Acts 8:3,9:1 - As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest...
My mind bounced quickly from one thing to another. Everything is connected! And somehow it all goes back to God. Everything, it seems, is connected to Him. But I haven't always thought like this. I believed differently. My idea of truth was different.
I was contemplating a statement in our Bible Study Fellowship notes, Lesson 4. God proved His love and concern for human suffering at the cross. To save sinners from the judgment we deserve, God willingly gave His Son to suffer for us. Had His love been less--had there been another way--God would never have sent His beloved Son. Until we receive God's love by faith in His gift of Him Son, we are all perishing.
I began to think of times when "good" people die and "bad" people live. Take a car accident. You have an intoxicated driver who crosses over the middle of the road to oncoming traffic and kills the driver of the other vehicle but he/she survives. Doesn't seem fair, does it? We don't know the mind of God in this. We do know that there is great sin in this world, of which we all are guilty. Neither of these people were good in God's eyes (and why God provided a way). In this instance the one who lives will live with the guilt of what he/she has done the rest of their life. Quite a burden. However...through this, the person might seek God, receive His forgiveness and begin to serve Him. This person's sin can be forgiven.
I thought of Saul. He persecuted Christians. It's one of my favorite stories. One day on his way to do more persecuting, he had an encounter with God:
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:3-6)
In an instant Saul changed...big time. This is how we all are before we know the Lord. All of us. Saul's name was then changed to Paul. A Matthew Henry commentary says this about his name change: He had two names, a Hebrew name, Saul, and a Roman name, Paul. He was to be sent out to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles so He used his Roman name.
God changed Saul and then used the man who hated Christians to point people to Christ. So it shows He can use anyone...after they have been changed...forgiven, humbled and ready to serve God. In fact later in the New Testament Paul is speaking and he states: This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. (1Timothy 1:15)
I think back before I knew Christ. How I pushed Him away. Walls went up around my heart and spirit. I was not going any further in knowing Him than my intellectual understanding. I was not going to let my heart know Him. This is kicking against the goads! I could say I was a chief sinner too. Many are in this place. Many are even farther away in full rejection of Him. This is rejecting Him. We can choose to continue to reject or we can allow Him to change us. It's for our own good that He does. I just know that my heart changed in a split second and it allowed God to enter in and do even greater changes. Any heart can be changed in an instant. Nothing is impossible with God.
Going back to the BSF note. We all deserve God's judgment. God does not relish in seeing people die. But it happens. It happens to "good" people as well as "evil." But think about what God did for us. He willingly gave up His own Son to suffer for us, to be the sacrifice for our sins...if we would turn to Him, humble ourselves and serve Him. He willingly gave His Son. And His Son willingly obeyed His Father. For us.
Saul/Paul underwent a big change. God can do this in all of us. It's a very good thing. It's life saving, eternal.
Acts 9:20-22 - Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.