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From Terminator to Promoter

April 25, 2022

On the Sea of Galilee looking toward the Arbel Cliffs (DCR 3/10/22)

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.’” (Acts 9: 3-5)

The story of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus a few years after Jesus’ death is one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible.  Saul (aka Paul) was a highly intelligent and educated Jewish man who had done his “post doctorate studies” with the famed Jewish scholar, Gamaliel, in Jerusalem.  He took part in the persecution, arrest, and imprisonment of followers of Christ, and encouraged them to renounce their faith.  Luke records in the eighth chapter of Acts that “Saul approved the stoning of Stephen” (Acts 8:1).  In 50 A. D., Dr. Luke became Paul’s personal physician, confidante, and close companion.  He traveled with Paul for the last 18 years of his life.  Luke related instances of Saul’s persecution of Christians in the book of Acts, which stories were presumably told to him by Paul and were confirmed by the others.  

In the ninth chapter of Acts Luke confirms that Saul was hell-bent on terminating the cancer of Christianity that threatened the Jewish religion: “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9: 1).[1]  Saul followed Jesus’ disciples 175 miles northeast of Jerusalem to Damascus to track down those who belonged to “the Way” (believers in Christ) to bring them back to Jerusalem to face trial and punishment.  

But the Risen Christ had other plans for Saul.  He got up close and personal to Saul: “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’” (Acts 9: 3-5).  Saul was blinded by the light.

Instead of storming into Damascus as the terminator, and tracking down the “criminals” of the Way, a blind Saul was led slowly into Damascus by his companions, and was at the mercy of the very Jesus that he had persecuted.   

Luke tells us that Saul was staying in a house on Straight Street.  The Lord instructed his disciple, Ananias, to go to Straight Street to meet Saul, and to lay his hands on him to restore his sight.  Saul’s reputation as a chief prosecutor of Christians preceded him.  Ananias initially balked, but reluctantly followed Jesus’ instructions.  He went to Saul, laid hands on him, filling Saul with the Holy Spirit and restoring his sight.  Luke reports that Saul was baptized and began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God.  In the space of a few days Saul had gone from the terminator of the followers of Christ to a major promoter of Jesus Christ as the Son of God! 

Paul later wrote that he immediately went to the Arabian desert (Galatians 1:16) after his conversion.  Dr. Bill Creasy is among the Biblical scholars who believe that Paul was given a personal tutorial by the Risen Christ during the two or three years that he was in the Arabian desert.  The other apostles had received their instruction from Jesus during the three years of his earthly ministry. 

Saul’s conversion experience gives us hope for ourselves and for our friends and relatives who have rejected the Risen Christ, as Saul did. God has conscripted many people who started out as unbelievers.  And we don’t need to be struck by lightning or travel to Damascus to be drafted into God’s army.  We can admit our mistakes, surrender ourselves to God, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our faith journey. 

During the Easter season, we are particularly aware of our debt to Jesus Christ–for humbling himself to become a human, and for enduring great suffering for our sakes.  Jesus revealed himself to John while he was in exile in Patmos.  John saw all kinds of creatures praising God: “Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’” (Revelation 5:12). 

Always the teacher, Jesus sets a good example for us in the gospel lesson by showing us that caring for others’ physical needs is an important part of ministry. The Risen Christ appeared to his disciples at the Sea of Galilee and helped them catch fish.  He then invited them to have breakfast with him on the beach: “Come and have breakfast . . . Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead”  (John 21:12-14). 

Hospitality was a key ingredient of Jesus’ ministry.  The first miracle he performed was assisting a wedding host who ran out of wine, by turning water into wine.  He often paired good food or drink with spiritual food. But he extended his hospitality first to his friends and others before making a spiritual point; a meal preceded a teaching at the Last Supper, and he fed thousands before speaking to them. 

God meets us where we are.  Don’t be concerned if your experience isn’t the same as another person’s.  It is only our puny human minds that lead us to think that the triune God approaches everyone in the same way or that God only responds to certain words or postures.  God is not limited to the boundaries of the human mind. He may appear to another person very differently than he appears to you or to me. We may have similar experiences with God, or not.  But we can always depend on him.  If you depend on him for your security, you will not be shaken.  

Prayer: Father, open our hearts to receive your Spirit, so that we can walk with you and show others the way to you.  We know that you use non-believers to carry your Word into the far reaches of the earth.  Continue to touch those who reject and persecute you and meet them on their own roads to Damascus.  Help us to follow Jesus’ example of hospitality to all that we meet.  Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday of Easter are Acts 9:1-22, Psalm 30; Revelation  5: 1-14; John 21:1-19 

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