Saturday 24 January 2015

The Conversion of Paul (Acts 9)

Sunday is the day the Church honours the greatest name in the service of Christ, the Apostle Paul. The passage from Acts tells the story of his conversion. It is unique in the sense that Paul himself was unique.

Paul was a deeply religious man, a strict Pharisee, a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, who studied at Jerusalem University under the distinguished Rabbi Gamaliel. Prior to becoming a Rabbi he was by trade a tent maker.

He was a dedicated persecutor of Christians who he hunted with much determination. It was his sincere belief that in doing so he was pleasing God. He could not accept as a Jew that Jesus could possibly be the anticipated Messiah, for anyone executed by crucifixion was thought to be beyond God’s acceptance. He was not satisfied with hounding Christians in Jerusalem, but sought to go beyond that city.

Whilst on a journey to Damascus, without any warning, he was struck by a dazzling light and heard a voice asking him, ‘why do you persecute me?’ Paul said, ‘who are you Lord?’ Such a light caused blindness as a sign of divine revelation. The voice is accepted to have been of Jesus, enabling Paul always to claim to have heard from the risen Christ, so being called by Jesus in a very special way, and being given special authority and commission.

Paul would eventually write 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament.

Jesus was demonstrating to Paul that his attack on Christians was in effect an attack on Jesus. This was God’s plan for a change in Paul’s life, in which he would offer such zeal and lead so many to know the Lord, creating Churches around the ancient world. Paul would become an Apostle to the Gentiles. God wants us to see in this conversion the most unlikely people can be converted, and not only people from respectable families are called into God’s service. His conversion was a work of divine grace.

The Lord prepared for a prominent Christian, Ananias, to got to a house in the city where he would find Paul. This shook Ananias for Paul’s reputation as a persecutor of Christians was well known, but he did as God had told him, for the Lord had indicated that He was going to use Paul. Paul would later claim God had marked him out before he was born.

Paul would spend days of fasting and much suffering in the service of his Lord; beaten, stoned, chased out of cities, imprisoned, yet he never wavered in his devotion.

Following his conversion Paul travelled widely across the ancient world planting Churches and arranging financial aid to those in need. Finally he arrived back in Jerusalem with money collected, but against the advice of his friends.

Paul was told it would be dangerous for him to go to Jerusalem for Jewish Christians objected to him allowing Gentile Christians to worship in the Temple. Despite this he went and a riot broke out which resulted in Paul being arrested and taken to a Roman fortress. When he claimed he was a Roman citizen the commander released him, and he appeared before the Jewish Sanhedrin. When he there spoke of the resurrection of the dead he further upset them and was taken back to the fortress.

It became known that forty Jews were dedicated to killing Paul, so he was taken under guard to the Roman procurator Felix in Caesarea, where he was kept for two years. A new procurator was appointed and Paul demanded to appear before the Roman Emperor so was sent to Rome, but if he had not so demanded he would probably have been freed.

Eventually he arrived in Rome where he was kept under house arrest for two years, and his ultimate fate is not really known. It is a legend that he was beheaded.

The experience of Paul has been mocked and ridiculed and all sorts of explanations offered to try and discredit the story, but Paul always insisted and testified for the rest of his life, as to what happened on the road to Damascus, when it would have been easier for him not to do so, and would have saved him much hardship.

Never let us challenge, but rather thank God for this great Apostle whose writings teach us so much to the benefit of our faith.

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