The Transforming Power of Meeting the Resurrected Jesus on the Road
Acts chapter 9 is a crucial turning point for the young Christian church that transformed not only a man named Saul, but also the entire Christian church. The transformation that happened that day still challenges the church to be transformed today. The events of Acts 9 tilted the trajectory of the church’s ministry, widening and reorienting its purview to include the Gentiles. The conversion of Saul was the beginning of God’s provision to send workers into the ripe, Gentile harvest field. In that moment, God miraculously stepped into history and dramatically changed one person’s life, which in turn changed the entire church. In doing so, God displayed his deep love for the world and his desire to redeem it.
On that day, the life of a man named Saul of Tarsus was unexpectedly and miraculously transformed. Having set out that morning on a journey to stamp out a wayward, religious sect, Saul ended the day with a new beginning; a journey to bring Christ to the Gentile world.
Of course, Acts chapter 9 is not the first time Saul appeared in the story of Acts. He was previously seen at the end of chapter 7 at the stoning of the first Christian martyr. It was Saul who was holding the gowns of those throwing the stones and giving approval to Stephen’s death. From that event leading into chapter 9, we do not see much change in the attitude of Saul. If anything, his fervor for serving God through persecuting the church has only grown. We find him now “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (9:1) and taking a trip to harass and stamp out a rebellious sect of people known as Christians.
What if, in that day, there existed left or right leaning media outlets, which constantly pedaled fear to influence and motivate the Damascus Christians in order to leverage political power? I can imagine that such a group might have been called “the Straight Street News Network” (SSNN). Its slogan might have been “Straight news straight to you.” Or maybe, “Your only highway of straight truth.” Or, “If it ain’t Straight Street, it just ain’t straight.” You get the idea.
What if the SSNN continuously reported the terrible deeds of Saul and commentated about how dangerous he was to the survival of this Christian group? Saul of Tarsus was a very bad guy with the worst of intentions, out to do serious harm to those in Damascus following Jesus. Saul was a threat that needed to be stopped. He really needed to be destroyed, right? After all, Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount that ”A tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:16-20). The fruit of Saul’s life clearly revealed that he was a terrorist. They needed to get him before he got them. They needed to protect themselves and their families.
I wonder, then, could their level of fear have risen to the point that it diminished their ability to listen and discern the prompting of the Spirit? Beyond their fear, could the Damascus believers hear Jesus’ clear and difficult, counter-cultural mandate to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?” (Matthew 5:44, also in the Sermon on the Mount). But if their fear had indeed drowned out the quiet prompting of the Spirit, the Damascus Christians would have been safe for a time, but the Gentile world would have lost its first and greatest missionary. And we would have lost the writer of nearly half of the New Testament.
We see in the following verses the understandable fear and hesitation of the church to engage with Saul (vrs. 13-14, 21, & 26). This is completely understandable given what he had already done. But thanks be to God, we also see them heedfully listening to the voice of the Spirit above their fear, carefully responding in obedience by welcoming the infamous Saul of Tarsus into their homes and beginning to disciple him in the faith.
Remember though what happened on the road to Damascus that day. Saul’s path to persecuting the Damascus Christians placed him on a road that intersected with the risen Christ. Jesus called out to Saul and identified himself as the one who was the object of Saul’s persecution. The interaction knocked Saul to the ground and blinded him for three days. Jesus then instructed Saul to continue into Damascus and await further instructions.
This person who was breathing out murderous threats would become the messenger to bring Christ to the Gentiles. What an awesome display of the transforming power of the resurrected Jesus. One interaction with the resurrected Jesus transformed the greatest persecutor the church knew in that day to the greatest missionary it would see in its generation. One interaction with the resurrected Jesus transformed the tormentor of the Damascus Christians into the Apostle to the Gentiles. One interaction with the resurrected Jesus transformed Saul into Paul.
Just one interaction with the resurrected Jesus.
Could anyone have predicted the possibility that this man would eventually write a large portion of the New Testament and usher the Gentile world into the kingdom? Can you see how complete the transformation of Saul was? What God can do in a person’s life by intersecting their path with the resurrected Jesus is vast.
Maybe the lesson for all of us here is that we should not write anyone off as too far outside of the kingdom. Instead, we must lift them in prayer onto a path that intersects their lives with the transforming presence of Christ. We must not get stuck looking at what people’s lives look like now, but instead allow the Spirit to show us what their lives could look like when transformed by Christ. We need to see people not with earthly eyes of fear but instead with the Spirit’s eyes of transformation.
By the way, our media sources have bombarded us lately with horrific stories of religious zealots breathing out murderous threats against the Lords people and many others on those same roads to Damascus. These people are not only breathing them out, but often carrying out their threats on Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and others. Will you join me in prayer for these people? Not for their destruction, but for their transformation? Will you pray with me that these people will continue to have dreams and visions of the resurrected Jesus so that they too can be miraculously transformed. Can you imagine what it could mean for our world today if there were a couple of Sauls among them?
Questions for Reflection and Sermon Preparation
How do we hear the Spirit over and above our fear?
What are the costs of giving in to our fears? What may we be losing out on when we give in to our fear?
How can we today, in our setting, live out the mandate of Jesus to “Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?”
How can we lead and challenge our people to allow their worldview to be shaped by the Spirit and Scripture over the 24 hour media outlets which deepen fear?
Who are the Sauls around us? Who are those people whose current lives suggest that they might be the least likely to be transformed, but upon whom the Spirit is waiting to transform? How can we guide them towards a path that intersects with the transforming power of the resurrected Jesus?
How can we put our lives on the same path as the resurrected Jesus? How can we lead our congregations onto that same transforming path?