I seems Luke was saving having to repeat himself, because that very moment is recounted three times before we finish the full read of Acts, and each time we gain a little more intelligence as to what Christ actually said to Saul of Tarsus, “Apostle elect,” on the Damascus Road.
In Acts 26 Luke tells the story of his conversion again to King Agrippa. Focussing on the words of Jesus alone, we have a more extensive text. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads”(26:14). “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting? Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
Now we have it. Prophecy and promise. His full assignment, as well as the promise of deliverance from persecution of both Jews and Gentiles all of which will take the rest of his life to fulfil. Note the following:
- Saul of Tarsus had received the prophetic promise, from the Father, by the Spirit, through the Son.
- He was to be Christ’s servant, i.e. Doulos (bond slave), i.e. An Apostle (26:16).
- There was the promise of more revelation (“What I will show you” 26:16b). Revelation is what would sustain Paul throughout the rest of his life.
- There was the predicted horror of the need of divine rescues and deliverance from both Jew and Gentile (26:17). This is what demanded strength of character, and a sanctified will. How many would choose to continue with Christ if, at the point of conversion, God revealed the suffering and persecution that was coming their way. It was going to be so severe that it would require God Himself to rescue Paul.
- There was also the divine confirmation of a coming ministry of deliverance, and scripture teaching in opening people’s eyes from darkness to light (26:17).
- The power of God was to rest upon him for demonic deliverance in turning people from Satan to God (26:18).
- And this would all take place so that those who were thus ministered to would receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who were made holy by faith in Christ.
It must have, in those first moments after conversion, blinded his heart as well as his eyes.
That is all very wonderful, challenging, good news for Saul – apart from the persecution section of the list of assigned destinies. God had set a series of predetermined appointments to bring to pass His promise in Paul’s life. Paul was going to require rescuing from time to time. Through the many tempestuous winds that blew against his life, God was letting Paul know that He had already prepared a way of escape. To hear God Himself promise that he would rescue him must have been simultaneously wonderful to know that he had a perpetual divine Lifeguard, yet, incredibly intimidating to know that there were going to be times when He would need rescuing by the direct hand of God. When this writer attempts to put his own feet in Saul’s sandals, the courage it must have taken to receive that promise, to allign himself with it, and to walk in it, is seriously staggering.
Clive Staples Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” It is a remarkable truth, and one that sketches a portrait of the Apostle Paul like no other. Courage of a precious calibre was demanded to receive Christ’s words, and then to spend his life placing himself in line with those words, giving thanks to Him who had loved him and had given Himself for him.
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