For God so loved the world
John 3:16 is probably the most well-known Bible verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This passage shows us how Saul of Tarsus found room in the “whosoever” word the Lord used, and how he turned it into great zeal to proclaim the name of the Lord who saved him.
After his conversion on the road to Damascus, Saul spent some time with the Christians in the city, and then immediately began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying “He is the Son of God (Acts 9:20).”
In verse 22, following the example of the apostles, Saul used scripture to prove that Jesus was the Christ. In Peter’s sermons we find constant references from the Old Testament prophets who wrote of the coming Messiah. Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophets in his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. He continues to do so in his building of his church.
Jesus had told Paul how much he would suffer for Jesus name (Acts 9:16), and in this passage Paul’s life is threatened both in Damascus and then in Jerusalem. Many sought to end his life. Nevertheless, we read that as Saul persevered in proclaiming Christ, he grew in strength (verse 22). It is a strange thing to hear of one under such threats growing in strength.
In verse 31, Luke gives us a summary statement of how the church was doing after all the activity of the converted Saul: “The church had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it multiplied.” There are some important applications for us here.
Christians have peace walking in the fear of the Lord. Psalm 85:9 says, “Salvation is near to those who fear the Lord.” The fear of the Lord is a right reverence, a regard for the majesty, authority, holiness, and love of the Lord. John Bunyan called this “a blessed confusion.”
Plainly, after his conversion Saul feared the Lord in a good way. The Lord supplied him with comfort and strength. He was joyful because of the unfailing love of the Lord. We need the Spirit of God to give us a right fear of the Lord. What can we do to stir up the Spirit to this end?
We can follow the example of probably the two most zealous preachers of the Lord’s wrath against sin and his great love in giving the Son of God as Savior; Isaiah and Paul. Both were put in the presence of the exalted and holy God. Both knew the meaning of Psalm 130:3-4: “If you O Lord should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand? But with you is forgiveness that you may be feared.”
The fear the devil has of the Lord is mingled with bitterness. The fear a redeemed soul has is mingled with knowledge of forgiveness of sin by a great Redeemer. If you put yourself in the presence of God knowing you are exposed with all your sin, the knowledge of atonement for sin is a great thing; greater than anything in the world. The fear of the Lord is such as that.
So it was with Paul and Isaiah. How they revered and loved the Lord! Paul is held out to us as an example to follow. The grace of Christ altered him in a great way. It allowed him to see his misery in sin, that death and the devil laid claim to him. Christ gave balm to his soul: thy sins are forgiven thee.
He learned of the love of God. It was from love the Father sent the Son, when he was equal with the Father. It was love that drew Christ to the virgin’s womb, not only to be man, but a suffering man: one who would be stricken, smitten, and afflicted. One who suffer the wrath of God as atonement for sin.
How could God convey his love to us any better? While were yet sinners, Christ died for us. To be awakened to sin and the offer of salvation is a great mercy. We do not deserve salvation, but we are offered it freely in Christ. Psalm 107:43 says, “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Union.