Paul on the Damascus Road

15 Mar

Have you ever stopped to consider the astonishing suddenness of the great persecutor of the Church of God becoming the great Apostle of Jesus Christ? Paul had been making havoc with the body of believers in Judea (Acts 8:3). After about a year and a half after Stephen’s death, Paul sought extraditions orders from the high priest to arrest believers of the Way in Damascus and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial (Acts 9:1-2). He and a few others from the elders probably traveled with a caravan going north following the Jordan River.

Most likely they rode horses or donkeys and at some point separated from the caravan to travel to Damascus. At this point Paul and those with him were surprised by a bright light stronger than that of the noon day sun. They were all thrown from their beasts, but only Paul heard the voice of Jesus. He trembled and asked who was speaking with him. Jesus merely told him it was he, Jesus, whom Paul was persecuting. Rather than condemning Paul for what he was doing, Jesus merely added that it was painful for Paul to kick against the goads. Imagine, Jesus’ interest was more for Paul’s good than for punishing him for what he had been doing.

This had to have struck Paul to his heart, for immediately he responded, “What do you want me to do, Lord?” (Acts 9:6). He was trembling and in no state of mind to weigh the pros and cons of changing sides.[1] All that mattered to Paul at this point was to obey, much in contrast with the sect of the Pharisees of which he was a part (Luke 5:21, 26; Mark 2:12). He didn’t try to reason it all out, he simply responded in obedience: “What must I do, Lord?”

Paul was blinded by the experience and had to be led to the guest room where he was to stay in Damascus. Jesus told him to go into the city, and he would be told what to do. So, Paul, with the help of those with him, did as he was commanded. The others probably returned to Jerusalem, while Paul stayed in the guestroom, fasting and praying three days, while he waited for another word from the Lord (Acts 9:9).

What do you suppose was going on in Paul’s mind, while he lay in bed or sitting in a chair in the guestroom, alone, blind, fasting and praying? No doubt he could not get the vision of light and the ‘man’ Jesus out of his mind, but he probably thought long upon Jesus’ words. None of them had even a hint of judgment. Paul had been persecuting so many believers, but Jesus told Paul that he was persecuting him (Jesus), implying David’s confession “Against you (Lord), only have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). Paul would certainly have thought of the many believers he had interrogated, perhaps beaten and condemned to death with his testimony before the Sanhedrin. His prayers would go up for them and their families, not understanding how he could ever be forgiven. Yet, there was no condemnation in Jesus’ own words. Paul probably clung to those few words of Jesus as he prayed wondering about all the why’s and how’s that come through in everyone’s desperation to understand what doesn’t seem to have an explanation.

No doubt he prayed for the high priest and those, his friends, who had sent him here to Damascus on such an evil mission. He was part of all that, but was forgiven. According to his own training as a Pharisee, forgiveness was earned, but he certainly didn’t earn Jesus’ forgiveness. Could his friends and rulers in Jerusalem also be forgiven? So he prayed. Suddenly he would realize, though he was probably an expert in knowing what Messianics believed, he didn’t know the words of Jesus that they knew. He was fasting, but his hunger was not for food but for the words of his new Master. What were they? He had to learn them, so he prayed.

The Spirit of Jesus had invaded his heart and moved over the dark waters of Paul’s now broken spirit—the uncertainty of the meaning of his past and how it could be of any value for the future. Jesus’ Spirit moved in the darkness of Paul’s life, not to crush his brokenness or to take revenge upon his shattered life for the blood he had shed, but to rebuild what was broken down and to bring about a new birth from within. In Paul’s own words later written down, “God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ…” Saul-Paul was now a new man in Christ.

[1] The Apostle A Life of Paul, by John Pollock, p. 31

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Posted by on March 15, 2011 in Acts of the Apostles, Paul


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