Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts9:1-6)
I am in the process of examining the sermons and conversions of Acts – but this is no ordinary conversion, or indeed sermon, coming as it did from the Lord of Glory. And it was not addressed to a penitent but to a raging tyrant hell-bent on destroying His fledgling Church. Saul of Tarsus was a Jewish zealot who was not in the pursuit of evil per se but believed He was fulfilling the divine will by bringing a dangerous new movement to task. It was a movement referred to as “the Way” that he feared would undermine the Jewish Temple, Torah and Tradition. Yet Saul had recently witnessed and approved of the martyr of Stephen who had spoken historical Truth concerning the patriarchs with which Saul would have been acquainted. Deacon Stephen had been filled with the Holy Spirit such that his face appeared as an angel (6:15). Yet, regrettably, religious bigots are often unable to discern the Truth even when the Holy Spirit is at work in its presentation. It is no wonder Saul who became Paul described himself as the chief of sinners, albeit that was in the context of his persecution of the early church (1Tim1:13-15); it was not an assessment of his life as a Christian as some try to make out for the their own theological ends (cf. 2Cor1:12). But as the aforementioned reference from Timothy affirms, God had had mercy on the young man from Tarsus because he had done what he had done in the ignorance of unbelief.
In terms of Paul’s conversion, the circumstances may have been extraordinary but resulted as ever in prayerful reflection (Acts9:11), baptism (v18), reception of the Holy Spirit (v17) and an affirmation that Jesus Christ was the Son of God (v20). His previous misguided zeal would now be put to good use by Christ “as My chosen vessel to bear My name before the Gentiles, kings as well as the sons of Israel” (v15). The unexpected thirteenth apostle, pivotal to the unfolding of the mystery of God’s munificent providential purposes* had been launched.
*Set out in “The Little Book of Providence” – free PDF HERE