"In today’s readings in Act chapter 9 verses 1 to 31 Saul, an active persecutor of Christians, had a life-changing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus which left him blind. After being led by his travelling companions to Damascus in this state, he was ministered to by Ananias. He was healed of his blindness and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul became Paul and began his epic ministry by preaching in the Synagogues of Damascus." (New Zealand's Rhema Radio)
Going back for a moment to the stoning of Stephen we read this.
And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 8:1-3)This from the passage we read here.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
This man named Saul became the Apostle Paul (Acts 13:9). I am always blown away when I think about who God chose to write slightly less than half of the books of the New Testament. If you look at the New Testament by number of words Paul is the second most prolific contributor. Luke is considered the most prolific contributor with his two books, the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, which amount to about a third of the New Testament. It is interesting to note that much of Acts is about Paul and his travels. A total of thirteen letters are attributed to Paul with some debate on a couple.
Greg Laurie is pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. He wrote this in his Harvest Daily devotional for February 14, 2007.
We know from reading about Saul, or Paul, that he was raised in a strict Jewish home. This meant that he would have learned the Scriptures from youth. His family sprang from the best soil, the tribe of Benjamin, where Israel’s first king, Saul, came from. No doubt young Saul was named after him.Today, for me, Religion only allows people a place to separate out from their lives all their thoughts about God. Religion gives people a box to put God into so as not to have to "deal" with God in their lives.
Saul decided to become a Pharisee, which was a religious order. This meant that he would subject himself to strict discipline. His entire life essentially would be governed not only by Scripture, but by the various laws given by the rabbis. It was a radical commitment to make.
We also know that Saul was schooled by the famous Gamaliel, known as the teachers’ teacher and famed for his wisdom and understanding. Gamaliel personally took an interest in young Saul and taught him the things of God. The young man had a ravenous hunger for knowledge. He wanted to be as devout as possible.
So how was it that a man who was so religious ultimately became nothing more than a common murderer? It is because religion can be blinding. Religion can be a destructive force. Religious people conspired to put Jesus to death. And religious people put young Stephen to death as well.
When I say “religion,” I am not talking about faith in Christ; I am talking about religion. There is a big difference between manmade religion and true faith in Christ.
I think religion is probably keeping more people from Christ than everything else put together, because it gives them a false sense of security. But they will be in for a big shock when they find out that religion will not satisfy the requirements of a holy God."
Christ has never fit into man's Religion Box. Groups of people, denominations, and religious leaders have all tried over the past 2000 years but it always ends up looking odd, strange, or even out an out wrong.
The Messiah we read about in the Bible, the Word of God, can not be put into a Religion Box. Jesus can not be segregated only to our religious thoughts, a building on Sunday, or a group of people or it just feels and looks strange. Only in a real one on one relationship does in make sense. Jesus desires to be part of a person's whole life, not just your religious thoughts or a category.
I am working through the E100 Bible Reading Challenge again. You can learn more about my journey and read the other posts completed so far at this link. I encourage you to stop back soon to read another passage.
Please share your own thoughts on this passage in the comment section below or on the Facebook page.
The partial image above in this post is from an etching in a book published in 1660 titled The Martyrs Mirror. Jan Luiken (1649-1712) made the etchings in the Martyrs Mirror. The man standing off in the background. This is Saul also known as Paul.