Summary: This is the last sermon in the "A Journey To and From Easter." It looks at Saul of Tarsus and his encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus when he became the Apostle Paul. We look at this road being a road of confrontation, change, and challenge.
A Journey To and From Easter
“The Damascus Road”
Today we’re heading down our last road on our journey to and from Easter. We started on the Narrow Road, and then we took the Jerusalem Road followed by the Calvary Road that led us up to Easter. We then looked at the road to Emmaus that two of Jesus’ disciples took after the resurrection. And while all of them led in different directions, they all have the same destination, and that is, the risen Jesus Christ.
The same is true with this last road and the man we find traveling upon it. His name was Saul of Tarsus, and the road was the one leading towards Damascus.
Saul was born in the city of Tarsus in the province of Cilicia, which is located near Antioch in Asia Minor, or modern day Turkey. Saul was the son of a very prominent and wealthy Jewish family, and because Cilicia was a Roman colony, Saul could claim Roman citizenship.
Saul was a bright child, and was sent off to Jerusalem to study under noted Rabbi Gamaliel. He was instructed in all the laws and traditions of the Jewish faith, and was very zealous for it. In fact, he was advancing in Judaism to a far greater degree than his peers.
So Saul was born a Jew, grew up a Pharisee, held Roman citizenship, and lived and studied in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. Like the other religious leaders he probably expected that the enthusiasm and teachings that marked Jesus’ followers would soon die out with His death.
But that did not happen, instead not only did the believer’s enthusiasm grow, so did their numbers, and so Saul took action and persecuted them, putting them either in prison or death. It was at the stoning death of Stephen that we’re first introduced to Saul as he held the garments of those throwing the stones.
Soon Saul found himself going from synagogue to synagogue punishing those who believed, until they began to leave Jerusalem, but even this was not enough for him. He got letters from the chief priests and followed the believers wherever they went. And this is where we pick up our story as Saul was on the road to Damascus.
Read Acts 9:1-19
Saul was a man full of vinegar, that is, full of hatred and bitterness. He was on a mission, but not for God, nor was it a mission of mercy, rather it was a mission of punishment and pain.
He was on a mission to confront and get rid of all those who followed Jesus, those he described as belonging to “The Way.” In the Hebrew this means a person’s walk, or way and manner of life. In other words, Christians stood out wherever they were or in whatever situation they found themselves in.
These first followers of Jesus walked the talk; they lived as Jesus would have. Paul said,
“That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15 NKJV)
In other words, they stood out. So it really wasn’t hard for Saul to find them. They literally left a trail of new believers in their wake.
And so Saul was on a mission to confront and get rid of these pesky believers, and nothing on this earth would or could change his mind, direction, or the challenge set before him. Yet, little did he know that while on this road to Damascus he wouldn’t confront the followers of Jesus, but rather Jesus would confront him.
Further, although he was not willing to change, he would be changed in ways greater then he could ever possibly imagine, and that he wouldn’t challenge the beliefs of Christians, but have his own beliefs and faith challenged.
So, this Damascus road is a road of confrontation, change and challenge. Let’s look at the first.
1. A Road of Confrontation
Traveling down this road from Jerusalem to Damascus only intensified the situation in Saul’s mind. Damascus is about 150 miles northeast of Jerusalem. By today’s standards this isn’t far at all. It’s about a three-hour drive. But by foot it took the better part of a week. So, Saul had plenty of time to set his mind and heart toward the confrontations that would take place.
Either these followers of Jesus would return to the Jewish faith, or they would be taken back as prisoners and convicted of the crime of blasphemy. But a confrontation was inevitable.
But instead of Saul being the confronter, he was the one confronted. There on the road to Damascus a light from heaven confronted him.
There are many suggestions as to what this light might have been.