Story 44 – The Road To Damascus
Based on Acts chapter 9 verses 1 to 31
Had the two of them met before Jesus had been crucified? Had they both been in the Temple together at a Jewish festival or celebration? Had Saul listened to the carpenter from Nazareth as He’d taught the people about the Kingdom of God?
Saul knew about John the Baptist and had certainly heard the reports about all Jesus had done - the miracles, the wonders, the signs! He’d seen the frustration of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Priests and the Teachers of the Law as, time and time again, Jesus had proved that they didn’t understand what the Scriptures said, and were more interested in what people thought about them than in obeying God. Had it made him angry to hear what Jesus was saying and to realise that, deep inside, even though he seemed to be perfect in his obedience to the Law, he couldn’t control his own sin - his envy, his pride?
And the crucifixion of Jesus? What had he made of that? To hear that this teacher and miracle worker had been put to death under the curse of God! For the Scriptures clearly stated that anyone who hung on a tree was under the curse of God and, by being nailed to a wooden cross, Jesus most certainly was ‘hung on a tree’ and therefore came under God’s curse. And yet, within days of His terrible death, to hear rumours and murmurings that Jesus was alive again!
There were other things too. The Temple curtain for one, torn in two at the same time Jesus died, and no doubt hurriedly sewn back up again by the Priests! What did it mean? Then there was that sound, that loud noise of rushing wind during the feast of Pentecost. It seemed that from that moment on the trouble had really started! True, it’d been surprising to see the followers of Jesus worshipping in the Temple so soon after He died and the rumours of His resurrection but, after Pentecost, the number of these followers had seemed to explode across Jerusalem with more and more of them following ‘the Way’, as it was called, every day! (PAUSE)
Surely it had to be a lie? How could this Jesus be the Son of God? But then Saul had also seen Stephen as his face had shone like that of an angel, and he’d listened to his speech accusing them of disbelief – the nerve! And that had been it, this plague of foolish idiots deceived by the nonsense about Jesus being the Messiah had to be stopped! Saul’s blood had boiled with anger at these people, these followers of Jesus, and he’d watched with hate-filled pleasure as Stephen had been dragged to his place of death. (P) True, he hadn’t expected Stephen to forgive them as they stoned him to death. And what to make of his claim of seeing Jesus standing at the right hand of God … surely that was blasphemy, to make Jesus out to be equal with God?
And that had been the trigger, the catalyst, for all that had followed as Saul in his anger, hatred and rage had swept through Jerusalem throwing in prison and sentencing to death everyone he could find who claimed to be a follower of Jesus!
Searching from house to house with the single-minded purpose of destroying the young church, Saul arrested and condemned many, while plenty more slipped through his fingers, escaping from Jerusalem to the towns and cities throughout Israel and beyond.
But not to worry! They wouldn’t last long. They could run, but they couldn’t hide. Because if there was one real weakness about these followers of ‘the Way’ it was this – they just couldn’t keep quiet about that man Jesus. Wherever they went it seemed that the first thing they did was to find a Jewish meeting place, a synagogue, and start telling other Jews about Jesus. They’d be so easy to find! And now, as Saul trudged along the road to the distant city of Damascus, with letters in his hand from the High Priest himself, giving him orders to find, arrest, put in chains and drag back to Jerusalem every follower of ‘the Way’ he found, Saul muttered murderous threats against them, ready to destroy them all. (PAUSE)
But, as he neared Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around Saul and he fell to the ground. Then a voice spoke to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
‘Sir, who are you?’ Saul asked.
‘I am Jesus, the One you’re persecuting,’ came the reply. ‘Now get up and go into the city. When you get there you’ll be told what to do.’
The men travelling with Saul were terrified. They’d heard the voice, but seen no one. But when Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, he found he couldn’t see a thing – he was blind! So the other men took him by the hand and carefully led him into the city. (P)
What was going through Saul’s head as he was brought into the city? For so long he’d convinced himself that Jesus wasn’t alive, that everything he’d heard about His followers was evil and wrong, and yet … and yet … now he finally realised that he himself had been unsure and not really known what to make of all he’d seen and heard. And now he knew for certain that he’d been wrong, that the terrible things he’d done to the church, to Jesus’ disciples, was as if he’d done them to Jesus Himself. (P) When he arrived in the city how he must have prayed! Not only for his sight again, but also asking for God’s forgiveness, pleading to be able to understand all that God had done through Jesus. For three days he wouldn’t eat or drink anything. He wouldn’t allow even food to get in the way of his need to speak to his new Saviour. (PAUSE)
After Saul’s attack on the church in Jerusalem, some of the disciples had escaped to Damascus and one of them, named Ananias, received a vision from the Lord in which the Lord called to him, ‘Ananias!’
‘Yes, Lord,’ Ananias replied.
‘Ananias, I want you to go to Straight Street and find the house of Judas. When you get there, I want you to ask for a man from the city of Tarsus named Saul who’s praying. In a vision he’s seen a man called Ananias come to him and place his hands upon him to restore his sight.’
‘Erm, err, but Lord,’ Ananias replied, ‘I’ve heard all sorts of reports about this man and all the harm he’s done to the church in Jerusalem, and how he’s come here to arrest everyone who calls on your name!’
‘Go, Ananias,’ the Lord replied. ‘This man is my chosen instrument to take the message of my name to those who aren’t Jews and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he has to suffer for my name.’
So Ananias did as the Lord asked. Going to the house of Judas on Straight Street, he found Saul, placed his hands on him and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here, has sent me to you so that you can see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ At once, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. After that, he got up and was baptised. And only after that did he take something to eat and regain his strength. (PAUSE)
The change in Saul was nothing less than miraculous. The man who’d tried with all his might to destroy the church, having met with Jesus, began at once to preach about Jesus in the Jewish meeting places, the synagogues, saying, ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’
The people who heard him were staggered. ‘Isn’t this the man who devastated the church in Jerusalem?’ they asked. ‘And we were led to believe that he’d come here to arrest the followers of Jesus and take them back to Jerusalem in chains!’ And yet, Saul grew more and more powerful and the Jews couldn’t stand up against his teaching as he proved that Jesus is the Christ, the long awaited Messiah!
Then, leaving Damascus for a while, Saul spent the best part of three years in Arabia before returning to Damascus again. What he did there I don’t really know, but the Lord was with him, helping him understand the Good News that salvation isn’t just for the Jews, but for everyone.
Eventually, after his return to Damascus, his teaching about Jesus being the Christ and salvation being for everyone caused the Jews to decide that Saul wasn’t worthy of life and they planned to kill him at the first opportunity. Day and night his enemies watched the gates of the city, waiting to strike should Saul pass their way. But the Lord was merciful to Saul and some of the believers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the city wall.
From there, Saul travelled to Jerusalem. But the disciples in Jerusalem, who hadn’t heard the news about this man who’d caused them so many problems, were very suspicious of him and refused to let him join them, thinking it was some kind of deception. But, thankfully, Barnabas, the son of encouragement, took Saul to Peter and James, the brother of Jesus. Barnabas told them what had happened to Saul on the road to Damascus and all that had followed, and how he fearlessly preached in the name of Jesus. And so Saul stayed with them for fifteen days, moving about freely in Jerusalem and boldly speaking in the name of the Lord. (P)
In fact, so bold was his preaching that, once again, it led to danger as he debated with some Jews and they tried to kill him! But, when the brothers learned about it, they took Saul down to Caesarea and sent him to his home town of Tarsus. (P)
And, after that, the church had peace throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria and it grew in strength and numbers as the believers walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.