It’s one of the great reversals in the Bible. Saul, on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to hunt down followers of Jesus — finds instead Jesus chasing him down. Acts 9 tells us that Saul is breathing out murderous threats, ready to grab any follower of “The Way.”
If you’ve read the New Testament, you probably have some respect and appreciation for Paul. But in Acts 9, he’s not the Paul we know through his letters. In Acts 9, he is extremely zealous for what he believes to be the truth. He’s way closer to terrorist than tourist; he is not going to Damascus for a vacation, or a conversation, or even just an accusation. If he finds any disciples of Jesus among the synagogue in Damascus, he’s tying them up and taking the away. I would love to sit down with the Paul who wrote a lot of the NT, but I would run from the Saul we see in early Acts, if I heard he was anywhere near me.
But, before he reaches Damascus to carry out his self-styled mission, Jesus reaches out and blinds him with his presence. Heading to Damascus to do his dark deed, Paul is surrounded by light — and instantly, the story changes. Paul, on a mission of mayhem, is instead met by Jesus, the Light of the World. And in a moment, the darkness around Paul becomes light — because there is no darkness so dark that God’s light can’t penetrate it. In a world where there are plenty who mock God, or who simply live their lives unaware of his presence, God still shows up — sometimes in dramatic, unexpected ways.
Now, most of us can’t expect a Damascus Road story, but if you know Jesus, you probably have moments or times where you can look and say: God showed up there, in a way I sure didn’t expect.
And notice that in Jesus’ appearance to Paul, not much is said. In fact, where Jesus could certainly have launched into a long tongue-lashing of Paul, instead, he asks a question. And it’s not: Paul why are you going after my followers?
It’s: Paul, why are you persecuting ME?
Does that provide anybody else some comfort and encouragement? For what I hear Jesus saying is: When people come after Jesus’ followers, it lands on him. When we feel pursued, abandoned, mistreated – he’s right there with us.
So, if you are going through something for your faith, let alone simply facing the hard realities of everyday life: Jesus knows; he cares; he’s there. And what you are going through, he goes through, too.
With all that in mind, the conversation between Jesus & Paul is surprisingly short. And the only thing recorded that Paul says, is: Who are you?
I’m Jesus, he says, again emphasizing: I’m the one you are persecuting. And then Jesus simply says: Get up, go into the city, and someone will tell you what to do.
So, here is Paul, who 10 minutes ago was confident, arrogant, certain, determined, intense, in charge, a man with a serious & solemn plan. And now he is blind with no idea what happened, or why, or what it means; all he knows is to go into the city and wait for his next step.
Now, Paul really has no choice, right? I mean, he does — but what else can he really do now, but go into the city and … wait. He may not be convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, the world’s true Lord — but Paul has seen enough truth, and is blinded enough to his past, that his Damascus plans have changed. How dramatically things will change, he is yet to learn. But he surely knows: things are no longer the same.
And maybe this is the place where our story most intersects with Paul’s experience. You may not have a dramatic conversion story, but even if you did, it probably didn’t involve the voice of Jesus surrounding you with incredible light and striking you with sudden blindness.
But the part I most resonate with is the after-the-blinding-vision moment. After the drama is over, and Paul is now in darkness (physically, spiritually, directionally), all he can do is … wait.
Of course, this isn’t the wait-for-the-traffic-jam-to-clear kind of waiting. It’s not the wait-for-dinner-to-be-ready type of waiting.
No, it’s the kind of waiting we often do when we don’t know what God is doing. The kind of waiting where we can’t go back, but we’re not sure the way forward. The kind of waiting that happens when something ends (a career, a marriage, a relationship, a dream), but what is coming is yet to be seen. The kind of waiting where the past is now truly past (maybe even a past we dearly loved), and we know something is coming, but we just don’t know what. And we can’t make it come on our terms.
That’s the kind of waiting I’m talking about. The kind where we can’t see all that we want to see, so we have no choice but to wait. And trust. And pray. And listen.