To say they came from opposite sides of the tracks would be as big an understatement as the global flood they both grew up believing in. Both were Jews, but one was a free-born Roman citizen and the other was a Roman subject born in poverty. Besides being a Roman citizen, Paul could also say of himself that he was “of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee. Jesus, however, was from the tribe of Judah, and certainly not a Pharisee. In fact, during his earthly ministry, the Pharisees would be both his most vocal critics and the most constant targets of his wrath.
Paul was lifted up at the feet of Gamaliel; which made him a rising star in Judaism. Jesus had no formal education, leaving his surprised detractors to say, “How does this man know letters, having never learned? Jesus was put to death as a common criminal, and Paul believed with all his heart that he deserved it. In fact, he hated Christ and Christians so bitterly that he went everywhere to imprison them, persecute them and even put them to death.
And then the most unlikely thing happened. On the road to Damascus to target more Christians, the risen Christ confronted Paul, who wisely said, “Lord, what do you want me to do? Jesus sent him into the city, blinded by his confrontation. And then, after having left him to sweat for three days, Jesus spoke to a man named Ananias and said: “Get up, go into the street called Straight, and ask in the house of Judas a man named Saul, of Tarsus. : for behold, he prays, and he saw in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. When Ananias balked at this, knowing that Paul had been a hater of Christ and a killer of Christians, Jesus said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel for me, to bear my name before Gentiles, and kings, and children of Israel: for I will show him how much he must suffer because of my name.
And he testified and suffered for Christ. He spent the rest of his life telling the world about the risen Christ and winning people to himself. He undertook three great missionary journeys to found churches and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote more than half of the New Testament.
The apostles, best friends and most devoted disciples of Jesus listened to Paul explain what he was doing, approved him and gave him the “right hands of communion”. Peter, one of the Lord’s relatives, called him “our beloved brother Paul” in 2 Peter 3:15, and a later verse called Paul’s writing “Scripture”, and warned that the Uneducated and unstable people would tear out, “twist” these writings as they do other writings too, to their own destruction.
Jesus and Paul had very different styles and ways of speaking. Jesus tended to go out into the wilderness, let the multitudes come to him and speak to them in parables. Paul, however, generally broke into the synagogues and got down to very specific arguments based on Old Testament Scripture.
But while their styles were different, their teachings, their doctrines were not. There was a symmetry between them that could only be of divine origin, given all their other major differences.
Jesus said he would be crucified, and he was crucified. Paul said to the church in Corinth, “But we preach Christ crucified” and “For the preaching of the cross is folly to the perishing; but for us who are saved, it is the power of God.
Jesus taught that he would rise from the dead. Paul taught that Jesus rose from the dead, even using an entire chapter of 58 verses to do so in 1 Corinthians 15. Jesus taught that people would be saved by believing in him (John 11:26-27, John 8:24 ), and Paul taught the same thing in Romans 10:9-10. Jesus saved a sinner hanging on a cross beside him, a man who could not be baptized or go to church or give to the poor or do any other work to earn salvation. Paul told the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you are saved through faith; and that does not come from you: it is the gift of God: not of works, so that no one should boast.
Jesus taught people to forgive one another, going so far as to utter the immortal counsel “seventy times seven” in this regard. Paul told the Colossian church that they should “abstain one another and forgive one another, if any quarrel with any: as Christ has forgiven you, so do you likewise.” He said to the church in Ephesus, “And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, as God has forgiven you for Christ’s sake.
Jesus told his men that he would return to receive them. Paul said to the church in Thessalonica, “For the Lord Himself shall come down from heaven with a cry of voice, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Jesus said that whoever believes in him “has eternal life and shall not come into condemnation; but has passed from death unto life. Paul said we are “sealed for the day of redemption.” Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for me and for the good news, he will save it. Paul said, “Neither do I hold my life dear to myself, that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I have received from the Lord Jesus, to witness the gospel of grace of God.
When you read the New Testament, never put a mental asterisk on what comes after the gospels; Paul and all the other New Testament writers wrote and taught exactly what Christ wanted them to do.
Pastor Bo Wagner can be reached by email at [email protected]