A young, whippersnappin’ religious zealot thought he was doing his people a favor by ridding their religion of heretics. But then a strange thing happened while he was on the way to Damascus. Under the influence of a direct encounter with God, Saul was blinded by the light, fell off his horse, and ended up doing a complete dogmatic turnaround. Ultimately he became a masterful defender of the fledgling Christian faith that he had previously persecuted with such ferocity.
God soon directed Saul–not back to Jerusalem, the center of the Judaic universe–but to the unlikely city of Damascus, and to untamed Arabia, of all places, to receive direct instruction about what really needed to be done in the world of human religion. God, after commanding the impetuous disciple to change his name name to Paul, imparted to him over the next three years a vision of the new spiritual movement that would change the world.
Paul’s revolutionary message pertained to a once-and-and-for-all atonement for human sin, which had recently been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. This tomb-breaking work of Jesus was a veil-ripping feat, and its spiritually revolutionary power had rendered obsolete the ancient Abrahamic practice of animal sacrifice.
Proclaiming such news would prove to be no easy task, as Paul’s subsequent life later demonstrated; he suffered dearly for having accepted the assignment. As have many spiritual reformers before and since, he paid a heavy price for having taken on his mission to turn upside down the religious establishment of his day. Even his comrade-in-alms, Peter, had to be lead kicking and screaming down the newly-blazed path of spiritual liberty, away from dogmatic bondage.
Amos, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and other prophets of old had trod the same difficult way. Paul’s work was not the first of such tribulative, misunderstood reform labors; nor would his job be the last, by any means. After he had midwifed the birth of Christian belief from inside the bloody womb of Mosaic tradition, many other persecuted reformers would follow historically in his footsteps–Waldo in 12th-century Italy, Hus in 14th-century Czechoslavakia , Luther in 16th-century Germany, Wilberforce in 19th-century England with abolitionists in enslaved America, Nee in 20th-century China, Bonheoffer in Nazi-occupied Germany, and God only knows those prophetic reformers yet to come.
Christians, like any other sincerely religious people, are perpetually confronted with the necessity of casting off the bondage of unproductive legalism, and destructive error.
Back at the inception of Christianity, Paul’s world-shattering message had been to propel the way of holiness beyond Judaism. Take it to the gentiles, said he, and onward to the the world at large. As later history unfolded, his earthshaking opus panned out quite successfully. Faith in Jesus has travelled around the world, transcending a multiplicity of religious mountains. Perhaps the next Paul-type reformer will be that persuasive one whose voice who can penetrate the hardest mosqueleum of today’s grave world. His prophetic call to eternal life in Christ will speak softly into the ears of millions of souls who daily prostrate themselves beneath the heavy shari’a pillars of Islam.
More potent than twitter, more pervasive than facebook, and fresher than any Arab spring, is the peace of Jesus. Its power is discovered in a message of freedom, proclaimed originally by a Jew, formerly dogma-driven, whose first assignment from Messiah was to go to Damascus, and then to the Arabian desert for three years to get his life straightened out.
Maybe he will go there again, in some way or another. Selah.