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Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.

‘It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in fear of the Lord.’

Acts 9:31

Living in fear of the Lord means living in a deep and reverent respect and obedience. Which is a far preferable condition than living in mortal fear of Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the Way.

And also substantially less dangerous than having the powerfully converted and highly zealous Saul engaging in continuous battle with the Jews of everywhere he goes.

A time of peace indeed. And much deserved.

Nothing is overtly written in the scriptures about Saul’s time back in Tarsus, which lasted for a good four years or more. But speaking as one who has also been profoundly converted by Spirit and Truth, and in the doing so, been forgiven much, I would like to use some sanctified creativity to fill in the blanks of what might have been.

I think that Saul, sent home, begins to come down from the climactic experience of Jesus’ revelation and his own subsequent ministry. He testifies to people in his hometown, but they deride him, possibly thinking he had lost his mind, he was once a successful and influential Pharisee, now look at him, he’s returned as a solo preacher of heresy, absent finery, support, and power. Prophets never do well in their hometowns. He’s shunned, hardly even given sufficient credibility to be worth seriously persecuting. Maybe he is beaten, lashed, beaten again, and suffers for the name of Jesus. He becomes a loner. Outcast from his people the Jews but without any followers of the Way to support him, he’s home, but he’s homeless and alone.

To make ends meet he turns to the manual trade that he was raised in and becomes a tent maker. He keeps his head down. Low down. And the enormity of his past begins to rise within his awareness. He has persecuted men and women of God. These people, who have shown him only kindness, and who had tried to tell him about Jesus, he had hunted them, arrested them, destroyed their families, and had them beaten and killed.

And he himself had been destroyed in the process. Losing all status, all friends, all community. He was a reject, an outcast. And what’s more. He deserved it.

I think Saul began a deep and soul breaking repentance and humbling.

He deserved nothing. And had nothing.

He pieces together the words of the Prophets, finding every thread of truth in the scriptures leading to Jesus. He connects the old and the new, and it makes total sense to him in his contemplations as he works, and sits, and rests and prays. Very few men have a deeper and clearer theology than Saul of Tarsus.

But even so, it is not for him to teach, or lead, or be anything or anyone in the new rising of the Messianic sect of the Way, who were not yet calling themselves Christians.

He knew the truth. And he had received the Spirit. And he did not, and will have been utterly convinced of this, deserve it. The divine essence of Grace will have a deep and personally pertinent resonance with him.

Even after conversion he was a danger to the Way and to the disciples, those simple men and women from mostly unlearned backgrounds that had been chosen as the bringers of the forever awaited Kingdom of God on Earth. The foolish had been made wise, and himself, who thought himself wise and righteous, was revealed to be neither and not.

His transition from powerful Pharisee to powerful teacher of the Way of Jesus had bypassed a vital aspect.

The removal of his pride. The acceptance of his own vast sinfulness.

He knew the truth of Jesus, he had that.

What he lacked was the truth of himself.

And this will have come in waves and waves of contrition and appalling recognition and awareness.

So he made tents. And prayed. And wept. He got depressed. He was lonely. He considered the scriptures and the prophecies, and he repented for every instance of every house he dragged the children of God from. And he could not undo it.

And when he remembered Stephen, and how Stephen died as he himself watched in arrogant approval, remembering Stephens prayer of forgiveness for his own murderers, Saul will have known, without a single doubt in his transformed and transforming mind. That he was not worthy.

And he was right.

And only in knowing and deeply accepting that truth and fact can the next stage begin. And so the conversion of Saul must continue. And he spends year after year and year learning patience, learning acceptance, learning obedience.

Learning to wait on the Lord.

And unlearning himself.

Becoming nothing.

Extract from All People Must Know

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New Hope Christian Church

NHCC UK | Greenhill Parkway

Sheffield | S8  7JP

Phone  |  07459200418

Email  |  info@nhcc.uk

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