My favorite Bible story these days is about Saul of Tarsus. He’s the villain of the story. And the hero, though rather a passive one.
The Christian Church is just getting started. People are learning to pray together and preach the gospel boldly and see some miracles happen. But Saul has been trained to be a Pharisee, and they know the rules, and the gospel of Jesus Christ is not so big on rules. Plus Jesus claimed to be God, something Saul didn’t approve of. He knew the chief priests were on his side, so he decided to do something about it. Executing Stephen for blasphemy had seemed to him to be a huge success; now the Christians were on the run, and with a bit more pressure, the whole blasphemous sect might be a thing of the past. After acquiring official sanction from the Jewish leaders, he started hunting down the Christians.
But I think he knew better. He’d studied the Scriptures. He’d probably been around enough to at least hear of – if not personally witness some of Jesus’ miracles. There was part of him that wanted God to be pleased with him. He really believed in God. A testimony like Stephen’s as he was dying doesn’t go without effect. So he was zealous, and he was pushing forward in something that seemed godly to him, something he thought would be especially pleasing to God, something that, unfortunately for Saul, wasn’t God’s idea. I suspect that there was some pretty intense spiritual warfare assembled, to discourage Saul from the calling God had yet to communicate to him.
And my favorite part is coming up here. God was merciful to Saul. Not only merciful; He had big plans for Saul. Even Saul tracking down God’s elect to imprison them or worse wasn’t enough to keep God from accomplishing the ministry He intended through Saul. In the Bible we see God doing lots of different things to people displeasing Him. Sometimes He sends them prophets. Sometimes He just has the earth open up and swallow them. Or they die more natural deaths. He spoke personally to Moses about His displeasure. A lot of people in rebellion against God just continue on their wicked path, accumulating judgment for themselves. Here we see that God took some drastic measures to bring Saul to Himself.
Saul is on the road between cities. He has a few companions to help him with the Christian round-up. But a light stops them in their path. A loud noise frightens all of them. Saul is literally blinded by the light, but he hears words. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads!” Basically the God of the universe is speaking to him from heaven, and he’s using his name. That’s pretty special. Then he asks him a question – one of the gentlest things He could do. It also implies that maybe if Saul had stopped to think about it before, he could have figured out that he was persecuting the Son of God. Finally one of my favorite lines, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” From what I can tell, God had been prodding Saul in one direction, and by chasing down Christians, by resisting the gospel of Jesus Christ, he had been resisting that guidance. But God still nails him on it! There seems to be so much firm tenderness in that sentence, that I just can’t get over it!
And the end of the story is that Saul was convinced. (I don’t know what it would have taken if being blinded by a heavenly flash and hearing the voice of God out loud didn’t work to wake Saul up!) A few days later God persuades one of His other vessels, the prophet Ananias, to heal Saul’s blindness and to see that he receives the Holy Spirit. Thus begins the ministry of the Apostle Paul (his Greek name he soon started to go by).
Isn’t that a fantastic story?
To God be all glory.