Summary: Like Saul of Tarsus, Christ calls us to dramatic change so we might join in God's work.
An old farmer liked to brag around town that he could command his mule with nothing more than a few soft words; no whips or prods necessary. She would respond, he claimed, with nothing more than gently spoken commands. Of course people were skeptical, so one day his buddy down at the feed store asked for a demonstration. “Prove to me that your old mule will respond with nothing more than gentle language.”
Out in the field they went; the farmer, his buddy, and the mule. As the friend watched, first in awe and then in horror, the farmer took a huge piece of lumber, a two-by-four about six feet long, and swung it with all his might, hitting the mule on one ear! When the animal stopped braying and bellowing and prancing around, the farmer then said, quietly, “Come here” and the mule came. “Sit.” and the whimpering creature sat. “Back up.” and she backed into the harnesses of a plow and waited calmly for him to hook up. “You see? She’ll respond to a simple voice command.” But his friend objected, “Whatever are you talking about? You said all you had to do was talk to her, but you hit her with this huge two-by-four! What do you mean, you just command her with words?!? That’s not what I saw!”
“Oh, that,” said the farmer. “Well, first I do have to get her attention!”
It seems that quit often God uses the proverbial two-by-four to get our attention because without it we would not listen, we would not follow. We get so busy going about the routines of our lives that God often has to do something dramatic or we wouldn’t even notice that God is calling us. God is calling us to do something. God is calling us out of our mulish stubbornness and is urging us to adjust our lifestyles, and we don’t even notice until that two-by-four thuds against our heads; or in Saul’s case, until a flash of light knocks us to our feet.
In his book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says that you must make major adjustments in your life to join in God’s work. And sometimes, coming to a point where we make those adjustments requires some “prodding” from God. Saul of Tarsus found that out very quickly as he made his way to Damascus, and Ananias just a short time later. Saul was a tentmaker and a devout Jew; he was intelligent and relatively wealthy. There was no reason for Saul to make any changes in his life; things were going pretty well for him. And Ananias, a follower of the Way, a Christian; he was experiencing the abundance of life under the new covenant of grace. There was no reason that Ananias’ path would cross with Saul’s, at least not willingly; a Christian would not just go seek out a persecutor of Christians! But in an instant, both of these seemingly comfortable existences were blown out of the water and dramatic change happened; a change that would inaugurate the greatest missionary movement in the history of Christianity. If we are going to join in God’s work, we have to make major adjustments.
As we easily recognize, Saul made some major adjustments, a 180-degree turn, even! Saul’s dramatic turn is indeed remarkable in and of itself, but there’s something about Saul that’s even more fascinating and noteworthy to me. Saul thought he was following God. Up until that moment when a flash of light interrupted his stroll to Damascus, Saul thought he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do! He was a devout Jew. He knew the Hebrew scriptures, and he thought these Jesus followers were getting it all wrong. So, as the passage tells us, “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Saul thought he was going to get people “back in line, back on track.” As Saul set off for Damascus with what essentially amounted to an open arrest warrant for any Christian, he thought he was doing what God wanted him to do! He was probably even meditating on the Scriptures as his horse plodded toward Damascus, and then BOOM!, a flash of light and a question, “Why do you persecute me?” And when Saul asks who it is, the voice says, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Suddenly, everything that Saul thought is turned on its head, and he sees that he wasn’t actually doing what God wanted after all.
Have you ever come to such a realization? I think the story of Saul’s conversion affords us a good opportunity to consider the possibility that we aren’t necessarily following God as we think we are. Or perhaps we are not dedicated to God in the way that we should be. I mean, Paul was devout, but it turns out he was devout in a bad way. We can be devout too and still be harming the church; we can be devout and still be acting contrary to Christ. This is what Saul learned as he made his way to Damascus, and it is what you and I must learn if we are to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. We can come to church every Sunday and think ourselves devout. In fact, in this day of declining church attendance, we would certainly be considered among the most devoted. But our life as followers of Christ is about more than just being in the church when the doors are open; it’s about sharing Christ in the world outside of the church! This is the message of the Damascus road experience! And with that message comes the question: How are we opposing Christ and the church rather than building it up?