And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him. And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles. (Acts 22:17-21 KJV)
And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. (Acts 23:11 KJV)
Everything was right. He had the passion. He had the desire. He had the experience. He had all it takes to function well in this ministry. However, when he walked up to the master and asked to be assigned, he was sent to another field altogether. This was one thing that baffled Paul in the beginning days of his Christian life and minstry.
He had been a rugged Pharisee trained under one of the best Rabbis of those days- Gamaliel. He walked in their counsel and sat at council meetings where important issues concerning the Jesus people were discussed. In fact, he was their poster boy, their ‘hit man’ when it came to persecuting the Christians. Who would have fared better in convincing the Jews that the testimony concerning Jesus was true? Was it Paul who had been a staunch man in the sect, or Peter who was an outsider to the Sanhedrin? Definitely it should be Paul.
You know how you would always prefer a former cultist to be the one to reach out to fellow cultists with the Gospel. You know how you always feel that a former prostitute would fare better in reaching out to prostitutes for Christ than a squeaky clean sister. You know how you would always feel that a man’s past empowers him to feature in reaching out to those in his former circle for Christ. That was how Paul thought that his encounter with Christ would empower him to become an apostle to the Jews. But the Lord of the harvest thought otherwise.
He was actually passionate to bring the good news to his fellow Jews because he understood their challenges, and he felt he could always help them to see the messiah. In his letter to the Romans, he cried out, “I am in Christ and I am telling you the truth. I am not lying. And my conscience, ruled by the Holy Spirit, agrees that what I say now is true. I have great sorrow and always feel much sadness for my own people. They are my brothers and sisters, my earthly family. I wish I could help them. I would even have a curse on me and cut myself off from Christ if that would help them.” (Romans 9:1-3 ERV)
However, the Lord of the harvest had other plans for him. All his plans to reach out to his fellow Jews failed woefully. He managed to get a handful to the Lord, but Paul never had any tremendous results reaching out to Jews both in Israel and in diaspora. Why? It was not the scope of his ministry. The Lord of the Harvest was sending him into the Gentile cities. That was where his ministry lay, and that was where his fruitfulness lay.
Even now, as the Lord sent him to Jerusalem, it was not to have any success in reaching out to them; but it was so that he will encounter a problem among his fellow Jesus that would eventually translate him from Jerusalem to Rome, and make him stand before the Emperor Caesar. Hence, while he was still in prison, the Lord assured him that he will deliver him- not by making him to have a breakthrough with his fellow Jews, but by taking him to Rome where he will stand and witness to the Romans. Hence, Paul came to a point where he accepted the fact that he was an Apostle to the Gentiles, and he lived in the consciousness of that reality, and did not struggle to have a following and acceptance among the Jewish community (though he respected them and still prayed for them, and won a few of them as his converts).
AND SO? Many people feel great tension in their lives and their ministries, possibly because they are trying to fit in where the Lord of the harvest had not sent them. Peter, in one day, won 3000 Jews to the Lord, but Paul in his whole lifetime might not have even won up to a thousand Jews to the Lord, but he had tremendous results amongst the Gentiles. It is wisdom not to be presumptive, but to ask the Lord what he had called you to do. It is wisdom to ask Him where He is sending you. Don’t assume. Don’t calculate it out. Don’t infer it from your experiences. Ask Him, and He will tell you; and when He tells you, don’t think that you are not qualified for it.
Also, this is why we encourage new believers in Christ Jesus to sit down quietly and seek the Lord. In their zeal they might want to go and operate in a field that the Lord had not sent them, and that will only lead to tension, disappointment, and possible backsliding. Your past is not necessarily an indication of your field of ministry. Let the Lord tell you. That is what matters.
The Lord continued to protect the Apostle from all harms from his fellow Jews, even when 40 Jews bound themselves on oath to kill him. As long as he stayed in his field of assignment, the glory of the Lord covered him. In subsequent stories, we will see how Paul stood before Romans kings and rulers and told the story of Jesus to all who cared to listen. May the Lord help us to understand and stay within the scope of our ministry. AMEN.