Mercy for the Chief of Sinners

Category: Full Sermons, Video

If someone refuses to become a Christian, it is because they count it their wisdom to not become a Christian. When in reality it is their complete lack of knowledge that they do not follow Christ.

Scripture often says things in certain ways that we wouldn’t be comfortable saying. It may be uncomfortable to say that we received mercy from God because of anything in us. But Paul says he received mercy because of his ignorance. Is it okay to murder Christians as long as you do it in ignorance? Ignorance matters because it’s possible for a sinner to commit the most heinous crimes against God in ignorance, and yet still receive mercy. If you were guilty of crucifying the Son of God and come to look upon it later, and see what a horrible crime you committed, there can yet still be mercy for you. But if a sinner has received light and persistently rejects it, they may very well find themselves outside the hope of being saved.


1 Timothy Chapter one, verse one. Let's read the first chapter. "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus, our Hope. To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. Now we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully.” There is an unlawful use of the law, and there is a lawful use of the law. In other words, there is a reason God intended it, and there is a reason that God did not it. And Paul is going to tell us right here why God gave us the law. “…understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” The last two Sundays I have taken us first to Titus chapter two, Next week, 1 Timothy 3, you can see we’re actually going backwards, in a way. But I don’t have any specific chronological order, or even biblical order, in this little series that I’m calling: “An Outburst of Glory”. What I recognize is this. There are times when Paul suddenly in the midst of explaining something practical, Christian-life practical, He will just suddenly come out with some... what I call an outburst of glory. And we looked at one of those in Titus, we looked at one of those in 1 Timothy chapter three. And I want you to see one here as well, in 1 Timothy chapter one. Once again. I want you to think about the lay of the land here. Timothy chapter one. He's giving basic instruction to Timothy, who as kind of an apprentice of his, is at Ephesus. And what's he doing at Ephesus? Well, there's problems at Ephesus. And in fact, if you look at the scope of 1 Timothy 1, you'll see that what Paul has in mind, are certain persons, who are creating trouble. Certain persons who are doing certain things, that are creating problems that Paul wants Timothy to deal with. Just look at this. In verses three and four: "I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus..." For what? A primary purpose, "Timothy, I want you to remain there at Ephesus because, first, there are certain persons who I want you to warn, and admonish, and teach. Not to teach any different doctrine." Different than what? Myths, endless genealogies. See, you got these certain persons in the church. You know, nothing really has changed over 2,000 years. We have elders' meetings. And we talk about certain persons, just like they did, that we need to deal with. I'm sure that when John was over in India there were times they had to deal with certain persons. John is down in Mexico, I'm certain they have to deal with certain persons. You get the reports from the Hamiltons out of the place they're at in the Far East. You get those "certain persons". You got certain persons. Look at verses 6 and 7 again. "Certain persons" again comes up in verse 6. Probably different persons. Probably, the persons that he had in mind in verse 3 they're given to myths and endless genealogies, but there are other certain persons. " swerving from these have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law" These are guys that aren't straight on how to handle the law of God. There's a lot of that! In the church, how do we handle the law of God, what's the right use of it? But they don't have any understanding "either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions". Now look down at verses 19 and 20. "By rejecting this, some..." Again, he's got in mind other certain persons. Although, he doesn't use that specific terminology here. There's "some who have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander who I've handed over to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme." You know what this feels like to me? The thing that I find surprising about this is what happens in the heart of this. What happens like there at the end of verse 10, and all the way down through verse 17. Paul changes, he changes stride. He just launches out into praise and thanksgiving because of what Jesus Christ had done for him. See, this is a break. There's an outburst, what's happening is he's braking stride. I want you to really think about what's happening. This is like what it would feel like to be in one of our elders' meetings, and here we are discussing. This is what happens in our elders' meetings. We're discussing people who need help, people that are struggling, people that are not faithful, people that are falling away, people that are falling into sin, people that are introducing bad doctrine to the church. And we look at these, we have Brandon with us, so we're talking about the situation in Temple, TX. We talk about the situation in Austin, the situation in San Antonio. Of course John has his reports, so we're talking about situations in Saltillo, situations in Monterrey. We have these. We still have an active church plant down in Laredo, and so you know in the past there was lots of talks about certain persons and all the situations that happened there. What this feels to me like is one of our elders' meetings, where we're dealing with certain persons that are a concern to us, and then we move on to certain other persons, who are a concern. And then maybe we even talk about two people, that we have handed over to Satan. Because that's happened here, we've had to discipline people, and that happens. We have to talk about people that we've already disciplined. Why? Because either something happened that is presently necessary to bring up, it's applicable to a present situation, or they've come back on the scene somehow. And that's what's happening here. Now, imagine this: Imagine you're in one of our elders' meetings, we're talking about this problem, and these certain persons who are speaking a problem. And one of the guys just says, "This is just contrary to good doctrine." And then all of a sudden next thing you know he's just, "Thank You, Lord, that I am counted worthy to be entrusted to the gospel, and to be in Your service!" That's what's happened here. That's what set him off. He's talking about people whose lives are contrary, certain persons whose lives are contrary to sound doctrine, and you know what happens to him? He starts thinking about what sound doctrine is and he starts thinking about what the gospel is, and he just erupts. And I have a feeling that if in our elders' meetings with the six of us sitting around. In the middle of talking about difficult circumstances and certain persons that are creating certain problems in this church or in one of the church plants or the mission works. And all the sudden, there's James Jennings and he's just: "Praise Jesus Christ!" We'd probably look at him and think... But that's what happens here. You see, brethren, in the typical elders meeting when we're having to deal with problem people, I'm probably thinking about how good life was as an engineer, and I'm kind of sighing about... I'm not specifically at that point saying, "Thank You, Lord, for appointing me to Your service!" But that's what he does. And as I read this, all I could think about is: Oh, to be more like Paul. He could just be carried away and it's almost like if you don't step back and really recognize what's happening in 1 Timothy chapter 1, you just don't recognize how much of a change of pace that this is. There's just something here that's worthy of imitation. And like I say, notice with me at the end of verse 10. This is the trigger for him. Sound doctrine, whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine. "In accordance with the gospel of the glory..." Notice how he does this. Think with me here. He's talking to Timothy about people in the church who are leading others astray. They've got bad doctrine, they're teaching bad things. They're teaching the kind of things that corrupt the gospel, corrupt God's people, corrupt a healthy church, and he suddenly can just move right in the direction as he's thinking about that contrariness. And it's like in his mind, he's comparing that which is contrary to sound doctrine, which makes him think about what sound doctrine is, which launches him in verse 11: "In accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God..." There is a truth. Even though these guys there are in the church and they need to be set right, there is a truth, and it is "the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I've been entrusted." "I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service." And he just carries on. It takes him in the direction of one of the great statements of Scripture. "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners..." And you know what? He gets to the end: "King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." And you know what? He says his Amen and he comes back down to Earth. And he says, "Aw, now let me tell you about Hymenaeus and Alexander, I had to put them out to Satan." It's back to reality. Not that the other isn't reality, but I'm saying he's coming back down to Earth, he's got to come back and move away from all the glories and the glories of God and the glories of the gospel, and deal with the problem people that are in the church. Now, I know there's a lot here, between the end of verse 10 and verse 17. This might actually be a place that we need to stay at for a couple weeks, but what I want to do is simply draw your attention this morning to verse 13. "...though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent." Or the KJV says, "injurious". I think the NAS says, "a violent aggressor". Now notice this. "But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief." Has that verse ever troubled anyone? "I received mercy because..." Don't you get the feeling like we've been pretty much taught to say when we talk about grace and mercy never, never to put a reason that's found in us? Never. Because isn't by definition grace something that is undeserved? It doesn't have anything to do with us. Anybody feel uncomfortable with the way that's stated? Or not really? Anybody even thought about it? Anybody ever come across that before and said: "Oh!" I love Scripture because it constantly says things the way we wouldn't say it. Which ought to challenge us to dig. Not just to say: "Well, I know what it can't mean, and so I'm just going to leave it at that." You know what? Maybe it does mean what you think it can't mean. But how do you know unless you really dig? And one of the ways that you're going to come to really grapple with these things is to compare Scripture with Scripture! And, you know, actually if you start comparing Scripture to Scripture, it's not like you can't find things like this perhaps, that get said in other places. Now look. One of the things that you will hear me say repeatedly (because I think this is key to proper Bible interpretation, proper Hermeneutics brethren) is: "Listen to Scripture! What does it sound like it's saying?" Now I'm not going to say that in some places it may not be... Even in the way we talk to one another, I may say something to you and you interpret it a certain way and say, "It sounds to me like what he meant by what he said is this." And if I were to clarify, I would say to you, "No, that is not what I meant." We have plenty enough personal experience in our own lives, in our own communication, where we know that what we thought somebody meant wasn't what they actually meant. And so we recognize, just because something sounds to our ear like it means a certain thing or like they're saying a certain thing, it doesn't actually mean that that's what it means. I recognize that. But brethren! Out of your life, how often does what you hear line up with what they meant? Most of the time. Most of the time you don't walk around looking for some subtle mysterious meaning in what people said. You listen to them, and you try to cognitively perceive what it is they're saying and what they mean by what they're saying, and most of the time you're right. And that's how we should handle Scripture, we should listen to what it says and we should grapple with what it sounds like it means, and rather that just dismissing it immediately because we got some Theological system that demands that we dismiss that meaning... If we're going to be faithful to Scripture, we're not to be guided by our Calvinism. We're not to be guided by a system of Theology. We need to be guided by Scripture itself. And so, let's ask the question. Would you all not agree, when Paul says: "I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief..." Would you not agree that it sounds like Paul is saying that there's no mercy unless we're able to plead ignorant. Doesn't it sound like Paul is saying that if he were not ignorant... What does it sound like he's saying? If he wasn't ignorant, then what? He wouldn't have received mercy. But he did receive mercy, because he's ignorant. Does ignorance give us a claim on mercy? Brethren, "I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief." So is Paul saying: "Yeah, it's okay to murder Christians just so long as you do it ignorantly" ? Because that's what he says right? He says formerly I was blasphemous, I was a persecutor. He was injurious, violent, aggressive, oppressor. He was there when Stephen got killed. He was breathing out what? Threatenings and slaughter. Against God's people. "But just so long as you're ignorant, then it's okay." Now some of you are saying: "No it's not okay!" But then you have to come back and you have to grapple with what he means. What is he saying? What do we make of this? Now look, I'm not going to say that the next verse I'm going to tell you solves the problem, it may only add to the problem. But I want you to at least see that this is not a singular place in Scripture where something of this nature is said. You know, if you think, that there in Luke 23... Don't turn there, I want you to stay parked right in 1 Timothy, but let me tell you. Luke 23:33 "When they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him." And in verse 34 Jesus says, this is one of Jesus' seven sayings from the cross: "Father..." What did He say? "Forgive them..." Just forgive them? "...for they know not what they do." That "for" could just as easily be "because". What's Jesus saying? They're ignorant, therefore pardon them. The Apostle Peter on the day that the man that was there at the beautiful gate was healed at the temple. Peter is preaching to them, and he says this in Acts 3:15, "You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead." In verse 17 he says, "Now brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers." Let me act you this. What is this teaching us? I think this is a valid question, I think you guys do too. You come across these, we have to grapple with things like this. Brethren, I think what it's teaching is that ignorance matters. In some way it matters. Now, I recognize there needs to be clarity. I don't want you to get me wrong. There certainly is no merit in ignorance. Not too many weeks ago, we looked at Ephesians 4:17 . The Gentiles are ignorant because of the hardness of their heart. Listen, Scripture attributes ignorance to the hardness of men's hearts. Romans chapter 1 says men purposely, in their unrighteousness, suppress the truth. Let me tell you something, men's ignorance is criminal. Men's ignorance is sinful, but nevertheless ignorance matters. You say "What do you mean?" I know ignorance matters because there is an unpardonable sin. And have you ever thought about what the unpardonable sin is? You think about what it is. It's about people who have light shined upon their ignorance, and they continue to reject that light to the place where there's a point of no return. You know why I think ignorance matters? Because of texts like John 12:37, again, stay parked in 1 Timothy, but listen to this: John 12:37, "Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him." Verse 39, "Therefore they could not believe." Why? Because this is just what Isaiah said: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart lest they see with their eyes and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them." Ignorance matters. There's no merit in it, but listen, I think what Paul is saying is this. I think the thing that you need to really grapple with is the three times that I quoted to you. Think about what the sins were. "Father, forgive them." What were they doing? They were crucifying and killing the Son of God. Think about Peter. "I know that you did it in ignorance." What did they do? He's speaking to the Jews. Well, they weren't the ones that physically crucified Him like the ones Jesus was talking about. They were the ones calling for His blood! They were the ones who would have Barabbas instead of Christ! They picked Barabbas! A murderer! Over the Lord of glory. What was Paul doing? Hunting Christians. Doing such things to them as to get them to blaspheme. Putting them to death. Listen, the magnitude of the sins of these people described here is so great, if you really stopped and thought about it, they're the kinds of sins where you say: "Could there even be hope for people who did that?" Brethren, I think what Paul is saying to us is this: "There is a place that you can get to where you are outside of the reach of mercy." But you can do such things as even Paul did, approving of the killing of Stephen. He pursued like a wild ravenous animal, just hungry after the blood of Christians! He was on his way to Damascus, he was just blood-thirsty for them! He said to Agrippa he thought to do many things in opposition to Christ. He hated Christ! He hated Christians, he was driven, there was a zeal! There was something that burned and flowed in his blood! He woke up every morning: "How can I get them? How can I stop them? How can I silence them, imprison them? I am going to go and I am going to find them out! Though they be in far away cities in Syria, I'm going to drag them back here, I am going to bring them to trial, and I am going to put them in prison, and see that they are executed when we can get by with that!" Ananias, it was like, "Lord", if you listen to him, "Lord, You don't know what you're doing bringing this guy {Paul} here. Do you know who this guy is?" And Jesus says, "He's mine. He's a chosen vessel." Brethren, I think what Paul is saying to us is... They're meant to give us hope. The hope that the most savage, dark, monstrous sins done in wretched ignorance, not meritorious ignorance, but wretched ignorance and darkness, they're forgivable. If we'll beg for mercy, because you see, he's not downplaying the scope of his sin. He goes right on to say: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I'm foremost, I'm chief!" He knew: Look I'm not mitigating my sin, I'm not downplaying it, I'm the worst. I'm just telling you I'm not outside of the sphere of salvation. And what he says is that he did this. You notice in verse 16: "I received mercy", after all the things that he had done, "for this reason, that in me as the foremost" He means the foremost sinner. Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who are to believe in Him for eternal life. You see what it's meant to do? Brethren, I think on one hand, there's a warning in this. There is a warning to be found here concerning light. Don't despise the light. Look, we may walk in our ignorance, but you come under the light, you come under the sound of the gospel. You come within the talk, the speech, the preaching, the exhortation of God's people. You come under the sound of the gospel, you come face to face with the Christ of Scripture, His signs, His wonders, His miracles, His saving power. Whatever you've done in your life, if you were there and you put the Son of God to death Himself. Even if you were that Roman soldier who drove that spike through His hands and His ankles. Even if you were in the crowd there before the Pavement, and you shouted out. You got riled up with the crowd, "Crucify Him!" And you came to look at that later. "I called out for God's death." You're within the realm of hope. He says this is an example for you, so that you might recognize something about the perfect patience of Jesus Christ and recognize what kind of Savior that we have. But there's a caution to be found in there, you want to be very careful that you don't despise the light. Because once you come face to face with it, there is a place where they would not believe, therefore they could not believe. Because God hardened them, and He blinded them, lest they see and be converted. And I tell you, Jesus said that to Pharisees. Paul himself was a Pharisee, but there were other Pharisees and they said: "Ha, He casts out the demons by the prince of demons." Beelzebub. He warned them, and there are repeated warnings through Scripture, and I'll tell you this: When you are exposed to the light, you need to be careful. and I think this happens in our midst far more than we know. Any church that preaches the truth, you have people who come under the sound of that preaching and that truth who are reaching a point of no return. We don't know, we can't see, we don't have eyes to look into the spiritual realm. It's not like a light goes on. But we know from the passages and the warnings of Scripture that it indeed happens. And I'll tell you, if you have been coming to this church and you have been sitting under the sound of the gospel, and you've been hearing it spoken, and you have not yet cried out for mercy. Beg for mercy in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Surrender! Lay down your weapons of warfare and come, willing to be saved by Christ alone. You are on dangerous ground. It is one of the blessings and kindnesses of God that any should hear the trust by which we must be saved. But if you hear that truth and you harden your heart, you resist and you say, "Not now, later." "I want to live it up now. I think this is too restrictive and too refined. There's too much narrowing down my life and the liberties I want right now. I'm either going to just play this off until I get older or I'm going to profess to be a Christian even though deep down inside I know I love the world, I love the things of the world, I love the sins of the world. and I'm just going to live under this guise, even though I know my own conscience is troubled. I'm going to get this right in the future." You may look up one day, in the flames of the fire, and you'll recognize you played with your soul and you lost. And that's the kind of teaching that's in Scripture. And I'll tell you, there is something to be said about the sinner, no matter if they put a spike in Christ. No matter if they called out for His death, no matter if they hunted His people. And they gave their word and their voice against Him, no matter if they were Christ-haters and they were God-haters. But I'll tell you this: If they did that in ignorance, that is a kind of sin that falls into the realm, the sphere, within the reach (let's say) of mercy, because... all those sins, no matter how wicked... those sins, no matter how moral, how good you looked and how religious you were. You remember that the ones He was saying this to were the religious leaders. They got to a place - no return. Notice this. Notice the text again, 1 Timothy 1:13 "I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly." What had he been doing? He acted ignorantly. Well, he says it in the first part of the verse. What had he done? He was hunting Christians. Okay. Why does a man hunt Christians, rather than become a Christian? Ignorance. That's what he's saying. Why would he not fall down before the Lord Jesus Christ, who is mighty to save, to be saved from his sins? Ignorance. Why would he not surrender to the Jewish Messiah? Look, he was a Jew! He was versed in the Jewish Scriptures! He knew about the Jewish Messiah! He knew that there was One that was coming! One that would be born in Bethlehem! One, the Ancient of Days! He knew, "unto us a Child will be born"! He read Isaiah 53, he knew those things! Why would he not embrace the Jewish Messiah when He came upon the scene? Ignorance. Why would he not come to Christ? That he might have life and have it more abundantly? Brethren, he's telling us. Ignorance. Ignorance. Ignorance. It's like he looks at it, he's looking back on his former life and he's just {saying}: "The appalling ignorance of it all! " Brethren, can I tell you this? Ignorance is the very explanation as to why all men in this world that are not Christians are not Christians. That's the explanation. Why do they continue? Why? Brethren, these people out here. Some of you in here. Why would some people come here? Some of you young people. Teenagers. Why would you come here, and you want to think about social media, and you want to think about your friends, and you want to think about getting home and watching a video, and you want to get home and watch a movie. Or you want to get home and watch the game, you want to do this, you want to do that. And this is boring, this is boring! Why? Why do you feel that way? Ignorance. If I could take you right now and show you the Paradise of God that was guaranteed to that thief on the cross, and I could give you a glimpse of it. If I could take you right now into the flames of the Lake of Fire and show you the horrors of it. If I could just show you the limited amount that I know about the goodness of Christ and His beauty and His grace. If I could show you just what I know, you would say, "What a fool I've been!" But why don't you do that? Ignorance. Ignorance. You young people. See, I know, I was where you are. And I know what some of you are thinking, and I know what the people out there are thinking! They're thinking it's their wisdom! It's their discernment, it's their knowledge! It's their intelligence that leads them to not become a Christian! Isn't that what they think? And that's many of you young people. You just say, "This is stupid." Why would you say that? When we're talking about how to escape the just wrath of God. Look, if I could come up here and tell you about a way for you to be annihilated so that you would not have to endure the horrors of Hell. Brethren, I can tell you this. I could take every person in San Antonio into Hell for ten seconds we could all come back here, and if next Sunday my message was going to be about how to become annihilated rather than endure that, this church would be full to the hilt. People would be pressing to get in here. Just to be annihilated, just to avoid, just to go into an eternal sleep and have it to be as if they were never born! Why? Because the terrors and horrors are that bad! And some preacher stands up and tells you, and you think: "I've got it figured out." "I don't need that kind of crutch." "I'm wiser than this." Smugly, you think you got it all figured out. Ignorance. Ignorance, that's what Paul is telling us. That's where we were. People imagine that it's precisely their learning that lifts them above the "primitive superstitions". I've heard it called that. That's basically what Christians are accused of by this world. The very wise world out here, with all of its intelligence and learning. "Primitive superstitions". By one of these very intellectual types out in this world, they basically, with all their intelligence, they've said this: "Well, we study man and it's very obvious! Man was originally polytheistic, he had lots of gods, but then he evolved. And he became monotheistic, and if we're really going to evolve all the way through, we become atheistic, and we put away any silly notions that there's any god at all." And see, in their wisdom in their wisdom they think they know better, they think they got it figured out. Brethren, have you not found it to be so? Are Christians not counted to be the foolish ones? The ignoramuses? "Oh, if we just had the education they had. We'd recognize this is all silly." In fact, Paul is talking about myths, they say it's all a myth, it's the "God Delusion". That's all it is. You got some of these scientists out there and they're saying, "Well look, if you could know what I know about the universe and about the laws that govern it, you would come to recognize. Universes spontaneously springing out of nothing? We should expect it to happen." And you know, they'll put their very scientific names on things, as though that makes it very intelligent. That doesn't make it intelligent. Brethren. Have you ever just thought about all the different things Paul said about himself? You know what's very interesting? That when he gets rescued by the Romans soldiers, you remember there was a centurion there who thought that Paul was a certain Egyptian. You remember that? And he began to speak to the centurion in Greek, and the man is surprised. "Oh, you know Greek?" He said, "Yeah, I'm a Roman citizen." Immediately after that, he goes out and addresses the Jewish crowds in Hebrew. It was probably more of an Aramaic. He knew languages. Brethren, can I tell you something? When it came to Judaism, he said he surpassed others his same age. I don't doubt in zeal, but I have a feeling he means in learning. I mean to really be big in Judaism, you had to be able to argue the finer points of the law. He said he was educated at the feet of Gamaliel. Gamaliel, one of the most respected Jewish Rabbis in history. He sat at his feet. Remember when he was there in Athens? He could quote Greek poets. When he wrote to Titus. He could quote Cretan prophets. He knew Greek literature! He was widely read, he was very educated, and he looks back on all of it and he said: "I was ignorant! I was ignorant!" Brethren, let me ask you something. If you've got your ear to the ground, if you've got your ear to the wind, your ear to the news, you've got your ear to medicine, you've got your ear to science... Brethren, let me ask you something. What knowledge does this world have that makes our Christianity ridiculous? What is it that makes us ignoramuses? What have they discovered? What have they discovered out in outer space or looking through their microscopes? You tell me! What have they discovered, what knowledge do they have? What knowledge has this world been able to present to you, to make you come to the place to where you say: "Oh yeah yeah yeah, I'm abandoning Christ, I'm abandoning all of it!" Brethren, they haven't discovered anything. They can talk about the Big Bang. Okay, where did it all come from? Chance? Spontaneous what? Spontaneous generation!? They have no idea. Where'd life come from? "Oh, well, we know it was a very long process." You know what the world does? They invent theories and hypothesis that they never prove, but they say them enough that the world accepts them as truth. But they're not truth, and they've never been proven! They have no answers to the big questions; they cannot stop death! And even there, I've noticed articles coming out. Something on Drudge about: "Very soon, we're going to be living to be 1,000 years old!" Yeah, that's so easy to say about something that's supposedly going to happen in the future. It's just like Christ's return, you can say it until you get to the point where you set your date and you get there and it's proven wrong, but see, they don't even set a date here, they just say: "Some time in the future, we're going to be living to be 1,000 years old." Okay, over the last 2,000 years, where have they got us from? What sins have they come up with an answer for? What answers do they have to lust and covetousness, and greed, and hatred, and racism, and terrorism? What answers do they have? Look at the dead bodies there in Paris! What answers do they have? What have they told us about life? Have any of them been able to create life? Have any of them been able to prevent death? Have any of them gone beyond death and come back? Do they have answers for sin? Every once in a while I like to enjoy this {movie} "Expelled" that Ben Stein did about intelligent design. And I hate that idea of intelligent design, because it's a cop-out! Call it what it is. The intelligence is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And His Son has created all things, and without Him nothing has been created that was created. But intelligent design, and Ben Stein goes to these academics, the professors, the big whigs out there in the intelligentsia society. And he goes and he says: "What do you think about intelligent design?" And they're saying, "It's a racket!" "It's propaganda!" One of the guys says, "Intelligent design is just so boring! I can't even hardly think about it, it's so boring!" Ben Stein in an interview with R.C. Sproul talks about these guys as describing us as "knuckle dragging Christians". I just had to laugh at that because think about the picture! It's like we're a bunch of apes! Long arms, knuckles dragging on the ground. My daughter was bending last night doing some kind of exercise and she had her knuckles on the ground, it made me think of that picture. And I thought: Just a bunch of knuckle dragging Christians! That's all we are! We're ignoramuses! But I'll tell you this. Once Paul, if you can imagine, he's just thinking: "The Lord knocked me off my horse. And He had mercy on me. He didn't just knock me into Hell, like I deserved." Suddenly, he came face-to-face with it all. "Just the ignorance of it all! " Paul didn't know himself. Paul was ignorant about who he was. You know what he thought about himself? He tells us what he thought about himself. He said when it came to the Law, the righteousness of the Law, blameless. But you know what happened? He never had really comprehended the Law of God either. And the Spirit of God did something. Before he was knocked on his face, on that road to Damascus, Jesus said he was kicking against the goads. Certain things were happening within him, and I'll tell you this, he woke up one morning his conscience began to be exercised by the Law of God, he tells us about it. He said, "I was once alive." That's the ignorance. You and I, going along through life, I thought the same. "I got religion in the palm of my hand." That was my Catholic mindset. "I got it in the palm of my hand. One day I'll start doing good works and I'll make up for all the bad. One day I'll get my act together." I was so blind. Paul didn't recognize, he was thinking himself blameless. He was looking at the Law on a surface level and it's like one day that tenth commandment came home to him, and the thing about the tenth commandment is that it is the commandment that is a heart issue. It is covetousness! And he looked at that, and he recognized: "I can't, I can't maneuver my own heart! It says "don't covet", and the more I try not to covet... " You see, he didn't understand sin either! He didn't understand the sin that was in him, and it was powerful! This sin was like a monster within him! And it had power, and when sin saw "don't covet" it just aroused, it created it in him all the more! The Law brought out the reality of the exceeding sinfulness of sin! And suddenly he was awakened, he was set back! Brethren, that's were I was! I remember. I remember that night, I remember being in God's Word, I remember being in MacArthur's book! And it came home like a thunderbolt! "You are not good! You are bad!" Brethren, such ignorance! He thought he was a religious man, you know what he was ignorant about too? He was ignorant about the people of God. He said, "You know what? Tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of the Hebrews, I'm in." And he's putting to death these mongrel Christians over here. And he doesn't even realize: "I'm a child of the Devil, and they're children of God." And you know what? When we were lost in this world out here... They're blind. They think they got an end with God, they think everything is okay with God. And some of you are sitting here now. And you're still in that ignorance. You think, "I'm okay. I'm religious, I'm one of the Lord's." And you think things are pretty good. And you're feeling pretty good about yourself. And that's where Paul was. If anybody was going to Heaven, he was. Just ignorance! And you know what? He was ignorant of this mercy that he's talking about, he's talking about it now. But he was ignorant then. You know why? He didn't think he needed it. He was a Pharisee. You remember how the Pharisee in Luke 18 prayed? "I thank you I'm not like other men." No apology, no confession, no need, no request. That's how Paul was. He was confident. Isn't it amazing how utterly wrong he was? How absolutely ° different the truth was from what he thought. Just ignorance! Paul is recognizing as he looks back: "I was not a Christian, and it was all because of my ignorance. I never saw my need of mercy. I never saw it. I didn't understand God's Law demanded absolute perfection at the heart level. And it wasn't until that Law came alive, the commandment came alive, and sin came alive, sin! What kind of monster was in me!? Suddenly, I saw it! I couldn't even handle God's Law, I thought I was a master in the Law! I thought I was a teacher of the Law, I was a Pharisee! When it came to the Law, a Pharisee! Pharisee of Pharisees!" You know how the Pharisees were, "This people, they're cursed, that know not the Law!" They thought they had the Law down. And suddenly, he's recognizing. You see, this is the blindness, brethren. You and I know it from our past. We know that the world is there, some of you sit here, you're in that blindness still! You are dead wrong! ° wrong! Why? Because of the ignorance that is in you! And that is why you have not become a genuine Christian. Because you're just in the dark. But he saw. "I've got something within me. This Law that I thought I was such a master of and a teacher of, I've got something within me that takes that Law, and it is so depraved and wretched, it actually takes that Law and it looks at it, and it just excites that sin to more sin, and it arouses sinful passions. I see what God doesn't want me to do, and it gets my mind thinking about what God doesn't want me to do. And the next I know in my mind: I want to do what God doesn't want me to do! And if it hadn't been for the Law telling me not to do it, I wouldn't have even had thought about it, but now that I've thought about it, all it has done is stirred up more wickedness." He's being rocked by all these things. And I just have to think too, he was there, he saw the face of Stephen, like the face of an angel. He saw the way he died, he heard what he said. Paul didn't have that kind of graciousness within him. He basically was saying, Stephen as he died, the same kind of thing our Lord said. Wanting them to be forgiven and find God's grace. Not to have that charge laid against them. Paul saw that and he went along. Brethren, you know what happen? You know what he told Agrippa? "King Agrippa, I was on that road, and I had that heavenly vision. That light shined around me and I was knocked to the ground." And he said, "I did not disobey that heavenly vision." And he didn't. "What would you have me to do Lord?" And he followed. He surrendered. And brethren, you know what he's saying to all of us? He's saying: "I was the foremost of sinners, and I found grace and mercy. And that was an example for you, That's an example for you of the perfect patience of Jesus Christ." What this is meant to show us is the kind of Savior that we have. He is the kind of Savior that has come to this world to save sinners. And the truth is, look, the truth is you are bad! The truth is God is holy, the truth is that any sin against God is a capital offense. The truth is Hell is eternal, Hell is torment, and you are headed there, as a lost person. And you will be there ere-long {soon} if you resist this mercy extended to you. You go on in your blindness and in your ignorance, listen! Your blindness and ignorance is no protection against reality. Blindness and ignorance never protects anybody, all it does is make it more shocking when it grabs hold of them. And it's going to take you. There is a God who punishes sinners. There is a God who throws sinners into Hell, there is a God whose patience runs out. There is a God who pours out kindness on you right now, expecting you to repent. But there is a day when His grace will run out. You're no longer ignorant. He expects you to lay down the weapons of your warfare and surrender to Him, embrace Him. Ask Him to save you. Immediately. You know Paul, you can see in Philippians chapter 3, in all of his ignorance, he said: "You know the things that mattered to me? Circumcised, Benjamin, Hebrew, Pharisee. Blameless, zealous." You know what happened when his eyes were opened? He recognized. Brethren, what you have to recognize is this. He recognized that in his ignorance, all the things he valued most were exactly the things that he counted to be less than nothing! Why? When he brought out the scales on his pasted life, everything that meant something to him kept him from Christ, his ignorance kept him from Christ, his ignorance about all these things kept him from Christ. And now, he says that there's only one thing that matters, it's of surpassing worth, and that worth is found in Christ, it's found no where else. Ignorance. Brethren, it's ignorance. It's what keeps people from becoming Christians. And it's our calling to be light in this dark world. To explode that ignorance. Paul said, "Oh, the surpassing worth of knowing Christ!" Oh, when you eyes are opened, you come to recognize nothing else matters. Nothing else matters!