Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
If anyone has ever qualified to be beyond the reach of God's grace, it was Saul. But of course we know the story of Saul. He was so changed by a post-resurrection visit from Jesus that he became the Apostle Paul. He wrote much of the New Testament and was the leading missionary of the early church. We know this story so well that we can tend to gloss over it. We fail to see the hope that it gives us. Saul went from being a man who imprisoned and enjoyed the martyrdom of Christians to a man who was so in love with Jesus that he himself suffered for his refusal to deny Christ, and was eventually martyred himself.
But imagine meeting a first century believer who might have known Saul before his conversion, when he still hated Jesus. This friend would tell us that he wants Saul to believe, but what can he do? "Maybe you can show him from the Scriptures that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah," we say. But he points out that Saul is a gifted student of the Bible. Saul knows the Bible better than our friend does and he is a far superior debater. "Perhaps you can impress on Saul his need for forgiveness," we suggest. But our friend would point out that Saul is nearly flawless in keeping the law. Saul is as righteous as any man he has ever known. Saul is also keenly aware of his own righteousness and will vehemently defend it if need be. So that won't work. What can our friend do? He desperately wants Saul to come to know the joy he has found in Jesus but he is tempted to give up.
It is easy to imagine how a believer in this situation might feel. "There is no hope left for my old friend now," he might think. "There is simply no way that a man like Saul will ever surrender his will to Jesus." Perhaps you have a friend or a family member that you feel this way about. "There is simply no way that he or she will ever accept Jesus," you think. But you would be wrong to give up hope on them just like our imaginary first century friend would have been wrong to give up hope on Saul. Jesus Himself said "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).
Perhaps you have a friend or a family member who has resisted all of your attempts to tell them about Jesus. Perhaps they have even refused Christ for many years. Are you going to give up on them? Are they simply beyond God's reach? NO! Never stop praying for someone's salvation simply because it seems impossible that they will accept Christ. God is a god of the impossible, and He is still in the business of saving souls. Trust Him and pray like their souls depend on it.
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