Saul the Persecutor

By Pastor Jerry Donovan

The first time Paul is mentioned in the Bible is as a young man around 20 years old named Saul in the Book of Acts 7:58-8:1 CEB, “58 (They) threw him out of the city, and began to stone him (Stephen). The witnesses placed their coats in the care of a young man named Saul … 8:1 Saul was in full agreement with Stephen’s murder.” Thousands of Jewish people had become disciples of Jesus Christ within a couple of years of Christ’s crucifixion.  They believed he was the long awaited Messiah, and these “followers of the Way” actually included some of the rabbis from the party of the Pharisees.

Saul was a self-righteous, ambitious, young man looking to make a name for himself and become an important Pharisee as we read in Acts 8:1, 3; 9:1-2 CEB, “At that time, the church in Jerusalem began to be subjected to vicious harassment. Everyone except the apostles was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria… Saul began to wreak havoc against the church. Entering one house after another, he would drag off both men and women and throw them into prison. Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest, seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus. If he found persons who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, these letters would authorize him to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”

On the way to Damascus Saul’s life was changed forever. He describes what happened to him in Acts 26:12-15 NRSV, “With this in mind, I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Aramaic language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’”

A goad is a sharp stick that was used to prod cattle to move in the direction their owner wants them to go. An ancient version of a cattle prod. So, Jesus is telling Saul that he had been prodding or “goading” him for a while now to go in the right direction, but Saul wasn’t paying any attention and this was hurting him and other people.

God regularly prods every one of us trying to lead and guide us, and move us to do his will rather than our own and live as his people.  God’s prod is gentle and persistent, unlike the cattle who are poked and prodded until they surrender and finally go in the direction that their owner wants. God actually allows us to resist his goading.

Pastor Dave Wilkinson wrote of the following goading work of God. He was sitting on an airplane next to a young man who asked, “So, what do you do?” Wilkinson told him, “I’m a minister.”  The young man nearly jumped out of his seat and then said. “Every time I sit next to someone, they turn out to be a Christian. I can’t escape. I know that God is after me.” Wilkinson told him that he was probably right and “the only smart thing to do in such a situation is surrender.”

Are you being goaded by God? Are you paying attention? Or maybe you are being called by God to be a gentle nudge, a reminder to someone else that God is chasing after.