Acts 9:3, “And as he journeyed he came near Damascus and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.”
There is no such thing as an insignificant scripture. Since the Bible in its entirety is divinely inspired, every verse, every line, every word has a lesson to teach, a message to relay, an encouragement, exhortation, or warning to pass on to the diligently faithful among God’s children. Some lessons are found on the surface, while others must be pondered and sought out, like precious stones beneath the firmament.
In the depth of his heart, Saul’s desire was sincere and true. He believed with all his might that what he was doing was in fact the right thing to do, the only thing to do, considering those who followed Christ merely another heretical movement that threatened his beloved faith. If one truly desires truth, if one truly desires light, they will not be left in darkness or ignorance. Here was a man who had furiously, viciously, and violently persecuted the Christians out of sheer ignorance, but his ignorance would soon come to an end.
Saul left Jerusalem journeying toward Damascus, accompanied by a guard, who would aid him in fulfilling his plan and the Sanhedrin’s will. It is close to a one hundred and twenty mile journey from Jerusalem to Damascus, and in those days it would have taken a good five days of travel to go from one place to the other. Saul had his plan, but God had His plan as well. Sometimes our plans, and God’s plans conflict with one another, for it is often the case that our ways are not His ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts. When such a situation arises, all we can do is submit, fall to our knees, and bend to the will of the heavenly Father.
I am certain that as would be the case with any man on a mission, throughout his journey toward Damascus Saul made plans and plotted, thinking of ways by which he could more readily subdue the followers of Christ, arrest them and have them brought back to Jerusalem. By the same token, Christ was also beginning to implement His plan, by which he could subdue Saul and bind him in the chains of His love, thereby making him a vessel, worthy of being entrusted with His light, wisdom and power.
Saul’s life had come to a crossroads. He had reached the peak of his darkened state, and this was the time when God would step in and intervene. In this we can see, and be encouraged by the fact that God is never late. He knows exactly when, and how to intervene, never allowing the lions to tear us asunder, but shutting up their mouths before they have a chance to do us harm.
By Paul’s recollection in other scripture, we are told that it was about noon, when suddenly a great light from heaven shone around him. This light was no mere reflection, or a chance occurrence wherein the clouds parted, but one that shone brighter than the sun, a light originating from God, more powerful than the stars in the heavens.
When the light of His love shines down upon us, the darkness must flee, for it has no choice in the matter. Only the light of God can free man from the darkness of sin, and only the blood of Christ can wash him, cleanse him, and make him whole. One encounter, would forever change the life of Saul, one glimpse of the light would set him on a new course, a course that was in diametrical opposition to his former life. The most feared among the brethren, the persecutor who knew no mercy, would become the greatest among the brethren, one who would devote the rest of his life to compelling all who would hear to reach out and embrace the love that is Christ Jesus.
Acts 9:4, “Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
There comes a time in every man’s life when every preconceived notion concerning himself, is irrevocably shattered. No matter how strong, authoritative, or courageous Saul thought himself to be, he could not stand in the presence of the light that shone from heaven, and fell to the ground. It is often the case that before God can raise us up, we must first be brought low, that the true measure of our impotence be made clear to us. An old parable says that the man who trusts in himself trusts in a fool, and before we can be of service to God, we must learn the painful lesson that trusting in ourselves is a sure road to ruin. By striping us of our pride, by stripping us of our ego, by causing us to fall to the ground, God is attempting to teach us reliance in him rather than ourselves, and trust in His strength rather than our own.
I realize this may sound strange, even obvious, but a man cannot fall upward. Whenever a man falls, he always falls to the ground, to the things of this earth, to the sins of vices of his former life, with one significant exception. When we fall before the feet of Christ, when we kneel before Him and surrender, submit, and yield ourselves, it is the only time when we can actually fall upward. Such was Saul’s fall to the ground, for he fell before the love of Christ. When we fall in such a way, when we fall upward for lack of better terminology, we hear the voice of truth, we hear Christ. If we have fallen to the ground, yet still fail to hear the voice of Christ, then we have not truly fallen at the foot of the cross, we have not subjugated or surrendered the self. Only when we fall to the ground, and do away with ourselves, when we separate ourselves from the flesh that once ruled us, and the pride that once fueled us, are we prepared to hear the heavenly voice, the voice of truth.
This is the reason that falls are sometimes necessary for those who have strayed so far from the light of truth that they are no longer able to hear the voice of God. When one journeys unhindered, he or she is unconcerned with taking the time to listen for the voice, so sure in and of themselves that it takes an event such as seeing a light, and falling to the ground, to get their attention, to cause them to stop in their tracks and acknowledge the error of their ways.
Although in subsequent verses we will delve deeper into the mystery that is the body of Christ, the words the voice spoke puts into context the way God views the persecution of His beloved. The voice did not say, ‘why are you persecuting the Christians? It did not ask why Saul was persecuting or those of the way, but asked why are you persecuting Me?
Amidst the persecution Saul had unleashed, the first to suffer was Christ Jesus, the Head of His Church. When the body of Christ is persecuted, He is also persecuted because He is one with us.
One of the great mysteries of God, revealed to us in His holy Word, is that of the body of Christ here on earth, the fellowship of the redeemed, who by faith in the saving sacrifice made on the cross, binds us together and makes us one.
This fellowship of the redeemed, is called by many names throughout the Word, be it little flock, a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, His own special people, a holy nation, the bride, but none more clearly shows the unity between the redeemed and their Redeemer, than the title of body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:12, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.”
These words penned by the great apostle, was the first truth that Christ revealed to him on that road to Damascus, namely the unity and cohesion of Christ, and His faithful. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
This is a fundamental truth, and one that cannot be glossed over. Christ, is one with the body. Those who persecute the followers of Christ are in essence persecuting the person of Christ. The attitude we have toward the redeemed is by the same token the attitude we have toward Christ himself.
I heard it said once, that we often persecute the Savior, by striking out at the smallest and weakest of His disciples. We show anger toward the Redeemer, by showing anger toward His followers, and every time we judge the weak among God’s house, we are judging Jesus. In light of this wisdom, may we pursue justice, tempered with mercy and love.
So tight is the bond between Christ, the Lord of glory, and His suffering here on earth, that whatever we might suffer, he also suffers. He feels our pain, and knows our struggle. Even if we are only sinners saved by the grace of God, we are precious in the sight of the Lord, for we are the fruit of His sacrifice. Hence the reason for His protection, His grace, His carrying us when our strength has been exhausted, and His infusing us with strength when trials and tribulations befall us.
For Saul the persecutor, the heavenly voice was as a two edged sword. Pierced by the voice and the light he fell to the ground where his only choice was to submit and surrender to the One he had been persecuting. A heavenly mercy and compassion descended upon him, and the persecutor becomes the greatest witness and declarer of Christ the world has ever seen.
Laying on the ground Saul shook, not only due to the brightness of the light, or the authority of the voice, but also due to the gravity of the words he heard coming from heaven. Him, Saul, accused of persecution? No, that was not possible; all he was doing was defending tradition, fighting for the beliefs of old. Yet the accusation was too precise, too direct, and there was no mincing of words.
The root of persecution against the followers of Christ has most often been the defense of tradition, or a different religious system. The body of Christ however, persecutes no one. Truth is never the persecutor, and it prepares neither sword nor prison cells.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.