Saul was not a nice guy—at least to start. He led the attack on followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. He chased people out of the city. He dragged Christians to prison (8:1-3). He even went as far as Damascus—about 150 miles away—to arrest Christians there (9:1-2)! Saul didn’t do anything halfway. But when God gave Saul (now Paul) a new job, he didn’t do that halfway, either.
Paul’s conversion experience was amazing. He was on his way to give Christians trouble when a bright light shined down from heaven and God said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) Saul suddenly realized that he had been doing the wrong thing. And he immediately changed his ways. After that, Paul told everyone he could about Jesus—from Jerusalem to Rome. Paul spent a lot of time in jail, not that he did anything wrong, he was just a big threat to the Romans and other leaders in charge. Paul was shaking up the rules everyone who was Jewish had always followed. He was inviting non-Jewish people, known as Gentiles, to accept Jesus as their Savior.
Thanks to his amazing missionary journeys, the Good News about Jesus spread to many countries who had never heard of him before. Paul had a big part to play in establishing the church. And that was what Jesus had left us with to do: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
God in Action
Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would “come upon” them and help them tell others about Jesus (1:6-11). Ten days later, this promise was fulfilled. Jerusalem was filled with thousands of Jews who had come from around the world for the celebration of Pentecost. The disciples suddenly began speaking, and everyone in the crowd understood what was being said—in their own language! There was only one explanation: the Holy Spirit had come. Peter told the crowd about Jesus, and 3,000 people put their trust in Him that day (2:1-40). The church was born.
Not everyone was happy about this. Some powerful religious leaders in Jerusalem tried to stop the church when it was just getting started. But God was more powerful. He used the church to spread the good news beyond Jerusalem. First, Christians went into the surrounding areas. Then they kept spreading out from there. The church grew and grew because of God’s power.
That was only the beginning. God chose a man named Saul to do something special. He was going to share the news about Jesus with Gentiles—that is, non-Jewish people. This was how God kept a promise (or covenant) He’d made back in Genesis. God told Abraham that all nations would be blessed through his descendants (Genesis 12:3). Now, it was happening.
God turned Saul’s life upside down. Saul used to be an enemy of the church. But God gave him a new job and a new name—Paul. With God’s help, Paul started churches all over the Roman Empire. God even took him as far as Rome, where he shared the good news in the most powerful city on earth. And amazingly, Paul did this while under house arrest and constantly chained to a Roman guard (Acts 28:16, 30-31; Philippians 1:12-13)! There’s another reason God chose Paul: to prove He can forgive anyone (1 Timothy 1:12-16). God’s mercy can save even the most sinful person.