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Introduction to the Life of Paul
Scripture: Acts 7:54, 57-58; Acts 21:39; Acts 5:12-...
Track 1 of 15 in the Paul: Grace & Strength Mixed Together series
Running time: 40 minutes, 22 seconds.
Greatness just doesnt happen, it is molded by all the circumstances many find tragic, unfair or even painful. For many of us we are shocked and even surprised to know that behind many of our greatest heroes lies deep dark caves of their past riddled with failure and tragedy. We can never forget this especially when studying the magnificent life of Paul the Apostle.

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Mike Nobis Speaker: Mike Nobis
Sunday School Teacher, Former Elder at Madison Park Christian Church. Mike is President of JK Creative Printers & Mailing in Quincy, IL. He is married to Pam and has three children, Tom, Tyler and Jennifer. Mike has three grandchildren: Ryne, Ivy and Alicia.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Introduction to the Life of Paul

How do we try to study the life of such an important man as Paul? Where do we start and how do we get all the details in? It will be an exciting challenge for me to present to you probably the most important person in all of history next to Jesus. When you think about it, who other than Jesus or the Apostle Paul had as much influence on the world and history as these two men? In our world today where a person’s words can travel to the far corners of the world in a matter of seconds, we can lose the astounding impact Jesus and Paul had on the world and how far and wide Paul’s influence went.’

As we engage in a serious study of a great life, we need to brace ourselves for surprises. Interestingly, the greater the life the more shocking the surprises. It is not uncommon that the circumstances and events that led to greatness in that person took place in the hidden years when few were looking and no one cared. We have many examples of great men and women in the history of our country where the quiet, the hidden years had great impact on the things that framed their greatness.

Who are some of the great people in our history that were great but were considered no bodies in their early, quiet years? Lincoln, Douglas, Booker T. Washington, Clarence Thomas

I love Lincoln’s story on how unimportant he was to someday become probably our best president. It is incredible how many close people to him died, how many times he was a failure, laughed at and wasn’t taken seriously. Eventually when he won the Presidency, he presided over the worst war in this countries history and then when he won re-election, it was only a short time when he was assassinated. Yet today, we look upon Lincoln with great admiration because of who he was and the greatness he delivered during a time when our country was on the brink of collapse and division. I can’t imagine what the USA would be like today had Lincoln continued to fail and not become our 16th President.

True or False: The steel of greatness is forged in the pit.

Greatness just doesn’t happen, it is molded by all the circumstances many find tragic, unfair or even painful. For many of us we are shocked and even surprised to know that behind many of our greatest heroes lies deep dark caves of their past riddled with failure and tragedy. We can never forget this especially when studying the magnificent life of Paul the Apostle.

When you think of Paul, what are some of the images of him that come to mind? When the church portrays him in art, writings and commentary, what kind of man do we see? If you were to ask Paul that question, what do you think he would say about himself?

Saul of Tarsus, here was a man when first introduced to us in Scripture was someone totally different from what many Christians think about today. Many have the Christian view of him but the Bible paints a much different picture when we find him in Acts 7. The Bible paints him as a terrorist, a brutal man, someone who is full of rage and hate toward a group of people who follow and proclaim the message of Jesus. Even though his name is first mentioned in Acts 7, he is there earlier behind the scenes, in the dark, hidden away from the readers. Make no doubt, Saul is there to witness a lot of things about the Christians, things that causes him alarm and builds hatred enough to kill, persecute and even terrorize people who follow after the dead Jesus. Little did Saul realize that those he had tremendous hatred for would someday be his closest companions and fellow ministers in winning the world to Christ.

Acts 7:54, 57-58 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God …

When Jesus was arrested, the Sanhedrin at least played like they gave Jesus a trial. Jewish law demanded that a person have a trial before a death sentence be handed down. But in Stephen’s case, the hate welled up so high that the council flew out of control and murdered Stephen in cold blood all in the name of God.

Why did the Sanhedrin hate Stephen so much? What had he done to enrage the council to do such an evil thing including Saul?

When we read the writings of Paul and read the beauty of how he described and preached the grace of Jesus, it is almost impossible to understand the young man, Saul and see the hatred he had for the name of Jesus. Saul couldn’t stand to hear that name and earnestly tried to eliminate the name and the teachings about the dead Jesus that so many had come to love and follow. He tried to eliminate the Christians and their message all in the name of God.

Who was the man Saul and where did he come from? How did he learn his love for God and why was he so passionate about killing anyone who tried to change what he understood to be correct worship and obedience to God?

Acts 21:39 But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.”

Twice in Acts before he addresses two major crowds, he opens with this statement that he was from Tarsus. Tarsus was not some small little place like Nazareth. It was large and sat on an important trade route. It also sat close to a seaport so it was a great place to do business and had the best of a lot of things there. For a young Jewish boy, Tarsus would have offered Saul a lot of opportunities to learn culture, law, philosophy and commerce. Saul was a tent maker and probably learned the trade from his family.

To be from Tarsus meant many special things, most importantly, he was also a Roman citizen. This prominence would come in handy several times for Paul during his ministry work and he used that citizenship to his advantage. But being a Jewish Roman citizen, Saul’s life would have looked typical to most boys of that time. From what we know from writings and the Jewish customs, we can put together a pretty close description on what Saul’s education and religious life was like. All of these things helps us to understand the Saul attending the stoning of Stephen.

1) Saul’s parents were Pharisees just like he was as a young man in Acts 7. His understanding of the law of Moses would have been very strict and unforgiving.

2) He would not have had any contact or friendships with Gentile children.

3) Greek ideas were despised yet Saul was fluent in the Greek language and had a working knowledge of Latin. His family at home would have spoken Aramaic, the language of Judea.

4) By the time Saul was 13, Saul would have mastered Jewish history, the poetry of the pslams and would have read and understood the literature of the prophets. He was ready for a higher education.

5) For those young men who lived in foreign lands, at 13, the parents sent their sons to Jerusalem to study. We know Saul was sent and studied at the feet of a great teacher named Gamaliel. He was the grandson of the great Hillel, the supreme teacher who a few years earlier died at the age of 100. Under Gamaliel Saul would have learned to dissect a text until scores of possible meanings were disclosed according to the considered opinion of generations of rabbis. Saul knew his scriptures perfectly.

6) Saul would learn how to debate in question and answer style known as diatribe and to expound on the meanings with clarity much like a lawyer. In fact, a rabbi was more than a preacher, he was also part lawyer. According to Paul, there was no one better than he.

7) For a man like Saul, to become part of the Sanhedrin would be the highest achievement to strive for.

From what we know about Saul’s upbringing, how could this create within Saul a dire hatred for Christians?

When we keep this in mind, there is evidence that Saul was influenced by some of the early events if he was a witness. Imagine if Saul did witness some of the early miracles performed by Peter and John and the futility the Sanhedrin experienced while trying the stop the advancement of Christianity in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. I believe some of these events fueled the fire of hatred that a well educated Pharisee normally might experience if his faith was threatened.

What threat did the Christians pose to Judaism? Why? How did the Jewish leaders deal with the threat of Jesus and his teachings? Did it work?

The Sanhedrin tried the same tactics they used against Jesus on the Apostles and the early church. Their efforts turned out worse than they did with Jesus. Every day more and more people are leaving Judaism and turning to Christianity and believing in Jesus as God. Something had to be done. So they imprisoned Peter and John.

Acts 5:12-18 And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.

Because of the witness and preaching of the Word, everyday thousands were coming to Christ. This had to stop. But the council and anyone who wanted to stop Christianity only made things worse.

Acts 5:19-25 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, saying, “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”

We see in scripture that Peter and John were brought back in to explain why they didn’t listen and stop their preaching. They exclaimed that they obey God and not men. Furious, the Sanhedrin was about to do something really harsh until an unexpected ally spoke up. The advice from this person had to be a shock to the young Saul as he listened.

Acts 5:33-35, 38-39 When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men…And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”

What impact would this advice have on Saul? Would he control his anger and hatred or would this cause him to grow deeper in hatred for these Christians? Why? How does this work?