"And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.Acts 26:15(NASB)
The early days of Christianity were fraught with difficulty and danger. There was mounting opposition to all who followed Jesus of Nazareth and although persecution intensified, so too did the spread of the gospel and growth of the Church. Because of the mighty signs and wonders that were taking place in the holy city, the apostles became spiritually emboldened and both religious and political leaders determined to stamp out this new religion.
The martyrdom of Stephen was the point at which a man named Saul of Tarsus began to breathe out threats and murder against the disciples and was given permission to arrest both men and women who followed Jesus. It was as he was travelling to Damascus to arrest Christians there, that a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and a voice said to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It's hard for you to kick against the goads."
All this had happened many years earlier, but this encounter caused Saul of Tarsus, the great persecutor of Christians, to become Paul the servant of Jesus. It was Paul who was now under arrest and standing in a court of law. It was Paul who was defending himself before the king, the queen, and the governor. He was falsely accused of the same things for which Stephen was killed - and his accusers were the same religious and political leaders.
In his defence, Paul was relating his life-changing event on the Damascus road which caused Him to renounce his Jewish faith and place his trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sin and life everlasting. He had told the assembled company how he had been rebelling against the truth of the gospel. He explained that he had been resisting the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and kicking against the goads of his inner conscience.
In presenting the evidence in this judicial tribunal, Paul was relating his personal testimony. He had arrived at the place when the identity of the flashing light from heaven was revealed. "And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?'" Paul continued, "And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.'"
Paul's personal testimony is indeed compelling, for in one moment his entire belief system had been challenged. He had heard the apostles preaching and seen their mighty miracles and Paul considered it nothing more than religious 'propaganda'. He was a circumcised Jew and a strict Pharisee who performed all the established rites and rituals. He was able to trace his ancestry back to Benjamin and considered himself blameless under the Law and righteous in God's sight. What a revelation he received that day!
He suddenly realised the tales told by the apostles were true! Jesus was the Messiah of Israel about Whom the prophets spoke! Jesus was the Son of the most high God Who had been wrongly crucified and risen from the dead! Paul had applauded the crucifixion and was diligent in persecuting the Church - only to discover his own belief system was wrong and Christianity was the Way to the only Truth and eternal Life.
We do not know whether the dignitaries in the law-court became believers that day, or if the Jews who accused Paul came to faith in Christ. But we do know Paul was a faithful servant of the Lord and his ministry, and that his testimony had far-reaching effects in the spread of the gospel. Paul was an individual who was not ashamed to admit he had been wrong and to believe on Christ and be saved... and God used him in His service.
We who have believed on the Lord Jesus for salvation, underwent a similar life-changing event when we trusted Christ as Saviour. Like Paul, we can also be used in the furtherance of the gospel if we are willing servants. The Lord may not ask us to stand in a court of Law or experience any of the difficulties Paul underwent - but no matter what we are required to do, He has promised to go before us and provide the sufficient strength we need.
May we be faithful in the work that God has given us to do and be prepared to give an account of the hope we have in us.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for the ministry of Paul and the lessons we can learn from his life and ministry. Give me an understanding heart that is willing to learn and prevent me from holding fast to any opinions or belief systems that are counter to the truth of the gospel. Give me a teachable spirit I pray, and may I be used in the furtherance of the gospel in whatever way You choose - for Your praise and glory. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.