Days of Preparation
AFTER his baptism, Paul broke his fast and remained "certain days
with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached
Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God." Boldly he
declared Jesus of Nazareth to be the long-looked-for Messiah, who
"died for our sins according to the Scriptures; . . . was buried, and
. . . rose again the third day," after which He was seen by the
Twelve and by others. "And last of all," Paul added, "He
was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time." I Corinthians
15:3, 4, 8. His arguments from prophecy were so conclusive, and his
efforts were so manifestly attended by the power of God, that the Jews
were confounded and unable to answer him.
The news of Paul's conversion had come to the Jews as a great surprise.
He who had journeyed to Damascus "with authority and commission from
the chief priests" (Acts 26:12) to apprehend and persecute the
believers was now
preaching the gospel of a crucified and risen Saviour, strengthening
the hands of those who were already its disciples, and continually
bringing in new converts to the faith he had once so bitterly opposed.
Paul had formerly been known as a zealous defender of the Jewish
religion and an untiring persecutor of the followers of Jesus. Courageous,
independent, persevering, his talents and training would have enabled him
to serve in almost any capacity. He could reason with extraordinary
clearness, and by his withering sarcasm could place an opponent in no
enviable light. And now the Jews saw this young man of unusual promise
united with those whom he formerly persecuted, and fearlessly preaching in
the name of Jesus.
A general slain in battle is lost to his army, but his death gives no
additional strength to the enemy. But when a man of prominence joins the
opposing force, not only are his services lost, but those to whom he joins
himself gain a decided advantage. Saul of Tarsus, on his way to Damascus,
might easily have been struck dead by the Lord, and much strength would
have been withdrawn from the persecuting power. But God in His providence
not only spared Saul's life, but converted him, thus transferring a
champion from the side of the enemy to the side of Christ. An eloquent
speaker and a severe critic, Paul, with his stern purpose and undaunted
courage, possessed the very qualifications needed in the early church.
As Paul preached Christ in Damascus, all who heard him were amazed and
said, "Is not this he that destroyed
them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that
intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?" Paul
declared that his change of faith had not been prompted by impulse or
fanaticism, but had been brought about by overwhelming evidence. In his
presentation of the gospel he sought to make plain the prophecies relating
to the first advent of Christ. He showed conclusively that these
prophecies had been literally fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. The
foundation of his faith was the sure word of prophecy.
As Paul continued to appeal to his astonished hearers to "repent
and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance" (Acts 26:20), he
"increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt
at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ." But many hardened
their hearts, refusing to respond to his message, and soon their
astonishment at his conversion was changed into intense hatred like that
which they had shown toward Jesus.
The opposition grew so fierce that Paul was not allowed to continue his
labors at Damascus. A messenger from heaven bade him leave for a time, and
he "went into Arabia" (Galatians 1:17), where he found a safe
Here, in the solitude of the desert, Paul had ample opportunity for
quiet study and meditation. He calmly reviewed his past experience and
made sure work of repentance. He sought God with all his heart, resting
not until he knew for a certainty that his repentance was accepted and his
sin pardoned. He longed for the assurance that Jesus would be with him in
his coming ministry. He emptied his soul of
the prejudices and traditions that had hitherto shaped his life, and
received instruction from the Source of truth. Jesus communed with him and
established him in the faith, bestowing upon him a rich measure of wisdom
When the mind of man is brought into communion with the mind of God,
the finite with the Infinite, the effect on body and mind and soul is
beyond estimate. In such communion is found the highest education. It is
God's own method of development. "Acquaint now thyself with Him"
(Job 22:21), is His message to mankind.
The solemn charge that had been given Paul on the occasion of his
interview with Ananias, rested with increasing weight upon his heart.
When, in response to the word, "Brother Saul, receive thy
sight," Paul had for the first time looked upon the face of this
devout man, Ananias under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said to him:
"The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know
His will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of His
mouth. For thou shalt be His witness unto all men of what thou hast seen
and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash
away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Acts 22:13-16.
These words were in harmony with the words of Jesus Himself, who, when
He arrested Saul on the journey to Damascus, declared: "I have
appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness
both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the
which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people,
and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes,
and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto
God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them
which are sanctified by faith that is in Me." Acts 26:16-18.
As he pondered these things in his heart, Paul understood more and more
clearly the meaning of his call "to be an apostle of Jesus Christ
through the will of God." 1 Corinthians 1:1. His call had come,
"not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the
Father." Galatians 1:1. The greatness of the work before him led him
to give much study to the Holy Scriptures, in order that he might preach
the gospel "not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should
be made of none effect," "but in demonstration of the Spirit and
of power," that the faith of all who heard "should not stand in
the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:17; 2:4,
As Paul searched the Scriptures, he learned that throughout the ages
"not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble,
are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to
confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to
confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and
things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not,
to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His
presence." 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. And so, viewing the wisdom of the
world in the light of the cross, Paul "determined not to know
. . . save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." 1 Corinthians 2:2.
Throughout his later ministry, Paul never lost sight of the Source of
his wisdom and strength. Hear him, years afterward, still declaring,
"For to me to live is Christ." Philippians 1:21. And again:
"I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of
Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, . .
. that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own
righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of
Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him,
and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His
sufferings." Philippians 3:8-10.
From Arabia Paul "returned again unto Damascus" (Galatians
1:17), and "preached boldly . . . in the name of Jesus." Unable
to withstand the wisdom of his arguments, "the Jews took counsel to
kill him." The gates of the city were diligently guarded day and
night to cut off his escape. This crisis led the disciples to seek God
earnestly, and finally they "took him by night, and let him down
through the wall, lowering him in a basket." Acts 9:25, R.V.
After his escape from Damascus, Paul went to Jerusalem, about three
years having passed since his conversion. His chief object in making this
visit, as he himself declared afterward, was "to see Peter."
Galatians 1:18. Upon arriving in the city where he had once been well
known as "Saul the persecutor," "he assayed to join himself
to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that
was a disciple." It was difficult for them to believe that so
bigoted a Pharisee, and one who had done so much to destroy the church,
could become a sincere follower of Jesus. "But Barnabas took him, and
brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the
Lord in the way, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached
boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus."
Upon hearing this, the disciples received him as one of their number.
Soon they had abundant evidence as to the genuineness of his Christian
experience. The future apostle to the Gentiles was now in the city where
many of his former associates lived, and to these Jewish leaders he longed
to make plain the prophecies concerning the Messiah, which had been
fulfilled by the advent of the Saviour. Paul felt sure that these teachers
in Israel, with whom he had once been so well acquainted, were as sincere
and honest as he had been. But he had miscalculated the spirit of his
Jewish brethren, and in the hope of their speedy conversion he was doomed
to bitter disappointment. Although "he spake boldly in the name of
the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians," those who stood
at the head of the Jewish church refused to believe, but "went about
to slay him." Sorrow filled his heart. He would willingly have
yielded up his life if by that means he might bring some to a knowledge of
the truth. With shame he thought of the active part he had taken in the
martyrdom of Stephen, and now in his anxiety to wipe out the stain resting
upon one so falsely accused, he sought to vindicate the truth for which
Stephen had given his life.
Burdened in behalf of those who refused to believe, Paul was praying in
the temple, as he himself afterward testified, when he fell into a trance;
whereupon a heavenly messenger appeared before him and said, "Make
haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive
thy testimony concerning Me." Acts 22:18.
Paul was inclined to remain at Jerusalem, where he could face the
opposition. To him it seemed an act of cowardice to flee, if by remaining
he might be able to convince some of the obstinate Jews of the truth of
the gospel message, even if to remain should cost him his life. And so he
answered, "Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every
synagogue them that believed on Thee: and when the blood of Thy martyr
Stephen was shed, I was also standing by, and consenting unto his death,
and kept the raiment of them that slew him." But it was not in
harmony with the purpose of God that His servant should needlessly expose
his life; and the heavenly messenger replied, "Depart: for I will
send thee far hence unto the Gentiles." Acts 22:19-21.
Upon learning of this vision, the brethren hastened Paul's secret
escape from Jerusalem, for fear of his assassination. "They brought
him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus." The departure of
Paul suspended for a time the violent opposition of the Jews, and the
church had a period of rest, in which many were added to the number of
Preparing For Eternity ©1999-2020 All Rights Reserved