By Dennis Huebshman
The first mention of Saul in the New Testament is Acts 7:58. He was at the stoning of Stephan and had charge of the cloaks that were laid at his feet by the ones stoning Stephan. At this point, he was in total agreement with the act, and after this he went on a crusade of persecuting those of “The Way” that worshipped Jesus. (The Church was known as “The Way” until being called Christians at Antioch Acts 11:26).
His background before this was that Saul was from Tarsus of Cilicia which is in South Central Turkey about 12 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, and according to resources he was born around 5 A.D. It was Roman territory and his parents were Jewish with Roman Citizenship and were of the tribe of Benjamin. He had been trained as a Pharisee from his youth and was a devout believer in anything the Sanhedrin believed in. He had lived in Jerusalem most of his younger life and studied Hebrew scriptures under Gamaliel who was a well-know leader of the Pharisees of that day (Acts. 22:3).
He decided he would do all he could to shut down this “religious sect” known as “The Way” and was instrumental in the torture and death of many of the believers in that area. He was very zealous in finding them and taking them to what he believed was “justice”. (Acts 8: 1-3).
His final act of aggression was to get a letter from the High Priest giving him the authority to go to Damascus and with the help of the synagogues there round up as many men and women of “The Way’ possible and to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem where they would no doubt have been martyred. Needless to say, he didn’t reach his destination in the manner he had thought he would as Jesus had other plans for him.
Up to this point, we have a very devout and bitter enemy of the Lord. Saul (who became Paul in Acts 13:9) was adamant about his hate of this religious group and their leader – Jesus. If it had been up to me, he would have been struck down and never able to get up again in this world!
However, this is where the wisdom of the Lord is far greater than any of us can imagine. Not only did Jesus single Paul out, He commissioned him with one of the greatest ministries that has ever been.
From the moment Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus, he had to re-think his whole life up until then. By having the direct contact with Jesus, Paul realized all his earlier training was for naught and his zeal did a complete turn-around. He was directed to a location in Damascus and was left to his thoughts without food or water for 3 days. (Acts 9:9) It’s interesting that the 3-day rule applies again – Jonah in the great fish and Jesus in the grave. Coincidence? Not with God!
Paul accepted Jesus immediately and began to proclaim Him as the true Messiah. (Acts 9:20-21). You can just imagine how everyone was totally amazed and confused by this sudden turn-around. The Jews in Damascus could not tolerate this and planned to kill Paul. He escaped by being let down in a basket through an opening in the wall of the city.
His first companion was Barnabas who witnessed for Paul and gave him credibility. Paul was sent to Tarsus, his home town, in order for things to quiet down in Jerusalem. The persecution of the church almost came to a standstill and the number of converts increased greatly. Later, Barnabas and Paul went to Antioch for a year, and as mentioned earlier the believers were called Christians for the first time. (Acts 11:26)
Paul had a long career of missionary journeys through the power of the Holy Spirit. He tried to reach the Jews first, but they caused him so many problems he said he would go exclusively to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:46) His goal was to go all the way to Rome declaring Jesus as the True Messiah, Son of God.
He had several other companions such as Silas, Luke, Timothy Priscilla and Aquila and others. At one point he almost became discouraged, but an Angel told him he would definitely go to Rome to stand before Caesar as it was the will of the Lord. (Acts 22: 23-24)
You would think through all of this, Paul would have an easy time being as he was in the power of the Holy Spirit and under the protection of the Father. Actually, he spent a good amount of time in various prisons, beaten with 39 lashes 5 times, beaten with a rod 3 times, shipwrecked and was even stoned and left for dead. Yet through all of this, his love for Jesus only grew more and more.
At one point, he says he was caught up to paradise (2 Corinthians 12: 2-4) and saw things he could not speak of. I believe the Father was showing him what was ahead for him to give him the strength and will to go on. After reading all his epistles and his account by Luke in Acts, one thing became very clear to me. Jesus can take anyone who has had a terrible past and with the power of the Holy Spirit make valuable disciples of them.
The biggest asset in Paul’s favor was the tremendous zeal for what was right. He just had to be shown what “right” was.
So, a major persecutor of the church became one of its most prevalent ministers He was able to produce a majority of the books of the New Testament (13 out of 27) followed by John (5), Luke the gentile (2) and Peter (2). That leaves 5 books written by various other inspired men. Even though he was persecuted by those he used to be a part of, God was able to use him to give us a better understanding of His will that still holds true today. He even gave us a picture of Jesus calling for His Church (Rapture) and the second coming after that.
Paul left us all with instructions on how to have eternal life with Jesus. He showed us our works are useless and we are saved by Grace through the Free Gift given to us at Calvary. (Ephesians 2:8-9) He points out we just have to accept this Grace from Jesus and will receive Mercy from the Father. I can’t add or take away anything from this clear message.
I will ask you to consider your relationship with the Lord. If it’s not good, Paul is an excellent example that anyone can change. He went from a hate-filled life against Jesus to totally loving Him with all his might. Once the change is there and you get closer to the Lord, it only gets better. We may suffer some tribulations in this life, but by accepting Jesus we will not go through the final wrath of God – 7 years of pure Tribulation like this world has never seen. If God can use one such as Paul, He can use any of us. Call on the name of the Lord today to ensure you will be with Him forever. Tomorrow may just be too late.