“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.” (26:9-11)
Paul’s hostility to Jesus and his followers had been incredibly severe. Giving nodding approval to Stephen’s martyrdom was not a one-off. He’d done similarly multiple times, rounding up believers and sending them to prison with the full intention that they would be put to death. Eradication was the goal.
Even his methodology is obsessive. That he, as a Pharisee, supposedly committed to preserving the honour of God’s name, would seek to provoke utterances of blasphemy is, in fact, the height of misguided hypocrisy.
From my comfortable seat in Canada 2023, all of this is absolutely intense. Such murderous hate, deeply rooted, personally justified and sanctioned by the religious hierarchy is beyond my experience. Do we as believers receive opposition? Yes. Hostility? Some. But out and out intent to kill? Hardly.
It all shows me the unyielding hatred Paul had in his heart toward Jesus of Nazareth.
His conversion, therefore, is a stunning miracle – an out-of-the-blue, unexpected, impossibility. Yet, it happened. Truly a Damascus-Road experience.
No wonder Luke, in writing his book, records this event in its entirety three times over, covering a total of seventy-three verses. Clearly he counts this as crucial. The Kingdom of heaven is relentlessly breaking in. The Lord’s surprising, sovereign purposes are being worked out. Nothing will stop him.
All of which pushes me again to realize that impossibilities always retain the possibility of being upended by the Lord.
Praise his name.
Lord, praise you that nothing is beyond the reach of your sovereign power, that you overturn impossibilities, turning them to your glory. Thank you for all the possibilities you unleashed through Paul. Thank you that you work in surprising ways still.
Reflect: Is there an impossible circumstance in your own field of view which you sense the Lord wants to upend? Compare the impossibility with that of the pre-conversion Saul. Pray for break-through.