“Introducing Saul of Tarsus”
August 9, 2020
INTRODUCING SAUL OF TARSUS
Some men are born to greatness. It’s their destiny. Now, I’m not sure I believe in destiny as such, but that is what many would call it. As for me, I feel like the feather at the beginning and end of Forest Gump. Let’s see what you think about the destiny of these two men.
There was a man born in the United States in the 1800s. Some say he was a man of destiny. He was born in a primitive log cabin in what was known then as Hardin County, Kentucky. His father was an illiterate, wandering laborer, and his mother was frail and sickly. They were forced out of their meager home when he was seven. His mother died when he was nine, and he grew up with no formal schooling.
His first attempt in business in 1831 failed miserably. A year later he ran for state legislature, unsuccessfully. That same year he lost his job and applied to law school but was laughed out of consideration because of his miserable qualifications. Not long after that humiliating ordeal he started another business using money he borrowed from a close friend. Before the year closed, however, that business faded and failed, also. He claimed bankruptcy and spent the next 17 years paying off the debt.
In 1835 he fell deeply in love only to have his heart broken when she died soon after the engagement. The following year he had a complete nervous breakdown and spent the next six months in bed recovering. In 1838 he sought to become speaker of the state legislature and was defeated. In 1840 he sought to become the elector of the state and was defeated. Three years later he ran for Congress and lost. In 1846 he ran again for Congress and won. Only two years later he ran for reelection and was soundly defeated. In 1849 he sought the job of Land Officer in his home state but was rejected. In 1854 he ran for the Senate of the United States, again he lost. In 1856 he sought the vice-presidential nomination at his party’s national convention. He got less than 100 votes.
Finally… in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected to the presidency of the United States and soon after endured the most devastating war our country has ever experienced. Sadly, only five days after Lee surrendered, on the 14th of April 1865, Lincoln was assassinated.
Dr. Charles Swindoll has said, “The steel of greatness is forged in the pit. It’s true of all of us. Don’t ever forget that, especially when you’re in the pit and you’re convinced there’s no way anything of value will come of it.”
Saul of Tarsus was born to wealthy parents in the area we know as the country Turkey, in the Province of Cilicia, in the city of Tarsus. He was born to Jewish parents with Roman citizenship. Both being a Jew and a Roman would play major parts in his future. Because the city was near a seaport, Tarsus became a popular trade route for caravans carrying their goods from the Orient in the east all the way to Rome in the west.
Saul’s father was a Pharisee, a member of the party most fervent in Jewish nationalism and strict in obedience to the Law of Moses. His parents sought to guard their offspring against “contamination.” Friendships with Gentile children were discouraged. Greek ideas were despised. Though Saul from infancy could speak Greek, and had a working knowledge of Latin, his family at home spoke Aramaic, the language of Judea, a derivative of Hebrew. Which one day would be spoken by Jesus Christ.
By his thirteenth birthday, Saul had mastered Jewish history, the poetry of the Psalms, and the majestic literature of the prophets. His ear had been trained to the very pitch of accuracy, and a swift brain like his could retain what he heard as instantly and faithfully as a modern “photographic mind” retains a printed page. He was ready for higher education.
Saul was trained in the Law of Moses as well as the Law of Rome. He learned to debate in question-and-answer style known in the ancient world as the “diatribe,” and to expound, for a rabbi was not only part preacher but part lawyer, who prosecuted those who broke the sacred Law.
Though Saul was not yet seated as one of the High Priests on the Sanhedrin, he had risen to the office of their legal counsel. He would prosecute the accused before the Sanhedrin, almost a dream position for a young man from Tarsus with high ambitions.
Saul, now a successful lawyer in the bustling courts of Jerusalem, was there to witness Stephen’s defense. (Acts 6) Little did he realize then how God would use the events leading up to and following the young disciple’s death, to change Saul’s life dramatically and impact the story of religious history, forever.
Since the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2, Jerusalem had been astir with unprecedented religious activity. The more the now-bold Apostles preached the good news of Christ, the more the people were converted. Everything was changing, even long-standing traditions. Jews living in Jerusalem and pilgrims visiting from around the region were embracing Christ, literally by the thousands. Dyed-in-the-wool religious leaders were incensed by what they were witnessing. Enough was enough.
As a result, according to Acts 5:18, “They laid hands on the Apostles, and put them in a public jail.” (774) These Spirit-filled Apostles were giving the religious establishment fits. These were maddening times for the Sanhedrin. Their attempt to silence the followers of Jesus by crucifying their Master had backfired. And so, incarcerating the religious fanatics seemed the best strategy to prevent further proselytizing of Jews. But not even that worked.
To make matters worse for the religious officials, something miraculous happened: “An angel of the Lord during the night opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, ‘Go your way, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.’ And upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and began to teach.” (Acts 5:19–21) (774) Talk about a backfire! The religious leaders thought they had dealt with these rebels, when, in fact, they had only motivated them to return to their preaching, more emboldened than ever. It was similar to what happened following the scene at Golgatha. The Jewish leaders felt certain that crucifying Christ would end everything. They could not have been more wrong. Christianity flourished following Jesus’ Resurrection.
Now, ablaze with the power of the Holy Spirit, Who fell upon those Peter was preaching to, the Apostles were setting Jerusalem aflame through their preaching. Their zeal was contagious and their message, convincing. It wasn’t long before the religious officials found themselves among a quickly shrinking minority. That prompted them to call an emergency meeting to determine their next move. Now when the high priest and his associates had come, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned, and reported back, saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” (Acts 5:21-23) (774) This was some of the atmosphere that surrounded Saul of Tarsus.
So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”
15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
7:1 Then the high priest asked him, “Are these charges true?” (Acts 6:12-7:1) (775)
As we move into Acts 7 we find the stoning of Stephen with Saul intent on seeing this man put to death. As part of his defense Stephen said, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him — you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”
When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 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.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. (Acts 7:51-8:1) (776)
Little did Saul know, but the Supernatural events he witnessed at Stephen’s death, including an apparent presence of God, would come to be a reality in his near future. The better we understand the darkness of Saul’s past the better we will understand Paul’s gratitude for God’s Grace. Saul was no meek and mild-mannered intellectual. He had become a passionate, determined Pharisee… a man on a mission. Until the grace of Christ laid hold of him, he violently opposed everyone, and everything related to “the Way” which was what following Christ was called. And do not miss this… He did it in the name of God.
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.” Next week we will begin looking at the lifetime of the Apostle Paul. Now that you know his beginnings, could you ever imagine Paul being the most prolific Church planter and Evangelist in the Bible? Me neither. Bostwick UMC 8/9/20
 Swindoll, Charles R.. Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Kindle Edition Location 181
 Swindoll, Charles R.. Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, Kindle Edition Location 251
Deb Ruby says
I LOVE these video sermons! I can hear you! I can read your lips. I can read your notes and look up the Bible references. I read your notes first and then listen to your sermon undistracted. This is a wonderful option for me. In the meantime, I can share it with Miss Barbara. Thank you so much!