When I received Christ as a child, it was because of a revelation of His compassion. It was in a dream that He appeared to me, and I was flooded with the sensation of His warmth and mercy. Scripture even tells us that God’s kindness leads us into repentance (Romans 2:4). It was a no-brainer for me to accept Him as my Savior with childlike faith.
Paul the Apostle’s conversion process was not nearly as mushy-gushy as mine was. You don’t find giggles or rainbows or pinky promises—you find Jesus functioning like a no-nonsense, take-charge military general! I love to read the account about it because it helps me to understand Jesus in a different way, to see and marvel at another facet of the praiseworthy nature of our God. Let’s take a look together.
“Saul, full of angry threats and rage, wanted to murder the disciples of the Lord Jesus. So he went to ask the high priest and requested a letter of authorization he could take to the Jewish leaders in Damascus, requesting their cooperation in finding and arresting any who were followers of the Way. Saul wanted to capture all of the believers he found, both men and women, and drag them as prisoners back to Jerusalem. So he obtained the authorization and left for Damascus” (Acts 9:1-3).
If you remember, Paul was known in his day as Saul—Saul, the murder-you-in-cold-blood Pharisee. Blood was on his hands… possibly literally. He was an intense, intimidating, calculated, religiously-motivated, professional assassin, out for both men and women—anybody who carried the faintest whiff of Jesus. He obtained the legal right (wow!) to enter into neighboring regions and drag into prison any and all followers of “the Way.”
Now, I’ve been serving in a leadership capacity in the church world for years, and it always makes me wonder: if I lived in that age and context, would I advise Christians in my circle to worship secretly for their own safety? Or, is it appropriate to encourage martyrdom? Or…?
Anyway, let’s read on.
“Just outside the city, a brilliant light flashing from Heaven suddenly exploded all around [Saul]. Falling to the ground, he heard a booming voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ The men accompanying Saul were stunned and speechless, for they heard a heavenly voice but could see no one” (9:3-4,7).
For me, Jesus came gently and tenderly in a dream. For Saul, Jesus kicked him off his high horse, literally! It’s amazing to me how Jesus knows just how to reach us! But for real, can you imagine Jesus body slamming Saul? Once, my sister was thrown from a horse when she was a young girl, and not only was it a bit traumatizing for her for a while, but it also resulted in her having double vision for weeks—as well as aches and pains for a long time. Here, Jesus does exactly that to this grown man, literally throwing him to the stony ground, unafraid if Saul were to break a bone or cut his lip or draw some blood—or be rendered blind (which happens)! My, that doesn’t sound like our gentle Shepherd of Psalm 23, does it? But here stands this episode in stark contrast to the stereotypical Sunday School Jesus!
“Saul replied, ‘Who are You, Lord?’
‘I am Jesus the Victorious, the One you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you are to do’ ” (9:5-6).
I can imagine Saul, in shock and pain and bewilderment, sputtering and stammering, trying to find any words at all, while his travel buddies just quaked like cowards; and then Jesus’ mighty voice thunders, “When You persecute My followers, You persecute Me! And I’ve had enough!”
Think on that for a minute. The global Church has gone in and out of seasons of terrifying persecution, and according to this passage, that provokes Jesus. When someone messes with God’s beloved child, he’s picking a fight with God Himself. And no one challenges God to a fight and wins. No one.
So Jesus body slammed Saul, announced with authority that enough was enough, and then commanded, “Go into Damascus, and wait for My next order.” We learn in verse 9 that Saul, like a submissive puppy with its tail between its legs, went into Damascus and waited—without eating or drinking anything—for three whole days. It seems that Jesus is purposefully taking His time. He’s sending a clear message to Saul: “I’m in charge now. I’ll give you the next command when I’m good and ready. And when I say, ‘Jump,’ you’re gonna say, ‘How high?’ Got it?”
While Saul was waiting—blind, bruised, and scared—Jesus visited Ananias, whom He told to restore Saul’s sight and see him filled with the power of the Holy Spirit (see verse 17), and Jesus said of Saul, “I will show him how much he is destined to suffer because of his passion for Me” (verse 16).
Can you imagine a trusted friend prophesying over you around an altar, “Jesus is going to see to it that you will suffer greatly for His glory. And He means business. Blessings, brother.” Yikes!
Now, before you say, “Oh, no, poor Saul!” remember that this was the man who received one of the most extensive revelations of the love of God ever! He wrote in Romans 8, “Who could ever separate us from the endless love of God’s Anointed One? Absolutely no one! For nothing in the universe has the power to diminish His love toward us. There is no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God’s passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One” (verses 35, 39)! He also wrote prolifically on grace, forgiveness, and compassion all throughout our New Testament.
I think it’s safe to say that the Roaring Lion we worship cannot and will not fit neatly into any of our boxes. He will never be limited, watered down, or tamed. While His love cascades into our lives like Niagara Falls into a teacup, His unassailable Lordship is supreme and breathtaking! He does whatever He chooses without anyone’s permission, and cares not in the least if it agrees with our small theologies. In fact, sometimes I wonder if He enjoys offending our preconceived ideas about Him.
My hope is that not only you receive a revelation of the goodness of our lowly Shepherd-Friend, but also that your heart stands to attention in the presence of the Chief Commander of warfare angel armies, who quite literally throws Pharisees to the ground and blinds people into submission. He is to be dearly cherished and also greatly feared! He is to be approached in childlike confidence and also in trembling humility! This is our beloved and revered, affectionate and strong, faithful and intense Jesus. Wow!