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Paul the Terrorist = Hope

Most people, whether Christian or not, have heard of Paul the Apostle (in Hebrew he's Saul). His conversion on the road to Damascus is famous. We're familiar with Paul as a church planter through what is modern day Turkey and westward. We're familiar with Paul doing most of his writing while in prison.

We first get introduced to Paul in the book of Acts where Stephen is being stoned. Stephen, being the first martyr, (Acts 6:8) was executed for preaching. Paul was there encouraging and stirring up the rabid crowd as they pelted Stephen with stones. We're even told some of those stoning Stephen left their cloaks at Paul's feet while they murdered Stephen as a show of respect. Paul stood by and watched approvingly.

What we can find about Paul in his writings is interesting. He grew up in a wealthy family. He was born in Tarsus in 4 or 5 BC in the city of Cilicia. He was also a Roman citizen which was rare for Jews to have in that time and he was raised in a devout Jewish family, but was also under a hellenistic Greek influence. Paul was not only fluent in Koine Greek, (Acts 21) but also classical Greek which he could only have gotten at the university level of education.

In Paul's time there were three sects of Judaism: Pharisees, Saducees and Essenes. The Essenes were the most strict religiously of the three. They usually didn't marry.  The Saducees were smaller in number, but most were rich and powerful and had a lot of political influence. They controlled most of the high offices, temple rulers and priests. Then there were the Pharisees who believed Jews had to follow the Law of Moses to the smallest detail. From the Pharisees we get the Talmud, the oral traditions. The Pharisees made sure everyone else was obeying the Law.

Paul was a Pharisee. A very prominent Pharisee. Paul's education started around 5 years old in the synagogue. In Acts 23 we find Paul left Tarsus to live in Jerusalem to attend the Hillel Rabbinical school where he learned under one of the greatest Rabbinical Scholars of all time, Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel. Under Gamaliel, Paul was also exposed to Greek philosophy as well as a top notch Rabbinical education. Needless to say, Paul became a great thinker, philosopher and scholar. He was a great influential Rabbi and Pharisee and it's no wonder wherever he went (even at the stoning of Stephen) he was shown such high esteem. Though Paul was young, he had accomplished so much.

Now we can understand a little better of Paul zealousness for the Law. His persecution of Christians was for the purpose of making them fall back in line to the Law of Moses. Very few early Christians were Gentiles, but Jews. Because of Stephen's execution and the heavy persecution that followed (Acts 8) many new converts were thrown into prison while the rest of the Christians were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Scattering them had the opposite effect Jewish leaders like Paul hoped for. Strike the Shepherd and the sheep scatter has never worked with Christians. Strike the Shepherd and the sheep increase exponentially. Wherever the Christians were scattered there they preached and conversion began to rise dramatically throughout Jewish territories. Paul made it his mission to root them out and had a lot to do with the severe persecution against Christians in Jerusalem.

Paul was encouraged by his success and campaign of persecution in Jerusalem so he decided to take his band of Christian crushers to Damascus, where many Christians had run, to seek them out and have them thrown into prison, executed and/or beaten. But while on his way to Damascus Paul had a vision of Christ, was knocked from his horse and ended up converting in the dust of that road.

After he converted and was visited by Ananias, Paul began showing up in synagogues telling anyone who would listen about his conversion. That's typical isn't it? I myself used to think Christians were nuts. They always had to tell everyone about getting "saved". Then I myself went through it and I finally understood. Such an amazing, world rocking, complete over haul can you NOT tell others? It was the same with Paul too.

Paul was a famous guy. The Christians that were hearing him didn't trust him. They thought he was just claiming conversion to find out who the Christians were. The Jews thought he'd lost his mind. The Apostles in Jerusalem heard about Paul and there were many skeptics among them. First Stephen was executed under Paul then James (John's brother) was executed so you can imagine the Apostles had little trust. They kept Paul at arms length and weren't exactly warming up to him quickly. Finally, after 13 years Paul made the trek to Jerusalem where he met the other Apostles and after meeting with him they recognized God's call on him and accepted him as one of them, but even still John kept his distance a while longer.

This murdering, religious, terrorist zealot went on to be one of the most prominent men in history and wrote most of the New Testament.

"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life." 1 Timothy 1:15-16

When I hear of terrorists in the middle east converting and becoming missionaries, Pastors and teachers, it doesn't surprise me. I only think of Paul. There is no one beyond God's reach. All have sinned and not one of us is "good". If God can save someone like Paul then He can save anyone. The drug dealer, gang member, prostitute, murderer, thief, persecutor, terrorist...there is still hope for them.

Paul seemed to embody so many levels of society. The educated, the least (Jews in that day), the cast offs, the terrorist, the intellectual, the cynics. He was all of them and still he was changed in a matter of seconds and went on to spread Christianity to places no one could have dreamed. From this man we get most of the New Testament writings and most he did while in prison for preaching. Paul is everyone. So the next time we think this group or that group is beyond God then remember Paul of Tarsus, the worst, the chief of sinners and reach out to them. You never know what God can do.


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Disclaimer: I do not condone the teaching of men by women nor am I trying to exercise authority over men by using this blog as a method of teaching men. All posts are for the edification of women. For more on what I believe concerning this issue please see: Women - No Dominion Over Men
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