HE WAS A bad man.
You might be tempted to take me to task and say, “But preacher, Saul said that he had lived in all good conscience…” (cf. Acts 23:1) and you would be correct. But even in good conscience, Saul of Tarsus did some really, really bad stuff (26:9). Pay special attention to the following words in all caps:
“Now Saul was consenting to his (i.e., Stephen’s) DEATH…” (Acts 8:1; cf. 22:4a).
“As for Saul, he made HAVOC of the church, entering every house, and DRAGGING OFF men and women, COMMITTING THEM TO PRISON” (8:3; 22:4b).1
“Then Saul, still BREATHING THREATS AND MURDERS against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest” (9:1).
“Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you PERSECUTING Me” (9:4; cf. v. 5; 22:4, 8; 26:14-15).
He “PERSECUTED this Way to the DEATH, BINDING and DELIVERING into PRISONS both men and women” (22:4).
He brought “in CHAINS even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished” (22:5).
He said, “in every synagogue I IMPRISONED and BEAT those who believe on You. And when the BLOOD of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his DEATH…” (22:19-20a).
He took many of the saints in Jerusalem, shut them up in PRISON, and then had them put to DEATH” (26:10).
He “PUNISHED” these brethren “often in every synagogue and COMPELLED THEM to BLASPHEME; and being exceedingly enraged against them, [he] PERSECUTED them even to foreign cities” (26:11).
He was “a BLASPHEMER, a PERSECUTOR, and an INSOLENT man” (1 Tim. 1:13).2
A handful of passages and multiple indictments. I’ll say it again—Saul of Tarsus was a bad man.
Now based upon what you just read in the preceding verses, would you say he was a good candidate for a home Bible study? “Of course not, preacher…” Yeah, I’m just guessing that any first-century door-knocking campaigners thought exactly the same thing and observed the Passover when they got to Saul’s mailbox. “Let’s not stop here, he wouldn’t be interested, right…?”
Ananias (cf. Acts 22:12) didn’t think it was a good idea to try to reach out to this young Jewish firebrand either. When Christ commissioned him in a vision to go visit Saul, he protested, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much HARM he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to BIND all who call on Your name” (9:13-14).
Saul had a reputation. He was the church’s most rabid, most fanatical and most frenzied assailant. Ananias was understandably apprehensive and didn’t want to become another casualty in Saul’s war on the saints.
The Lord not only reassured Ananias that He had a divine purpose for Saul (15-16; cf. 22:14-15; 26:16-18), but He also prepared Saul for his forthcoming one-on-one Bible study with Ananias (vv. 6, 8-9; 22:6-11). Ananias then made his way to Straight Street and the house of Judas, laid his hands on Saul, told him how and why he had been sent, and then baptized him for the forgiveness of sins (v. 18; 22:12-16).
The bad man’s guilt was instantaneously washed away in the blood of the sinless Lamb of God (cf. Rev. 1:5), and the individual who was the worst possible candidate for a Bible study became the best, and most shining example, of the manifold grace of God.
End of story, right? Wrong.
Yes, Saul was now a Christian in the eyes of the Lord, but in the minds of his Christian peers, he was still the bad man with the checkered past. When Saul started preaching Christ in the local synagogues (v. 20, 15), church folk weren’t at all convinced that his faith was legitimate. They asked, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests” (v. 21)? From their perspective, Saul was a charlatan, a spy—a Jewish plant, and he had been sown into the local community in order to ferret out other disciples, whom he would then deliver back to Jerusalem for prosecution.
Later when Saul made his way from Tarsus to Jerusalem, he encountered the same prejudice he had experienced earlier. Luke records, “…When Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (9:26; cf. 22:18).
This entire story is compelling. The avowed enemy of the cross became the number one defender of the cross. Christ accepted Saul into His family upon his obedient faith (Eph. 3:15; Mark 3:35; cf. Mat. 7:21; Eph. 2:8-9), and yet Saul’s own brethren wouldn’t accept him—at least, initially.
And why not? Because Saul’s sins were too numerous and too scarlet to be washed away. The waters of baptism simply weren’t deep enough to bury his all of his transgressions. (Can you imagine trying to worship with the very man who had been responsible for the death of your loved ones and friends?) “His conversion isn’t legitimate,” they opined. It was just another clever ruse he employed in order to further menace and oppress the church.
But then Barnabas entered the scene. The trusted encourager (4:36). The patient facilitator. The gentle go-between. The devoted mediator (cf. Phil. 4:3a). He stepped in and brought Saul to the leaders of the church (9:27). He personally vouched for Saul, and it was then that the brethren accepted him into their fellowship.
This is a powerful Bible account about three very special people:
- there was Saul—with his seemingly unforgivable past,
- there was Ananias—who was afraid to talk to Saul, but who courageously and obediently shared the good news of the gospel as the Lord had commanded, and then
- there was Barnabas—who certified that Saul’s faith was genuine.
May I ask you a personal question, good reader? Which of these three men best represents you today?
Are you an unforgiven sinner with a dark past (like Saul) who needs to be saved of his sins (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 3:19; Rom. 6:3-4)? May I suggest that if the Lord could forgive the chief of sinners, don’t you think He can forgive you too (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11)?
Are you an anxious person (like Ananias) who knows he needs to work through his insecurities (2 Tim. 1:7) and initiate a Bible study with a lost soul (Mat. 28:19-20)? Think about it. If Ananias could go to somebody like Saul, surely you can go to a lesser threat he did, right?
Or are you an assuring person (like Barnabas) who’s willing to take in a new brother with a broken past and then introduce him to the local family of God?
All three of these people have a place in church of Christ (Eph. 2:21). Whom will you emulate today?
1/ lymaino, pronounced lü-mī-nō and means, “to treat shamefully or with injury, to ravage, devastate, or ruin.”
2/ hybristes, pronounced hü-brē-stā’s (from which we get our English word, hubris, and means, “despiteful or injurious.” The word describes one who was lifted up with pride, and either heaps insulting language upon others, or does something shameful to them.
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike
Robert Fulghum once wrote:
“One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire – then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.”1
I hear this author saying that folks need to learn the art of perspective.
Consider what Paul wrote to persecuted saints in the first-century:
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, which we do not look at the thing which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:17-18a—emphasis mine, mb).
Did ya’ll catch those inspired words? Paul spoke of:
- “Light”—as opposed to heavy.
- “Affliction”—as opposed to ease. Our English word translated affliction means, “oppression, affliction, tribulation, and/or distress.” It refers to pressure. Think of someone pressing, and putting pressure on, grapes in order to make juice or wine.
- “Moment”—as opposed to infinite/eternal.
Paul’s telling us that Christians have to learn to view earth and its lumps through heaven’s eyes and from heaven’s vantage point (Col. 3:1-2).
When weighed in the eternal (cf. Jas. 4:14; Eccl. 12:5) balance of things, our earthly lumps amount to very little.
I’ll say it again. Perspective is an essential skill (cf. Rom. 8:17-18; 1 Pet. 1:3-5).
It helps us to distinguish between light and heavy, between a problem and an inconvenience, and between short-term versus long-term.
Good brother and sister, was that lump you experienced today REALLY a lump, or was it just an inconvenience? Think about it.
1 Robert Fulghum, “Oh-oh: Some Observations from Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door.”
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike
HAVE YOU EVER started to take a test in school—and instantly wished it was an open-book exam?
You and your peers heard the teacher talk earlier in the week about the material, but her lesson hadn’t yet gelled in everybody’s thinking—including your own. Maybe it was an English test or a math quiz. You and your fellow class-mates heard audible sounds, but you didn’t yet comprehend; you didn’t get it—yet. You wanted the open-book, but your instructor didn’t give you that option.
Rabbi Jesus had been teaching a fundamental lesson in His sea-side classroom (Mat. 13:1-2). Unfortunately, many of His pupils heard His message, but they too failed His exam. “Hearing they heard, but did not understand…” (cf. Isa. 6:9-10). Ironically, He not only gave everybody the examination, but He specifically gave the twelve the answers too (vv. 18-23)—He gave them an open book exam.
He had been talking to the multitudes about different types of soil: wayside, stony, thorny, and good (vv. 3-9). Most assumed Jesus was talking about simple agrarian truths (i.e., first-century gardening practices). THEY GOT IT, or so they thought. They often observed their friends and neighbors with a seed-sack on their shoulders, scattering seed on the ground in their community, and so what the Lord said made sense.
Peter, James and John and the rest of the disciple-dozen knew Jesus wasn’t talking about literal soils as such and that He was teaching parabolically, but they failed to understand the deeper (and real) message itself.1 Lord, “what does this parable mean?” (Luke 8:9) they asked. “Give us the open book test with the answers, please.”
Jesus complied. Wayside soil represented closed hearts which couldn’t see beyond the obvious literal message. Stony soil represented hearts that eagerly received the Seed/Word with joy, but because they hadn’t sufficiently matured and grown in the faith (cf. Simon the Sorcerer—Acts 8:14-25), they didn’t produce fruit when hardship arose. Thorny soil represented hearts that received the seed, but also failed to produce fruit because they were distracted by the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth. Finally, the good soil represented hearts which not only received the seed, but it produced abundant fruit—some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty (v. 23).
Dear Christian, may I ask a personal question? Could you pass the Lord’s open-book exam? Someone will object, “Preacher—I get it! This parable is easy to interpret. Good soil bears fruit.” Well—yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean you fully appreciate the message, brother—even with Jesus’ explanation. You see, the ONLY way to know whether or not you possess the proper heart soil and grasp the Lord’s teaching is when it is internalized, and you actually start bearing soul-fruit.2
Yep—it’s that simple and yet that challenging. A Christian can talk all day and night long about what Jesus meant in the parable, but if he doesn’t practice it—he obviously doesn’t get it; his heart is either like the wayside soil, the rocky soil, or the thorny soil.
Good hearts receive the Word of God and produce bountiful fruit. Good heart soil is productive (Mat. 28:18-20).
Dear child of God, can you pass the open-book exam? Are you scattering precious seed? Are you bearing abundant fruit? Are you teaching others about the Jesus of Calvary and guiding them to the cross? Think about it.
1/ Parabole, literally “to cast beside”. This was Jesus’ favorite method of teaching.
2/ “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Jas. 1:22).
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!” – Mike
PEOPLE USED TO travel between the UP (Upper Peninsula) and LP (Lower Peninsula) of Michigan by ferry until they built a bridge along the Straits of Mackinac…
In 1934, the Michigan Legislature created the Mackinac Straits Bridge Authority to study the feasibility of the bridge and authorized it to sell bonds for the project. Preliminary plans for the bridge featured a three-lane roadway, a railroad crossing on the under deck of the span, and a center-anchorage double-suspension bridge configuration similar to the design of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. From 1939 to 1941, a cause-way of approximately 4,000 feet in length was constructed with concrete road fragments extending from the northern shore. With uncertainty in funding and the initiation of World War II, further building was delayed. In 1950, engineers resumed construction and the state legislature authorized the sale of $85 million in construction bonds on April 30, 1952.
David B. Steinman was appointed the design engineer in January 1953, and the American Bridge Division of United States Steel Corporation was awarded a contract of over $44 million to build the steel superstructure. On November 1, 1957, after two-and-a-half years of construction and the loss of five lives, the bridge finally opened to traffic. It was officially dedicated on June 25, 1958. The bridge is approximately five miles long, the third longest in the United States. Forty years after the dedication, the 100-millionth crossing was celebrated.
Most of us probably look at the construction of this bridge as a feat of modern engineering. True enough, it is. But behind the construction was the need: the need to connect two cultures and two land masses, to expand and improve economic prosperity by bringing people together.
Did the bridge spring up immediately? No.
How did it start?
With a vision, a picture in the minds of visionaries of what it might resemble and how it might change the lives of all affected by its construction. When it became clear that ferries were too expensive and too inefficient to accomplish the goals of connecting the two sides, the bridge came to the forefront of everyone’s mind. The old ways of transportation just were not working. Something new had to be put into place.
What it cheap? No.
Was it easy to build? No.
Were human lives put in danger? Yes.
Was it worth the cost, the hardship, the lives lost, the requirements of years of work and commitment to make this bridge happen?
For most people connected with the bridge, the answer was an overwhelming yes.
THOUGHT: Like suspension bridges built across bodies of water, it takes time, money and risk for bridges of healing to be built between estranged people. Many may feel that the cost is too high to achieve the bridge. It might cost me time or pride. I might have to say I’m sorry. What if the person to whom I am trying to direct my bridge laughs at me, scorns me or refuses my overture – or worse yet, just plain ignores me?
Jesus said that we must count the cost of discipleship (cf. Luke 14:28). Building bridges that result in restored relationships is probably one of the most important costs of being a disciple of Jesus. Christ taught that reconciled relationships are more important to God than any offering we could bring before Him.
Because for God, how we treat others is synonymous with how we treat Him (cf. 1 John 4:20). (H. Norman Wright, Larry Renetzky)
“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
“They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.” Psa. 107:26-27 NKJV
PERHAPS YOU CAN identify with the seamen described by the Psalmist. The waves caused by the coronavirus-storms of life have left you feeling emotionally tossed (cf. Jonah 1:5).
I find it intriguing that Jesus is never portrayed this way in Scripture. He is never characterized at wits end. In fact, He is calm, self-controlled and at peace. How can we account for His perpetual serenity—especially when we consider all of the stress in His life? Watch:
Jesus began His morning with social distancing. “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed” (Mark 1:35; cf. Luke 4:42).
Even after the strenuous activities of the previous evening (e.g. healing, casting out demons—Mark 1:32-34), Jesus rose before the dawn and left His bed to engage in undisturbed, intimate discourse with His Father.
“Pray in the morning…”
During the day, when things were hectic, Jesus often took a break by social distancing. “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16).
Even as the great crowds of people gathered to hear Jesus’ message and to be healed of their afflictions, the Great Physician slipped secretly away. You might say He closed His office, left His patients in the waiting room, and took some time alone to attend to His own welfare. Think about it. He couldn’t dispense medication indefinitely without rest and rejuvenation from above, could He?
Now consider—if JESUS needed to withdraw from the demands made on His time and energy to get into His private prayer closet (cf. Mat. 6:6), doesn’t it stand to reason that we need to do the same? When the anxieties and demands associated with this virus press our spirits and tension fills our hearts, doesn’t it just make sense that we emulate the Savior and entreat The Great I Am? “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
“Pray at the noon-time…”
Jesus ended His day by social distancing. “And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on a mountain by Himself to pray. And when evening had come, He was alone there” (Mat. 14:23).
Jesus had miraculously fed thousands with a boy’s lunch—five loaves and two fish (John 6:9-14). As a result, the multitude intended to force Him to becoming their king. The following day, the Lord foiled their political aspirations by urging them to accept The Bread of Life (i.e., the totality of His teaching—John 6:26-27). Sadly, after hearing His message, many of His disciples turned away from Him in confusion and disappointment (John 6:60, 66), never to return.
Why then did Jesus literally flee from the multitude’s presence to pray? Perhaps to thank His Father for strength and victory over the temptation (cf. Heb. 4:15) to accept the crowd’s bid for kingship (cf. Mat. 4), or perhaps to summon resiliency in order to endure the people’s forthcoming rejection. I cannot say for certain, but I do know that He prayed in the evening and that His recorded prayers were always concerned with something important in His ministry (cf. Luke 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28; 11:1; Mat. 11:25; John 11:41; 17:1, etc.).
Following a hard day’s concerns and all of its attendant frustrations, do you conclude with a petition to your Father in heaven? If you find your soul tossed to and fro (cf. Psa. 107:27), it could be because you haven’t been on speaking terms as you should with God.
“Pray in the evening…”
“How long has it been since you talked with the Lord, and told Him your heart’s hidden secrets? How long since you prayed? How long since you stayed on your knees ‘til the light shone through? How long has it been since your mind felt at east? How long since your heart knew no burden? Can you call Him your friend? How long has it been since you knew that He cared for you.”1
“Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distress. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven” (Psa. 107:28-30). “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”2
“Pray all the time…”3 (1 Thes. 5:17).