In the book of Acts we read about the early Christians, churches, and missionaries. We read about all the persecution they faced and how God brought them through it all, sometimes in unexpected ways. One of these ways was by converting a persecutor. (Acts 9:1-22)
Paul, or Saul as he was known before, persecuted the early Christians with a zeal that he thought was godly. He was very educated in the Old Testament, so he and many other Jewish people should have known that Jesus was God as He said. But so many were unwilling to admit that Jesus was who He claimed. But one of Paul’s teachers, a prestigious teacher named Gamaliel, advised to leave the Christians alone. He had seen uprisings like this before, and if it wasn’t of God it would fizzle out like all the others. On the other hand, if it was of God they should leave it alone so as not to fight against God Himself. Still, Paul believed that the Christians were horribly wrong, and he applied himself very fully to the cause of wiping them out. He even went to the trouble of chasing Christians down and making sure they paid for the crime he was sure they were committing.
God saw all of that. But God didn’t fry Paul’s shorts. While Paul was on the way to catch more Christians, God began to call him into His service. Stopping Paul dead in his tracks, Jesus showed Himself to Paul and asked an important question, “Why are you persecuting me?” Paul asked who He was, and Jesus told him, with a few other convicting words. Paul asked what he should do, and Jesus told him to go into the city and he would be told then. Suddenly Paul realized he was blind, and his shocked traveling companions helped him to the city. Paul waited in blindness for three days, and he didn’t eat or drink anything. I wonder what his companions thought.
Jesus appeared and talked to one of the Christians in the city. His name was Ananias, and Jesus told him to go see Paul – gave him the address and everything. Jesus told Ananias that Paul was praying, and had seen a vision of Ananias coming to restore his sight. Ananias clarified that he and Jesus were both thinking about the same man. “That one, who has been persecuting Christians with a vengeance? He did come here to take more of us.” [Paraphrased] Jesus told Ananias to go anyway, because He was calling Paul to do great and special things for Him. So Ananias went.
I wonder how the greeting at the door went. “Hello, my name is Ananias. I’m a Christian. God told me to come see Saul and restore his sight.” Or maybe Ananias just walked in. Whatever happened, it seems he got straight to the point. He called Paul his brother, meaning Paul was already converted at this point, and in the name of Jesus Paul’s sight was restored. Immediately Paul could see, and immediately he went and got baptized.
Over the next few days he was introduced to and hung out with the very Christians he’d come to persecute. I wonder how that went. “This is Saul. He’s a Christian now.” I wonder how many times Paul had to repeat what had happened to convert him. I wonder how many people weren’t sure if they could believe him. Regardless, Paul jumped right into preaching about Jesus, and how He is the Son of God. The Bible tells us that everybody was amazed, completely astounded.
So here I come to the point. Paul did many horrible things to God’s people. God called him out of those ways and forgave him anyway. In Jesus’ power and grace, Paul would go on to be extremely prominent and influential in the spread of Christianity. And Paul would tell you that it was only Jesus. He wrote about it in his letters, which make up a sizeable portion of the New Testament. Paul was a zealous man, and his zeal was applied in much greater measure to spreading the love and truth of Jesus. Though Paul did many horribly bad things to Christians, God forgave him and made him into a great man of God.
(For another piece on God’s forgiveness, see “God’s Forgiveness – Aaron the Priest.”)