One of the amazing things about God's grace is that it can even reach those who are running hard in the opposite direction. Such was the case with the man who ended up writing much of the New Testament, formerly known as Saul of Tarsus.
When Easter rolls around in 2018, "Paul, Apostle of Christ" will hit the big screen. This movie will bring to life the story of a man who referred to himself as the "worst" of sinners. And we will be reminded that the death and resurrection of Christ are more than just historical events. The cross and the empty tomb also provide miraculous power to turn the strongest critic into a humble servant of the King of Kings.
And this is exactly what happened in the case of Paul. For example, when this former persecutor of Christians was brought before King Agrippa, the apostle gave this testimony regarding his earlier way of life:
"I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them." (Acts 26:9-11)
So how does a person who is violently opposed to Christ suddenly begin to love Jesus and start spreading the message of the Gospel? Well, the miracle of conversion can only occur through the supernatural power of Almighty God. Thankfully, the grace of God can break through even the toughest of hearts.
Paul wrote these words in a letter to Timothy: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:15,16)
Perhaps you consider yourself to be the "worst" of sinners. If so, you are not alone. Paul was the first one to claim that title for himself. And yet Paul was also fully aware that the incredible love and mercy of God had reached down and snatched him from the fire (Jude 23) and brought him into the kingdom of God.
Paul described Jesus the Messiah this way: "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Timothy 1:17) The radical difference between Saul and Paul was breathtaking, and must have seemed surreal to those who had personally known all about Saul's zealous opposition to Christianity.
Saul hated Jesus, and out of that simmering cauldron flowed a hated for all Christians. Paul, on the other hand, loved Jesus, and out of that glorious wellspring flowed a love for all men. Saul was convinced that Jesus was a false prophet, whereas Paul came to know with certainty that Jesus is God, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and that Christ is indeed the Messiah.
Paul referred to Jesus as "the only God," which of course is absolutely correct. God had revealed this glorious truth about Himself centuries earlier through the prophet Isaiah: "I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God." (Isaiah 45:5)
And when Saul met the Lord on a Damascus road at "about noon" one day, (Acts 26:13) Jesus told him: "I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (Acts 26:17,18)
Notice these five insights in that passage:
1) Jesus told Saul, "I am sending you." In other words, Paul was not a self-appointed prophet. It was God's idea to transform Saul into Paul, and turn this persecutor of Christians into an apostle (Romans 1:1) and soul-winner for the Most Hight God.
2) People who don't know Jesus as Savior are living in spiritual "darkness." They simply cannot see the light of Christ or the glory of the Gospel message.
3) Those in spiritual darkness are under "the power of Satan." Their eyes have been blinded by the devil. "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ." (2 Cor. 4:4)
4) The forgiveness of sins can only be "received," and cannot be earned. (Gal. 2:16) A person will either receive forgiveness from God through faith in Christ, or go without it.
5) The only way to be "sanctified" (holy) in God's eyes is through faith in Jesus. And the only way to live a holy life that pleases God is for Christ to be living in you and through you. "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose." (Philippians 2:13)
And so if it can happen for the "worst" of sinners, it can happen for you too my friend. Your sins are not too great for God to forgive. The blood of Jesus Christ is able to wash away all of your sin, and bring you "from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God." (Acts 26:18)
There is no need to wait another moment. The gate of heaven is wide open today. "Repent and believe the good news" (Mark 1:15) as you turn from sin and embrace the Savior through faith.
You will never find a better friend than Christ. In fact, Jesus is often referred to as "the friend of sinners." And this makes each one of us eligible for salvation and for a friendship with God.
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12)
But "because of His great love for us," (Eph. 2:4) God rescued us from spiritual darkness. And He brought us into "a place among those who are sanctified by faith" in Jesus Christ.
"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
What a mighty God we serve! And what a loving Savior who willingly "humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:8)
There is no question about it. Jesus changed Saul's life, and He can change our lives too!