A young man named Saul watched approvingly as an angry mob of religious leaders took Stephen outside of the city where they would stone him to death. Stephen like Jesus was renowned as a miracle worker among the people; and also like Jesus was accused of speaking blasphemous words against the law of Moses. How could anyone approved of God be so opposed to the elders and scribes of the temple? The man was clearly a threat, as his eloquence and glowing countenance were such a convincing testament to the words he spoke - that the elders themselves plugged their ears as they brought him to his death. Saul however heard the haunting last words of Stephen, "Lord, don't lay this sin to their charge..." -Acts 8:60
One of these two men would go down in history as one of the greatest men of God to have ever lived, and ironically- it wasn't Stephen. How could this be? The young man Saul had just participated in killing someone that was so pure and holy that even his enemies stood awestruck in his presence - as if he were an angel of God. Saul however was so hardened in his ways that it took an encounter with Jesus himself before there was any change. What was it about Saul, who later became known as the Apostle Paul that made him so effective?
Paul never forgot the days of his youth and the hardness of his heart. He understood that he didn't deserve the relationship with God that he had; after all if Jesus hadn't appeared to him he would have spent eternity without Him. Paul once wrote, "...I am the least of the apostles, and am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."- 1 Cor. 15:9. Paul was also convinced that without Jesus there was nothing good in him. In a letter to the Romans he wrote, "...I know that in me,(that is, in my flesh), dwells no good thing." -Romans 7:18
After his encounter with Jesus, Paul must have spent many quiet hours wondering 'why me?' There were so many other people who were better and more qualified... The answer to that question would ultimately form the basis for his ministry, and change the world forever. In a letter to his spiritual son Timothy Paul wrote, "For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should afterwards believe..." -1Timothy 1:16
Paul understood that his life was meant to be an encouragement for us! God chose someone whose past was so shameful that it would forever be a demonstration of God's Love and Mercy through Jesus. Paul was so consumed with the knowledge of God's Love, that he passionately spread that message all over the known world until his death. At the end of his life Paul knew he had been effective for God, but also knew it was only because of Jesus. He wrote to the Corinthians, "...by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed on me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." -1 Cor. 15:10
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