St. Paul – II – Death of ‘Saul the Pharisee’ & Birth of ‘Paul the Apostle’
Saul was brought up as an exact Jew. His religious nature, deep rooted Jewish piety and Jewish faith made him a persecutor of the Christian Church, with a fanatic zeal and raging fury. His aim was to destroy Christian Church. Paul played a vital role in bringing St. Stephen, before the council and getting the sentence to stone him. So it is said that Saul was the one, in whose care the witnesses left their cloaks. He could see the death of the first Christian Martyr and saw his face shining like angels and heard his last prayer. This is the dark phase of Paul’s life. He was a man of no ill morals, but just a persecutor of Christians. Paul became a sincere worker in the Jewish group who persecuted Christians and did all he could do to get rid of them, because of his hatred towards Christians and devotion towards the Jewish religion. We can find this in Acts 8:1-3, 9:1, 12, 13, 14, 22: 1-5, 26: 9-12. He travelled throughout the cities in addition to Jerusalem to get the Jews who believed, Jesus as Messiah. He had special interest in bringing them before the council and sentencing them, to death. He argued with and tortured Christians till they rejected Christ. He breathed out breathed out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord. He attacked Christian families and prayer groups. He had the consent of Jerusalem Church Police to arrest the people. He got letters from the High Priest to continue his persecution in far distant places. While he indulged in this work he faced Jesus Christ and understood the depth of God’s love. Whenever he looked back, he was very much sorrowful to remember those deeds. 1 Cor. 15: 9, Galatians 1:13, 1 Timothy 1:13.
The change and conversion of Saul from as a persecutor of the Christian Church and to a Christian worker is to be learned. This is given in Acts 9:1-19, 22: 4-16, 26: 9-18 and Galatians 1:11 onwards. The conversion of Saul is the touching incident in the Holy Bible. This incident proves the power of the Gospel to save Human beings. As Saul kept up his violent threats of murder against the followers of the Lord and as he was nearing the gates of the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed round him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ Saul could see Jesus in the same valor (Acts 9:14, 1 Cor. 15: 8) as He appeared at the time of glorification on Mount Tabor (Mk. 9: 2 – 4). Jesus appeared before him in real glory to prove that he is the Son of God and Messiah. Also Saul realized that his religious persecution was futile. The resurrected Christ appeared before Saul and devoted him for His work. Here began Paul’s personal surrender to the Master. He was given an order to wait till he gets more information in Damascus.
The men who were travelling with Saul had stopped, not saying a word; they heard the voice but could not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, but could not see a thing. So they took him by hand and led him to Damascus. For three days he was not able to see and during that time he did not eat or drink anything. He was broken in heart and body because of the words spoken against Jesus and the cruel deeds against God’s people. He confessed. He spent his time in prayer. Saul stayed at the house of Judas in Straight Street. At that time Ananias arrived there due to God’s decision. “He is a chosen vessel” (Acts 9: 15). These are the words that God put into the mind of Ananias. These words are the most adequate description of Christian witness. He placed his hands in him. Saul was able to see again. Saul stood up and was baptized. Thus Paul entered a new life (Acts 9:10-19). This service of Ananias was a blessed one. (Acts. 22: 12 ff).
Paul the Pharisee, had set out to Damascus to capture the followers of Christ, instead JESUS captured him. He was captured by Christ in the middle of a race (Phil 3: 12). This event which changed Saul’s life entirely has great importance in history and theology. This episode marks the death of ‘Saul the Pharisee’ and the birth of ‘Paul the Apostle’. At last his conscience felt guilty in persecuting these innocent Christians and he became a Christian. Paul affirmed that Jesus Christ appeared before him and gave him the position of an apostle. He asks “Haven’t I seen Christ?” (1 Cor. 9:1). Again he says, “Last of all He appeared also to me – even though I am like someone whose birth was abnormal.” (1 Cor. 15: 8). He was always conscious of this great event which converted him. He was uplifted to the position of an apostle by the appearance and calling of Jesus. He answered to the ones who questioned his apostolic position; he thinks he is not a bit smaller than the other apostles.
The converted Saul came back to Damascus with God’s power. This was entirely different from the first arrival. He went straight to the Synagogues and he began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God. Saul’s preaching became even more powerful and his proof that Jesus is the Messiah was so convincing that the Jews who lived in Damascus could not answer him. We can see the picture of the destroyer turning to be the builder, a persecutor of Christ turning to be persecuted for Christ. Anyone who accepts Christ as Saviour becomes a new person (2 Cor. 5: 17). The conversion of Saul was a turning point in the history of the Christian Church. He was seized by a Hand that was stronger than him to become instrument of a more powerful runner. There was a tremendous change in his personality and viewpoints. Saul realized that Jesus of Nazareth, Himself is the Christ to fulfill the history. The incident at Damascus made him believe that Jesus of Nazareth was that Messiah. He said “Because of our sins he was handed over to die and he was raised to life in order to put us right with God (Roman 4: 25). He transmitted to us the impact of his Christ encounter and the content of his Christ experience, which he has seen and heard. He had a new knowledge about the Church by this. He was persecuting Christ’s followers. This means that whenever someone persecutes the Christians, he is persecuting Christ himself. This explains the unbreakable relationship between Christ and the Church (Matthew 24: 40, 45).
Till the incident at Damascus, Paul believed that only the Jews were the people of God and only they will be saved. But new awareness of Jesus helped him to know Jesus as the Savior of the Gentiles also. When Jesus came to this world only the poor and suffering people welcomed him. Hence salvation is for all. He got another viewpoint about the Church. Paul believed that the Jews were the ‘People of God’. This changed. Christian Church is the selected people of God. That is the new Israel. He explains the same in his epistles (Rom. 11:13 – 24).
Paul was a Jewish Scholar and had a skill in Jewish tradition. Paul’s exceptional zeal and courage distinguished him from the rest of the apostles. It was the zeal for Judaism that led him to sweep Christianity from the face of the earth (Acts 9: 1 ff.) The same zeal carried him later to the ends of the earth to bear witness to Christ. The gentile ideas, philosophy and culture were familiar to Paul from his childhood days. Hence he was able to preach among the gentiles in their own standard and ways. He was the only missionary of the Gentiles in ancient Church. As a Roman Citizen he had a special status in the society. This position and his higher education helped him to gospel to the scholars and authorities. He was endowed with a special ability to suffer for Christ. He had the strength to suffer as we see in 2 Cor. 11:23 – 33, 4: 8-12, 6: 4-10. The happiness he showed in these suffering turned many towards Christ. He had an inborn leadership capacity. So he was able to structure the Church, lead the Church, guide whenever there was a problem and struggle for truth without any condition. He was the first theological scholar in the Church. His ideas are given to us through the epistles. His arguments surprised great men like Festus and Agrippa. His words on God based, on Gospel of Jesus were revelation of God. As a result of his hard work Christianity spread not only in important towns in Asia but also in Europe. He was the leader to bring about such a development of the Church.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20
The vital aspect that everyone should be considered equal in Christ was given importance by Paul even though it was against the Jewish culture. Jesus Christ destroyed the separating wall between the Jews and the Gentiles. Some people wanted to rebuild the same. But Paul opposed them strongly and wanted to build up the fraternity. The Church is the witness and pilot of this work. In the end, all will unite in Christ. The conversion of Saul was a power to the Church. He realized that his salvation will be complete only with relation to Christ. His calling by God or his spiritual experiences could not make his salvation complete. So Ananias came to him and joined him to the church. His later life is union in relation with the Church and his knowledge of Christ deepened by life in Church. His relation with Church and life in Church helped him to know more about the idea of salvation.