Thursday, May 1, 2014

Saul, Forgiveness, and Identity

Last night was the first lesson in the beginning of a new series that I've titled The Call of the Gospel.

Pretty legendary, right?

Working on this one lesson has shown me a few things about myself:
     1. I need to do less historical context when telling the events.
     2. I love Paul.

Paul's accomplishments forever changed the world as we know it, revolutionizing international evangelism and spreading the gospel to corners of the Eastern hemisphere that were all but unreachable purely by the power and grace of God.

Without a doubt, Paul changed the Earth forever, and his accomplishments are an invaluable victory for the growing church.

What intrigues me as much as his later life is his early life.

Paul, born Saul, was raised in education and learning, studying at the feet of Gamaliel from a very young age. He was brought up in the ways of the Mosaic Law, studying night and day to understand the intricacies and details of the books of Moses.

After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the remaining apostles begin spreading the gospel, and the church begins to expand faster than the Sanhedrin can handle.

Enter Saul, a learned and passionate young Jewish leader whose task is to apprehend the followers of The Way and bring them to justice to pay for their heresy.

Saul's reputation spreads quickly through the cities of Israel, and Christians everywhere flee for their lives.

It baffles me how someone could spend so much time in the Word of God and not accept the divinity of Jesus Christ.

For years, Saul ravages the growing church, bringing hundreds of disciples, bound and shackled, to the feet of the Sanhedrin.

With warrants in hand, Saul is on the road to Damascus with a caravan of other Christian-hunting enforcers when Behold!  A blinding light explodes from the sky with a booming voice of the resurrected Christ. Saul's horse rears up, throwing him from his saddle on to the ground.

The voice calls out him by name, asking "Saul, Saul; why are you persecuting me?"
                         "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked, shielding his eyes from the light, shaking in fear.
           "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." Jesus replied.

It wasn't just men and women that Saul was hunting and murdering; it was Jesus Christ. Our Lord suffers with us, hurts with us, identifies with us, sympathizes with us. Like a husband with his wife, the church and Christ are one.

When the light fades, Saul is blind...

More than the shock of his divine encounter, Saul is confronted with the paralyzing reality that his life has been a lie. Years and years spent with his nose in scrolls and at the feet of wise godly men, and he missed the point.

Imagine the heart shattering weight upon his realization of his crimes against his God whom he had vowed his life to serve. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the internal conflict that Saul is experiencing in this moment.

The bible gives us an illustration of Saul's internal struggle:

And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 
                           Acts 9:9

For three days, he sat in a house in Damascus, no food or water, only prayer. 

For three days, he considered his sin and the grace of God that had chosen to spare him and use him. 

Saul had come to a full realization of his sin and an understanding of the holiness and greatness of Jesus Christ.

And then the gospel arrived in the form of Ananias. 

Ananias was a well-thought of disciple who lived and ministered in Damascus. 

Before Saul had encountered Jesus on the road, Saul was on a mission to arrest Ananias.

Receiving a vision about Saul, Ananias comes to Saul, call him brother, and heals his blindness.

What an amazing illustration of the gospel.

Saul, a sinful man, encounters God, realizes the evil of his life, and, purely out of undeserved grace and love, his eyes are opened to greatness and holiness of God and the beauty of reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

Those who have a greater understanding of the gospel impact and forgiveness are those who have seen the effects of Christ's forgiveness in their own lives.

I can't think of another person whose life was more obviously affected by the gospel than Saul. Looking where Saul started, murderous and hateful, and then transformed in to the author of two-thirds of the New Testament. 

Paul's life is a beautiful reminder that God loves sinners, passionately and eternally. He pursues them and works in them.

You don't have to be a sinless, perfect bible scholar to be used by God. God uses our flaws and brokenness to bring glory to Himself. 
Before Christ, I lived in sin and nothingness, full of shame, regret, and selfishness. 

Because of Christ, I have received forgiveness and a new identity.

Saul's identity was completely defined by the work of the gospel in his life. The gospel gives me purpose and a new identity. My past sin no longer defines me or controls me; to the contrary! My past sin ultimately brings glory to the one who forgives my sins. 

I see Paul's story, and I can't but relate to Paul. 

Can you? 

Nate T B