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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Born Again - Paul Before and After

Born Again - Paul Before and After

Saul was a Jewish religious leader- a Pharisee- and he hated Christians! The Christians were preaching that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died to take away sins. And Saul was threatened by this dangerous doctrine! As a Pharisee, he and his fellow priests controlled the Jewish people with the Law. The religious leaders might have to give up some of their money, power and influence if too many Jews started believing in this Jesus. And Saul couldn’t let this happen!

As a zealot, Saul constantly fasted and tithed and prayed and spent his life studying the religious Law with the other Pharisees. He was proud that he obeyed the Torah, kept all of the ordinances and sacrificed daily in the temple. He was so much better than the ordinary Jew. God must be pleased with his diligence. But those evil Christians! Saul needed to kill as many Christians as he could to protect God’s laws and to keep Judaism pure.

So getting rid of Christians became Saul’s main passion in life. He would frantically rush from house to house in Jerusalem searching out Christians to arrest and put in chains. Hundreds of Christian men and women were dragged off to prison by Saul, causing many believers to run away and hide in towns outside of Jerusalem. Saul was there when the mob stoned Stephen and he tirelessly plotted to have other Christians executed as well. By getting rid of Christians he believed he was doing God’s work and he was proud of it. Soon with all of his intense ambitious efforts, praise God, these believers in Jesus would be a thing of the past.

Saul wasn’t satisfied to just kill the Christians in Jerusalem. He needed to stamp them all out, so he turned his energies to catching the believers who had been scattered to the towns outside of Jerusalem. We read in Scripture that he obtained letters of permission to arrest any Christians he could find in Damascus (150 miles away) and bring them back in chains. “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2)

So as Saul was traveling with his men along the road to Damascus, and looking forward soon to be dragging more Christians away to prison; an amazing thing happened. It was nearly noon and suddenly a light from heaven blazed down around Saul. Saul fell to the ground terrified and then he heard a voice speaking to him. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) Trembling and astonished, Saul asked: “Who are you, Lord?” And then the voice from heaven answered: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 9:5b) Shaking with fear Saul asked: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” And Jesus answered: “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6b)

The men traveling with Saul stood on the road speechless since they also heard the voice from heaven. Saul got up but the bright light from heaven had blinded him and he couldn’t see. The men with him led him by the hand into Damascus and for three days Saul sat alone in a house not being able to see and refusing to eat or drink.

Ananias was one of the Christians who lived in Damascus. The Lord came to Ananias in a vision and gave him the address of the house where Saul was staying. Then God told him to go to Saul and lay hands on him and pray for him to get his sight back. Ananias was afraid and reminded the Lord that Saul had harmed many Christians. But the Lord answered him: “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before the Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)

Ananias obeyed God and went to the house where Saul was staying and laid hands on Saul and prayed for him. He said: “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17b)

When Ananias prayed for him, Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit. Something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized. And then Saul began worshiping with the other Christians in Damascus and immediately began preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Some of the Christians were still frightened of him and all the believers were totally amazed that the man who had hated them so much now loved them and was one of them. But Saul was so excited about his new love for Jesus that he didn’t waste any time going about preaching and bringing as many people to Christ as he could. The Church’s worst human enemy had become her greatest friend.

Saul was as intense and anxious to spread the good news that Jesus is Lord and Savior as he had been in earlier days to stop the spread of the good news of Jesus. Soon the religious leaders were trying to kill Saul because he was making disciples for Christ everywhere he went. When Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he accepted Jesus and was “born again”. He became a new person. He even got a new name.

We all know the old Saul as the new “Paul” - the one who tirelessly spread the Christian faith to the Gentiles. Over the years Paul had to suffer and pay the price for his faith in Jesus. He suffered whippings and shipwrecks and he was thrown in prison on many occasions. And tradition has it that he was hung upside down on a cross and martyred in Rome. But during his lifetime he planted new churches everywhere he traveled, and we have all been blessed by the letters the Holy Spirit wrote through Paul to those new churches. He wrote letters of instruction to the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, the Thessalonians, and the Romans. And Paul’s letters in the New Testament are written for us too.

Paul changed and became a new person with a new direction after he met Jesus there on the road to Damascus. And we also become new persons with new directions after we meet Jesus. Jesus comes to give us His Holy Spirit and change us. Jesus describes this change as being “born again”. (John 3:3) Jesus says that without being born again we cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus came for Paul on the road in a blaze of heavenly light but Jesus comes for us too. He may not come for us in as dramatic a way as He did for Paul. I think Paul was a special case and Jesus met him where he was. But Jesus meets us where we are too. When Paul realized that Jesus was God and Savior, he gave his life (his will, his plans, his energies, etc.) to Jesus and Jesus baptized him with the Holy Spirit and came to live in his heart. That is what it means to be “born again”. A “born again” person doesn’t belong to himself anymore. He is under new management and belongs to Jesus. Paul later bragged: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20b)

Paul said “yes” to Jesus when he met Him on the Damascus road and he was “born again”. And we need to say “yes” to Jesus too and be “born again”. It will be the most important thing that we will ever do.


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