The past two devotions have centered around Acts chapter nine. This one does as well. There are three aspects I would like to focus on regarding Saul’s conversion that illustrate the truth for all of us. They are The Road, Blindness, and Companions.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” – Acts 9:1-4
Jesus met Saul while he was on the way to persecute believers and consequently, Christ Himself. Saul was an enemy of Jesus and therefore an enemy of God. In trying to serve God he was actually in rebellion to God. Unknowingly, Saul was in sin and headed down the road towards more sin.
We are all on our own “Road to Damascus” until we are saved by Christ. We are enemies of God, living in rebellion, on the way towards more sin, and eventually death. We might think we are good and even doing the right thing–like Saul did–but until we meet Jesus and receive His forgiveness and salvation, we are lost.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
God did not wait until Saul decided to leave the “Road to Damascus” to save him. Saul did not know he needed to be saved nor did he have any desire to be saved until he came face-to-face with Jesus. In that moment he realized his sin–one of which was persecuting Christians and Jesus–and he recognized that Jesus Christ was Lord, saying,
“Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” – Acts 9:5-6
As we are living our sinful lives, unaware of our need or even thinking we are satisfying our need for righteousness, the piercing light of truth can enter into our lives and reveal our true situation.
“Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” – Acts 9:8-9
Saul’s physical blindness mirrored his earlier spiritual blindness. The Lord caused Saul to become physically blind for a time in order that he might have his spiritual eyes opened. There is a great verse in Luke that speaks to the need for the Lord to “open our minds”. Before the ascension Jesus was speaking to his disciples,
“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations,beginning at Jerusalem.” – Luke 24:45-47
We all need our spiritual eyes/mind opened to the scriptures so that we might see and understand the truth and the gospel. It is a work of the Holy Spirit when our spiritual blindness is removed and the light of God shines in our hearts.
Years after Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus he writes this to the Corinthians,
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 4:4-6
This man who had been temporarily blinded by the physical light of Christ was telling the Corinthians about the spiritual light that we all need.
“The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.” – Acts 9:7
Saul’s companions experienced something with him, but not to the same level. They led him into the city (Acts 22:11), but after this we do not hear anything more about them. It is very possible that though they saw that something happened, they may not have come to Christ themselves. If they had also been saved, it seems likely that scripture would make a mention of it (John 4:53, Acts 16:34).
When Saul became a Christian it is very likely that the vast majority of his relationships ended. In essence, he would have “joined the enemy” in their eyes. At the very least, his relationships would have changed dramatically.
This is true for most believers. They are journeying through life on the road to Damascus together with others and when they meet Christ and their life changes, many of those relationships wither and they are often treated like enemies. Saul later had to escape from the city because those he used to associate with were trying to kill him.
“After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” – Acts 9:23-25
This could not have been easy for Saul. He was convinced of the truth of the gospel and so he did not waver, but to have those who had been on the same “team” with now you trying to kill you must have been extremely difficult.
Later in his life, after years of persecution from the Jews that did not accept Christ, Paul still had a great love for them in his heart.
“I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race” – Romans 9:2-3
Clearly Paul’s love for his people and desire to see them come to Christ surpassed his love for himself, despite their rejection and persecution. Many believers throughout the world have similar experiences to Paul. They come to Christ and face being ostracized or persecuted, but they still love their people and their hearts are greatly burdened for them to also come to know Jesus.
Even though Saul lost his community, he gained a new family in the body of Christ. At first “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.” (Acts 9:19b). Here Saul is living in fellowship with the same believers he had been on his way to arrest and persecute only days before. After he had to flee Damascus he went to Jerusalem.
“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.” – Acts 9:26-27
At first, rebuilding his community was a little stop-and-go, but eventually Paul was able to build many strong relationships all over the world–as evidenced by those he speaks of in his letters. Barnabas played a key role in facilitating his inclusion in the body after he was initially shied away from. Later, Paul did get into disputes with brothers in Christ (Acts 15:39), but it seems those healed over time (1 Corinthians 9:6, Colossians 4:10, 2 Timothy 4:11).
Paul’s experience in both losing his community when he became a Christian and gaining a new one in the body of Christ illustrates the process many believers go through. His love and desire for the members of his old community to come to Christ coupled with his experience of acceptance by some believers, but not all initially are informative and encouraging to those going through similar situations. Even the disagreements that came later as well as the reconciliation mirror the earthly experience of being in the body of Christ.