Saul had been fervent in devotion to his traditions. In his zeal, he had vigorously suppressed the sect of Jesus-followers. Luke portrayed this succinctly by introducing Saul at the end of Acts 7 as an approving witness to the stoning of Stephen. It is little wonder then that followers of Jesus in Damascus and Jerusalem were skeptical – to put it mildly! – that Saul was now one of them. After all, Saul – “breathing … murderous threats” – had set out for Damascus to arrest Jewish believers in Jesus. He intended to transport them back to Jerusalem for trial.
Yet Jesus had other plans! Jesus literally and figuratively arrested Saul in his tracks. On the road to Damascus, Saul’s life ended as he knew it when he encountered the risen and ascended Jesus. Saul left Jerusalem an enemy to Jesus. He entered Damascus a disciple of Jesus. From there, in newness of life, he went out into the world to love and serve Jesus.
A key thread in this passage, then, is transformation – radical change of life through relationship with Jesus. This reminds me of an article I recently read. The author wrote insightfully of this very truth, that Christian faith fundamentally involves transformation. The author further observed that we often underestimate God’s transforming power. We live as if we cannot change, as if God cannot change us. All too often, all too willfully, we assert, “That’s just the way I am. I can’t change.”
Yet we see in Acts that transformation – radical, comprehensive, life-stopping, life-starting change – is what happened to Saul. Eventually, he even took on a name change – Saul to Paul – as part of the transformation from his old life against Jesus to his new life in Jesus.
Transformation is what God desires for all of us. God, through the Holy Spirit, intends to birth Jesus’ new life in us! I know that I underestimate, even resist, God’s transforming power. It is to my shame, regret, and sorrow. God intends only good for us! Where I am set against Jesus, may God arrest me and change me, radically and comprehensively, to love and serve Jesus. May this be so for all of us.