If you followed the 90 Day Challenge you will know by now who my favorite artist is. Caravaggio who painted during the Baroque era has stolen my heart. Here is his depiction of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.
Imagine if 5 years ago you were told that Osama bin Laden was coming to your house in Strasburg and the Lord commanded you to heal him from a sickness. I think we would all have mixed feelings about that. It is a similar situation that faced Jonah when he was called to minister to the Ninevites, the arch-enemies of the Israelites. But if they repent, then God will spare them. Not something I want as part of my legacy, the person who spared our enemies from defeat. This was the predicament that Ananias had to face.
When we were in Florida we began what we hoped would evolve into a church. That goal was never realized but some of my best memories were going on a Sunday evening and bringing Rachel along as a young elementary aged kid as we worshipped and celebrated God. We called the church Damascus because don’t we all have an opportunity to meet the Lord on whatever road we find ourselves? This is what happened to Saul. He took the initiative to find ways to persecute the Christians even more than what was currently possible. He petitioned the high priest for letters to be able to randomly seize and put in prison Christians. These letters would have amounted to warrants. He saw it as his mission to track down Christians. It was his holy mission as a devout Jew.
A funny thing happened on the way to Damascus. He was confronted by the Lord. A few things that are of interest in this story. First of all, nowhere do we read that he was riding a horse and that he was thrown off it. That has always been my image of the story primarily because art history has depicted it in such a way. We also find in vs. 2 the first name that the Christian movement is given which is The Way. You can imagine that it was taken from Jesus’ self-identifying attribute of being “the way, the truth, and the life”. But Saul is thrown to the ground and he hears God’s voice which chastises him for persecuting the Christians. He then goes three days without food and water. One of the most moving pieces of music that portrays the beginning of this chapter is found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uKhbD37ysQ
In the town of Damascus is a disciple who was a believer and he is also visited by the Lord. This Saul, who was responsible for the vast majority of Christian deaths in that region, had become a believer! Is it possible? Ananias lays hands on him and Saul is healed, receives the Holy Spirit, and is baptized. From there he immediately goes into the synagogues, where they knew him well, and began preaching about Jesus the Messiah. No greater conversion has ever taken place in the history of Christianity. It is not as if Saul was more important than anyone else, but he certainly was one of the most destructive forces to Christianity until his conversion.
Peter’s healing of Tabitha closes out the chapter. This chapter is a crucial one as we make our way through this 90 Day Challenge II. We will be referring back to Saul’s conversion. We will see how he becomes not only a disciple but one of the Apostles as well. But this step has yet to come. Vs. 27 in this chapter is crucial because it reintroduces us to Barnabas (remember the encourager) who becomes the go between for Saul and the other Apostles. Needless to say not everyone received Saul, soon to be Paul, with open arms. How many families who lost loved ones on 9-11 would receive Osama bin Laden with open arms if he came to know Jesus and said that he had changed his way? I would guess not many. The same was true back then. Saul’s conversion was not completely received by the entire church. It continues to be a sore spot throughout his ministry. We will see this in Acts and also in his letters.