The Apostle Paul

Lesson 8

by Jackie Alston


Paul's conversion was one of the most important events in the history of the Christian Church. In the New Testament, the event falls short only to Jesus' Birth, Death, Resurrection, and the Pentecost. So we can never say, hear, or learn too much about Paul, the man converted from a menace to a minister.

He told the Thessalonians to "pray without ceasing." He told the Philippians "for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain," and in anticipation of the nearness of his death and martyrdom, he wrote his beloved Timothy, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give me at that day and not only to me but to all those that love his appearing." Those are some very powerful, very spiritual and inspiring words for Christians all over the world, especially coming from a man who once breathed out threatenings and slaughter to the very people the words were meant for. And when I say breathed out, it really means breathed in because every breath he took, he lived it to persecute the believers of Christ.

So what could change a man so drastically, who set out on a mission with nothing in his heart but death? Only a rendezvous with LIFE. Life Himself, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, JESUS.

Saul is first mentioned in the New Testament as a young man about thirty years old at whose feet the witnesses laid their garments at the stoning of Stephen. But much can be learned about his background and former training from the Acts and from his own epistles. We learn that Saul was a Pharisee from the tribe of Benjamin. He was born into a well-to-do Jewish family who had Roman citizenship. But Saul was brought up in the strictest traditions of Judaism. In his younger years, Saul was sent to Jerusalem to study under Gamaliel, the most famous Rabbi of that day. Under Gamaliel's tutelage, Saul learned the Law of Moses, the Prophets, he learned Greek and Jewish literature and he learned in detail, the traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees. He also learned the trade of tent making. Saul was a very intelligent student with a mastermind and a zeal for God.

As I've said in many of my previous lessons, the Scribes and Pharisees always had a problem with Jesus. They never believed Jesus was the Messiah. But among the orthodox Jews arose a new sect called the Nazarenes who did believe Jesus was the Messiah, and among these believers was a man named Stephen. Stephen was one of the seven deacons chosen by the disciples to supervise the offering tables because they were getting a few complaints that a certain group of widows weren't being treated fairly. Stephen performed his assigned tasks but also became a powerful spokesman for Jesus.

The Bible tells us of one day in Stephen's life; unfortunately it is the last day of his life. For on that day Stephen boldly accused the Sanhedrin of breaking the law and murdering Jesus. This made the members of the Sanhedrin so angry that they rushed Stephen, dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. They defied the Roman law because Jews were not allowed to carry out a death sentence. In order to be able to throw the stones more freely, they took off their outer garments and laid them at the feet of Saul. Saul was right there consenting to the death of Stephen.

With Stephen's death, it would seem that Christianity suffered a mighty blow, but his death was not in vain because Jesus heard and answered the prayer of his dying deacon, and Stephen's death brought about the birth of Paul. It goes to show that in a time of crisis, God knows exactly where to go to find the right man He needs even if the man doesn't know he's the right man. And Saul definitely did not know he was the right man. Stephen's death had such a tremendous impact on Saul, that on that very day he went on a rampage against the Christians.

Saul was one of those Pharisees who did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. He believed the Messiah would come in all glory, so he hated Stephen and all those who followed Jesus, the imposter who insulted the synagogues, and cursed God in proclaiming himself the Messiah. Then the so-called Messiah died a felon on a wooden cross. He couldn't possibly be the Messiah! So out went Saul to put an end to this blasphemy. And what's so sad is, he actually thought he was doing the will of God. He vowed to stop the spread of Christianity.

But what Saul tried to stop, he actually got started. The believers were right there in Jerusalem learning from the disciples, but when Saul started going into their houses and dragging them out and having them beaten and thrown into jail and sentenced to death, they got scared and they ran. If they had run and kept their mouths shut then Saul would have succeeded in what he was trying to do, but they had a faith they couldn't shut up about so they spread the word of Jesus. And they spread it right on in to Damascus.

When Saul heard about this, he became so angry that he devised a new plan. This time he went to the high priest and got official papers giving him the authority to go into Damascus and arrest and bring back bound and captive any of those who believed in "The Way", not realizing that JESUS is the WAY.

So can you imagine how much more dangerous Saul would be with warrants in his hands? Just think how the law is today; when cops have a warrant for someone's arrest, sometimes they have no mercy. So I can imagine the Christians in Damascus trembling and falling on their knees praying "Lord, please don't let Saul hurt us. Please Jesus, don't even let him make it to Damascus." But Saul did make it into Damascus, but he never got a chance to use those arresting papers from the high priest. For on the road to Damascus, Saul himself was arrested, and his warrant was from the Highest Priest, JESUS.

The story goes that Saul was leading his companions to Damascus, a journey of about six days. They traveled day and night. And when they got within one half mile of Damascus, it happened. A bright light shone around them and knocked them to the ground and Saul heard a voice speaking in the Hebrew tongue saying, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Saul was a very brilliant man who knew his Hebrew Bible very well so he knew and realized that a light shining brighter than the noon day sun coming from the Heavens meant a divine manifestation. But, the question confused him. "Why persecutest thy me?" He was only persecuting the Christians, he didn't understand. He didn't realize that in persecuting the Christians, the believers of Christ, he was persecuting the Body of the Church, Jesus' sisters and brothers. And you know Jesus,"Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethen, ye did it unto me." "So why do you keep persecuting me?" And Saul did not have an answer. He reminds us of people that oppose something or dislike someone and don't have a reason. Saul, as intelligent as he was, never really had a good argument against the Christians. Jesus knew this but He wanted Saul to know it. And now face to face with Jesus, Saul couldn't answer so he asked a question.

Who are you, Lord? And I can imagine Jesus shaking his head, thinking, "You're persecuting me and don't even know who I am. Well, let me tell you, " I am Jesus whom thou persecutest, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." Saul knew exactly what Jesus was talking about but I'm going to break it down to our level; a little bit graphic, but we'll be able to understand it. Jesus was telling Saul in so many word, " It's hard acting like a stubborn ass." Saul was acting just like one of those stupid animals, usually an ox; I used ass as an attention-getter.

Back then the herdsman or the cattleman would use what was called a goad, which was a stick nine feet long and sharpened at the end. When they wanted an animal to do something or go in the right direction, they would prick it. If the animal didn't resist and went along with what it was suppose to do, all it would feel was a little sting, but lots of times the animal would get stubborn and kick against the prick. The kick was hopeless and futile, he couldn't hurt the herdsman, he was nine feet away. So all it was doing was causing more injury to itself. And this is what Jesus was telling Saul. " You're resisting a force far more mightier than you. Because of that heart of stone and your spiritual beliefs, I'm too far from you, you can't hurt me. All you're doing is hurting yourself". Jesus' confrontation with Saul caused an instantaneous conversion, but Saul had been getting hammer blows to the heart all along that would prepare him for this final blow that would break all the stone away. But each time, Saul kicked against the prick!

Out of all the people who converted to Christ, Saul heard about Barnabas, whom he had probably met in his school days. He heard how Barnabas sold all his property and put the profits at the feet of the disciples to go into the common fund for those less fortunate. But this was a prick that Saul kicked against. Saul was there when the disciples were brought before the Council and sentenced to death for believing in Jesus. He heard his own Teacher, Gamaliel come to their defense, saying, "do not do anything to the disciples that you wouldn't want done to you, leave them alone." Saul witnessed as the disciples were beaten and told to never mention the name of Jesus again. But he saw them a little while later still preaching and teaching the words of Jesus, proudly displaying wounds they had suffered in the name of the Lord. But this was another prick that Saul kicked against.

And the first and most important prick was witnessing a martyr's death. Saul saw Stephen's face shine like an angel's. He heard Stephen say "I see the heavens open and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." Saul had learned and heard so much about Jesus in his pursuit to persecute the Christians. He must have heard what is recorded in Mark 14:62 that says, "the Son of man shall be sitting on the right hand of power." But Saul clearly understood Stephen to say, "I see the heavens open and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." And Saul most have thought, oh my, God, does this mean that Jesus was so pleased in Stephen that He stood to welcome him into the heavens? Saul watched as Stephen was lifted up and thrown into the death hole. He saw the deacon struggling to get to his knees as the stones kept raining down upon him. He heard the deacon's prayer and wondered, "Who is this Jesus that a dying man would pray that He would receive his spirit?" He heard Stephen's final words "Lord, don't hold this sin against them." But all of this was a prick that Saul kicked against.

And now hearing Jesus use the Hebrew form of his name which means "asked for" or "asked of God", Saul had to make up his mind whether to continue to kick against the pricks or answer his calling. And I'm sure a lot of things went through Saul's mind at this time but one thing kept coming back over and over. How badly he had misinterpreted the Scriptures! Saul had committed blasphemy himself. So he decided to surrender all and answer Jesus' call. "ALL TO HIM MY BLESSED SAVIOR, I SURRENDER ALL." And Saul asked "What will you have me to do?" And Jesus answered, "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do."

Saul got up off the ground; he was dirty, he was shattered, and he was blind. Isn't it amazing how a situation can change when Jesus comes into it? Mr. Big Bad Saul who was leading the way to Damascus, had to be led into Damascus. Someone had to take him by the hand and lead him. But Saul didn't mind, although blind, he was now a new man in Christ Jesus. The persecutor of the Nazarenes was now a Nazarene himself! Tell me what Jesus can't do!

Saul was led to the home of a man named Judas, (a good Judas, not the one who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver; he was long gone). And Saul stayed in the home of Judas, sightless and without food for three days awaiting instructions from the Lord. During this time, Jesus appeared to a man named Ananais, (a good Ananais, not the one who dropped dead for lying to the Holy Spirit). A new Judas, a new Ananais, and a new Saul, all symbols of a new beginning.

Ananais was told to go find Saul of Tarsus. But he was a little reluctant because he had heard about Saul's bad reputation. But Jesus assured him there was no need to fear Saul anymore. At this point you may wonder, "Why didn't Jesus send Peter or John or one of the other original disciples? It was to let us know that God can and does use ordinary believers to help do His will.

Although Saul's background and education, and his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, and his knowledge of the Greek writers made him the perfect choice for Jesus' chosen vessel, he still lacked two things. First he had to be brought into the right relationship with Jesus and second, he had to be taught the facts of the Gospel. The first would come when Ananais healed and baptized Saul with the Holy Spirit; the second would come from Jesus. Saul was taught many of the facts and even some of Jesus' sayings by Jesus himself.

Saul shed his Hebrew name and became the Apostle Paul; the apostle chosen to bear Jesus' name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. Paul's commission proved to be the most extraordinary career of preaching, teaching, and witnessing in the name of Jesus that has ever been recorded. Paul continued laboring for Jesus some thirty years until it is believed he was beheaded by order of Nero.

In Rome there is a small chapel with three fountains of living water springing out of the ground. An old tradition says that the three fountains mark the three spots that Paul's severed head touched the ground. But to Paul: "To live had been Christ; and to die was gain." Death only meant a more glorious rendezvous with his beloved Lord.

Paul's story lets us know that there is hope for any sinner willing to repent and believe. If God's mercy and grace can change Saul of Tarsus, any believer can be a new creature in Christ Jesus.






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