Blogger’s Note: … Well, it’s on to Chuck Swindoll’s devotional study of the Apostle Paul; and as you’ll read, I am going to get a personal kick out of this one. I hope you, who choose to follow along do as well.
Passage of the Day: Acts 5: 29 - 31 … 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered [the Jewish High Council who had ordered the Apostles to quit preaching Christ] and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
Acts: 8: 1 – 3 … 1 Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. … 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.
My Journal for Today: So, we move on to study one of the most influential characters of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, the author of more of the New Testament books than any other writer, … the man who intentionally helped spread the Gospel message throughout the world at the time he lived; … and we know of him as an early leader of the Apostles in the 1st Century church. But he was a man who came from a very dark past, … a man of great contrast, … as is depicted in the two passages Swindoll chooses for us to get our first view of this great figure of Christianity.
In Acts 5, we see the Apostles of Christ, standing strongly FOR Christ; but then we read one of the retrospective views of our focus of study in Acts 8, and we see the early Paul, then called Saul of Tarsus, … a brilliant and powerful member of the Sanhedrin, a leader of the Jewish council, whose life was wrapped up, at that point in his life, by trying to eliminate Jews who followed Christ. In today’s view of Acts 8, we see just how deeply he had fallen into that pit of sin as he sanctions the death of Stephen, the first recorded martyr of the faith.
And immediately I have deep personal identification with this Apostle whose life was so dramatically transformed by the love of God and the Holy Spirit, Who had raised our Savior from the grave. Perhaps you too identify with the changed and saved life of this man who was morphed from a killer of Christians to the pre-eminent Christian evangelist of the 1st Century. And isn’t it wonderful to realize that our Savior sought this man out to show all of us, through His word, which we now have, to illustrate that such change is possible. And, my friend, no one can identify more with this truth than can I.
At one point during my life, in the 1970s I was an anti-Christian apologist much as was Saul of Tarsus. In those days I did all I could to strip the faith from Christians whom I knew on ones who could not stand up for their faith. I guess you could call me a “devil’s advocate,” in those days, though I liked to call myself an “agnostic.” It just sounded more appealing than “atheist,” which was probably a more accurate description of my antipathy for Christianity. But in 1983, God took me down, much the same as the Spirit did to Saul. I even had a “Damascus road” type experience, where God broke me, allowing me to see Whom Christ really was. So, I’m going to enjoy studying the life of Paul; because I, like him, represent the degree of change which can be wrought in the life of even the staunchest of Christian haters. Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul; and Bill Berry, the former atheist, now has become “Rev. Bill Berry,” who now, as an Ordained Minister, writes this devotional journal entry. I know I’m going to revel in seeing a lot of myself in this upcoming study.
However, maybe you’ll see a lot of yourself as well; and we all should be able to see just what God, the Holy Spirit, can do to transform any life who surrenders to the saving and enabling grace offered by the One Who died on the cross and was resurrected and now sits in Heaven as our High Priest, Intercessor, and Advocate. Paul became what Swindoll calls “the Apostle of Grace;” and there is great wonder in this because we too can be apostles, (i.e., those who are sent as witnesses into a lost and dying world – see Acts 1: 8), … those who can share the grace which saves, enlightens, and empowers us to share the Gospel in our day just as the Apostle Paul did in his.
My Prayer for Today: Oh, Lord, Jesus, I beg that You give any who read here, including this humble servant, all the drive to share You with world which was found in this man named Paul. Amen