Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he 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 you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:3-6 ESV)
As I started my morning, this thought occurred to me: God loved Saul. To most, you may not even think such a basic thought needs to be shared. God loves everyone, doesn’t He? Yes, but God loved Saul! Before his trip to Damascus, Saul was persecuting, murdering, and hunting down Christians across Israel, all the way to Damascus in Syria!
Here is a startling thought: Jesus loved Saul long before this zealous Pharisee ever met Him on the road to Damascus. This thought is sure to offend some of our religious sensibilities, but it needs to be said: God loves sinners. All kinds of sinners. Horrible sinners. “Good” sinners. Big sinners. Small sinners. The Scripture says it this way: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)
After consenting to the death of Stephen (the first Christian martyr – Acts 8:1), Saul set out to ravage and destroy the Church of Jesus. Before Saul ever experienced the Resurrected Christ in all His glory and splendor, Jesus already loved Him. This incredible love should serve as a challenging reminder to us: we aren’t just called to love those who love us, we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).
How in the world could Jesus expect us to love our enemies? Because long before you and I surrendered our life to Jesus as Lord, God loved us. God never calls us to do something He Himself has not done. Do you have a Saul in your life? Someone who has hurt you, persecuted you, mistreated you, taken advantage of you, or been less than loving towards you? Love them even when they don’t love you. It is this type of love, our love for each other and the love for the world around us, that will demonstrate we are truly the disciples of Jesus (John 13:35).
After Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was blind for three days. In these days, God began preparing the heart of this once proud, arrogant, blaspheming religious leader. Although Jesus could have miraculously healed Saul of his blindness after these three days, God did what He often does, He invited the Church to be involved in His process.
As Saul sat in the darkness of those three days, God called out to a Christian named Ananias. And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” (Acts 9:11-12 ESV) Now stop for a second and think about what is happening here… Ananias and the Christian church in Damascus no doubt knew that Saul was on his way to hunt them down. Now, Jesus Himself speaks to Ananias and tells him to go, lay his hands on him, and Jesus will heal him!
I love how Ananias responds: But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13-14 ESV) I love the response because it is so real! It was almost like Ananias was like, “uh… Jesus, do you know who this guy is? Do you know what he has been doing!? Do you really want me to go be a blessing in the life of this monster!?!” In the end, Jesus tells Ananias what he really needs to hear as He commands him to “go” (Acts 9:15-16).
Later in his life, Saul would be known by his Roman name, Paul. The Apostle Paul would never forget his life before Christ or the great mercy God showed him. Paul would go on to be the chosen instrument of Jesus to carry His name to the gentiles.
Today, I want to challenge you to show love to all people, even those who don’t deserve it. Remember, there was a time where you and I were enemies of God, He loved us anyway. Never under estimate the transforming power of Jesus or how He might use someone who is right now an enemy or persecutor. Who do you need to show love, mercy, grace, and compassion to today? Today with the grace and mercy Jesus has shown us in mind, let us “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).