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Saul thought he could see more clearly than everyone else. It was obvious to him that this Jesus of Nazareth was a fraud, a false teacher. It was clear to him from the Old Testament what had to be done. Those who follow false teachers must be called to repentance, and if they refuse to repent, they are to be put out of the church. Those who promote false teaching are to be silenced, by execution if necessary. He saw clearly that false teaching is the most dangerous disease of all because it robs people of eternal life in heaven.
So, Saul was present, minding the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death and giving his full approval to what they were doing. They were doing God’s work.
The stoning of Stephen seems to have inspired Saul to take the lead in trying to rid the earth of anyone who claimed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any men or women belonging to the Way, he might bring them to Jerusalem as prisoners.
Saul thought he was seeing things the right way and doing what God wanted him to do. But just the opposite was true. He was really blind, in the darkness, opposing the will of God. What a frightful situation for the believers in Damascus who had heard Saul was coming and what his plans were for them! What a frightful situation for Saul who thought he was earning favor with God by what he was doing but was earning condemnation instead! Thankfully, God in his grace intervened for the sake of Saul and the believers in Damascus.
You know what happened. As he was approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” He replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Wow! The glory of the Lord flashed around him. Saul knew about all the times similar things had happened in the Old Testament – the burning bush, the pillar of cloud, the thunder and lightning at Mt. Sinai, the glowing face of Moses. He knew he was in the presence of the Holy God, and he fell to the ground.
Then God spoke. He called him by name. Isn’t that amazing! God knows every single person by name! He said, Saul, Saul, just as he had said “Simon, Simon,” and “Martha, Martha,” and “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” when he intended to give a loving rebuke and a call to repentance. Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?
In his blindness Saul asked what should have been obvious. He asked, “who are you?” And the reply was devastating. “I am Jesus.” “I am the one you claim was a false teacher. I am the one you claim is dead, whose body the disciples must have hidden away somewhere. But see, you are the false teacher because here I am, alive, risen from the dead just as my disciples have been teaching. You aren’t serving God; you are opposing God. By persecuting those who believe in me you are persecuting me.”
I don’t know how many of us might have been in a similar situation in our lives but try to imagine how Saul was feeling. Everything he thought was true he now saw was false, and everything he thought was false he now saw was true. Not only that, but imagine thinking, “how many people did I hurt because of my blindness? Stephen was executed for no good reason, for proclaiming the truth, and how many others have lost homes and possessions and reputations because of my blindness!” He must have been at the brink of despair.
In addition to the inner turmoil he was experiencing, when the light went away and the voice stopped speaking and he dared to try to open his eyes again, he was blind. He could not see a thing and had to be led by others on the final leg of his journey to Damascus. The Bible never tells us the exact reason that God blinded him for a while, but we can imagine it was another way that God was letting him know that when he thought he could see he was really blind.
There are many in our world today who are like Saul. They think they see more clearly than anyone else that Christianity is a dangerous thing that gets in the way of human progress. They think that they see clearly that the big issues of our day are climate change and gender identity. They are blind to the real problem. Sin. As Paul writes to the Romans, Although they claim to be wise, they have become fools… And since they did not consider it worthwhile to hold on to the true knowledge of God, God handed them over to a corrupted mind to do things that should never be done. And the things he lists that should never be done are the things we see and hear on the news every day. Take some time and read Romans 1.
Let’s not forget that we too were like Saul. All of us were born into this world spiritually blind. By nature, we think we know better than God. By nature, we reject the most important truths there are, original sin, the virgin birth, the blood atonement, the resurrection of Jesus, and salvation by grace alone. It is only by a miracle of God, equivalent to Jesus appearing to Saul on the road, that we are able to see and believe the truth. All of us were among those who were walking in the darkness that leads to eternal destruction, but in his grace, God has made his light to shine in our hearts and has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Saul was led to Damascus and he sat in the dark, physically blind, but also in the darkness of despair, not eating or drinking, as he realized his sins and what he deserved because of them. He sat in that darkness for three days, just as Jonah was in the darkness of the big fish for three days, and Jesus was in the tomb for three days. But God showed Saul his grace again. Though he was physically blind he gave him a vision of a man coming to him to heal his blindness. He even revealed his name to him. Ananias. And, just as he had seen in the vision, the man named Ananias found him. He laid his hands on him and said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, whom you saw on your way here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
What’s your attitude toward those who are like Saul, who are wise in their own eyes and who seem to be sure that your Christianity is the biggest problem the world has? I’m sure it’s a lot like the attitude Ananias had toward Saul – “isn’t he the one persecuting the church? Isn’t he the one who has come to get rid of people like me? Why should I have anything to do with him?” We see them as people to avoid, people who might even be a danger to us. But God made it clear to Ananias that he should go to see Saul, and he went. He called him Brother! And he gave him what he needed most. Not just his physical sight, but he gave him the assurance of God’s love and the forgiveness of his sins through baptism.
Be watching for your Ananias moment. Be watching for a time when God has brought someone who claims they can see to realize that they have really been blind, and that they deserve condemnation because of their sins. Be ready to be an Ananias to them, to be the one who assures them that Jesus is real, that he lived and died for them, that he rose from the dead as proof that he loves them and that everything they did in the blindness of unbelief has been forgiven. Tell them that they can have the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness through the gift of Baptism.
Saul was blind, but now he could see. He was physically blind for three days and God sent Ananias through whom his physical sight was restored. He was spiritually blind, blind to the fact that Jesus really was the promised Messiah. But now he had seen the resurrected Lord. He was brought from the darkness of unbelief to the light of faith. I’m sure, like Luther, he was processing Scripture after Scripture in his mind and seeing clearly how each one was fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Like the disciples on the road, his heart was burning with joy, excitement, gratitude, and love- all kinds of emotions that moved him to thank and praise God for his grace and be determined to devote himself to proclaiming the praise of the one who had called him out of darkness to the light of faith just as zealously as he had opposed him before.
The conversion of Saul shows us how sight is victorious over blindness. It is by a miracle of God. It is a miracle we all need because we are all born spiritually blind and enemies of God. It is a miracle that God works through his word and confirms through baptism. God has performed the same miracle in you that he performed in Saul. He has brought you from the blindness of sin and unbelief to the light of faith in Jesus. As you meditate on the victory he has given you, be ready like Saul, to declare the praises of the one who had called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Be ready to share the sight-giving power of the Gospel with all those around you who are still blind.