Summary: intro to a series on Ephesians
Today intro on the Apostle Paul, the author of Ephesians and about 1/3 of the NT is either about Paul, or written by him. After Jesus, Paul is clearly the most influential person in the history of Christianity. Some would say Paul wrecked Christianity, more would say that what Paul did prevented Christianity from fading into history as a minor Jewish sect.
The change Jesus brought into Paul’s life is one of the most dramatic stories and radical transformations of a person that you can imagine. Saul or Paul (Saul, Jewish name, Paul Roman name) was born to a prominent Jewish family in Tarsus, capital of the Roman province in what is now Turkey. We know his parents were prominent citizens, because Paul was a Roman citizen from birth. It was relatively rare for Jews to be Roman citizens as citizenship had to be granted by a significant Roman government official.
Paul was born about 5-10 years after Jesus’ birth. At some point he went to Jerusalem as a young man to receive training in Judaism. He undoubtedly heard a lot about Jesus and may have even heard Jesus teach.
Paul was very bright and became a Pharisee at a young age. He describes himself as being “zealous after the Law.” And zealous he was. He was passionate about his faith as a Jew and devoted to its heritage and traditions.
With his sharp mind, Paul could see how this new group, who said Jesus was Messiah and was raised from the dead, that they represented a serious threat to everything Paul held dear. So, Paul became a self-appointed enforcer against “The Way,” as the followers of Jesus were first called. He considered what they were doing was blasphemy against God and should be punished by death.
Acts 8 describes the martyrdom of Stephen—who publicly testified that the new way in Jesus must replace the old way of the Law. Guess who supervises the brutal stoning execution of Stephen? That’s right Paul. He was in charge of the execution. So let’s take a look at what happens to Paul next.
Outline Acts 9: 1-19
Meanwhile, (after the execution of Stephen) Saul(Paul) was uttering threats with every breath. He was eager to destroy the Lord’s followers, so he went to the high priest. 2He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. 3As he was nearing Damascus (150 miles from Jerusalem) on this mission, a brilliant light from heaven suddenly beamed down upon him! 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” 5“Who are you, sir?" Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
7The men with Saul stood speechless with surprise, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice, but they saw no one! 8As Saul picked himself up off the ground, he found that he was blind. 9So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days. And all that time he went without food and water. 10Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord!” he replied. 11The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you arrive, ask for Saul of Tarsus. He is praying to me right now. 12I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying his hands on him so that he can see again.”
13“But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14And we hear that he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest every believer in Damascus.”
It would be like saying Osama or Omar had met Jesus while escaping the US attacks and should be accepted into the Christian family.
15But the Lord said, “Go and do what I say. For Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel…17So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you may get your sight back and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. 19Afterward he ate some food and was strengthened.
Several things to learn from Paul’s experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus: