He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied …
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (verses 4-5, 17)
The Damascus Road is an iconic moment. A brilliant flash of light, direct from heaven, fells Saul. On his knees, on the road, he hears a voice ring out, clearly divine, naming and confronting him.
All of this is enough to capture anyone’s attention. But what gripped Saul in a way from which he never recovered was the juxtaposition of two names: Lord and Jesus.
Since he was crucified on a cross, Saul was convinced that Jesus was under the Lord’s curse. No question. He had God’s word on it. “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23). This understanding securely in place, Saul was convinced that the name of the Lord was adamantly opposed to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Imagine then the earth-shattering shock when, having heard the unmistakable voice of divinity, he calls out in confusion, “Who are you, Lord?” and receives back the stunning response, “I am Jesus …”
His world was turned upside down. Forever.
Deeply embedded, in that moment, were theological insights that carried forward from that place into the unfolding ministry of the newly appointed apostle. Here are several:
(1) Saul’s startling new apprehension of Jesus as exalted Lord ran headlong into his previous apprehension that Jesus was under God’s curse. He came to understand that in fact both were true. Jesus became a curse for us. In so doing, he redeemed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). What wonder.
(2) Saul understood in a flash that the followers of Jesus were intimately connected with Jesus himself. When the risen Lord called out, “Why do you persecute me?”, he implied that anything that touched his followers, touched him, as if his followers were, in fact, his very body. Which, of course, Paul became convinced of, using the image often to communicate the profound reality of the church.
(3) Further, in succeeding years, the Apostle would continually speak of believers being “in Christ”, as if our very life was caught up in his. Was that insight birthed on this road?
(4) Undergirding it all is the surprise of grace. Confronted by Jesus, recognizing him as Lord, Paul would have expected wrath. Instead, he received a new beginning, the filling of the Spirit and a fresh commission. Such grace. Still a sinner, still God’s enemy, yet he was arrested into the kingdom of grace. It was something from which Paul never recovered, grace infusing each step of his journey thereafter, transforming his thinking and spilling forth from his pen.
Thank God for that road to Damascus.
Jesus, Sovereign Lord, thank you for your grace. Thank you for seeking out Saul and embracing him in your purpose. Thank you that his new life has spilled over onto believers ever since, spilled over onto me.
Reflect: Which of the four theological insights from Paul do you most need to grab hold of at the moment. Pray it. Reflect on it. Remind yourself of it throughout the day.