by Russell V. DeLong
(About the author: Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1901, Russell V. DeLong was an internationally-known evangelist. He gave many years to the cause of Christian education, including 23 years as president of two different Nazarene colleges-one of them twice- and eight years as dean of Nazarene Theological Seminary.
For 21 years he was the principal speaker on the international radio program, Showers of Blessing. He authored 38 books and traveled throughout the world. He died Jan. 29, 1981.)
I want to paint a word picture:
Come back with me nineteen hundred years, to Old Jerusalem, to what is now known as Stephen's Gate. Here's a crowd of young men. And there, about 60 feet away, is another young man, with his back to the wall. The others are throwing sharp, jagged stones at him. One stone rips his cheek. Others smash into his head and shoulders. They are stoning him to death.
But their victim isn't swearing. He's not angry. He just has a very other-worldly look on his face. He is looking beyond the veil.
Then I look above, and see God the Father and God the Son sitting together on the throne. And I think I hear Jesus say: "Father, those young men are stoning Stephen. He is dying for me today. He's one of mine."
Stephen saw this heavenly scene, too. He looked right into heaven and he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. And Stephen began to pray: "Father, don't lay this to their charge. They don't know what they are doing." It's almost like the words of Jesus on the cross: "Forgive them. Don't hold it against them."
And then I think I hear Jesus say: "Father, see that little man standing over there holding the cloaks of the others. That's Saul of Tarsus. He's got a pocket full of papers authorizing him to kill My followers. But I see something in him. I can turn the world upside-down with him. I am reaching my hand down into his heart. I am seizing Saul of Tarsus."
And Saul saw something in Stephen that he had never seen before. He had never seen a man die while praying for his tormentors before. He never got away from that.
Then I see Saul on the road to Damascus. A light flashed from the sky and he fell off his horse. What were his first words? "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? I want to get into the same army Stephen is in. If you've got something to make a man die like that, that's what I want."
Now I want to paint another picture. It's some years later, and we are walking out of the city of Lystra. Here is a body, tumbled and torn and bloody. It is Paul. He's been stoned and left for dead. I shake him and say, "Saul, why aren't you up there in Jerusalem, living in a good home, getting a good salary in the Sanhedrin?"
I hear Paul move those swollen lips, and he says: "I'm just following after, if that I may apprehend that for which I was apprehended of Christ Jesus, my Lord. Lystra was on my blueprint."
Here is another picture. This time we are in the city of Philippi. In the old Philippian jail, down through a scuttle hole-there in the dark, airless, verminous dungeon we can just make out two men. One is older, smallish. The other is younger, bigger. Their backs are bleeding from a severe beating. Their hands and feet are in stocks.
I ask, "Aren't you Saul of Tarsus? What are you doing here, when you could be enjoying life back in Jerusalem?" He answers simply: "So that I may apprehend that for which I was apprehended of Christ Jesus. On my blueprint was Philippi."
Then he turns to the younger man, and I hear him say: "Silas, let's have an old-fashioned camp meeting. Let's praise God for all His goodness and His blessings. Let's sing a little bit."
While they are singing and shouting, let's take a look at heaven again. You know the Lord stayed awfully close to Paul, and He will stay close to you if you stay close to His blueprint for your life. And I seem to hear Jesus call Stephen over and say: "You see that little man there? That's the same fellow that stood by when you were killed for my name. That's Saul of Tarsus."
Then I think I hear Jesus say, "The boys have had enough. Angels, get down there and shake that old jail until the doors fall off their hinges." And pretty soon that jail trembles so that the doors do fall off their hinges.
The jailer grabs his sword and is about to commit suicide, but Paul says, "Put your sword up, brother. We are going to have a home missionary campaign here." And the jailer says, "What must I do to be saved?" Paul answers, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." And not only the jailer, but his wife and family were all converted.
That was the beginning of the church at Philippi. If Paul had not been willing to suffer, there wouldn't have been any church at Philippi. That was on his blueprint. God may have something on your blueprint that's not exactly pleasant, but out of it will come good.
One more picture. This time, Paul is chained in the hold of a vessel. He is on his way to Rome. For fourteen days the ship has been at the mercy of a raging storm. Passengers and crew alike are terrified. I say: "Paul, what are you doing down there? Why aren't you enjoying life in Jerusalem?"
He cries back, "I'm just following after. On my blueprint was this wreck and this storm." And all of a sudden, an angel appears to Paul and says, "Don't be afraid. God says you are going to Rome no matter what." And Paul says to the crew, "Sirs, I believe God." And they all made it to Rome.
Now I see an old man. He's old by years of service and sacrifice-gray hair, skin and bones, eyes receding in their sockets. He daily sits there, chained to a ball and chain, and outside they are grinding an ax, getting ready to cut off his head. And I hear him ask for writing materials. "I want to write my last will and testament to my son, Timothy."
And he writes: "Dear Timothy, I'm in jail again, even though I haven't done anything wrong." Then he adds: "If you follow in my footsteps, you will suffer and go to jail also."
Did he then advise Timothy to "Pull the punches a little bit, and smooth off the corners. Get a good church and a good home and a good business, and take life easy." Is that what he wrote? No, he said "Hit the devil every time you see him. Don't pull your punches. Do the work of the evangelist. Don't preach any other gospel than I have preached."
Then he wrote: "the next stop on my blueprint is heaven. In a few days I'm going to turn my back on Rome and the earth and shipwrecks and sufferings and pain. I'm going to turn my face to the dawning of a new day in God's eternal city, where sorrow, pain and suffering shall never come."
Finally he wrote: "I fought a good fight. I kept the faith. I have finished my course. I have completed the blueprint."
And in heaven, I think I hear Jesus say, "Stephen, see that little man down there. That's Paul. He's the same fellow that stood by when you died. You never met him in person, but you're going to meet him today. He's coming home.
"And do you know, Stephen, that you were partly responsible for his conversion? You died that he might live."
Lastly, I see Paul going down those golden boulevards of the New Jerusalem, to lay his trophies at Jesus' feet. Brothers, Saint Paul made it, and we'll make it, too, if we follow God's blueprint for our lives.
From Dr. DeLong's sermon "Apprehendables," transcribed by William F. Knowles,
who was a personal friend and admirer of Dr. DeLong.