How Christmas Continued #31

THE LAST AMONG THE LEAST (Acts, Paul’s Epistles, IDB Volume III)

I am Saul of Tarsus. Yes, I am the one that guarded the clothes of those that stoned Stephen, that persecuted the followers of Jesus, and that met the Lord on the road to Damascus. My Lord Jesus had to make a special appearance to halt me from my zeal to persecute His followers. I was zealous for the traditions of our fathers and used the law to enforce them. I disobeyed the counsel of my teacher Gamaliel who cautioned us to wait and see whether Jesus was of God. I took it for granted that God was on our side. There were more than five hundred witnesses that would have disagreed with me, but I believed our false leaders and misrepresentatives of our sacred writings. I had to be blinded with a beam of light from heaven to bring me to my senses. That is why I was the last and the least of the apostles to receive mercy from my Lord Jesus, the Christ.

Being a follower and witness for Jesus was an enormous difficult task for me. The arrows that I used to point at those whom I persecuted were now pointing at me. My own background of being a Benjamite, a Hebrew, and a Pharisee Rabbi were against me. My very name “Saul” was a reminder of the first Hebrew King that failed. In order to become the “Apostle of Grace,” I had to become a new man in Christ, and adopt the name “Paul.” In order to win people to Christ, I had to become all things to all men. I had to oppose the Jewish leaders that were turning the Gentilea into Jewish Christians. Our law was used to enforce dietary and ritual Jewish traditions. It became my task to distinguish the Ten Commandments from these man-made rules. To keep converts that we made on three of our missionary journeys informed, I used the pen instead of my voice. The pen could go where I could not and beyond. With able assistance like Tertius, Titus, Timothy, Barnabas, Mark and Luke, I could witness to more people than anyone else of the apostles.

Grace played the major rule in my life. I was faultless according to the law, but it was the Law that taught me that I was not good enough to earn salvation. I had done too many things that had violated the very Law that I tried to obey. The Law that had led me to persecute now showed me that I was in desperate need of grace. I could not retrieve my past behavior. Only God, in His infinite mercy, could forgive me for my misconstrued deeds against the Christians. What was true regarding me was also true regarding my countrymen. They persisted in abusing God’s Law for their own justification. Without the help from Jesus, I was not aware that grace was available. Jesus taught me to trust Him because of Him God does forgive. Christ Jesus had made grace real for all of us. Did I discard the Law? No! How can I abandon the Law that I depended on to remind me how important it is to keep me dependant on grace? Grace does not change our morality, but it reinforces it. It was because of the grace, that Jesus extended to me, that I worked out my salvation with fear and trembling.

Jesus sent me to Ananias to remove my blindness and I instantly proclaimed Jesus as the rightful Messiah. First, I tried to reach my countrymen in our synagogues. Their refusal to accept Jesus and their hostile attitude toward Barnabas, Silas and me drove us to go to the Gentiles. We met in homes and outdoors wherever an opportunity opened up. Many households became Christians and many became faithful leaders, willing like us suffering for Jesus our Christ. I had hoped that our success among the Gentiles would motivate our fellow Jews to turn to Jesus the Messiah. When the Jews did not respond, I came to the conclusion that they would accept Him when He came back to take us home to be with Him. I also believed that it would all happen in my generation. But, when I was taken to Rome, it became apparent that God had designated another time for my people to be delivered. This was obviously a time for the Gentiles. They too will take God’s grace for granted like the Jews, and then the Jews shall have another opportunity to follow Jesus. It was with that hope that I was dispatched from this world to be with the Lord Jesus.

Next to Grace, I believed with my whole heart in the resurrection of the dead. The soul or life must return from whence it came and give an account for its deeds. Grace in Christ gave us a change to change and to mend our ways so we can return to God and be forgiven for our ignorance and foolish ways. God left the choice in our hands as to where we want to end up. His competitor, the devil, has also prepared a world for his followers. I was unaware that I was headed in the wrong direction, but the living Christ appeared as the risen and glorious One and set me straight. He became my evidence and absolute hope that the dead live again. He did not appear to me in the flesh but in a form that is imperishable and eternal. Flesh and blood cannot return to God. We shall all be changed into heavenly beings, like angels, and live forever. That was why I used all my energy to convince all men to accept Christ Jesus who was sent to show us the way back to God.

The life I led as an apostle or missionary was tedious and hazardous. I supported myself as a tentmaker. My fellow laborers and I faced many hardships and much opposition. We regarded these as privileges to suffer for the price of salvation. We had learned to be content and at peace with ourselves. In Christ, we were neither male nor female, Greek or Jew but fellow members of Jesus’ invisible body. We were one in mind and spirit and fully aware that like our Lord Jesus, we too might become living sacrifices for Christ. We were prepared to lay down our lives and become sacrifices, if it were possible to convert our countrymen or our Gentile constituency. Only, that would not have gained us any merits for God our Father has designated but one name by which we can be saved. That name is Jesus. He had singled me out to direct you His way.