|Saul Goes From Killer of Jesus's Followers To Follower Killed For Jesus|
|Written by production|
|Friday, 06 July 2007|
Saul Goes From Killer of Jesus's Followers To Follower Killed For Jesus
The explosive growth of Christianity continued because of the zeal of Jesus's followers, the beauty and power of Jesus's teachings, and the amazing signs given by the Holy Spirit. The Jewish government and the priests could not help but notice and did not like it. They did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, and they thought that this new cult - the Jesus followers - were blasphemous in the eyes of God. Or at least they said that; how could they truly deny the hand of God in so many miracles as were happening. But they were growing less and less tolerant of this new sect, and eventually things came to a head when a believer, a man named Stephen, became the first martyr for Christ. See Acts Chap 6 and 7.
Stephen was a believer full of grace and power, and he did many signs through the Holy Spirit, and was influential as a speaker. But a group of Jews who denied that Jesus was the Christ - called 'The Synagogue of the Freedmen' - rose up against Stephen in front of a crowd to argue against him and these teachings about Jesus. But Stephen spoke truth, and was backed up by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and the hollow arguments of these men could not stand against the words Stephen spoke.
Angry but unable to face him with truth, they induced some to claim that Stephen spoke blasphemous words, and a disturbance arose. In the end Stephen was seized and dragged before the Jewish Council. These liars said that he had spoken against the temple, wanted to alter the Laws of Moses, and that Stephen had said Jesus would do likewise.
When it became time for him to defend himself, Stephen's face lit up in front of them all like an angels face. And he began to speak. Stephen used the scriptures themselves to make it plain that they were waiting for a messiah and it had been Jesus. And that just as their fathers had killed the prophets sent to guide them, so had they now killed the awaited for Messiah, who had been Jesus.
In the end they were cut to the heart with guilt, but not repentant. Stephen looked up and saw a vision in the heavens and voiced it. He said he saw the heavens opened up and the Son of Man was standing at the right hand of the Father. This set them off competely and they drug him outside and stoned him. Dying, he called out to God to receive his spirit, and asked God not to charge the people killing him with this sin. He died, and became the first man to die for the testimony of Jesus - the first martyr.
But a young Jewish man, well connected and zealous for God, educated in Jewish Law by the great teacher Gamaliel, and a hater of these blasphemous Christians stood and watched over the clothing of those who stoned Stephen to death, and he approved of this stoning. This was Saul of Tarsus.
A great persecution broke out against the Church that day, and Saul became a leading officer in the punishment of Christians. They were soon mostly driven out of Jerusalem except for the 12 apostles because Saul, with soldiers and the Jewish council's full blessing, would break into houses, etc., hunting Christians down where ever they might be. And they were thrown into jail, beaten, even killed.
Soon Saul began travelling outside Jerusalem to other cities to persecute Christians there also. He wanted to stamp out the cult of this false Messiah, Jesus, because Saul loved God. He truly believed these 'Jesus followers' to be false. The scattered Christian believers suffered greatly from Saul and came to fear his name.
That is when Jesus dropped the hammer on the life of Saul and all that he had been up to that point. It happened that Saul had gotten letters from the Jewish council to take to cities outside Jerusalem. They were introduction and permission letters, asking that Saul be allowed into Damascus on behalf of the Jewish council to round up disciples of Jesus who followed what was then called "the way."
As Saul was on his way to Damascus a bright light came down from heaven (how bright does a light have to be to seem bright in the middle of the day?) and he fell off of the ass he rode, onto the ground.
A voice came from heaven then, saying "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"
Paul said "Who are you Lord?" The voice answered "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and go into the city and it will be told you what you must do."
The men with him were spechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Paul got up, but he was blind. Though his eyes were open he could not see. The men with him took him to a house in Damascus and for three days he sat, not eating or drinking.
Meanwhile, in that town a man named Ananias was a believer, and the voice of Jesus came to him. He was told to get up and go to a certain house where he would find Saul, and that Saul was praying and had been told in a vision that a man named Ananias would come and lay hands on him and restore his eye sight.
Ananias explained that he knew of Saul and that Saul persecuted Jesus's followers.
Jesus said Ananias should go to Saul, because Saul was a chosen instrument for Jesus who would proclaim about Jesus to Kings, gentiles, and Israelites. Jesus said He would show Saul how much he must suffer on behalf of Jesus's name.
Ananias rose and found Saul as he was told he would. He said "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming has sent me to that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." Then Ananias laid hands upon him and something like scales fell off of his eyes, and his vision was restored.
Then Saul was baptized immediately, and ate and drank, regaining his strength. He went to the synagogues and began proclaiming boldly and openly that Jesus was the Son of God. The people knew who he was, and they were all the more amazed at the power of Jesus.
What a message of humiliation and discouragement this must have sent the Jewish council who fought Jesus's believers. Their fiercest oppressor of this new blasphemous sect had become a loud voiced believer and proclaimed that they had indeed crucified the Messiah when they crucified Jesus. The council probably never publically admitted they had done this, but they must all have known in their spirits, and felt sick inside. They had killed God's Son who for so long had been expected to arrive and become king of their nation. Their's might just have been the darkest mistake in all of human history.
Paul's Testimony and Deeds
Paul's life from his conversion onward was mainly composed of of hard evangelizing for Jesus. He did preach to Jews, but finding them hard hearted towards the message he brought and even the signs of healing they saw Paul do through the power of the Holy Spirit (even bringing the dead back to life) Paul then mainly focused on the non-Jews (also referred to as Gentiles or Greeks).
He was beaten but persevered, given the '50 minus 1' lashes across his back more than once, but persevered, jailed but persevered, stoned but persevered (he was once stoned to the point of seeming dead, but prayed over, he arose and continued.) He preached before Governors and Kings. He was in shipwrecks, but lived. He was bitten by a poisonous snake but lived. He lived one of those lives of high adventure that are actually a lot more fun to read about than to go through. But in each place and circumstance, God preserved his life.
He called himself an Apostle born out of his time, as he never met Jesus before His crucixion. But Paul went from town to town along the Northern Mediterranean Sea and inland all the way to Rome - he founded and guided many churches. He wrote letters to the churches and encouraged them about how to face the struggles a church will face and still survive. These letters are in the Bible and still widely used today as sound advice by God fearing churches. Paul wrote some of the most beautifully reasoned out discussions that can be found on the state of man and the need for Jesus. For Roman's he wrote for the Roman psyche. For Hebrews, he used reasoning a Hebrew would relate to. He adapted the presentation where ever he went but never flinched from keeping the core message plain and unaltered.
Paul even fought eyesight problems - some sort of fleshly torment that God felt he should bear - as he went about his evangelizing. He says in one letter "See in what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand?" Galatians Chap 6: v. 11. He must have either had very bad eyesight or very bad arthritis by this time to have to say that, as he was a well educated man and was probably a practised writer. But whatever challenges he faced, he overcame.
Paul was a prisoner in Rome in the end, awaiting an audience with the Emperor over crimes he was accused of by the Jews of Jerusalem. For two years he evanglized from there. History is said to mark that Paul met his death there by beheading, though I've never personally learned what source that information comes from. As a Citizen of Rome he would have been beheaded instead of crucified. He may have actually spent about 6 months imprisoned in the same dungeon as Peter shortly before Peter was crucified, though this information is not well attested. But Paul had become - by the time of his death - the most prolific of the Apostles with regard to how far he had travelled and to how many people he had spread the word. (At least that is believed to be true - some of the Apostles had somewhat obscure missionary travels, so not all is known and recorded.)
It strikes me that God is said to hate pride above all traits. It was pride that let Satan desire to elevate himself above his given rank, for instance. So God often remarks in the scriptures that he uses the simple things and people of the earth to humble the great things and people of the earth. Isn't it typical then that if there were three especially important figures in the early church, you might choose these three:
1) Simon Peter who, by Jesus's own words, was given headship over Jesus's sheep and leadership among His apostles. Simon Peter had openly disavowed Jesus three times on the night and day He was crucified. He worked thereafter under the burden of this shame, not being proud about his place as leader, but grateful to have it so he could try to atone for his failures. Tradition holds that Simon Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. He felt unworthy to be crucified right side up like his Lord had been, feeling that he didn't deserve the same death as Jesus.
2) James, the brother of Jesus, who became the leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem. Jesus's brother, at least as far as being a child of Joseph and Mary, he had not even believed Jesus was the Messiah until Jesus's death. He was head of the most influential early church, but he labored with the shame of not believing his own brother. He was killed as a Christian by being thrown by Jews over a section of cliff near the city, then clubbed to death when he was found below still not dead.
3) Saul (who became the Apostle named Paul), who, thinking Jesus a pretender, killed and persecuted his followers throughout Judea and beyond, until he found out first hand by meeting Jesus just how wrong he was. Ashamed, he worked the rest of his life as one who had murdered the sheep of Jesus. Now, if you think of it, isn't Paul like the Jews will be when Jesus comes? One who was blinded by God for not seeing Jesus for who he was. Isn't that the Jews, according to scriptures? One who was restored by those they persecuted? Paul was restored by Ananias, a Christian. The Jews were resored to their homeland by Christian nations after World War II. And after finding out of the error, Paul worked to great avail for Jesus. Isn't there going to be a great harvest at the end of all things by the Jews who see and believe? There is to be a great harvest of souls, and it is aparently going to be after the church is removed from the earth. And it says that the Jews will see Jesus and be cut to the heart. I think they will convert en mass, if I read the scriptures correctly.
"On that day I will seek the destruction of all nations which come against Jerusalem. I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition; and they shall look upon him whom they have thrust through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a first born." Zechariah 12:9,10
"God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." James Chap 4: v. 6 from elsewhere.
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