(The apostle Paul writes:) For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.
And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:11-24 (ESV)
Today people would be rightfully skeptical if someone were to claim a special revelation of God such as Paul had. There is a view that many in the Christian church hold (including most Lutherans) that the extraordinary gifts and divine revelation ended with the apostles, the last being John of Patmos who wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. This is a view called cessationism.
Lutheran Christians generally believe that the canon of Scripture is closed, and that since there are no living apostles to whom Jesus directly revealed Himself, there are no direct revelations being given to people living today. Today we are instructed to seek God where He promises to be found- in Scripture, at the Lord’s Table, at the baptismal font, and in the preaching and teaching of His Word- which includes not a few of the letters the apostle Paul wrote to the churches.
The reason why Paul’s message is still such a big deal is primarily because it was taught to Paul by Jesus Himself.
God took someone who was completely opposed to Him and transformed him into someone who endured unimaginable hardships, suffering and ridicule for the sake of Jesus’ holy name. It is rare that a person will risk imprisonment, torture, starvation, suffering and ultimately death, for a message that is a lie. It would have been so much easier for Paul to go back with the other Pharisees and back to his old life, but for Christ, he could not do that. For Christ, but only through Christ- Paul was willing to sacrifice everything.
Paul was profoundly changed. From death to life. From despair and damnation to the wonder and hope and salvation of Christ.
Paul didn’t ask for it. He didn’t pray the Sinner’s Prayer, or wear a hair shirt, or promise to feed a thousand orphans. God was doing the acting. Jesus came to Paul, not the other way around. The act of redemption and salvation is and will always be through the merit of Christ alone.
We may not have been given the charismatic gifts and highly visual miracles that the apostles were given, but faith comes to us the same way.
In the water of baptism, Jesus comes to us. In His Body and Blood that we share at the Communion table, Jesus makes Himself part of us. In the preaching and the hearing of the Word, the Holy Spirit works faith within us. The Good News is that no one is beyond the grace of God.
It doesn’t matter if we have a shady background or a tortured past. Jesus redeemed the apostle Paul, who was formerly a murderer of believers.
“He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”