THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS: A JOURNEY FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT

150 150 Ronny Mannebonia

PART – I

In the unfolding drama of God’s redemptive story, a moment stands out with stunning clarity—the conversion of Paul as a testament to God’s boundless mercy and transformative power. This significant event serves as a key milestone in the history of the church and lays the groundwork for Paul’s later contributions of deep theological insight to the Christian faith. As we study the conversion of Paul, we’re journeying on a three-part series that will unfold the richness of Paul’s theological insights, which are shaped by his dramatic conversion. This first part focuses on the conversion of the apostle Paul. Next week’s article will focus on the principles of salvation and sanctification. The third article addresses the principle of suffering. These principles offer us profound insights into the heart of the Christian faith and life based on Christ’s union with His people.

WHO WAS SAUL? “SAUL, WHO WAS ALSO CALLED PAUL” ACTS 13:9

Before we delve into the pivotal moment of his conversion, let’s briefly explore who Paul was. We know him formally in the New Testament as both Paul and Saul. Saul, a name that ties him to the first king of Israel, King Saul, reflects his Jewish heritage. On the other hand, Paul is a Roman name meaning “small” in Latin.

Born in Tarsus, now part of modern-day Turkey, Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, a privilege that granted him significant rights and protections such as the right to a fair trial and exemption from certain forms of punishment (Acts 22:28). Despite the present-day Muslim majority in Turkey, Paul’s roots were deeply Jewish. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” and a Pharisee, rigorously educated in the traditions of his ancestors under the guidance of Gamaliel (Philippians 3:5-6; Acts 22:3). Besides his scholarly pursuits, Paul was also a tentmaker by trade (Acts 18:3).

Understanding Paul’s rich background is key to appreciating the dramatic shift his life took. His deep knowledge of Jewish law and passionate persecution of early Christians underscore the magnitude of his transformation.

THE TURNING POINT

Saul, as he was then known, gave his approval when Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:58). From that moment, Saul’s rage against Christians only intensified. The Bible says he was “ravaging the church” (Acts 8:3), a term that paints a picture of a wild beast tearing apart its prey. Why this intense persecution? With his deep roots in Jewish tradition and law, Saul believed he was serving God by eradicating this new faith. To him, Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross marked Him as cursed, as per the law in Deuteronomy 21:23 (for a hanged man is cursed by God). The very idea of a crucified Messiah was unthinkable, laughable even. So, when he set out that day to destroy Christianity, it was with the conviction that he was doing God’s work. But God had a different plan.

As Saul neared Damascus, something incredible happened. A light from heaven, brighter than the blazing sun at noon, suddenly surrounded him. In that light, Saul heard a voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). The initial shock of being addressed by name by the Divine was overwhelming. His fearful response? 

“Who are You, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting.” Can you imagine Paul’s emotions when he realized the One he deemed cursed was, in fact, exalted and speaking to him? Words won’t do any justice to describe Paul’s shock, confusion, and fear. 

First, there’s a shock. The voice from heaven knows his name, knows his actions, and knows his heart.

Then, there’s confusion. Saul’s actions, which he believed were in defense of God’s law, are now being questioned by God Himself.

Beneath the confusion, there’s fear. The realization that he might be opposing God Himself is terrifying. The implications are staggering, shaking the very foundations of his identity and purpose.

FACING THE TRUTH: 

In recognizing Jesus as Lord, Saul’s entire theological framework was dismantled and rebuilt. Jesus was not only the Messiah but God incarnate, the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ divine nature was the product of his careful reflection on the significance of his conversion experience. 

Beneath the confusion and fear, there’s also a profound sense of vulnerability. The voice of Jesus, though challenging, is not condemning. It reaches out to Saul in his misguided zeal, offering not destruction but a chance for transformation. This unexpected mercy humbles Saul and exposes him to a truth he had never considered: that in persecuting the followers of Jesus, he was persecuting Jesus Himself.

LOOKING AHEAD: 

The question, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” underscores a profound theological truth: Jesus so intimately identifies with His followers that to persecute them is to persecute Him directly. This revelation was the cornerstone of Paul’s understanding of salvation. This understanding of Jesus’ identity and His union with believers became the bedrock of Paul’s theology.

In the next two weeks, as we continue to explore Paul’s theological journey, we will dive deeper into the principles underpinning his life and ministry: The Principle of Salvation, the Principle of Sanctification, and the Principle of Suffering. How Paul’s understanding of being united with Christ not only in his death but also in his resurrection informs our daily living, calling us to a life that reflects the holiness and love of Jesus.

REFLECTIVE QUESTION:

Paul’s encounter with Jesus left a legacy that has touched generations. What kind of spiritual legacy do you hope to leave behind? How do you want your relationship with Jesus to influence others?

Blessings,
Pastor Ronny

Author

Ronny Mannebonia

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