Saul (whose name was later changed to Paul) makes his debut in the book of Acts as one of the persons who oversaw the stoning of Stephen, who was killed for preaching the gospel of Jesus (Acts 7:57-60). At this time, Paul believed that Stephen and any other person who followed the teachings of Jesus Christ deserved the death penalty. As a consequence, Paul moved around causing havoc in the early church and committing those he caught professing the faith into prison (Acts 8:3).
Due to Paul’s insistent persecution, members of the church in Jerusalem fled to other towns. However, Paul got permission to pursue them to other places and he went as far as Damascus. Paul was clearly the enemy of the church. He was arguably the most feared human adversary that the early church had to deal with. However, a miraculous event occurred on his road to Damascus one day that drastically altered the course of Paul’s life.
Members of the Church in Jerusalem fled to other areas to try to escape from Paul. But he got permission to chase after them, even to Damascus! Paul would be able to arrest Christians there and drag them the long 140 miles back to Jerusalem. Paul was the enemy of the Christians. He was probably the one they feared the most. But then came a miraculous event that drastically changed the course of Paul’s life.
As he was headed to Damascus, he was struck with a light from heaven and he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? (Acts 9:4). Saul immediately fell from his horse and asked who was speaking. He got the following response;
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.
There are two important points to note from Jesus’ response to Paul. First, Jesus didn’t say that Pual was persecuting the church – he said he was persecuting him. Until then, Paul had thought he was serving God by persecuting the followers of Christ but God made it clear that he was, in fact, persecuting Jesus himself. Secondly, the idiom of kicking against the goads is significant. A goad was a stick with a sharp edge that was used to drive cattle. Sometimes, stubborn oxen would try to resist but they were no match for the goad that would prick in their side until they toe the line. Jesus was making it clear that it was no use resisting the gospel because it would eventually prevail.
This question hit Paul like a tonne of bricks and he was immediately jerked into the truth that he had been so blind to for years. Even though the light that hit him was so bright that it blinded him, his eyes were opened to the light of God’s word for the first time and he realized that the Jesus was trying to extinguish was the son of God. This revelation turned Paul’s life around and he eventually became one of the greatest Apostles in church history.
Paul readily accepted the Lord’s rebuke and asked for what he should do. Jesus told him to go back to the city where he would be told what to do. For the next three days. Paul was completely blind but then God spoke to one of his servants by the name Anainais to go and lay hands on Paul so that he may receive his sight. At first, Ananianis hesitated because he couldn’t imagine how Saul the persecutor of the church could be a convert.
After Ananias ministered to him, Paul repented, was baptized and he received the Holy Spirit. After he had spent some time with the saints in Damascus, it became apparent that he was truly transformed. He even began preaching the same gospel he was fighting.
At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Acts 9:20-21.
Paul’s transformative experience on the road to Damascus held a significant place in his life’s narrative. The Bible documents him recounting this episode in great detail to an irate crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-21). He revisited this account while defending himself before King Agrippa and the Roman governor Festus (Acts 26:1-23). Although some perceive discrepancies among these retellings, a thorough examination reveals that they complement one another.
Paul also frequently emphasized the importance of God’s calling in the lives of all Christians. Every follower of Christ possesses a unique story of God’s call, yet fundamentally, all Christians share the same divine calling. As Paul articulated, God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9).
- Read Acts 8:3. Why was Saul considered an enemy of the church according to this scripture?
- Read Acts 9:3-5. What did God mean when He told Saul, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads”?
- In the account of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, what does Jesus’ statement, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” reveal about the relationship between Christ and His followers?
- According to Acts 9:13-14, why was Ananias hesitant to go pray for Saul?
- Ananias initially hesitated to minister to Paul because of his past as a persecutor of the church. What does this reluctance and eventual acceptance teach us about forgiveness and redemption?
- How did Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus influence his later ministry and writings regarding God’s calling for all Christians?
- Can you identify any similar moments of transformation or realization in your own life or the lives of people you know, where someone’s perspective and actions changed dramatically, and what inspired the change?