A couple weeks ago, the church remembered the conversion of the Apostle Paul. As I read this story again, I was encouraged by three gospel truths. Join me for a few minutes in reflecting on this story.
In salvation, Jesus takes the initiative.
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.Acts 9:1-2 (ESV)
What strikes me in reading this passage is the word “still.” Did you catch it? “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder…” I’m reminded of Romans 5:8: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Article 10 of the 39 Articles of Religion puts it aptly: “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God…”
On the day Saul was going to head to Damascus, he didn’t wake up thinking there was a possibility that he would turn and trust in Christ. He did not desire Jesus. But Jesus desired him. So despite Saul’s complete abandon toward destroying the church, Christ makes the move and throws Saul off his sinful course.
Jesus doesn’t wait for people to become “ripe” to hear the gospel. He breaks into the lives of sinners and saves them of his own accord. He must, because no one can make that move for himself.
Jesus identifies with his people.
Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”Acts 9:3-6 (ESV)
Notice what Jesus says about Saul’s actions: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” But isn’t Saul persecuting the church? Why does Jesus claim he, himself, is being persecuted by Saul?
Remember what the church is. Ephesians 5 teaches us that the church is Jesus’ bride. In marriage, the man and woman become one. There is an intimate bond that God creates and that no one is to break. Jesus is the perfect husband who loves and cares for his bride.
I love my wife greatly. We are one. I don’t love my wife with a perfect love like Christ loves the church, but even so: if anyone seeks to do my wife harm, my response isn’t, “Well, at least they don’t want to hurt me!” No! If someone harms my wife, they harm me and must deal with me. Whether married or not, we all understand this to be true in our important relationships.
Jesus identifies with his church—we all belong to him and he to us. If we are attacked, he is attacked. And if someone persecutes the church, they better watch out!
But notice the grace and mercy Jesus extends to Saul. He should wipe Saul out for persecuting his church—but remember—everyone in Christ’s church was saved while “still sinners.”
Jesus’ light gives us sight.
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. … Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. …Acts 9:7-9, 17-19 (ESV)
What strikes me about this passage is the theme of sight. Jesus revealed himself to Saul surrounded by a great light—a light that blinded Saul’s physical eyes, but that opened up his spiritual eyes. And this gaining of spiritual sight is connected to receiving the Holy Spirit.
While all of us were still sinning, “darkened in [our] understanding” (Eph. 4:18, ESV), the light of the gospel shone in our hearts and the Holy Spirit illuminated our darkened minds with the truth of Christ.
Praise Jesus for taking the initiative to give sight to the blind, to save sinners from continuing down the road to destruction. We, along with Saul, were Christ’s enemies. But we and Saul, by the grace of God, were thrown off our course of death onto the way of life!