Saul the Christian-Killer Became the Apostle Paul. Ever Wondered WHY?

There was once a zealous man named Saul (from Tarsus) who hounded the young and growing Christian church at every turn. As far as we know, he never saw Jesus prior to the crucifixion, and was not an eyewitness or follower while Jesus was alive. In fact, Saul of Tarsus persecuted and attacked the followers of the Way, and accused those who preached Jesus’ resurrection of blasphemy. His career as Pharisee was taking off because he was ruthless in his judgement and relentless in his pursuit. But somehow, something changed for Saul: this same man had an experience that transformed him and changed his life completely.

What Happened?

We know him now as the Apostle Paul, the same man who said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” How could a Pharisee of such unparalleled zeal make such a change? How could an enemy of the Church become one of its staunchest defenders? What changed him from Saul the persecutor into Paul, the Apostle? History tells us that something happened to change his life and change his name. Apparently the power lay in the Gospel, which Paul defined so well in his first letter to Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. The he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as to one abnormally born.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV)

Quite a Resume

Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew scholar, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous rabbi of that era. He persecuted the early church in his zeal as a Pharisee, and his Jewish credentials were impeccable. (Paul referred to himself as formerly “faultless” in the eyes of the law in Philippians 3:6). He was consenting to Stephen’s death in Acts 6, but a short time after that encountered Jesus in a very real vision while traveling to Damascus. (By definition an Apostle had to have seen Jesus, and although it didn’t happen before Jesus was crucified, this was Paul’s encounter. It changed him forever.)

Saul apostle

He embraced the reality of the resurrection and began to follow Christ with the same zeal he had previously applied to persecuting the church. He spent three years in Arabia communing with and learning somehow from Christ himself, and then taught in Damascus, strengthening the church. The Apostle Paul became perhaps the greatest Hebrew apologist for Christ the world has ever known, and his missionary efforts spread the good news all over the world.

So Why Focus on a Pharisee Who Converted?

You can doubt a lot of things about Christianity, but you really can’t argue with the historical impact of Paul. If you haven’t read his letters, they are amazing in their ability to connect the work of Christ with God’s revelation through the Old Testament. He said in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Saul apostle Paul

Saul’s testimony still counts as an eyewitness because he was transformed after an encounter with the risen Lord. He went from being an enemy of those who followed Jesus to a follower himself. When he encountered Jesus, he began to connect the dots, and the rest is history.

It’s really the same for all of us—a lot of things aren’t clear until we encounter Jesus. But once we put him in the proper place, there are so many things that suddenly make sense. I hope they do for you!

Unashamed

Saul abhorred the gospel, and he hated those who knew it;
If there was any way that he could stop them, he would do it.
He encountered Jesus as he traveled to Damascus;
Witnesses said, “Yes it really happened there. Just ask us!”
That was not the only testimony to that day;
Saul was transformed into Paul, and then had this to say:

“I am not ashamed at all! The Gospel gives me power,
And I am going to preach it every minute, every hour.
I will go in grace to those who used to fear and hate me,
And preach God’s endless love, from which no power can separate me!
I’ll gladly preach of healing where I used to cause such pain,
For me, for Paul to live is Christ! For me to die is gain.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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The Surprising Story of Balaam’s Talking Ass

The Story of how Balaam received a message from God is pretty unusual, and if you haven’t read it before, right now is a great time to do it. If you’ve read it, and it left you scratching your head a little, it’s certainly worth a deeper look. ( And yeah, I know that it’s PRIMARILY referred to most often by middle school boys who say, ” the word ‘Ass‘ IS in the Bible, so I can use it, too!”)

The story’s MAIN lesson, though, is that God communicates with us and also keeps his promises. Check this out: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said it, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19, NIV)

In one of the more unusual stories in the Bible, a prophet named Balaam is sent to Balak, the king over the Moabites. Balak was concerned about the way the Israelites were conquering his neighbors, and sent messengers to Balaam to ask for some relief from God. (And yes, with OT references to the pagan god Baal, having a story with Balak and Balaam in it certainly elevates its position on the confusion meter.)

At any rate, the Lord gave Balaam a message and told him he could go to Moab, but only if he would deliver God’s message word for word. So, we pick up our narrative in the twenty-second chapter of Numbers, wherein Balaam was riding his donkey (using here the more civilized term for the animal, sorry middle-school boys) to Moab. Apparently, however, he was not fully committed to carrying out the Lord’s mission.

message

An Unusual Twist

God knew of Balaam’s lack of commitment to his instructions. So, He sent an angel to block the road, which apparently the donkey could see, but Balaam could not. The donkey, freaked out by the heavenly message-bearer, held up. Wouldn’t budge. Balaam became enraged over the Donkey’s refusal to travel. He struck the stubborn donkey several times, until the animal went all “Mr. Ed” on him and spoke, asking him why he was being hit. (For those of you too young to remember, Mr. Ed was a sitcom about a talking horse named Ed who had a dumb owner named Wilbur. Wilbur was committed to keeping Ed’s gift of speech a secret, so Mister Ed would say stuff and his owner would take the fall, or bumble into awkward cover-up stories. Every week, the horse’s ability to speak got Wilbur into all sorts of shenanigans.)

In this Bible passage, however, the donkey was motivated to speak a warning to its owner Balaam by a messenger from God. Balaam (finally, at the donkey’s urging) saw the angel of the Lord and then decided to listen with greater focus to his instructions. The angel told him: “The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live.” (Numbers 22:33)

So, What Can We Learn From a Talking Donkey?

One lesson we can learn from this passage is, “Don’t be so consumed with your own agenda that you don’t even see or hear God’s message to you.” Balaam was so wrapped up in politics or personal concerns that he almost rode to his own death. It may seem strange, but you and I might be doing the same thing. Sin works that way. You can even think you are doing God’s work (like being a prophet) when you actually motivated by your own pride or fear. I am not exactly sure what Balaam’s problem was, but God went to unusual lengths to get his attention. Don’t be that guy.

Finally, though, in the midst of his prophecy to Moab, Balaam gave them strong assurance about the Lord: God is not a mere man. His word is true, and when He has made a promise, He will bring it to pass. Think about the promises God has made to you, there are lots to choose from: hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11); unending love (Romans 8:38); peace (John 14:27, Philippians 4:7); and according to Peter, many other great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4). Open your eyes to God’s word. Listen to His promises and claim them. It might just keep you from riding to your own death.

A Road Trip to Remember

Balaam had a mission, but an angel blocked his way,
And made him pay attention to what his donkey had to say:
God gave him a message, but he really hadn’t heard
That he should take that message and deliver it word for word.
If you ride a Donkey who turns into Mr. Ed,
I’d pay attention to what he says, or you could wind up dead!
If God sends you a message, listen. Do not be an ass;
Remember: whatever the Lord has promised, He will bring to pass.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Reality Check: You Are Far More Powerful Than You Think

The Book of Romans, Paul’s brilliant treatise connecting the Hebrew Law with the work of Jesus is both logical and challenging. Even though he stood on a firm foundation of faith, Paul did not separate his brain from his beliefs. In fact, he presented the reality of the Gospel in ways that have clarified it for billions of people. But as intellectually powerful as it is, the logic was not really the thing Paul fixed upon. In fact, he grew downright passionate about something else:

No Power On this List is Big Enough

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV) Wow! What a statement!

I don’t know about YOU, but I’ve been let down by humans lots of times. As strong as love’s bonds may be, they sometimes fail. The reality is, sometimes they fail miserably. But, what if there was a perfect love that never let us down, and never let us go?

separate reality

Here, in his letter about sin, the law, and faith, the Apostle Paul puts a stake in the ground about the reality of God’s love. He is convinced. Nothing in all of creation can separate us from it! It’s a magnificent statement from an amazing book; if you read that list, it covers pretty much everything in existence that could possibly keep us from being surrounded, protected, and rescued by God’s love in Christ Jesus.

The Most Powerful Thing

There’s one thing he leaves off this list, however. In reality, it’s the one power on earth that will allow you to be separate from God’s love, and in fact it’s the ONLY thing I know of that can do it: it’s YOU. Your WILL is able to separate you from God’s love. While Angels and Demons can’t do it, YOU can. Just decide you don’t want him. Decide he’s not there for you. Decide that God’s love has no place in your life, and you can be totally separate from God. It may seem odd, because God is love and He’ll never take His love away from you–but he will allow you to take yourself away from it.

reality

C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

As I see it, you can be independent and do your own thing all you want to; or you can feel convinced about the inseparable love of God and respond accordingly. It’s totally up to you. Just don’t complain later when you feel unloved. It’s what you, in all your power, chose to do.

A Choice Above All Powers

Not the future, nor the past,
Nor any power that can last;
Not witches who could cast a spell,
Or demons from the pit of hell,
Nor angels’ voices as they sing,
Or any earthly lord or king,
Or any mere created thing–
Nor height or depth, nor width or breadth,
Not even the power of life or death!
No fatal flaw or ancient curse,
Not one thing in this universe,
Not things below us or above,
Can separate us from God’s love!
The only way that you can lose
Is if that is the way you choose.
You want God’s love? Expect it.
And if not, just reject it.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread