By David Baumann
A Reading from Acts 9:1-9
1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Once when I was addressing a group, I asked how many had come to Christ through a vision (like St. Paul); about two raised their hands. I asked how many had come to Christ through their own studies (like C. S. Lewis); again, about two raised their hands. I asked how many had come to Christ by the testimony of someone else; all the rest raised their hands — about 40 people. We can see in this example what God’s primary plan is for bringing people to the gospel.
The mighty, breathtaking conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus is an exception. The account of his conversion is provided three times in the book of Acts: in today’s straightforward lesson, in Paul’s testimonies at the time of the riot in the temple (22:1-11), and in the story of Paul before Agrippa (26:12-18). In the last account, Paul includes Jesus’ words, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” This means that before Paul “turned,” he’d been getting prodded along his journey even when he was a persecutor of those who believed. Perhaps the prods were not intended in themselves to bring about the conversion, but to prepare Saul for the dazzling encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
Why did Paul receive such an exceptional conversion experience? Only the Lord knows the full story, but we do know that this encounter allowed Paul to claim the credentials of an apostle: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor. 9:1). It also helped make him into an astonishingly effective preacher. His conversion story, like all of ours, was not just for his own sake. Whether by vision, study, or testimony, what is important is to be converted and then, having received light, to enlighten others. That’s the plan.
David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Paul’s Bloor Street, Toronto, Ont.
The Diocese of Malek Rup (Province of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan)