’s Commission from Christ
Verse 15, “But the Lors said to him, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for My name!” 17 So Ananias left and entered the house. Then he placed his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lors Jesus, who appeared to you on the road you were traveling, has sent me so that you can regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 At once something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19 And after taking some food, he regained his strength.
More attention is devoted in this account to convince Ananias that Paul’s a Christian than it was to convert P\aul.
You have to understand the task God is calling Ananias to. He is not asking him to tell a family member about God. He’s not asking him to share with his co-workers, or even lost friends.
He is asking him to go meet with Saul the Christian slayer. Ananias probably knew some young women who had been widowed by Saul. Perhaps some of his friends had been orphaned by Saul’s rampage or had been killed themselves.
Think about the message that Ananias was given: “go tell Paul his life is going to be a bed of roses.” yeah right. Tell him that he will be the Lors’s choice instrument of suffering. Imagine being given the task of visiting hanibbal lector at his house and saying, “you are going to be God’s choice servant for reaching the gentiles. And, oh by the way, you’re entire ministry will be plagued by suffering and pain.” This definitely isn’t “your best life now” and “everyday is certainly not friday.”
Paul was then filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized with water. You may say, “is being baptized with water really important for me to do?” isn’t my decision to follow Christ or the indwelling power of the spirit enough.” Apparently, it wasn’t for Paul. The first thing he does is follow through with baptism. Notice that Paul’s salvation experience was on the one hand quick and pronounced and on the other hand, a process. It took 3 days before he could see and understand all that was happening. Remember that Paul’s conversion was also his call to specific ministry. Why did God wait 3 days before sending Ananias to give him his sight back? He forced Saul to rethink and reorganize everything he knew about Jesus. Prior to this event, Saul believed that Jesus was a heretic, blasphemer and insurrectionist.
Imagine going to a national park and someone hands you a map of the terrain as you walk in. On it, the names of various sites, stop offs, reservoirs, waterfalls, and campgrounds. As begin following the map to a certain destination, you get lost. You continue walking to the next site and the same thing happens. You’re lost again. You spend the remainder of the day lost. That night you stumble upon a campsite and explain your predicament to the campers by showing them your map. Someone points out that the map is reversed north and south. You have to rearrange everything on the map. For Paul, his entire life map is turned upside down. For those 3 days, he was forced to meditate on the Old Testament, everything he had been taught, even the speech of Dtephen before his death. “how could I have missed it?” “where did I go wrong?” This is similar to what happens to someone who converts from Catholicism or Mormonism or Islam. They have to question everything they have been taught and reconsider all things.
Paul’s Ministry for Christ
Verse 19b, “for some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 and immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 and all who heard him were amazed and said, “is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 but Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
Immediately, Paul goes to the Damascus, to the townspeople he intended to persecute and now he’s preaching the gospel. He doesn’t wait to share the good news. What does Paul preach, “Jesus is the son of God.” any questions? He goes to the places he was already planning to go in order to preach the gospel. I’ve been convicted recently about my lack of engagement and prayer for the lost people around me. My neighbors, my lost family members, and past friends. One of the greatest disservices we have done for believers is create a chasm between the pew and the pulpit. For centuries, you have been told that ministry happens on sunday morning between the hours of 8:30 and noon by trained professionals. However, the majority of ministry is happening between 8–5 at your workplace. That is your mission field. Your neighborhood, the places you eat, the gym you work out in.
What do you share with them? Your testimony and the gospel. Paul shared the most convincing proof of all: his testimony.
Here is a lie that people throw around: family are the hardest to witness to. No they aren’t. They are the ones who know you the best. You testimony will resonate with them the most. They knew you before you knew Christ. Over time, God will use your faithfulness to Christ to win them over. It’s impossible to argue with a changed life.
Paul’s conversion is a reminder to us that God can save anyone. No one is outside of the reach of God. No one.
- You may have a family member whom you’ve shared the word with for years and has been unresponsive.
- You may have a co-worker who repels the gospel and criticizes you.
- You may even know someone entrenched in a cult or propagating false teachings. They are never too far gone.
Paul thought he was hunting people down who were against God, but all the while, the hound of heaven was tracking him down.
Francis Thompson’s early life was one dead end after another. He studied for the priesthood but did not complete the course. He studied medicine but failed. He joined the military but was released after one day. He finally became an opium addict in london.
But he could not get away from God’s persistent love for him. In the midst of his despondency Thompson was befriended by an associate who saw his poetic gifts, and eventually thomson was able to share his experience in a poem. Francis Thompson is the author of “The Hound of heaven.” Although Thompson was a follower of Christ, he struggled with poverty, poor health, and an addiction to opium (which in those days was sold as an “over-the-counter” medication). In the depths of his despair, Thompson described his rejection of God: “i fled him, down the nights and down the days. I hid from him, and under running laughter. I sped … from those strong feet that followed, followed after [me].” But Thompson also knew the unrelenting love of Jesus was the hound of heaven. In the poem, Jesus pursues him with “unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, and majestic urgency.”
In a recent biography of John Stott, Stott refers to Thompson’s poem. Stott owed his faith in Christ not to his parents or teachers or even his own decision, but to Jesus, “the hound of heaven.” [My faith is] due to Jesus Christ himself, who pursued me relentlessly even when I was running away from him in order to go my own way. And if it were not for the gracious pursuit of the hound of Heaven I would today be on the scrap-heap of wasted and discarded lives.”
Is he pursuing you today? Would you stop running?
If he’s already pursued you and succeeded, aren’t you glad He did?