Saul Persecuting the Christians, and His Dramatic Conversion
With a blinding light from the sky, came a voice from Heaven, saying, "Saul! Saul! why are you persecuting me?"
AUL, THE YOUNG
Pharisee, was a Jew. Although his home was in another country, he had come to Jerusalem when a boy to study the Jews' religion, and now he was a very strict Pharisee. He believed in the law of Moses, and he thought the new religion of Jesus would destroy this law which God gave to Moses. Therefore he was angry with the believers in Jesus, and he wished to be rid of them all.
The chief priests and scribes were glad to have such an earnest young man as Saul take their part and defend their cause. They gave him permission to treat the disciples shamefully, hoping in this way to discourage others from accepting the new teachings. And so it was that Saul labored night and day working and planning how he might destroy the church in Jerusalem.
Because of his work the prison-houses were crowded with men and women who clung to their faith in Jesus, but no longer were there listening crowds standing in the temple to hear the apostles teach. Saul had indeed stopped the public worship of these people, and he thought he had done a good work.
About this time news came to Jerusalem that the religion of Jesus was spreading in other cities. Instead of destroying it, the enemies were only scattering it farther and causing it to increase faster than before. What should they do?
Saul, the Pharisee, became more angry than ever. "I will stop this crazy religion yet!" he cried; and, rushing to the high priest, he asked permission to go as an officer to a Gentile city called Damascus and search among the Jews there for disciples of Jesus. He planned to kill them or bind them as prisoners and carry them back to Jerusalem.
No doubt he hoped to visit every city and every village where the believers had gone to teach about Christ, and destroy the meetings as he had broken up the religious worship in Jerusalem.
The high priest wrote letters to the rulers of the synagogs in Damascus, telling them about Saul's purpose and commanding them to help Saul find the believers who might be in the city. These letters Saul took, and calling some friends he started at once on the long journey to Damascus.
The road they traveled led north from Jerusalem and passed through numbers of villages and towns. By and by he came near to Damascus, the Gentile city where a large number of Jews had accepted the new faith.
Messengers from Jerusalem had already arrived to warn the disciples in Damascus about Saul's work. They told about his bitter hatred of believers everywhere. And they told also of his soon coming to Damascus with letters from the high priest to the rulers of the synagogs, commanding that every believer in Jesus should be punished or imprisoned. And the believers wondered what they should do, for they feared the wrath of this proud young man.
On the last day of that journey the company of riders from Jerusalem were nearing the great wall of Damascus when suddenly they stopped.
A light from the sky, brighter than the shining noonday sun, had smitten them and struck them to the ground. And with the light came a voice from heaven, which only Saul understood though his companions heard the sound.
This voice said, "Saul! Saul! why are you persecuting me?"
Now Saul was greatly surprised. He had thought he was defending the true religion when he opposed the believers in Jesus. And he cried out, "Who are you, Lord?"
The voice answered, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are fighting against. It is hard for you to oppose me."
Like a flash of lightning Saul remembered how cruelly he had treated men and women who believed in this Jesus. He saw how wicked he had been. Now he cried out, "What shall I do, Lord?"
Jesus answered, "Rise up and go into Damascus; there you shall be told what you must do."
So Saul rose up; but he could not see which way to go, for the great light had blinded his eyes.
The men who were with Saul had also seen the light, but they were not blinded by its brightness. They, too, rose up, trembling with fright, and led him by the hand into the city. Here they took him to the house of a man whose name was Judas, and left him there.
Three days passed by, and Saul sat alone in dark blindness. He would neither eat nor drink, for his sorry of heart was great. He saw himself a very wicked man, not a righteous person at all, though he was a famous Pharisee.
Then one night God gave him a vision. In the vision he seemed to see a believer named Ananias coming to put his hands on the blinded eyes that they might have sight again.
And sure enough, there was in the city of Damascus a believer named Ananias. This man also had a vision from God. And in the vision he heard God's voice calling, "Ananias!"
He answered, "Here I am, Lord,"
The voice said, "Rise up, and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man called Saul, of Tarsus, the city where he was born, for this man is praying. And he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight."
These tidings surprised Ananias. He could hardly believe what he heard, for he knew of Saul, the great persecutor of believers everywhere. Now he exclaimed, "Lord, I have heard many things about this man, how much evil he has done to those at Jerusalem who believe in Jesus; and even here he has been given power to make prisoners of all the believers he can find."
But God answered, "Go your way as I have commanded; for Saul is a chosen servant of mine to carry my name to the Gentiles and even before kings of the earth, as well as to the Jews. And I will show him how he must suffer great things for my sake."
Ananias was no longer afraid to obey, for he believed the words God had spoken to him. So he rose up at once, and went out to search for Saul. And when he found the blind visitor in Judas' home he spoke to him kindly, saying, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road when you were coming to this city, has sent me that you might receive your sight, and receive the Holy Spirit." Then he placed his hands upon Saul, and what seemed to be scales fell from the blinded eyes of the stricken man.
Now Saul could see again, and he rose up to be baptized. He was eager to do the things that would please God, and no longer did he feel hatred in his heart to any one. His friends brought food to him, and when he ate of it, strength came into his body. Then he went to the synagogs, not to seize the believers in Jesus, but to worship with them. And he began at once to teach those who crowded to see him that Jesus is the Christ, whom God had sent to be the Savior of men.
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