“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he 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” (Acts 9:1-5).
“Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road also represented his calling to serve as a missionary to the nations. The Lord made it clear when Paul was converted that he was “a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Paul’s role as a missionary is captured by the words Jesus spoke to him on the Damascus Road according to Acts 26:18: “…to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Paul was God’s chosen instrument to bring God’s saving message to the ends of the earth.” Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lousiville, KY.
The region of Damascus, Syria is a barren and dessert land. There is little to see because it is a desolate wilderness. As Saul approached the city, suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. On two separate occasions, Paul recollected this event.
Acts 22:6 says, “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me.”
Acts 26:12-13 says, “12 In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me.”
At the noon hour, the sun is at its apex and is blindingly bright. However, the greater light which shone around Saul was brighter than the noon day sun. At this moment, Saul fell to the ground.
It was then that he also heard a voice speaking to him which said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” The voice repeated Saul’s name for emphasis. Saul responded and said, “Who are you, Lord.?” The answer was clear and direct. ““I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Acts 22:7-8 says, “7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.”
Acts 26:14-15 says, “14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
The phrase, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” is only found in Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa. One commentator writes, “Kicking against the goads” was a Greek proverb about fighting a god, possibly originating with the classical Greek playwright Euripides. It is not cited in the other accounts of Paul’s conversion, but it is appropriate in an address to Agrippa, who had an ample Greek education.”
Saul believed he was serving the Lord in persecuting followers of Jesus Christ. The irony was that the Lord who he believed he was serving was the very Lord who he was persecuting. It was also true that Saul was hurting himself as he additionally persecuted the Lord.
Dr. John Walvoord writes, “The question, Why do you persecute Me? (cf. Acts 9:5) is filled with significance for it shows the union of Christ with His church. The Lord did not ask, “Why do you persecute My church?” The reference to “Me” gave Saul his first glimpse into the great doctrine of Christians being in Christ. This same truth was implied earlier by Luke when he wrote that the Lord continues His work on earth in the church (1:1). Also, Ananias’ lie to Peter was a lie to the Holy Spirit (5:3). Luke, with Paul, saw Christ and the church as the Head and its body.”
It was at this moment that the legalistic Saul of Tarsus was justified by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. He no longer seeking acceptance before God by his legalistic good works, but rather he became a sinner saved by the grace of God who would now begin living by his good works of gratitude unto the Lord.
As Paul personally shared in Philippians 3:5-9, “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
More to come.
Soli deo Gloria!