Summary: Nothing can explain what happened to Saul of Tarsus short of God’s intervention in his life. Has that ever happened to you?
The experience of Saul of Tarsus has to be the most ironic and dramatic change story in the New Testament.
Here’s a man with a clean conscience, doing the unconscionable.
Here’s a man with high religious standards performing terrorist acts.
Here’s a man who hates Jesus, but wants to please God.
Here’s the Christian’s worst nightmare, suddenly becoming a zealous Christian missionary.
He goes from radical persecutor of Jesus’ followers to relentless preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How did it happen? He met Jesus. Have you?
While this story in the Bible tells us what happened to Saul, the central character is still Jesus Christ. If Jesus can take a man like Saul and reverse his engines, just imagine what he can do for you and me. Saul, as the apostle Paul, later wrote: 1 Timothy 2:12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service;
13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief;
14 and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.
15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
16 And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.
You see, Jesus knew the heart of this man. Jesus knew that while Saul was working to destroy the church Jesus died for, he was actually acting out of ignorance and unbelief. His motives were amazingly sincere. This was no act of pride or selfish ambition. He was not at all motivated by desire for promotion or personal gain. Saul was not a dishonest man. He was a man of deep faith in God and radical loyalty to the cause he believed to be true. In fact, he loved truth, or he never would have come to know it. While racing down the wrong path, he fully believed he was doing the right thing. Saul was sincerely wrong.
That being said, the Christians he persecuted still suffered just the same. His sincerity did nothing to reduce the swelling of the whelps on the backs of those who were beaten because of him. His honesty did nothing to restore the lives of those he had put to death. His deep faith that he was pleasing God did not make it any easier on the church. If anything, that only made him a worse enemy. How do you reach someone who is fully convinced they are doing the right thing! Saul has heard sermons about Jesus. He was there with those that tried and stoned Stephen. Surely he heard the content of the gospel. That’s just the point! This Jesus who was crucified was being preached as the risen Messiah! To Saul this was preposterous! Even the evidence of the miracles seemed to have had no impact on Saul. He has one clear agenda: stamp out the faith in Jesus. Clear the world of all who claim that Jesus is the Christ.
Saul isn’t making any extra money doing this. He’s a zealous man on a mission, willing to sacrifice to see the followers of Jesus wiped off the face of the earth. Can you imagine what it would take to win a man like Saul to faith in Jesus?
The last thing that anyone expected was for Saul to become a Christian. In fact, the last thing Saul himself expected was to become a Christian. But God is full of surprises. God already has plans for this man, long before he ever believed in Jesus as the Christ. Look at Galatians 1:13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it;
14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
15 But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased
16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
What did this just say? When did God set Saul apart? Look again at verse 15: But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased