Jesus! He’s our focus in this blog series based on Josh McDowell’s best-selling apologetics classic: More Than a Carpenter.
In this post let’s look at one of the most influential conversion stories in the Bible: that of Saul of Tarsus. A bitter enemy of the early Church, Saul was personally leading the charge to destroy it. But then Jesus stalled Saul, via a blinding vision, to show him the goal he should be chasing.
Why is Saul’s dramatic conversion so important? Because it’s the pivotal moment that led Saul (Hebrew), later referred to as Paul (Greek), to become the hugely influential spokesman of the Jesus Movement. It’s mind-blowing who God can choose to use, right?!
Saul/Paul: The Before
Saul, like his father, was a Roman citizen. He was well educated, under the strict doctrines of the Pharisees, in Tarsus, a city known and praised for its Stoic philosophers and culture. Possessing great command of the Greek language, Saul displayed superb dialectic skill. At the tender age of 14, he was sent to study under Gamaliel, one of the great rabbis of the time, to learn to adhere to and preserve strict Judaism.
It was this devotion to Jewish law that later triggered Saul’s adamant opposition and hostility to the Christian faith, due to the importance he attached to the law as a way of salvation.
Saul sought to decimate the early Church by putting followers of Jesus in chains and taking them to Jerusalem to face trial. But on the day he approached the city of Damascus, carrying letters addressed to the Damascus synagogues asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way, Jesus stopped him by appearing to him in a vision.
A bright light from heaven suddenly shone down and Saul fell to the ground. A voice cried, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” cried Saul, trembling in fear.
“I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Saul’s companions, who also heard the voice, quickly realized that Saul could no longer see. So they led him into Damascus, where he sat in his blindness for three days. Then God sent Ananias, a believer, to lay his hands on Saul’s eyes to restore his sight (Acts 9).
Ananias had heard of Saul’s reputation and mission. He was scared to put himself in the same room as Saul, but he obeyed when the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.”
“Brother Saul,” said Ananias, as he placed his hands on Saul’s eyes, “the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Bible says that instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see. Saul got up, nourished himself, and got baptized.
Why did Saul’s conversion have to be so dramatic? God had His reasons, but likely because Saul needed to be dramatically convinced of Jesus’ resurrection power. And recognizing that he’d been personally hand-picked for a mission would have had a HUGE impact. One thing we do know: The experience overturns every area of Saul’s life, including where he places his allegiance.
Saul/Paul: The After
After this encounter, Saul/Paul is transformed in three dramatic ways:
First: His CHARACTER is radically transformed.
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Paul before his conversion as an intolerant, bitter, persecuting, religious bigot, who was proud and temperamental. The “after” adjectives describe Paul as patient, kind, enduring, and self-sacrificing. Wow!
Second: His RELATIONSHIP with the followers of Jesus is transformed.
The Christians no longer need to fear Paul, as his focus has changed from destroying the Church to helping to grow its members. Paul now encourages them to stay strong in their faith!
Third: His MESSAGE is transformed.
He still loves his Jewish heritage, but Paul has changed from bitter antagonist to determined protagonist of the Christian faith. The Book of Acts tells us that Paul immediately began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”
Don’t miss this: In acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, Paul’s message is now in direct conflict with the Pharisees’ messianic ideas. Paul now teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross was not a cursing by God, but rather God reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus. That Christ’s death wasn’t a failure, but a great victory, completed by the Resurrection.
Can you imagine the shock waves that swept through the Jewish leadership? And in Paul’s own family?
Fourth: His MISSION is transformed.
As a Jew and a Pharisee, Saul had despised Gentiles, viewing them as inferior to God’s people. But now here he is wholeheartedly serving them, as God’s self-appointed missionary. The Jewish zealot is now an on-fire evangelist to non-Jews!
For the rest of his life, Paul will repeatedly claim that Christ, alone, fueled this transformation in his life. Paul even endured a martyr’s death for his commitment to Christ. Can you say, “Sold out”?
As Paul’s ministry teaches us, Jesus came for the Jew and Gentile alike. Which means that Jesus came and died for YOU! Will you accept Him as your Lord and Savior?
Jesus: He’s More Than a Carpenter!
> FREE download: Read the first chapter of Josh’s bestseller, More Than a Carpenter. You can buy the book here.
> Watch how More Than a Carpenter changed one reader’s life AND set off a chain reaction that introduced many others to Jesus. That’s how the truth of God’s love is shared: person to person!
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