Murder on the Orient Express

Drummondtown Baptist Church
August 14, 2016
Acts 9:1-6
(Begin with reading verses 1-2)–

This morning I am going to lead you into a world of murder and intrigue. The panorama will not be a pretty one. It requires a warning to all in attendance today: The following scenes in this Biblical story contain graphic violence and might be disturbing to some viewers. But then the world of the New Testament was a violent place as nations and powers fought for supremacy (in much the same way they do today).

This morning we will follow the bloody footprints of Saul the murderer φόνου and religious fanatic down an oriental road toward a destination that if fulfilled will culminate in the destruction of many innocent lives. For make no mistake about it, Acts 9 begins with black intentions and the scent of blood lies heavily on these early verses. Saul is stalking his prey like a hunter pursuing big game.

 (Σαοὺλ  Σαούλ,  τί  με  διώκεις; Acts 9:4)–Why are you hunting me, stalking me?)

             *Perhaps one of Agatha Christie’s novels will set the proper mood. First published in 1934, Murder on the Orient Express told the story of a brutal murder of a fugitive criminal on a train departing Constantinople. Detective Poirot boards the train and settles in for a comfortable evening of rest in his sleeping berth. But in the middle of the night, he hears a loud noise. He eventually goes back to sleep but the next day it is discovered that a passenger has been murdered, stabbed 12 times. It is (just like our text today) a bloody scene. There are 12 people on the train and each one is a suspect.Murder on the O Express

Mr. Poirot is urged to take the case and find the murderer. The case proves to be a challenge. None of the facts seem to make sense but in the end, he discovers a startling reality, a reality that we actually see in our text this morning. He discovers that each of the 12 passengers is guilty. Each passenger had in fact stabbed the fugitive one time in the middle of the night venting their rage and hostility upon him for kidnapping and then murdering three-year-old American heiress Daisy Armstrong. These 12 upstanding members of society each had some personal link to the little slain girl and her family and each decided they would stalk the fugitive and take murderous revenge.

Now come back to our text. I see the same cauldron of boiling emotions. For Saul is a man possessed with murderous intentions. (The word in verse 1 in the Greek is best translated SLAUGHTERER–Saul the slaughterer. He hates Christians with a passion and makes a focused commitment to track them down. You, had you lived in Saul’s day, would surely have been his targets. Drummondtown would have been on his list. Even now as I stand and preach someone would have to be at the church door on lookout. Which one of you will guard the door? We would have practiced our escape route out the back. We would worship in fear and live in uncertainty. Saul was a hunter and you would be his prey.

Maybe some of you are thinking I’m exaggerating a little about his cruelty. Maybe you feel a slight twinge of sympathy for Saul. Then let’s go back a few verses to Acts 7:58–8:3 and see this same Saul clapping with glee as Stephen is stoned to death. The Jewish fanatics were laying their robes at his feet, partially disrobing so they could lift and throw a barrage of fatal stones upon Stephen. (Acts 8:1)–“And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.”   —-And remember, Saul hears the pious Stephen praying to Jesus and offering forgiveness to his attackers. And yet still, Saul laughs at this death scene.

Many years later when this same Saul had matured he looked back on this episode and recounted the gruesome murder of Stephen in macabre detail. Listen to his words in

Acts 26:9-11. READ TEXT

            And so now we see the vicious portrait of this criminal named Saul. Should he have lived in our day he would be on death row right now awaiting the gas chamber. But in his day, in the culture of the Sanhedrin, he was a hero and was unleashed on the heretics.

And so our text begins with a brutal close-up of a man on a mission. He is breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1). The word for breathing out is a word used often by the Classical Greek writers of violent anger. It’s a word that you can hear. It is heavy breathing. Hot breathing. Vitriolic breathing that flushes the face and fills the eyes with visible rage.   Saul was “breathing heavily.”

*I’m not much of a wrestling fan but the other day I was changing channels and I paused on the wrestling channel. I was going to flip on but I got caught up in the drama of two wrestlers. One guy’s name was Big Show. 7 feet tall, 455 pounds (two of me!), with a size 22 shoes and a 64-inch chest. –I should have kept flipping the channel and continued looking for my nature show on delicate Monarch butterlies.

But…There he was looming high over the wrestling canvas–BIG SHOW. He was vowing revenge on another guy for saying something ugly about his mother. And so in the hype before the big match the camera zoomed in on his face and he was snarling and breathing heavily, almost gasping as he struggled to hold his anger in for the interview.           This was Saul. Hear Saul breathing. Follow him down the Oriental road he travels to Damascus. He struts with long strides carrying orders from the Sanhedrin to capture saints, men, and women in Damascus. His intentions are black. His goal–drag saints back to Jerusalem for slaughter.

Now let’s take our remote and pause the action here and look closely at this angry man on an angry road. I want to ask all you here at Drummondtown Baptist Church a theological question. It’s a question that anchors our core beliefs. Could God, would God ever love a man like this? Could Jesus ever seek a man like this? (Could you)? Is there anything redeemable in a man like this?

Nowhere in all of Scripture is the mercy and love of God seen more fully than in this story. For before us, charging down the road toward Damascus is a man not so different than you and me. For the Bible is quick to declare this truth; “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  (Could you repeat this verse with me)?

For this story to have the truest meaning you must see yourself as Saul on the oriental expressway to Damascus. You must see yourself as a sinner unworthy of any mercy or grace. You must see yourself as God sees you. Romans 3:10 holds an accurate mirror up before us.

(Romans 3:10-19)—Paul quotes from Psalm 14:1-3 Read this text.

            If you can place yourself on this road with Saul and see yourself as completely void of any righteousness then you will able to experience the wondrous miracle that is about to befall this murderer.

It was about noon Damascus time that Saul suddenly saw a light from heaven flash around him. READ TEXT-ACTS 9:3-4

And in that split second world history changed forever. In that moment salvation hit Saul like David’s stone hit Goliath. It rocked his soul, shook his heart, knocked him off his feet. (It was if you want to learn a new word, a sockdolager–a decisive blow). Do you remember my last word–velleity–a dream you do nothing to achieve)

He never knew what hit him. He went from breathing heavily, hyperventilating with anger toward the saints, to lying bent and broken on a dusty road. And if ever there was a picture of the reality of salvation this would be it. A life rushing at breakneck speed in one direction smacks dead into a loving God who is charging full speed toward the sinner.

            **If you ever happen to be near Geneva Switzerland you might want to check out the Hadron Collider.  It’s the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, the largest single machine in the world. It is 17 miles in circumference and buried nearly 600 feet underground. The goal is to smash particles into one another at super fast speeds and discover the secrets of atoms.

This is what happened on the road to Damascus. Two forces collided and the sparks of salvation burst into the soul of Saul– sinner of the worst degree.

Saul must have been so bewildered. He has just had a conversation with Jesus, the very One he had spent his life hating. Now this very Jesus has knocked him to the ground and questioned him. “Saul, Saul, why are you hunting me down like an animal?” And Saul had no answers. All he knew to do was surrender. And in an instant he went from breathing threats and murder to loving mankind and devoting his life to sharing the love of the Gospel. And so finally my sermon reaches my culminating point with this question:

Have you met Jesus on the road to Damascus? Have you collided with the Love of God?

 *When I was seven year old my dad moved our family to Japan. He was in the Air Force. At first we lived off base in a real Japanese village. We had a Japanese maid. I remember her so well. Asuka was my friend. One day she was sweeping the back porch and I heard a sad song on the radio. “What does the song say?” I asked her. And she paused and thought and then continued to sweep while telling me the meaning of the song. She was so kind.

It was not long after we arrived in Tokyo that we began attending the Tokyo Baptist Church.  I used to sit in the balcony and send paper planes fluttering down toward the worshippers.

But one Sunday I remember when I was about 7 years old I was sitting on the main floor near the middle of the sanctuary. When the service ended Milton DuPriest who was the pastor began urging people to come forward and surrender to Christ. I felt like I could not stand still another second. I moved out from the pew and made the long walk to the alter and there I gave my life to Christ.

Have you surrendered your life to Jesus? Has your life collided with the love of God as Saul’s did? If not do it now.   Life is too short to wait any longer.

 

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