Summary: Paul’ dramatic converstion forced him to re-interpret the cross in the light of the resurrection and assess what it meant as the age to come began to dawn.
PAUL – MINISTERING BETWEEN THE AGES - Acts 22:1-21
This week the BBC strung together a series of clips in which politicians, bankers and other public figures had given public apologies over things they had got wrong. And the background music was Elton John’s ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’.
Then a discussion followed as to why ‘sorry’ is a hard word to use. And the finding ranged from the fear of litigation (an admission of liability) to fear of appearing to be weak.
There are times when we can get it wrong in a big way – not just politicians or bankers but people like you and I. We may be entirely sincere, but wrong at the same time.
We should not confuse being sincere with being right.
One of the most notable characters of the Bible who was at one time sincerely wrong was Saul of Tarsus who became known to us as the Apostle Paul. At one time this high ranking Pharisee considered Christians to be heretics and followers of a false Messiah. He considered it his duty before God to destroy both them and their movement. His subsequent encounter with the risen Christ let to his sudden conversion and complete change of mind. For a man so well-educated as Saul it was going to take more than a logical argument or the testimony of others to alter his views and ways. It was this divine encounter with Jesus himself that brought about the change.
Here is what Paul had to say about the incident:
READING: Acts 22:1-21
In our series on the Drama of Scripture we have reached the point where we the Apostle Paul appears on the scene. Paul played a very major role. He featured priminently in the latter half of the Book of Acts and he becomes a missionary pastor/teacher, mainly to the Gentiles, and the author of many of the New Testament letters.
• But he was not always the missionary pastor.
• It took this encounter with the risen Christ to cause to rethink his entire belief system and its outworking for his own life.
Some of you are amongst the many people who at one time placed your faith in things other than Christ. You might even have been suspicious of, or even antagonistic towards Christians.
But something happened – whether by crisis or process – by which you changed. You became a believer.
For Saul, his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus forced a radical change in his thinking.
THIS AGE AND THE AGE TO COME
To gain some understanding of what this encounter meant to Paul we need first to appreciate his way of thinking as a religious Jew. Paul’s understanding, as an educated Jew, was that the world consisted of two ages: This age, and the age to come.
We come across references to this idea several times in the Scriptures:
Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
Paul’s understanding of ‘this present age’ was of an age dominated by sin, evil and death.
He anticipated an age to come when God would return to Israel and usher in his kingdom.
Paul was incensed and outraged by claim made by Christians that God’s kingdom had come in the crucified Jesus.
Was it not said in the Scriptures ‘cursed is he who hangs upon a tree’? How could a Jewish imposter, crucified under Roman law, be the one who initiated the age to come?
Paul was undoubtedly sincere in his opposition to this movement, but it was all about to change. One brief but powerful encounter with the risen Lord changed not only this man’s life – it altered the course of history.
I believe there are occasions when God reveals himself in remarkable ways to people who are sincere in their seeking to do right but are going about it in the wrong way.
The Sikh Sadhu Sundar Singh would be one example of someone who at one time persecuted Christians and burned a Bible page by page in front of his friends. But then later he saw the risen Christ in a vision and heard him speaking to him. He paid dearly for his faith, being disowned by his family in his teenage years, and narrowly escaped being poisoned by them.