Summary: A monlogue sermon on Saul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus Road.
On the Road to Damascus
Published in Preaching Online, February 1998.
You could say I know Saul as well as anyone. Saul and I first met as students, studying the Torah together under Gamaliel. They were exciting times. Young, enthusiastic, each day was an adventure. It was clear to all of us that the master had a soft spot for him; Gamaliel knew talent when he saw it and it was clear to him from the start that Saul had what it takes.
Saul was extremely intelligent, many’s the time we saw Saul and Gamaliel lock horns in debate. I think we all enjoyed it, two great minds jousting with each other. You could see it in their eyes, they both loved it. We knew way back then that Saul would make a name for himself one day; we’d joke that Saul would be High Priest. Called him ’Your Holiness’. And he’d laugh us off - yes, Saul could laugh at himself. But then his eyes would glaze and he’d turn very serious. He knew big things were expected of him and would surely come his way.
To look at Saul, there was nothing impressive about him. Bald headed, bow legged, he was a small man with a rather large nose. But what he missed in looks was compensated in other ways.
He pushed himself hard, studied the Scriptures day and night. A few of the others used to get jealous, but not me. I was pleased for him. Anybody who works that hard deserves everything they get.
He was an extremist by nature, black and white that was Saul. All or nothing, right or wrong, it was simple as that as far as he was concerned. There were no shades of grey at all.
Saul really made a name for himself in Jerusalem, when the people of the Way were becoming popular. That’s what they called themselves; followers of Jesus is what they really were. That was their way of referring to themselves.
"Blasphemers!" he called them. "Heretics! We’ve got to stamp this out once and for all"
And that’s where he and Gamaliel really differed. Saul might have been his student, but he didn’t have same temperate outlook that Gamaliel had. I can still see his face during Gamaliel’s speech:
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." Acts 5:38-39 (NIV)
Gamaliel convinced the Sanhedrin that day, turned the whole debate, but he didn’t persuade Saul. Anger was etched all over his face.
"They’ve got to be stopped!" he hissed and dug his fingers deep into my arm.
It wasn’t long after that things exploded. And again it was at the Sanhedrin. I could feel the tension rising during Stephen’s speech, people became increasingly agitated.
Murmuring was getting louder, echoing around the hall, people were waving their fists and standing up and pointing.
Then Stephen looked up, I wondered what he was doing.
"I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."
They promptly dragged him out of there. "Blasphemy!" they cried.
There was an irate procession outside the city, and then they stoned him.
That was the day we realized what had transpired. For Saul didn’t lift a finger during the whole episode, he simply stood there nodding his approval while the witnesses stripped off and laid their clothes at his feet. We knew then that he was the grand concert master orchestrating the whole sordid affair. To this day, I don’t know what had transpired, what conversations or back room deals took place. But it was clear to all of us right then and there that Saul had come of age. He was now at the forefront.
In the weeks that followed, Saul began to destroy the movement. Operation Demobilization you could call it. They went house to house, flushing out the people of the Way and hauling them off to prison, even the women.
Saul was tireless, resolute, methodical. And he was successful. But he was still not satisfied. I told you didn’t I, black and white, all or nothing. He zealously and meticulously worked at exterminating the heretical sect. Anxious to do more, he was going to stomp out this movement once and for all.
I was part of the team that set out for Damascus. He had official letters from the authorities giving him all the power they could give in this programme of persecution. So with letters in hand, we journeyed over 200 miles searching for those who had fled from the rising tension in Jerusalem.