Three days after wanting to kill the disciples of Jesus Christ, Paul is a completely different man. Sure, he has a lot to learn, and almost nobody trusts him yet. When he tries to meet with other believers they suspect hes just pretending so he can gather names and come back later with the police. But he is different. Totally different. And for the next three decades he will live a life that is completely sold out to Jesus.
As we marvel at the transformation of this man we need to ask ourselves what it was that changed him. Was what happened a special miracle because Jesus knew Paul would make a great apostle, or is this level of profound change available to anyone? Was he a unique work of God or just the most prominent example of someone whose life Jesus turned around?
Before we investigate what changed Paul, lets notice what didnt. No one out-debated this brilliant Pharisee or theologically convinced him that Isaiah 53 speaks of a suffering Messiah. He didnt wake up one morning and decide he needed to be a nicer, friendlier person, and chart a self-improvement program. What changed him was he met the resurrected Jesus Christ. He didnt gradually get better and then decide to investigate the truth about this Jesus of Nazareth. Walking toward Damascus he was worse than ever. Luke uses wording here that implies that he had, by this point in time, fallen under demonic influence and was functioning at an unnatural level of anger. He was totally committed to killing all of Jesus followers, and his ultimate goal was to kill Jesus Himself
Before meeting Jesus (9:1, 2)
Paul would later describe himself during this season as raging like a mad-man (Ac 26:11), when he captured someone he would try to force him or her to blaspheme Christ by flogging them as they lay face down on the floor of a synagogue (Mt 10:17; Ac 5:40; 22:19; 26:11; Dt 25:2, 3; 2Co 11:24). To conduct an inquisition in a foreign city like Damascus had required a letter of introduction from the high priest to the synagogue leaders, as well as a letter explaining who was to be arrested and why. The group of men that traveled with him, which must have included some of the temple police, would be there to help him do the dirty work of arresting, questioning, flogging and, when necessary, transporting prisoners back to Jerusalem so they could be tried before the Sanhedrin, who had the authority to execute those unwilling to renounce Christ (Ac 22:4, 5, 19; 26:10). Hopefully the letters he carried would convince the local leaders to cooperate. He needed them to be willing to betray family and friends, and then to testify against them.
Meeting Jesus (9:3-9)
vs3, 4: And it came to pass in going to it, as he drew near to Damascus, a light suddenly shone round him from out of heaven, and falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why are you pursing (hunting, chasing) Me?
vs5, 6: And he said, Who are you Lord? And He said, I am Jesus whom you are pursuing (youre not after My disciples, youre after Me. Well, here I am!).Now stand up and go into the city and it will be told you what you are bound to do.
v7: Now the men who were traveling with him stood speechless, indeed hearing the voice, but beholding no one.
v8: And Saul was raised from the ground, and having opened his eyes he saw nothing, and leading him by the hand, they led him into Damascus.
v9: And he was three days not seeing, and he ate not, nor drank.
Why did Jesus show Himself to Paul? Youd think he would be the last person on earth to whom Jesus would personally appear. If He had only wanted to stop Pauls persecution of the church all He had to do was make him ill or kill him. Problem solved! But He saw something in Paul that caused Him to confront him, not kill him. And what He saw was that Paul was genuinely deceived. He was certainly not a good man who deserved to be saved. He was a proud man doing horrible things. But underneath it all he was deceived. He actually thought he was serving God. Thirty years later when he looked back and tried to explain why Jesus had been merciful to him, heres what he said,
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor (hunter) and a violent aggressor (full of hubris). Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief (1Tim 1: 12, 13).
Jesus warned His disciples about such misguided people. He said,
They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me (Jn 16:2, 3).
So, in spite of the fact that he was covered with innocent blood, in spite of blaspheming Jesus and trying to force others to do the same, in spite of being full of aggressive pride and possibly even demonic rage, Jesus saw a heart that wanted to know God. Paul wasnt a man who loved the pleasures of the world and didnt care about God. He was a person who was terribly confused and headed full-speed in the wrong direction. And that kind of person makes a great disciple when the day comes that they actually meet Jesus.
There arent good people and bad people in the world. Everybody has sinned against God, its just that some peoples sin is more obvious than others. Everybody has inherited Adams rebellion, everybody tries to handle life in their own wisdom and strength, everybody tends to be selfish, putting their own needs first. So Jesus didnt look at Paul and say theres someone who deserves My grace! He saw a man who deserved to be struck dead, but He also saw a confused God-seeker. A man who was spiritually blind but didnt know it.
God-seekers and world-lovers
Pauls example teaches us a lot about how God deals with people. Paul was a misguided God-seeker, but not everybody is. There are people who couldnt care less about whether or not God exists
at least not yet, people who love this world and have chosen to ignore their conscience. And God wants to save them, too, but He has to deal with that type of person differently. Their problem isnt ignorance, its indifference, so He has to wait for them to grow tired of the world, to come to the place where theyre willing to think about the condition of their own soul, to honestly admit to wrong priorities
and that can take a long time. Sometimes people only engage these truths at the last minute. But Jesus gladly receives them, when they do.
What changed Paul?
1) He saw Jesus. In his case he literally saw the resurrected Jesus, in His glory, and it blinded him. Apparently his damaged eyes oozed over during the three days of waiting, and a crust formed over both eyes. Given the enormous amount of abuse he would endure over the coming years, he needed this level of encounter. It would strengthen him in the dark hours that lay ahead. But people still meet the resurrected Jesus, just as genuinely, if not as dramatically, and this encounter still radically changes people.
2) Three days in darkness. For three days Paul lay in blindness, neither eating nor drinking, in the home of a prominent synagogue leader who was to be his host while he conducted an inquisition through the Jewish community in Damascus. These were undoubtedly days of shock and mourning. At times he may have wondered if this had been a dream, only to try to open those eyes and see, but discover he was indeed blind. No, it hadnt been a dream. And then he must have seen the faces of those hed beaten and watched die because they had refused to deny Jesus. His own evil must have just overwhelmed him. Yet Jesus hadnt killed him. Instead Hed said something about serving Him. How could that be?
3) Ananias. Notice, Ananias is not an apostle, hes just a disciple (v10). In a vision Jesus told him to go and lay hands on Paul to heal his eyes and so that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit (v17). And when Ananias laid his hands on him Paul was healed and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Ga 1:16). Then to declare his repentance and by faith be joined to Jesus in His death and resurrection, Paul was baptized in water.
So how long did it take to change Paul from a violent persecutor to a passionate disciple? Three days from start to finish. Sure he still had a lot to learn. He would soon take time to travel to the deserts of Arabia to meditate in the Scriptures (Ga 1:17). He had to go back and re-read all the passages he had misinterpreted. But thats not when he changed. And no, he wasnt mature enough to be the great missionary he would someday become. That would have to wait for at least another 14 years. But his heart was changed in a moment. His spirit was set free by a miracle, not a process
and that miracle still happens today.
This weekend we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We serve a risen Savior, not a religion. Many of us can tell our own stories of meeting Him, and though we may have a lot of growing, healing and learning to do, there is truly a before and after in our lives. Our spirit has been set free, our hearts have fallen in love, were not the same people anymore
because Jesus really is alive and lives within us, and Hes ready to do this same miracle in anyone whos willing to meet Him.
Some of us have been raised in church and some have not, but every true believer has met Jesus at some point in their life. When did you meet Him? If you havent yet, would you like to now?