Summary: Paul/Saul was a righteous man, but not until he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus was his life forever changed. This message deals with Paul's transforming encounter with Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the greatest transformation story in the Bible, perhaps the greatest transformation story in all Christian history is the transformation of a man named Saul into the Apostle named Paul. Perhaps there is no more well-known story of transformation in the Bible than this one. A commentator in the IVP New Testament Commentary series says it this way:
“The most important event in human history apart from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the conversion to Christianity of Saul of Tarsus. If Saul had remained a Jewish rabbi, we would be missing thirteen of twenty-seven books of the New Testament and Christianity's early major expansion to the Gentiles. Humanly speaking, without Paul Christianity would probably be of only antiquarian or arcane interest, like the Dead Sea Scrolls community or the Samaritans.”
Paul’s story is one most of us, if we’ve been in the church any length of time, have heard. We’ve heard of this dramatic encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, and we know that Paul is introduced to us as the man holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen (one of the first Christians) to death. And, our text today begins by reminding us that this Paul (who was Saul) was “breathing threats and murder” against the people of The Way, and was holding warrants for their arrest. We hear the story and we think what a transformation! What a change from a murderous enemy of Christ to the greatest advocate for Christ. We even get the impression from the words of Luke that Paul was an evil man, and that his encounter with Christ transformed an evil, arrogant man into a humble saint of God. Might I rather suggest this was the transformation of a righteous man?
Paul was a Jew. Paul, in the first century context, would have been a man after God’s own heart. He was a teacher of Judaism. In Acts 23:6, Paul cries out before the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” Later, in Philippians 3, Paul would describe himself this way: “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”
He grew up in a Pharisee’s home. He was taught the life of a Pharisee as a child. As he got older, he sat under the teaching of Gamaliel, the most influential Jewish teacher of his day. This was the same Gamaliel who, in the church’s infancy, told the Sanhedrin to leave this fledgling group of Jesus followers alone. If this was a move of God, the Sanhedrin couldn’t stop it. If it wasn’t, it would soon die out on its own. Paul knew all of the laws and ordinances of Judaism. Paul was considered among the most righteous of the righteous, and he was, this day, on a mission for God. There was one problem: Paul may have been on a mission for God, but he didn’t really know the God whose mission he was on. Here was a person, as righteous as he was, in need of transformation.