By Benjamin H. Liles
He had been breathing threats against the saints of God for the better part of his early ministry as a Pharisee. As he said of himself, "If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin; a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the church; as to righteousness under the Law, faultless" (Philippians 3:4b-6, Berean Study). Who is this man? And why is he so hot after God's righteousness?
If you know anything about the man known as Paul the apostle, he was born Saul of Tarsus from Tarsus, Turkey. He wasn't simply a Roman citizen, but he appealed to Caesar on grounds of being heard by a higher court than that of the Sandhedrin council within Jerusalem. Why would Paul do that in his later years? We're told of Paul's conversion, in the Bible, "Ananias answered, “Lord, many people have told me about this man and all the harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And now he is here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.”
“Go!” said the Lord. “This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name" (Acts 9:13-16).
Truthfully, we're told how Paul is going to suffer and by Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior, to Ananias, a man of God who had previously come to Jesus by faith. He is telling Ananias to go and heal Paul, to restore him his sight, for he will "Go to the Gentiles and their kings...[how] he must suffer for My name" (Acts 9:15, 16). As we know Paul did all that, but first we must know how he became a man after Jesus' heart, to be so known in and through the Western world as one of the best known and well-loved apostles Jesus called.
To get to that Damascus road experience Saul had and then became known as Paul, we must first know the manner of man this guy is and was. Shortly after the crucifixion of Christ, which scholars date around April 3, 33 A.D. The church was born on the day of Pentecost, a mere 50 days after he had been crucified, was put in a rich man's tomb, and was resurrected by the power of God's hand. Jesus said of his own death and resurrection, "This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father" (John 10:17, 18, Holman Christian Standard).
Knowing this then is key because later Stephen, one of the men the apostles commissioned to serve the growing Church, was the first known martyr for this faith that was just emerging. This happens within Acts 7, which I say truly should be read so as to know what happens next. At the beginning of Acts 8, we read, "Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison" (Acts 8:1-3, New King James).
In other words, Paul was more than just present, consenting to the death and martyrdom of Stephen. He was sent by the Pharisees to eradicate this new sect, as you will, to get rid of these Jesus believers. The Jews saw these "Jesus followers" as dangerous to their way of life and thinking. And that's the big thing, it's still that way even now. Every day you hear of people who give ascent and consent without fully knowing why they do what they do to men and women of God who are simply choosing to be a valid witness of the life-changing power of Jesus Christ in their lives.
So, why was Saul of Tarsus, this man of the Hebrew people, the "Pharisee's Pharisee" changed from this course of life, to become such a strong and ardent follower of the Christian faith? It wasn't as if he simply "had a change of heart and mind." He fully encountered the man Jesus Christ while on his vendetta of death against those known as "Jesus followers." We come to Acts 9 and read, "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 9:1-5).
Think on this a moment, and I mean truthfully, think on it./ You have just been given a sanction by the ruling body of Jews to go and apprehend those of "The Way" (followers of Jesus Christ), to commit them to jail and further to kill them where they stood, if they chose to run. And yet this miracle on the Damascus road blinds him so much he needs help getting to an inn by men who were traveling with him (see Acts 9:7-9). We do know Jesus tells Ananias, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying" (Acts 9:11). So, it's at the house of Judas on Straight street in Damascus that Ananias went to in order to witness fully to him of the power of Jesus Christ.
What does Paul say of his time on the Damascus road to us? In front of King Agrippa, he tells him and us as well, "While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me" (Acts 26:12-18).
We then see, the overall truth of the accounts of Paul's conversion within Acts. Acts 9 gives one version, Acts 22 gives s lightly different version, as well as Acts 26, straight from Paul's lips. Which one is right? I have to say that considering scripture always backs up scripture all of it's accurate. The different versions are simply "re-tellings" of what happened are from Paul's memory of what happened. Luke recorded everything down, and unless Paul's mind decayed in his later days we have no real way of knowing, but his account of what he did in his younger years is a testament to his blamelessness according to the Jewish Law (see Philippians 3:6).
Is there anything in your life you consider could mark your life as having a Damascus road experience? Have you ever gone after someone with so much zeal and passion thinking and believing you were in the right to do? Did you do it according to law so as to be blameless? If you can answer yes to any of that you are as close as it comes to being just like Paul. The Jews aren't to blame for everything that happens in this world and anyone who tells you otherwise is both a liar and a murderer. I can say that with all honesty and without any guile whatsoever.
Paul has this to say to the believers at the church of Corinth and it is still also very much true even now, "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you are thoroughly defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, even against your own brothers! Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who submit to or perform homosexual acts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor verbal abusers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:7-11, Berean Study).
I will say and contend this: believing that someone hates you just because of how someone else feels for them is wrong. Christ said, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ [in Aramaic means "Empty head"] shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:21-22, New King James).
We are all very different in life. We all have our own sins, our own experiences, and our own regrets. Some of us choose to come to Christ, to be blood bought, seeing the error of our ways, and thus choosing as well to make amends for the wrongs we do. This is in our nature, not just because it's the "Christian" thing to do, but because we want to pay back four times what it was we took from someone else. We, as followers of Christ, desire nothing more than to lift up His name, to be a witness of Him and His glorious light, who was sent by God, to show Him and His name is worthy to be exalted, not our own name. I pray this encourages you, to bring you to a place where you can begin to heal as well as to heal others. I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, Amen.