1 Corinthians 15:8-10 - Last of all, as to one untimely born, He (Jesus) appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
It would seem like the apostle Paul would have had an uphill battle trying to convince people about the message of Jesus. I say this in human terms, of course; it's the Holy Spirit and the Word of God that moves us to faith. But in this world, we are often known by the reputation preceding us, and for Paul—having done a "one-eighty" and preaching the Gospel of a common Jew that he formerly persecuted others for preaching—well, that wasn't an easy sell.
How often the apostle, when preaching, must have come up against those who felt his Pharisaic scourge from his pre-Christ life. How many times did walls of resistance need to be knocked down before his message would find ears ready to hear? After all, there must have been those in Paul's audience who knew or were related to others who were beaten, imprisoned—or worse—for sympathizing with Jesus' teachings.
Before Jesus appeared to Paul (who was then named Saul), he was determined to eliminate anything that threatened Judaism. Far be it from him not to uphold the monotheistic faith and rabbinic traditions he so admired and espoused! To crush those fools who had the audacity to believe—and even more the chutzpah to spread—the villainous lies of some dead carpenter, well, that was work worth doing.
Saul, the religious vigilante, sought to uproot and destroy anyone or anything that smacked of Christ. Armed with marching orders from his Pharisee superiors, he was on a mission: purge the countryside of these vile blasphemers. And so, he did, watching, at least on one occasion, the horrific murder of a Christ-follower, Stephen, a courageous and outspoken advocate for the Gospel. Luke records the event in the book of Acts. "Then they cast him (Stephen) out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. ... And Saul approved of his execution. ... But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison (Acts 7:58; 8:1a, 3).
How Paul must have been haunted by his brutal past after he received Jesus as Lord and Savior. What stress his early misdeeds must have produced in him when he found himself alone, cold and hungry in a dank prison cell, awaiting the unknown. We can imagine his thoughts: What will my captors do to me now that the tables are turned? Now I am the pariah, broadcasting the same Good News I persecuted others for!
But through it all, God sustained him, giving him victory over his sins, giving him new life in Christ, and the honor of giving his life for the Gospel.
THE PRAYER: Heavenly Father, what You can make of the dross of our lives has no limits. Remind us that our pasts are buried in Christ's death, and our lives are resurrected for service unto You—no matter how bad we've been. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Paul Schreiber.
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