In a Flash of Light
Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!
Before Paul was Paul, he was Saul. Saul and Paul may have been the same person physically, but they were hardly the same person in almost every other way.
Saul was on the “fast track” to pharisaical fame and power. A movement referred to as “The Way” had emerged as a threat to mainstream Judaism, claiming that a rebel Rabbi named Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. The ruling Jewish authority thought they had eliminated the threat by convincing the Romans to crucify this Jesus. The problem was Jesus’ influence was only growing on claims that he had risen from the dead.
Saul saw this as an opportunity. The cream rises to the top and Saul was convinced that we was the cream of the crop. “Stephen couldn’t spread his message of ‘false salvation’ if he was dead,” Saul thought. The Talmud was very clear- heresy must be stamped out by stoning, and stoning they did. As the rocks flew, Stephen declaring that he was going to be with his Messiah Jesus and pronouncing forgiveness on his killers with his last breaths, Saul supervised, approving of the end to the threat. This was exactly what Saul needed. Symbolically appointed the guardian and enforcer of the truth, he was charged with abolishing “The Way” by the High Priest himself.
Saul has played the political game perfectly and was on his way to Damascus with the blessing of the High Priest to take care of the followers of “The Way” by any means necessary should they dare to stand up to him.
Have you ever noticed that God often allows us to get to the very place we pridefully desire before reminding us who is in control? Saul’s namesake had experienced this reality hundreds of years before. Let’s say building statues to himself didn’t work out so well for him.
Saul rode along on his “high horse” figuratively, and possibly literally (okay, more likely high donkey, but still). What could possibly go wrong? Enter the “Hope”.
In a flash of light, Saul went from being the next “IT” to being a blind man on the ground, hoping he would survive this encounter with the very person he thought was a messianic fraud.
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”, Jesus asked. (Acts 9:4, NIV) Saul was unsure of who or what was talking to him. Hoping “eating dust” was quite literally the worst consequence of this surprise interaction, Saul cautiously asked who it was that had abruptly entered his path.
“I am Jesus, who you are persecuting”, he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6)
Saul, the ultimate zealot for God, had come in contact with the ultimate challenge to his reality. It was in that moment, and the moments that followed, that Saul realized the very truth he sought to protect was found in the light he desired to extinguish. Saul became Paul, and the rest is history.
A realization can change everything. More on that next time.
– James Belt