Over the next few studies, I want to take a deep look at Paul, the servant of God. The story of Paul is one that I feel all people need to hear because his story, in my opinion, is the greatest redemption story you will ever come across in scripture. Paul’s life truly is a testimony of the Lord, His love, grace, and the fact that anybody can be forgiven and saved.
Paul Preaching Redemption
We are going to start our study off in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he was writing to them about the fellowship of the mystery. Knowledge of this mystery, Paul told the Ephesians, had been known to him by the Lord (Eph. 3:1-3). Though this knowledge had not been made known in past times of Paul’s day, it had been revealed by the Holy Spirit to the apostles and other teachers (Eph. 3:4-5).
Side note: Christ had preached and taught about this same ‘mystery’ but the disciples did not fully understand what Christ taught them in person. As Jesus said to them, they would not and did not fully understand His teachings until they received the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15). After receiving the Spirit, and having full understanding, they were able to go out into the world and share the good news with all people, just as they were commissioned to do by Christ (Matt. 28:19-20; Eph. 3:8).
Knowledge of the mystery
So, what was this mystery that Paul had been speaking of to the Ephesians? In Ephesians 1:3-14 Paul spoke very clearly about the mystery.
Paul, at the start of this letter, gives thanks to the Lord for how God had blessed them with “every spiritual blessing” in the heavenly places through Christ (Eph. 1:3). In the very next verse, I would tell you that Paul begins to talk about the mystery and our purpose. Follow closely what Paul says in this next verse.
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in loveEphesians 1:4 NKJV
Note: You and I, mankind, were chosen by the Lord before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blame. Before God created all that is known and unknown, He set aside mankind to be truly unique. This should call your attention back to Genesis 1:26 where the Lord speaks of creating mankind in His image and likeness; we were created to be just like the Lord — perfect.
But again, as I have said a lot in recent months, mankind fell to sin in the garden. In that fall, mankind, instead of being holy and without blame, had much blame and rather than being holy, became very flawed because of sin. Yet, as Paul said to the Ephesians, the Lord, “predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will (Eph. 1:5).”
Note: The mystery Paul is talking about is honestly not much of a mystery for us because we have been studying about this for a very long time. However, if this is your first time studying with me, then Paul was talking about mankind’s redemption. Mankind was created to be holy, lost its holiness because of our disobedience to God’s instructions, but Christ was given out of God’s love to redeem us from our wickedness so that we do not perish in sin (John 3:16).
To the Ephesians, Paul plainly stated, “In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Eph. 1:7).” Let me reiterate, Paul was sharing what had already been taught and shared by Christ. As he wrote to the Ephesians, Christ made this knowledge known to the world (Eph. 1:8). Christ preached God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and the redemption and salvation of those of faith that desired to inherit God’s eternal promise (Eph. 1:11-14).
So, for us, God’s eternal plan for mankind is not much of a mystery. However, the question of whether or not we believe the truth that Christ shared must be answered by all of us. Every one must answer whether or not we believe Christ’s truth and the preaching of this truth by the apostles and other ministers of the good news of God’s grace towards the world. Do you believe you can be redeemed?
Paul’s Testimony of Redemption
Paul was absolutely perfect for the role of preaching about redemption in Christ. Again, I say this because there are so many people who do not believe they can be saved.
Paul’s dark past
Many of those that feel this way are able to acknowledge the fact that they have done wrong. Acknowledging that you have done wrong and may not be good is actually the first step in everyone’s redemption story. However, one must move past the point of acknowledgement in order to be fully redeemed.
The main problem that many people have is that they do not believe they are worthy to be redeemed because of all their wicked deeds. So, instead of pushing past the point of acknowledgement, they remain stuck in the position of knowing they have done wrong. This is a terrible position to remain stuck in as it would lead to one living in misery every day of their life.
I want you to understand that you are worthy of being redeemed. You may feel that your wickedness is too great to be forgiven by the Lord and that you are unredeemable, but Paul would chuckle and say otherwise. Paul would chuckle and say otherwise because of his very dark past that the Lord forgave him of.
To the Ephesians, Paul said that grace was shown to him even though he was, in his opinion, “less than the least of all saints (Eph. 3:8).” In his letter to the Galatians, Paul did not try to hide his dark past from them. Paul spoke of his former conduct in Judaism and how he persecuted the church of God beyond measure; he tried to destroy it (Gal. 1:13). Paul was a man who believed he was doing good out of his religion for the law, but in actuality, was a very wicked man that carried out many wicked deeds.
In the book of Acts, after he had been arrested in Jerusalem (Acts 21:26-33), Paul shared even more of his history to an angry mob that was mostly composed of Jews along with several others (Acts 21:40-22:21).
Paul spoke of the time when he was known as Saul. Paul stated that born in Tarsus and was brought up in “this city” – Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). From that same verse, Paul tells us that he was raised up and taught the law by Gamaliel, a very respected Pharisee and teacher of the law that sat on the Sanhedrin council. Paul spoke to his intelligence as he was truly an intelligent man; we can tell this from the way he speaks and writes.
Paul also spoke to his zeal towards the Lord and stated that his zeal was very much like those who had arrested him and taken him out of the synagogue (Acts 22:3). Paul’s zeal (fire and passion) was hard for any one person to meet as it was next level. However, there was a problem with Paul’s zeal in that his zeal moved with ignorance – a lack of understanding.
In this speech that he gave to the angry mob, there are a few things that we will see Paul admit to doing. As he shared with the Galatians, Paul admits that in his zeal he persecuted the “Way” (Way of Christ) to death (Acts 22:4). How nasty and vicious was Paul in his persecution of the early church? Paul said he arrested both men and women for simply believing in Christ!
Note: We must remember that during the early days of the church the apostles were arrested on quite a few occasions for merely teaching or preaching about Christ (Acts 4:1-4; 5:17-21; 12:1-11). The Sanhedrin council which was made up of both Pharisees and Sadducees wanted to do away with all of those that taught and preached Christ (Acts 5:22-33). Remember, some of these folks were likely behind the arrest and crucifixion of Christ (Mark 14:53-65; Matt. 26:57-68).
Now, Paul may or may not have been there for the arrest of the apostles. Personally, since he never writes about being there for their arrests, I don’t think Paul was there when people like Peter and John were arrested. However, Paul admits that he was present for one of the most darker moments recorded in scripture – the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60).
Paul, in this speech to the angry mob in Jerusalem, said that he said to the Lord, “they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him (Acts 21:19-20).”
Paul admitted that he literally served in the role of judge and jury in the execution of Stephen, a young and innocent man who was killed because he believed in and testified of Christ. When you believe your deeds are wicked and great, and that you are too unredeemable, ask yourself whether or not your deeds are as wicked as Paul’s wicked deeds. Anybody that says to me that they cannot be saved, I point to Paul’s dark past and tell them that they are wrong — anybody can be redeemed and saved.
Paul’s redemption on the road to Damascus
Anybody can be saved because of God’s love. The redemption story for Paul and for all of us points back to what Jesus said to Nicodemus — God loved the world and gave it His only begotten Son.
One of the most interesting things about Paul’s redemption story is the fact that he didn’t immediately recognize that he needed redeeming. In Paul’s redemption story, his worthiness of redemption was never on his mind because he believed he was carrying out the Lord’s bidding. As Paul admitted to the mob, he had the backing of all the religious leaders to apprehend those that followed the way of Christ (Acts 22:5).
Paul received letters of authority from the high priest, the Sanhedrin, and the elders to essentially hunt down followers of Christ like they were animals; he had those letters on him when he was pursuing to apprehend and arrest believers that had fled to Damascus. The one thing that continues to stay on my mind about Paul’s wickedness is that he was doing these things against those who simply wanted to worship the Lord.
So, in Paul’s redemption story, he was completely wicked in the worst way possible. Yet, the Lord still saw him to be worthy of redeeming which is why God paid him a visit on the road to Damascus.
Paul shared the story of his trip to Damascus that ended up changing his life within this same speech to the angry mob that had arrested him. Take a look at what Paul tells the crowd happened to him as he was making his way to Damascus.
6 “Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 8 So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’Acts 22:6-8 NKJV
Note: This is a quick summary of how things played out as Paul was journeying to Damascus; there is more detail to this story that Paul shares in the verses immediately following and also scripture recorded in Acts 9:3-9.
Paul ended up suffering temporary blindness and had to be led into Damascus by the hand. He was meant to go to Damascus and arrest believers of Christ but he ended up staying there for three days, sitting in blindness. What a somber moment this had to be for Paul as he was left with his thoughts.
If I were to put myself in his shoes, I would have probably been thinking about how he thought he had been doing right the whole time to only be told by the Lord that he was persecuting Him. In Acts 9, Christ said to Paul about his persecuting Him, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads (Acts 9:5).” Goads would be something like a thorn or a spur; a sharp object.
Paul thought he was being successful in what he was doing, but in actuality, the only thing he ended up doing was hurting himself along with those that were around him. Had Paul chosen to ignore Christ on the road to Damascus, he would have committed himself to an action that would have been unpardonable; he would have committed himself to working against (blaspheming) the Spirit.
Worthy to be redeemed
People often ask me if they have done this (fill in the blank) terrible thing, would God save them? I have heard folks come up with some of the most heinous things that you could possibly think just to see if the Lord would forgive, redeem, and save someone.
Well, to answer this sort of question, Jesus gave the answer and I choose to use His words to answer those questions. Jesus said, “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come (Matt. 12:31-32).”
Paul ignorantly worked against the Spirit; he had no knowledge that he was doing that. Paul had Stephen killed in this work; he arrested several others and we do not really know what happened to those that were arrested and how they were treated. In his wickedness, the Lord saw Paul and still found him worthy to learn the truth. In other words, Paul needed to hear about Christ and be told about his actions.
Why did Paul need this? Because Paul was loved by the Lord and given the same opportunity at repentance, forgiveness, and mercy as everybody else. To repent, Paul needed to be told by the party he was wronging the trespasses that he was committing – God rebuked him. Secondly, Paul needed to acknowledge his wrongdoing which he did immediately and would continue to do throughout the rest of his life. Thirdly, Paul would need to commit himself in no longer committing that trespass which, again, Paul did right away.
Paul repented there in Damascus and not longer after his sight was restored, he began to testify of Christ (Acts 9:20-22). Paul’s redemption and turnaround was so quick that the people in Damascus were absolutely confused! To the Galatians, Paul spoke about how he went to Arabia, returned to Damascus, and then returned to Jerusalem three years after his redemption and conversion from Judaism to Christ (Gal. 5:15-17).
Paul’s redemption is such an amazing story as it leads us to this angry mob that we have been seeing him speak to in our study this week. I would tell you that it was no coincidence that Paul found himself in this position; there is no such thing as coincidence when it comes to the Lord. You see, there was a reason as to why Paul was sharing this testimony with the angry mob. What was that reason?
Think about it: Paul had essentially told them that he once had the same zeal as they did when it came to moving against those that were preaching and teaching Christ. So, Paul understood these people very well, and at the same time, he knew that they were wrong in what they were doing. Paul wanted them to understand that they were doing wrong but even with them doing wrong, they were still worthy to be loved by the Lord, forgiven by Him, and could be redeemed and find mercy in the Lord.
As Paul wrote to the Romans, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).” In psalm, David expressed this same thought when he said, “there is none who does good (Ps. 14:1-3). Solomon expressed this same thought in the book of Ecclesiastes where he stated that there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin (Eccl. 7:20). Every single one of us have sinned but the Lord has found all of us worthy of His love, grace, mercy, and salvation.
I know that you are worthy because the Lord loves you and He gave His only begotten Son just for you. Jesus invites you to come unto Him with your misery and your burdens so that He can give you peace of mind (Matt. 11:28). In Paul’s redemption story, all of us should see that it is true what John said in his first epistle about confessing our sins to the Lord. “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).”
In the end, we, just like Paul, have to recognize that we are worthy to be redeemed and that we can be redeemed regardless of the things we have done in our life.