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Violent Capture of a Rebel Will

Track 2 of 15 in the Paul: Grace & Strength Mixed Together series
Running time: 55 minutes, 20 seconds.
Can a person live a totally immoral, even criminal life, with no respect for God and then make a deathbed confession of faith Does such a person deserve to go to Heaven A horrible murder cannot keep a person out of heaven, but innocent unbelief can.

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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Violent Capture of a Rebel Will

Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most notorious American serial killers. Between 1978 and 1991, Dahmer killed 17 boys and men, many of whom were of Asian or African descent. However it wasn’t the body count that made him such a notorious serial killer. It was the way he tortured and raped his victims before death found them. It was also about how he dismembered his victims and practiced cannibalism on them.

Dahmer admitted to every crime he had committed. He made no excuses and blamed nobody but himself. He was indicted on 17 murder charges, but found guilty on 15. He entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity but the court rejected his plea on February 17, 1992 and sentenced him to 15 life terms in jail, which would add up to 957 years behind bars. The state of Wisconsin did not have capital punishment.

Jeffrey Dahmer served his long sentence at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. He was murdered on November 28, 1994 while serving his time by inmate Christopher Scarver who attacked him and another inmate named Jesse Anderson with a broom stick, killing both. Christopher Scarver said he was acting on God’s command to kill Dahmer.

“Most people wanted Jeffrey Dahmer to fry. “Now that he’s dead, they’re celebrating, and they’re absolutely sure he will burn in hell, because that’s what happens to people like him,” Kendall Harmon, Episcopal theologian

But did Jeffery Dahmer go to hell? How you answer may depend on whether you believe God can work miracles in hearts and minds — even behind bars — or if you brush aside prison ministry. Curt Booth, a member of the Crescent Church of Christ in Oklahoma spent time with Dahmer and won him to Christ. Can we say that Jeffrey Dahmer is a brother in Christ?

“I know Jeffrey was ready, today, all the angels in heaven are rejoicing because Jeffrey has come home. On the great resurrection day, I’m expecting to see him right along there with Abraham, David, Isaac, James, John and all the saints that have lived right up to the modern day,” Curt Booth

Could the mass murderer get to heaven before you?

A glorious conversion of a notorious sinner; this happens all the time. We have many examples of hideous sinners at the last minute or in their time of incarceration finding Jesus in jail and claiming Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Many will claim that it isn’t fair while others doubt the sincerity of the conversion. Did they do it just to look good or to gain advantage so their punishment is less than normal? Many Christians wonder this. The key question is why.

Can a person live a totally immoral, even criminal life, with no respect for God and then make a deathbed confession of faith? Does such a person deserve to go to Heaven?

True or False: Horrible murder cannot keep a person out of heaven, but "innocent unbelief" can.

If you would ask the Christian who witnessed the martyrdom of Steven to name the most horrible person most likely not to make it to heaven, many would say Saul of Tarsus. Saul was that bad. He hated the Christians, he even hated Jesus more. He did everything to stomp out their belief even to the point of torture and death. Paul in his own words said the following when standing before Agrippa:

Acts 26:9-11 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.

But this cruel man had a meeting with someone who would change his life. Augustine calls Paul’s conversion “the violent capture of a rebel will”. He pictured it as being like changing the nature of a wild wolf into the spirit of a lamb. Only God could cause that change in the spirit of a person. How did it happen? Paul said,

1 Timothy 1:13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy…

The 9th chapter of Acts starts right out Saul on the war path. He was determined to catch any and every Christian he could to stop the message of Jesus from spreading.

Acts 9:1-4 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

So why Damascus? Why go all that way to catch a bunch of Christians? Damascus was well over 100 miles from Jerusalem, why travel that far over tough terrain?

Damascus had thousands of Jews living there and it was a haven for those fleeing from trouble in Jerusalem. He assumed that if Damascus was a great place to flee to, most likely many Christians could be found there fleeing the wrath of Saul. Saul went prepared to catch many and to bring them back to Jerusalem for justice according to the Jewish law.

Have you ever had your best laid plans come to a screeching halt? One minute you are happy and doing your thing and the phone rings…bad news is on the line. How fast can a great plan end up on the pile of no good? What is it like? What does this reality teach you about control?
Can you ever make control of your life a permanent thing?

Acts 9:5-9 Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

For the first time in Saul’s proud and self sustaining life, he found himself a desperate dependent. Not only was he pinned to the ground, he was also blind. The out of nowhere he hears a voice that asked a question, why are you persecuting me? When Saul asked who he was, the answer was probably not the answer he expected. Notice that the word for Lord is the Greek word “kurios” which means lord or master. It is a lot like us addressing someone with the title, “Sir”. Paul was not only blind, he was also confused.

When Jesus made Saul aware of who did this to him, what thoughts or questions had to flood through Saul’s mind at that moment?

All the boldness of Saul quickly vanished at the moment he heard Jesus speaking to him about his evil persecution. “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”. At that moment Saul knew that the dead Jesus was not dead and all the stories he thought the Christians had made up about his resurrection were true and they actually spoke the truth. Jesus was not dead, Saul’s rebel spirit was captured and in a moment his mind was transformed. Saul actually met the real Jesus, he heard his voice and he encountered God in a way he never experienced before.

Why let Saul sit for three days, alone and blind? What was the purpose? Saul must have shaken his head several times during those 3 days. He believed that Jesus was dead only to discover and experience that Jesus was indeed alive. It probably took several days for Saul to get his head around the true facts he just discovered.

When Paul recounts the event of his conversion to King Agrippa, he tells us one more bit of information that is interesting:

Acts 26:14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’

You and I today might miss the meaning of what Paul revealed to Agrippa but back then everyone would have known the meaning. Those of us not familiar with rural terminology will miss the significance of what Jesus said to Saul. It comes from the practice of farmers goading their in the field. Goads were generally made from slender pieces of timber, blunt on one end and pointed on the other. Farmers used the pointed end to urge the stubborn ox into motion. Occasionally the ox would kick at the goad. The more they kicked, the more likely it would stab into the flesh of its leg, causing greater pain.

From the expression used, what does scripture tell us about Paul and his relationship with Jesus? How long had this been going on? I think this gives us an indication that God had been working on Saul for a long time while Saul kicked back at every attempt to get Saul to move in a certain direction.

Do you think Saul knew Jesus and heard him speak? How could this be possible?

Saul and Jesus were most likely close to the same age and both frequently went to the same places and worshiped at the same temple. If one stretches his imagination a little, Jesus and Saul might have known each other. How many times in the Gospels did Jesus and the Pharisees argue and clash? Could one of them been Saul? How much did the teachings of Jesus affect him? We know this for sure, one you meet Jesus face to face, your life is never really the same anymore. His words and deeds sink deep within your conscience. I wonder if the same was true of Saul. Maybe that is why Saul quickly changed his mind about Jesus?

How might the reaction by Steven as he died act as a goad at Saul’s belief? What about the way his prisoners acted as they were beaten, persecuted and in some cases, killed all in the name of Jesus? Do you think their actions had an effect on him in little ways?

Concerning the goad, God always wins in the end. His way is always the right way as he moves us in a direction that he wants us to go.