For Saul, the Christian life has begun, Saul has become captive to the very person he sought to conquer. He is now begun his walk by faith in the Son of God.
Saul the destroyer has been humbled. He is led like a child into Damascus, by the hand by the men he was travelling with who also heard the sound (Jesus voice but saw no –one) and Luke pauses in his account of Saul with the words of Acts 9:9:
9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything
Not unlike another man who rebelled against God and spend three days fasting in repentance in darkness – Paul is very much like Jonah in this regard.
What I love about the book of Acts is the way lives of people, which are on very different trajectories intersect. They seem like one of those amazing co-incidences, but in reality these co-incidences are nothing of the kind, they are sovereign God-moments; not a co-incidence, but a God-incidence. God was at work, his sovereign plans are coming together. In Acts 9 we see two lives meet, Saul meets Ananias (not to be confused with the one who died in Acts 5), and by the time he meets Saul, Saul is a transformed man. In Luke’s account of Ananias meeting Saul, we see evidence of Saul’s conversion. He is now praying. As a Pharisee he would have prayed before, but not like this. His prayers bathed in pride and self-righteousness were now prayers of humility and praise and of repentance. Ananias is commanded by the Lord Jesus to go and see Saul from Tarsus. And predictably and understandably Ananias voices his concern:
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
His concerns are real. They are not based on rumour. This man was the destroyer. And he knows why Saul had come to Damascus. But the Lord Jesus tells him to:
“Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
The Lord Jesus Christ saved Saul by grace, but it was grace with a purpose! He was saved to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to Gentiles,and it was a ministry that Paul would suffer much for the sake of Christ. So Ananias obeys and goes to see him and amazingly and quite movingly he calls Saul ‘brother’ and welcomes him into fellowship. The one time destroyer of the church is welcomed by the same church.
Saul had changed. He was a different man. His encounter with the risen and glorified Lord Jesus, transformed his view of God, his view of the Lord Jesus, his view of the His Church, and his view of the world, (when I say the world I mean his view of people).Saul the Destroyer – Saul the humbled – Saul the Welcomed – was now Saul the proclaimer. He was a different man, with a very different message. It is no wonder that those who heard him were astonished.
When I think of Saul’s conversion I often think of that pub in the inner west of Sydney on my 18th birthday. And if I knew then what I know now, instead of writing those people off and feeling despair, I would have felt hope, because Saul’s conversion reminds me vividly (and it is my prayer that it will remind us all vividly) that God’s Grace is bigger and more powerful than the hardest of hearts.
I once heard the former Archbishop of Sydney Harry Goodhew tell me that Gospel ministry in Australia is like “trying to plough concrete”. And as true is that is, and as often as sharing of our faith can feel like that, God can crack the concrete surrounding the unbelieving heart. He cracked Saul’s. He cracked my heart. He can crack anyone’s!
I don’t really need to state that there are many many Saul’s in our world. And often we don’t have look too hard to find them. I think almost every Christian has a Saul in their own family, some of you who are reading this may even be married to a Saul, or have children who are Saul, or have parents who are Saul. Don’t despair!
God’s grace is bigger and more powerful than the hardest of hearts,
and that grace is found in the Lord Jesus Christ seen most clearly in the cross, where he died in our place and in his empty tomb. And the wonderful thing brothers and sisters is that we don’t have to worry about making people become Christians, because that is God the Holy Spirit’s role. He transforms, we proclaim! He transforms, we pray! So let’s tell people of him. Will you pray with me, will you pray for your ministers, all the Christians that you know, and all the Christians that you don’t know; that God will use us, weak messy jars of clay that we are, to proclaim Christ to others, to introduce people to the Lord Jesus Christ, and help them home to heaven?
Don’t despair. God’s grace is bigger than the hardest of hearts, and his grace can crack the hardest of concrete