Have you ever wondered, as I have, about Paul’s sudden conversion to Christ on the main road to Damascus? Well there are two snippets of information about Paul (or Saul,if you prefer the Hebrew form) before that momentous even took place.It comes at the end of a remarkably detailed account of the execution by stoning of Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. Those hurling great rocks at Stephen laid their coats at the feet of a young man, called Saul.
Now stoning was a messy execution.None of your little pebbles from the beach.These were great slabs of granite, hurled onto the victim, crushing and smashing him to pulp.And the account says in Acts: “And Saul was there giving approval to his death”
Imagine, Saul, the impassioned little Pharisee, so devoutly Orthodox, a Jew, a fine scholar of Hebrew Law, a part of an investigatory team which the Germans would later copy and call the Gestapo. This Saul, this fanatical Jew, fiercely opposed to the Jesus Messiah cult, was dedicated to stamping it out. He was there when Stephen died and saw a fine Christian man die, radiant in his faith, that Jesus is the Messiah.Surely this experience burned itself into the teeming mind of Saul. ‘If a man can die like that for his mistaken beliefs’ (he may well have mused) ‘there may just be something in this faith after all’. ‘But how can Jesus of Nazareth be the Messiah-he’s dead, buried, finished. How far is it to Damascus?’ Then Jesus met him – alive, glorious, mysterious, risen – and a new man began life that day:a man the world calls Saint Paul.
“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:3-6
Now a later prayer of Paul: Philippians 1:21 and 3:10
“For me, living is Christ.To die is gain.I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and share in his sufferings and become like him”
Now read Philippians 1: 12-30.