Tag Archives: Paul the Apostle

God’s People, part 140: Saul

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.

20181019_apostle_paulPart 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

PRAYER
Lord, help me to burn with zeal for you, but also help me to temper it with open-mindedness, restraint, and understanding. Amen.

Itinerant

Read Romans 15:14-33

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’” (Acts 9:15-16 NLT)

pauloftarsusJust last night I was watching the film, “Paul the Apostle”. I am imagining you can tell who the film was about just by looking at the title. It is basically the Acts of the Apostles (aka the Book of Acts) acted out on the screen. It follows Saul, a young Pharisee who is determined to zealously follow God at all costs. Even as Peter and the disciples are receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, and preaching to the masses about their risen Lord Jesus Christ, Saul is looking to zealously serve God by putting an end to the Jesus movement. This Saul eventually ends up approving of, and aiding in, the martyrdom of Stephen.

From there, Saul goes on to wage a bloody and violent campaign of persecution, hunting down all who would call themselves followers of the Christ. Yet, Saul was about to have a transformation unlike any of the other Apostles had ever gone through, let alone hoped it would happen to their fiercest of enemies. On the road to Damascus, Paul was blinded by a bright light and he heard the voice of Christ, whom he was persecuting, telling him to go to Damascus and wait there for Ananias to come and heal him. Of course, this does happen three days later and, upon receiving his sight back, he is told by Ananias that God has called him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles and that he (Paul) will learn how he will suffer for the Gospel.

I will now fast forward to the end of the movie, which is also where the Acts of the Apostles ends. Saul, who now goes by his Roman name Paul, is about to board a ship as a prisoner being sent to Rome. In between Paul’s awakening to the truth of Jesus the Christ and the end of his story in Acts, Paul had been on three missionary trips around the known world at the time. He had traveled throughout Judaea, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece, and back again. Now, he would be traveling to Rome to appeal his case before the Emperor. As we all know it, Paul would never return home again.

Paul had practiced an itinerant ministry, meaning that he didn’t just stay in one church community but moved from place to place as the Holy Spirit led him. His ministry was not to just one person, or one church community, but to all people. As John Wesley once said, the world was Paul’s parish and he had all intentions of going to Rome (albeit he was not intending to go as a prisoner) and even up to Spain should God will it. Itineracy was a reality for the Apostles and the early Christians.

In the film, as Paul was about to board the ship, his former mission partner, Barnabas, said to him, “The Lord is a hard taskmaster, too hard for me today.” Indeed, Barnabas knew he would never see his friend, his brother in Christ, ever again. He knew that Paul would go to Rome, preach to the people there and eventually find himself on the wrong side of Caesar. He knew that his beloved Paul, the one he had shared so many journeys, trials and tribulations with would become another martyr for the faith. “The Lord is a hard taskmaster, too hard for me today.”

As I sit here reflecting on the ministry of the early church, as well as my ministry, I can relate with that. I can relate with the human need for keeping things the same, for keeping things familiar, for keeping things comfortable. I have been serving in my current church for the past 5 years. During that time, I have come to love this community and I am honored to be the pastor of such a great church with a great Spirit. Yet, God does not call me to stay in one place, but to be itinerant and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Now, after five years of awesome ministry here at my current church, I am being called to serve in another one.

This is, of course, bittersweet for me. I will miss serving alongside my current church family; however, I also look forward to what God is calling me to in the future. One thing that I have learned, and something that I would like to impart to all of you who read these devotions (I will keep writing the devotions no matter where God sends me), is that God never promises us easy or comfortable. What God promises to us, if we are faithful, is that God will be with us through thick and thin. I trust that to be true, and I have experienced its truth.

The challenge for all of us is to develop that kind of trust. God is calling you somewhere too. For church members, unlike itinerant ministers, it does not mean God is calling you to leave your church family to go elsewhere (though some in the church do get called to be missionaries in other lands); however, like Ananias, God is calling you to move within your community and to go and spread the Good News. Whether that is at work, at school, at the diner, or in other places around your community, God is calling you to be willing to be moved by the Holy Spirit and to go outside your church walls and into the community around you. I pray we all answer that call.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
PRAYER
Lord, open my heart up to your movement and send me to the places in my community you need me the most. Amen.