And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” -Acts 9:20, ESV.
Just consider, for a moment, who the pronoun “he” is referring to in the verse mentioned above…
Meet the man who held the coats of the men who publicly executed one of the church’s first deacons. Meet the man whose breath reeked with murderous malice against the church. Meet the man who was consumed with crushing this new religious group called ‘The Way‘ (Acts 9:2, ESV). Meet the man who was leading, with much zeal, the persecution against the first century church. Meet Saul of Tarsus.
Now the big question is what happens between. How does the Persecutor suddenly become the Proclaimer? The narrative in the ninth chapter of Acts fills in this tremendous gap for us. I’ll give you the cliff notes version here.
Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of the church, had it in his mind to venture out of Jerusalem to the synagogues in Damascus. And he wasn’t just going for a friendly visit either. He had one intention, “if he found any belonging to The Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2, ESV). In order to do this he needed papers, he needed to be legit; which the High Priest was happy to oblige and provide. Papers in hand Saul now rushed towards Damascus to do the devil’s bidding. To crush the church into the dirt…
But then a light from heaven suddenly was shining around him. And for a change he was the one face down in the dirt. And then he heard The Voice. Oh yes, the same Voice that spoke creation into existence. The same Voice that commanded the stormy seas to be still. The same Voice that resurrected a man who had been dead four days (Lazarus). Saul of Tarsus was no match for this Voice. Saul asked who this Voice belonged to and The Voice introduces Himself to Paul, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’
I find it to be an interesting observation that the narrative doesn’t have Saul speak again until he is proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God in the Damascus synagogue. Let that sink in. Don’t skim that over. Feel the gravity of that. The synagogue he came to persecute is the one he now proclaims Jesus as the Son of God in. From persecutor to proclaimer, that is a radical change.
What is the explanation of this change? You’ve just heard the cliff notes version of the narrative, but what is the narrative wanting you to see?
I think it is this: The Grace of God changes the sinner. It changes our destinations. Saul, if we use the list he provides of his achievements in Philippians, we can infer that he was well on his way to certainly being a well revered member of the Sanhedrin. Yet, the grace of God changed his course of life, from Pharisee to Proclaimer. It changes our desires, which is at the fore front of this specific narrative. The Jesus he so desired to persecute, after the grace of God, is the Jesus he proclaims as Lord and Son of God. It changed his affections from murderous threats against the church to loving affection for the church and the head of the church, Jesus (Philippians 1:8, 3:8). It literally changed his life in such a way that he would describe himself as a new creation in Christ.
We read the narrative in Acts 9 and think, “Wow. That is a radical change!” But as I sat in my prayer closet this morning I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life and think, “Wow. The Grace of God has really changed me.” My affections, my destination, my motivations, ambitions, intentions… The Lord has graciously changed me to such an extent that I can claim with Paul, “I am a new creation in Christ.” Or perhaps another way of saying the same thing, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:10, ESV)
Saul, from persecutor to proclaimer. A testimony of The Lord’s grace.
Zac, from hellion to herald. A testimony of The Lord’s grace.
What’s your story?