“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).
What made Saul of Tarsus the chief of sinners? Was he immoral or lawless, a wicked man who was an outcast from society? On the contrary, he testifies that he was unequalled among men when it comes to morality. “If any other man … might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:4-6). If you’re looking for a “good person,” Saul was your man; he was born to the “right people,” educated in the “right way,” and pursued religion with all his heart. If anyone could hope to find favor with God by following the rules, it was Saul.
But look at the dreadful will and malignant opposition with which he set himself against the purpose and mind of God. Hear his own account of it: “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth … many of the saints did I shut up in prison … and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities” (Acts 26:9-11) Who could imagine hatred of God and His Christ more desperate than this?
How do we suppose God must deal with a wretch like Saul, who is daily found breathing out threats and slaughter against the disciples of Jesus? We might assume that Almighty power would wield the sword of Divine vengeance and justice to remove such an one from the earth.
But how different from all our thoughts was His blessed way with poor Saul. God will stop him, not with the sword, but with glory! At midday, when the sun is brightest, Saul is arrested by that which is brighter still. What a sight! In that moment, Saul was awakened, arrested, and addressed by the Lord Jesus Himself.
“Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” That very One—who had been on the cross, under judgment because of man’s sin, now risen up from among the dead, and received up into glory—He it is who commands the rays of glory to fall upon the persecutor’s path. He it is who draws nigh to him, speaks to him, comes not to hurl him into the bottomless pit, but to take him up in the riches of grace and mercy, to give him forgiveness, righteousness, and glory.
Such is the way of His grace now, even to the vilest sinner. Christ has died for sin, and by His death righteousness has been established. Salvation is available for all who will receive Jesus Christ by faith. If the “chief of sinners” has been rescued and redeemed by God’s amazing grace, the way is open for all!