Here in chapter 9 we are with Saul, also known as Paul. The first we heard of him was in chapter 8, as he approved of Stephen being martyred. Here he is extending his persecution of the church from Jerusalem to Damascus.
But as he is close to Damascus, his designs are suddenly thwarted. The light flashes, Saul falls to the ground and hears the voice of Jesus. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”
Isn’t that amazing? Jesus is so close to his people, that to persecute us is to persecute him. It is sometimes like this for us, with our families or close friends. When someone close to you is hurt, you take it personally, and are hurt and angry on their behalf. That’s a picture of what it’s like with Jesus. When his people are attacked, he takes it personally.
Even today Jesus is with his people, and as Christians across the world suffer under violent, terrifying, cruel persecution, Jesus is persecuted too. How good it is to have a saviour who knows our pain.
So, Jesus speaks to Saul, and orders him into Damascus, blind, until Jesus calls Ananias to go to him. When he meets Ananias, Saul’s repentance is complete, his sight is restored, and he is baptised and receives the Holy Spirit.
Here we see that anyone can be saved. How far the grace of God extends – even to Saul the persecutor. In his grace, God chooses to save Saul. He says to Ananias that Saul is ‘my chosen instrument.’ Saul isn’t saved because he is good or has anything to offer God. Saul is saved because God is kind and forgiving.
Are there people you know, and think ‘God would never forgive them’ or perhaps you think that of yourself. Hear again the good news: no one is too evil for God to bring them to repentance and forgive them.
Here we see the triumph of God over evil. The weak and suffering church has a mighty God. He is able, not only to defeat evil, but to convert and transform his enemies into his children.
Saul begins as a dangerous persecutor. In his power he arrests and imprisons followers of the way of Jesus, trying to destroy the church. The church is powerless to stop him. But God is great and mighty. Not only can he stop Saul, he can transform him.
In this, God is much greater than the heroes we see on TV and in films. They outsmart and defeat the bad guys, but they can’t bring them back to the light. God can do both.
This is such good news for us. We who have been enemies of God. He can transform even us to be his servants and be made like his Son.
It’s good news too, because Saul will be God’s instrument to bring God’s name before the Gentiles. What Jesus began on the road outside Damascus, he continues today as the good news about Jesus goes out to reach all the nations.
So we, with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, can rejoice. Jesus is with us, knowing our pain. Jesus is mighty. Even the most hard-hearted, evil people can be made new and used by God. Jesus is kind and forgiving. Those who repent can be saved, whatever they have done.
Father, you are perfect in holiness, yet you forgive us and come to live in us by your Spirit. Even Saul was not too far for your love and power to reach him. Thank you for your grace and generosity towards us. Thank you that we are no longer your enemies, but your children. Please comfort your suffering church. Help us to be confident in your love and transforming power. In Jesus’ name,