There lived a man named Saul. He was a Hebrew descended from the branch of Benjamin and was a Jew belonging to the Pharisee sect. Pharisees believed that strict adherence to the laws and rituals of Judaism would make them beloved by God. It was the way into God’s favor and into Heaven. The Pharisees were put down by Jesus and many of Jesus’s followers as well as the twelve disciples. Pharisees did not follow the entire law and they supplemented their own additions into it. It wasn’t about God and adhering to his commands. It was about them being righteous and above other people.
Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Matthew 23:27-28
In Matthew 23, Jesus explains that the Pharisees loved to wear expensive clothing and to have places of honor and respect at banquets and gatherings. They liked to be approached by people and called “Rabbi” which means teacher. Jesus also said that the Pharisees put the weight of the law on other people, but they themselves did not follow the law. Hypocrisy was a cup they liked to drink from. This drink makes a person dizzy with arrogance and pride.
The path of the Pharisees was so wayward from God’s way that Jesus even said, “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” Matthew 23: 13
They gave a tithe, or offering to God, but forgot what was more important to God: justice, mercy and faithfulness. They would travel a long way to convert one person and would turn him into “twice as much a child of hell.” Their ancestors slaughtered the prophets that God had sent over decades of time. They would flog, kill and imprison sages, teachers and prophets of Jesus instead of listening to them. Instead of turning to God.
All of these points are said by Jesus and are in Matthew 23. I wanted to take a moment to denote what the Pharisees were like so that you can get an idea of Saul because our dear friend Saul considered himself to be an extremely committed Pharisee. In fact, he considered himself something else. Saul wrote in a letter to Timothy:
“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15
So…just gathering my bearings here…Jesus wanted the absolute worst man to be his follower? Why on earth would Jesus want anything to do with a man who had hurt, imprisoned and killed his believers? If God were capable of making a mistake, I’d consider this to be one.
“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:16
God used Saul to show believers that no matter how much we have sinned, no matter in what ways we have sinned or for how long we’ve done these evil things, we cannot exempt ourselves from the gift of Jesus. Jesus is about forgiveness. That’s forgiveness of rape, murder, cursing, anger, jealousy, stealing, lying and all the other sins. Humans, believers also, are swayed to viewing murder as being worse than lying or rape being a greater crime than cursing, for example. To God all evil is the same.
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” James 2:10
This verse shows that if a human sinned only once, if she broke one part of God’s law, then she was guilty as if she had done wrong in every single way she could. There are many different kinds of arachnids, yes? No matter how large or dangerous, they are all still spiders. So it is with sin. Different kinds all belonging to the same group.
Getting back to Saul. He became a believer of Jesus and then went on his merry way, correct? Yes he did! In fact, you may know him better by the name Paul. This is the apostle Paul who wrote 13 of the 27 books in the New Testament. No one else has written more than Paul in the New Testament.
God gave Paul the service of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Gentiles were all of the non-Jewish people. Paul trekked all around Asia, spreading the Word of God and bringing people to Christ.
“Then Paul and Barnabas answered them (the Jewish leaders) boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ (Isaiah 49:6)’ When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” Acts 13:46-48
God has purpose for every person. He uses all things according to His plan.
“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:16
“‘I know that you (God) can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.’” Job 42:2
“‘But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.’” Psalm 33:11
Some people like to view God as an evil ghost in the clouds who manipulates people for his own amusement. If he exists, some say, he’s a terrible god. God is not responsible for sin and sin is what makes the world so horrible. Satan is responsible for sin. God does correct those he loves (Proverbs 3:12), but this is not evil.
The Earth is dreadful because of the one in the Earth. Everyone jokes about Satan, but then they have the audacity to ask why the world is the way that it is. Why is there terrorism and murder and kidnappings and rape and genocide and human trafficking? Why do the thoughts in your head snap like serpents and lead you to depression and anxiety? Your consciousness is full of landmines. You keep stepping on them and bursting into pieces. All of the natural disaster, famine, disease and warfare are all signs of the end of days (Matthew 24).
Your very mind can abandon you. Enough pain and you can bid your sanity farewell. Your weakness is so great that you fill your life with distraction just to make it tolerable. Drink, my friend. Snort and huff and shoot up your drugs, dear friend. Turn to sex, masturbation, video games, television, partying, athletics, academics, work, marriage, hobbies, anything you can get your grubby, oily fingertips on. Go on. Turn to all of these things with the purpose in your heart to ignore or reject God.
That ache is still in your head. It sends stars into your vision. It makes your knees shake and your fingers curl.
You are so weak that you even wish your life to end.
Do you know who whispers suicide in your ear? Because if you think it’s your own internal monologue, or a gene for depression, you are wrong. Satan is that voice. That’s why you want to listen to it and why you are powerless to make the voice be quiet.
People listen to this voice. There is a division among us.
“They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” 1 John 4:5-6
Paul used to listen to the world. He thought himself better than others. When he was chosen out of the world for Christ’s purpose, he realized how bad it was and how wrong he was.
All sinners live with the voice of darkness in their heads. Christians have the Holy Spirit to direct us and discern the truth for us.
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” John 16:13
My question for you is…who are you listening to?