THE WORLD'S MOST HEINOUS CRIME!
"'I admit that I didn't always hold to this position. For a time I thought it was my duty to oppose this Jesus of Nazareth with all my might. Backed with the full authority of the high priests, I threw the believers -- I had no idea they were God's people -- into the Jerusalem jail right and left, and whenever it came to a vote, I voted for their execution. I stormed through their meeting places, bullying them into cursing Jesus, a one-man terror obsessed with obliterating these people. And then I started on the towns outside Jerusalem.'" Acts 9-11 (The Message).
What a list of accomplishments to put on your CV, Paul! What a confession! Religious extremist! Fanatic! Murderer! Terrorist! Talk about a religious war! Paul could have been fighting the cause of any one of the world's most prominent religions today. They all have the same intention -- get rid of believers in Jesus; 165,000 Christians murdered every year. Why? What have they done? Put their faith in the Son of God who was raised from the dead? What kind of a crime is that? Why did he do it?
We have only two options -- believe in the God who created us in His image or believe in a god we created in our image. How do we know the difference? By our fruit. We always become like the god we worship. If we worship a god we, or someone else, has created in our image, we reveal the nature of that god by our disposition and behaviour.
Paul thought that he was fighting for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but this God revealed Himself as gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and faitfulness, full of mercy and forgiving sin (Exodus34:6). Does that look like the God he was representing in his murderous hatred of believers?
What was Paul's problem? He was deceived. "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." 2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV). There was nothing wrong with his zeal but everything wrong with what he believed.
Why did God not take him out for his actions against His people? He deserved to die there and then, didn't he? I suspect that God saw beyond his fanatical persecution of Christians to a passionate desire to serve and please the God he thought he knew. That he went about it the wrong way was not the issue. That could be corrected. That he had a heart for God was a characteristic that could be honed into a loyal and faithful son of God and worshipper of Jesus.
A story in the Old Testament clearly illustrates this principle. Isaac, Abraham's son, had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau, it seems, was the more pleasant character. He was an outdoor man, a good hunter and a daddy's boy. His brother, Jacob, like his name meaning "deceiver", was a scheming, lying, twisted namby-pamby mommy's boy.
But Esau had an inborn fault -- he had no interest in spiritual things. He gave away his right as the firstborn just to fill his belly on the spur of the moment. On the other hand, Jacob coveted his brother's position as the firstborn and the privileges and advantages that came with it. Through lies and deception he stole his brother's birthright and the father's blessing. For a good part of his life he lived by deceiving and being deceived.
But, from God's perspective, Jacob's thirst for spiritual realities was a characteristic He could work with, even though he went about it the wrong way. God moved him, slowly but surely, into the place where he was cornered, wanting to go home, but desperately afraid of Esau and the repercussions of his deception. In an all-night struggle with the Angel of the Lord, Jacob surrendered and he was changed, from "deceiver" to "prince with God." The same zeal that drove him to lie and steal, now drove him to love and obey God.
God is looking for those who yearn for Him, though they may not know it. He will make Himself known to anyone who seeks Him with all his heart.
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