From his prison cell in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15–16, CSB).
He recognized that he was “the worst,” or as it says in another translation, “the chief” of sinners (I Timothy 1:15, NKJV). The worst. The chief.
Paul argued, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9, ESV). In his correspondence to the church in Ephesus, Paul said, “I am the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8, ESV).
After being arrested in Jerusalem, Paul testified, “I persecuted this Way to the death, arresting and putting both men and women in jail” (Acts 22:4, CSB).
It was likely Saul who had overseen the execution... the martyrdom of Stephen. Luke wrote, “Saul agreed with putting him to death. On that day a severe persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem... Saul ... was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison” (Acts 8:1–3, CSB).
Saul was a religious zealot. He seethed with hatred for Jesus, and toward any who dared to follow His Way. Reflecting upon his own self-righteousness, he later wrote, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4–6, ESV).
It’s a good thing I’m not God, cause if I was, I would’ve nuked him! I would’ve squished him like a sorry bug! If I had been pulling the strings, Saul wouldn’t have lived long enough to see Damascus, and our Bible would be shorter by thirteen books.
But I’m not God. God could see Saul’s potential. Maybe that’s why God went to such extraordinary measures to reach the chief of pious, sanctimonious, self-righteousness with the gospel of grace and mercy and compassion.
“Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” But listen to this! This is the good part! This is where Jesus shows up! “As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him” (Acts 9:1-3, CSB).
God didn’t nuke him or squish him. God pursued him, demonstrating His perfect love!
“As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul!” (Acts 9:3-4, CSB).
God pursued you too. Maybe it wasn’t as dramatic. Maybe you weren’t blinded by God’s incredible glory. Maybe a booming voice from Heaven didn’t reverberate through the landscape. But God pulled the strings. God made a way... grace. Amazing grace!
South Georgia Baptist Church
Mike Martin, Pastor