“From Saul to Paul”
August 23, 2020
FROM SAUL TO PAUL
Dr. Charles Swindoll has said, “The conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, the manufacture of a Saint is the task of a lifetime.” So, Saul /Paul would spend his lifetime delivering the message of his deliverance. And the message of the Deliverer.
Saul had been borderline out of control. His fury had intensified almost to the point of no return. Such bloodthirsty determination and blind hatred for the followers of Christ drove him hard toward his distant destination: Damascus. Saul had determined to go to the farthest extreme in his mission to apprehend followers of the Way. Over one hundred miles north of Jerusalem, the journey to Damascus was no small undertaking. To Saul the trip would pay off greatly.
Why Damascus? According to Josephus, at one point in history ten thousand Jews were massacred in Damascus – hard evidence that at certain times a significant number of Jewish people lived in the city. Saul had the census figures too. He knew many Jewish turncoats had fled Israel’s capitol to seek refuge in faraway Damascus. He devised an aggressive plan to storm the city, capture the infidels, and drag them into court. Thankfully, God had a different plan.
Let’s let Paul tell his own story beginning in his letter to the Galatians:
For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:13-18 NIV)
Paul freely admitted his anti-Christ history. And by the time the Letter to the Galatians was written Paul had realized the depth of his calling. Paul lets us know in no uncertain terms where he got the wisdom with which he taught and preached. Dr. Luke, in his history of the Church, the book of Acts, quotes Paul extensively. Let’s look at some of that.
“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. (Acts 22:1-5 NIV)
There came a time when Paul, himself, was brought before the king to present his defense for the preaching of Salvation through Jesus Christ that he was doing in public. The very thing he had put others in chains for.
The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. Festus said: “King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore, I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send on a prisoner without specifying the charges against him.”
26:1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense: “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
“The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?
“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
“On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 25:23 – 26:18 NIV)
I find it fascinating that Paul deliberately mentions two things he did not do.
First, he did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, that is other people. He didn’t go searching around Damascus, seeking others to shape his theology by consensus.
Second, he did not rush to Jerusalem to present himself to the apostles – the very men who had walked with and served alongside Jesus. But Paul had his reasons for emphasizing this point. This emphatic disclaimer of any contact with earlier believers and their leaders makes it clear that Paul did not derive his understanding of the Christian message from any who were Christians before him. Specifically, he did not learn from, nor was he commissioned by, those who had been apostles before him. It could not be said that he had had instruction and had misunderstood what earlier teachers were trying to convey to him. It is of primary importance for Paul that he had been directly commissioned by Jesus.
One scholar proposes that Saul fled to Arabia to protect himself from the Jewish leaders who, having heard of his newfound faith, wanted to nip it in the bud. The only thing Paul reveals is, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:18 NIV). For three years, Saul lived somewhere in the desert, cut-off from his former manner of life… in solitude, quietness, and obscurity. If you do the math you come up with well over one thousand days unaccounted for in Saul’s life. A thousand plus days he most likely spent alone. All alone. Thinking. Praying. Wrestling within. Listening to the Lord. If he had ever been addicted to popularity, he lost the urge to pursue it during those years in the desert. If at one time he had become enamored with his own spiritual significance, that self-inflated pride melted away in the warmth of God’s presence. It had to be there, in that barren place of obscurity, that Paul developed his theology. “In the pit” as Dr. Charles Swindoll would say. He met God, intimately and deeply. Silently and alone, he plumbed the unfathomable mysteries of sovereignty, election, depravity, the deity of Christ, the miraculous power of the Resurrection, the Church, and future things. It became a three-year crash course in sound doctrine from which would flow a lifetime of preaching, teaching, and writing. More than that, it’s where Paul tossed aside his polished trophies and traded his resumé of religious credentials for a vibrant relationship with the risen Christ. Everything changed. It was there, no doubt, he concluded “whatever things were gain to me, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3: 7–8 NIV).
Month after month Paul wandered to and fro, sharing the rough fare of some Essene community, or the lot of a family of Bedouins; now swept upwards in heavenly fellowship, and again plunged into profound meditation. Deeper than all was God’s work in his soul. Grain by grain his profound self-reliance and impetuosity were worn away. No longer confident in himself, he was henceforth more than content to be the slave of Jesus Christ. We all need to go to Arabia to learn lessons like these.
Next Sunday let’s talk about finding God in the desert. Our own personal desert.
Bostwick UMC 8/23/2020
 Swindoll, Charles R.. Insights on Romans (Swindoll’s New Testament Insights) . Zondervan. Kindle Edition, Location 125
 Swindoll, Charles R.. Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit (Great Lives Series Book 6) . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition, Location 1008
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