Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
I used the NASB Translation here because of the clarity of the translation. We all know Paul’s past. And yet we all look to Paul as such a great leader, and he is obviously a very important character in the history of fledgling Christianity. Authoring half of the New Testament makes that pretty clear. But what does Paul tell us about ourselves and about Jesus? Well, a lot; but we’ll look at just a narrow point.
As I said, we all know Paul’s story. He was a persecutor of the church. Struck blind by Jesus on the road dot Damascus, Paul was converted by an attack of conscience and truth. He had been wrong. He had persecuted Jesus. And the full realization was, he had persecuted his Savior, and those who vowed to follow Him. He had killed in the name of his faith, and in doing so cursed the very name of the founder of faith and the source of real love.
We are not told in so many words that Paul himself was a murderer; that he personally, physically, man-handled a person to death. But we can easily make a case that we should work under that assumption. More to the point, even if reasonable doubt still exists, he is most certainly a bona-fied accessory to murder as not only was here at the murder (stoning) of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, but as we can see from the verse above consented, agree to, gave his approval of, Stephen’s murder. By today’s law, he’d easily be convicted of Accomplice to and Conspiracy to murder. Those are capitol crimes. But, it is also murder in the eyes of God. Jesus Himself said that even if you have hate in your heart that you have already committed murder.
Any sin separates you from God, and its rightful punishment is death. However, most people when confronted with their own sin will respond by saying something like, “yea, I may have stolen, or cheated, but hey, I never killed anyone”. In other words, we classify some sins in our own minds by saying some are more forgivable than others. Some specific sins are not as offensive as others. And while there is some biblical support for degrees of sin if you will (a debate for another time), the end result is that it does not matter. If you have transgressed against God, sinned if you will, than without a Savior, you are destined for Hell; eternal separation from God in a place that scripture defines with terrible metaphors and similes.
Bottom line, Paul, author of more than half the New Testament, taught by revelation from Jesus Himself, spreader of daily practical application for how to live our modern Christian life fits into that category of sinner. Yet, look at how he was used. But there is more to the story.
Before Paul could be used, he had to submit. And he had to learn to trust God. Fully.
On the road to Damascus Paul lost his sight. But he lost a lot more. He lost all of his old friends, and probably his family. He lost his political and social power and position. He lost his ability to hide behind his ‘religion’ and his traditions. He lost his ability to blame things on others. He lost his ability to trust in his own strength. And he was left with the reality that his only reality was total reliance on Jesus.
What I’m left with in pointing out these things is this: Paul was a far from relying on Jesus as anyone on this little blue sphere we call earth prior to his conversion. By submitting to Christ, leaving his fears and traditions behind – he became all those things that we know Paul became; author of New Testament books, corrector and rebuker of Peter, leader of men and Apostles, teacher of shepherds, founder of churches in Asia and the first Christian church in Europe and so much more.
Submitting to Christ, relying on Him fully can cause strange changes in one’s life. You might become a whole new person. You might even ending up loving and caring for those people you previously hated. Your social position, worldly ‘power’ or influence may no longer mean anything to you. You may make your faith the forefront of who you are, not just something you try to make sense of on Sundays. You might even begin talking responsibility for your own actions, and relying on Christ in all things.
Fear builds distance from God. Distancing yourself from God forces self reliability, and if unchecked, self-deification. If Paul can be a murderer of Christians and a persecutor of Christ Himself, and be changed, transformed into a great man of faith, what are you holding God back from doing in your life? You know the old adage: the more you hold on to or keep to yourself, the less God has to work with and the less God can take over and free you from. Giving it all up will bring ch-ch-changes. But they will all be good for you and good for the Kingdom.