Saul, later to be the Apostle Paul, was a violent enemy of the early followers of Jesus. We are first introduced to the Saul who, at the end of Acts chapter 7, holds the coats of those who are stoning Stephen for blasphemy against God and Moses. Saul was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regards to the law, a Pharisee, as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. (Philippians 3:4-6) You see, Saul had was a Hebrew of Hebrews, he followed the law of Moses and he was from the tribe of Benjamin which produced the first King of Israel, Saul. He loved his idea and concept of God so much that he was willing to go and persecute and kill those who thought and believed differently than he did. He was a Pharisee, a sect inside of Judaism whose desire was to follow the Mosaic Law in every way and every part of life, thus making him an expert in the Mosaic Law. Saul had such a deep desire to obey, love and respect his idea of who “God” was that he jumped in with both feet, immersing himself in all the knowledge that he could get, becoming a teacher of the law and knowing the ins and outs of the Mosaic Law. He was so zealous in his belief in “god” that it drove him to go and eradicate those who he believed misrepresented “god”. In full approval, he held the coats of those who were killing Stephen. Somehow through his zealous desire to find “god,” he was led to murder. The desired destruction of those who were of the “Way," those who were followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Acts chapter 9 begins with Saul “still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” He has a letter from the synagogue in Damascus that gave him permission to arrest men or women who belonged to the “Way”.
You see, to fully understand the disruptive effect that an encounter with Jesus can and should have in our lives, we need to understand who Saul was. He was a murderer, not any kind of murderer, but one who killed in the name of GOD. Not any god, but the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. We can argue that he didn’t know better, but he was fluent in the law, he was zealous for “God” and it lead him to where he was. He thought he was doing the work of God! Saul and those who believed the same as he did thought that there was a people group that needed to be eradicated from existence, and then he encountered Jesus.
On his way to Damascus, he had an encounter in his life that had him on the ground. A voice asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do persecute me?" The people around him heard but did not see. He had an encounter with Jesus, the one who he was persecuting. Jesus then tells him to go into the town, Damascus, from where he had the letter to arrest those following the “Way," and he will be told what to do. When Saul got up from the ground he found he was blinded. We find some interesting concepts here. Jesus understood that as Saul was killing, persecuting and imprisoning those who followed the “Way” that the same was somehow mystically happening to Jesus himself. Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and goats that teachers that what we do to the least of them, we do to him. Somehow, those who were following the “Way” are connected to Jesus. Saul was not only persecuting individuals or a movement but Jesus himself. In his zeal to be right, to be the one true understanding of “god," he was blinded by hate that he justified through his understanding of the divine. So Saul is blinded and told by a voice of Jesus to go into the city and he would be told what to do.
I have never been hunted down or chased by someone wanting to kill me. I do remember when I was 14 years old, a few friends and I trespassed onto some private property to pickup gun shell casings, probably not the brightest idea ever, and we the land owner saw us and started chasing us. I’m glad he was older and rounder than my friends and I because we out ran him. I do remember not wanting to get caught and remember thinking of all the crazy things a 14 year old mind would come up with if we were caught. Saul is told to find a man named Ananias who followed the “Way”. Ananias had a vision and was told to go to Straight Street to the house of Judas where he will find Saul of Tarsus. A man with Saul’s background and current mission was known by Ananias and he questions the vision given by God. “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. He has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” Saul still goes, God speaks to him and he goes to the house of Judas on Straight Street to encounter a man whose primary goal was to capture and arrest people like him.
A blinded Saul was being led to get help from the very people that he desired to arrest and kill. Ananias was following God’s call towards the very person who desired to lock him up. God was placing both men in situations that they would normally avoid at all costs and the unifier was God.
At this point in the story, we find that God is bringing enemies together for something that neither of them fully understand. God is going to start an amazing work through them, but first, they must set asides their fears and follow God’s call. What is keeping us from setting aside our fears and following the call of God? While we are not people seeking to kill and destroy others, some of us to harbor hate towards people and are not allowing God to break down those callouses on our souls. While we are not being hunted, we are called to minister to all people no matter how they feel about our beliefs and ideals. Do we bring life or death into peoples live? May we be people who bring life.
God completely changes Saul’s heart and we will write more about that later.