Descending into Greatness
Evansville is not to be overlooked when it comes to those whose lives have been quite admirable. I have often wondered what it would have been like to play Little League baseball with Don Mattingly or high school football with Bob Griese. What would have been like to be cast in a production at the University of Evansville with Rami Malek or Carrie Preston? When we move beyond simple jealousy, the resolve of appreciation and admiration for the success of others is a gift that only humility can bring us.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but what if Jesus and the man we know as Paul the Apostle shared some contemporary experiences? Jesus and Paul could have been around the same age, and they certainly shared the same heritage within Judaism. What if, as a boy, Jesus was making the Passover pilgrimage up to Jerusalem from Nazareth at the same time Paul, who then known as Saul, was making it with his family from Tarsus. Paul grew up walking the streets of Jerusalem while being trained in the Rabbinical school of the great Gamaliel while Jesus grew up in a Nazareth carpenter shop being trained by the Holy Spirit. Practically, Jesus and Paul were tradesmen, and theologically, they both were promising Rabbis.
Until “Paul the Pharisee” met the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, they likely crossed paths but were not personally acquainted. We do know that until then, Paul was zealously opposed to Jesus and His disciples. It was at that moment, and in the moments that followed, that Paul experienced a completely life-altering experience which caused him to reorder his entire world.
We tend to think that the heroes of the Bible are so vastly different from us. When Paul writes letters to the churches he planted, he addresses them as “Saints” or “God’s Holy People.” He calls them “chosen.” I meet people all the time who think that those titles are reserved for the ancients alone. Certainly, they think, Paul must be even more supernatural than the spiritual all-star team he is addressing. This just isn’t the case.
For the next three weekends, we want to see the life of Paul on a trajectory of spiritual growth. What you are going to see is that among the struggles with sin that Paul is addressing in the church, he is on his own spiritual journey. Paul, though unique in his experience with the Lord Jesus and gifted for his particular mission, does not begin his discipleship in a sterilized environment. Justified, yes, but not sterilized. Paul begins his walk of faith just like we do—with an incomplete discovery of just how deeply sinful he is. His success doesn’t come from an ascent to greatness but a fall from it. Most of us, if we are honest, see this trajectory in our own lives. It is, in fact, essential to discipleship that we do so. I invite you to join us as we remember this humble path of spiritual formation.