“The witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul… as they were stoning Stephen…
“Saul approved of his execution. There arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria… Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women to prison…
“Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do…’
“The Lord said to [Ananias], ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized…
“For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’ Acts 7:58-59; 8:1,3; 9:1-6,15-20
Condoning the stoning of an innocent. Persecuting, ravaging, dragging, threatening God’s people. Irredeemable indeed! But wait- the Lord had other plans- actually, more plans. He would use all the bad for good. He gave great license, then stopped Saul in his tracks. He broke into his ugly darkness with irrefutable, blinding light. He penetrated his stiff, violent heart with mercy, and made it pliable. He harnessed his drive and talent and jerked it from evil toward good. Paul’s ministry was uniquely empowered by his understanding of the degenerate rebel mind and God’s irresistible grace. (Romans 8:28)
The Lord knows every secret detail of the ways His children take, and refines as gold for His good will. We may be stained by past choices, or know and long for loved ones who have strayed to places we’re convinced are outside the boundaries of grace, beyond redemption. But God may design those exact ‘far countries’ to utilize specific lessons, prepare for future ministry, and magnify His glory. (Genesis 14:11-16; Job 23:10; Luke 15:11-24)
Is it I who have wandered far, and feel too much shame or regret to return? Is there another rebel whose choices appear to have sealed condemnation forever? None is too lost! Jesus loves sinners and lives to save!
For whom and what impossible situations will we trust God in hope today?
Redeemer God, keep hopeful in prayer for the lost, ever amazed at Your grace and love.