A Pair Of Parakletos (The Life Of Paul)

I’m guessing most of us don’t speak Greek but we all know a few Greek words from studying the Bible.  Agape comes immediately to mind, as does koinonia.

Another might be parakletos.  It’s the word Jesus used for God the Holy Spirit when He told His disciples He was leaving but would give them another parakletos like Himself to be with them, with us, forever.

A parakletos is an advocate or a counselor or a comforter or an intercessor – someone who comes to help us, usually (but not always) through difficulty.

It can also be translated to come alongside.  When a ship became disabled because of wreck or disrepair another ship would be dispatched to come alongside the first one and accompany the disabled vessel to safe harbor.  The second ship was called a parakletos.

We’re studying the life of the apostle Paul and have come chronologically to the time in which he was sought out by Barnabas to come help with the Gentile church in Antioch.  Each movement in the story is a great living-out of the idea of coming alongside.  Barnabas comes alongside the church at Antioch, then alongside Paul; then they both come alongside in Antioch and to the believers in Jerusalem.

One very important gauge of whether or not we are ministering for The Lord is how much or how little we are coming alongside His work in and through others.  If God the Holy Spirit is the parakletos, and since He indwells us, how can we not be coming alongside others in His power?

Acts 11:19-21
19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only.
20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.
21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

For the first few years after the resurrection of Jesus the believers were all Jews.  Social customs and prejudices between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles) kept the good news from spreading.  All of that changed when Stephen, the first martyr of the Church Age, was stoned.  Believers were scattered all over the Roman Empire to the advantage of the Gospel.

The farther a Jew lived from Jerusalem the more likely he was to have dealings with Gentiles.  Arriving in Antioch, Cyprian and Cyrenian believers spoke to the Hellenists.  These were Greeks who had nothing to do with Judaism.

Literally it reads, in believing they turned to the Lord.  God receives whoever will believe in Him.  Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever you’ve done… God has redeemed you on the Cross of Jesus Christ and saves you in believing.

Acts 11:22-24
22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.
23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.
24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Why send Barnabas?  We can’t know for sure how they arrived at their decision.  It was probably a combination of many factors:

Barnabas was originally from Cyprus so he would relate well to the fellows in Antioch sharing Christ with Gentiles.
He was faithfully serving the Church at Jerusalem.
He was obviously available and willing to go!

A lot of factors go into when, where, and how you are called to serve God in His Church.  Your part is to stay busy serving, be faithful in your service, and make yourself available.

I like the idea that Baranabas could see “the grace of God.  It was obvious to Barnabas these Gentiles were genuinely saved.  They had turned to God from the wicked, pagan idolatry of their Greek culture.

When the text says Barnabas “encouraged” them, the word so translated is a form of parakletos.  He came alongside them to help them grow in The Lord.

He was able to parakletos because of three things.  First, Barnabas was  “a good man.”  Since only God is truly “good,” when used of a man this indicates his goals and desires were in harmony with God’s.  God’s goal and desire is to conform you into the image of Jesus.  You come alongside others when you interpret their lives and circumstances, and give them counsel, that will further their being conformed.

Second, Barnabas was “full of the Holy Spirit.”  He was Spirit-filled and that meant Spirit-led.

Third, Barnabas was “full… of faith.”  It doesn’t mean he had more faith than others but that he allowed faith to fill him.  He believed God was at work and only wanted to discover God’s plans and purposes then follow along.
In parakletos mode, we read of Barnabas,

Acts 11:25-26
25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul.
26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

In our modern Christian terms we’d say that God put Paul on Barnabas’ heart.  It may sound mystical; it’s not – just spiritual.  In parakletos mode you are always thinking in terms of the spiritual resources at your disposal and how they may best be used for The Lord.  Barnabas realized, by the indwelling Spirit of God, that Paul and Antioch were a great match.

We’ve experienced quite a lot of this sort of thing over the years:

When believers in Tulare were looking to establish a Calvary Chapel we realized Pastor John Maher was a great match for them.  Many years later – this year, to be exact – when John was leaving to pursue a new call we realized Jacob Kelso was the Spirit’s choice and sent him out.
I could tell similar stories of Calvary Chapel of the Sierra or Calvary Chapel of Eureka, both of whom we’ve been parakletos to.

We love to help, to come alongside, other believers and other fellowships.  Turns out it is evidence we are spiritually healthy.

Commentators try to make too much of the search Barnabas made for Paul in Tarsus as if he had retired from ministering and was sulking until Barnabas resurrected his career.  It would have been easier, don’t you think, to find Paul if he was living at home, making tents?  As we’ve seen and said, he was busy preaching the Gospel in all the region of Syria and Cilicia.

For his part Paul was willing to come alongside the believers in Antioch so he accompanied Barnabas back there.  For a solid year the two of them discipled the believers by teaching them the Word.

They were first called “Christians” in Antioch.  The name Christians is variously translated as Christ’s followers or Christ-like.  Jews would not have given them this name because Christ is the Greek equivalent of Messiah.

It’s been suggested that this was somehow a derogatory name, given by pagans to ridicule; but I don’t think so.

These believers in Antioch were so full of grace, so overflowing with grace, that they were like Jesus Christ Himself.  People looked at them and saw Jesus.

Acts 11:27-30
27 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch.
28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.
29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.
30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

Prophets traveled from place-to-place.  They spoke forth the Word of God.  They also apparently could speak predictively about future events.

Agabus was going around prophesying a coming famine.  With no prompting other than by the Holy Spirit, the Christians at Antioch determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.

God the Holy Spirit, the parakletos, prompted them to come alongside their Jewish brothers in need.  And He prompted them before they even had the need!

It was a good news/bad news situation.  The good news – we’re giving you money to buy food.  The bad news – famine is coming.

In the context of what we are learning, about being parakletos, I’d have to say that giving financially is an important way the Holy Spirit will prompt us to come alongside.  Only Paul and Barnabas could go; or at least they were the only ones who needed to go.  It wouldn’t do brothers facing a famine to have more mouths to feed.  They needed money.

Barnabas, you’ll recall, was super-generous with his money.  I think it freed him to come alongside in these remarkable ways.

We all want to grow in The Lord.  We all want to be those who come alongside.  Being stingy works against those spiritual goals.  Take a look at your giving; at your generosity in general; and make whatever adjustments suggested by the Holy Spirit.

Acts 12:25
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.

John, or John-Mark, was Barnabas’ cousin.  The two men would come alongside him to further him in his ministry.  A time would come, later, when Paul couldn’t hang with John-Mark because he flaked out.  Was Paul wrong?  Was he not coming alongside?

Well, it was John-Mark who refused to come alongside… So Paul didn’t want him along at all.  It was a tough call, but Paul’s was a tough calling.  He needed folks he could count on and John-Mark wasn’t quite there.

Just as God has sent a parakletos to us in the form of the Holy Spirit, we ourselves need to be parakletos.

Peter, Paul & Barney (The Life Of Paul)

Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted of unspeakable acts of perversion and cannibalism that shocked the nation.  He was murdered in prison but not before he had professed faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior.

Ted Bundy was a notorious serial killer executed for his crimes.  Before he died he also claimed faith and forgiveness in Christ.

I don’t want to explore all the details and argue whether or not these men were saved and are in Heaven today.  My point is simply this: Isn’t God’s grace so amazing that even men like these can be saved at the end of their lives?

When Paul returned from Damascus to Jerusalem he was a man like that.  He had left three years earlier on a mission to enlarge the scope of his persecution of Christians.  Make no mistake about it – he was a murderer.  A serial killer of Christians.  A terrorist.  He was likened to a wild beast stalking and killing its prey.

He returned a disciple but no one believed his testimony.

Acts 9:26
26 And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple.

Grace is amazing alright but it can seem to us to be indiscriminate and unfair.  Is it ever fair that any sinner be saved by grace?  No, it is not, and that’s what makes it grace.

At least one disciple in Jerusalem was willing to risk everything on God’s grace.  It was Barnabas.

Acts 9:27-28
27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.
28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.

The name Barnabas appears twenty-three times in Acts and five times in Paul’s letters.  Barnabas was a Levite and native of the island of Cyprus, named Joseph (Joses), before the disciples called him Barnabas.  His name is said to mean son of encouragement but it can equally mean son of prophecy or one who prophesies or preaches or even son of exhortation.

It seems that Barnabas heard Paul’s testimony and believed it.  Maybe he heard Paul preach in a local synagogue; maybe he sought him out personally; certainly he received a word from The Lord, a witness in his own spirit, that Paul was truthful.  He believed God’s grace could even save a man like Paul.  It opened the door for Paul to be in fellowship with the Jerusalem Christians.

The only apostle on hand during Paul’s stay was Peter.  The two spent the next fifteen days together.

Galatians 1:18-19
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.
19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.

It would have been great to hang with those two guys and listen to them talk about Jesus.  Think of the stories Peter could tell about the three years he’d been with The Lord before the crucifixion.  For his part, Paul had been three years in Damascus and Arabia sharing Christ and that certainly fascinated Peter who had not yet had the vision to go and preach to the Gentiles.

Something else significant happened to Paul during those two weeks.

Acts 22:17-21
17 Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance
18 and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’
19 So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You.
20 And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
21 Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’ ”

Jesus had made it abundantly clear, at his calling, that He was sending Paul out to the Gentiles.  Paul thought he would base his ministry in Jerusalem.

God speaks so clearly but we hear through our own filters and ideas and desires and preconceptions.

Acts 9:29
29 And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him.

Three years earlier Paul had been watching the clothing of these Hellenists while they stoned to death Stephen.  By God’s grace Paul now picked-up right where Stephen had left off.  And the Hellenist Jews were ready to pick-up (literally) stones against him.
Acts 9:30
30 When the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out to Tarsus.

Paul would be in Tarsus for about the next five to eight years.  Commentators often describe his time there as a failure.  I’ve heard it said, and read it in print, that Paul simply went home, to Tarsus, and resumed making tents.  It assumes his ministry in Damascus was largely a bust and that he was in solitude in Arabia and that he got no where in Jerusalem.  So he retired, as it were, and would have been content to pass off the pages of church history.

There are famous people whose conversion to Christianity is a flash in the pan.  Bob Dylan comes to mind.  I make no judgment about the genuineness of his conversion.  He recorded Slow Train Coming and followed it with Saved.  His single off the album Saved, Gotta Serve Somebody, won him the Grammy for Best Male Vocalist.  That was four decades ago; not much testimony since.

Not Paul, however.  We’ve seen he was out ministering to Gentiles in Arabia.  We just read of his bold preaching to Jews in Jerusalem.  No way he could retire.

We get some insight from his own pen.  Make a mental note that “Syria and Cilicia” was the combined name of the province of which Tarsus and Antioch were co-capitals.

Galatians 1:21-24
21 Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
22 And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.
23 But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.”
24 And they glorified God in me.

“Afterward,” meaning when he left Jerusalem, he preached in the regions of Syria and Cilicia, including his home town of Tarsus.  He was busy sharing Christ.

In Acts 15:23 “the brethren” in Syria and Cilicia are mentioned in the apostolic letter which was sent to the churches, and in Acts 15:41 it is said Paul “went through Syria and Cilicia confirming the churches.”  No account is given in Acts of the planting of these churches.  Paul fills out the history in Galatians, which leaves no doubt that during the four or five years he was in Syria and Cilicia he planted the churches there.

We cannot be certain of things that are not recorded but it’s clear Paul was not in retirement, pining away, disobeying Christ’s call and command.

Here is a great personal encouragement for you.  Much of the service of the apostle Paul is unknown to anyone but God.  Even if all your service is known only to God, so what?  Your service is on a need-to-know basis and only Jesus needs to know.

One reason we are hesitant to press you into serving The Lord is because you may be serving Him in ways that cannot be easily seen.  Maybe you don’t work in the Children’s Ministry but you instead have the gift of giving.  You can do both, of course, but I think you get the point.

At the same time don’t assume you are serving The Lord in ‘secret’ when you’re really just a slacker.

Paul said of this secret-service, “they glorified God in me.”  It was only by God’s grace, by God being ‘in’ Paul, that such a person could be converted and be serving.

It’s also a reminder to us, is it not, to always serve only so that God gets the glory.  It’s ok to encourage or give kudos to Christians as long as you’re not looking to receive them and disappointed when you don’t.

One other significant event in Paul’s life most likely occurred during this time in Syria and Cilicia.

Second Corinthians 12:1-6
1 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago – whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows – such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
3 And I know such a man – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows –
4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities.
6 For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.

A lot of the persecutions Paul describes are not recorded in the Book of Acts.  None of his scourgings, for example, and several of his shipwrecks.  They must have occurred during his three years in Arabia and/or in the years he spent preaching in Syria and Cilicia.

Perhaps in one of those he swooned and was taken to Heaven.  Or perhaps this was a full-on vision God blessed him with.  Either way we’d say of it that God knew exactly how and when to encourage His servant.

This was also the time Jesus gave Paul his famous “thorn in the flesh.”
Second Corinthians 12:7
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.

This was almost certainly a physical infirmity of some type but we don’t know what.

At this point Paul was just ten years old in The Lord.  They were an eventful ten years, for sure.  A lot more was on his horizon.

Do you see more serving, or less, on the horizon?  Make it more; go for it.

Lecturer Of Arabia (The Life Of Paul)

We last saw Saul, whom we’ll now start calling by his Roman name, Paul, being water baptized by Ananias after having been saved and baptized with the Holy Spirit in Damascus.

The exact order of events after his baptism are not as clear as we’d like.  What we know for sure is that Paul did not return to Jerusalem for about three years.  Those three years were spent in Damascus and in Arabia; we’re not sure exactly how much time was spent in each place.  And when it comes to him being in Arabia we’re not sure what he was doing there.

We’ll piece together some verses from Acts, Second Corinthians, and Galatians to see what we can about Paul as a baby Christian.

Sounds funny, doesn’t it? to call Paul the apostle a baby Christian; but that’s what he was.

The best place to start is with a biographical section in Galatians.

Galatians 1:11-12 & 15 -18
11 But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace,
16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood,
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.

The main point of these verses is to show that Paul received his commission and message directly from Jesus Christ.  He didn’t rush to Jerusalem to be taught by, or to be verified by, the original apostles.  No, he was just as much an apostle as they, having encountered Jesus Christ personally.

The few words in verse seventeen, “but I went to Arabia,” are the only record we have of Paul going there.  In his day Arabia referred to everything south and east of Israel.

Based on just these verses in Galatians a tradition has formed that Paul got saved on the road to Damascus, spent a short time there, and then went out into the Arabian desert to spend time alone with Jesus for almost three years.  I’ve heard it presented as a kind of seminary training getting him ready for his mission.

That makes sense to us; that’s the way we think.  We are big on education, on schooling, on training.  We carry over that way of thinking into serving the Lord.

Before I say anything more about that approach to ministry, let’s get deeper into what might have really happened in those three years in Arabia.

First of all, there’s no mention of it being a solitary stay out in the desert.  We hear Arabia and immediately associate it with desert.  We assume it was a John the Baptist season in Paul’s life.

Truth is that region belonged to a people called the Nabataeans and was ruled by a king named Artetas.  There were, then, a lot of Gentiles out there in cities and settlements.

In my research I also learned that there were a lot of Jews from what was called the Hebrew tradition.  You might recall from a previous study that the Jews were split into two groups philosophically: Hebrews and Hellenists (or Greeks).  The Hebrews were those who resisted the surrounding culture and used Hebrew in their reading and teaching.  The Hellenists were progressive and wanted to borrow from the Greek culture.

Do you remember that Paul called himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews?”  Certainly it refers to him being really deep into the whole Hebrew worldview.  But it might also summarize his time in Arabia as a Hebrew among Hebrews.

If so, we could argue that Paul, at some point, left Damascus and went out into Arabia to preach the Gospel among the Hebrews that had settled there.
Is there any other reason, biblically, to think his time in Arabia was a time of ministry?

Well, we know that Paul immediately began preaching in the synagogues of Damascus.

Acts 9:19-22
19 So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.
20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God.
21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?”
22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.

Let me read from Acts twenty-six while we are on the subject of Paul preaching immediately in Damascus.

Acts 26:19-20
19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
20 but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

He “declared first to those in Damascus.”  He “immediately” preached Christ in the synagogues confounding the Jews.

Talking to King Agrippa he related that he was in Damascus then Jerusalem making no mention of Arabia.  But we know from Galatians that there was a period of at least three years between Damascus and Jerusalem and that he was in Arabia part of that time.  Plus mentioning Damascus was synonymous with Arabia because that’s where it was.  It would be like me saying I was in Anaheim and it’s understood I drove through other cities in Orange County.

For sure we know Paul ministered boldly in Damascus; that at some point he was in Arabia; and that he did not return to Jerusalem for at least three years.

I think Paul preached for a time in Damascus and then took the Gospel out to Arabia, to both the Hebrews in their synagogues and to Gentiles.  I think what he said to Agrippa substantiates my claim.  He said, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision…”

What heavenly vision?  The appearance of the risen Lord Jesus Christ to Paul on the road to Damascus.

What was Paul to obey?  He was to obey the commission Jesus gave him through Ananias as “a chosen vessel… to bear [the name of Jesus] before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”

It seems to me that a two or three year retreat in the desert, even to be alone with Jesus, would be disobedient to the heavenly vision.

One author put it like this: “Would Paul, having once seen the Lord and heard His command, turn back from the plow for three years?”

Look at it another way.  What would Paul have needed to learn that would take two or three years of solitude?  Raised a Hebrew, to be a Pharisee, schooled by Gamaliel, he knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards.  He spoke all the necessary languages so he didn’t need language school.  His unique upbringing allowed him to be a Jew among Jews and a Gentile among Gentiles.

Most importantly, Ananias had prayed for Paul, laid his hand on him, to receive the Holy Spirit.

He began immediately to minister.  I think we must assume he went on ministering in Arabia – which wasn’t just a vast desert wilderness but was filled with Hebrews and Gentiles.

There is an argument that Paul needed time to put everything into perspective, that he was confused in a sense and had to sort everything out.

No!  Getting saved doesn’t confuse you; it clears up everything.
Another potential clue that Paul was ministering in Arabia is that in his writings he describes many persecutions that are not documented in the Book of Acts.  For example he says he was flogged at least five times by the Jews (Second Corinthians 11:24) but none of these is recorded.  It might be these happened early on, in Arabia.

This is so important.  It exposes our default position that a person is not ready to serve the Lord unless and until adequate training has occurred.  The Lord told the one hundred and twenty in the Upper Room to wait only until the promise of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, baptizing them with boldness for service.  The rest was on-the-job training.

It’s not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.

What am I waiting for?  What are you waiting for?  Start serving the Lord.  If you’re already serving Him, listen for new ways of serving that require Him to empower you – ways you cannot accomplish in your own might and power no matter how much training or education you accrue.

Paul returned from Arabia to Damascus and faced persecution.

Second Corinthians 11:32-33
32 In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me;
33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.

Acts 9:23-25
23 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him.
24 But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him.
25 Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket.

Isn’t it interesting that both the Gentile governor who answered to the Gentile king and the Jews plotted to kill Paul.  That the governor was involved might indicate that Paul had made himself known as a troublemaker out in Arabia.

We must return to the understanding, then remained convinced, that we are equipped by the Holy Spirit to boldly do the work of the ministry.

Train as you go because we are hastening the coming of the Lord and there’s just no time to waste.

On Vessel Assignment For God

God chose to use Ananias as a “vessel” to minister to Saul as His chosen “vessel.”

It’s an illustration.  We are all vessels in the household of God, available for His use.  We are all, you could say, on ‘vessel assignment for God’

Acts 9:10-17
10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
11 So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying.
12 And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”
13 Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.
14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.
16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
17 And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 22:12-16
12 Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there,
13 came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him.
14 Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth.
15 For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.
16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

On his way to persecute Christians in Damascus Saul met the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.  The encounter left him temporarily blinded.  He was led into the city and taken to the house of Judas on Straight Street.  Nothing more is told us about his lodging.  It would seem that this was prearranged, before his encounter with Jesus.  If so he was lodging with a Jew sympathetic to destroying Christianity.  Yet there was Saul fasting and praying after an encounter with the Lord.

There he had a vision of Ananias coming.  I wonder if he shared that with Judas?

Ananias is described as “a certain disciple.”  The word “certain” got my attention.  It seems to mean a certain one among some or any that Jesus could have chosen.

The idea is that the Lord could have chosen from any number of Damascus disciples.  There were many at His disposal.  For whatever reason or reasons Jesus called upon Ananias.

Maybe you don’t have a distinguished spiritual career.  Maybe you have no career highlights.  That’s not the point.  You are His certain disciple.  Can the Lord call upon you if He so chooses?  Are you available to Him?

There are three things you need to settle in order to be available should the Lord call upon you as His certain disciple for some special assignment.

First you need to have an expectation of the supernatural.  The Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision.  There was no explanation.  Visions were a common occurrence.  The supernatural was a common occurrence.

I think we sometimes miss out on assignments the Lord has for us because we are not really expecting Him to call upon us.  And we’re therefore not developing any sense of hearing His voice or following His leading in our lives.

Second Ananias immediately responded with words a servant would use, “Here I am, Lord.”  You need to be ready.  For lots of reasons we are sometimes unprepared for an assignment.  We’re not keeping ourselves sharp and on-call.

Jesus gave Ananias a very detailed itinerary.  He told Ananias exactly what was going to occur.  He doesn’t always reveal so much information.  Normally the Lord only gives you the next step of faith.  You’ll get as much (or as little) information as you need.

Ananias was at first reluctant.  Not only was this Saul the punisher but in all likelihood the house of Judas was no safe place for a Christian to visit uninvited.

I’m not ready to label this as doubt or fear.  It may simply be a request for clarification.  It’s as if Ananias wanted to know if the Lord was talking about the Saul who had come to wreck the lives of the Christians.

If it was doubt or fear then I am encouraged.  The Lord understands our doubts and our fears.  We can discuss them with Him.

When Ananias arrived his prayer was accompanied by the laying on of hands.  What’s that all about?

In the Old Testament the high priests would lay hands on the burnt offering to pass the sins of the people to the animal to be sacrificed. The actual act in it self did not transfer the sins to the animal but the obedience of following the law of God.

The priests were associating themselves with the animals to be sacrificed for the sins of the people.
In the New Testament you see examples of laying on of hands as spiritual gifts were being imparted and as healings were received.  But you also see gifts and healings without the laying on of hands.

The laying on of hands, then, is not anything mystical.  It’s to associate yourself with and identify with the person.  It’s a point of physical connection that illustrates your spiritual unity.

Did the Lord initially tell Ananias that Saul was also going to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”?  He may have and the words were not recorded by Luke.

It’s just as likely that Ananias assumed that Saul would be filled.  Jesus had told Ananias that Saul would go forth preaching about Him to Gentiles, kings, and Jews.  Every first century believer knew that could only be done by a person filled with the Holy Spirit.  It is a point made over-and-over again in Acts.

Notice this isn’t the being filled with the Spirit that comes from filling yourself with the Word of God.  No, Saul was a brand new believer.  This must be what we call the baptism with the Holy Spirit.  It was the Holy Spirit coming upon Saul to empower him to serve the Lord.

That brings us to the third thing you need to be available for a special assignment.  You need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit!

If you’ve never been baptized with the Holy Spirit; or if you don’t believe there is such an experience subsequent to salvation; or if you have been baptized with the Spirit but now somehow think you can serve the Lord in your own wisdom and strength; you are not going to be getting too many assignments to serve Him!
Like Ananias you and I are “certain disciples.”  At any moment the Lord could choose us for an assignment.  We need to be expecting it; we need to keep ourselves ready for it; and we must be familiar with the baptism of the Holy Spirit to accomplish it.

Next Saul was baptized.  It would seem from the Book of Acts that  adult believers were water baptized as soon as possible, immediately if possible.  I think it’s probably more biblical but since baptism isn’t a requirement for salvation we have some wiggle room.

Still the New Testament frowns on an unbaptized believer.

Saul had been saved but left blind on the road to Damascus.  When Ananias prayed for him scales… fell from his eyes.  I think it’s literal.

Although he could now see, it’s possible he had some permanent damage.  When he wrote to the Galatians, in a very early letter, he made a remark that indicated he had some sort of on-going eye trouble.  It may have stemmed from these scales.  If so every moment of his Christian life Saul had a reminder of his former spiritual blindness.

God told Ananias that Saul was His “chosen vessel.”  The analogy of the vessels is that there is a great house and in it many different kinds of vessels.

Think of your own house.  You have glasses and dishes and Tupperware and Pyrex.  There are vessels made of porcelain and plastic and various metals.  They each serve different purposes.  Some are used everyday and show the signs of wear.  Some are used infrequently.  Some are on display.  But all are vessels that you have chosen and are in your house and at your disposal.
For His own reasons and to His own glory Jesus chose Saul as a vessel He would use in a very dramatic way.  Saul was one of those vessels used everyday.

It led to excessive wear on Saul.  In his first letter to the Corinthians Saul wrote, “… We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now” (First Corinthians 4:13).

“Filth” and “offscouring” refer to the stuff you scrape off a pan after cooking.  Saul saw himself as the everyday cook pan in the household of God.  He was constantly in the fire; he needed a lot of maintenance.

On the one hand it would be wonderful to be used profoundly, like Saul.  But those vessels used most often take a lot of abuse.

I guess the point I’m making is this.  You are a chosen vessel every bit as much as Saul… Or Peter… Or Billy Graham.  The kind of vessel you are is not up to you to decide.  You’re the Lord’s, in His house, at His disposal.

Your service is always as unto the Lord.  It’s a matter of being faithful to what He has chosen for you.

On The Goad Again (Paul Converted)

Saul the Punisher will be described as “breathing threats and murder” against Christians.  The word for “breathing” is better translated breathing in.  It’s describing him as if he were a wild animal, a predator, sniffing his prey from miles away.  His prey were in Damascus, Syria, and he got permission to go there and slaughter them.

Damascus was some 135 miles from Jerusalem.  There was a large Jewish population as evidenced by Josephus’s report that ten thousand Jews were massacred there in 68AD.

The trip would take several days, perhaps nearly a week.  Although many artists have portrayed Saul as riding a horse to Damascus, he almost certainly was on foot.  One scholar said, “artists make terrible commentators.”

Sometime during that journey Saul was miraculously converted on the road to Damascus after he had an encounter with the risen glorified Lord Jesus Christ.

Is that the typical way a person gets saved?  It may not be typical, but it was a type.  By that I mean it was a type, a typology, providing an illustration, of something else.
Let me read the accounts – three of them in the Book of Acts – then point out why I think Saul’s conversion was a type.

Acts 9:1-9
1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest
2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.
4 Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
6 So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.
8 Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

That was Luke’s account as it was told to him by Saul.  The next two accounts are from Saul’s lips.  The first was to a Jewish audience.

Acts 22:5-11
5 as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.
6 Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me.
7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’
8 So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’
9 And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.
10 So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’
11 And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.

The third account of what occurred on the road was given to Gentiles.

Acts 26:12-20
12 “While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
13 at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.
14 And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
15 So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
16 But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.
17 I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you,
18 to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’
19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
20 but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

You will notice slight differences in the three accounts.  It’s mostly because of the different audiences being addressed.

There are also at least two significant differences.  One account says that the men traveling with Saul “stood” while another says they fell to the ground.  There are several possible explanations, the best one being that the word translated “stood” can mean fixed or stationary.  They fell to the ground and they were fixed in that position for a time, unable to move.

Another seeming problem is that in the Acts 9 version the men are said to have “heard a voice” whereas in the Acts 22 version it says “they heard not the voice of Him who spoke.”
Again there are any number of possible solutions, the best being that they heard Jesus speaking but did not understand His words the way Saul did.

Back to what I suggested – that Saul’s conversion is a type.  I think it is a type of the conversion of the Jews who are alive on the earth at the end of the Great Tribulation when Jesus Christ returns in His Second Coming and all Israel is saved as they look upon Him Whom they have pierced.

One reason I think that is the emphasis in all the accounts of Saul’s conversion on the light.

Acts 9:3 As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.

Acts 22:6 Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me…

11 And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.

Acts 26:13 at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me…

This light was more, much more, than just a bright light.  It is, in the Bible, the radiance of God’s glory.  Frequent biblical texts speak of God’s glory in terms of light:

Psalm 76:4 You are resplendent with light, more majestic than mountains rich with game.
Psalm 104:2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent.

1 Timothy 6:16 Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever…

When Saul was confronted on the road to Damascus, he saw the risen, glorified Lord.  The light was the “light of His glory.”

Saul was also told he would become a light:

Acts 26:17 I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you,
18 to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’

Saul was also subjected to a temporary blindness.  That might be the key fact that points to a typology.

Recapping – Saul saw the light of the glory of the risen Lord and was saved; he suffered a temporary blindness before bringing the light of the Gospel to the world.

Who else in the Scriptures is described as suffering from temporary blindness?  It’s the nation of Israel.  Saul would later write concerning Israel,

Romans 11:7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded.

Romans 11:25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
Romans 11:26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;

When will Israel’s blindness be removed and all Israel be saved?  When the Deliverer comes.  His coming is described by the prophet Zechariah.

Zechariah 12:10 “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.

This is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, at the end of the Great Tribulation.  Numerous passages describe Jesus’ glory at His Second Coming.  Second Thessalonians 2:8 says He will destroy His enemies by the brightness of His coming.

Jesus, then, will return in His glory, in a brightness exceeding the sun, and all blinded Israel will be saved.

Like Israel Saul on the road to Damascus was spiritually blind to Jesus being the Messiah and His Savior until Jesus appeared in His glory to reveal Himself.

His temporary physical blindness after meeting the Lord was to emphasize the spiritual blindness he had been operating under and that the Jews he would preach the Gospel to were still walking in.  He could therefore better identify with the many Old Testament scriptures describing Israel’s end times blindness.

He would receive his sight and go on to be a light to the Jews.  He was, in a sense, typical of the light Jesus will be to Israel at His return when they are saved.  He was a sort of first-light.

Saul’s conversion, miraculous and unique, is typical, then, of the conversion of all the surviving Jews at the end of the Great Tribulation at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to establish His kingdom on the earth for one thousand years.

Just because Saul saw the risen Christ it doesn’t mean there was nothing typical about his conversion, i.e., typical of any conversion.

First, like all men and women everywhere, he was a sinner in need of salvation.  He would later describe himself as the chief of sinners but stood as an example that whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

Second, every conversion is a miracle.  It wasn’t the light that shone around Saul that transformed him but the light that shone within.

Second Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…
Second Corinthians 4: 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Third, his salvation experience was all of grace and not by works of righteousness which he had done.

Fourth, a radical transformation took place as the persecutor and punisher of the church became a preacher of Christ.

There are other typical aspects in the midst of the typology of Israel’s future salvation.

Something Jesus said to Saul should be discussed before we close.  Jesus said to Saul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

The goad was a long stick, sharpened on one end, that farmers used to prod their ox teams in the right direction.  It has come to mean something that encourage or drives; a stimulus.

Two things (at least) suggest themselves:

First, God was at work encouraging, driving, stimulating Saul to receive Jesus Christ.  Stephen’s death as a martyr was a goad as Saul saw Stephen’s angelic face and heard his prayer for the Lord to forgive those who were killing him.  That’s a very hard thing to kick against.

The deaths of the other saints Saul persecuted were likewise goads.

In dramatic and undramatic ways God is always at work goading men to Christ.  One of the ministries of God the Holy Spirit in the world is to goad men to Jesus.

Realize too that you are a goad to nonbelievers.  They should see your angelic face as you endure troubles and hear you speak as the oracle of God in your compassion for them.

Second, it’s all too possible for you as a believer to disobey God.  As a disciple you are described as yoked together with Jesus.  If you aren’t walking in obedience to Him He will goad you.  If you kick against God’s goads you hurt yourself.

We ought to discover God’s ways for our lives and follow them.  If we refuse then it will bring nothing but hurt into our lives and, sometimes, into the lives of others.

Saul’s conversion was really spectacular but it was no more miraculous than yours or anyone else’s for that matter.  God had something more to communicate through Saul to Israel and to us; that’s all.  It wasn’t that Saul was so important that Jesus had to personally appear to Him in order to ensure his salvation.

O, and Saul was to be an apostle with a capital ‘A’.’  That, too, meant he must see with his own eyes the risen Lord; it was a requirement of apostleship.  It’s one of the reasons why there are no apostles today.

Be encouraged!  You might even look back on your encounter with Jesus, when you were saved, to see if there are any types that have held true to your walk with Him thus far.

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Who’s The Pharisee Of All?

Acts 22:3 “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.

Acts 23:6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”

Acts 26:4 My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know.
Acts 26:5 They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

Galatians 1:14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

Philippians 3:5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee;

Call someone a Pharisee and it’s received as an insult.  Maybe it should be; but that wasn’t always the case.

There were three significant religious movements, or sects, among the Jews: the Essenes, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees.

The Essenes flourished from the second century BC into the first century AD.  They lived in various cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to asceticism, voluntary poverty, daily immersion, and abstinence from worldly pleasures, including (for some groups) celibacy.  Josephus records that Essenes existed in large numbers, and thousands lived throughout Roman Judæa.

The Essenes have gained fame in modern times as a result of the discovery of an extensive group of religious documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are commonly believed to be Essenes’ library at their community of Qumran.

Our modern equivalent of the Essenes would be monks living in a monastery.  You probably would not have been an Essene.

You probably would not have been a Sadducee either.  They tended to be wealthy and held powerful positions, including that of chief priests and high priest, and they held the majority of the seventy seats of the ruling council called the Sanhedrin.

The Sadducees were responsible for the Temple and its services.  Most of them lived in or near Jerusalem.

They worked hard to keep the peace by agreeing with the decisions of Rome and they seemed to be more concerned with politics than religion.

Regarding their beliefs, they denied any resurrection from the dead.  They thought it was not explicitly taught in the Jewish Scriptures.  Obviously they did not believe in any afterlife, either in Heaven or Hell.  They were annihilationists who said the soul perished at death.  Along with that they denied the existence of angels and demons – in a spirit world.

You wouldn’t have been an Essene or a Sadducee.  You might have been a Pharisee!

The Pharisees were faithful Jews who opposed the efforts of the surrounding culture to influence classical Jewish life, called Hellenization.  Their very name means separation.

They were mostly middle-class businessmen and were well-liked and well-respected by the common people.  They lived throughout the empire and could be found anywhere there was a Jewish population.   Most of those rabbis who taught in the weekly services of the synagogue were Pharisees.

They may have had their origins as far back as the Babylonian captivity.  Ezra spoke of those who “separated themselves” from “the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the Lord God” (Ezra 6:21; 10:1–4).  Nehemiah spoke of those of “the seed of Israel” who “separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers” (Nehemiah 9:2).  These men “entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law” (Nehemiah 10:28–31).

One of our favorite verses in the Old Testament is Malachi 3:16 which reads,

Malachi 3:16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, And the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the Lord And who meditate on His name.

It’s referring to Jews who were Pharisees.

Unique to the Pharisees was that in their study of the law of Moses they built up a body of interpretation and application which acquired equal authority for them with Scripture.  These are the teachings Jesus called “the traditions of men.”  Their original intent was to preserve the law amidst changing cultures and institutions – to preserve Judaism.

According to the first century historian Josephus, the Pharisees were also what we would call a political interest group; they had their goals for society and sought to achieve them.  They were always there to gain access to power and thereby influence society to a new commitment to a strict Jewish way of life.

They sound, and I mean this sincerely, like the Tea Party of today – at least as to their desire to reform society according to the Word of God.

Jesus frequently rebuked the Pharisees, true.  But He was often among them, even dining with them.  I don’t know of any occasion on which He had such close contact with either Sadducees or Essenes.  There were many sincere Pharisees – Nicodemus for one and Joseph of Arimathea for another.

The Pharisees’ strict observances on matters of purity needs to be understood as an expression of their belief that God would in the future vindicate His true people from the present corrupted regime, and that His people – the true Israel – would be identified by their faithful observance of His Law.

I’m not thereby defending them; I’m just pointing out that they were the spiritual Jews whom the people looked up to because they were committed to restoring what had been lost through subjection to foreign rulers.

When Paul talks about being a Pharisee, he didn’t mean it in a derogatory sense.  People would understand that he was jealous about God, zealous to serve Him.

One biographer of Paul’s I’m reading put it like this.

From his mother’s knee he had learnt of a God at once righteous and loving, of a divine Law given for mankind’s total welfare, of a people designed to be God’s agents in the world, of a future age when God’s will would be universally done.

Paul probably lived in Tarsus until he was eleven or twelve years of age since most Jewish parents put their sons in training at the age of twelve.

The educational philosophy of the Jews was as follows: “At five years of age, let children begin the Scripture; at ten, the Mishna; at thirteen, let them be subjects of the Law.’” (Conybeare and Howson, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, p. 42).

The Talmud is a summary of Jewish oral law (traditions) that evolved after centuries of scholarly effort by sages who lived in Palestine and Babylonia until the beginning of the Middle Ages.  The Talmud has two main components: the Mishnah, a book of law, and the rabbinical commentary on the Mishnah, known as the Gemara.

At the age of ten the Mishna was added to the curriculum.  The Mishna was in oral form in Paul’s day, and the teacher would recite the lesson to the pupil and then the pupil was to recite the lesson back to the teacher verbatim.  At the age of fifteen Gemara was added.  The Gemara contained the discussion of the rabbis down through the centuries.

We read that Paul was taught “at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3).   It’s hard to know exactly when Paul was sent to Jerusalem but piecing things together it looks like he may have been around sixteen years old.

Gamaliel was quite a force among the Jews.  He was one of only seven Rabbis in history to be called “Rabban,” the highest title possible.

Some have suggested that Paul would have been the logical successor to Gamaliel.  A.T. Robertson writes,

What did Gamaliel think of his brilliant pupil? One would like to have a word from him.  But the position of leadership to which he will soon attain shows that the master’s approval rested on Saul. Perhaps the old teacher looked proudly on the young man from Tarsus as a possible successor.  When Saul left Jerusalem he was to all intents and purposes the one young Jew in all the world who had most in prospect before him.  He had been educated as a rabbi and the career of a rabbi lay before him.  But that was not all.  Many a young rabbi lived in comparative obscurity.  This young rabbi had great friends at Jerusalem who could help him to the highest places if he proved worthy.
Interestingly, is reported in the Book of Acts to have taken a neutral position with regard to the Christians.  He told the Sanheddrin to let them alone because if they were of God they’d prosper but if not they would fail.  Paul certainly disagreed!

Doesn’t it strike you as odd that the man who would be the apostle to the Gentiles would be this life-long, classically trained Pharisee among Pharisees?  It would seem as though Paul would have greater success among people just like him.

After his conversion Paul himself assumed he would work among his own people. Jesus had other plans for him.

Acts 22:17 Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance
Acts 22:18 and saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.’
Acts 22:19 So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You.
Acts 22:20 And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’
Acts 22:21 Then He said to me, ‘Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.’ ”

What’s that all about?  Sending the Pharisee of all Pharisees to the Gentiles?  Seems silly.  It’s certainly not what we would do today.

Looking at the history of the early church we see the wisdom of God.  All the first converts to Christianity were Jewish.  Almost from the beginning there was a sense that a person must be a Jew in order to become a Christian.  At least there was a great confusion about it that led to serious doctrinal errors being promoted.  Taking the Gospel to the Gentiles at all was suspect.  When Gentiles seemed to be getting saved without also being circumcised and keeping the law of Moses there was great opposition.

The danger of corrupting Christianity with Judaism was real.  It’s the subject of the Book of Hebrews as the Jews addressed were returning to Judaism in order to avoid persecution.

More to our point, we see a time in the life of the apostle Peter in which he and Barnabas were influenced by Judaizers to quit eating meals with Gentile Christians.  The so-called Incident at Antioch is recounted in Galatians where Paul said,

Galatians 2:11 Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed;
Galatians 2:12 for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.
Galatians 2:13 And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.

God did not choose just any Jew to go to the Gentiles.  He chose a Pharisee of Pharisees who knew firsthand the awful emptiness of religious observances in order to attain and maintain a right standing with God.  There was no fear he would ever look back and become once again ensnared in law – not when he so fully had been saved by grace.

A couple of things suggest themselves for us to consider.

First, we may not have been deeply entrenched in some religion.  But we don’t need to have been in order to reject any and all efforts to add works of righteousness to our walk with God.

Second, we need to abandon our own limited ideas about how to best give out the Gospel.  As I said earlier, we probably would not have looked at a map and said, “The best person for reaching the Gentile world outside Jerusalem is going to be the greatest Pharisee of our generation.”  No, we would have looked to a high-ranking or otherwise celebrated Gentile.

God is wanting us to discover His plan, the good works He has already ordained for us.  Our own worldly wisdom must therefore be set aside if we are to discover them.