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John F MacArthurThere’s nothing better than a good conversion story.

I could read them all day long.

In 1988, John MacArthur gave a sermon on Philippians 1:19-21, which I used for my Forbidden Bible Verses post on that passage.

MacArthur began that sermon, ‘Joy in spite of death’, with an amazing conversion story effected through the Gospel according to St Matthew.

Emphases mine below:

As we come to the study of God’s Word this morning, I – before we get into it – want to share with you a wonderful experience I had this week.  I met this week a gentleman who will fit into my rather short list of the most unforgettable people I have ever met I had about three or four days to spend with him off and on because we kept intersecting one another and at some times we spent hours together talking.  He’s a fascinating man who reminded me again of the power of the Word of God His name is Ezekiel, and that’s a great start Ezekiel is a man in his sixties, a man who for many, many years was one of the greatest generals in the Israeli army, who can tell you tale after tale after tale of battles and victories that he won with his troops that have no explanation other than divine intervention.  He was one of the master strategists in the history of Israel.  He is a true Israelite in the sense of geography and heritage His family lived in the land of Israel before it was the state of Israel.  In fact, his family goes back to the time of the Ottoman Turks before the British occupation.  So he is truly a man of the land.  He is of genius capacity intellectually, being the chess champion of Israel who has competed internationally and is renowned for his ability.  He is what is called a grand master in bridge and has won all over the world, defeating most of the world’s teams with the team which he leads.

When he retired from military service in Israel after being very successful and very eminent as a strategist, he went into business for himself And in a matter of a few years, because of his abilities and his contacts, he became a multi-millionaire And it wasn’t very long before he was making so much money that he had plenty of time and plenty of money on his hands and he became a compulsive gambler And so he traveled all over the world, everywhere from Atlantic City to Las Vegas to Monte Carlo to you name it.  Where there was gambling, he was there, gambling huge amounts of money up to the losses of one million dollars in a given year.

Finally he was about ten months ago struck with a heart attack – no, I guess a little longer than that – struck with a heart attack and almost died And while he was in the hospital his wife said to him, “This has got to stop I’m not going to live with this anymore, this running around wasting money and being gone all the time.  And I don’t want you to do it, and now you’ve had a heart attack and you’ve got to stop this and settle down.”  She said, “If you do it again, I’ll leave you.”  And so in good faith to her he put all of his assets in her name to protect himself from himself And no sooner was he over his heart attack then his compulsion dictated to him what he would do So he took off again to gamble, at which point she divorced him And so he came to Atlantic City, his wife divorced him and now had possession of everything which was in her name. And all he had was what he had in his pocket, which he proceeded to lose in gambling in Atlantic City.

With just a few thousand left in his pocket and destitute now and realizing that he had lost his marriage and that he had lost his dignity and he had no reason to live, he decided to go to the twenty-second floor of Trump Tower and dive out He planned the whole suicide.  And on the way from his hotel room to the top of the building to jump out, he got sick.  And he told me, interestingly enough, he got too sick to kill himself, which I thought was pretty curious.  And he went back to his room – he was too sick to jump.  And he went back to his room and he began to spit up blood and so he called the house doctor, and they determined that he had pneumonia, rushed him to the hospital On the way somebody rolled him and took all his money And he got to the hospital with no money.  They let him stay for about a week until he was cured of pneumonia.  And upon his release, all he had in his pocket was a ticket to Israel seventeen days later – no wallet, no identification, no money, no nothing.  He said, “Where am I going to go?”  And they suggested the Atlantic City rescue mission.

So this great Israeli general, this great genius, this chess champion, grand master bridge player, wealthy entrepreneur, world jet-setter landed at the Atlantic City rescue mission.  For fifteen years of his military life he had studied the Old Testament with a fine-toothed comb because he wanted to be the master of all the military strategy of the Old Testament so that he could apply it in the contemporary battles in which Israel fought So he became a master of Old Testament data.  Since the age of six he had systematically memorized the Old Testament, so he knew it all from beginning to end.

He went into that rescue mission with nothing but the clothes on his back and a ticket to Israel seventeen days later, figuring he would stay there as nothing more than an indigent until he could get on his plane and leave.  The first day he was there another person staying there came up to him and said, “You look Jewish.”  He said, “I am.”  He said, “Here’s a Bible; read Matthew.”  He said having nothing else to do he sat down and read Matthew twice.  At the end of the second reading, he knew Jesus was the Messiah and embraced Him as his Savior.

Two readings of the gospel of Matthew.  He said to me, he said, “When I finished the second reading of Matthew, I totally understood the whole Old Testament. I understood every bit of it.”  And he said, “I want to tell you, Jesus is on every page, every page.”  And he said to me, “In fact, Jesus is Jehovah.  And Jesus is Elohim.  And the lights were going on.”

That was nine months ago He still hasn’t used the ticket.  He is still here.  He has nowhere to go.  He has no home.  He is still here studying the Bible eight to ten hours a day And now he’s beginning to understand the New Testament.  He said, “I understand the New. I understand everything Paul said. I understand everything Jesus confronted.  I know all about the Pharisees.  I understand that I was raised in Pharisaic Judaism.”  He says, “The whole Bible has come alive to me from cover to cover.”  And we sat by the hour and discussed the Word of God.

And he had a Hebrew Old Testament and a Hebrew New Testament, and we were going at it hour after hour after hour.  And he said, “All I want to do the rest of my life is study the Bible – study the Bible and tell my people about the Bible.”  He said, “I’m going back to Israel.  I’m going to buy a yarmulke because you can’t teach the law without a yarmulke.  I’m going to put on a yarmulke, and I’m going to teach the Bible.”

Incredible mind.  In fact, he is overwhelming with his insight in Scripture because his culture is so totally Old Testament orientation that everything makes sense to him.  And I walked away from that thrilled again at the power of the Word of God.  And I thought to myself, How do you approach a genius, Jewish, gambling, entrepreneurial military general?  What approach do you use?”  How about saying, “Read Matthew”?  What a powerful simplicity there is in that.

Hezzy, as he likes to be called – that’s his nickname – Hezzy and I have become friends.  He wants to come here and meet you.  Some day I think he will, if the Lord gives him life.  He has angina.  But again, I was reminded of the power of the Word of God.

Now having made that justification, I will preach from it – Philippians chapter 1.  Let’s open our Bibles together – with the confidence, the confidence in our hearts that the Word of God is alive and – What? – powerful, alive and powerful.

What an amazing story.

I hope that Hezzy returned to Israel eventually and that God blessed him abundantly, in life and in death.

Because he knew the Old Testament by heart, Matthew’s Gospel tied everything together for him and made the Bible come alive.

Other Jews have become Christians by reading Matthew, which the Apostle purposely began with our Lord’s earthly lineage for their benefit.

It is a pity that more people do not read the Bible regularly. Admittedly, it took a long time for me to do so. I was in my 50s when I started in earnest.

My advice is not to wait, because the sooner one understands Scripture, the sooner one truly embraces Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

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