The third person we’re going to hear from in this series did not seek refuge in a tree, instead, the Tree found him. Saul of Tarsus, apparently went to Jerusalem as a boy to be educated. He studied under Gamaliel, the most respected rabbi of the time. We don’t know if Paul saw and heard Jesus in person or witnessed His crucifixion, but as popular as Jesus was, he definitely knew about Him.
Saul was highly educated and strictly religious, but like many of the religious leaders of his day, he didn’t recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah. After Jesus’ resurrection, the followers of the Way began to grow in number. Saul’s first appearance in scripture is when he was a young man heartily approving the stoning of Stephen--the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:57-58; 8:1). The members of the Sanhedrin piled their coats at his feet while he stood in support of the death sentence. About two years after Jesus’ resurrection, Paul began to vigorously pursue every believer of The Way to put an end to what he saw as a sect (Acts 9:1-2).
He used every ounce of his energy to destroy the Tree and every limb that grew from it. He saw the Tree as a threat to the true religion of God…until the Tree spoke to him personally. On the road to Damascus, Saul encountered a light that left him blind. He heard the unmistakable voice of God saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).
Jesus used some pretty strong language, and three days of blindness and fear to get His message across. Unlike the first two in this series who climbed a tree desperate for life and comfort, Saul hacked away at the very Tree he loved and needed—because he didn’t know what he was doing. It wasn’t until God rendered him physically blind that Saul gained spiritual sight to see the One he loved, who loved him first.
Sometimes, that’s what it takes to jolt us from the destructive path we’re on. God has to get our attention in a big way to counteract our pride, legalism, traditions, and the lies we’ve believed. God loves us so much that even when we don’t think we need a tree to climb into for safety, He comes after us. Even when we’re angry and defensive, and hurting God’s people, still, He loves and pursues us for His own.
Saul’s conversion and his rebirth into the Apostle Paul was not a warm and fuzzy transformation. He had to leave behind everything he had known. Paul became the enemy of the privileged group he’d once belonged to. But he never looked back. He said:
“Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Phil. 3:7-12)
What about you? Are you running from the Tree that came to save you, shelter you, comfort you? Has Jesus been calling your name, shaking you to the core with His powerful love? I hope, like Paul, you will turn to Him and see Him as Lord this Easter, perhaps for the first time. He died on the cross to rescue you from the darkness of sin so you could spend eternity with Him.
Or maybe you’re already a believer, but haven’t done much Tree hugging lately. You’ve wandered off, done your own thing; you feel distant and empty. He hasn’t forgotten you. This is your chance to come back. I pray you will do it right now.
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