The Ancient Faith
THE DAMASCUS ROAD
M. Lynwood Smith
Jerusalem is probably the most famous city in the whole world and has held its fame well down through the many, many years, but then the city of Damascus is probably the oldest city in the whole world. I am told that the modern city of Damascus is built upon an ancient foundation that was even built back in the days before Abraham and before the time when he returned from the slaughtering of the kings, so this makes it certainly the oldest city in the whole world. But tonight we’re not talking about the city of Jerusalem and the city of Damascus, but we’re more concerned with the road that connects these two cities, because to all Bible-reading people and to all people who are fond of the holy word, this road is one of the most famous, one of the most renowned roads in the whole world. And I dare say tonight, you can mention the Damascus Road and immediately there’s one thing that comes to people’s minds. Now there are many battles that have been fought throughout the world and these battles have made many different geographical locations forever famous. We have the Battle of Vicksburg, right across the river over here, that made that city eternally famous in American history. There’s Valley Forge, Bunker Hill–we could go on and on and on. But a battle made this road famous, too. I like to think of it as a battle. It was a battle with right against wrong, truth against error, God against evil and I’m happy to report to you tonight that God and truth and right won on this particular front.
And you’re guessing right–I’m talking about the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. To me, it’s the most colorful of all the conversions in the catalog of the book of Acts. And I tell you what: If there’s one person in this audience who’s not a Christian, you can take this on conversion story tonight and study it in detail and I’ll promise you this: When this meeting’s over, you’ll know what to do to be saved in the most minute detail because nothing is left out in this beautiful story. And I love to preach it. I thrill at it every time I go over it many, many times. Well, let us start.
Saul of Tarsus
Saul is called “Saul of Tarsus” because he was born down here in a Greek city, Tarsus, largely influenced with Greek culture and learning. As a little boy, I think, Paul sat out there on the docks and watched the ships come in from distant seas. He sat there and listened to the sailors talk in their native languages; strange languages to his Jewish ears at that time. But he was reared right there around various languages, too, and this stood him in good stead with the future work that God had planned for him to do. As the young man grew to maturity, he was blessed with the great privilege of going to the city of Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jewish nation. There he was schooled under the most renowned professor of the Jewish religion at that time; we’ll call him Doctor Gamaliel tonight. Now I’m told that he had a contemporary over in Alexandria that taught another Jewish school and he taught it with a little different interpretation–like Bible colleges usually do, you understand. Tell me what Bible college you are from and I’ll tell you what you believe about certain dogmas and teachings and so on and so forth. But now
Saul was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel and I’m glad he was because he was rooted and grounded in basic teachings of Moses’ law. Seems like old Gamaliel must have been sort of a basic fundamentalist in the teaching of Moses’ law. In later years, Paul says, “I was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel,” and literally, that was the case.
These old teachers sat in a great big chair like a throne and the students sat right down on the floor at their feet while they expounded unto them the meaning of Moses’ law. Now that’s the way Paul got his, and brother, he was evermore a good student. He was a grade “A” boy; he was an honor roll fellow–dean’s list fellow, that’s what he was! He said later on, “I came behind none of mine own equals.” That’s right! He was right up on top. He was right up at the front.
He went on later to say a little bit about his own life and a little bit about the credits of his life. “Of the small tribe of Benjamin,” he said, “of the stock of Israel–yes, he was proud of that. He had King
David’s blood pulsing in his veins. He was always proud to tell everybody about that. Circumcised just the right day—circumcised after the law and its demands–all of this was in his favor. He went through it all and I’m even told by profane authorities that Gamaliel was so fond of him–he was such an apt student–that Gamaliel was even grooming him to take over the school when he couldn’t operate it any longer. I’m telling you all of this to let you know what a great man he was and what he gave up one day when he met Jesus–that’s what he did!
A Threat to Saul’s Religion
Well, he went on through this school. He stayed there in Jerusalem and things were going on around the old city. Yes sir! Another young man came into that city; his name was Jesus Christ.
This young man and his teachings threatened Moses’ law. Most of all, He threatened papa’s religion. He threatened grandpa’s religion and He threatened great-grandpa’s religion and on and on and on back.
Now Paul had said one time, “I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” Now that little Hebraism that he stated right there means this: No proselyte in my family and in my lineage and in my bloodline anywhere. I’m a full-blood Hebrew.” That’s what he means! “I’m a Hebrew all the way back. I’ve got pure blood.” You could pedigree him; that’s what he was. Now he was just that proud of his religion.
So when Jesus Christ came into the city of Jerusalem in about the year A. D. 33 and began to preach the kingdom, this kingdom threatened Judaism and these men couldn’t meet Him. Jesus absolutely spoke out in such brave and forceful onslaughts until they couldn’t meet Him. So they did the next best thing; they came at Him physically. They nailed Him to a cross, out somewhere east from the city of Jerusalem. The song says, “They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary.” That’s what they did; Jesus was crucified. Well, they thought they were rid of this new rising sect in the city of Jerusalem. They thought‘i t was all over because they thought the world would forever be rid of Him. But you can’t stop the truth and Jesus Christ is the truth. Our own poet said, “Truth crushed to earth shall rise again.” That’s right! They buried the truth; they tried to get rid of the truth but the truth came out. On the third day, the truth came out and Jesus Christ “shewed himself to be alive by many infallible proofs,” the Bible says.
He had selected these apostles and He sent them forth into the world with their marching orders to go over all the world, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and that’s exactly what they did, beginning in the city of Jerusalem. Well, right here’s where the great test came.
Stephen, a Martyr
While they were doing all of this great preaching right here, there was one young man by the name-of Stephen. I love this fellow; he was a young man. You young people in this building tonight can relate to this fellow. I don’t know how old he was but he was termed
“a young man.” He was “full of the Holy Ghost,” the Bible says. And, he was one of those men who had been selected over there to serve tables so the apostles could be free to go out and preach the kingdom of God and the truth, the more important things, instead of the physical things of life. All right, about this time, Stephen, this young man, was so full of the kingdom until he went everywhere preaching it. And I don’t know where he was but somewhere there in the city of Jerusalem, on some street corner, or maybe down yonder in some hall, or maybe in some secluded spot, or maybe down yonder in Central Square, I don’t know, he was preaching Jesus–that He was risen–that He was alive–that He was resurrected–and that was blasphemous in their eyes, so they caught him.
They brought him down to the Sanhedrin Court and they tried him. I might say he tried them, really, because when it was all over, they looked like Ned in the First Reader when he got through with them. At any rate, they hauled him out of there and threw him down against a wall out yonder somewhere because they said he had blasphemed. And then they began to administer unto him the punishment meted out by Moses’ law, which was death by stoning. They shucked off their coats and threw them into the hand of a dignitary standing over here somewhere, a man who really didn’t do the menial task of actually stoning, but a man who stood by to supervise it. Who is that man? We question mark that! Who is that man? He’s the big Saul of Tarsus standing here–old Gamaliel’s little pet standing over here–the big shot, that’s who it is, and he holds the coats while they do it.
They threw stones at this young man until his body’s broken; his jawbones are broken; his limbs are broken. All the while, he’s preaching the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Stones keep flying through the air and he’s preaching Jesus Christ. Finally, God, in a sense, flings a windowpane open in Heaven, lets him look through and he sees something no other man has ever seen. He saw Jesus Christ, standing by the throne of God. All others saw Him seated. Brother J. W. McGarvey asked, “Did Jesus Christ really stand up in honor to the first man who would die for Him on this side of the cross?” That’s what brother J. W. McGarvey asked. Well, that’s what he saw and he was so elated–he was so thrilled, he couldn’t contain himself. He shouted out, with joyous voice, “I see Jesus standing by the throne of God!” They “gnashed upon him,” the Bible says and more stones continue to fly through the air until after a while, the Bible says, he kneels down in the fashion of prayer and in the spirit of his master, who has died some months before–he prays, “Father, lay this not to their charge.” And then a stone strikes him in a very vital spot and he falls limp. Stephen is dead! And somebody said, “His face was like the face of an angel.” And it was all over for Stephen; he had died for the Master’s cause. He was my brother in Christ.
The Persecution Intensifies
After this, these people had just gotten a taste of blood, as it were. They marched in to the great high priest and they desired of him letters to Damascus, to the synagogue, that if they found any of this way, whether they were men or women, they might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. Now that means a rope would be put about their necks and they would be led back like animals–like they led Jesus Christ before Pontius Pilate. That was their custom; it was a sense of humiliation, also; that’s what would happen. Now they walked in and told Saul, the very ringleader of this business. He walks in and asks Gamaliel about that. I think I can see him as he says, “Sir, we had better go up to Damascus and get this thing stopped. Don’t you think we’d better nip it in the bud right up in Damascus now, because if we don’t, you see, we’re going to have a repeat performance up there of what we’ve had down here?” What had they had down here? The brethren in Christ, the disciples of the Lord, the members of the church of Christ, and listen, I said members of the church of Christ because there were no others there then. Mary Baker Eddy hadn’t lived; Joseph Smith hadn’t lived; Ellen G. White hadn’t lived; John Wesley hadn’t lived; Martin Luther hadn’t lived; Henry the Eighth hadn’t lived; C. F. Mason hadn’t lived! There were no denominations there because their builders hadn’t lived. It was the church of Christ! That’s all it was because that’s the only one there. Well, these folks had held on to their faith so much and their faith was so deep until they fled the city–left their homes–left their property– left everything they had. Have you got that much faith tonight, Christians? Have you that much faith in God?
Saul Goes to Damascus
A hundred and fifty miles away, they had settled down and so this man said, “Let’s go up there and stop that right now while we can before it gets out of hand.” Well, all right! He whips them out some letters of authority in a great scroll, I am sure, on the parchment and they roll it up in a dignified fashion. It was a pretty imposing procession that marched out the Damascus Gate bright and early one morning and started out toward the city of Damascus. A hundred and fifty miles they had to go to get these Christians and bring them back to the city of Jerusalem so Paul could give his vote against them. That meant they would be put to death; that’s what it meant in the extreme!
Well, on and on down the road they go. I don’t know how long it took; the Bible doesn’t say how long it took and it really doesn’t matter how long it took at this particular point, but I know one thing: Saul of Tarsus is leading the band and he is happy because he feels like he’s doing God a service here in the world. He feels like he’s blotting out a new sect that’s rising up to threaten his mama’s and papa’s religion and he says, “Let’s go get them!” And on and on he went with a storm of hate raging in his breast against the name of Jesus. Just before he got into the city limits over here, though, he could look in one direction and see the great vineyards stretching over hill after hill in that Oriental country. He could look in the other direction and see the white-topped mountains rising up and kissing the sky over yonder and he could look directly before him and see the white-topped houses of this Oriental city, basking and baking in the Oriental sun. And he knew that pretty soon he was going to be right inside with all the authority that anybody needed to be armed with and he would go through the homes of people. He would torment these people until they admitted that they were members and followers of Jesus Christ, then he would bind them and march them right back down that road and humiliate them and blot out this thing. There’s a lot of folks who would like to do that today, if they had the privilege to do it, but they can’t do it today. So that’s just what he thought, you see, because just before he got inside the city limits, a light, brighter than the noonday sun, began to shine immediately about him.
Jesus Christ was watching this procession. He was watching with concerned eyes. And just before He stepped in, He zeroed right in on him. And that light, right out of the glory world, surrounded the person of Saul of Tarsus, and the dazzling brightness struck him down blind as a bat and he fell on that road and he lay there, blinded. It caused him to speak out in answer to the voice that said to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” He didn’t know who the speaker was. That led him to say, “Who art thou, Lord?” Now some folks think that means he knew it was Jesus. Well, he didn’t know it was Jesus because it would be a little bit unusual to say, “Who are you, Lord?” if you knew it was the Lord. No, he didn’t know it was the Lord. He’s saying, “Who are you, sir?” They called everybody “Lord” that seemed to be of any rank or title or dignity. “Who are you, sir?” It was some strange voice coming from a mysterious somewhere. Who could it be? But then he got his answer. I always liked this answer and I’d like to break it down and talk about it just a little bit here. The answer was three-pronged.
“I Am Jesus”
He said, “I am Jesus,” first. That just went through him like a dart because he didn’t love that name. He hated that name and he was on his way down there to persecute that name and that name was raging in his breast like a storm of hate. Joe Parks and some of our writers today write about that name. They say: “It’s a lovely, lovely name, the name of Jesus.” We sing about the sweet name of Jesus:
Sweetest note in seraph song,
Sweetest name on mortal tongue;
Sweetest carol ever sung,
Jesus, blessed Jesus.
Well, he didn’t think it was a sweet name. He hated that name and to have someone say, “I am Jesus”–must have done something to him. But it didn’t stop there.
“I Am Jesus of Nazareth”
Did it ever occur to you that my Lord and your Lord, who walked the earthly shores–who walked the earthly roads and finally had died on an old rugged cross–who lived in a little old obscure town called “Nazareth,” now had gone back to the glories and beauties and exaltations of Heaven and said, “I am Jesus of Nazareth”? Jesus wasn’t ashamed of his earthly address. He had lived in a little old home away up yonder that had been sanctified by love. They were poor, but He had a loving mother that bent over his childish cradle and that little home didn’t have much, I am sure. He could look back, though He was in glory and though He was now the majestic Son of God upon the throne–He could look back and think, “That was a home that was perfect because love dwelt there and ] am Jesus from Nazareth–that’s where I used to live.”
You know, down here folks don’t think much of Nazareth. It had been said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And, “No prophet ariseth from Nazareth,” it had been said. They mocked about Nazareth. Jesus never forgot his home. I’ve met some fellows who were really ashamed of their homes. I have really felt so bad–I have seen some people whom I accidentally met with their folks sometimes and they would be ashamed of their mother, an old, old wrinkled-up woman–face as wrinkled as a prune standing there, just as sweet as anything could ever be–and that no-account boy standing there ashamed of her; you could see it in his face. He wished I hadn’t seen him with her. Why, he’s not worth the salt that goes in his bread. Of course not! Jesus wasn’t ashamed of his mother. He wasn’t ashamed of his home.
I’ve seen people down here, go off to California and make a little pocketful of money, learn a new accent so that the folks back home can’t understand them, and come back home and talk proper around for a few days, you know, and really be ashamed of where they’re from, actually. Jesus was never ashamed of where He was from. “I am Jesus of Nazareth.”
“Whom Thou Persecutest”
Listen at the last one! This is the clincher, right here: “Whom thou persecutest.”. Now Saul, this big man, knew what Jesus was talking about and that’s interesting to me. He knew that Jesus didn’t mean, “You’re going down there to get me, personally,” because He’s somewhere else. But this old sharp cookie right here knew immediately, “Oh, oh! He means when I go down there and get his
people, I’m getting Him.” That’s right, too! Yes, sir! He’s right on it because that’s the way Jesus feels by you tonight and by me tonight, too. And if you and I could ever get the point that Jesus feels so close to us until every time we are hurt, He’s really hurt, too, and every time we suffer a disappointment, He feels the brunt of it, too, and every time our heart’s broken, his great, loving heart is broken, too, and if we could know just how much He loves us, we would love Him a million times more than we do, and we would serve Him a million times better than what we do. Jesus said, “Whom thou persecutest”–listen buddy, you’re going down there to get me. When you get them, you’re getting me.”
And I want to enlarge on this a little bit right here and tell people this: Jesus doesn’t like it when folks persecute Him by persecuting his way, and that’s the way you persecute Him today. We live in a world today when folks think you can just accept any old thing. Most people would admit that there’s one way, but they want to believe you can take five hundred. Well, I want to say something tonight: If you’re broad-minded enough to think you can take these five hundred ways with every flavor in the world–with every kind of notion, every kind of concoction of religion you can possibly contemplate and imagine–if that’s your broad-minded decision and conclusion, you’d better be careful how you make light of his one way! Don’t do that!
Go on and take your way, but don’t you make light or persecute his way. He doesn’t like it!
I’d like to say another thing to our broad-minded church of Christ brethren, who’ve dragged everything into the Lord’s worship that you can think about. They’ve dragged in cups and they’ve dragged in pianos and they’ve dragged in bugles and they’ve dragged in Big Mac suppers and they’ve dragged in S. & H. Green Stamps and bus ministries and every kind of thing you can think of. I tell them this: If you think that’s all right, you’d better be careful how you make light and persecute God’s simple way because what we’re doing is exactly what Jesus Christ wanted, because He’s the fellow that gave it–nobody else! He doesn’t like folks persecuting his way–in jest, in reality, or in any other way–and He’s going to settle up with you one of these days. He really is. But I’ve got to go on with the story.
Something for Saul to Do
“I’m Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.” It was right then that old Saul realized that he was caught. You know, Saul was a brilliant man in every way you want to look at him. He was a brilliant man and he knew he had hit a stone wall right here. He’s sharper than most fellows in error because he had everything to gain by making a change and he had a lot to give up, though. He had a lot to lose, but he knew he had everything to gain. He was at the end of his rope and he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Do?
You mean there’s something for me to do? That’s what he said, “What wilt Thou have me to do?” Now a lot of folks don’t think you’ve got anything to do because they think the Lord’s going to do it all for you. Well, the Lord has done it all for you up until now, but brother, that’s your chapter right there! God had a chapter in preparing it all for you. Jesus had a chapter when He came and died for you and made the way. And you’ve got a chapter in accepting it and this was his chapter, in the doing of it. “What wilt Thou have me to do?”
Well, I reckon he was right in that because Jesus indulged with him. He said, “You go on down to Damascus to a street called Straight and there it will be told thee what thou must do.” It’s an imperative. It’s not a matter of doing it if you want to or leaving it off. It’s not a choice in the thing, but it’s something you must do, an imperative, if you please. You’ve got to do it! I’m glad that Saul didn’t confer with flesh and blood–that’s what he said–“I didn’t confer with flesh and blood.” That’s the way a lot of folks are tonight when they learn the truth; they ought not to confer with flesh and blood. In other words, they oughtn’t to stop and go see what their preacher thinks–stop and go see what mama thinks–stop and go see what papa thinks. That’s all right to be concerned about these people, but do what the Bible says, that’s the thing! And that’s what he did.
You know, this wonderful fellow right here was as blind as a bat right at that time and some folks try to tell me he was saved right there in the middle of that road. Well, I’ll say one thing: If he was saved, he was left in a mighty bad condition, physically, over it. I never heard of a man who got salvation and was left stone blind over the matter and I don’t think I ever heard of a man who was saved who didn’t have his sins washed away. Well, this man still had his sins!
So He said, “You go on down to the street called Straight and there it’ll be told thee what thou must do.” Now we preached to you earlier–was it last night?–about why Jesus Christ didn’t answer him and tell him what to do to be saved right there and if you weren’t here, I just want to intrigue you a little and just tickle your interest a little with that and ask you: Why didn’t Jesus answer his question and tell him what to do right there? Now the answer was: Because God had already put it into the hands of His apostles and He’d gone back to Heaven and left it with them and sent the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. Now that’s why Jesus Christ didn’t tell him what to do.
Before the cross, He answered the adulterous woman and said, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” He answered the thief on the cross and said, “This day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” He answered the paralytic and said, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee,” but He didn’t answer this time. Why? Because it wasn’t in his province to answer. He could tell them where they could go get it, which had to be through a man. Paul said, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of God and not of us,” and so on and so forth. Now that was the story right there, so that’s why. Well, all right then, he had to go on.
The Conversion of Saul
And it’s interesting to me–this big shot that was leading this pretty, gay procession all the way down here–they’re going to lead him from here on. These soldiers are leading him now, while he gropes all the way down. He was going to come down here and in great power subdue this thing, break it down and come back in glory. God took the spokes out of his wheels! That’s what He did. God showed him a thing or two right here! I don’t know when man will ever learn that he can’t stop the on-moving power of God Almighty. It would be better just to accept it. As He said, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” That vague statement that we’ve tossed around for years and years just simply means this, as I’ve said earlier: Back there in that day they had a pricking-stick, just a jabbing-stick, that they prodded the oxen along to the slaughter with and when they’d jab these old oxen, they would kick back because it would hurt and every time they’d kick back, it would hurt worse and it would be better if they hadn’t kicked back. So the Lord is saying: It would be better, Saul, if you just take it–be better if you didn’t fight against it– be better if you didn’t kick back. And he learned that–he sure did.
But, you know, you can’t stop the power of God. You can’t stop the on-moving power of God. You could sooner go out here and stop the wind–bottle up the wind. Didn’t one of our American poets say:
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
That’s right! You can’t stop God. He’ll give you a little rope and let you hang yourself. You’ll think you’re doing great wonders and all of the while, He’ll pull the noose in after a while and you’ll have to say it’s God’s way. That’s what He did right here.
They led him on down there, blind, and got in this house and when he got in this house, he felt humble and he felt like he ought to pray, so he staged himself a little prayer service and he started to pray. He prayed for three days. He added an extra element of sincerity by fasting, the Bible says. That’s more than a lot of prayer meeting people do today, but he got down and started praying and he fasted and this went on for about three days. And you know what? Let me tell you something tonight, folks–he didn’t get it! He didn’t get it! That’s as near to a prayer-meeting as I’ve ever read in the Bible and I don’t know why people haven’t read over that. I don’t know why they haven’t stumped their toe on that one. Everywhere else they find prayer they make a big “X” over it and make a big hullabaloo about it. Why don’t they take this one? He prayed for three days, but he didn’t get it!
Now the Lord began to work on a man by the name of Ananias. It doesn’t even say he was a preacher. I don’t even know that he was a preacher. He was just a disciple. Back in that day they didn’t have a clergy; they just had disciples of the Lord. Everybody could tell you what to do to be saved. They didn’t have located pastors, either, back there in that day. They had people working with Christians, teaching them the truth back there, but they didn’t have these modern, sectarian pastors back there in that day; every Christian went about telling folks what to do to be saved.
The Lord spoke to Ananias and told him to go down there. Ananias didn’t want to go because he’d heard about this man and I’m just like him; I wouldn’t have wanted to, either, and I’d have said, “I even hear he’s down here now to get us.” He said, “You go on down there, Ananias; I’ll show him how great things he must suffer for my name.” If a man ever lived that out, old Saul lived it out because he’s soon to become Paul now. He languishes in prison cells now, he who had imprisoned others. He’s beaten with stripes now, he who had others beaten with stripes earlier–yeah! When he walked in down there and found the great man down engaged in earnest prayer and he spoke what the Lord told him to speak and out of that great discourse, he says, “The Lord who appeared in the way has appeared to me also,” and so on, and “You’ve seen a man coming in” and all this, and he said, “And now, brother Saul, why tarriest thou?”
You know what he was doing? Praying! I want to drive that point home tonight, and I want you all to take this home with you tonight–he was praying! And this disciple of the Lord, commissioned by the Holy Spirit, went in and stopped him and said, “What are you waiting for?” And he was praying! He said, “Arise”–that means quit–“Get up and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” He stopped that man from praying! Nowadays, folks get up on television and radio and preach for forty-five minutes to tell us that you’re not going to get any benefit out of baptism—that you need to pray. We’ve just got a contradiction today of what we had then; it’s an exact opposite today. The Bible said, “He arose, and was baptized.” And I maintain that’s when he got it–salvation, I mean!
“A Damascus Road Experience”
I want to back up just a little bit and I want to talk about some important things tonight and I want you to give very close attention to this. When I was a child, I used to go around with my little friends to the various meetings in our old community and in some of the neighbors’ houses, they would have what they used to call these old prayer meetings. Sometimes I would go down just to be with my friends and attend the prayer meetings. I knew I had to behave myself but I went down there and sat quietly by and I listened at my neighbors talk. They would get up and they would testify one by one and tell what the Lord had done for them. Some of them would get up and say, “I love the Lord tonight and I want you to know that I love the Lord tonight and I want you to know that I’m thankful that I have been saved with ‘a Damascus Road experience.” Well, in my youthful mind, I would think, “How can these people be saved with a Damascus Road experience when they haven’t done what they did on the Damascus Road or immediately thereafter?” Because I knew that some of these people who were saying that hated baptism worse than the devil hates Sunday morning because they’d argue with you all day long that you didn’t have to be baptized. But the man on the Damascus Road was baptized! Now something’s wrong somewhere! How can you be saved with a Damascus Road experience when you haven’t done what He did? So I got to thinking to myself: When I get to be a preacher, I’m going to preach on the Damascus Road experience.
Now that man on that Damascus Road believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, which he was not believing when he started toward Damascus. That man on that Damascus Road repented of his sins because he changed–if a man ever changed–he changed and that’s what repentance is (Luke 13:3). That man called on the name of the Lord; that’s confession! Jesus says, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.” That’s what it is. Then that man was baptized on that Damascus Road–“Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord”–“And he arose and was baptized.” Brother, let me tell you something: That’s what the man did! That is a Damascus Road experience! If you’ve done that, you’ve had a Damascus Road experienced! If you haven’t done that, you can’t stand up and testify that you’ve had a Damascus Road experience, because you have not. Now sometimes, when I preach like this, I talk to people and they say, “Well, I’m kinda like that man. I saw a light, too, when I was saved.” And I say, “Whoa! Wait a minute! You’ve gone too far now, because some of what this man got, you don’t get.” Then they are confused–totally! You see, I suppose it’s an ever-recurring thing; we want what we’re not supposed to have. Don’t your children always act like that? You give them a barrel of cookies down here and they’d want the few that you had sitting up in the top shelf. Now what is there about this? We’ll put it this way: What that man saw was to make an apostle out of him. What that man did was to make a Christian out of him, and that’s just as simple as I know how to put it. Today the Lord doesn’t need any more apostles, but all of this that Paul saw that day was to make an apostle out of him; all of the extra was to make an apostle out of him.
One time the great Methodist preacher, Sam Jones, was preaching and a fellow called out from the audience and wanted to know, “Why doesn’t the Lord convert me like He did Saul of Tarsus?” And the man was sincere, because these preachers had been coming on like that. So much so that this man had this thought conveyed to him that he was supposed to feel the same thing Saul felt, see the same thing Paul saw, and have the same reaction Paul had, and he hadn’t had it and he said, “Why doesn’t the Lord convert me like He did Saul of Tarsus?” Sam Jones, the great Methodist preacher said, “Because the Lord doesn’t shoot buckshot at snowbirds.” Now that was his answer. Now, let’s break that down. The Lord was shooting big game that day. He was after apostles and He got Himself one. You’re not an apostle and He doesn’t want any apostles. He doesn’t need any apostles today; the work of the apostleship passed away. But you do want to be a Christian! That light didn’t make him a Christian. That voice didn’t make him a Christian. That voice just gave him credentials for apostleship, but when he became a Christian, here’s what he did (pointing to diagram of plan of salvation on blackboard). Then that extra made an apostle out of him.
Now tonight, you’re not going to see a light because you’re not going to be an apostle. Tonight you’re not going to hear a voice because the Lord doesn’t need you for an apostle, but He does want
you for a Christian. So here’s what you’re going to do right here and you’ll be the same thing Saul was, because you’ll be doing the same things Paul did–this right here (diagram)–and that is a Damascus Road experience. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s as near to telling you what it is to be a Christian as I know how to tell you tonight.
Saul Preaches Jesus
You know, Saul was a tremendous man. After this, he really worked for the Lord. I’m really thrilled tonight and I can scarcely stop the narrative at this point because over there at Damascus when they baptized him, they hadn’t any more than wiped the water out of his face until he was ready to go. The Bible puts it this way, in quite dramatic language: “And straightway he preached Christ.” Isn’t that wonderful? I reckon he burned up those letters. I don’t think he kept them for souvenirs because I imagine they haunted him down through the years–even the thought of it–but he just got right out there in that town and began to preach the very thing that he came down there to destroy. God has a way of doing things, doesn’t He? And what a preacher he was! He just stood right there and preached Jesus Christ so forcefully that the enemies saw: “We have to get rid of this man. We’ve got to get rid of this man!” And they began to close in on him and he left and went down into Arabia and stayed down there for three years.
Now you won’t find that in the ninth chapter of Acts, nor the twenty-second, nor the twenty-sixth, but you will find that in the first chapter of the book of Galatians, the last few verses of it, where Paul writes with his own pen and gives you his chronology right there. And he tells you that after three years in Arabia, he came back to Damascus–that’s before he went to Jerusalem again. 1 know I’ve had folks to say, “What do you reckon he was doing down there in Arabia?” I took some courses in Oklahoma City University one time. I took it under Dr. McGee, who was a modernist, anyway, and didn’t believe half the Bible. He’d just about as soon have one thing as he had another and he said, “He probably was down there attending a theological seminary, getting ready to preach.” And I said, “No, no, I don’t think so, because back there when God called them, God prepared them.” The same fellow who calls them prepares them; they didn’t have to go to school. I know when I graduated, there were two or three preachers in our graduating class. They didn’t even know they were going to preach until just before the graduation. They got the call, then they had to go up to Clinton, Mississippi and go to college for about four years or however long they go up there. Then they went on down to New Orleans and really got finished off down there. They got ordained and they got licensed and whatever you get before they were allowed to get out and preach. Me? I just hung up my cotton sack and went to preaching. That’s all I did because that’s the way they did back in Bible days–started reading the Bible–now that’s the difference. No, I don’t think Saul was down there attending the theological seminary. All I know is that he was preaching before he went down there, he was preaching when he came out of there, and I assume he was preaching while he was down there. That’s just the way I figured that out.
But when he got back, he came back to Damascus and he was evermore a preacher! Well, I’ll tell you, the enemies feared him. The Bible says, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion,” and that’s the way Saul was. And they said, “We’ve got to get rid of that man. He’s tearing us apart,” and that’s right. So they said, “You just wait. When the gates around the city are shut, we’re going to get him.” One night when the gates around the city were all shut, they had decided to come in on Saul but the Lord made it known. They put this grand old man now in a basket and tied a rope on it and they let that out over a window, down into the road and Saul stood out there all alone in the road in the middle of the night and I think he’s beginning to realize what Ananias meant when the Lord said, “I’ll show him how great things he must suffer for my name.” He walked back down that road that night. Where are you going, Saul? Where are you going? Going back to Jerusalem.
It’s been over three years now. Three years can be a long time. Three years can be a short time, depending, but he passed back by that spot, I know, that night. And I know in his heart when he passed by that spot–the same old bushes growing out there–the same old trees growing out there–it made him remember. “That’s where I heard the voice of the Lord right there. Walking right along here is the spot that changed my life, and I’ll never be the same again.” Old Gamaliel had a lot cut out for this old boy. He had a lot going for him. He had a big future for him, but Jesus got in his way and he never was the same. You know, I know some fellows and some good sisters in the church who really had a big career cut out for them in the old world. Their papas and mamas had all kinds of big things cut out for them. Some of them were going to sing in the opera, some of them were going to do this, some were going to do that other, but Jesus got in their way, and they never were the same. They laid down all their worldly aspirations, they laid down all their fond ambitions and they came down to the feet of Jesus. They’re contented to sit now in a little congregation somewhere and sing alto for the church.
They’re contented now to sit in a little old church in a backwoods yonder somewhere and be a faithful leader or an elder of a congregation, or maybe a gospel preacher as he moves around over the country. That’s wonderful! That’s what old Saul was! I like to go back down this road sometimes, my Damascus Road of memory, and pass by that spot in my life. Peter says that if you forget that, you’ve forgotten that you were purged from your old sins and you’re blind and you cannot see afar off. So I don’t like to forget that day. It was a great day to me.
He came on down to Jerusalem. When he got to Jerusalem, of course, there was no great company out there waiting for him because now he’s one of the despised ones. No schoolmaster to go to—no schoolmates to go to–they wouldn’t have him now. But across the cobblestones of that ancient city, he crept his way until he got off over yonder and he found a few Christians still left in the city, and–oh, goody, goody–he found Simon Peter–he was there. What a great boon that was! And he found James, the Lord’s brother. James had finally realized what his brother was trying to tell him all the time and James, too, had taken his stand for his big brother now, who was God’s Son, and he realized it all. Had you never thought this must have been a wonderful time for these fellows when they got together? Saul is a come-lately fellow and Peter sits down and tells him all about Jesus. “He was sitting right here, Saul, when He healed a blind man. He made a spittle in the clay and put it on his eyes. You should have seen that man when he picked up his feeling-stick and felt his way down the street to the Pool of Siloam and washed water upon his eyes and he saw! He was standing right over here when the sweetest thing happened. He picked up babies in his arms and He blessed them while we all tried to push them away. No, He wouldn’t let those babies go. He picked them up and He laid his hands on them and blessed them.” A million things they had to tell Saul while he sat there with open mouth and open eyes and listened to the verbal report that they gave of what Jesus did when He was here in person.
But there were some problems down there, too. There were still some people who weren’t willing to accept Saul because they still thought maybe it was a plot–it was a conspiracy–that the people had sent Saul in as a spy and they were really going to try to do them in as a people, so some of the brethren shied away from him and wouldn’t have him. But there was one fellow in there who befriended Saul. He was a man of real conviction and a man of love and a man of real esteem. His name was Barnabas. One day, he had had enough of all this. And I don’t know if it was a meeting of the church, if they were together in somebody’s home or where they were, but old Barnabas just got up one day and said, “Listen! This man has seen the Lord.” Isn’t that wonderful to have somebody speak up for you when you need somebody? I don’t know what I would have done if I had not had some Barnabases along the road. We need our Barnabases and we need to be a Barnabas when we can.
After this then, the opposition came so close to him until he had to leave. The brethren took him down to the seashore, put him in a ship and he sailed off for Tarsus, the Bible says. That didn’t mean much to me when I first read it but as I grew older and I’ve looked into it as a story, why that’s home–that’s home. That’s where we started a while ago. That’s where mama and papa still live. That’s where I played under my apple tree. That’s where I played in my own front yard. That’s home! How was he received? We don’t know. The curtain’s rung down right here. Jewish people don’t take lightly the fact that their own departs from their faith. They usually disinherit them. I’m told that they usually bundle your clothes up ceremoniously in a little bundle and open the door and that’s it! No wonder Saul could say later on, “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I might win Christ.”. He really did. Of course, we don’t have many Sauls today.
Now tonight, in conclusion, you could put the life of Paul in the balances and you could put everything in the world on one side and put Jesus Christ simply on the other side and Jesus Christ would outweigh it all. What about you tonight? I know that if you were to accept Christ tonight and become a member of his church, you would have to give up an awful lot. We people who have been raised in the church of Christ don’t begin to appreciate the sacrifice of these people who really have come to the crossroads and really had to take a stand and make a decision. I really want to give my compliments to you tonight because I know you’ve taken a tremendous stand. But is there one more in this building who really will come to life’s great crossroads tonight, and like Saul of old, make your decision for Jesus Christ and his way, regardless of whatever else you might have to give up or suffer or anything for Him? That’s what it will take right there–while we stand and sing.