When we look at the early church fathers, none stands out more than Paul, whom as many of you know, was once called Saul. In my upcoming blog posts, I am going to focus on the writings of Paul, but today, I think it might be good to look at the beginning of Paul’s story, which ironically is not found in any of the books that he wrote. Luke continued where he left off at the end of his Gospel when he wrote Acts, which is where we find Paul’s story. Out of the 27 books of the New Testament, Paul wrote 13—that’s two-thirds of the New Testament. He is and, at the time of his ministry, considered a great authority on Christ and Christian doctrine. He was a missionary, who began and fostered churches throughout the Mediterranean, and even into Europe.
Out of the 27 books of the New Testament, Paul wrote 13—that’s two-thirds of the New Testament. He is today, and at the time of his ministry, considered a great authority on Christ and Christian doctrine. He was a missionary, who began and fostered churches throughout the Mediterranean, and even into Europe. So, you would think that a man of such great stature, such great work and zeal would have been a longtime disciple, that he would have been Jesus’ right-hand man. But that’s not Paul’s story at all. What we know about Paul is just the opposite. He did not know Jesus, and we don’t have any evidence that Paul ever saw Jesus or was present at any of his teachings or his crucifixion. We can be sure he was not at his resurrection.
Paul was a Pharisee. He was well educated in everything Jewish and religious. And he was an ardent persecutor of the early Christian movement. Acts 8 begins with this:
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
So what made Paul go from being a hostile persecutor of the Christian church to becoming one of the most strongly persecuted himself? What made him go from an unbeliever to the most inspired writer of the New Testament? What made Saul change his name to Paul ? Let’s look at what happens at the beginning of the next chapter, Acts 9: 1-19:
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
This is a long passage with a lot in it. In upcoming posts, we’ll break it down into smaller parts. Whenever we see this story depicted—whether it’s in a movie, a documentary, a classical painting—usually the focus is on how Saul was blinded, but no one else. That is quite a miracle. But that’s not the real miracle. The real miracle is this: That Jesus chose Saul of Tarsus of all people, to preach the gospel to Jew and Gentile; to kings; to become a pastor to pastors; a mentor to mentors; to be the most inspired writer of what only God would know at that time to become The New Testament. The true underlying miracle was God’s grace. God was able to look beyond Saul the sinner into the destiny of Paul the apostle. We need to have that kind of vision. We need to look beyond where people are now to who they can become in Christ.