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Grown-Up Bible Stories

Enforcing the Enforcer

They didn’t really have civilian police officers in ancient Palestine, but this man came pretty close. He was educated in the law. He had ties to the highest national authorities. He was intensely patriotic and burned with zeal for his nation and its law. He didn’t merely do a professional job of arresting criminals. He actively sought opportunities to attack them.

Now you need to understand a few things about this man. The country in which he lived was governed not by secular law, but by religious law. Since the country was Judea, the law came from the true God. We might expect such an enforcement agent to be true to that God, and, to the best of his ability, he was.

It is an unfortunate fact of history that the original law God had given through Moses many years previously had been corrupted. Well, actually, the law itself stood unchanged, its text carefully guarded by professional scribes. The problem lay in the secondary code that had grown up around this law. Experts, much like the man in question, had pondered the best way of keeping the law. They had, over the years, developed a new code to keep people from even coming close to violating the sacred law of God. That this secondary set of rules sometimes violated the very law it sought to enhance was lost on most of the legal experts. After all, they were only human, and the changes usually served in their personal best interests. The man we’re considering sincerely believed in the newer legal precedents. He was a true-hearted and zealous young enforcer.

One particular challenge faced this man--whose name, by the way, was Saul. Before Saul became involved in government, a religious teacher had nearly turned the system on edge. Jesus of Nazareth had possessed an unusual knowledge of the law. Jesus associated mostly with common people, but His challenge to keep the law, not just outwardly but from one’s inner being, came as an affront to the ruling elite. When they’d tried to hide behind their more recent regulations and precedents, He’d exposed the whole system as the self-serving dodge that it was.

The individuals who formed the government hadn’t appreciated the expose, nor had they liked Jesus‘ ability to draw a huge following. Some people even suspected that He might be the long-awaited Messiah. In short, this working-class teacher threatened to shake up the whole corrupt system. Several influential people did recognize that Jesus was right. But the ruling class as a whole managed to get Him framed and executed.

Jesus’ followers claimed He had risen from the dead only three days after He died. They soon held the authorities responsible for their role in His death. They said that Jesus had made a way for people to be right with God whether they had kept the law or not. They even went so far as to preach that faith in Jesus was the only way to be right with God. Jesus’ original followers performed enough supernatural acts to give credence to these claims. A whole religious sect had grown up around Jesus, and that sect was growing as if powered by a divine force. Of course, its members claimed that such was the case.

Such talk disgusted a loyalist from deep within the system, and Saul accepted responsibility for silencing what he saw as an outlaw cult. In fact, his first mention in history occurs at the execution of a lay minister from the Jesus sect. Saul accompanied an enraged mob who forced the man out of town and killed him. Their method that day had been an ancient means of execution called stoning. The crowd literally threw stones at the preacher until he died. While Saul doesn’t seem to have thrown any rocks personally, he did function as the security man for the event. In other words, he might not have soiled his hands, but he supported those who did.

It seems that the hasty execution triggered Saul’s career. He went after members of the new religion with passion. He didn’t just show up in their worship services. He pursued them into their homes and drug them off to prison. While women tended to have a less active role in that society, Saul arrested them too. He hated this dangerous, subversive cult. He intended to stop it before it either defiled his country or caused it to lose its unique identity.

We aren’t told that it ever entered Saul’s mind, but there was a chance that this new cult was really the only true religion in the world. If Jesus was who He’d claimed to be, Saul wasn’t a conscientious patriot. He was, instead, an enemy of the highest, most righteous government in the universe.

The members of the new religion scattered. Till now, they’d hung out in the capital. But with Saul and his friends throwing them in jail and seeking the death penalty, they did the practical thing and left town. The divine power that had been so convincing in Jerusalem went with them. Everywhere they went, they taught about Jesus. Converts multiplied in distant cities. It was hardly the result Saul intended.

One trouble spot was Damascus. Damascus lay on foreign soil, but under the Roman Empire, Saul’s government could arrest its citizens beyond its own borders. Saul obtained the necessary arrest warrants. Then he and his associates headed for Damascus.

Again, there is no clear evidence that Saul ever doubted that he was on the right side. He was full of threats and vengeance toward the members of the cult as he traveled on foot through the desert toward Damascus.

About noon one day, the totally unexpected happened. A brilliant light flashed into the sky. Brighter than the sun, it instantly blinded Saul. Then, he heard a voice. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” [Quotes are not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a Scripture reference.]

Saul found himself clueless. “Who are you, Lord?” Even in the confusion, the sheer power of this blinding Presence commanded his respect.

I am Jesus whom you persecute.”

I am Jesus.” All of a sudden the hated, dead, back-country preacher wasn’t an executed criminal. “I am Jesus.” All at once, Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t a stolen corpse, but a risen Messiah. “I am Jesus.” All at once, Saul learned that he hadn’t been fighting a false cult, but the living Son of God.

What do you want me to do?” Saul had been beaten, and he knew it.

Go on into Damascus. You’ll be told.”

So it was that Saul of Tarsus entered Damascus. He’d started out as a power to be reckoned with. He finished the journey with his helpers leading him as he shuffled along blind from his encounter with the risen Messiah. He came, as it were, as a prisoner. He’d been arrested by the King of Kings and sent to whatever fate that King had selected for him.

Saul waited for three days . He ate nothing. Physically speaking, he saw nothing. Spiritually, of course, he was seeing things that had been unthinkable less than a week before. He also prayed, prayed to the Father of the Jesus he had been fighting against.

On the third day, one of the men he’d set out to arrest entered the room. Ananias was a Jewish Christian from Damascus. He’d had his own spiritual struggle as God had led him to come and help this enemy. But Ananias had already learned to take orders from Jesus Christ. Empowered by God, he laid his hands on Saul. “Brother Saul, Jesus sent me so you could receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” As if coverings had dropped away, Saul could see. He faced a man he had counted a criminal. Now that man called him “brother,” and he accepted the relationship.

Saul immediately and publicly proclaimed himself a follower of Jesus Christ.

The enforcer, the man who had captured and executed the servants of the Son of God, had been captured himself. But Saul’s Captor had already taken the execution and returned from the dead. His goal was to set a man trapped by his own commitment to an erroneous viewpoint free. His goal was to free a man imprisoned by self-importance and blinded by pride so he could see the deep truths of pure life. His goal was to seize the enforcer and make him an agent of forgiveness and liberty. Since the One doing the arresting that day was Jesus Christ, Saul didn’t get sent off to rot in prison. He was transformed into a powerful friend of God. You normally think of him as the Apostle Paul.


Each of us approaches life with our own ideas. We all have our systems we trust, whether a specific religion, a school of philosophy, the theories of science, or the values of our cultures. Sometimes our ideas are good. Sometimes they’re in conflict with other ideas, and we proudly insist that we are right.

The question we too often force from our minds is the question of how our ideas line up with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus is bigger than the best system the world has ever known. It is through Him, and only through Him that we can find the wisdom of God and everlasting life.

Like Saul, we can be very sincere and earnest. But if we‘re out of step with the Son of God, those ideas we‘re so proud of will be our undoing. The route Saul was on would eventually have destroyed him had Jesus not flashed into his sky and demanded a choice. It was Saul’s way or Jesus. Most of us probably won’t be confronted by a blinding light, but we still face the choice, “my way or Jesus.“ There is no middle ground. Jesus will never be a respected Enemy. He won‘t quietly withdraw so we can agree to disagree. As He did with Saul, Jesus demands our total surrender.

Saul surrendered when faced with the risen Son of God. In response to this faith, he found forgiveness of sin and everlasting life. He also became a spiritual giant. Jesus is waiting to forgive you and give you everlasting life. If you’ve already received forgiveness and everlasting life, He’s still waiting, waiting for you to surrender more fully to Him so He can make you something better than you could ever hope to make yourself. Like Saul, you face a choice. Will it be Jesus in all His glory or only your poor conceited self?

Have you surrendered to the Son of God?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Paul in Romans 1:16)

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Jesus in Revelation 3:20)

Surrendering to Jesus Christ requires that we put our faith in Him to forgive us and give us everlasting life. For more information on how to do this, please see How to Have a Relationship with God on this website. The same information is available in easy English at Jesus and You, which is also on this website.

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


How to Have a Relationship with God

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