By Joseph Ametepe
"Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? And he said, Who are You, Lord? And he said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do?'...'Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel'" (Acts 9:1-6, 15).
Another precious lesson God has preserved in this remarkable story of Saul's conversion is this:Jesus, the Risen Lord, can and does change a persecutor into a preacher of His gospel.No doubt, Paul is the ultimate example of this principle. Before encountering the person of the Risen Lord, Saul's main ambition in life was to persecute believers. His goal was to punish them. His desire was to put them to death. This was the passion he pursued in his former life. He had the backing of the religious leaders of Israel. Saul was simply intent on single-handedly destroying the fledging church. He had great "success" in Jerusalem and Judea. But he was not satisfied with his "success" in Jerusalem and Judea. He wanted to break new grounds. He wanted to expand his operation beyond the boundaries of Israel. His "wrecking company" was growing very fast. He was practically unstoppable. Had not the Lord Jesus intervened from His heavenly throne, the growth of the early would have been stifled. Thanks be to the Lord Jesus Christ that He is in full control of the affairs of His church. He confronted the persecutor. He converted the persecutor. He chose the persecutor to be His instrument of carrying His message of grace and love to both Jews and Gentiles. He called the persecutor. He cleansed Saul from the inside out. He consecrated the fearsome persecutor. He commissioned the persecutor into His service. In short, the Risen Lord changed the most fearsome persecutor of the church into the most faithful preacher of the gospel. The work of changing a fearsome persecutor into a faithful preacher of the gospel was beyond the apostles, though they were gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus, and Jesus alone, can and does change a persecutor into a preacher of His gospel. Praise be to His glorious name both now and forever!
Now here is what I don't want you to miss. When the Lord Jesus confronted Saul on the road to Damascus on that memorable day, He had absolute sovereign authority to take him out. He could have swiftly ended Saul's existence on earth. He could have zapped Saul immediately. He could have instantly struck Saul dead with His sharp sword that comes from His mouth with which He will smite the nations in the future. And do you know what? The Risen Lord would have been fully justified in doing so. Have you ever thought about that? Have ever pondered that the story could have been different for Saul? Have you ever thought that that could have been Saul's last day on earth and first day of spending eternity without God? And the Lord Jesus would have done Saul no wrong. Why? Jesus is the Righteous Judge into whose hand the Father has committed all judgment. His judgments are always righteous. He always does what is right and just. Remember, Saul had been involved in the persecution and the death of believers in Jerusalem. Instantaneous death on this occasion would have been perfectly justified. After all, is Jesus not the avenger of the innocent blood of His people that have been shed by their enemies? Yes, indeed! Jesus is! He could have avenged the blood of Stephen by instantly striking Saul to death. But on this occasion, exercising His sovereign authority and wisdom, the Risen Lord chooses to extend His marvelous grace to Saul. He spared Saul. He saved Saul. He set Saul free from the sentence of death that was hanging on his head. He set Saul apart for His service! Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!
No doubt, Paul reflected a great deal on why he was spared, saved, and set free from instantaneous judgment on the road to Damascus. I believe this is of one reasons why Paul continually overflowed with thanksgiving to the Lord for the grace shown him. In Galatians 1:15, he testified with a grateful heart that God called him through His grace. Again, overflowing with gratitude, he shared with Timothy, his protégé, that he was shown mercy and the abundant grace of the Lord even though he was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man (1 Timothy 1:13-14). In the next verses Paul candidly confessed that he was the worst of sinners but was shown mercy so that Jesus Christ might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16). The thought of the abundant grace and overflowing mercy poured out into his life, literally led Paul to a shout of praise to the Lord. "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." (1 Timothy 1:17).
Indeed, all throughout Paul's life, he never took the grace of God for granted. He was mindful of the favor God bestowed on him, in sparing, saving, and setting him apart for His service. Sharing his heart with the believers at Corinth twenty years after his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul could not help but let them in on his profound appreciation of the marvelous grace of God poured out freely into his life. "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain" (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). Twenty years had passed since Paul was confronted by the Risen Lord. But his heart was still overflowing with gratitude to God for pouring out His amazing grace into his life. God's grace spared him. God's grace saved him. God's grace set him free from eternal separation from the love and life of the Lord. God's grace set him apart for God's service. Oh how I also thank God for His amazing grace that saved and set me apart for His service! It was through His matchless grace that a person like me, who was once a wretched, wayward, wicked, woeful sinner-a worm, was converted, cleansed, called, chosen, consecrated, and commissioned to serve the King of kings and the Lord of the lords.
Jesus, the Risen Lord, is still in the business of confronting and changing persecutors into preachers of His gospel. This message is important, especially as we enter the month of November. The second Sunday of November is set aside to pray for the persecuted church all over the world. As we lift up our hearts to God in prayer on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters to be strengthened in the Lord, sustained in their faith, and be shown mercy before their persecutors, we should also ask the Risen Lord to confront and change persecutors into preachers according to His sovereign will. He had done it in the past and He is able to do it now. How do I know that? The Bible says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Praise be to His great and glorious name both now and forever!