By J.R. Miller
Before conversion Saul was as intense in his zeal for the destroying of Christianity, as he was after his conversion in his efforts to extend the kingdom of Christ. From place to place he went, from house to house, seizing men and women, casting them into prison and punishing them. This was the sort of man Saul was, the morning of the day of his conversion.
Why was Saul so bitter against Jesus? What was the reason for his opposition? He was a loyal Jew, and Jesus had been crucified by the rulers of his people as a blasphemer. In this hatred of the rulers of his nation to Jesus, Saul sympathized. That such a man should claim to be the Messiah foretold by the prophets, appeared to Saul proof that He was an impostor. According to Saul's thought, Jesus had fulfilled none of the Jewish expectations regarding the Messiah: He had established no kingdom; He had wrought no deliverance for His people. Thinking of Jesus in this way, Saul readily conceived that He was an impostor and that belief in Him as the Messiah was heresy, which he as a true Jew was bound to do all he could to stamp out. Saul was conscientious in his opinions concerning Jesus, and in his work as a persecutor.
In his journey Saul was drawing near unto Damascus, intent upon his errand of finding and seizing all disciples there. We can imagine the terror of the Christians at Damascus as they heard of the approach of the terrible persecutor, whose name spread dismay wherever it was heard. No doubt they were praying God to stop his progress. We can imagine also what passed in the mind of this traveler as he journeyed along the way. He never had forgotten Stephen's words before the council, or Stephen's death, with the prayer that he made for his murderers with his last breath.
In all his terrible work as a persecutor, Saul had also seen many glimpses of Christian life in the homes he had entered. Stephen was not the only man of those Saul had met in his warfare on Christians who had shown the gentle and kindly spirit of the Master. He must have seen sweet faith and gentle trust, which deeply affected him. Is it possible that doubts of the rightness of his own course troubled him? The words of the Lord to him about kicking against the goads seem to indicate that Saul had really been fighting against his own convictions, especially the later days of his persecuting work. Thus he was prepared for the sudden appearance of Jesus to him in the way.
He had almost reached the end of his journey when a strange thing happened. "Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him." It was more than light--it was the glory of a person, the divine person of Christ. In the dazzling brightness of the great light Saul fell to the earth. As he lay there he heard a voice, calling him by name, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Every word was emphatic. "Why?" What had Jesus done to Saul, to deserve such treatment? If He had been a tyrant while on the earth, if He had gone about burning towns, desolating homes, crushing the weak and the poor, and causing pain, poverty and sorrow--there would have been some excuse for Saul's bitter relentless enmity. But Jesus had gone about only doing good. Whey had Saul so fought against Jesus?
"Why do you persecute me?" The question was personal. Saul had to stand face to face with the glorified Jesus and answer why he, Saul was His enemy. Every human soul stands in a personal relation to Jesus Christ. We cannot lose ourselves in any company. The question is always a personal one, "What do you think of the Christ?"
"Why do you persecute me?" Saul had not personally persecuted Jesus--probably he had never even seen Him. But one who lifts a hand against any of Christ's disciples, lift a hand against Christ Himself, for Christ makes common cause with each one of His people, even the lowliest. "I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat... Inasmuch as you did it not unto one of these least, you did it not unto me." He, who wrongs a Christian, wrongs Christ!
Saul saw before him the glorified form of Jesus. He was amazed and asked, "Who are you, Lord?" He never had dreamed that the lowly man who went about through Galilee working miracles and teaching the people--was indeed the Son of God, the Messiah! He had thought Him only a man, an impostor. But now he saw before a glorious Person, the most glorious he had ever seen, radiant in divine splendor. Then, when he asked, "Who are you?" the answer came, "I am Jesus." This divine Being was the lowly Jesus whom Saul was persecuting! Instantly he saw the terrible mistake he had been making. This Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God!
But he resisted no longer. His opposition was over forever. In one of the accounts which Saul gave of his conversion, we are told that the first question, "Who are you, Lord?" was followed by another, as soon as he heard the answer, "What will you have me to do?" This question implies full surrender. He asked at once for his duty, entering the service of this new Master immediately.
To the question, "What will you have me to do?" came the answer, "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." Acts 9:6. He was not to lie there in the dust, defeated and broken. This was not to be the end of his Life. Jesus had not meant to destroy him--but to save him and call him into service. He must rise up. When God finds us in our sins, we are not to lie down and weep inconsolably over the ruined past. No matter if the best part of life is gone, we may not, we dare not--spend one moment in mere idle tears and regret over it. We should rise instantly, turn our faces resolutely away from our wrong and wasted past, and put into the days that remain all we can of strength and beauty.
God guides us one step at a time. Saul did not learn that moment what his whole mission would be; he did learn, however, the first step of obedience. He was to go into the city, and when he got there he would learn more. When a young Christian begins to follow Christ he is not likely to be shown his duty for his whole life. He will be shown one step, however, and if he takes that, another step will be made plain, and another, and another, and so on, step by step, until he has reached the end of a noble and beautiful life.
"I do not ask to see
The distant scene--one step is enough for me."
The part of Ananias in the conversion of Saul, has interesting lesson for us. Why did not Jesus Himself complete the work without calling in any man to help Him? We do not know, excepting that it is usually His way to use human helpers. Ananias was startled to receive the command, "Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus." It brings Jesus very close to notice how intimately he was acquainted with all that was going on in the city. He knew the names of the streets and where each person lived or was even temporarily staying. Christ in heaven today knows us by name and is familiar with the most intimate events of our lives. He knows the house we live in, and the street, and knows our present desires and needs, and hears our prayers.
No wonder Ananias hesitated when he was bidden to go to meet the terrible scourge of the church. He had heard a great deal about Saul and had learned to dread him. But the Lord assures Ananias that there will be no danger in his going to find Saul. "Behold, he is praying." This was evidence that Saul was not now a dangerous man. Not only was he praying--but he was praying for just the help Ananias could bear to him. Further, Ananias was assured that this very Saul, who had been such a terrible persecutor, was a chosen vessel for Christ, to bear His name before Gentiles and kings.