We all know someone who refuses to get their act together. Before you write them off as a lost cause, let me finish telling you about Saul. Looking at him back in the day, anyone would have said there is NO WAY that guy would ever clean up his act. If you have not read the first two articles in this series about Saul, go back and start from the beginning so you are up to speed. For those who are already caught up, I’m going to tell you how he went from rounding up Christians to persecute to becoming the person who spent every single second of his life devoted to bringing others to Christ. Needless to say, something pretty earth-shattering must have happened to bring about such a complete change in this man.
Saul left Jerusalem to go round up more of Jesus’ followers who had fled the city when he began his campaign of persecution. No way was he letting them off the hook. So he set out with his little caravan. It was a clear day with blue skies and they were on foot. Out of nowhere there was a flash of blinding, bright light and they all fell to the ground. Naturally that startled and scared everyone. The others got up but Saul remained on the ground because for him, the light had not diminished but was becoming more intense. He heard a voice (nobody else heard it, by the way) saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” When he looked up, he saw a man in the center of the light. Saul asked who he was and this was the last moment the old Saul existed.
The man in the light answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you, this kicking against the goad.”
Okay, let’s stop right there for a moment. If you are like me, you totally understand that first sentence but kind of scratch your head when you read the second one. What in the world does that mean? Well, allow me to enlighten you. A goad was a slender piece of wood or timber which was blunt on one end and pointed at the other end. Farmers would use the pointed end to get a stubborn ox to move forward. If the ox kicked at the goad, it stabbed into the fleshy part of his leg causing pain.
Put yourself in Saul’s place for a moment. Never mind that something extremely supernatural is taking place and that you see and are talking to someone that is dead (because YOUR argument has been insisting He’s dead and that’s why He can’t be the Messiah). Now this ethereal being says precise words that just cut you to the core.
Wouldn’t Christ know exactly what words to use to expose Saul, even to himself? For sure Saul had been kicking against the goad. It’s a reasonable assumption that God had been working on Saul for years, prodding and goading him? I don’t know about you, but when I reflect on my own life, I can see God prodding and I can see myself kicking against the goad – a lot and it always hurt. Did I stop? Yes, eventually. But much like Saul, I was defiant and proud.
Here’s where Saul has his moment of clarity. All of a sudden, Saul was face to face with Jesus! He could see the scars from the nails and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had been completely wrong about everything. All at once the realization of who was before him, what he (Saul) had done, and who he had wronged came over him like a flood. He must have had full clarity about the darkness that had been storming within him when he had declared war on Jesus’ followers. Now, in the presence of Christ, every cell in his body must have felt it and he knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and he (Saul) had messed up big time.
“What shall I do, Lord?” Saul asked. Wow, big change of attitude, right? Keep in mind the Saul who had hit the ground when that light blinded him was no more. In an instant, he was a new creation. That’s how powerful God is.
You might think Jesus would have a long list of ways Saul could make amends but that’s not the case. The thing about Jesus is that He does not have to beat a dead horse. His instructions were simple and direct. “Rise to your feet and stand upright and go into Damascus, and you will be told there what you are to do.” Not a big, complex first directive for Saul upon meeting the Son of God, but one easy enough to follow. However, when he stood, Saul was blind.
His companions helped him along but were totally stupefied by what had happened. After all, they did not see or hear Jesus. They just saw and heard Saul talking to… himself? They took Saul to the original destination, the home of the man who would be his host while he was in town. His name was Judas. Paul remained there, waiting to find out what to do next. Imagine what was going through his head as he waited, blind and helpless.
I feel like he would have been replaying his entire life up to that point over and over in his mind and feeling the prickles of that goad he had been kicking against for so long. The guilt must have been consuming, especially when it came to the things he had said about Jesus. Oh my, what a humbling time this would have been. I’m sure he also hungered for the teachings of Christ. He had heard a lot of people talk about Jesus’ ministry and His teachings but Saul’s attitude had been adversarial, so as he tried to recall them, he would have done so with a completely different attitude. I imagine him clinging to anything he could remember much like a drowning man holds onto a raft.
It was a man God called upon in Damascus, Ananias, who would come to Saul’s aid. Ananias, who was probably scared out of his mind just hearing Saul’s name (the Jews knew what it meant that Saul was in town) had been instructed to welcome Saul into the fold. What a crazy encounter that must have been, seeing and baptizing Saul.
Saul of Tarsus is the man we know today as St. Paul, the Apostle. He is credited with 13 books in the New Testament (only 7 are authenticated as dictated by Paul himself). He traveled all over throughout his life, speaking and teaching at churches, encouraging other Christians and also pointing out when they were getting off track. Paul (just like Saul) was not one to candy coat things. After his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, he devoted the remainder of his life solely to the Kingdom of Christ, dying a martyr in his sixties.
We must acknowledge the impact Paul the Apostle has had on Christianity but we should never lose sight of the man he was before he did the great work he did. If God can use someone as vile as Saul of Tarsus and make him the exquisite instrument of faith that was the Apostle Paul, imagine what he can do with that person you have been praying for (or if that person is you). Keep praying. Never stop. No one is beyond God’s reach.