Here is a story from God’s Word about how something shameful became a person’s greatest source of glory and pride.
Sometime after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Saul of Tarsus arrived in Jerusalem. He came to Jerusalem to study religion with a well-known Jewish Rabbi by the name of Gamaliel. Saul was from a devout Jewish family and a Roman citizen by birth. He was proud of his Jewish heritage, and could trace his ancestry back to the Tribe of Benjamin, one of the original 12 tribes of Israel. His love and passion for Jewish law and traditions caught the attention of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, and he rose quickly through the ranks to become a leader among the Pharisees.
Shortly after arriving in Jerusalem, Saul began to hear the stories of the recent uproar over a rabbi and teacher called Jesus of Nazareth. Some people said this Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. Others said he was a prophet. Saul’s Jewish teachers, however, assured him this Jesus was nothing more than a troublemaker and a blasphemer. They shared with him some of the many rumors and stories about Jesus, such as the time Jesus said he was going to destroy the Temple and build it again in only three days. The most disturbing thing Saul heard about Jesus was his claim to be equal with God.
In addition to the rumors, Saul also learned the religious authorities arrested Jesus, tried him for blasphemy and treason, and crucified him along with two other common criminals. The thought of the Jewish Messiah dying on a cross in public disgrace was scandalous. Shameful! This was certainly not the Messiah Saul and his ancestors expected. What surprised Saul was the fact that Jesus’ followers were not ashamed at all. Instead, they seemed to be proud of it. Even worse, now they were spreading the rumor that Jesus arose from the dead and was alive! How could that be?
Saul was troubled and angered as he saw the growing popularity of this sect. Their message was spreading like a firestorm throughout Jerusalem. All the talk kindled unrest in Saul’s heart, and his hatred grew. Soon, Saul joined other leaders who were trying to destroy the movement. He actively participated in the stoning of Stephen, one of the sect’s leaders. After this experience, he became even more embittered and determined to stop this heresy.
Stephen’s death caused the group to scatter outside of Jerusalem. When Saul learned this, he asked the Chief Priest for permission to go with authority to the synagogues in Damascus to arrest and bring back to Jerusalem anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus.
On the road to Damascus, something happened to Saul that altered the course of his life. About noon, a light brighter than the sun itself blinded him. He fell to the ground in terror, and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul responded, “Lord, who are you?” Then he heard the words that changed his life forever, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” “Get up, and go into the city, and it will be told to you what you must do.”
When he got up, he was completely blind. Someone had to lead him the rest of the way into Damascus. There, he spent three days in prayer without food or drink. As he was praying, a man came into the house with an amazing message. The man’s name was Ananias. God spoke to Ananias that same day, and told him to go to the house belonging to a man by the name of Judas. There, he would find Saul of Tarsus in prayer.
Ananias had heard of Saul, and he was afraid. He wondered why God would send him to a man he knew hated and persecuted followers of Christ. He also knew Saul came to Damascus with the authority to arrest anyone teaching about Jesus. However, God assured him He had special plans for this man Saul. Therefore, Ananias obeyed God and went.
Ananias entered the house; spoke to Saul, and laid his hands on his head. Saul received his sight, and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul, later called Paul, became known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles” and he helped to spread the message of Christ throughout the Roman Empire.
It is interesting to reflect that Paul, who had physical vision, was so blind to the truth of the Gospel. God had to take his physical sight away so he could see the truth before him in Jesus Christ.
What he once believed to be disgusting and shameful – the Messiah dying on a cross – became the only thing in which he would glory. In addition, the truth that the Messiah arose from the dead became the cornerstone of his faith. Telling that story became the driving passion of Paul’s life.
After his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, Paul would never be ashamed of the message of Jesus death, burial and resurrection. Years later, in a letter to the Christians in Rome, he explained why he was not ashamed, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ because it is the power of God unto salvation. . .” (Romans 1:16a)
Are you ashamed of the Gospel, or are you like Paul, telling everyone you meet?
Note: The biblical texts used in this story – Acts 9:1-19; Philippians 3:2-11; Galatians 1:11-24; Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25