At the beginning of last year I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time, and when we started catching up, it didn’t take too long to find out what was on his heart: His teenage son was showing pretty clearly by his life that he had not embraced Christ. The spiritual condition of this young man was understandably impacting the life of my friend – his work had suffered, anxiety had filled his heart, and as we talked I could tell that he was quite discouraged.
My friend, of course, is not alone in longing and praying for his child to know Christ. Christian parents can relate well to John in his third letter: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 4 (ESV) Of course! For those of us who understand that there is a real heaven and a real hell, what could be more important or give greater joy than knowing those you love the most have a secure eternity?
Well, the story in Acts chapter 9 should provide hope for all those who are praying for a loved one who is far from God. It’s the story of the infamous man named Saul, and as the chapter begins, we get a very clear picture of exactly who this man is:
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2 (ESV)
When I preached this passage some years back, I called him “Darth Saul” and covered my mouth partially and started breathing into the microphone like Vader himself, “…breathing threats and murder against the disciples…” This was a dark lord. Wicked. Murderous. Threatening. The Christian killer. Evil incarnate. B…B…B…Bad to the bone.
And yet…by verse 22 of this chapter, Darth Saul has become Paul and is proving that Jesus is the Christ.
It’s funny, isn’t it? We have our ideas about who will or at least should embrace Christ, and it certainly isn’t Darth Saul. Instead, it is the already “good” person, the almost-there nice guy or gal, the one of whom we say, “Oh, she would make such a wonderful Christian – just need to tell her that salvation is by grace and she will surely drop to her knees.”
So the end result is that we often think that we can do it, you know, “insert” Jesus into a loved one’s life. Maybe in some cases we’ll need to be extra clever and make detailed plans for such an insertion, but with work, we can make it happen. However, it just doesn’t quite work that way. It was Sinclair Ferguson who said that the gospel is summarized in Jonah’s short phrase uttered from the belly of the fish and found in chapter 2 of his powerful story: “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” Jonah 2:9 (ESV)
Erwin Lutzer of Moody Church illustrates this with the story of a seminary professor who took his preaching class out to a cemetery and had each student literally stand over a grave and shout to the dead person to come up out of the ground. And after all the students had sheepishly attempted this foolishness, he said, “That’s what you are doing when you preach, and therefore you cannot by your eloquence and ‘excellent’ preaching convince spiritually dead people to come to life. It is the work of God.” Salvation belongs to the Lord.
Now of course He uses us to proclaim the message…so, compelled by His love, we strive to be faithful in sharing the truth of the gospel in the workplace and the neighborhood and of course…in the home: Christian parents should strive to be faithful in reading the Bible with their kids and talking about matters of faith when they rise up and when they go out and when they lie down (Deuteronomy 6).
But even if you’ve blown the “little one” years and look back with regret at what might have been, remember that Saul’s parents never preached the gospel to him. Remember that what must happen in the life of our loved one is for Jesus to show up on the Damascus road. And so we pray…hard…and keep praying. And by the way, the last I heard, my friend’s son was showing signs of real faith.
One last thing: it is always good to remember that though we might not have been killing Christians, all of us were at one time, like Saul, dark lords on the road to Damascus. But salvation belongs to Him, and by His glorious grace, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. (Colossians 1:13 ESV)
For Monday, February 23rd: Acts 10