The message to Saul was clear. In standing against Christians, he was standing against Christ, the risen Messiah. And in standing against Christ, the risen Messiah, he was standing against the truth.
In an instant, Saul, once a big shot among the Jews, became small in his own eyes. Saul, a great teacher and leader, was at a loss for words.
Instead of striking Saul down, Jesus forgave him.
From that point forward, Saul of Tarsus was also Paul the Apostle, the inspired writer of approximately one third of the New Testament. He later wrote these words:
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly and in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)
This is why the little boy came into the world at Christmas time. To save sinners. Even the foremost of them.
But how did Paul know that his words were “trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance?” How did Paul know that his belief in Jesus was belief in the truth versus a belief in one of several legitimate, competing “truths?”
He knew his words were trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance because Christ had risen from the dead. Because Christ had risen from the dead—a claim that cannot be made by any other religious founder or leader. And if Christ has risen from the dead, everything else that Jesus said and did can be accepted as true. This includes things like the virgin birth, the healings, turning water into wine, and all those other wonderful things about the fairy tale that is true.
But what if the resurrection of Jesus—and thus everything else about Jesus—is actually not true? What if it is a myth? What if in the end, it turns out to be a cleverly made up hoax?
If it is a hoax, Christians are the most pitiful people in the world.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:
“If the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most of all to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:17-20)