This morning I propose to speak in the second person and not as your pastor but rather as St. Paul the Apostle.
Yes, I am Paul, the most unworthy of Christ's Apostles. I would speak to you if I might for what I long to share with you is Christ Jesus, and Him crucified ... I long to know nothing other than Him for my life fades happily in the light of His salvation and, oh glorious of glorious, more and more this wretched man who speaks with you has learned to say: "Not I but Christ who is in me, He is the hope of all glory!"
I was brought up in wealth, a proud man of the House of Benjamin. I wanted for nothing and knew of privilege and all that privilege can buy for us. I was proud with the pride of an ancient and honored name, my family was respected and early on I became a Roman citizen: who then would dare dissuade me of that which the world can give?
Gamaliel, that great teacher of Judaism was my teacher. Had I lived in your times I would have had the equivalent of several PhD's, my academic credentials would have been equivalent to Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard. Of things of this planet I was cognizant, of the religious and political traditions of this world I was a very proud expert, and the wreath of learnedness was always about me. To have sat at the feet of Gamaliel became a boast that I proudly wore at all times and in all places therefore there were many who dared not dispute me for the very dread of my humiliating, my ruining their intellectual reputations. I was a man who adorned himself with haughtiness and supposed wrongly that haughtiness and dignity were the same thing.
And of that new sect, the followers of one Jesus of Nazareth, I was a most avowed enemy. I had supposed that Almighty God would have me do Him the great favor of eliminating these inferiors from our great religion. What were they but fishermen and tax collectors and ultra-nationalists who did not understand the Roman Empire nor their own great Judaism. Of the Pharisees I was the chiefest, I scorned the lower classes, the ignorant, the unlearned, and most of all I scorned -- no, I detested these followers of the Rabbi from Nazareth. These ones who preached that though we crucified Him yet He lived and that He was God's own Son. There was no fury greater than my own, they must be crushed!
But, though I was so certain of myself, my rightness, my righteousness: there was to be no peace within me. For the One who is Holy and Blessed forever, even the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, would not permit me to forever destroy these curious people ... no, may He have mercy upon me, He who is Lord and God would change me. I am not that I was, I am a new creation and all of the old things, the old ways, the old conceits are passed away -- are dead and gone.
We had gone together to silence the deacon Stephen whose preaching of Christ had caused a great stir within the synagogues and market-places. I held his cloak while my comrades threw boulders upon him. And there he knelt, his face shining forth like that of an holy angel. We were all in fear even as we crushed the last bit of light from that young man's body. He gazed upwards as though we did not exist, his eyes flashed with lightening and he proclaimed that he could even then behold the heaven's opening and his Master Jesus standing at the right hand of the glory of God. We stopped our ears, we screamed aloud to drown out this blasphemy, but something happened to me ... I was shaken beyond all description. And as this Stephen died he asked God to forgive us all. I was horror-stricken! What sort of men were these followers of this Jesus?
I never could get it out of my mind, even with all of my philosophy, my wit, my pharisaical religiosity. But, I supposed, I shall continue on this path and eradicate these beguilers of the Jewish people, these destroyers of our religion. I was commissioned to go silence this sect in Damascus and with my partners I rode hard down that dusty road to the city. Suddenly blinding light threw me from my panicked steed and crawling blindly, helplessly about the road I heard: "Saul! Saul! Why persecutest thou Me?"
My compatriots were perplexed thinking I'd gone mad but I spoke to what they had supposed was silence: "Who art thou Lord?"
"I am Jesus who you have been persecuting!"
My trembling, the chattering of my teeth, the scaling of my eyes all descended upon me as I suffered a fear so profound that beggars any comparison to the terrors known to any man in the thick of battle.
And yet, and yet ... through my fear I heard not the rebuke of hatred -- no, His was a kindly, a pleading voice. There was much of Stephen's love in that voice, much of his forgiveness. His Master now spoke to me and I could not deny that this Jesus of Nazareth was alive. Nor could I deny that thing which I dreaded the most from any man: this Carpenter, this Rabbi loved Saul of Tarsus and meant to save me from myself!
At long last I am loved. Not for my learning, not for my station in life, not with a servile love that fears the scorn of the learned ... no, I am loved by Love nor can I escape it.
I am now called Paul for Saul no longer lives within this frame. He who was dead in pride and self-righteousness has died and Christ, the hope of all glory, is risen within my heart, soul, and mind. Wherein I was proud and pompous, wherein I loved the praise and respect of men, I now look at my past as so many filthy rags. No, now it is Christ and Christ alone, the hope of all glory! There is no glory unless God be glorified: religion is deadly if it condemns us with the commandments that define our sinfulness ... deadlier still if we suppose we might overcome that condemnation with our own legalistic codes of conduct.
No, it is and must ever be Christ, the hope of all glory or otherwise we are condemned by our own words ... our own hearts mislead us if we be not led by Heaven and Heaven's King!
That which once annoyed me is of no consequence: those whom I might have destroyed by argument and logic as Saul I only pray for in that they might too know Jesus. And there are many who proclaim even Christ with a self-righteousness that befits the old Saul. But I shall not worry, what is the difference so long as Christ is proclaimed.
There is only this that matters on earth, between earth and the heavenlies, and in Heaven itself: to know only Christ and Him crucified. I count all but dung, worthless and silly, and Christ alone is my gain, my treasure, my Heaven ... oh to know Him and declare Him alone!
Let me then seem a fool if only Christ is glorified by it. Let me seem a simpleton or, as many say of me, "Much learning has driven me mad!" No, no -- it is to know Christ and Him alone, that is the peace that passes all understanding ... my footing is not upon this dying earth but in my Christ who standeth in Heaven at the Father's right hand of glory.
The laughing, the scoffing of my early friends have turned into their anger, their determination to silence me now. But I shall not be silenced, I demand to go before Caesar that my Lord's Name be known and my reason for life be shown without compromise for I am not ashamed of Christ, His alone is that Name which brings eternity into us, which gives us eternal life.
And I have now these companions in my new man (my renewed heart): faith, hope, and love -- gifts from Him for no man has such graces except they be given him from on high. I have been imprisoned, shipwrecked, nearly dead, run out of town, all of this ... and never have these three deserted me. And of the three His love is the leader, His love is the greatest ... oh won't you see that my brethren, His love is His grace and mercy toward us!
I do not know how long I shall have left to preach the Way but I am as a man driven by love of Love. I shall know no rest until I rest at last in Him. He is coming soon, there will be a great marriage between the Lamb of God and His Bride, His people, the church ... the Elect from all time and from every nation. And when that number is completed surely we shall see Him and our dust of corruption shall be changed, transformed as unto His own glory.
I have traveled the ends of the earth for I cannot be quiet. I know Him and I cannot keep that hidden for that which I know has made me a torch who shall be consumed with the Gospel until I am taken from this passing age unto eternity. I have gone to all men, to Jew and non-Jew. I have stood up even to Peter saying that we have no right to keep this Gospel only among the seed of Abraham for Christ is the Savior of the world.
It has not been easy physically but oh the joy in proclaiming what Stephen died proclaiming. I am not much to see .. a tired old hunch back with very weak eyes that must constantly squint to write you these letters. And I do not ask pity for none is owed: God knows that my bodily afflictions are good for me, they keep me humbled for what could I do without His mercy -- nothing!
Shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned -- what are these little things when one is freed forever from the burden of sin. So on to Rome I must go now for I am a Roman citizen and it will do only that I die in Rome having troubled the Emperor and his people with the claims of Christ Jesus. How is it I still hear that young man's voice? Does he wait for me, this one whose cloak I held that day so long ago? Oh, I am coming Stephen, I shall be there with you and all the martyrs to worship and adore our God whom we know in Christ Jesus! And nothing in Heaven nor in Hell, in men or in angels, nothing seen or unseen shall keep me from Christ, of that I am persuaded eternally.
And now to Rome and to the block: For me to live is Christ, for me to die is gain!
I, Paul, salute you!
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