Paul’s life is a study in repentance and faith.
He eventually becomes God’s instrument for reaching the Gentiles, but his beginning is rocky. Saul is his Jewish name, and Paul is the Greek-ized version of it. We learn later that he is a Roman citizen and very learned in Jewish culture and Scripture; his family most likely had a good deal of wealth at their disposal.
We first hear of him in the account of Stephen’s stoning. Stephen was one of the very early martyrs in the life of the Church. Read Acts 7:54-60.
Did you notice the “young man named Saul” in the second part of Acts 7:58? He’s easily overlooked, especially with the heart-wrenching events taking place in the foreground. But this is definitely foreshadowing something to come.
Acts 8 begins with “And Saul approved of his execution” before going on to detail Saul’s role in the persecution of the Body of Christ. Read Acts 8:1-3. Consider how zealously Saul pursued what he believed to be God’s will. If Jesus had not been the Messiah, Saul would have been a great champion of God’s truth and justice.
But he missed something very important. And in His time, God placed before Saul exactly what he had missed.
Acts 9:1-19 starts by showcasing Saul’s zealous persecution and ends with his being baptized into the faith. Only God could affect such an extreme turn-around. Light, blindness, scales, water, and most of all – the Word. You can read more about Saul, who starts going more by Paul when he begins his ministry to the Gentiles, beginning in Acts 10.
Right now, though, we’re going to explore a moment in his life, recorded by St. Luke in Acts 20:17-27. At this point, he had already traveled extensively, declaring everywhere he went the good news of Jesus Christ. He is headed toward Jerusalem with such urgency that rather than stop at Ephesus on the way, he sends word to the elders in Ephesus to meet him at Miletus, a city south of Ephesus. When they arrive, he addresses them.
Paul starts by reminding them of his service in their community with his words of exhortation and encouragement, sharing the Gospel message of Jesus Christ both in public and in their house-churches. He says that he was “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul knew that both repentance and faith were blessings given him by God. He’d never have had either if Christ had not intervened and come to him on that road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Because of the repentance given him and the faith given him, he was emboldened and enabled to share that message he heard with so many souls.
Repentance is indeed a turning away from sin, and when God enables us to do that, He urges us to turn to Him. In Him, we are given faith that gives birth to so many wonderful blessings – hope and love, peace that surpasses anything we can understand, strength and boldness and courage that carries us through the trails that this broken world throws at us as it rages again the perfect and holy light of God’s love.
Paul continues his address to these elders, these shepherds he himself had shepherded, in Acts 20:22-27. He tells them that the Spirit has been urging him to Jerusalem, so he goes, not knowing what awaits him there. He anticipates trial and persecution but also knows that God’s grace will carry him through whatever difficulty he will face. He tells the elders, though, that whatever awaits him, he knows he won’t see them again. Facing the knowledge that this is his last opportunity to encourage and exhort these elders and shepherds of the flock of God’s people, Paul continues to do so in the verses that follow.
When facing the end of our lives, there is a stripping down of the excess that really allows us to identify the core of what matters. For Paul, as for many Christians, this is the Message of the Gospel and the ability of the Christians to continue sharing it at the moving of the Holy Spirit.
There is an interesting juxtaposition with Paul’s words in Acts 20:20-21 and his BC life. Before Christ came to him, he was going from house to house, hunting down followers of the Way.
Acts 8:3 tells us, “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
In Acts 20:20, Paul describes himself as again going from house to house, but for a different reason. Same action. Different intent, purpose, and outcome.
It’s amazing what a shift in perspective will accomplish. When eyes are turned in repentance from following after sin and death, and brought to focus in faith on the only source of full forgiveness and redemption.
It is vital that we keep in the forefront of our minds that repentance isn’t the goal. The goal is forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. That’s why we keep our eyes fixed where they need to be: on the cross.
Read Hebrews 12:1-2. Let’s unpack these verses a bit; they’re so full of good things for us.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
The word “therefore” is a clue to check out what precedes this passage. Hebrews 11 is a long list and description of so many faithful people from the Old Testament. The writer points to the faith given to them, and what God did through their lives. These people and so many others make up the “cloud of witnesses”.
let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,
None of us will be free of the struggle with sin this side of heaven. This is where repentance comes in the life of a Christian. As we remember our Baptism, where in the water and the Word of God we were washed of our sin, we come back to that font in daily repentance. When we are allowing room in our lives, in our hearts, for sins, we aren’t allowing room for the working of God’s Word.
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
Christian life is here compared with a race. Just as a runner must train and condition his or her body for the task, as well as watch what feeds the body, so as Christians, we train and condition our souls and hearts and watch what we feed our hearts and souls.
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,
And here is the heart of the verses. The Answer to repentance, the Creator of faith, and the Hope that allows us to keep running the race.
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame,
Here’s the why of Christ’s actions on our behalf. He endured the shame of the cross, the utter desolation of paying that price. But not for the sake of paying it – He didn’t owe it. We did. And He paid it for us, because we couldn’t. He passed through the shame of the cross for the joy of bringing salvation to the world.
and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Having passed through His suffering and having made atonement for the sins of the world, He was raised from the dead and is now glorified!
It is in our focus on Christ that we are able to testify to repentance and faith, and all of the other blessings that are poured out so graciously on us by our Lord Jesus Christ.
For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 57.
For further contemplation or journaling: Consider what you would say to someone dear to you if you knew you’d never see them again, as Paul did with the elders at Ephesus. What words would you use?