He was a murderer, a gangster, in fact he headed a mafia that specialised in obtaining warrants to haunt Christians, fish them out, and publicly stone them to death. A case in point is in Acts 7 were he presided over a public execution.
Stephen, was a man full of faith, the first martyred disciple who would not deny his faith despite the treatment that he faced. He preached the Gospel with fervour. He refused to adulterate his belief. He even prayed for those who were murdering him and sitting and presiding over this mayhem was a man called Saul of tarsus.
He continued breathing havoc, destruction on the church, and on his way to Damascus, a bright light struck him down and he heard a voice: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’
Surprised, he enquired,’ Who are You, Lord? And he got his reply: ‘ I am Jesus whom you persecute’
Saul of Tarsus then asked: ‘What would you want me to do?’
He was blind at this time. His accomplices could see what had befallen their leader and were confuse, bewildered had been felled and now struck blind feeling his way around in darkness. He was physically blind but for the first time his spiritual eyes were opened to realise that religion was different from a relationship with God.
Jesus told him where to go for remedy and they took him to Ananias who would lay hands on him to receive his sight.
This was the beginning of the living of the man who came to be known as Paul. This was his glorious encounter with the cross. This was his passing from death to life from religion to a relationship with God.
From then on we see a different man who preached the Gospel with fire in his bones, vehemently supporting what he once opposed, openly detesting what he vowed to destroy-Christianity.
The zeal with which he persecuted the saints was turned into saving souls and building churches- putting on the light that he once quenched. Venom against Christianity was turned into Vim What a Salvation!
1Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
5"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked.
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. 6"Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."
7The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!"
"Yes, Lord," he answered.
11The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight."
Now see his new craving, his desire, his passion:
8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
11I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. 13I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
14I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.
16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
It sounds like a dream, but we can clearly see the transformation in the life of Paul. He now has a burden for building Churches, saving souls, prevailing in prayers for those souls, longing to visit them and impart spiritual gifts to them, rejoicing in their growth in grace. He is not a secret saint who like a submarine ducks under after a Sunday service and reappears the following Sunday. He is active, vibrant, witnessing and following up.
I am challenged by what I see and I pray that the Lord will grant me the zeal I see in this man.
‘Lord, when I am tempted not to show my support for You openly, remind me: 16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.’
Saul of Tarsus, transformed to Paul
Now emptied of all the gall
There is great fire in his bones
As he sides with those he once stoned.
Preaching with fervour and conviction;
Blaring the sound of salvation.
With vigour and vim, building bridges;
With courage and charisma, carrying Churches.
Surely, Saul was a man soundly saved.
Lessons for us
1.God wants us to be soundly saved, turning the zeal with which we sinned into righteous-living.
‘I am obligated….’ ‘I long to see…’ I am not ashamed…’ ‘I constantly remember you…’
2.Those who are currently opposing the Gospel could one day be its champions, stalwarts and trophies. Acts 8,9
3.Persecution can bring out the best or the worst in us depending on how we face it.
4.We need not take persecution personally but as against the Lord Himself. Besides we should count it all joy for identifying with His suffering and indeed our training for reigning with Him when He comes.
5.God is sovereign and can transform anyone.
6.The word of God is powerful enough to light up any darkness.
7.All who believe shall be saved.
8.The Gospel is for everyone.Rom1:16
9.We should not just be burdened to see people saved but also pray for them to stay saved. Because there is an enemy out there seeking whom to devour- not happy that some of his prisoners have decamped.Rom1:9-10
10. Just as the faith of the new believers was breath of fresh air – reported everywhere- so should our faith begin to impact, challenge and permeate others.
11. Just as we need the fruit of the spirit- evidence of our growth in Christ we also need the gifts of the spirit such as the working of miracles, discernment of spirits, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, gifts of healings, special faith, word of knowledge and word of wisdom. (1Cor12:8-11)
12. These gifts are imparted through the laying on of hands. (Rom1:11)
13. God often allows persecution to push us out of our comfort zones.
14. We need each other. Paul wanted to lay his hands on the new believers to impart spiritual gifts to them because he realised the importance of mutual encouragement to keep us going from strength to strength. (Rom1:11)
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