Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A New Beginning

His critics said he was unimpressive looking. He was mentally tough, and emotionally he was passionate and intense. He was an apostle.

He was born both a Jew and a Roman citizen in the town of Tarsus. He was a Pharisee. He kept the Jewish law. He ate the right foods. He observed the Sabbath and he associated with the right people. He was committed to stamping out heresy in any form, but especially the followers of the carpenter Jesus of Nazareth.

Then one day everything changed.

He was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to find Christians there when suddenly a light from heaven overpowered him. He fell off his mount and was struck blind. He knew—in an instant—that it was the risen Christ! And three days later, he was baptized as a believer in Jesus.

For nearly fifteen years, he pondered this experience.

He knew almost immediately that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah. But he came to understand more. God’s love had irresistibly called him even when he was doing all the wrong things. If his life could be turned around, why, anyone’s could. If he could be called anyone could.

As he began to understand Gospel, he began to teach it.

He traveled through Cyprus and Galatia and he established Christian communities in Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth and Ephesus. He gave up his career for his faith, and it seems he lost his family for doing the right thing. He trudged the roads of the empire, carrying his own meager possessions in a sack, often not knowing where his next meal would come from, sleeping out in the cold or the rain, easily victimized by robbers. He ended up in prison often just for proclaiming what he believed. He was flogged severely, exposed to death again and again. Three times he was shipwrecked; once he spent a whole night and a day adrift in the open sea. Five times —five— he received from synagogue authorities the forty lashes minus one. Three times he was beaten with rods.

He almost died at Lystra where he was stoned and dragged outside the city, and left for dead. Then he did the most remarkable thing! He got up, and walked back inside the city. He even revisited the city a few months later. But he probably never looked the same again. Not after a stoning! Was his nose broken? His jaw? His cheekbone? Did he walk from then on with a limp? Did one arm hang looser than the other? Paul would write later, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus."

What kept him going?

The evidence of his own writings suggests that he had discovered a love that went far beyond anything he had previously imagined.

He felt “taken over” by Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12).

With awe he exclaimed, “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

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