Summary: What exactly did Paul experience during his conversion? How does it apply to us?
Scripture: Acts 9: 1 - 3.
The Road to Damascus
Such a simple story. The story of Paul’s conversion. Nine verses, out of thousands that are in the Bible. Yet, these are very significant verses. Why? Because, it tells us so much about ourselves.
Saul arrives in Jerusalem, an angry and determined man. He goes directly to the Sanhedrin and speaks with the high priest.
It had come to Paul’s attention that many Christians had escaped from Jerusalem and were hiding out in Damascus. So he asks the high priest for warrants that would allow him to travel to Damascus and arrest the Christians seeking sanctuary there.
Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It was already an old city in Paul’s time. It lies in a green plain below Mount Hermon. There is a phenomenon in the weather around Damascus. When the hot air on the plains meets the cool air on Mount Hermon thunderstorms are suddenly formed with much electrical activity resulting in lightening.
Now, Damascus is almost 140 miles distant from Jerusalem. Today we can travel that distance in about 30 minutes by air. Three hours by car. Of course, Paul did not have these modern conveyances. Neither did he have a horse or donkey. Nor, could he take a boat since Damascus was almost fifty miles inland from the coast. Paul had to walk. A man in good health probably would take about a week at a quick pace to cover that distance. Incidentally, the way to Damascus from Jerusalem goes through Galilee.
Paul also had several men with him. They were to act as a sort of police force to
escort any prisoners that Paul may apprehend in his vendetta against the Christians in Damascus. Yet, these men were not Pharisees or members of the Sanhedrin. That meant that they were not Pauls’ equals. They could neither talk with him or walk alongside him. Paul had to walk alone ahead of these men.
Now when I was a child my family and I would take a three week vacation every summer. We would hitch our travel trailer (RV in todays lexicon) to the car and take off. During those years of growing up we traveled all over the west. Up to Washington state, Montana, South Dakota, east to Arizona, New Mexico and Iowa. I saw the majesty of Mount Rainier, and the Grand Tetons. I back packed to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I walked among the geysers of Yellowstone and stared at the faces on Mount Rushmore and witnessed the miles of emptiness in the Mojave Desert.
But in between these wonderful works of God’s nature there was endless miles of asphalt. My sister and I would stare out the windows for awhile and then read the books we bought along the way or nap or play games to pass away the boredom of traveling.
You see, there is only so much scenery that one can enjoy during the course of a day or week. After that your brain sort of goes numb while it is digesting what you have witnessed.
But, Paul did not have the luxury of a chauffeur to do the driving. He did not have books to read or games to play. He couldn’t take a nap while someone drove him. And he didn’t have anyone to talk too while walking.
No, all Paul could do while walking all those dusty miles was think. And a man can do a whole lot of thinking while walking 140 miles! The Bible does not tell us what Paul thought about while he walked. But, we certainly can take a guess based on what happened to him when he arrived at the gates of Damascus.
We need to remember the background of this man we now know as Paul. He was born in Tarsus in the province of Cilicia approximately 5 to 10 years after Christ’s birth. Cilicia, located near Antioch in Asia Minor, was known as a center of science and art. At one time its universities rivaled Alexandria and Athens. He was the son of a very prominent and wealthy Jewish family. We know the family was prominent and wealthy because Paul was a Roman citizen which is significant because Rome did not grant citizenship to every person from a conquered country. Especially so of the troublesome Jews.
Paul was a bright child and was eventually sent to Jerusalem to study under the notable Rabbi Gamaliel. Gamaliel was a very prominent Pharisee and head of the Sanhedrin. Diligently Paul was instructed in all the laws and traditions of the Jewish faith. Under Gamaliel’s tutelage Paul excelled in his learning. Indeed, in Galations Paul states he was the best and the brightest, rising higher than any student in his age bracket.