An imaginative but possible rendering of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9
Arrests were followed up with executions, and they were not pretty. Many were by stoning and had been cruel and bloody. But this was the intention, the community was to heed the warning, the authorities were not playing games.
House raids were indiscriminate. It did not matter if those arrested were male or female, or if they had children, the guilty had to be exterminated at all costs. They had perverted the ways of God and their doctrine was spreading like a disease.
But the executions were beginning to have a positive effect; in fact most of the cult members had fled Jerusalem and were now hiding in cities further afield. And no one was more aware of this than Saul. He was ready to hunt these Jesus followers wherever they went. Even now his eyes scanned the horizon for his next target. “Ah, there she is!” ? He glanced back at his team of mounted men and shouted “DAMASCUS!” And they all urged their horses forward as they anticipated the comforts of the city. But as they began to gather momentum their progress was suddenly shattered. A blinding flash of light burst from the sky and shot toward the riders – enveloping their horses. Saul heard shouts as his men fell from their saddles. Then WHACK! He felt himself hitting the ground too. Trained to fight he rolled and tried to stand, but failed, he had no sense of direction – everything around him was white and bright.
Then a voice spoke. It seemed to come from everywhere, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul was lame with fear. “Who are you, Lord,” he asked, not daring to look where the light was strongest. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” came the reply. Saul’s mind began to race. It was true; he was hunting the followers of Jesus wherever he could find them. Was this the end? Was this heavenly Jesus about to take his life? He was numb; there was no where to hide. But this Jesus seemed to be waiting for him to make the next move. Finally Saul squeaked some words, “What must I do?” “Get up, and go into Damascus. There you will be told,” Jesus said.
Saul lay for a while, face to the ground, as if waiting for a lion to walk away. Was he gone? Yes, the light was gone, but now everything seemed dark. He tried to open his eyes and realize they were open. He was blind!
His companions lifted him onto a horse, and led him into Damascus. He could not see till the third day – it was like being in a tomb – but he needed it. This was the death of Saul, and the birth of Paul.
The apostle was resurrected from the remains of the persecutor. Paul came to life when Ananias – an insignificant resident of Damascus – knocked on the door. He was one of the Jesus people that Saul was after, but he arrived wanting to heal Saul. And when he laid hands on Saul his sight returned and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. But Ananias was not finished; he then told Saul that God had chosen him to proclaim the risen Jesus to the Gentiles, their kings and the people of Israel.
This was embarrassing. A man Saul wanted dead had given him life, and the Jesus Saul persecuted wanted him for an ambassador. What kind of God was this? Did his mercy have no end?
Within a few days the persecutor turned preacher was proclaiming Jesus in every synagogue in Damascus. And when people asked how he knew Jesus had risen from the dead, he could say, “Well, we met.” And so they did. It was life changing – that is why Saul began to call himself Paul; meaning ‘small’ – he knew he was nothing without the heavenly Jesus. The apostle Paul was a new man with new power. But not the power of the sword; he now had the miracle power of the resurrected Lord.
Today the old Saul would be considered an extremist. He was a Jew who believed in killing those who corrupted his religion. But he was changed by an encounter with the resurrected Jesus, and it has happened to many others since. Having experienced God’s mercy, the new Paul was merciful to all who opposed him. How could he do anything else?
Do you need God’s mercy? Do you need to change direction? Do it now. Just speak to the risen Jesus, he is listening.
Other Illustrations used: Rosario – a killer turns to Jesus | Augustine – ‘It is not I’