Romeo United Methodist Church
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Looking Up - Reaching Out - Caring Within

Saul: It’s Hard to Kick Against the Goads

By Dr. Gary R. Glanville

April 22, 2012

 

            After the morning service the pastor stood at the front of the church greeting people as they left.  A sweet, little, elderly woman stopped and said:  Pastor, please speak louder.  I can’t hear you when you preach.  The pastor replied modestly, “Oh, you’re not missing that much.”  The woman responded, “Well, that’s what everybody tells me ----- but I want to hear it anyway.”

            This morning, I am hoping you will hear God communicate  something special to you beyond my mere words as we continue in our E100 Series dealing this time with the section on the Apostle Paul.  But I need to point out, before there was an Apostle Paul with Paul being his Roman name, there was Saul of Tarsus.  Saul, was Paul’s Jewish name.  And Saul, as a strict Pharisee did his best to stamp out Christianity.  Saul persecuted the Christian believers and threw them into prison.  Saul tortured believers in Christ and tried to force them to blaspheme the name of Jesus.  But something happened on the road to Damascus that changed Saul’s life for ever and turned him around 180 degrees.  Saul had an encounter with Jesus Christ and the transformation was so dramatic, Saul the Jew, became Paul the Christian, the Apostle to the Gentiles.

            If you noticed, my message today has a very strange word in the title, Saul:  It’s Hard to Kick Against the Goads.  And by now some of you may be wondering - “What in the world is a goad, or perhaps there‘s a misprint in the bulletin?  Let me assure you, goad is the word I wanted to use.  A goad was a long-handled, metal-tipped, pointed instrument, like a javelin, used to urge on oxen when plowing.  We also find in Judges 3:31, a goad could be used as a formidable weapon as when Shamgar slew 600 Philistines.

            In Hebrew, the word ox goad is a derivative of the word LA-MAD meaning to learn or teach.  So literally we could say - the ox goad was a teacher.  It prodded the ox into the correct path that the master/owner was directing or trying to teach.  When the animal went off course, it got pricked by the goad.  At the same time, if the animal kicked against the goad in refusal, it quickly learned how painful that was - for through the school of hard knocks it soon  figured out it was better to follow the wishes of its master.  Which leads me to our Scripture found in Acts 26:9-15.            

            In our Scripture lesson we discover Saul was kicking against the goads.  He was refusing to acknowledge the pricks of truth, the conviction of his inmost heart regarding Christ.  All along, God had been using people and events to goad Saul, to teach him, but he was likened to a stubborn ox or mule that was resisting.  Though Saul had great zeal for his Jewish faith and sincere intentions, he eventually discovered how wrong he had been, how he was fighting against the divine will of God.  He was kicking against the goads. 

            Perhaps you know someone like Saul who is so stubborn when it comes to believing in Christ.  They refuse to believe even though the evidence is all about them.

            This morning, I want to mention six goads that Saul kicked against, and then see if we can draw some application for ourselves in 2012.  In other words, what difference does it make in my life what happened to Saul?  What relevant point is there for me to learn?  And if you choose, you can follow the fill in the blank guide in the bulletin.

            1.  The first goad I mention was Saul’s failure as a Jew to follow the Law in its entirety.  Now if anyone gets credit for trying to keep the Law, Saul would probably make it in the top ten.  If the law said you were only allowed to walk 2,000 steps on the Sabbath or you were considered working, I can see Saul counting 1,999.  If the law said you could only tie a certain type of knot with your rope to draw water on the Sabbath, he would have avoided the well all together.  Saul was so zealous to carry out the duties of the Law as a Jew no matter how excessive, he was like the soldier in boot camp who saluted the refrigerator because it was a General Electric.  That was how extreme Saul was regarding the Jewish faith.  But here’s the problem.  Try as one may - you cannot be perfect, no matter how hard someone tries to legalistically and mindfully carry out the Law in all that they do.  Throughout the journey of life you and I will blow it at some point by our sin, big or small, and realize we have failed to perfectly keep the law.  And if we are less than perfect, then we cannot enter a holy heaven and stand before a righteous God.

            But I’m sure Saul, as any good Pharisee, would have said to himself, rationalizing his behavior, I’m really not that bad.  I’m actually better than some others.  And Saul was probably right to say and think that.  He was better than others.  Yet, James 2:10 tells us this:  For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”

            In other words, you may be a good person, morally straight, do good deeds left and right - but if you sin just one time, James tells us we have become a sinner just like everyone else; a less than perfect being who needs forgiveness.  Saul needed to understand his righteous deeds, his attempt to follow the Law and the rituals of the faith were not enough.  He could not earn heaven. 

            And so many today need to learn this same truth don’t they?  You can try to be good and do things for God and believe you are doing better than most.  But the problem is, you’re measuring your success by your personal standards, and we need to realize the measuring rod is not in our hands.  We will be measured by God’s standards.  And God’s standards require perfection.  That’s why we needed a Savior Who perfectly met God’s requirements and never sinned.  Jesus became our substitute, taking our place, because only He met God’s standards.  He was guiltless but willingly sacrificed His life for the guilty. 

            2.  A second goad to Saul was the historical facts concerning Jesus.  Jesus fulfillment of prophecy, His power to perform miracles and healings, His teachings which had authority, and His ability to speak the truth while confounding the wisest of the Jews goaded Saul.

            For whenever Saul read any Scripture which referred to a suffering Messiah in Isaiah 53, or prophecy which could be connected to Jesus at Calvary such as Psalm 22, Saul must have passed them over and disregarded their message.  According to Peter Stoner in Science Speaks, of the 48 major prophecies concerning the Messiah, the chances of all 48 prophetic events being fulfilled in one person is 1 in 10 to 157th power (that’s 10 followed by 157 zeroes).  We can’t imagine a number that large or a probability that small.  And yet, how did Jesus do it unless there was a divine initiative orchestrating everything?  That would be hard to ignore for someone steeped in the Scripture like Saul.

            3.  A third goad was the religious priests.  In Acts 6:7 we read “the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”

            Saul’s religious friends, his comrades, his peers, his colleagues, were turning to Jesus.  Here was a group of people who lived their entire lives totally immersed in the ways of tradition and the sacrificial system of the temple.  How could they give up the ways of their forefathers and follow this blasphemy, this false teaching?  Saul knew what it meant for these priests to convert to Christianity.  It troubled him.  They had lost the truth in his mind.  Yet, there was something different about them he could not put his finger on because their lives were changed by Christ.

            4.  Which leads me to our fourth goad, the Holy Spirit.  Not only were signs present on the day of Pentecost when the 120 in the upper room spoke in various tongues and 3,000 people were saved, but it continued day after day as more and more were added to the number of disciples.  The Holy Spirit brought conviction to those who were hungry and spiritually ready for the truth.  The Holy Spirit empowered the church to witness, to give boldness to those who would preach the gospel.  The disciples baffled the religious Jews because simple fishermen were drawing crowds to listen to them and miracles were occurring wherever they went.  The same Peter who denied Christ three times in front of a tiny slave girl, was now boldly preaching about Christ in front of the temple area.  And it didn’t matter how may prison cells, or beatings, or threats were given, the apostles proclaimed that they must obey the mandates of God and not the wishes of mere men.  What was the difference?  The influencing power of the Holy Spirit.

            5.  Fifthly, the life and martyrdom of Stephen was a goad which we read about in Acts Chapter 7.

            During Stephen’s defense, as Stephen stood before the council of Jews (the Sanhedrin), Stephen’s face was like that of an angel as he saw Christ standing at the right hand of God.  And later when Stephen was stoned by the religious Jews, Saul stood present and gave his approval (7:58,60).  While the frenzied mob stoned their victim, Stephen cried out with a loud voice “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”  Stephen prayed for the forgiveness of his killers.  Those words of forgiveness would remain a goad to those who heard.  Can you imagine their ears ringing afterward?  Can you imagine their minds tormented with a mental picture they would never forget?  Instead of cursing, Stephen forgave.  And for someone like Saul, where everything was black and white, neat and tidy, how could Stephen or any persecuted Christian forgive what he had done?  It just didn’t make sense.

            6.  Then lastly, we want to look at the lives of the other Christians.  In Acts, Chapter 8, we read of Saul persecuting the church, throwing men and women into prison.  Saul was doing his best to stamp out the church, the Christian movement, by scattering it.

            However, God used the scattering for His glory.  Instead of the church diminishing, the church multiplied.  The word was being preached in neighboring regions and afar by those who were forced out of their homes.  The more Saul tried to stop Christianity, the more it grew and spread out, sort of like blowing on a white, puffy dandelion ready to seed.  This had to be so frustrating for Saul because his efforts backfired on him, having the opposite effect. 

            At the same time, whenever Saul arrested a disciple who was a part of this group called the Way, instead of forcing them to curse the name of Jesus, I can imagine he heard these testimonies about Jesus:

·I was blind at birth, but now I see.

·I was lame for 38 years, but now I can walk.

·I was deaf, but now I hear everything.

·I couldn’t speak, but try now to keep me quiet.

·I was possessed by a demon, but now I am free.

·I was dead four days, but I am alive again.

·I ate the bread and fish which Jesus multiplied when He fed the 5,000.

·I saw Jesus die on the cross and buried in a tomb and I saw Him resurrected and ascend into the clouds.

            And each time Saul heard these stories it was another goad in his side trying to teach him about Jesus.  Yet, until his Damascus road experience, he would not allow himself to believe.       

            So where does that leave us in 2012?  Well, let me try to bring Saul’s experience back home to where we live.  And to do so - I want to ask two questions?  One, if God ever needed to get our attention, to help turn us around, do you think God is still in the goading business?  And two, does God ever use us to goad others, to help others recognize Christ?

            In Ecclesiastes 12:11, we read - the words of wise men are like goads; they are like well-driven nails firm in place and serving a good purpose.  Well, I believe not only our words can goad others, but our actions as well, especially, if we are filled and led by the Holy Spirit.  You see, for some people, you might be the only Bible they ever read.  They read your pages cover to cover, and what they understand about practical Christianity in a hurting world they gather from you.  There may be times when people feel convicted because of your lifestyle, because of the Spirit of Christ they see in you.  You haven’t said anything, done anything wrong or judged anyone, but they know there is something different about you.  And because of the Spirit of Christ within you where you have matured and grown in the character of Christ - you have become a goad, teaching about Jesus.  Those who have yet to come to Christ may feel convicted because they sense Christ within you.  And in the process, you may get rejected, because your presence makes people feel uncomfortable.  Now please remember, people are not rejecting you, but the Jesus they see in you.  Then at other times, just the opposite will happen, as people are drawn closer to the Lord because of the work of God’s Spirit within us.  God will use you as a goad, a teacher of God’s truth found in Christ.

            But what about God goading us, teaching us?  Does that still happen today?  I believe it does.  We slip back on some commitment and God reminds us.  We have some habit that dishonors the Lord, so God gives a little prick now and then.  There is a person here at church that exemplifies to you the proper Christian walk and you realize you are not quite at their level.  Maybe you figured out you’ve been playing church and your commitment to the Lord is nominal, and it needs to deepen.  Maybe God is speaking to you about tithing.  Maybe you have a critical spirit that needs to change or your family needs more of you right now.  Maybe a relationship needs healing.  Maybe God’s calling you to a ministry of prayer.  Perhaps we are even like Saul, resisting the Divine calling of God for salvation, doing our best to handle things on our own without the Lord, so we kick against the goads. (P)

            Let me show you something as we close.  There are four places in the New Testament where Jesus responds with disappointment and rebuke when He uses a double usage of a word.   

1.  Do you remember when Martha was serving the tables and having a rough time with her sister Mary because she wasn’t helping but listening to Jesus speak.  Jesus said, Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; (Luke 10:41).

2.  Another time was on Palm Sunday when Jesus came riding in on a donkey, Jesus said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her!” (Luke 13:34)

3.  Then at the last supper when the disciples are discussing who is the greatest and Peter boldly proclaims he will never betray Jesus, but die for him, Jesus says, Simon, Simon (Luke 22:31).

4.  And now in Acts 26, verse 14, we find Jesus saying - Saul, Saul, why are you doing this thing?  Why are you fighting against Me?

            And I started wondering when Jesus is disappointed with some actions of mine if He doesn’t think Gary, Gary, why are your kicking against the goads again?  I want to plow straight furrows with your life but you act more like a stubborn ox wanting to go your own way.  Why are you fighting against Me when I have so much I want to show you?

            My challenge for all of us is this.  Once we choose to stop running away and discover God’s way instead of fighting against His way, we need to get out of the way so God can use us as a part of the way.  (repeat)  Otherwise, it is hard to kick against the goads.