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?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
We first encounter Paul at the beginning of the 8th chapter of Acts. We are told that Saul was giving approval to the death of Stephen and then later on, other followers of Jesus. The book of Acts tells us that Saul was on his way to Damascus, Syria to seek out followers of Jesus (those who belonged to the Way – as these early believers called themselves). Saul was going to find them and take them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. Damascus was the closest, most significant city outside the Holy Land and it also had a large Jewish population. The distance from Jerusalem to Damascus was about 150 miles, which would have been a four to six days’ travel.
“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?” This is Saul’s first encounter with the risen Christ and this Damascus road conversion experience is not what you would expect. Someone reading this story for the first time might have imagined Jesus coming with an army of angels to avenge the persecution of the followers of the Way. We should know by now, however, that Jesus is going to do the unexpected. Jesus is nominating this tormenter of His followers to be the chairman of the church’s new outreach committee to enlist new members, the Gentiles.
Saul then goes from Damascus into Arabia. We are not exactly sure how long Saul stayed in Arabia but the book of Galatians suggests that it was at least three years, before he would return to Damascus and then to Jerusalem to begin his public ministry. Paul, in his writing in Galatians, seems to indicate that this period of three years was some sort of spiritual training in the Spirit. This is a wilderness experience similar to that of Moses and Jesus in which Paul receives and attempts to understand his calling.
Throughout the Bible, God calls people that the world seems to pay little attention to (David, Moses, Saul, Samuel, Jesus). The world values fame, power, prestige, money, etc. If you follow God – you can’t follow the world, or what society values as important. Paul decided to follow God but it was a calling that was anything but easy. If you have any doubts, read the following passage from 2 Corinthians 11:25-30:
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Wow! How many times does Paul mention that he was in danger? That’s a tough calling. As followers of Jesus, we hopefully will not experience all of these things that happened to Paul, but we will encounter some of them. Like Paul, we must come to terms with our weaknesses, and we all know about weaknesses, because we have plenty of them. Paul reminds us that it is in our weakness that God’s power is made complete. God’s power was made perfect when He called Paul, and also when He calls you and I. As humans, we are all weak but God is all powerful. How will you allow God to use you?