Imagine the looks on the faces of early Church leaders if God had told them that Saul of Tarsus was the one He chose to spread the gospel, plant many churches throughout the Roman empire and write most of the New Testament letters.
I could hear the response: “Lord, we don’t mean to question your judgment, but have you heard about how this man has been opposing you and persecuting believers in Christ?”
We actually know about their hesitation and fear. After his dramatic conversion to Christ, Paul came to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples, but, “they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).
It’s not surprising that there was confusion and doubt about Saul’s conversion? He was (on the human level) the least likely man for the calling! So how could it be that God would choose this man to be his foremost evangelist and church planter?
Here is an occasion when people say, “It can’t be done” or “He’s too far gone.” I am sure they thought of Saul of Tarsus as a hardened unbeliever who was the chief antagonist to Christ. And, he was… until…
In his own words,
- “I persecuted the followers of this way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the council can testify” (Acts 22:4-5).
- “I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe… And when the blood of Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him” (Acts 22:19-20).
- “I was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did… I put many of the saints in prison and when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. I tried to force them to blaspheme and in my obsession…I even went to foreign cities to persecute them’ (Acts 26:9-11; cf.Acts 9:1-22; 22:6-16; 26:12-18; Galatians 1:11-16b).
- Paul referred to himself as “once a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man” and “the worst of sinners” (1Timothy 1:13-16).
Paul was a violent man — a man of outrageous disregard for the rights of others. This pictures a man with seething insolent anger. These words offer a very dark picture of the man who, before Christ apprehended him, arrogantly considered himself “blameless” as a Law-keeping Pharisee.
The descriptions of paul as a blasphemer, persecutor and violent man form a picture of an enemy of God. And Paul fully acknowledged that he was God’s enemy (see: Romans 5:8-10.) He wasn’t a pretty good guy or a sincerely religious person. He was a blasphemer, persecutor and violent man!
Expect the unexpected!
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus to become the apostle Paul and a follower of Christ is one of the most amazing conversions in the history of the church—if not the most amazing. Few events were more unanticipated in the book of Acts than the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus.
Expect the unexpected with God! Get ready for the predictable to give way to the unpredictable! Stand in awe at the ways of God!
How often God delights in reminding us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).
That God would take this man to plant churches in every region throughout the Roman Empire and to pen most of the books of the New Testament (in just three decades) stretches human imagination and credulity! But it is so much like our God!
Paul’s salvation story
Acts 9 tells the story of Paul as a man obsessed with ecclesiastical authority in pursuing Christians to persecute them. But Christ stopped him and took hold of him. A light brighter than the sun appeared — blinding Paul (Saul of Tarsus) and Christ confronted and claimed him! Paul’s short biographical description of his conversion said it well: “I was apprehended by Christ Jesus” or “Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12).
In another short summary, he told the dark side of his past and then said, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy …. “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly ” (I Timothy 1:13-14).
Praise God for His mercy and grace! Remember to expect the unexpected with God! Don’t be surprised when the predictable gives way to the unpredictable! Stand in humble awe at the ways of God!
* For more on Paul’s salvation story, see - Romans 9:2-4; 1 Cor. 9:1, 16-17; 15:8-10; 2 Cor. 3:4-4:4, 5:16; Gal. 1:11-16; Eph. 3:1-13; Phil. 3:4-11; Col. 1:23-29; Acts 22 and 26.