roman empire

The Apostle Paul: God’s Wandering Preacher (Part One)

I Can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13

Saul was lying on the side of the road. He had been blinded by a bright light and thrown from his horse. Lying on the ground, he heard a voice that said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul answered, “Who are you, Lord?” The voice answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what to do.” The others with Saul were speechless. They had also heard the voice but saw no one. This band had been on the way to Damascus to chase down those who belonged to “The Way.”

The Way

The Way was the original name of those who believed and followed the teachings of Jesus. It was the first century, and this event happened about ten years after Jesus had risen on Easter morning. They were a backwater sect of Judaism and were growing faster than the local religious leaders liked. Saul, a leading member of the Pharisee’s, was the main pursuer and sought them out to be arrested, or worse, stoned.

Saul was blinded by this event, but he did find his way to the city of Damascus, where he remained blind for three days. In Damascus, a man named Ananias received a vision from Jesus to cure Saul of his blindness. Jesus had told him in this vision to go to a street named Straight to find a man from Taurus named Saul. Jesus also told Ananias to lay his hands on Saul’s eyes to make his blindness go away.

Ananias knew about Saul and his mission to find and bind the members of The Way, and he questioned Jesus as to whether this was a safe thing to do. But Jesus said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”  Ananias obliged and went to Saul to cure his blindness.

Why had Jesus picked the great persecutor of The Way?

Because Jesus saw in Saul the great gifts he needed to spread the word of the Good News throughout the world. Saul was a strong biblical scholar and at a young age had risen up through the ranks to become a well-respected member of the Pharisees in the first century. Saul was a determined person; when he believed in something, he could eloquently state his positions. Saul was fearless and zealous in his activities. These were all traits that he would need for the rest of his life’s journeys.

Saul was also known as Paul.

Many think Jesus had him change his name to Paul. However, the real story behind his name is that Saul was his Jewish name and Paul was his Roman name. His father was a citizen of the Roman empire, and Saul translated to Latin is Paul. So, in some quarters he was called Saul, but later, as he traveled throughout the Roman empire, he was referred to as Paul.

Paul’s first steps into becoming the great preacher for Jesus were awfully clumsy. While in Damascus, he zealously preached the power of Jesus to any and all. But many in the local Jewish community became furious at Paul for what they viewed as blasphemy. He had to be saved from Damascus by being lowered in a basket at night over the city walls.

The Book of Acts

Much of Paul’s early conversion and preparation comes from the Book of Acts. But like most things in the Bible, you have to connect stories from other books. In this case, we have to make a detour to Galatians to fill in an important piece. Paul, who wrote Galatians, describes the period right after he left Damascus. Tradition says he went straight to Jerusalem which is mostly driven by the fact that in Acts this was his next step. But according to Paul’s own words in Galatians, he instead spent three years in Arabia alone.

For those three years, he stayed and meditated on his next steps. In verse 1:12 he says, “For I did not receive it from any person, nor was I taught, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” For three years, this man of zeal and a desire for action was alone in a desert contemplating his next path—to minister to the Gentiles and expand The Way outside of Judea.

He had to be saved once again

He left to go back to Jerusalem where he tried to get the members of The Way to like him, but there was a great deal of distrust. Barnabas, an influential member of The Way interceded and supported Paul. Reluctantly, they accepted him. However, Paul preached against the Hellenist and created more enemies. He had to be saved once again, and he left for his home town in Tarsus.

Like most Christians, particularly the new ones, he had to wait once again for God. In his waiting, events began to line up that would send him on three magnificent journeys that would change The Way into a world-wide belief of the value of the Gospel. And it would eventually change the name of a backwater sect in Judea to Christianity.

To be continued…

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.

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