Enjoy a fresh perspective on this Scriptural account.
After the rumored resurrection of Jesus son of Joseph, the strange little sect known as The Way had experienced a stunning resurgence across Jerusalem.
The city’s elders dragged Stephen, one of the group’s ringleaders, outside the city gates to execute the Law’s justice with hurled stones, then seized the moment to finish off this wrong Way once and for all. They launched fiery, ambitious young proteges on a mission to root out every single follower of the heretic rabbi, convinced that these mostly fringe people posed a Defcon 5 threat to more than a thousand years of Jewish faith and tradition.
A young Saul made a name for himself as a dedicated member of the A-team, ferreting out followers of Jesus in the city and bodily dragging them to jail. And then, the ultimate company boy asked for extra credit homework from no less than the Big Kahuna himself, the High Priest: letters he could carry a week’s journey to Damascus to the synagogues there, explaining his mission, enlisting help so he could continue his Rambo-like campaign to ferret out the both male and female rats that had scattered from Jerusalem.
Damascus was near when out of a quiet blue sky a white hot-bright ball of light enveloped him – an explosion. He fell to the ground, a mortally-wounded soldier. In the confusion, a rumble carrying echoes of a roar. Saul writhed like a newborn baby exposed to the elements for the first time. Flat on his back on the hard-packed road, he stared directly into the high noon sun without blinking, and whispered “Who are you, Lord?”
The contingent with him stepped back in fear and confusion, the sound of thunder piercing the cloudless sky. When he staggered to his feet a few moments later, he waved his arms wildly looking for balance but finding none. One of his companions rushed to Saul’s side. Saul grabbed onto him, steadying himself. His pupils were as wide as platters.
The contingent headed toward Damascus was now without its general. It wasn’t just his sudden blindness after the disorienting encounter on the road from Jerusalem that drained the burning bile from Saul’s leadership. It was the Voice he heard in the flash and thunder: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
The Voice knew his name. The Voice knew what he’d done.
“Who are you, Lord?” he whispered. Those on the road with him could taste the fear in Saul’s words. If there was an answer given, it was drowned in the sudden downpour of thunder enveloping their visionary leader.
And then, it was over. All was silent. Dazed, Saul staggered to his feet, and rubbed at his eyes. Then he rubbed harder, stumbling in sloppy circles until he bumped into one of his terrified traveling companions. Saul grabbed the man’s cloak in his mid-day darkness. “Did you hear what He said to me? Did you hear?”
Saul had been a heat-seeking missile, bent on eradicating the cult of Jesus from his beloved Damascus as a demonstration of his fealty to all-important religious elites in Jerusalem. And now, after the storm, He told his companions He’d spoken with Jesus. The blind man stood weeping in the middle of the road, hands raised in surrender.
Fragments of confused, angry diagnoses now spilled into the silence after the storm from the others: “Demon”, “Fever”, “Heatstroke”, “Spy”. The chaos built around the weeping Saul like another storm until he was able to pull himself together enough to speak. “We’re going to Damascus. He told me to go there and wait for further instructions.”
The rest of the group shook their heads in disagreement. But there was no where else to go at this point of the journey except to Damascus. Two of them reluctantly reached to take Saul’s hands…
There were a few chaotic moments when the head rabbi of the synagogue in Damascus walked into the courtyard to greet his guests from Jerusalem. A dozen voices tossed a confused confetti of words into the air, recounting the sudden ambush of their spiritual general, Saul.
“He was attacked by a demon,” some yelled. The adrenalized frenzy of their near-miss with a representative of the netherworld filled the air.
“There must be some hidden sin in his life,” others cried. One young man tore at his garment in grief over the idea that his battalion leader had fallen.
Saul stood silent, his unblinking stare fixed beyond them at the setting sun. The military man had been rendered a dove, placid after his initial confusion on the road. He listened now, a habit he’d not cultivated to this point in his life. He’d lost track of time in his new darkness, but recognized the song the birds began to sing at the end of day’s light. The prayer he’d prayed at least three times a day for as long as he could remember surfaced in his soul, a breath. A heartbeat.
“Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise…” He paused, his companion’s cacophony swirling around him. He closed his mouth, his silence a prayer.
The voices of his companions and the rabbi calmed suddenly, as the group began to recite the same prayer he’d begun. He listened mutely, and as soon as the group had sung their final amen, their voices stayed low as they began to murmur together. A plan was being formulated on his behalf.
“We’re going to have you rest here for a few days, friend.” A voice with a Damascus accent was speaking to him as if he was an idiot. “We’ll send for a doctor, and my wife will prepare you foods that will restore your strength. Perhaps this is temporary…”
Saul shook his head. “Thank you for your kindness. I will try to rest, but I will not eat. I must wait and pray for what will come next.” Because something would come next. He could not imagine what…or when. Though he couldn’t see, what he wanted above all was to hear the forgiveness and fire of that Voice again.
They led him into a secluded room in a far corner of the house. The next 72 hours were a blur of the religious elites of Damascus coming and going, praying and chattering and diagnosing and gossiping. The news of Saul’s affliction spread like wildfire through the Jewish community in Damascus. Those who’d accompanied Saul from Jerusalem put their mission on hold while they debated about how to proceed from this point forward. Saul was useless to them, what with his seeming capitulation to the other side and his refusal to take even a single sip of water by the third day of his fast. He still looked like a man on a mission…but now it had all the marks of a suicide mission.
Prayer in his darkness, hunger and thirst focusing Saul’s insistent imprecations until his body began to pull in on itself, his brain fogging from dehydration by the end of the third day. The darkness wasn’t just outside of him. It was inside of him. It had always been so, but he’d called his darkness light and insisted it was good.
He was too dry to weep.
He couldn’t go back to the life before the flash and the Voice. And he couldn’t go forward until he heard the Voice again. Of that, he was sure. Even if he perished before the Voice spoke to him, he knew he’d hear the Voice for eternity, sitting at the right hand of the Father.
Anaias of Damascus, Christ-follower, marched into the lion’s den after the Lord spoke to him in a vision, asking him to to do so. Empowered by the Voice, he strode up to the still figure with the vacant stare laying on a pallet in the corner of the rabbi’s house. Ananias spoke with authority to this man who’d been sent to the city to punish him and all the other followers of The Way just like him.
Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Acts 9:17-19)
After a lifetime that lasted three days, Saul could see. And simultaneously, his hearing was 20/20. The Voice had come once again to him. Saul’s interior was immersed in Him, forgiveness rushing into his soul as if a dam had broken.
A resurrection of a dead Man after three days – the parallel to his own experience from flash to filling could never be captured in human language. But the Voice expressed it with a single Name: Jesus.