By Kenneth F. Haney
“The church was built to disturb the peace of man, but – does not perform its duty for fear of disturbing the :he church. What kind of artillery practice would that declined to fire for fear of kicking over the gun or waking up the sentries asleep at their posts?”
-HENRY WARD BEECHER
Jesus told Peter that he would be converted. He would be from his fickle self into a spiritual dynamo. “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).
Jesus knew the transforming power of conversion. Something happened that caused Peter to be able to strengthen others. It was the baptism of Holy Ghost and FIRE in Peter’s life.
Many others also were converted as the FIRE spread in Jerusalem. The FIRE caused a hatred to well up within the hearts of the religious leaders and leaders of the Sanhedrin. Persecution began and Stephen became the first martyr of early Church.
SAUL, THE VIOLENT OPPOSER
After the death of Stephen the persecution still raged in Jerusalem. Pharisees and Sadduccees, priests and people, alike were engulfed with violent and ungovernable fury. T eminent and active agent in this persecution was Saul. He invaded the sanctuaries of domestic life, entering every house_ tearing people from their homes and imprisoning them. Acts 8:3 declares, “As for Saul, he made havock of the church entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.”
Even at Damascus Anaias had heard, ” . . . how much evil Paul had done to Christ’s saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13 A. From such cruelty, and such efforts to make them deny that Name which they honoured above all names, the disciples naturally fled. In consequence of “the persecution against the Church at Jerusalem, they were scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria.” The Apostles only remained (Acts 8:1). But, contrary to what one might expect, this dispersion led to great results. The moment of lowest depression was the very time of the Church’s first missionary triumph. “They that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
On a desert road on the north of Palestine, from the border of Arabia near Gaza to its border near Damascus, Saul determinedly followed the Christians. “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2).
About noon there suddenly shone a great light from heaven shining about Paul and them that journeyed with him. All fell to the ground in terror or stood dumb with amazement. Suddenly surrounded by a light so terrible and incomprehensible, they were afraid. They heard not the voice of Him that spake to Paul or if they heard a voice, they saw no Win. The whole scene was evidently one of utmost confusion, bewilderment and alarm.
While the others were stunned, stupefied and confused, a dear light broke terribly on the soul of one of those who was prostrated on the ground. A voice spoke articulately to him, ‘which to the rest was a sound mysterious and indistinct. He heard what they did not hear. He saw what they did not see. To them the awful sound was without a meaning, but he heard the voice of Jesus. To them it was a bright light that suddenly rounded them, but Saul saw Jesus, whom he was persecuting.
The same language, in which, during His earthly ministry He spoke to Peter and John, to the blind man by the walls of Jericho, to the woman who washed His feet with her tears—the same sacred language was used when He spoke from heaven to In persecutor on earth. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:4).
It is evident that this revelation was not merely an inward impression made on the mind of Saul during a trance. It was the direct perception of the visible presence of Jesus Christ.
Paul was converted from slaughtering to becoming a soul-winner. Paul gives a condensed statement to King Agrippa vex was spoken to him at the time of his conversion in Acts 26:15-18: “And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said I am whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear um: thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles. unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto: God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”
Paul’s conversion not only changed him, but was also the changing factor in the lives of thousands of people. What tremendous power in true conversion!
The following story demonstrates the power of conversion:
During a revival meeting where several churches gathered together, an evangelist ministered for four nights and nothing happened. He went to the leaders of the meeting and told them he was going to close the revival meeting because he felt there was a barrier in the way of the working of God’s Spirit. One of the leaders, who was a pastor, asked the evangelist to wait for a few days, because he thought he knew what was causing the barrier.
The pastor had in his congregation a man well known throughout his own state and a judge of one of the highest courts. Somehow it seemed that when this man passed through the audience he sent a cold wave over the people. The pastor went to the office of the old judge and said to him, “I have been hearing rumors on the streets for a long time that your life is ,not clean. I have come to say that if these rumors are untrue I desire to take some public stand with you to contradict them. I have also come to say that if they are true I will stand nearer to you than a brother, and help you to get free from the power of your besetting sin.”
The old judge looked a moment at him, and then put is head on his arms on the desk, and sobbed out, “They are all true, and more.”
In a moment they were on their knees in prayer, and it was but a moment more before the old judge rose a delivered man, free from the power of his sin.
The evangelist was just lifting his hands to pronounce the benediction at the close of an afternoon service when the church door opened, and in walked the old judge. He lifted his hand to ask permission to speak. Then he made this statement, “My friends, I have been known for years as one of the members of the church and as an officer of the church, but for a long time my life has been robbed of its power and my soul of its peace. I have lost my influence in my home, and I fear almost altogether in my city. But I have gotten right with my minister and right with God, and I have come to ask your forgiveness.”
The confession was made with sobs. There was no benediction pronounced that afternoon. The people all filed out. Some took the hand of the judge to say, “God bless you;” some to say nothing, but to pass with tear stained cheeks and burning hearts. When the evening service came, and the sermon had been preached, there was a remarkable change. The atmosphere seemed like heaven. At the altar call many souls came down to the front. The first man to come was the old judge, with his arm around a poor lost man. It was reported at this particular meeting in less than six days five hundred people were converted.
CONVERSION IN STRANGE PLACES
A professional diver said he had in his house what would probably strike a visitor as a very strange chimney ornament— shells of an oyster holding fast a piece of printed paper. The possessor of this ornament was diving on the coast when he observed at the bottom of the sea this oyster on a rock with a piece of paper in its mouth. The diver detached the paper and commenced to read through the goggles of his headdress was a gospel tract, and, coming to him this strange unexpected way, so impressed his unconverted heart, that he said: “I can hold out against God’s mercy in Christ no longer, since it pursues me thus.” As he wept his way to repentant he became, while in the ocean’s depth, a repentant, cony and forgiven man.
The conversion of those who made up the early C numbered in the thousands. They were staunch in their sand nothing could put out the FIRE of their commitment Jesus Christ. The following story about forty wrestlers told Paul Tassel demonstrates this:
In the days of the Roman Emperor Nero, there lived and served him a band of soldiers known as the “Emperor’s Wrestlers.” Fine stalwart men they were, picked from the best and the bravest of the land, and recruited from the great athletes of the Roman amphitheater.
In the great amphitheater they upheld the arms of the emperor against all challengers. Before each contest they stood before the emperor’s throne. Then through the courts of Rome rang the cry: “We, the wrestlers, wrestling for thee, O Emperor, to win for thee the victory and from thee, the victor’s crown.”
When the great Roman army was sent to fight in far away Gaul, no soldiers were braver or more loyal than this band of wrestlers led by their centurion Vespasian. But news reached Nero that many Roman soldiers had accepted the Christian faith. Therefore, this decree was dispatched to the centurion Vespasian: “If there be any among your soldiers who cling to the faith of the Christians, they must die!”
The decree was received in the dead of winter. The soldiers were camped on the shore of a frozen inland lake. It was with sinking heart that Vespasian, the centurion, read the emperor’s message.
Vespasian called the soldiers together and asked the question: “Are there any among you who cling to the faith of Christian? If so, let him step forward!” Forty wrestlers instantly stepped forward two paces, respectfully saluted, and stood at attention. Vespasian paused. He had not expected so many. nor such select ones. “Until sundown I shall await your answer,” said Vespasian. Sundown came. Again the question was asked. Again the forty wrestlers stepped forward.
Vespasian pleaded with them long and earnestly without ailing upon a single man to deny his Lord. Finally he said, ‘The decree of the emperor must be obeyed, but I am not willing that your comrades should shed your blood. I am going to order that you march out upon the lake of ice, and I shall leave you there to the mercy of the elements.”
The forty wrestlers were stripped and then, falling into columns of four, marched toward the center of the lake of ice. As they marched they broke into the chant of the arena: “Forty
wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, O Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor’s crown!” Through the long hours of the night Vespasian stood by his campfire and vanished. As he waited through the long night, there came to inn fainter and fainter the wrestlers’ song.
As morning drew near one figure, overcome by exposure, he crept quietly toward the fire; in the extremity of his suffering renounced his Lord. Faintly but clearly from the darkness came the song: “Thirty-nine wrestlers, wrestling for Thee, 0 Christ, to win for Thee the victory and from Thee, the victor’s crown!”
Vespasian looked at the figure drawing close to the fire. Perhaps he saw eternal light shining there toward the center of the lake. Who can say? But off came his helmet and clothing, and he sprang upon the ice, crying, “Forty wrestlers, wrestling for Thee. 0 Christ, to win for Thee the victory, and from Thee, the victor’s crown!”
The above article, “Fire of Conversion,” is written by Kenneth F. Haney. The article was excerpted from the third chapter of Haney’s book Baptism of Fire.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.