Paul was one of the greatest preachers in the history of the church. If you read through the Book of Acts – the history of the first 33 years of the church – you will find Paul’s story starting in chapter nine. Before Paul started going by that name, he was known as Saul of Tarsus. He was an Israelite who had been named after King Saul – the first king of Israel in the Old Testament. But Saul was a wicked man. The Bible tells us: “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest…” (Acts 9:1).
Saul would go into houses and take all of the Christians – men, women and children – and drag them out to be killed. He hated Christians, he hated Christianity, and he hated Jesus. Until one day he encountered a suddenly from Heaven. I love the suddenlys of Scripture! Suddenly, everything changes! “As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go…” (Acts 9:3-6).
You know you’re in trouble when Jesus – after dying on the Cross, rising from the dead, and forty days later ascending to Heaven and sitting down at the right hand of God the Father – got up off of His throne and came down to the Earth to meet this guy. Jesus said to Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” Saul wasn’t exactly persecuting Jesus, he was persecuting the church. But Jesus said, “If you persecute my bride, you’re persecuting me! That’s my bride, and you don’t mess with my bride!”
Saul said, “Who are you, Lord?” That’s a great question to ask. That one question became the driving force and passion of Saul’s life. Philippians 3:10 says, “[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly]…” (The Amplified Bible). That first question started his journey with God – He wanted to know Him more. The second question he asked was, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” That’s a great follow up question. Once you find out who Jesus is, you get into the Bible and go to church and learn more about the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and who He is, then ask, “What do you want me to do?” And Jesus calls us to arise and go, and live for him.
Saul had this amazing encounter with Jesus, and in a letter he wrote to a young pastor named Timothy, he shared a bit of his autobiography: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (1 Tim. 1:12-16).
Saul tells us about how Jesus personally called him into the ministry. He shares how before coming to Christ, he was a sinner, but he obtained exceedingly abundant grace and mercy from Jesus. You won’t read your Bible for long before you will see grace. Saul was a sinful man – a murderer and a terrorist who killed Christians for fun – but God loved, accepted and forgave him, and gave him a new name: Paul. Even though Paul became one of the greatest preachers in the history of the church who wrote two thirds of our New Testament, he said, “I was the worst sinner of them all, but God saved me.”
In the New Living Translation of First Timothy 1:16, Paul says, “But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” In other words, he’s saying, “If God could save me – a murderer, a terrorist, and a violent man – then God could save anyone. Do you think your sins are worse than mine? God can save you, too!” He said, “It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been, how many terrible things you’ve done in your life, God will save and forgive you.” I love that! There’s no one who is too far gone that there’s no hope for them.
Pastor Chris Jordan