Today is the feast day of the conversion of St. Paul, a moment that for most Christians has to rank as one of the most important moments in history. I’ll let Paul himself explain…
1Tim. 2:7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles, which means the vast majority of Christians. The Jews get 11 Apostles but God chose one to bring the light of the Gospel to the rest of us. Paul certainly understood his own ministry as in some way a fulfilment of that great promise in Isaiah (and see also Acts 26:19-23 as he reflects upon his conversion experience)…
Acts 13:46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:
“ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
My own conversion is derivative of Paul’s. As a young man of 19 who had heard the gospel in the previous few years it was taking a first proper look at the Damascus Road that finally led to me making a clear decision about Jesus.
It was a simple process. I had never questioned the historicity of the New Testament narratives (although those questions would come later, and be quickly and properly satisfied). So when I read about what happened on that day and the obvious change in Paul’s life that came about afterwards I could find no reasonable explanation for such a radical about-turn from persecutor to proponent than that what Paul claimed happened had actually happened. It was a simple intellectual conclusion that could not be refuted. Since that day the truth at the heart of that simple moment rippled out into the rest of my life.
I’m forever grateful, as a Gentile and simply for myself, that Jesus acted as He did and it continues to amaze me that there are those who can claim to belong to Christ but not to need to listen to His Apostle. To be a Gentile (or Jew for that matter) saved by Jesus is to be someone who listens to and obeys Paul.
Cranmer gathers all this together in his wonderful collect for today:
O God, who, by the preaching of thine apostle Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world:
Grant, we beseech thee, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.