“We're almost there,” he said, and his pulse skipped in anticipation as Damascus came into view. Adrenaline coursed through him. With every intake of breath, his zeal grew into a frenzy; with every exhale, he breathed his orders. Any man or woman found belonging to the Way would be arrested, bound, and hauled back to Jerusalem to stand trial. The letters for the synagogues, carefully secured in his satchel and signed by the high priest, gave him a comfortable satisfaction.
He turned to speak to the men with him, to encourage them as they charged into battle, but he froze as he felt his skin tingle. He stared at his forearm, where the hair was standing bolt upright. The others hesitated as well, hunching against the strange atmosphere and murmuring in alarm.
A blast of light shot from the heavens, searing the air and encircling Saul like a white-hot blaze. He cried out in shock, expecting death to smite him at any second. He crumpled to the ground. Even with his face pressed to the dust of the road, his closed eyes burned with the brilliance that surrounded him.
A voice spoke, and the air quivered. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Saul was too afraid to lift his head. His voice trembled as he cried out, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Saul's mind fractured in shock, his thoughts spiraling in million splinters, piercing his former confidence and self-righteousness. Jesus? It couldn't be! The blinding light stripped away his assurance. He felt that he was in the presence of holiness, and he shrunk into his robe in fear.
“Get up,” the voice commanded. “Go into the city, and you will be told what to do.” The light vanished.
Saul drew in a shaky breath and lifted his face. He opened his eyes. Fear twisted in his soul.
“I'm blind!” he cried out. He heard footsteps rush to him, felt arms raise him to his feet, but he saw nothing at all. “I'm blind,” he whispered, his eyes prickling as if to weep but no tears would flow.
The other's clamored around him.
“What was that light?”
“Did someone speak to you?”
Saul held out his hands to shield himself, his eyes straining for vision but seeing nothing. “Don't question me! I don't—I can't—I must go into the city.”
Instead of charging into the city with confidence and authority, Saul was led by the hand with a bowed head, his steps shuffling over the cobblestones. They found a room to stay in, and there Saul sat for three days. He refused all food and drink, but considering the name the voice had claimed. Jesus. The man crucified. The man others said had risen from the dead and into glory. The instigator of the Way, a movement that Saul had dedicated himself to stamping out. Saul had thrown men and women into prison. He had believed they deserved his hatred, that they had been enemies of God. The voice of Jesus cast Saul's actions in an entirely new light. Had he acted as the enemy of God? The realization made him tremble from head to toe.
His one consolation was the vision that filled his mind every night, the only time when he could see again. A man named Ananias would come to him and lay his hands on him. Then, Saul's sight would be restored. The vision gave him hope as he prayed.
“Saul?” a quiet voice spoke, and Saul turned his face towards his host, a man named Judas. “You have a visitor.”
Saul's heart surged up into his throat, and he swallowed hard several times. He heard the rustle of fabric and felt the movement of air as someone approached. He quivered as he felt hands laid on either side of his face.
“Brother Saul,” a rich voice spoke kindly, “the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road has sent me to you, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Saul gasped as the scales fell from his eyes and a man's face filled his view. Finally, the tears that had refused to fall watered his cheeks like a blessed rain.
“Why?” Saul croaked. “Why has the Lord done this for me?”
Ananias spoke seriously, “The Lord told me that you are a chosen instrument of His. That you will bear His name before the Gentiles and kings, and the sons of Israel. He will show you how much you must suffer for His name's sake.”
Saul nodded. A new zeal overflowed his spirit and give life to his limbs. He rose weakly to his feet, feeling the pangs of his fast. He was hungry, but another need took precedence. “Then I must prepare myself,” he said, nodding. “I must be baptized.”
Ananias grinned. “Then let's go, brother Saul.”
Read this story for yourself in Acts 9:1-19
I wrote this at the end of a series of four short stories reflecting on Christmas. It might not seem very "Christmassy" at first look!
Saul, also known as Paul (Acts 13:9), shows the power of Jesus to change lives. In Saul, we have a man who went from a great persecutor of Christians to a teacher of the Way, a leader, an apostle of Jesus. A large part of our New Testament writings is credited to this man who met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus.
Saul's conversion is awe-inspiring and shocking. After spending several days with the disciples that lived in Damascus (those he had come to arrest!), Saul immediately begins to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, declaring that Jesus is the Son of God. In Acts 9:21 the people are amazed at this dramatic change, saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?”
His conversion creates quite the uproar! The Jews wanted to kill Saul (Acts 9:23-24) and at first the apostles in Jerusalem were afraid of him (Acts 9:26) because they didn't believe he was truly a disciple.
Ananias is told that Saul will suffer for Jesus' name, and Saul (calling himself Paul by this point) does endure beatings, shipwreck, arrest, long imprisonment, and eventually, he is beheaded for his faith. Yet, the man writes a letter to the Philippians, claiming that he can suffer joyfully for his participation in the good news of Jesus Christ. Though he suffered, he was content. Don't we all crave contentment like that? Saul experienced a dramatic shift in his goals, his passions, and it altered his journey through life into something incredible.
All of this is because of his encounter with Jesus Christ. And Jesus continues to change people's lives today! Jesus isn't trapped at Christmas time. He isn't in a manger. He isn't somewhere far off, waiting for us to show up and find him under a star. He met Saul on the road. He can meet you wherever you are too! He is calling for us, wherever we are, to be transformed this very moment, right now.
This call isn't just for those whose life is off the rails, the addicts, the criminals, the broken. It isn't about how “good” you are, for I'm sure Saul, as a devout scholar of the scriptures, believed he was a very good sort of person. It took a run-in with Jesus for Saul to realize how blind he really was.
I sure don't have faith all figured out. I experience the yo-yos of active belief like most everyone else. I do know that true transformation comes with aligning our lives with the good news that “Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death . . . Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ . . .” (Acts 2:22-36)
If Jesus is Lord, it changes everything. It was faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that led Saul to live his best life, one that inspires us today!
Have you experienced the good news of Jesus in your life? Please share it with us in the comments!
Merry Christmas and may God bless you and yours in the year to come!