Unless Saul was hallucinating, the appearance of Jesus proved that Jesus was alive and that Jesus was God. For this was a theophany. This was not just like merely meeting a man walking along the road. This was a voice from heaven. Moreover, this Jesus who was God was identifying Himself with the very people Saul was persecuting.
Saul was blinded as a result of the bright light. So they led him into the city. And while he was in the city praying, God sent a Christian leader named Ananias to him. Ananias knew who Saul was.
The Lord told him, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (vv. 15-16).
Verse 17 says simply, “Ananias went to the house and entered it.” When God spoke to Ananias, though Ananias knew about Saul and knew what he was up to, he was strong enough to believe God and do what He said, trusting God for the consequences. He might have said, “Oh no, Lord, you’re mistaken. I know you have been able to convert many people, but you have not converted Saul. Saul will never be on your list. If ever there was an inconvertible enemy, it is Saul.” Ananias did not say that. If God said Saul was converted, Ananias was willing to believe it. So he went.
I wonder if your faith is as strong as the faith of this great man of Damascus. Many of us pray for people. Sometimes it is a son or a daughter, sometimes a parent, sometimes a friend, sometimes a wife or husband. We ask God to change his or her life and save the person. But often we really do not think God can do it.
We should be greatly encouraged by the fact that God saved Saul. God turned this great persecutor of the early Christians into the first great missionary. He took the man who had been doing most to harm the church and turned him into the man who did most to build it up. If God could do that with Saul, God can do the same today. If you have a son or daughter who you are worried about, a child who is off somewhere not serving the Lord, or a husband or wife who is unconverted, keep praying for him or her. God can (and frequently does) do something remarkable.
In the nineteenth century a young lawyer named Lord Lyttleton wrote an account of Saul’s conversion.1 Lyttleton concluded that there are only certain ways a person can honestly think about this story. If it did not happen the way it is described in Acts, then Paul must have been either: 1) an “imposter,” 2) an “enthusiast” (that is, one who got carried away with himself, one who was virtually out of his mind), or 3) he was “deceived by others.” In his systematic legal way with relentless logic, Lyttleton examined these options.
1. Was Paul an imposter? Luke was Paul’s friend; he undoubtedly got the story from him directly. That should count for something. But maybe it was just a big “put on.” Perhaps Paul was pretending something happened, but it never really happened. Paul knew the truth, but he fooled his friend Luke as well as many others.
It that is the case, we have to ask what could have possibly been Paul’s motivation. If Paul had gone to such lengths as to invent this story and then try to persuade others of its truthfulness, why would he do it? Some might do something like this to try to get ahead in life. It might be a way of impressing people and making a mark for oneself. People sometimes do that in religious circles today.
Some pretend to a faith they do not have because they think it is a good thing to be a member of a church and be highly thought of. Others want to be popular as an evangelist or some other type of religious leader. So they invent impressive stories of how God spoke to them or called them to some ministry.
But, said Lyttleton, that was hardly the case with Paul. Paul had a bright future, but that bright future was not with the persecuted Christians. He had been doing very well in Judaism. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. If anybody was going to make a name for himself in Judaism, it was Paul. Paul could not have invented the story to get ahead, and, in fact, the opposite happened. Humanly speaking, he got behind rather than ahead. He gave up everything and suffered many things as a consequence of having thrown in his lot with the Christians.
Lyttleton also pointed out that people will sometimes claim a special revelation from God to excuse some sinful behavior, some sin they want to commit. They’ll say, “God told me to do it. I had a vision, and God said, ‘Do it.’ So what I want to do is all right.” Did Saul do that? Did he live a sinful life? Did he use the story of Jesus’ appearance to him merely to indulge himself in some wickedness? The answer is quite the contrary. He lived an upright, selfless, morally exemplary life. A desire for sin does not explain Saul’s motivation.
1Lord Lyttleton on the Conversion of St. Paul and Gilbert West on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (New York: The American Tract Society, 1929).