This morning we will finish our series on “The 12 Apostles of Jesus Christ”. This final message centers on the apostle Paul. Like Matthias, Paul was not 1 of the original 12 apostles. His apostleship didn’t even begin until after Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. That said, Jesus personally appeared to Paul and called him to become an apostle. For this reason, Paul referred to himself as being “untimely born” (Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 15:8).
I. GENERAL INFORMATION
Before his conversion the apostle Paul went by his Hebrew name Saul. He was born sometime around 5 A.D. in Tarsus, a Roman city located in Asia Minor. His parents were of Jewish descent, and therefore Paul was both a Jew and a Roman citizen by birth. During his youth Paul was sent to Palestine where he received the best religious training available. He studied under the renowned teacher and Pharisee Gamaliel and became an expert in Jewish laws and customs. Even as a young man, Paul was well known by the Sanhedrin and respected among the Pharisees.
Scripture portrays Paul as a man who was passionately committed to causes. During his years as a Pharisee, he was zealous in preserving, promoting and protecting his Jewish orthodoxy against any and all threats. This led him to heavily persecute believers (Acts 8:3). After his miraculous conversion to Christianity, this same level of uncompromising determination was apparent in Paul’s continuous efforts to spread the gospel message and to establish/strengthen new churches.
Paul is credited with writing at least 13 books of the New Testament. They are Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. All of these books are in fact letters, or epistles, that were written to various Christian churches or individuals. Together Paul’s writings constitute almost half of the New Testament.
II. PAUL’S LIFE DURING JESUS’ MINISTRY
Paul was about 7 years younger than Jesus. Thus, when Jesus began his earthly ministry at age 30 Paul was in his early 20’s. Most likely he was still completing his religious education and training. The Bible never specifically mentions Paul seeing or encountering Jesus during these years, but there are several confrontations between the Lord and unnamed Pharisees. It is possible, and even likely, that young Paul knew who Jesus was.
As Jesus’ reputation grew and the number of His followers increased, He became a threat to the traditional Jewish leaders. They believed that He was committing blasphemy by claiming to be God and leading people astray with His message of salvation by grace through faith. The Pharisees, Sadducees, elders, high priests, and other religious elites wanted Him silenced. In order to suppress Jesus’ impact, they began to oppress those who accepted and embraced His teachings. This mistreatment grew even more severe after Jesus’ crucifixion, and Paul (Saul) became known as a fierce and feared persecutor of early Christians.
In short, Paul did not have a ministry during Jesus’ earthly life. On the contrary, He was bitterly opposed to the teachings of Christ and actively sought to undermine them. Later in his life, he looked back upon these days with much sorrow.
III. PAUL’S LIFE AFTER JESUS WAS GONE
The first direct mention of Paul (Saul) in the Bible takes place during the stoning of Stephen. This event occurred a few years after Jesus’ ascension. Paul (Saul) was present at and wholeheartedly consented with the unwarranted execution of Stephen (Acts 7:58). In the wake of this killing, the fearful church scattered across Judea, Samaria, and to other more distant locations (Acts 8:1).
Paul (Saul) actively sought and received permission to go to Damascus to arrest the Christians who’d fled there. Along the way, he had a miraculous encounter with Jesus during which he was temporarily blinded. Even still, he made his way on to Damascus. While staying in the city a disciple of Jesus named Ananias came to him and restored his sight. Paul became a believer and was baptized. In the days that followed he began preaching in Damascus. When a plot to kill him was discovered, the disciples there sent him to Jerusalem. He did not receive a warm reception in Jerusalem either and was ultimately sent away to Tarsus (Acts 9:1-30). During his time away (which took him to several locations) Paul’s faith and understanding of Christianity grew stronger.
Some years later, Barnabas went to retrieve Paul from Tarsus and brought him back to the Christian church in Antioch. Paul preached for a full year in Antioch. Then a prophecy was given about a coming famine in Judea, so Paul and Barnabas took an offering from the Antioch church to the elders in Jerusalem (Acts 11:25-30).
Over the next several years, Paul made 3 extended missionary journeys (Acts 12:1-21:16). He traveled to locations throughout Galatia, Macedonia, Greece, and elsewhere. He planted several churches as he went and helped to disciple many Christians in these places. While Paul certainly didn’t neglect Jewish believers, his primary ministry was to the Gentiles who tended to receive him as his message more readily. Paul stayed in contact with these churches through written letters and by making additional personal visits when possible. Paul even took up a collection from these churches to give to the struggling saints in Judea. His companions during these various trips included Barnabas, Silas, Luke, Timothy, and many others.
At the end of his 3rd missionary journey, Paul returned to Jerusalem where he was arrested. When an assassination plot against him was uncovered, Paul was moved to Caesarea and imprisoned there for a few years. Finally Paul appealed his case to Caesar and was taken to Rome. He was placed under house arrest in the capital city for a few years. During his confinement, Paul continued to preach to any and all who would listen (Acts 21:17-28:31). Upon his release, it is believed that Paul went on at least 1 additional missionary journey. Many scholars believe that he traveled to Spain and there is even some evidence, albeit inconclusive, that he preached in England. Ultimately Paul was arrested again and beheaded by order of the evil Emperor Nero in Rome sometime around 68 A.D.
Volumes have been written about Paul’s life. Entire sermon series have been devoted to it. Today we have presented a mere overview of his many exploits and adventures. Suffice it to say, the apostle Paul was arguably the greatest Christian missionary of all time. Despite harsh criticism, skepticism, and ongoing persecution Paul doggedly carried the message of Jesus to numerous people throughout and even beyond the borders of the Roman Empire. His role in spreading and establishing the early Christian church cannot be overstated.
I want to conclude this series by reviewing some of the major character traits that were evident in the apostles. They were great men who set a wonderful example for us to follow.
As Christians, may we all…
- Practice the daring faith of Peter who climbed out of the boat and briefly walked on water
- Be fueled by the contagious enthusiasm of Andrew who eagerly introduced others to Jesus
- Walk with the determined courage of James who was the first apostle to be martyred
- Share the compassionate love of John who cared for Jesus’ aging mother after the crucifixion
- Possess the ardent hope of Philip who longed to see the Father and to know Him more
- Apply the keen discernment of Bartholomew who wanted to meet Jesus for himself
- Show the genuine penitence of Matthew who turned from his past sinfulness and walked away
- Display the transparent honesty of Thomas who openly admitted his reservations and doubt
- Embrace the modest humility of James the Less who served quietly in the background
- Adopt the intentional peacefulness of Simon the Zealot who forsook a divisive political agenda
- Express the childlike curiosity of Thaddaeus who asked Jesus to give an explanation
- Shun the sinful rebellion of Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver
- Maintain the willing readiness of Matthias who stepped up when needed to become an apostle
- Advance with the unyielding perseverance of Paul who carried the gospel to the Gentiles
but above all…
Imitate Jesus Christ who is the source of, the object of, and/or the reason for every godly characteristic that these apostles or any of us will ever have.