Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Of all the biblical characters, none has a chequered ‘before and after’ profile like Saul whose name our Lord Jesus later changed to Paul. Born and raised as a Pharisee, he grew up to become a staunch, devout and zealous adherent of Judaism. His Jewish credentials were impeccable. He strongly believed that Christianity did not have its raison d’être and was not founded in the Old Testament, therefore he was bent on quenching its flame. He undertook to nip the movement in the bud before it would spread like wildfire.

To this end, he persecuted the Christians; doing all he could to frustrate this new movement. Notably, he orchestrated the death of Stephen who was martyred for his faith. Standing by as an eye-witness and an accomplice, “They all rushed at him (Stephen), dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:57-58) 

It did not end there. This “Saul was still breathing murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way (Christianity), whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”(Acts 8:1-2)

Saul spearheaded the persecutions of Christians with so much zeal and vigour and relentlessly at that. With this drive, he plodded on. Not until he met with the Head of the Church, was his enthusiasm damped.

Henceforth, tables will turn. He who once led the persecution would be the one who would champion the Christian agenda. It was on one of such raids that Peter encountered the Lord Jesus. “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ “(Acts 9:3-4) Saul asked the voice: “Who are you, Lord?” The answer came back right away: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:5)

The Lord Jesus had declared unequivocally that He would establish His Church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. In order words, no person, force or movement on earth will be able to crush the Church that the Lord Jesus Himself had founded.

To put this in context, once, our Lord Jesus quizzed his disciples; ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter had boldly replied “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded that on the basis of Peter’s revelation knowledge, He (Jesus) was going to build His church. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock (revelation) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades [hell] will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) 

Our Lord Jesus then gave Saul these instructions in his blind state. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6) The one who was supposed to take care of Saul voiced his suspicions about this personality. “Lord,” Ananias voiced his concerns, “I have heard many reports about this man and all he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call upon your name.”   (Acts 9:13-14) Our Lord Jesus retorted: “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I must show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

Change of story

Saul, the chief persecutor becomes the chosen mouthpiece to carry the gospel of our Lord Jesus to the world. Who would have predicted that?

The apostle Paul after his conversion became a vocal and vibrant mouthpiece of God. Many revelations were given to him by God which he shared in the thirteen (13) epistles that he authored. He has shed a lot of light on the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ that are worthy of note and have contributed greatly to the spread of the Gospel.

He remarked, now a changed man: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1Timothy 1:12-14)

When you read Paul’s curriculum vitae, it becomes crystal clear that the predictions made by our Lord about his ministry went exactly as was pronounced. “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger form Gentiles, in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep. I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked...” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)

There is a price to pay for not acknowledged our Lord Jesus as the stone that the builders refused that has become the headstone of the corner.