But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee…To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:16, 18)
Before the Apostle Paul becomes the Apostle Paul he is known as Saul, the great persecutor of the church. Saul is present at the stoning of Stephen, and the Scriptures record he is “…consenting (agreeing) unto his death” (Acts 8:1). Likewise, it is Saul who makes it his business to hunt down Christians, bind them, and bring them to the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem for trial and possible execution. It is on one of these expeditions that Saul encounters the risen Lord on the Damascus road and is miraculously saved (see Acts 9:1–7). There are two accounts in Acts where Paul gives testimony concerning his conversion, and our Scripture text reveals one of them. Paul is before both the procurator of Judea (Festus) and king Agrippa to defend himself against the accusations of the Jewish religious leaders; and as he relates the details of his conversion, he speaks of the three-fold ministry Christ commands him to perform. This same ministry is to be carried out by the church today; and as we present this message, we are going to discover the specific details it includes.
First of all, Saul is given the challenge to be light in that he is told to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light (v 18). The Bible portrays the world as a place of darkness due to the sin and iniquity that abounds, and it likewise declares that the souls of people are darkened due to their wicked ways. But in the midst of this darkness, Jesus says believers are to be “…the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:14).
There are three important characteristics of light, and the first of these is the truth that it directs. Jesus says“…A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid…” (Matthew 5:14), and this is an essential element in biblical days. If a man is traveling from one town to the next and night falls before he reaches his destination, he finds himself in darkness with little or no hope of finding his way. But if the town to which he is heading is situated on a hill and if fires are burning within its borders, the man will be able to see these lights and thereby reach his destination. As the light of the world believers are to live their lives in such a way that they direct others to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be an example of holiness and righteousness in this sin-cursed world.
A second important characteristic of light is the fact that it dispels darkness. If we enter a strange room at night, it is impossible to navigate our way through the many obstacles that may be present therein. But with the simple flip of a switch, the darkness is immediately driven away as light fills the room. In much the same way believers are lights in this world with the purpose of driving out the darkness of sin. Wherever iniquity abounds the church of Christ is to be present to eradicate it if at all possible. We are to stand opposed to sin in all of its forms as we do all we can to put an end to its evil influence.
A final important characteristic of light is the truth that it derives its brilliance from a source of power. If we find ourselves in need of a flashlight at night and turn it on only to discover the batteries are dead, there will be no light whatsoever. For that flashlight to function there must be a source of power. In much the say way, we can only shine as bright as our relationship to Christ Jesus. Even though He says we are the light of the world, He likewise claims that same distinction for Himself (see John 8:12); therefore, we derive our brightness from Him. The closer we are to Christ, the better we can radiate His glory to others.
The second aspect to Saul’s ministry is that of liberation in that Christ instructs him to turn them…from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins (v 18). The fact of the matter is that lost people are bound by sin and Satan, and beyond this, they are prisoners of their pride, passions, and past. We find the perfect example of this in the Samaritan woman who encounters Jesus by a well. She prides herself in being a Samaritan, she is sexually involved with a man who is not her husband and she has a sordid past of five failed marriages. But when she meets the Master she is marvelously saved and rushes off to tell others of the man by the well who told her all things whatsoever she has done (see John 4:4–29).
Jesus is the only one who can break the chains and shackles of sin, for He declares Himself to be the one who is “…to preach deliverance to the captives…to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18). In the 8th chapter of S. John’s Gospel Christ gives two powerful statements concerning the freedom He offers to the lost. The first of these statements is “…ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32), and the second is “if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
The Bible mentions “…the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25), but what does this mean? Strong drink, illegal drugs, and promiscuous sexual activity along with any number of other transgressions appear to be thrilling and exciting in the beginning, but eventually, they become a captor to those who engage in their treacherous ways. Those who become alcoholics, find themselves addicted to drugs, or wind up with AIDS or some other sexually transmitted disease discover that the pleasure of sin has worn off and the consequences thereof have taken over. Even so, Christ the Lord can restore all that sin has destroyed, for He alone is the great liberator of the soul; therefore, we are to present Him to all who are bound by sin in order that they might receive deliverance and victory.
The third characteristic of Saul’s ministry is the legacy he is to proclaim, and we find this in the words that they may receive…inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me (v. 18). For a person to receive an inheritance someone has to die. There may be a multi-millionaire somewhere who has a will which includes our receiving a huge sum of money, but we won’t receive the first penny of that inheritance until the millionaire passes away.
The truth of the matter is we have a glorious inheritance awaiting us in Heaven, and Jesus has died so that we might receive it. The apostle Paul speaks of this as he writes “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:14–17). As an heir of God, we have become sons and daughters of the Almighty through our relationship with Christ the Lord, which means we have the privilege of entering into Heaven’s portals when our time on Earth is over. The lost on the other hand are of their father the devil; therefore, they will share his fate in the Lake of Fire.
Even though we are saved and on our way to Heaven, we still have to deal with the trials and tribulations of this present life. Paul likewise speaks to this condition as he continues to write “…I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). We encounter this same truth in our hymnals. Often in our worship services, we sing the glorious hymn When We All Get to Heaven, and one of the lines of that song says “just one glimpse of Him in glory, will the toils of life repay.” Both Paul’s statement in Romans and this hymn are relating the same truth; namely, Heaven will surely be worth it all. No matter what we are called upon to endure in this present life, our home in Heaven will more than compensate for all discomfort.
As we run this Christian race, we are to always keep our eyes on the prize. We find this principle mentioned in Scripture as the author of Hebrews writes “…let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1–2).
In biblical days, contestants would run around an oval course, and the prize they were running for (a floral crown) was situated atop a pole in the center. At any time during the race, these runners could look up and see the trophy for which they were vying. As we ourselves along with those we win to Christ labor for the Lord, we are to ever be mindful of “…the inheritance of the saints…” (Colossians 1:12) that awaits us at the end of life’s journey.
In conclusion, on the Damascus Road where Saul is converted, he is given a three-fold ministry to perform; and believers today are to accomplish the same goals. We are to be light to those who dwell in darkness, to bring liberation to those who are bound by sin, and to be a proclaimer of the legacy the lost can receive by accepting Christ as Savior.