Paul’s Face

Part 3

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Paul looked at Silas, smiled the kind
Of half-smile Silas loved, inclined
His head toward Timothy, and said,
“The best is yet to come. I dread
To make my friend sit through this tale
Again. I’ve led him down this trail
So many times, he must grow tired
Of hearing it.” “If I aspired
To novelty instead of truth
I might grow tired of it. But youth
And love of novelty are both
A distant memory. I’m loath
To nurse the craving I once had
For newness,” Silas said. “My dad
Once said, ‘Learn well the ancient songs,
My son. Someday a wave of wrongs
Will break across your life, and death
Will beckon you, and your last breath
Will serve you best with ancient hymns
Forged in the fire of shattered limbs
And broken hearts. These ancient songs
Will bear you through a thousand wrongs
And make you strong when others fail
At midnight in a Roman jail.’
So do not fret for me, my friend,
But tell your tale. In fact, the end
Is what I most would love to hear
Again. So finish it. Don’t fear
That you could bore your friend.”
Paul turned
To Timothy again, “I’ve yearned
For you to join us in this band
Of missionaries since God’s hand
Led us through Lystra months ago.
I know you think you are too slow
Of speech and even spastic in
Your hands, and doubt that God could win
A single soul to Christ through you.
But, Timothy, the Lord will do
More than you dream, if you will trust
Him with your mouth and mind, and thrust
Your trembling hand into the strong
And wounded grip of Christ. The long
And crooked path I took before
I could embrace my weakness or
My face, you could be spared. I pray
It will be so tonight. And may
My story’s end make you as glad
To join my band, as if you had
Omnipotence sustaining you,
Because, in truth, my friend, you do.”

Then Timothy replied, “I would,
Paul, thank you deeply if you should
Oblige my wavering heart with this
Last chapter of your tale. The kiss
Farewell that you are asking me
To give my haven here would be
The hardest thing that I have done.
Tell me, how was the battle won
That you should bow, and then embrace
For Christ your weakness and your face?”

“With lethal letters in my hand
From Caiaphas the priest, I planned
My journey to Damascus where
The Way had spread, and thought that there
Gamaliel’s old prophecy
Would finally come true for me:
‘Someday you’ll stop the mouths of strange
And foolish men who dare to change
The law, and even claim the king
Of Israel has come. The sting
Such messianic fools will feel
From your intimidating zeal
Will crush their cause and you will see
Why God brought you to live with me.’
With rage and murder in my heart
Against God’s grace and ev’ry part
Of Stephen’s claim, I set my face
Against the fools who say that grace
Had made a pile of rubbish out
Of all my deeds. I took the route
Up to Damascus, there to break
The back of Jesus’ Way, and make
A great display of my own zeal.
As we approached the town, the seal
Of heaven broke. And suddenly
A blazing light, more bright than we
Had ever seen or dreamed could be,
Shone like a hundred suns on me
And struck me to the ground with so
Much force I did not even know
That I had fallen, when it seemed
As if a thousand rivers streamed
Together at the cataracts
Above my head and fell with facts
As heavy as an ocean filled
With truth. A voice from heaven spilled
It’s thund’ring falls into the sea:
‘Why are you persecuting me?’
I cried, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And what
I heard him say forever shut
My mouth against the Way. He said,
‘My name is Jesus. I was dead,
And am alive for evermore.
These fools you aim to kill mean more
To me than all the galaxies.
You cannot win or silence these.
The way you wield your priestly sword
You strike against the risen Lord.
Go to the city now and you,
My slave, will hear what you must do.’

For three long days I could not see,
Nor did I eat or drink. One plea
Was on my lips: ‘O God, let there
Be mercy on my head and spare
Me all the wrath that I have earned
Because I killed your sheep and spurned
The Shepherd of your flock, and tread
With scorn upon your grace. I dread,
O God, what I deserve. My face
Is covered, now, with shame. My place
Is with the worst of sinners in
The lake of fire, where all my sin
Will make you just, while I repay
My debt with an eternal stay.
O God, O Christ whom I have killed,
O Lamb of God whose blood I spilled,
All covered now with vile disgrace,
O Lord, have mercy on my face.’

And as I prayed, a man appeared
Sent from the Lord. At first he feared
To come, but when he learned what Christ
Had planned for me, he sacrificed
His fear and came. He said, ‘Receive
Your sight, my brother, Saul, and leave
The blindness of your soul behind
And come, the light of Truth has shined
On you. Your sins are covered by
The blood of Christ. And when you die
Each day, and then at last, it will
Not be a punishment, but fill
What’s lacking in the Savior’s pain:
The readiness to make it plain
By suffering yourself. God chose
You from the womb to bear the blows
That bring the blood of Jesus to
The world, and made your face the true
Divide between the lovers of
The Gospel grace and those who love
The praise of man. To these you are
A stumbling block, to those a star
To guide them safely home to God.
The comeliness of your façade
Means little if they’ve gone astray.
What counts is that you know the Way.
Henceforth the Lord lifts up your face
Your pain is now the path of grace.’”

Paul looked at Timothy to see
If he had understood. “To be
A member of your team would cost
A man his life.” He paused. “You’ve lost
A lot to follow Christ.” But Paul
Replied, “If I could lose it all,
It would be gain. There’s one last part
You haven’t heard. It might impart
The final piece and help you see
How loss is gain. Recall that we
Began this tale in Tarsus where
My father had his school. And there
He named me Saul, and grieved that I
Was unfit for his dreams. “Good-bye,”
Was all he said, and sent me to
Jerusalem. I never knew
Him all my life. But then one day
The saints in Caesarea lay
A plan for me to flee and move
To Tarsus till the plots should prove
Ephemeral. And there I found
The synagogue. “May I expound
The Law and prophets here,” I asked.
The ruler said, “If you were masked.
What claim have you to teach the Law
Of God?” “I think you hold in awe
My teacher in Jerusalem,
Gamaliel.” “You touched the hem
Of great Gamaliel? You sat
At his beloved feet?” “And that
From when I was a child of three
Till I became a Pharisee.”
“We will be glad to hear you speak,
And we will overlook your weak
Appearance.” “There’s one question, sir.
Would I be right, or would I err,
If I assume the master of
The school will come?” “For love
Of fame—a Pharisee, from old
Gamaliel—he’ll come. His gold
Is everything that shines. It’s good
The master’s almost blind. He should
Give you a hearing.” “One more thing,
Sir, as you go, could you please bring
To my attention when he takes
His seat this Sabbath day?” “He shakes.
His hands. His head. You’ll know him when
He comes.”
I watched for him. And then
He came, and took the foremost seat,
And sat directly at my feet.
I preached the gospel unashamed.
They listened calmly, till I named
The great Messiah, Jesus, Lord
Of heav’n and earth, who died and poured
His blood out on a Roman stake,
And came back from the dead to take
His seat at God’s right hand. Before
They left in rage, I spoke one more
Brief word: ‘God sent his son,’ I cried,
From glory down to shame. He died
That every dad who did the same
Might be forgiven, and the blame
Be carried by the Christ defiled,
And sons and fathers reconciled!’

They all stormed out, except for one.
And there, the father and the son,
Alone, with Christ, stood face to face
Beneath the cataracts of grace.

“Do you see Timothy? The years
The pain, the loneliness, the jeers
From children all my life—all this,
My friend, to bring my father bliss
Forever with his son before
The risen King whom I adore?
I ask again, dear Timothy,
Will you now come and die with me?”

Bright candle three, the answer waits,
While ev’ry person contemplates
And ponders in the quiet light
Of your small flame how true and right
Are all the promises of Christ
And how for these he sacrificed.
Do I believe with all my heart
The canvass of my life is art?
That ev’ry crimson thread is laced
Through dark or silver fibers placed
So perfectly it will be plain
That none was woven there in vain?
Do I believe my faulty face
Will prove to be a work of grace?
And will I banish fear and shame
And lift my head to speak the Name?
I now by ev’ry promise I possess,
With Timothy, do answer, yes.