Sunday, June 29, 2014

Damascus Road

Today in Life Group we continued our study of how the Resurrection changes everything. We looked at Paul's life. Or, rather, we looked at his early life (what little we can learn of it in the Bible), and of how he was on his way to Damascus with the intent to round up and imprison any Christians there, when he had his conversion experience on the road close to the city.

Or was he converted? Did that happen on the road, or three days later in the tanner's house on Straight Street, when Ananias came, laid hands on him, prayed with him, and baptized him? Possibly it's not an important distinction, but I think it is, and I think it happened on the Damascus Road.

Why do I think that? When Paul (still known as Saul at that point) described what happened to him then, as recorded by Luke in Acts chapter 22, Paul first asks "Who are you, Lord?" The one in the vision he is seeing says he is Jesus, whom Saul is opposing. Saul then says, "Lord, what should I do?"

Now, it is the followers of Jesus that Paul is out to oppress. He has letters of authority from the high priest to do so, and to bring them back to Jerusalem. Why, if he hates what the followers of Jesus so much, would he say, "Lord [Jesus], what should I do?" We would rather expect him to lash out verbally at Jesus, telling him what he thinks of him. Instead, he seeks instructions from the very Man he is opposing. Is that not evidence of conversion?

What could have cause such a radical, instantaneous change in Paul's attitude? In other places Paul is described as leaving Jerusalem breathing murderous threats against Christians. Suddenly he's seeking instructions from the One they call their Lord. Why does Paul change so fast?

First off, we don't really know how fast it was. The light hit, the thunder sounded, the voice spoke, Paul spoke, and the voice spoke again. How long was it before Paul asked for instructions? Seconds? A few minutes? Possibly he had time to think. So perhaps it wasn't quite instantaneous. But it sure was fast.

Second, what exactly did Paul see? Did he see a vision, or did he see Jesus himself, not a vision of Jesus? In 1st Corinthians Paul says that Jesus appeared to Paul last of all, as to one unnaturally born. That says to me that this was no mere vision. It was Jesus, in the flesh, in the bright light directed at Paul in such a way that his traveling companions couldn't see Him, and couldn't hear his distinct words.

So Paul is confronted with the need to make a decision. Jesus was executed. Paul lived in Jerusalem, and was probably around when Jesus hung on the cross. His disciples had been claiming, probably for between two and four years, that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. As a Pharisee, Paul would have believed resurrection to be possible. But he would have rejected that Jesus had been resurrected. Otherwise he would have embraced the new teaching. But suddenly he is confronted with the resurrected Jesus. What does he quickly conclude? That Jesus is alive. Which means he was resurrected, because he obviously had been dead. And that if he is resurrected, he is One to be followed. The next logical step is for Paul to ask him "What should I do?" Do you ask that of someone you oppose? No, so Paul is converted, believes in the resurrected Christ, and is suddenly determined to follow Him.

It's as dramatic a conversion as we can imagine, an example for everyone about the power of the resurrection. No other religion has it.

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