26 minutes | Jul 3rd 2020

059 – The Resume of Paul

Paul with Agrippa – Vasily Surikov – Circa 1875 In our last Podcast, we talked about the secrets in a resume. Because the Bible contains so much information about certain people, it is pretty easy to metaphorically build a resume for a Biblical character. This exercise can reveal things we may have never really considered. Let’s look at the Apostle Paul. There is a lot written about him personally. Paul is Amazing The Apostle Paul is probably the most amazing disciple in the entire New Testament. Not only does he go from being the number one persecutor of the church to the number one promoter of the church, he goes on to pen three quarters of the the New Testament scripture. He is the author of no less than 13 letters to various people and churches. Paul was pretty prolific! So too were others who accompanied him such John Mark; who goes on to write the Gospel of Mark, and Luke, a physician. Luke is the writer of both the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke. Both these men were close associates of Paul and accompanied him on many of his missionary journeys. Beginning with Luke’s writings, let’s gather information about Paul’s life with which we can build a handsome and respectable resume for Paul. First Contact The first time we ever meet Paul is at the end of Acts 7. It’a not a great first meeting. It occurs during the stoning of Stephen where Paul was still known as the Pharisee, Saul. We join the assault just after the crowd has been whipped into a frenzy by the preaching of Stephen. Acts 7:57 – 8:1“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.” A Young Man In terms of church history, theologians tell us the stoning of Stephen happened about 35 AD. This would put it roughly three years after the birth of the church. This passage tells us, Saul was still a young man. He has some type of authority because he is “giving approval” to the stoning of Stephen and the murderers are laying their clothes at the feet of this “young man” as he stands back giving approval. Saul is obviously filled with a deep hatred and bitter contempt for this new religion. It’s difficult to imagine a hatred so intense and so evil that it compels someone to actually participate in an organized effort to kill, murder and destroy a people who’s entire motivation is love. Have you ever wondered what drove Saul to this breaking point? Why was he compelled to do such a thing? The Good News is, the next time we meet Saul, he has a little “come to Jesus” moment! On a dusty Damascus road, Jesus appears to him in brilliant light and knocks some sense into him. In fact, Jesus knocks the Saul out of him so far, he changes his name to Paul… and the rest is history! Paul’s Conversion Three Times Luke tells the story of Saul’s conversion in the book of Acts, three times. Let’s glean some details about Paul’s life from each of these then move on to discovering some other nuggets about Paul from the epistles. Our first conversion story is told in Acts 9. Acts 9:1-2Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. Saul, apparently has so much clout with the leaders back in Jerusalem, he could ask for, and receive, certain letters of passage. We assume these letters provided the necessary authority; empowering Saul to enter Damascus and collect any wayward Jew who professed Christ and either kill the individual or take them back as a prisoner for questioning or punishment. During Saul’s encounter with Jesus, he is struck blind. He is told to wait in Damascus. Next, God uses a disciple named Ananias to reach out to Saul. His initial hesitancy is understandable. Acts 9:13-14“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” Ananias heard “many reports” about the problems Saul created with his basically “unchecked authority” to do whatever he wanted. How did he get so much power at such a young age? Paul actually tells us in Acts 22. This happens when Luke re-tells Paul’s conversion story for the second time. This time, it is Paul himself speaking to a bunch of angry Jews back in Jerusalem. Acts 22:1-5“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. A Split with Gamaliel In this account, we gain some new bullet points for Paul’s resume. He is a Jew. He was born in Tarsus. He was actually brought up in Jerusalem and was blessed to be taught by one of the most prominent Rabbi’s in all of Jewish history named Gamaliel. According to John McArthur, Gamaliel was so loved and respected, some fondly called him, “The Beauty of the Law.” Paul wasn’t just trained in the Law… he was “thoroughly trained” or as the NASB says, “strictly trained.” He was so zealous for God, he persecuted the church and attacked the followers of Christ because he saw them as blasphemers. Now, there is something very interesting about Saul’s attitude regarding the Christians which stands in stark contrast from that of Gamaliel. From other scriptures, we know Gamaliel was a “centrist” and maybe even an appeaser regarding the Church. After the Apostles are arrested in Acts 5, he crafts wise counsel, preventing serious persecution. Strangely, Saul does not imitate the patient character traits of his teacher. Despite being trained by Gamaliel, Saul seems to have missed imitating Gamaliel’s patient heart. Something must have happened to Saul to drive him over the edge of reason to possess such a radically differing view than this sage advisor regarding the Church! What happened to Saul to make him so bitter and so angry? Zealous and Agressive In Acts 22, we also learn that Saul was “zealous for the law.” This word “zealous” is an interesting word. In those days, there existed, in Israel, a pseudo-political group called “The Zealots.” They were a radical bunch of Jews who were basically… terrorists to Rome. Paul’s choice of the word “zealous,” might give us a little additional insight into the depth of his hatred for the church since most people, of his day, would associate this word with that radical group. He absolutely hated Christians. We read the final account of Paul’s conversion in Acts 26. He is explaining the miraculous event to King Agrippa. Acts 26:4-5“The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.” Once again, we see Paul places great importance on the fact that he has lived the strictest life in Judaism, even from childhood. His life in the Jewish faith eventually leads him to achieve the rank of Pharisee. A Pharisee was one of Israel’s highest religious and political leaders who ruled over the people. Apparently, Saul’s power was strongly centered in Jerusalem. He continues… Acts 26:9-11“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.” Paul was convinced, by his interpretation of the Bible, that he must oppose the name of Christ. Beginning in Jerusalem, the seat of his power, he “votes” to begin his campaign of punishment and death. He travels great distances and goes from Synagogue to Synagogue in this campaign. He says he was “obsessed.” His mission even carried him to foreign cities. A Jewish Crusade What we learn from these three conversion stories is intense. We are basically looking at a Jewish version of the Crusades. If people were unwilling to change their religious views they were killed! And, it all began when an angry mob laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. As we move away from the three conversion stories in the Book of Acts, other rich tidbits await discovery in the rest of Acts and the Epistles. Let’s organize these revelations into categories as opposed to chronological appearance as we work our way toward Philemon. Deeper Heritage Here are some things we learn about Paul’s heritage. Paul was born a Roman Citizen. We discover this in… Acts 22:27-28“The commander went to Paul and asked,
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