Bad Letter, Good Letter
Acts 8: Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. This scripture follows Chapter 7 which details the death of Stephen by stoning and the persecution of the early church intensifies from there on. Saul’s first act with letters was an act that was totally against those who were followers of “The Way” or Christians. By his own account you can read what he did before accepting Jesus and see the effect it had on those of the faith. Acts 22: 4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished. Those letters were life threatening to those who called Jesus Lord and Saul’s fervor was so much against those followers that everything else done to stop them pales in comparison. It was Saul’s plan to stop these Christian Zealots and follow through with the commission of the Council of the Elders in Jerusalem. He was a faithful servant to their wishes and He was very good at what he did. Those letters proved that He needed Jesus and that is exactly what happened. But, it would take a radical event to turn this man from his wickedness to the Savior. This event is recorded in Acts 9: Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and 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?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” 7 The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Jesus confronted Saul on his way to get more letters to kill more Christians and changed his life and turned it upside down. The path of Ananias was changed as well as he was told by God in a vision to go to Saul and lay hands on him. The following scripture details this event in Acts 9: 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at 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 instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened.
From this experience Saul’s letters changed from getting letters to kill followers of Jesus to changed Paul writing over 28% of the New Testament. The letters range from personal challenge to believers to live out their faith aggressively, to instruction for leaders in the church, to the fruits of believers. Saul, who came to be known as Paul was a changed man and his original intent of destroying the church changed dramatically to wanting to grow the church through reaching not only Jews, but Gentiles. Wow, what a change!! Paul even changed his name from the Hebrew Saul, to his Roman name Paul, and many feel it was just another way he thought he could reach out to the Gentiles. He was a man on fire and his fire was fueled by the Holy Spirit!! The name Saul means “asked for or prayed for” and Paul in Italian means “small or humble.” So the name change by Paul was a follow up to his comments in 1 Corinthians 9: 19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
Paul was willing to change whatever he needed to reach more and more people with the gospel. This shows the true definition of Life Change and his example of repentance and new life is a challenge to us all. What is different about you after accepting Jesus? Surely you weren’t killing Christians as a matter of lifestyle like Paul. But on the other hand, how different are you post-conversion. The Bible says we are all radically different. Different from how we used to be. Different than the world we live in. Different from our old friends. Different…. Which means we are to be like Christ in our new life, shining as a light in this world of darkness, making new God-honoring friends. Christians…..
You see Paul was a big part in fueling the change in the early believers lives by encouraging them to grasp their faith and SOAR!! Acts 11: And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. 25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Time for our letters to change and our new life to be seen in a radical way that is much different than the world we live in. Time for repentance to be experienced by all sinners and radical life change to take over for good. In Baptist churches a letter is made for a person when they are baptized in a baptist church after receiving Christ. When they go to another baptist church and join that church their letter is requested and sent from their former church. I think we should rethink that and put just how good those people were serving in their former church and make sure that lines up with the Bible before receiving their letter for membership. That accountability might keep church hoppers from spreading their week faith to churches that are trying to reach the lost. Just a thought…. Paul was bringing letters to indict Christians for their faith. Would you be indicted for your faith and in that accusation would you be accused of being too much of a vibrant Christian? Why not?
The Pilgrimage continues…..