What if Saul met Paul? What if in some Steven Spielberg-esk way this could happen? A Freaky Friday of biblical proportions. What if the once committed legalist, Saul, met his eventually broken and transformed self, Paul? What if the man who hunted down Christians met the man who fearlessly gave his life to multiply them? What if the rising star of the Pharisees was faced with Christianity’s most prolific apologist? What if they sat across from each other over lunch in a local sandwich shop? What if they looked at the same set of realities (Law, Moses, Abraham, Jesus) from two completely different perspectives? Same man. Same facts. Different heart. What could we learn about Jesus, Christianity and the Gospel? What side of the table would we find ourselves on? Here’s how I imagine it going down.
Saul: Seriously? You’re going to order a ham sandwich!?
Paul: Not if it bothers you that much, but, yes. I was going to order one. And, bye the way, it’s so good. Bacon makes everything better. You’re gonna love it.
Saul: Whatever. That’s fine. Go ahead. Just for the record, I should stone you to death right here and now. But, since you’re me ten years from now, I’m not sure how that would go.
Paul: Dude. You (I) were always so uptight. I think I called it “zeal” back then. I (you) need to relax. Let’s get to the questions.
Saul: How can you abandon the faith of our fathers and the Law of Yahweh? How can you encourage God’s people to do the same? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you’re – (I am) a blasphemer. There was a time when your commitment to the Law was so unmatched. We worked so hard to pass the bar exam. You threw away such a promising career. You are such a disappointment. You simply walked away. What happened to you?
Paul: I met Jesus. That’s what happened. No one recovers from Jesus. Look, I know it sounds like I’m forsaking the righteous standard of God, but that is not the Gospel I preach. For the record I love the Law of God. His righteous standard is impregnable. I am still the same committed Jew I always was in this sense. The Law must be completely fulfilled to be right with God. I’ve not abandon anything.
Saul: Then why would you tell people to turn from Moses to Jesus?
Paul: Because Moses told me to turn from Moses to Jesus. So did the Law. I’ve been studying Moses all these years and missed his point. Moses wrote about Jesus. It was all a shadow. Jesus is the substance. When I encountered Jesus I knew this was true.
When Jesus knocked me off my high horse I realized that any attempt to fulfill the Law of God in my flesh was a suicide mission. I cannot fulfill God’s Law no matter what. I was born guilty of all of it. Nothing I do in this life will change that. Besides, this is not the Law’s purpose. The Law makes the need for Jesus make sense. It was not supposed to make us smug but desperate. It was not a measuring stick of progress but the pronouncement of death. In all our “honoring” of the Law we dishonored it by making it appear attainable.
My exploits as a Pharisee were an illusion designed to impress man and give me a false sense of security as compared to others. Who can stand before the holiness of God and keep up such illusions? It is not the letter of the Law that matters before our all-seeing God. The Law is spiritual. It gets down to the heart. “Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind.” I’ve never done this. Never will. My hope is not found in me, but outside of me.
Saul: Speak for yourself.
Paul: I am. Seriously. Are you going to try and tell me you’ve never lusted? Have you never coveted? You know it’s true. I know how you envied the phylacteries of your peers and the length of their tassels. I’m well acquainted with your heart Saul. There is none righteous. Not one. Not you. Not me. Who just happens to be you.
Saul: But, I am a Son of Abraham. I am of God’s chosen people.
Paul: You are so predicable. I knew you would go there. Have you read our history? It’s like an episode of “Cops?”
Saul: What’s Cops?
Paul: It’s not important. Abraham? Let’s think about our great father for a moment. When God called Abraham he was a polytheistic pagan from a godless nowhere. A gracious God bent on redemption set His love upon a lone wondering pagan to save sinful men – both Jew and Gentile. In an act of redemptive aggression against Satan, the tyranny of sin and my own condemnation, God chose one – Abraham. He began with Abraham so all would know He alone saves. Not so his physical descendants would place their faith in their heritage.
God swore by His own name that He would fulfill His promise. Abraham believed. That’s all he did. He had faith. God reckoned his faith as righteousness. Before circumcision, or Moses, or Sinai, or Jews, or our traditions, Abraham was declared righteous by faith. Don’t you see? Only those who believe as Abraham believed are descendants of Abraham. This includes the physical descendants of Abraham. I missed this. We missed this.
You know the righteous standard of God, Saul. Do you think He will make an exception in our case? He won’t. He put a generation of us to death in the wilderness for disobeying His covenant. His righteousness is impartial. It condemns everyone. Face it. We are required to possess a righteousness we can never produce and only pretended to have. No one has ever been saved by works or descendancy. No one ever will. We all deserve condemnation.
Saul: You call this message “Good News.” I fail to see how this is good news. Gentiles are condemned. Jews are condemned. I think you should regroup with your marketers. You need a new slogan. “Bad News.”
If God’s righteousness is inflexible and no one human will ever satisfy its demands, how will anyone ever be saved?
Paul: Finally. The right question. What if I told you (we) had it all wrong. What if I told you the story of the Bible is not us seeking God but God seeking us. What if I told you that which we strove for with every fiber of my being all our life – righteousness – God graciously and freely provided us in the person of His Son – Jesus Christ. What if I told you in order to be just before God you have to confess that you are not and depend upon a righteousness outside of yourself. What if I told you that by faith in Jesus you may completely satisfy the Law. What if I told you we are no more favorable before God than the gentiles but this is a blessed truth. God loves you Saul and has a wonderful plan for your life. Seriously, read Acts.
Saul: I just can’t see it.
Paul: You will. It is in Acts chapter 9. Once you see it, you wont be able to un-see it. It’s stunning.