Summary: God still can and does change people just like God changed Saul.
We learn in geometry that 360 degrees makes a full circle. That is, we start at one point and go all the way around and end up at the same point. 180 degrees is a half circle. We start at one point and end up at the opposite end. Well, Saul is heading down the road to Damascus from Jerusalem, gets stopped in his tracks and make a 180 degrees turn. He heads down the road for one purpose and ends up there for another.
In some ways it might seem unlikely for God to choose Saul to be one of the major leaders of the church, especially since he originally wanted to eliminate the Christians. However, we see that God uses his background. Nobody else has quite the background he has.
He was educated as a rabbi by Gamaliel in Jerusalem. That means that he could relate to educated people. As the Greeks love to argue their rhetoric, he could argue with the best of them.
He spoke Aramaic and Greek. That meant that he could speak to people in their own language.
He was a Roman citizen through his father. It saves his life at one point. It also causes the other Roman citizens to listen to him.
He was the son of a strictly orthodox Jewish father, a son of a Pharisee. He himself was a Pharisee. So, this means he has had a deep love and appreciation for his Jewish faith and could easily speak to people who were rooted in Judaism.
He was born in the Greek city of Tarsus and learned at the Jewish synagogue there. This means that he could relate to the Greek people.
He was advanced beyond many in his zealousness of the law. He was a strong leader in the Jewish community. It was that zeal that leads him on the road to Damascus.
God has a way of taking our backgrounds, whatever they are, and making good out of them. We may have some wonderful things about our backgrounds that have given us special skill and knowledge. Things we could be proud of. However, there may be things about our backgrounds that we are not proud of. We may just soon forget, but God takes our background and uses it for our benefit. We may have been through some trauma in our lives. God can take that experience and use us to minister to other people who are in the middle of the same kind of trauma. We can say to them, "God brought me through and God can bring your through too."
Not long ago, I was visiting with a young woman who had served in the military. She was stationed in Cuba. She didn’t like it there at all. She had recently gone through a traumatic divorce. Now, she was separated from her country and from her family in Cuba, of all places. She hated it and asked God, "What am I doing here?" Not long after that, there was a crisis at the base that required someone to do special bloodwork and give blood to several people. It turns out she was the only one at the base who had the skill. Because of it, she saved several people’s lives. God took her background and knowledge and made something good out of her situation.
So, here is Saul with all of this background. A background that has led him to believe that the Christians are dead wrong about what they believe. He has gotten papers from the chief priests to bring Christians bound back to Jerusalem. As he is going, he is breathing threats of murder with hatred in his heart. Then, suddenly a bright light shines around him and he is struck down. Then a voice cries out, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He replies, "Who is it, Lord?" "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Now go into the city and I will tell you what to do." Here is Saul, proud of his background and what he believes. Now he is struck down, blinded and led into town by the hand, stripped of his pride. Talk about a 180 degrees turn!
Then, the Lord speaks to Ananias in a vision. "I want you to go to Saul. Right now he is praying and seeing a man name Ananias come to him and help him restore his sight." Well, Ananias is just a little bit reluctant. He says to God, "Perhaps you haven’t heard, but this Saul is bad news! He’s been persecuting the people who call upon your name in Jerusalem and now he intends to take us bound back to Jerusalem." Jesus just says, "Go. I will use him to speak before Jews and Gentiles and kings and he will suffer much for my sake." Ananias is obedient. He goes to Saul and he says a wonderful thing. He doesn’t say, "Saul, who do you think you are going around and hurting my Christian friends?" He simply goes to him and says, "Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me to you." He doesn’t pass judgement on him or pretend to be better than him. He simply accepts him as a brother of faith and as part of the community of faith.