Read Acts 8:1-3
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at [Stephen] and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:57-58, NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 140: Saul. As we carry on with our God’s People series, we now arrive at a pivotal moment in the history of the early Christian Church. At the time, the church hadn’t even yet been given the label, Christian, but were known as The Way. The church was predominantly made up of Jewish people who saw Jesus Christ as the Messiah and the embodiment of God.
These Jesus followers, or Christ followers as they would later come to be known as (aka Christians), did not see themselves as starting up a new religion; rather, they saw themselves as “enlightened” Jews who were following the true Jewish religion. What that meant was that they thought that they were given, through Jesus and his apostles, the true understanding of the Jewish Scriptures and God’s Salvation plan.
They were preaching this revelatory message in the streets of Jerusalem, at the Temple, and in the synagogues. What’s more, they were not only preaching and teaching this to Jewish communities in Judaea, but throughout Syria as well. For any devout Jewish person, and especially the Pharisees and Sadducees, this new sect of Judaism was growing at an alarming rate and would have been viewed as a threat against all the Jewish people.
Why? Because they saw it as a rewriting of Jewish history and of the Jewish faith and they feared that this dangerous little cult of Jesus followers was going to bring the wrath of God down upon their heads. After all, they had been following the Torah since God gave it to Moses and it was God who commanded the Jews to follow the Law and to live by His commands; yet, these Jesus followers were twisting around the Law and saying that some of the Law didn’t matter anymore because it was fulfilled in a person who was convicted and crucified traitor.
One such Pharisee was named Saul. He was zealous for the Lord and his Jewish faith and he was not going to sit idly by while this ragtag group of Messiah hopefuls ransacked the Jewish faith and led people astray. That is why he approved of Stephen’s stoning and went on a campaign to root out that Jesus cult once and for all. Acts tells us that he went door to door arresting people and having them put in prison.
At first, Saul’s campaign against the Jesus movement was limited to Jerusalem; however, Saul of Tarsus knew that it was spreading far beyond Jerusalem and he fully intended to track it down no matter where it was spreading to. He was going to track it down and stamp it out permanently. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, let it suffice for us to say that Saul did not see himself as a “bad guy”; rather, he saw himself as a defender of God’s people against “bad guys”.
Let that challenge us. Most people do not act the way they do believing themselves to be bad or evil. Most people believe that what they are doing is righteous and just in the eyes of God (or whomever they view as the ultimate judge of those things); however, such a view can easily lead to close-mindedness that closes people off to the truth that God is actually revealing to them.
Let us be challenged by that so that we can reflect on how we are like Saul and the ways in which we can change so that we don’t fall into the same trap that he did. If we open ourselves to God, rather than our preconceived opinions of God, God will guide us to the truth he has ultimately revealed to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Zeal without knowledge is fire without light.” – Rev. Thomas Fuller
Lord, help me to burn with zeal for you, but also help me to temper it with open-mindedness, restraint, and understanding. Amen.